The year 2016 carried the travel-loving members of the Hilton Mom Voyage team far and wide. From Amy G.’s family trek to the Big Easy to Jon’s whirlwind tour of Asia, from Kristine’s many California adventures to Vera’s fab solo trip to Cuba, our team worked hard to make sure our dreams came true when it came to family travel last year.
So what’s in store for 2017? Here’s a final year-in-review of the items we checked off our bucket list for 2016 and the hopes and dreams that inspire our travel bucket list additions for 2017. We’d also love to hear what’s on your bucket list for 2017 — please share in the comments below!
LISA G.: THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN
In 2017 we hope to check off our very top bucket list destination: the Land of the Rising Sun, enchanting Japan. I last traveled there in 1996 when my best friend from law school and I backpacked through Asia, staying at gritty hostels, wishing we were in luxurious Hilton hotels!
The hospitality and the exquisite beauty of Japan captivated me. I can’t wait to share all that is distinctly Japan with my husband and children: the history, the culture, the magical shrines, the sublime gardens, the grandeur of Mt. Fuji, the gastronomical delights, and so much more.
The other two bucket list destinations we dream of visiting this year are mystical Iceland and buzzing Buenos Aires.
This past year our family ticked off two huge travel bucket list dreams: Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest! Ever since my hubby and I honeymooned in romantic Hawaii we have been counting the days (literally!) until we could return with our two daughters. Our family’s winter escape to the tropical Big Island and Honolulu was perfection, full of adventure, foodie cuisine and ultimate relaxation at Hilton Waikoloa Village and Hilton Hawaiian Village!
Having visited the Pacific Northwest when I was a young girl, I delighted in finally returning years later with my family to the vibrant cities of Seattle, Portland and Vancouver (aka VanGroovy). Our spring break was full of gourmet meals, legendary street food, stunning scenery, captivating museums and endless activities.
And this summer my husband and I were fortunate enough to tick off our own romantic vacation bucket list item when we explored the welcoming land of Scotland. From the gorgeous iconic golf course in St. Andrews to cosmopolitan Glasgow to the otherworldly Isle of Skye, to one of our favorite cities of all time, modern, yet historic Edinburgh, we fell head over heels in love with this country and hope to go back one day with our girls. Crossing our fingers that we can add more checks to our ambitious travel bucket list!
MARY S.: CRUISE THE MEDITERRANEAN
One of the best feelings in the world is making a travel bucket list item a reality. Greece and Croatia have been on top of my wish list for a while. We will be visiting these countries this summer on a Mediterranean cruise as part of a longer European trip. We’re stopping in the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos and Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia. We wish we can stay longer but this will whet our appetite for a return visit. I have dreamt of seeing those whitewashed buildings with blue domes against breathtaking ocean views while eating a gyro in Oia. My husband and I are also big fans of the HBO show Game of Thrones. So, we’d love to do a tour in Dubrovnik to see filming locations and walk along its historic stonewalls.
We’d also love to visit Machu Picchu and see this major Incan archaeological site this year. I have also always longed to explore Cusco. And who doesn’t want a picture with an adorable alpaca or llama?
Third on the bucket list is a bit closer to home. We have wanted to visit Rapid City, South Dakota for years. We’d love to see Mt. Rushmore, explore Badlands National Park and see bison roam at Custer State Park.
We ticked off a couple of top travel bucket list items in 2016. We spent six nights in Bergen, cruised on several fjords and saw in person why Norway is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. We ended this year of wildlife and nature viewing trips with a land-based trip to the Galapagos Islands to walk side by side with giant tortoises and watch marine iguanas swim.
ROBYN D.: EXPLORE THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
Remember that your kids might have some bucket list items for next year, too! My kids finished the last book of the Harry Potter series in 2016, so wizards, wands, and Weasleys are the topic of the day at our house, along with all other things magical. Even these young muggles have heard about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley inside the Universal Studios Florida theme park. They began lobbying to cross off an item on their bucket list: celebrate reaching the end of the series by having a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.
Because they are very persuasive (and have parents who like to travel), we are planning a whirlwind trip for this summer to become characters in this fantasy land, as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, located next door in Islands of Adventure.
This is a fairly easy bucket list item to cross off because it’s a domestic location frequented by thousands of people each year, but therein lies the difficult part, too. Planning for crowds at this popular destination is a magic trick itself. We will be purchasing the Universal Express Unlimited Pass because we are going at a peak time.
Even though we will only have time for one park each day, we are adding the park-to-park option to our tickets so we can experience riding the Hogwart’s Express Train between the parks as well. This is a great trip to remind us that bucket list items don’t always have to be long-distance, once-in-a-lifetime trips; a Butterbeer with your family to live in a fantasy world you’ve read all about might be just enough.
TRICIA P.: EXPERIENCE THE TOTAL ECLIPSE IN PORTLAND
On August 21, 2017 the Sun, Moon, and Earth will line up to create a total eclipse. When I read about this event in mid-2016, my science-loving family put it on our travel bucket list. The last time a total solar eclipse crossed the U.S. was almost 100 years ago.
Here is how to view this awesome experience and make it a vacation as well. Weather permitting, the total solar eclipse will be visible on a narrow path going through the U.S. It will start south of Portland, Oregon and head east down through the U.S. passing though Casper, Wyoming; St. Joseph, Missouri; Carbondale, Illinois; and Nashville, Tennessee. It will end its U.S. path near Columbia, South Carolina. The eclipse will only be visible for approximately two minutes in each area.
For the best viewing, go as close to the path as possible. My family booked a Hilton property at the beginning of the U.S. path south of Portland, Oregon. We had been looking for an opportunity to get up to that area of the county, so choosing to view the solar eclipse near Portland made perfect sense. We plan to spend the weekend touring the Oregon coast before heading back inland to view the eclipse.
Witnessing the solar eclipse will be an unforgettable experience. People from all over the world will come to the U.S. to view the show. Decide on a location, book now, and create a fantastic travel memory!
SUSAN K.: TREK THROUGH GERMANY AND AUSTRIA
We have always loved traveling, and now that our kids are 10 and 13 (which I consider perfect traveling ages) we have been thinking about family destinations on our travel bucket list. In 2016 we took our first major overseas trip to one of our dream destinations: Israel. It was an amazing family adventure. We saw significant religious sites in ancient Jerusalem, dug underground for artifacts that were 2,000 years old, and maneuvered through tunnels under King David’s Palace. We will never forget our experiences riding camels or zip-lining over the Israeli desert.
In 2017 our vacation wish list includes a trek to Europe to visit Germany and Austria. I’m thinking castles, medieval knights, and pastry-making. Our first stop would be Munich where I think the kids will love visiting the Marienplatz Square to see a quintessential European town square including the Glockenspiel where 32 life-sized figures re-enact important events in Bavaria.
In Salzburg we will stroll the streets of Mozart’s hometown, and the baker in our family will learn to make marzipan, a sweet treat made with sugar and ground almonds. Our dream trip also includes visiting some unique historic sites like the Hellbrunn Castle with its “trick fountains” to show the kids what a water park at a palace was like in the 17th century.
In the tiny medieval town of Durnstein, Austria, my wish list includes wandering the cobblestone streets of this picturesque town and then taking a family bike ride along the Danube River in the Austrian countryside.
Whatever your dream destination, here’s to planning and traveling in 2017!
MICHELLE S.: SPEND TWO WEEKS WANDERING THROUGH ITALY
For as long as I can remember, Italy has been at the very top of my bucket list. When my family finally traveled to Rome in 2015, I knew I needed to go back and spend more time exploring, and more specifically eating and drinking. I still dream of the amazing dishes we ate and the delicious wines we sampled while visiting one of the most historically rich locations in the world.
At the top of my travel bucket list for 2017 is a two-week trip wandering through Italy, sampling the freshly made Italian dishes and drinking the wine of the country. I would love to take a cooking class and learn how a true Italian chef creates his meals. But mostly, I want nothing more than to visit the wineries in Tuscany; touch the grapes and wander through the vineyards while drinking some Prosecco and Lambrusco.
Of course, no Italian bucket list would be complete without visiting the beautiful cities of Florence, Rome, Lake Como or the Amalfi Coast. Italy is rich with culture and history and has some amazing coastal towns. Being a former photographer, I hope to capture some beautiful shots of our time there to hang on our walls. I try to line our walls with the incredible places we have visited as a reminder of how big our world truly is.
Our brief adventure in Rome last year has sparked a true love for a country I barely know. I can’t wait to spend more time in one of the most romantic places on earth, taking in the history, culture and food of the country.
RACHEL S.: EXPLORE THE JAPANESE PREFECTURE OF OKINAWA
Our family’s bucket list vacation next year will be the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. We have traveled throughout Japan in the past: Tokyo and on the west coast of Japan in Toyama. I hear that Okinawa is a different experience than the rest of Japan. It has a more tropical island temperature and beautiful, wide open beaches. I can totally handle an empty beach with white sand; I don’t need a million people on the beach to confirm that it’s the place to be.
We plan on flying into Tokyo-Narita, then taking a flight to Okinawa and staying on Okinawa Island at Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort. The main things that we want to experience are the excellent cuisine and the culture of Okinawa, but we also plan to fit in some snorkeling and beach time.
Some of the activities that I am planning are a visit UNESCO world heritage site Shurijo castle, the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, before Okinawa was annexed to Japan, and a stroll down Yachimun Street. Yachimun is the traditional pottery of Okinawa, and the street is home to several pottery shops and and a museum of the craft.
Karate originated in Okinawa, so we would like to check out the Okinawa prefecture Karate museum. We will of course be sampling Okinawa treats including a favorite among U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa, taco rice (a fusion of American Mexican food consisting of vegetables and seasoned ground beef over a bed of rice). I think that this vacation will be the perfect mix of exploring a new culture with a side of beach time that everyone in my family will enjoy.
AMY B.: GRAND EUROPEAN VOYAGE TO LONDON, PARIS AND ROME
The year 2016 brought my family of three to San Francisco, where we biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, visited Alcatraz and traveled by trolley. We also took a grand multi-generational trip with Grandma and Grandpa, Aunty, Uncle and cousins (!!!) to Disney World. What a blast! We also escaped the winter weather with a trip to Key Largo, and we can’t say enough about the relaxing, family-friendly Hilton Key Largo!
For 2017, we are adding a grand voyage to Europe to a our family travel bucket list. My now 15-year-old son was born in London and spent the first year of his life there before we moved to Chicago. He doesn’t remember a thing obviously, so I’m looking forward to showing him all the places he loved when he was just a wee baby. At age 7, my fashion-loving daughter already dreams of Paris, so we hope to spend a few days in the City of Light before heading to Rome, Italy, where we plan to visit family.
ERIN M.: SEEING THE NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD!
Experiencing the Northern Lights in Iceland
I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights: those beautiful streaks of color that are visible in the far north sky during the winter months. They are best seen in places where there is complete darkness, so sparsely populated places in the far North such as Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia and Alaska are ideal because of their extended winter nights. I choose Iceland because it’s a country I haven’t yet visited, and it is known to be a great place to view the Northern Lights.
To counteract light pollution and increase visibility, visitors either travel outside Reykjavik to the countryside or take a boat tour. Even with no guarantee of seeing the lights, there are plenty of other things to see in Iceland that make it worth the trip. As my blogger friends Mary and Mary Ellenhave researched during their travels there: waterfalls, geysers, thermal springs, glaciers and icebergs abound in Iceland. Think of the hands-on geology lessons for your kids!
Boating in the Bioluminescent Bays of Puerto Rico
Did you know Puerto Rico is home to three bioluminescent bays? In recent years, we have visited San Juan where we stayed at the fabulous Caribe Hilton, but at the time our kids were too young for such adventures. Now is the time!
The bioluminescence is caused by tiny plant organisms called dinoflagellates that glow and light up the surrounding water when they come in contact with another organism. There are three bays: Mosquito Bay off of the satellite island of Vieques, Laguna Grande in the town of Fajardo, and La Paguera in the town of Lajas. Each town has its outfitters offering kayak and boat tours; Viator is a good aggregate site to find one that meets your travel and budget needs. Vieques is said to have the brightest “dinos” and is the only place in the world that has bioluminescence year round. Since Vieques is a small island, visitors travel there via plane or ferry.
MARY ELLEN M.: TOUR OF NORTHERN ITALY
Buongiorno! There’s no doubt about it, Italy is, and always has been, one of Europe’s most enticing countries, and that’s why it’s topping the bucket list for our family travel in 2017! Our 2015 family bucket list trip took us to the top of a glacier in breathtaking Iceland, and in 2016 we found ourselves paragliding over the majestic Swiss Alps.
Needless to say, we can’t wait to explore all that Italy has in store in 2017. With everything from awe-inspiring art and incredible architecture to diverse scenery and scrumptious edibles, Italy is literally jam-packed with possibilities…and the Mancini family is ready to find them!
My family and I like to travel at the beginning of the summer, just after school’s out and when our Florida work life isn’t quite so busy. June is almost always our month of choice for international travel and longer family vacations. It just so happens that this is also a perfect time of year to visit Italy. In addition to beautiful weather, you will also find some excellent cultural festivities during June, including June Solstice, the Feast of St. John and the Feast of St. Peter and Paul. And, because my husband is 100% Italian (as his grandparents, on both sides, were born there), this trip and these immersive cultural events will be even more meaningful due to our family heritage.
Our dream Italian vacation will begin in Northern Italy with the first stop in Lake Como, then we’ll venture south to Milan and southeast to Venice. From there we’ll continue heading south to Florence, then on to Rome and Sorrento with our final destination in Sicily. This itinerary will allow us to truly experience (even if only briefly) the entire country. It may be somewhat of a whirlwind trip but, on the plus side, it will allow us the opportunity to explore all that Italy has to offer. Look out Italy, we’re coming for you!
AMY G.: LE TOUR DE FRANCE, SNOW MONKEYS AND ST. KITTS & NEVIS
For most families, the summer equates to sunshine, vacations, and no school. But for military families and those who live near military communities, the summer means PCS (permanent change of station) season. Regardless of how much time on station you actually have, either you, your friends, or your neighbors will probably be greeted by pack-out crews and your street will be intermittently littered with moving trucks. It’s a fact of military life. Some love the new adventures, some hate them, and some just deal with them and go with the flow. After all, it’s something you sign up for when you marry into the military.
In 2017, our family’s summer will most likely be greeted by an aforementioned pack-out crew and a moving truck or two. It’s time for us to pull chocks and move on to a new (and currently unknown) adventure somewhere on the globe. So with an upcoming move looming in our future, my travel bucket list has multiple dimensions, as we could find our new address labels boasting a house number in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Hawaii, or somewhere here in the Continental U.S. With this in mind, here are the top three places on my bucket list to visit in 2017:
- If we find our new address in Europe once again, our family will most definitely be taking a road trip of sorts this July and to follow multiple stages of the Tour de France. From screaming at the top of our lungs for our favorite riders (Chris Froome on Team Sky, for me!) as they fly through the streets of Liege to cheering alongside the cyclists while adorned in silly costumes as they climb the treacherous mountaintop stage finish on the Col d’Izoard in the Alps, our clan of five will be there in the hexagon (Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg) for 21 days in July. The last time we participated in le Tour along the country roads of France was nine years ago and we can’t wait to be part of it once again.
- If our “we’ve moved…again” cards have a new address in Asia, we will certainly be finding ourselves visiting the snow monkeys of Jigukudani Yaen-koenin Yamanouchi, Nagano, Japan. Found happily basking in the steaming hot springs, these Japanese Macaques find warm respite from the cold winter days of living in the Nagano mountains while relaxing in these tranquil waters. And while in town to observe and photograph these incredible primates, I know I will be visiting the Shibu Onsen hot springs for some much-needed relaxation on my own.
- If our next couple of years find us staying stateside, we will be booking a trip to Kitts and Nevis. While we live on a beautiful beach in Florida, it’s time for us to swap our white sand for some new sand and head south to this beautiful hidden gem in the Caribbean. With the deep blue Caribbean Sea as our backdrop for snorkeling, diving, sailing, relaxing, and even educational enrichment, these opulent twin islands have been on my bucket list for years and with the new Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Kitts Resort set to open this year, there has been no better time to visit them than 2017.
ANDREA L.: HIKING ANTELOPE CANYON
My bucket list is always changing as new ideas grab hold. The place I most want to go in 2017 has been shaped by a bucket list destination we were fortunate to get to in 2016. Finally after years of saving, in June 2016 I was able to take my daughter and her friends to Puerto Rico.
For years, we had been poring over pictures and descriptions of El Yunque National Forest, the bioluminescent bays, and the Camuy River Cave Park. It was so exciting to see these places in person, but for me, the absolute highlight was seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the girls I had shared the hours of work raising money for our trip. And for the girls who have been unable to travel much, I can see the trip sparked their travel bug as I’m constantly being asked, “Where are you taking us next, Miss Andrea?”
So for my bucket list in 2017, I’ve been focusing on the American Southwest. Most of the girls in my traveling posse have never been to the Southwest, and while I’ve traveled there quite a bit, I have never been to Antelope Canyon located in the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. Photos of the canyon are stunning and unlike any lands that we’re used to in Virginia, which really drove my interest in taking my girls there. I’m planning an inexpensive flight to Las Vegas with the briefest of tours there, then heading east to Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is just a couple of hours from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, so it seems silly not to also see the Grand Canyon while we’re there. We cannot wait.
HEATHER C.: BUILD MEMORIES THROUGH TRAVEL
If you ask my family members what their travel bucket lists include, you will hear lazing on the water surface in Bora Bora, sport fishing in Hawaii, sightseeing in Austria, and traveling through history in Greece. While all of those are worthy trips we want to take and I would love to plan, they are not on the horizon for the coming year. But alas! Until that winning lottery ticket comes through, I have to pay for my travels from the salary from my day job.
While 2017 doesn’t look like it will contain an international trip for us, I will model whatever trip we take on my overarching travel principle. No matter where you go or what you do, focus on building memories rather than buying stuff.
One year we spent 18 days making a loop through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and back to Texas. Last spring break we took a nine-day road trip and I was able to experience the history of Washington, D.C. with my family.
This year, I’m looking at a variety of options along the same vein. Will we find ourselves in Yellowstone? At Mount Rushmore? Driving the coast of California? Continuing our history tour in Philadelphia and Boston, Massachusetts?
Even if you don’t plan an extravagant trip for this year, just make a plan. There are so many things we haven’t yet seen in the U.S.: states we haven’t visited and National Parks we’ve not experienced. More than once (or twice, or more!) we have played tourists in our own state. See the sights from a different viewpoint. Create a plan that is unique for your family and your budget. Just go!
VERA H.: VISIT JAPAN, ARGENTINA AND ITALY
As a travel blogger, I often scan lists of “must-visit places” to inspire our family’s travel wish list. Last December, an article, which zoomed in on only four destinations: Miami, Colombia, Paris and Sri Lanka, inspired a good portion of our 2016 family travel, with its interesting and somewhat eclectic blend.
Coincidentally, we were just heading to Miami to welcome in the New Year and escape our Chicago winter for a few days. We spent our spring break in Colombia, after finding a great airfare, visiting Bogotá and Cartagena and loving it. Similarly, we jumped on the opportunity to bring our kids to Paris for an extended weekend after discovering a fare special in late September as the summer tourist crowds cleared. Sri Lanka will have to wait for now, but instead, we visited San Francisco and Cuba, both fantastic destinations.
For 2017, our family’s top wish list destinations include Japan, Argentina and Italy. Japan, because we love sushi, want to ride the Bullet Train, see Mount Fuji, a live sumo match and the snow monkeys. Plus, we think it would be very cool to spend a night in a temple.
Argentina is one South American country we haven’t yet visited. We would love to hike in Patagonia and see Iguazu Falls, and I cannot wait to take some tango lessons. We all love a good steak, not to mention an opportunity to practice our Spanish.
Our top two domestic destinations are Arizona and New Mexico. I can’t wait to stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon watching our kids stare with their mouths open. Finally, Albuquerque has been on our radar for a while because of their world famous hot air balloon festival which takes place every September.
LARA D.: CONNECT WITH ISRAEL
Since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of visiting Israel. I am really not sure where my deep emotional connection takes root from but it has never waned. I even had a pen-pal named Zivi who lived in Tel Aviv when I was 10-years-old. Weekly for a couple years, Zivi and I would write and talk about our interests, family life and divulge secrets. It was a time for her when her country was at war and writing was a reprieve from her realities. Eventually, we lost touch yet I always felt I lost not just a friend but a sibling, separated by politics and a thousands of miles.
Finally, after so many years, I am excited to finally check Israel off my 2017 travel bucket list! This is a dream come true, and I can’t wait to explore this country, steeped in rich history, that has intrigued me since I was young. My first stop will be a stay at Hilton Tel Aviv which is perfectly situated in the heart of the city and offers commanding views of the Mediterranean Sea. It will provide an excellent base to explore the surrounding area, to include Jerusalem where I plan on visiting the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Dome of the Rock. I also plan on taking a sunrise bicycle tour of Old Jerusalem, as I hear this is an excellent way to explore the nooks and crannies. Finally after enjoying culinary delights (maybe a cooking class or two?) and taking in a plethora of history, I plan to cap off my holiday with a long float in the Dead Sea.
Although I lost touch with my childhood pen-pal, the connection to her country has never felt stronger as I get ready to embark on my adventure.
This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.