Your New Favorite Family Vacation

Yeah, you could go to the beach or go to Disney -- again. Or you can get inspired by three families who planned unforgettable off-the-grid getaways.
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Natural Wonders

Elizabeth Halvorsen and her family went into the wild during a one-of-a-kind vacation to the Gal?pagos Islands.

Both of our daughters, Isabel, 9, and Alex, 6, love animals. So my husband, J. P., and I thought the Gal?pagos, the chain of volcanic islands west of Ecuador, would be a perfect place for a family vacation. Where else would we see sea lions, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies (for the uninitiated, that's a tropical seabird with feet of the brightest blue you've ever seen in nature). We went with a Lindblad Expeditions cruise because in addition to its National Geographic partnership (experts are onboard), Lindblad offers plenty of family-friendly activities. We knew the girls would like the "junior naturalist" program, which includes scavenger hunts, and snorkeling, and swimming lessons.

PLAY: The ship stops at six islands throughout the eight-day trip. We were free to hike, go kayaking, or even try deep-water snorkeling at each stop. (The staff provides wetsuits and snorkeling equipment.) Every day after lunch the girls raced to the afternoon science experiments led by naturalists. They even trained kids to drive those inflatable boats called Zodiacs and they explored a cove near the ship.

EAT: The food onboard is super-fresh and fantastic. It's mostly international, but with an Ecuadorian flair -- think ceviche made with shrimp and tomatoes, plantains, fruits like papaya and mango, black bean soup, and local fish. The seafood was the highlight for me, but the girls went crazy for the ice cream sundae buffet (of course!).

STAY: The cabins on the National Geographic Endeavour are small but cozy and all have windows or portholes. We didn't spend a whole lot of time in our room, though; we lounged by the small swimming pool or on the sundecks after an exciting day.

THE TAKEAWAY: The birds -- especially the penguins -- and sea lions we saw are completely unafraid of humans, so you can walk right up to them. I'll never forget visiting Santa Cruz Island, where giant tortoises roam: It was like a cage-free zoo. Those are the kinds of lasting memories I wanted to create with my family. And we absolutely did.

NEED TO KNOW: Be sure everyone takes a camera -- being able to get so close to wildlife is a huge privilege.

For more information: Lindblad Expeditions, 800-397-3348; expeditions.com.

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