The end of the year is nigh, you've put in the hours, and with any luck have a bonus (or at the very least a credit card) burning a hole in your pocket. Sure you could put it towards the mortgage, or even upgrade the family car. Alternatively, you could invest in a well-earned family holiday – the trip of a lifetime.
Increasingly, families have the means to travel, but have never been so time poor, which makes experiential holidays so much more appealing. The last thing working parents want is to go on holiday and not spend quality time together as a family.
A&K's managing director Sujata Raman says families (including grandparents) are gravitating towards properties and itineraries that immerse them in local culture, provide interaction with locals and provide out-of-the-ordinary experiences. "It's not just about luxury accommodation or dedicated kids' facilities, but the quality of the experience, the calibre of the guides, the comfort of the surroundings, and the creation of new, and memorable experiences that families can undertake together." Travellers, and families especially, she says, are far more active than they used to be. "It's no longer sufficient to look at the world through a plane window."
Kerry Schmoock, a travel designer who creates five-star itineraries for Australian families, says experiential travel is a terrific way to tick many boxes. "To travel and enjoy a fun, interactive holiday, doing the things that you love with the people you love, is the ultimate family story."
With that in mind, Traveller has scoured the globe to bring you 10 of the world's best five-star family holidays; guaranteed to create memories that last a lifetime. The mortgage can wait.
#1 THE PLACE Bush Lodge, Sabi Sabi, South Africa
THE EXPERIENCE Pitched as a luxury home in the bush, this world-class safari lodge in the 65,000 hectare Sabi Sand game reserve, borders the famous Kruger National Park, with no fences between the two. Here, 25 luxury thatched suites encircle a busy watering hole, with twice daily safaris to view the Big Five (including the elusive leopard), wild dogs and cheetahs. Enjoy dinner under the stars, high tea and breakfasts that include a special kids buffet. The wonderful staff, who treat you like family, encourage guests to kick off their shoes and let them do everything for you.
FIVE STARS FOR The purpose-built Elefun Kids Centre and Junior Ranger (four-eight years) and Junior Tracker (nine-12 years) programs, offering ranger walks, animal tracking, bird identification and map reading. With kids in good hands, parents can take a walking safari, laze by the pool or visit the Amani day spa.
GOOD TO KNOW Best suited to families with children aged four and over (although babysitting is available). Children under six cannot go on safari, however the lodge's two-bedroom luxury villa offers exclusive safari vehicle use for children of any age.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Three-day packages with Bench Africa from $1945 an adult twin share; discounted children's rates available. See www.benchafrica.com.au
#2 THE PLACE Saariselka, Lapponia, Finland
THE EXPERIENCE The postcode of Saint Nicholas himself, this once-in-a-lifetime experience includes a reindeer-drawn sleigh ride to Santa's lodge, a night in a glass igloo, traditional Lappish meals and the spectacular northern lights viewed through a transparent-roofed bus.
FIVE STARS FOR A reindeer sled ride escorted by elves through an enchanting snow-covered forest to meet Santa; and sleeping under the stars in a heated igloo with the northern lights swirling above.
GOOD TO KNOW Children aged seven and over can do this tour. Be prepared for seriously cold weather which can range from zero to minus-35 degrees. Boots, gloves and jackets can be rented from the resort; just advise of sizing beforehand.
MAKE IT HAPPEN The lead-up to Christmas is the best time to do this magical five-night World Ventures' tour available to DreamTrips travel club members; August to April you can see the northern lights too. From $US1599 an adult; $US959 a child (seven-11). See www.dreamtrips.com; www.arcticdirect.co.uk
#3 THE PLACE Arkaba, Flinders Ranges, South Australia
THE EXPERIENCE Fossick for native herbs, track wildlife including the rare yellow-footed rock wallaby, set camera traps and make your own sundial at this luxurious outback station stay. This exclusive 24,000 hectare private conservancy, in one of Australia's most ecologically significant landscapes near Wilpena Pound, offers treasure hunts using a map and compass, traditional damper bread making with Arkaba's chef, wildlife viewing, string making with native rice flowers and stories of the night sky with an Aboriginal twist. Healthy homemade meals cooked over the campfire, and luxurious station accommodation are all part of this African safari meets Australian outback experience.
FIVE STARS FOR Immersive bush experiences that are educational and fun.
GOOD TO KNOW Best suited to children eight years and older with a keen interest in the environment. Families with children seven years and younger need to book Arkaba for exclusive use.
MAKE IT HAPPEN The best time to visit the Flinders Ranges is April-October. Summer can be stifling hot. From $2670 a night for a family of four. See www.arkabastation.com/about-us/family
#4 THE PLACE Nihiwatu, Sumba, Indonesia
THE EXPERIENCE Five-star dining, world-class surfing, trekking, personal butlers, adventures in open-top Land Rovers, an on-site chocolate factory and a professional equestrian centre are all on offer at Nihiwatu.
Nihiwatu is on Sumba, known as the lost world island, where its green hilly landscape, grazing buffalos and tribes with their own distinct culture seem more like Africa than one of Bali's closest neighbours. Recently voted by Travel and Leisure as the world's best hotel, Nihiwatu is a former surf lodge transformed into a culturally immersive enclave of active adventure and serious extravagance.
FIVE STARS FOR Exclusive access to one of the world's best left-hand breaks – making it ideal for surf-loving families (and surf widows who'll find plenty more on offer) – and the new Chris and Charly's chocolate factory. A kids' club in a chocolate factory? Surely every kid's dream.
GOOD TO KNOW Best suited to families with children who have a competent surfing ability (if you're coming to surf). Nihiwatu's luxury villas have unfenced pools, while the beach has strong currents and rips making it unsuitable for kids under six.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Rates start from $US900 plus 21 per cent tax in high season including all meals and airport transfers. Alcohol extra. See www.nihiwatu.com
#5 THE PLACE Capella Lodge, Lord Howe Island
THE EXPERIENCE The magnificent World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, just two hours' flight off the NSW east coast, offers barefoot adventures where kids can run free in a safe, pristine environment. Capella's resident naturalist Caitlin Woods leads families on discovery tours of the island's white-sand beaches, through subtropical rainforests and on the world's southern-most coral reef which reveals its submarine treasures at low tide. Families can join tours which include kayaking, fishing and snorkelling with sea turtles.
FIVE STARS FOR A classic Australian "holiday house" experience: no locks on doors, never-ending sunsets, board games, good books at hand and snorkelling from the front door. Barefoot luxury at its best.
GOOD TO KNOW Capella Lodge has nine suites and welcomes families with children 10 years and above. No mobile phone coverage makes it the ideal place for a screen-free holiday.
MAKE IT HAPPEN For those who can travel outside school holidays, Lord Howe's water temperature is warmest in February and March.
All-inclusive rates start from $850 a person twin share, with extra people $450 a person a night. See www.capellalodge.com.au
#6 THE PLACE La Selva Amazon Lodge, Ecuadorean Amazon, South America
THE EXPERIENCE Jungle walks, piranha fishing, bird spotting, night canoeing and nocturnal adventures searching for bats, boas and other wildlife. This incredible lodge stay also includes visits to local villages, and to parrot clay licks for a cacophony of parrots, parakeets and macaws.
FIVE STARS FOR The service, amazing food and knowledgeable guides who teach children about ecosystems, the fragility of nature, and man's effect on the planet.
GOOD TO KNOW Best suited to adventurous families with children seven years of age and older who have already done some travelling. Rooms are more akin to a five-star tented camp than a luxurious hotel due to the lodge's remote rainforest location.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Three nights from $1710 an adult; children under 12 $1200. Business class fares with LATAM via Santiago an additional $8455 per person. See www.chimuadventures.com/tour/la-selva-amazon-ecolodge
#7 THE PLACE The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, New York
THE EXPERIENCE Cooking classes, plush rocking tigers, Gotham adventures, a children's concierge and a special turn-down service with milk and cookies are part and parcel of this five-star Fifth Avenue property overlooking Central Park.
FIVE STARS FOR The hotel's plum location opposite Central Park, footsteps from Museum Mile, Central Park Zoo, the Apple Store and more, make it ideal for New York exploration. The "Kids @ Taj" program includes mini chef's class with executive chef Ashfer Biju; all kids receive a Pierre the Penguin toy, a nod to Central Park's Penguin House, on check-in.
GOOD TO KNOW Ideal for families with kids aged three-12 years wanting a luxurious urban escape. Families booked into the hotel's 11 grand suites enjoy a plush rocker tiger for the duration of their stay.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Great for both a summer or winter escape, priced from $695 a night. See www.thepierreny.com
#8 THE PLACE Canyon Family Adventure, south-west US
EXPERIENCE This epic guided tour takes in the best of America's south-west, visiting key national parks. Kayak Lake Powell, explore Bryce Canyon's red rock deserts and bizarre rock formations, join a Navajo-guided Monument Valley backroads tour, and take in a sunset pizza dinner overlooking the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. This eight-night adventure also takes in the bright lights of Vegas.
FIVE STARS FOR Unforgettable family memories made by hiking the famed Angels Landing in Zion, sleeping in a traditional Navajo hogan underneath the stars and a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
GOOD TO KNOW Ideal for children eight and over (although smaller children can sometimes be accommodated). The operator aims to match ages of children travelling on the same tour, while adventure levels can be tailored to suit. Accommodation includes camping and hotels and is not five star.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Tours depart Las Vegas from July-August 2017. From $2288 (excluding flights), with a 10 per cent discount for children aged eight to 16. See www.grandamericanadventures.com
#9 THE PLACE Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort
THE EXPERIENCE Nannies, waterfall hikes, bili bili rafting, diving and more are on offer at this five-star eco resort at Savusavu on Fiji's second biggest island, Vanua Levu. Children learn about local culture and the marine environment through the fun and experiential Bula Club program, while night snorkelling, mangrove kayak trips and expeditions aboard a glass bottom boat are guided by marine biologist Jonny Singh. Teens can try spearfishing, coral planting, rubber tube rides down the river and crab trap making, while bonfire nights are held on the beach with guitars. Personally assigned nannies for each child five and under (buddies for six-12 year olds) meanwhile provide a fun and nurturing environment, so parents can enjoy candlelit dinners by the pool or a massage in the waterfront spa. Families can join excursions to the local village, the Savusavu Farmer's Market and to a nearby school where kids are assigned a pen pal from a same age student.
FIVE STARS FOR The award winning Bula Club, the South Pacific's best kids' club.
GOOD TO KNOW Full-time nannies, buddies and an excellent teens program make this award-winning resort suitable for families with kids of all ages.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Avoid school holidays if you can when the resort is typically booked out (or book your stay way in advance). From $FJ2115 a night for a family of four all-inclusive (except alcohol). See www.fijiresort.com
#10 THE PLACE Antarctica, the White Continent, on board Le Lyrial
THE EXPERIENCE Penguin, whale and bird watching as well as tailored activities for young travellers are on offer on A&K's Antarctic cruises. Think research-station visits, children-only Zodiac rides in search of ocean creatures in tidal pools, squid dissection, special bridge visits with the Captain, nautical knot tying, photography lessons and epic snowball fights.
FIVE STARS FOR Young Explorers Guide – a dedicated educator and visual science teacher who shares her knowledge and expertise with young travellers in an engaging way during Zodiac trips, on-shore excursions and on board.
GOOD TO KNOW Children from as young as seven can join A&K's Antarctica cruises, which begin in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and operate in Australia's summer months. All passengers receive an expedition parka and backpack, while gum-boot rental is included.
MAKE IT HAPPEN From $US12,845 twin share an adult; children (seven-18) from $US7245 sharing with an adult. See www.abercrombiekent.com.au
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort, Vomo Island Resort and Nihiwatu.
#1 Going to the extreme
*Meet stunt drivers, lunch with a superhero and access the country's only rollercoaster track walk with Movie World's new VIP tour. Tickets $350 a person including access to Movie World. See www.movieworld.com.au
*Kids can stroke the heads of curious California Grey Whale calves and their mothers on a remarkable, seven-night wildlife tour in Baja California, priced from $3040 a person twin share. See www.crooked-compass.com/tours/whales-and-kayaks
*Visit Christmas markets, enjoy a pretzel-making workshop, treasure hunt and visit the original Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store with its huge revolving Christmas tree and shelves piled high with toys on a river cruise. From $4199 per adult; 50 per cent saving for children (four-18). See www.uniworld.com/au
*Enjoy 24/7, floor-to-ceiling viewing of one of the world largest aquariums from your five-star ocean suite on Singapore's Sentosa Island, complete with personalised butler service, from $SGD1900 a night. See www.rwsentosa.com
*QT Sydney's BabyQ package offers parents French Champagne and spa treatments, while little ones are spoiled with designer baby bottles, travel products, use of a Bugaboo urban stroller and more. From $490 a night (two-night minimum stay). See www.qthotelsandresorts.com
#2 Five extraordinary kids' clubs (and time-out for parents)
* Vomo Island Fiji's terrific Kids' Village is accessed via a fun suspension bridge and operates morning to bedtime (free for kids four and over). The colourful kids' club offers a play and media room, cubby house, outdoor climbing frames, dress up wardrobe, craft tables and a dedicated kids' chef. See www.vomofiji.com
*Steamboat in Colorado boasts the renowned Kids' Ski Vacation Centre, where ski bunnies as young as two can hit the slopes and littlies as young as six months can be cared for in the Kiddie Corral. Children wear nifty jackets with handlebars so instructors and parents can easily pull them up if they fall and nifty GPS tracking systems mean they'll never get lost – and can proudly show where they skied that day. See www.steamboat.com
*Young guests can join a ranger program, follow a butterfly trail, do fish feeding, craft workshops, join a PADI Bubblemaker program, and take cooking lessons at the Chocolate Room at Hayman's One&Only Kids' Club. From $850 a night. See www.oneandonlyresorts.com.au
*Kids (three-12) explore Hawaiian culture, art and music with a huge dose of Disney magic (and character visits) thrown in at Aunty's Beach House, Disney Aulani, Hawaii. See www.resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort
*The Den at Sovena Fushi is a phenomenal kids' club where young guests can star gaze at their own observatory, play in a dedicated Lego room, dance in the DJ corner, delve into fantasy in the dress-up and make-up room, and kick back at the mocktail swim-up pool bar. See www.addictedtomaldives.com.au
Sheriden Rhodes and her husband have travelled the world with their eight-year-old daughter, dubbed the frequent small flyer, since she was just 12 weeks old. They've ridden horseback along remote beaches on Sumba, sailed the Indonesian archipelago, kayaked private atolls in Fiji, snorkelled on Lizard Island and flown kites over Balinese rice terraces.