The new shoes have been shined, the book bags packed, the ‘first day’ photos posted dutifully to Facebook: school’s definitively in for autumn. Which means big kids can rejoice! Because, from now until Christmas – with a brief late-October busy-blip for half-term – all those theme parks, beach retreats, activity havens and wild places that have shouted and screamed FAMILY FUN! all summer have emptied out at the turn of a calendar page.
All those places that the sane of mind wouldn’t touch with a barge pole during the holidays unless they absolutely had to, are back on the possibility radar for good grown-up getaways. The world belongs to the adults once more.
For instance, according to the uber-geeky Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar (touringplans.com), September and October are by far the quietest months to hit the Florida theme-park scene. This also happens to be ideal for enacting any long standing Han Solo fantasies on the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge ride, which opened August 29.
But it’s not only about Disney, Universal, Alton Towers and the like. Now the youngsters are out of the picture, you can tackle tree-top zip wires, river rafts, surf lessons and horse rides without either the judging eye-rolls or the ear-piercing tantrums of darling kiddy-winks. You can find beaches that aren’t wall-to-wall towels and inflatables – but that are still warm enough for autumn dips and snorkels; the Med, for example, holds its heat well into October.
And you can find deals and low prices as businesses try to fill the family-size gaps.
But the practicalities aside, we NEED this – a bit of light, joyous relief as the world seems to become ever more worrisome. Now is the time to embrace your inner child and seek out family-style fun minus the families. Gallop off on that horse, book that holiday cottage that looks like a castle, ride that coaster until you’re sick.
Here are some of the best ways to escape reality, for a week or two at least…
Be a big-kid buccaneer, Cayman Islands, Caribbean
Step aside, tiny swashbucklers! The Caymans Islands’ annual Pirates Week (Cayman Brac Nov 1-3, Grand Cayman Nov 7-11, Little Cayman Nov 15-17; piratesweekfestival.com) falls outside the UK school holidays, but promises plenty of high-seas hijinks. Watch mock raids, pirate parades, fireworks, cardboard boat regattas, steel pan and street dance. There are also runs, parties and food festivals, while divers can follow underwater treasure hunts. It’s also the start of the Caribbean’s best weather but before Christmas high season, so prices are cheapARRRRR!
A seven-night stay at Sunshine Suites Resort with BA costs from £1,270pp, including flights and B&B accommodation. Departs November (0344 493 0125; ba.com).
Camp kid-free, Lake District
Low Wray campsite, right on Lake Windermere, offers easy access to all sorts of big-kid adventures in the UK’s most popular – but now less crowded – national park. Sleep in a bauble-like tree tent (new for 2019). Hire bikes to try the site’s new cycle tracks, rent a canoe, kayak or SUP. Then do a National Trust tour: get crafty in the art room at Allan Bank, roam the turrets of Wray Castle and get in a chunk of childhood nostalgia at Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s former home.
Tree tents cost from £100pn (sleeps three). Open until November 3 (015394 32733; ntlakescampsites.co.uk; nationaltrust.org.uk).
Make a splash, Tenerife, Spain
In 2019 Siam Park won Trip Advisor’s World’s Best Waterpark award – for the sixth year running. It’ll still be warm enough in autumn, but you won’t have to share the dizzying assortment of lazy rivers, wave pools, flume plummets and water coasters with a bunch of kids. The top ride? Perhaps the Tower of Power, a transparent freefall plunge through an aquarium of sharks… Combine this with a grown-up stay away from the resorts, such as La Bodega Casa Rural, a converted wine cellar in the hills.
Have a wizard time, Florida, USA
Better deals, lighter crowds, fabulous weather – and more theme parks than you can shake a wand at: Orlando is THE place for playful grown-ups right now. Universal offers a more adult vibe than Disney; the resort’s Cabana Bay offers 1950s-retro fun. From here, you can access your pick of parks: maybe the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to ride the new Hagrid-inspired coaster, Epcot for the fall Food & Wine Festival or Disney for Character Couture, new adult makeovers inspired by Cinderella and co.
A seven-night stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay with Thomas Cook costs from £586pp including flights and accommodation. Departs September-October (01733 224808; thomascook.com).
Reclaim the coast, Cornwall
Cornwall’s magnificent shores are all the better now the kids have cleared off. Head to Marazion’s Godolphin Arms to laze on the golden sands outside and to gaze across to St Michael’s Mount – exploring the fairytale tidal isle is far quieter outside peak season. The sheltered waters around here also make it a super place to try an SUP. Join a taster session to glide over the seagrass, looking out for seals and investigating the Mount from multiple angles.
A two-night Get Active, Stay Active break at the Godolphin Arms costs from £395 for two, including most meals, SUP lesson and Mount visit. Departs September (01736 888510; godolphinarms.co.uk).
Learn to ride, Mallorca, Spain
Hit the hot holiday isle when school’s in, the sun’s out and you can learn the unbridled joy of riding a horse without being judged by precocious young cowboys and cowgirls. Join a group of no more than six novices at a characterful old farmhouse to learn to walk, trot, canter – maybe even gallop – in the rural Mallorcan countryside, as well as picking up the basics of horse care, grooming and handling, and feasting on Mediterranean treats.
An eight-day Horse-riding Holiday with GoLearnTo costs from £951pp including full-board accommodation, excludes flights. Departs September-November (0208 1445990; golearnto.com).
Walk on the wild side, South Africa
South Africa is the top choice for sub-Saharan roaming families, thanks to its infrastructure, diversity and malaria-free safaris. But the back-to-school months are arguably the best time to visit, especially for the Garden Route: whale numbers peak, vegetation is low, making animals easier to spot, and it’s better-value shoulder season in Cape Town. Journey between the cosmopolitan city and Port Elizabeth, taking in vineyards, beaches, penguins, the landscapes of the Little Karoo and Addo National Park’s Big 5.
A 14-day escorted Cape Town & the Garden Route trip with Exodus costs from £2,339pp including flights and B&B accommodation. Departs September-November (02031 312785; exodus.co.uk).
Hit the emptier road, California, USA
Drive a quieter Pacific Coast Highway – one of the world’s greatest drives – this autumn. Explore San Francisco in its least foggy months, enjoy Monterey and Santa Barbara in glorious weather, and arrive in LA to be creeped out without the kids at Universal Studios. Every autumn the park hosts Halloween Horror Nights, complete with gory scare zones, spooky Stranger Things maze and the Killer Klownes from Outer Space. Over 13s only.
A nine-night California fly-drive with Bon Voyage costs from £1,625pp including flights, car hire, accommodation and Universal Studios pass. Departs September-November (0800 316 0194; bon-voyage.co.uk).
Mess about on boats, France
Languedoc’s much-loved Canal du Midi, and the attractions en route, are far less crowded come term time. Boat rentals are also far cheaper, making it even more appealing to pilot your own cruiser between the fairytale ramparts of Carcassonne (and nearby Lake Cavayère, for swimming and tree-top swinging), harvest-ready vineyards, the Roman city of Narbonne and the beaches of Cap d’Agde. Hire bikes for towpath cycles too.
A seven-night Canal du Midi trip with Le Boat costs from £750 (for a four-person boat), excludes flights and fuel. Bike hire costs £42pp. Departs until November (023 9280 9124; leboat.co.uk).
Frolic in the forest, Gloucestershire
Nestle into a log cabin in the Forest of Dean, enjoying both the child-free tree-scape and a private hot tub. Forest Holidays’ retreats also have easy access to woodland trails and night-time wildlife rambles with onsite rangers (with no impatient kids spoiling the spotting). Nearby, be transported back to your own childhood at mossy and magical Puzzlewood – dare yourself on treetop high-wires and take to the quieter waters of the Wye by canoe, paddling along golden autumnal banks.
A four-night stay in a four-person cabin with Forest Holidays costs from £495 (03330 110495; forestholidays.co.uk). Half-day canoe hire from £40 (01600 890238; wyedean.co.uk).
Go all-in, Greece
The all-included activity haven that is the Paleros Beach Resort assumes a more adult ambience in autumn. It’s less busy, so there’s more space, and more available tuition time in which to perfect your newfound skills; tennis, sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and yoga. The resort sits on a serenely sheltered Ionian bay, which is especially good for learning to wake-board and SUP. Or pedal into the surrounding hills on guided bike rides.
A five-night stay at Paleros Beach Resort with Mark Warner costs from £499pp including flights, half-board accommodation and most activities. Departs September-October (033 3920 8745; markwarner.co.uk).
Find parks without people, USA
After Labour Day (early September), the USA’s national parks transform: visitation plummets, roads clear, animals reemerge. It’s a great time to tick off iconic wild spaces when they feel just that – wild. From Las Vegas (home to endless big-kid fun), make of loop: hike in Zion National Park (maybe wading into the Zion Narrows), trek amid Bryce Canyon’s fantastical hoodoos, hit the backroads of Monument Valley with a Navajo guide and watch the sunset on a more peaceful Grand Canyon.
An eight-day escorted Canyons and Indian Lands trip with Grand American Adventures costs from £1,440pp including accommodation, excludes flights. Departs September-October (0333 003 8245; grandamericanadventures.com).
Play along the Pacific, New South Wales, Australia
Sydney is cool for kids. But now it’s a playground for adults, with quieter beaches and attractions – not least the vintage Luna Park funfair (with its new 65km/h flying carousel) and acclaimed Taronga Zoo (where the Wildlife Retreat, new from October 2019, means you can sleep on site). From the city, drive north to Brisbane, stopping off for over-18s fun in the Hunter Valley wineries, dolphin spotting at Port Stephens and the surf of Byron Bay.
A ten-night Legendary Pacific Coastline fly-drive with Kuoni costs from £2,740pp including flights, B&B accommodation and car hire. Departures tailormade (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk).
Get multi-active in the Med, Turkey
Coastal Turkey is a favourit among adventurous families but there’s plenty of hijinks for adults too. Take a trip that combines sea kayaking to the sunken city of Kekova, hiking to the ancient castle of Simena, paddling the Xanthos River, scanning for turtles at golden Patara Beach, cycling through the cedar-cloaked foothills of the Taurus mountains, swimming beneath the cliffs at Kaputas, sailing on a traditional gulet and restoring weary muscles at a traditional Turkish hammam.
An eight-day Active Turkey trip with Explore costs from £395pp including B&B accommodation and some meals, excludes flights. Departs September-October (01252 884709; explore.co.uk).
Sleep in a keep, Yorkshire
The descriptor for Rufus’s Roost is very clear: this rustic two-storey woodland-tucked castle is “suitable for kids of all ages”. It’s also cheaper outside peak season. Follow the boardwalk, through the fairy light-string trees, to reach the turreted cabin. On the veranda there’s a hot tub, pizza oven and views over the edges of the North York Moors; inside are cubby-hole-cosy bedrooms, games and books, floor-to-ceiling windows and even a slide down to a secret reading den.
Rufus’s Roost costs from £275pn (sleeps six); 20 per cent off four-night mid-week stays until 7 October (0117 204 7830; canopyandstars.co.uk/rufusroost).
Set sail with Mickey, Mexico
If you’re prepared to go with the everything-is-awesome up-ness of Disney, its cruises cater to kids big and small. Brand motifs are woven subtly into Art Deco interiors so the ships avoid feeling too twee, plus there’s plenty of age-appropriate entertainment, from Broadway-calibre shows to adults-only pools, spas, nightclubs and gourmet dining. Join a San Diego-Baja trip to visit Disney’s California resort before cruising to sunny Cabo San Lucas with Mickey and co.
A five-night voyage from San Diego aboard Disney Wonder costs from £2,322 for two, full-board, excludes flights. Depart 9 October (0800 169 0742; disneycruiseline.co.uk).
Live la pura vida, Costa Rica
With its endless array of well-set-up adventures, Costa Rica is a bit like a country-size Go Ape, with added surf and burping volcanoes. November is particularly good, after the rains but before peak season prices and crowds return. Mix rafting to a remote jungle lodge, zip-lining over treetops, tubing through canyons, kayaking and boating through biodiverse national parks, snorkelling off idyllic Pacific beaches and mountain-biking through lush forests noisy with howler monkeys.
A 15-day Costa Rica trip with Last Frontiers costs from £4,700pp including flights, B&B accommodation and activities. Departs tailormade (01296 653000; lastfrontiers.com).
Jump in, Pembrokeshire
The Pembrokeshire coast is a natural playground: trails to follow, jaw-dropping beaches, waters in which to paddle, dip and leap. And at this time of year, this pretty protected shoreline – where the sport of coasteering was born – is wild, empty and better value: stay at one of Quality Cottages’ Pembrokeshire boltholes this autumn and get a 10% discount on activities with St Davids-based TYF Adventure, including coasteering, kayaking, surfing and more.
A seven-night stay at Harbourmaster’s Cottage (sleeps four) with Quality Cottages costs from £488 in October (01348 837871; qualitycottages.co.uk). Half-day coasteering costs £60pp, excluding discount (01437 721611; tyf.com).
Go grown-up cowboy-ing, Montana, USA
By the time autumn falls, horse-loving families have trotted off into the sunset, leaving Montana’s JJJ Ranch free for those who grew up watching Westerns and still dream of saddling up and waving a stetson. Take long all-day rides through epic big sky country, as well as guided hikes, trapshooting, cattle-penning, roping, archery and more.
A one-week stay at JJJ Ranch with Ranch Rider costs from £1,839pp including full-board accommodation, excludes flights (01509 618811; ranchrider.com).
Romp around the tropics, Thailand
Thailand is entry-level Asia – exotic, but not too much. Which makes it popular with families. So better to wait until term time – or better, after the October half term, when prices and visitors drop, and the rains have stopped. Consider combining the jungly north – hill trekking around Chiang Mai, ox-cart and bike rides amid paddy fields, rafting through gorges – with bustling Bangkok and sun-lazing on Koh Phangan, the former backpacker hangout fast becoming one of Thailand’s coolest beach spots.
A 17-night Alternative Thailand trip with Bamboo Travel costs from £2,995pp including flights and B&B accommodation. Departures are tailormade (020 7720 9285; bambootravel.co.uk).
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