Three Exotic Family Trips (and What to Pack)

Photo Courtesy of Soneva Fushi/George Rishann

Three Exotic Family Trips
(and What to Pack)

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In very reductive and general terms, there are two types of family vacations—the kind with group activities, itineraries, and wake-up calls and the kind in which the parents ask only one question: Do you have in-house childcare? We found three places that appeal to both camps and pretty much everyone in between. We’re also including ideas on what to pack for the kids—because isn’t that half the fun?

Soneva Fushi

The marketing department of Soneva Fushi wants you to think of their island as “just like home, but better.” But the truth is that this place is nothing like home, unless your house is on a private, densely forested island with white-sand beaches, resident reptiles, sea creatures, and a remarkably large wild rabbit population. You have to see this place to believe it. The island is as much an immersion course in the great Maldivian outdoors as it is a vacation. The staff-supervised family area known as the Den is kitted out with a pirate ship, two (safely shallow) pools, a cinema, a music room, and an ice cream parlor with no fewer than sixty-five flavors at any given time. Babysitters are available, but it’s not hard to find experiences the whole family can enjoy together. Snorkeling tours of fish- and coral-filled reefs (guided by a marine biologist), beach picnics prepared by a private chef, and movie screenings on the sand are special no matter how old you are. Each villa is adaptable for kids, however the child-specific ones—with tree-shaded pools, water slides, and separate playrooms—are especially suited to younger kids and toddlers. Pro tip: Book a villa on the sunset side of the island; the snorkeling is superior on this end, and little ones will delight in the frequent sight of dolphins jumping in the channel. Before lights out, lie outside on blankets and pick up stargazing tips from the in-house astronomer. Yes, really.

The Fasano

The Philippe Starck–designed hotel, with its ’60s-style furniture and sculptural indigenous wood interiors, is a nod to the bossa nova era (bossa nova is a Brazilian fusion of samba and jazz that became popular in the 1950s and ’60s). While rooms aren’t huge, when you’re lounging on a Sergio Rodrigues chair watching the sun dip behind the mountains, you’ll feel like this entire slice of the universe belongs to you. More suited to older kids and teenagers, Rio is as much an active city as it is a beachy escape. But if you’re traveling with babies or toddlers, the staff will adapt the room and poolside experience to make it as comfortable as possible for parents. The Fasano is positioned in what is unequivocally the best location in Rio: Families can bike along the coast (on Sundays this entire stretch is basically shut off to traffic and Rio’s citizens take over, rollerblading, biking, or walking with their kids and dogs) or take advantage of the hotel’s beach cabanas and surf. Then be a tourist and drive up to Christ the Redeemer, the famous ninety-foot-tall statue of Jesus that watches over Rio, oftentimes from above the clouds. Take an all-glass cable car up the steep Sugarloaf Mountain—from above, the city looks like a series of rain-forest-covered mountains that someone decided to build a city onto.

Ritz-Carlton Mandapa

The Ritz-Carlton’s sixty suites and villas, all built into the steep hillside jungle looking down on the valley below, are dramatically framed on one side by the Ayung River. Sitting on your private deck or gazing out the window from the bathtub means views of the rice paddies, a local temple, and the thick vegetation that springs out of the volcanic soil. You will be so secluded as to forget what a cab horn sounds like. Younger kids will love the novelty of dining at Kubu restaurant, where each table overlooks the river and is set within the confines of a custom-built bamboo cocoon—it’s like eating supper in a tent made of twigs. Villas come with their own pools and kitchenettes (perfect for preparing snacks). The mini explorers program is one of the most sophisticated kids’ activity rosters anywhere. All eco-based, these activities take advantage of the incredible natural landscape and traditional industry surrounding the property. Organic gardening gives children—and their parents—an introduction to the flora and fauna of the region, before they make their own herbal drinks. Morning yoga sessions or volcano hikes burn off latent energy, while the arts and crafts classes with local artisans are a great introduction to Balinese traditions, like “gebogan” (flower towers made from indigenous blooms). If you’ve never seen a rice paddy, this is the place to do it: Undulating layers of green fan out over the hillsides, interspersed with bodies of water and punctuated with elegant swaying trees. The place is a postcard.