Now that we have the New Year under our belt, it’s time to do some travel planning! I know I’m not alone in dreaming up fun places to travel, and it’s usually at the top of my resolutions list to branch out and travel to new destinations. From historic US cities, exotic international locales, bucket list worthy spots, and off the beaten path destinations, these 18 places are calling in 2018.
I always have a dream list going of places I’d like to travel. It seems to get longer every year. Almost of these destinations we have been to either as a family or solo trips within the past few years. One common thread between all the vacations is these are the trips I talk about most or have the most fond memories from. From the exotic, once in a lifetime experiences to cities that must be explored, this 2018 list is jam packed with 18 for ’18.
18 Travel Destinations for 2018
Bucket List Worthy
The term “bucket list” means “a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.” Kind of a wish list of things people hope to do before they die (derived from the phrase “kick the bucket”). In other words, these would be dream destinations.
Any way you can see Alaska whether by land, sea, or both, DO IT! Although we chose an Alaskan cruise of the Inside Passage with port stops in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan, I’d highly recommend the 49th state for its gorgeous glaciers, spectacular scenery, and wicked wildlife encounters.
Did you know:
- Southeast Alaska is 80% is forest service land; 10% of which is in Glacier Bay National Park.
- Alaska gets 80-200 inches of rain a year. Whoa! That said, it only misted on us for about 15 minutes the entire trip. Hooray! More on weather later…
- We could anticipate to see porpoises, dolphins, harbor seals, sea lions, bald eagles, mountain goats, bears, wolves, and whales. After hearing this, I couldn’t wait to get out there and start looking!
- Tip: When whale watching, look for the exhale first. It’s the “tell” that a whale may be surfacing soon.
- “Calving” is when chunks of ice break off at the end of a glacier. Ice breaks because the forward motion of a glacier makes the end unstable. The resulting chunks of ice are called “icebergs.”
Naturalist presentations are like must see TV back home-you MUST attend one in order to get ready for what lies in store. It’s also an essential educational component for the kids that they can share with their classmates and teachers.
The excursions on an Alaskan cruise are worth saving for. Expect unpredictable weather. We were unable to do our dogsledding trip via helicopter because of cloud cover, and I was really bummed. But our day in Skagway taking a trek into Canada to kayak and then ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway couldn’t have been a nicer, warmer day.
2. Dude Ranch and National Parks
If you do one family vacation in 2018, choose a dude ranch. It will blow your mind how many new experiences you will have and how much family bonding away from screens can happen.
Our Wyoming dude ranch vacation was possibly our best family vacation ever. Our family had the full Laura Ingalls Wilder experience glamping in a covered wagon at Goosewing Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We were guests of the ranch for 5 nights, and we stayed at the glamping site in a covered wagon and also in a 2 bedroom cabin at the main ranch.
Glamping will blow your mind because the proximity to nature is unparalleled without sacrificing luxury. This unique outdoors experience comes with its own private chef and wrangler, and the glamping site’s location 4 miles from the main ranch makes it feel even more like stepping back in time.
To get a sense of what a dude ranch vacation offers. read my post from the Dude Ranchers’ Association on 6 Things I Learned on My First Dude Ranch Vacation
Another huge benefit of a “Go West” vacation is incorporating national parks into the journey. We had two days in Yellowstone National Park followed by a day in Grand Teton National Park, which was probably too short but given our dude ranch fun, we made it work.
Maybe my post containing 9 Tips for Your Yellowstone Vacation will help in planning a trip to the first national park.
I’m cheating on this one because I’ve never been to Hawaii. But it’s been on my list for years, and I’m determined to make it happen sometime in the next few years. Part of my dilemma has been in deciding WHICH island to do. Everyone has their favorite, and choosing just one has proven difficult. I know, that means I should try them all, right? Yeah, my husband wouldn’t think that proposal would be so funny!
Tops on my to do list for Hawaii are a luau, try shaved ice, surf lessons, Pearl Harbor, take the trip to Hana, learn how to hula, and visit Aulani. What else am I missing?
Go big or go home, right? That’s what I think of when I think international. Even budget-conscious travelers can make global destinations work, but it’s also easy to save up for something like travel.
4. Puerto Vallarta & Sayulita
This was my first press trip I went on courtesy of TravelingMom. Although many will say that a press trip gives writers the best of a property or resort, I promise you that I would jump at the chance to go back to Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita. It opened my eyes to the beauty of Mexico. The M in Mexico is for mezcal, margaritas, and marvelous people. Not to mention muddling on 4 wheelers, which was one fun activity we did. Thankfully, I got to follow mudding with a massage!
The moment I knew I was spoiled by the Grand Palladium Vallarta came when we were dining at Viva Mexico on the terrace at sunset, margaritas in one hand and chips smothered in guacamole made tableside. Surfers dotted the shoreline known for top-notch waves. Heavenly!
The best unexpected experience of the trip was Sayulita, a picturesque fishing town that’s known for gorgeous beaches and surfing. The casual vibe, great seafood, and fun shops made for one of the best afternoons I’ve had in recent memory.
5. Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic ranks as one of the most popular destinations, and now I know why. It is an incredible island with unparalleled beauty.
While I wouldn’t recommend our resort as the best one we’ve ever stayed at, the Melia Caribe Tropicale had a lot going for it. And the Melia brand has a number of properties in Punta Cana that would be top notch choices.
What I would tell you is to plan a trip to Catalina Island and try horseback riding while in the DR (or any tropical location for that matter). And don’t forget to try the “Mama Juana” a mix of rum, red wine, and honey soaked in tree bark and herbs. Very similar to the taste of port wine.
6. Turks & Caicos
This lovely island in the Caribbean may be one of the most alluring destinations we’ve been to. Granted, it didn’t hurt that we’ve been twice and stayed at the all-inclusive Beaches Turks and Caicos Villages and Spa. They know how to entertain families!
Pirates Island waterpark is for kids of all ages and grown-ups, too! My kids’ favorite is the 650-ft. lazy river. I’m partial to theSurfStream® surf simulator. My husband loved trying the water slides in the double inner tubes. So as you can see, there is something for everyone! You could call it part of the Kids Zone because of its proximity to the Trench Town Teen Lounge, Xbox Play Lounge and Scratch DJ Academy. No wonder my kids still talk about our vacation to Beaches resort.
One additional plus to the Beaches properties are that they are all-inclusive, which my family appreciates because the last thing we want is for our vacation to follow us home!
Too broad? Maybe. But Canada really blew me away with our trips to Vancouver, Victoria, and St. Andrews last year. And with Banff, Lake Louise, and Whistler on my dream list, I think I have a serious crush on Canada.
As our departure port for our Alaskan cruise, Vancouver was charming. We lucked out on a very warm and sunny June day which may have been the start of their summer actually because EVERYONE was outside and moving around. We loved Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium. The sea otter stole my heart with his adorable antics-then again, I’m a sucker for otters!
Rent bikes to cover as much as possible in Stanley Park, including out to the seawall and Siwash Rock and Brockton Point for totem poles galore. Other don’t miss spots include the Granville Market and the Instagram worthy statues called A-Maze-ing Laughter.
Although it took us several hours to ferry and then bus from Vancouver to Victoria, it was more than worth the effort. Victoria, British Columbia wows with a scenic harbor, great retail are brimming with shops and restaurants, and lots of gardens and public spaces. Most notable are the Butchart Gardens, Fisherman’s Wharf, British Columbia Parliament, and Beacon Hill Park.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the opposite coast of Canada and the charming seaside town of St. Andrews By-the-Sea. We stopped there on my Disney Cruise from New York and did a whale watching excursion followed by my first poutine.
My second dream destination on this list is Greece. Santorini, Athens, Corfu, Mykonos–if there is a way to fall in love with a place just by the photos, then Greece already has my heart. What I can’t decide is whether to see this gem as part of a cruise itinerary or a land only tour? The fun will be in the research!
Southern Cities Making National Lists
My family once owned one of the homes on East Bay Street, so it’s no wonder that I feel a connection to Charleston in a deep way. Plus, as far back as I can remember, the beaches have been my place to recharge and reconnect with what is really important. Some of my most formative memories are from Kiawah Island biking and exploring and savoring the beauty and majesty of the ocean.
Waterfront Park, Rainbow Row, the Charleston City Market, King Street for shopping, Fort Sumter, a carriage ride, and the USS Yorktown are all Charleston must sees. Across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Mount Pleasant, get historic at Patriots Point with a visit to Fort Sumter National Monument and a tour of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier.
Nowadays, you can find us at Wild Dunes (on the Isle of Palms) spinning around the island on my parents’ golf cart. Between the beaches and the plethora of activities, fabulous restaurant scene and sights in Charleston, this region is a MUST DO for all families.
Asheville was the only US city that made Forbes list of the 15 coolest places to go in 2018. Crazy? I think not! See why the region enchanted George Vanderbilt so much that he chose it to build Biltmore Estate. Try one of the local breweries like Wicked Weed, Burial Beer, or Wedge. The toughest decision will be where to eat in this foodie heaven. Our favorite? Cúrate for Spanish tapas dishes to die for.
There’s something about the open waters and sailing that has captivated me. So it’s no wonder that I have a special category of vacations recommending nautical travel in 2018.
11. Disney Cruise
Oh, how I love Disney Cruise Line. Granted, I’m a Disney girl through and through. So combining Disney and cruising is like a Mickey and Minnie pairing! I’ve written several posts about Disney cruises now that I can say I’ve cruised on all 4 ships. Hoping to add many more itineraries to my cruising passport.
Links to Disney Cruise Line posts:
Treat yourself to a RainForest Pass at Senses Spa
12. Chartered Sail on Yacht or Catamaran
If you love the Caribbean and sailing, then this is the most ideal vacation!
One of the most appealing aspects of a chartered sail is being able to decide the itinerary and chart whatever course you desire. We sailed from St. Thomas over to the British Virgin Islands to Virgin Gorda, Cooper Island, Norman Island, Tortola, St. John, Peter Island, Guana Island, Marina Cay, and Jost Van Dyke. All in 5 days time!
Some of our favorite spots were Soggy Dollar Bar on Sandy Bay in Jost Van Dyke, snorkeling near Guana Island, jumping off the top of the boat at Willy T’s, and learning the ins and outs of sailing. Being unplugged a majority of the time is also a HUGE blessing when traveling with teens and tweens.
Must See US Cities
Not to be shown up by tropical spots and international destinations, several US cities are travel-worthy year-round and deserve attention in 2018.
13. Washington, DC
A historic MUST SEE and an international mecca for cuisine, Washington, DC is a place all kids should experience. Tops for families include the Smithsonian museums, White House and Capitol tours (arrange months in advance through your Senator or Representative), all the memorials during a night bus tour, and the National Archives.
Chicago Must Do’s include Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, and a baseball game. Oh yeah, and I can’t forget The Ledge at SkyDeck Chicago where I overcame my fear of heights and stood on a glass floor 1,353 feet above the ground. I even have the photo to prove it!
Cloud Gate (aka “the Bean”) is a selfie spot for sure. Made of approximately 200 stainless steel plates and weighing 100 tons, this iconic Chicago landmark took some serious tweaking before it was unveiled in 2005. Nearby Lurie Garden is a wonderful passageway to the Art Institute of Chicago. This green space helps Chicago maintain the nickname “City in a Garden.”
I break it all down in more detail in my post, What to Do in Chicago with Teens and Tweens.
15. San Francisco
My absolute favorite activity in San Francisco was riding an electric bike with Dylan’s Tours. I was really glad to have an electric bike; after all, San Francisco is affectionately referred to as “One Hill of a City.” My favorite moments were biking on the Golden Gate Bridge; touching Hopper’s Hands at the base of the bridge; and the view of the Painted Ladies with the skyline majestically towering behind. Dang it, no John Stamos in sight!
Combining the Walt Disney Family Museum and Ghirardelli Square makes for a memorable afternoon in this magnificent city. Get your exercise beforehand so you can savor every delicious “spoonful of sugar.”
This guide to San Francisco in One Day will help you make the most of your limited time in San Francisco.
Finally, Napa and Sonoma are two huge reasons to also visit the area. My San Francisco in Two Days (including Napa Valley) itinerary explores three outstanding Napa wineries.
16. New York City
The Big Apple blew us away with magical musicals, super sightseeing, and hustle and bustle like no other city in the world.
During our spring break vacation to NYC, the highlight was our private photo session we had with Marc of Photo Trek Tours—the photos are priceless! Part walking tour and part photo session, we covered so much ground in 3 hours and got some awesome family photos.
A money saving tip is to get a CityPass, which for $ 122 adults and $ 98 kids includes admission to:
- The Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Our NYC family favorites: Broadway musicals, Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Ellis Island, a ferry tour, Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building, and The Plaza Food Hall. Move over, Eloise and Kevin McAllister because The Plaza has wowed us!
Phoenix, Arizona, has so many opportunities for experiences and excursions, you may have a hard time choosing. A few of them jumped at me when planning my recent visit. How could I resist hot air ballooning for the first time, a rambling outdoors tour that’s both fun and educational, and an orange blossom infused spa treatment that would leave me relaxed and zen?
My favorite activity hands down was Hot Air Ballooning with Hot Air Expeditions. The amazing thing is that it is so calm and peaceful, and you cannot feel any wind because you travel WITH the wind. Fascinating fact: if a candle was lit during your flight, the flame would remain motionless because there is no breeze as you travel with the wind.
We actually stayed in nearby Chandler, Arizona at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. Nestled on the Gila River Indian Community, the resort is owned by the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Yes, they actually own the resort and have an agreement with a Sheraton and a management company to run it. Tribal influences run throughout the resort, from the 10 murals on the grand lobby ceiling, to the naming of the restaurants, to the artwork and décor. The name Wild Horse Pass pays homage to the 1,500 wild horses that run free on these tribal lands.
Highlights of our White Horse Pass stay included: a Prickly Pear margarita poolside; spending the afternoon at Aji spa enjoying the spa amenities; and a fabulous meal at Kai, ranked as the only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurant in Arizona.
Other favorite spots in Phoenix/Scottsdale: the Desert Botanical Garden, Musical Instrument Museum, Pink Jeep tour of Sagauro National Park, and a spa treatment at Alvadora Spa of the Royal Palms Resort.
Last but certainly not least, Boston ranks as a powerhouse destination for families to soak up history, try new experiences, and eat some awesome food.
Our picks include the Freedom Trail, Boston Garden, riding the swan boats, Faneuil Hall, a whale watching tour with Boston Harbor Cruises, and an overview of the city tour with Boston Duck Tours.
Boston is a seafood lover’s dream! Our favorite restaurants included Barking Crab, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Legal Sea Foods.
Phew! That’s quite a list. I’m just thankful it wasn’t the year 1999 and that I didn’t have to come up with 99 places!
So what would you add to the list? Are any of these destinations part of your 2018 plans? Or better yet, what would you recommend in any of these spots? I’d love to know…share away!