As the festive season for family gatherings looms, BOAT discovers five family experiences that push the boundaries of imagination and adventure for children on board...
POLAR PIONEERS IN ANTARCTICA
Ideal age: 4+
It is at the ends of the earth and is one of the coldest places on the planet. Even for the most intrepid explorers, Antarctica feels like a final frontier. But – believe it or not – this ice-scape can also be one of the most family-friendly destinations. With well over 800 Antarctic voyages under its belt (many with families) and access to the most experienced guides and polar-ready vessels, EYOS Expeditions is more than capable of planning an adventure fit for mini Shackletons.
To soak in as much as you can in this region, EYOS recommends 12 days during austral summer (November to March) when temperatures are milder (a balmy -20° C) and days are endless. You’ll start and end from King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, but the exact itinerary will always be kept flexible, following the best ice and weather conditions. Every day is guaranteed to be unforgettable, though.
“No matter your age, Antarctica is pure magic,” says Rob McCallum, founder of EYOS, who describes cruising past gargantuan icebergs, kayaking by dozing leopard seals, snowball fights, visiting remote research outposts and even camping on an ice sheet. “Because the sun never sets, we can pack multiple once-in-a-lifetime activities into each day with plenty of chances for kids to have naps and down-time on board too.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s the locals of Antarctica that are always a family highlight. “You aren’t permitted to approach wildlife on shore, and you have to maintain a specified distance,” says McCallum. “But the animals don’t know the rules. The cheeky, inquisitive penguins love to come and have a closer look.” And there are plenty of penguin species to see, including adeliés on Paulet Island and emperors on Snow Hill Island. Lucky guests might also get to witness humpback whales bubble-net feeding: “you won’t forget the wonder in your children’s eyes… it’s a real bucket-list sight!”
From £300,000, excluding flights and dependent on yacht, eyos.com.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IN COSTA RICA
Ideal age: 5+
Dragging the kids away from their iPads at home may feel like an impossible task, but there is nothing like the drama of nature to draw in even the most screen-obsessed tot. Tropical, vastly varied and packed with rare, weird and wonderful creatures, Costa Rica packs a natural punch. Add in some suitable superyacht infrastructure for good measure, and it’s no wonder it is one of Untold Story’s top picks for a family adventure.
Having launched in the pandemic, this fresh-faced travel planner knows better than most how now, more than ever, families need the transformative power of travel. “What we do is all about writing stories and creating memories, which we know help to strengthen shared bonds,” says Chris Brunning, co-founder of Untold Story. “It’s particularly [good] for families who live in cities and perhaps haven’t been exposed much to the power of raw nature. It can totally alter their perspective on life.”
You’ll cruise down the Pacific coast from the stunning Gulf of Papagayo to the remote Drakes Bay. Together with a small team of live-aboard expert guides, your family will go in search of wildlife experiences worthy of David Attenborough. So worthy, in fact, that National Geographic film-makers can join you to help the kids create their own nature documentary from the extraordinary wild encounters they’ll have.
Film hundreds of frolicking spinner dolphins surrounding your yacht – you can even jump in with underwater scooters and try to keep pace with them. Balance silently in wonder on an SUP beside humpback whales when they’re close to shore in summer. Learn about turtle conservation before witnessing a beach come alive with hatching baby leatherback turtles. Capture scenes of vivid reefs with manta rays, schools of devil rays and otherworldly hammerhead sharks. All these scenes can then be edited into a film that you and your children can treasure for years to come.
From £300,000, excluding flights and dependent on the particular yacht, untoldstorytravel.com.
FOLLOWING HISTORY IN SOUTHERN ITALY
Ideal age: 8+
Beautiful, diverse and rather convenient, Italy is one of Europe’s finest yachting destinations for families. Maybe your yacht has been cruising the Italian coast during school holidays for years, or perhaps you want your first Italian charter to be more than just pasta in Positano. Either way, Cookson Adventures can help you level up – and learn a little on the way.
“Everything about Italy shouts ‘family adventure’ to me,” enthuses Henry Cookson, founder of the eponymously named travel designer, who believes that the islands, waters and coast from northern Sicily to the Bay of Naples make for an unbeatable Italian family escapade.
Prepare to be fully immersed in the region’s vivid history and culture like never before. Head to a remote anchorage, lie on your back and look at the night sky while an astronomer shares the science, sagas and mythical stories of the stars. Train to be a gladiator in an ancient Roman arena, with professional, movie-grade combat re-enactments, fun fitness training, sword skills and foam sword fighting. Discover ancient shipwrecks and underwater sites with an expert marine archaeologist: from snorkelling the Roman version of Atlantis, Baiae, a lost city that sank beneath the waves in the Bay of Naples, to venturing down further in a submersible to forgotten wrecks. On a recent trip, young guests even discovered a previously unknown Roman shipwreck on the seabed scattered with 2,000-year-old amphora.
“These experiences will stay with them forever,” says Cookson, who explains that each trip is carefully balanced between shared moments, and experiences geared to specific age groups. “Parents can have a genuine break knowing that their children are having a fulfilling time. But the activities are so exciting that the parents often want to get involved too and the family end up spending even more quality time together.”
From £40,000, excluding flights and yacht, cooksonadventures.com.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH IN ICELAND
Ideal age: 8 to 15
Reading has always been a conduit to new realms and, during a year of restrictions, the fictitious worlds in novels have become a source of escape like no other, especially for children. Here to bring those worlds to life is Black Tomato, an experiential travel specialist that has curated a collection of global adventures called Take Me On a Story, where children’s literary classics provide the inspiration.
There are five fairytale plots currently mapped out, from Treasure Island in the BVIs to Arabian Nights in Morocco. But the one that really brings together mythology, majesty and raw natural beauty, is the Journey to the Centre of the Earth (after the Jules Verne novel) in Iceland. Following a specially curated map sprinkled with secret codes, your bespoke six-night itinerary will take your family all around this volcanic isle.
Your quest will begin at the mighty Snæfellsjökull, the volcano that is the imagined door to the earth’s core in the novel. From there, a monumental voyage of discovery awaits. Venture into the underworld through Vatnshellir Cave into an ancient lava tube beneath the glacier. Descend 120 metres into the magma chamber of a (thankfully dormant) volcano. Snorkel between tectonic plates – and continents. Explore the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon on a private Zodiac expedition. The clues you collect will eventually lead to a secret lunch inside Hella Caves on the magical south coast, surrounded by black lava beaches, thundering waterfalls, and strange rock formations.
“After long months living shuttered lives, more than ever, future travel needs to count,” says Tom Marchant, Black Tomato’s co-founder. “And with its otherworldly landscapes and mythical coastline, Iceland is a truly magical setting.”
From £21,500, excluding flights and yacht, blacktomato.com.
THIS YEAR’S OBSESSION
Ideal age: 4 to 12
Volcanos, sharks, Jurassic Park, pirates… your child’s current craze can generate off-the-scale excitement levels. And, let’s be honest, their excitement is infectious. That’s why for the team at Pelorus, nothing beats working with parents to design a custom experience around their children’s latest passion.
“It’s a really unique way to capture young imaginations and unite everyone in discovery and adventure,” says Pelorus’ co-founder Jimmy Carroll. He stresses that when it comes to this sort of trip, the sky – or rather your child’s imagination – really is the limit: roast marshmallows over volcano vents in South America; uncover Second World War wrecks in the blue lagoons of the Solomons; join marine biologists and conservationists in the Maldives identifying and tagging manta rays; search for dinosaur prints in Croatia; even enjoy an aft deck laser concert with music by your favourite band, like one young guest and his family, who danced the night away to Queen in Zanzibar, the birthplace of Freddie Mercury.
“These kinds of trips are perfect to fit in with half-term holidays,” says Carroll. “It’s all about immersing families in the theme, encouraging curiosity and stimulating critical thinking about the world.” He recalls one group of children and their families who dreamt of joining Blackbeard’s crew. Pelorus created a fully immersive pirate boot camp, where guests young and old mastered the basics of sailing in dinghies, and learned to climb the rigging and tie knots. They then embarked on a multi-island treasure hunt with the yacht’s crew members, a team of actors and a film crew. “The hunt involved everything from submersibles to jungle zip lines, culminating in an epic battle on a beach, with music, a bonfire and fireworks – all for a 12th birthday,” Carroll recalls.
From £30,000, excluding flights and yacht, pelorusx.com.