A dream trip will take your parents' breath away – it's so thoughtful and unexpected.
Rally siblings to chip in for a that once-in-a-lifetime trip your mom or dad could never afford. Or pop for a lower-cost road trip – perhaps Route 66 or the California coast. Use your online trip-planning skills to map out a road trip itinerary, book lodging and plan interesting stops.
For each of these trips, check the $$$$$ key at the bottom to gauge ballpark price.
1. Wonders of the Canadian Rockies
Price range: $$$$$
Viewing Canada's snow-capped Rocky Mountains is a slow-paced yet dazzling journey on many parents' wish lists — Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer train tours are coveted for views of snow-crisp peaks and glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Trains capture sweeping views through panoramic windows. A Rocky Mountaineer trip is not just train touring; other explorations and hotel stays fill out the package.
Favorite routes include legendary grande dame hotels in stunning mountain settings. Fairmont Banff Springs rises like a palace among the peaks, and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is set beside a mesmerizing popsicle-blue lake. "Canadian Rockies Connector" and "Canadian Rockies Getaway" are routes including these beauties, but you'll have to go for the top tier Goldleaf package.
2. European River Cruise
Price range: $$$ or $$$$ (depending on length)
River cruises nestle close to shore, making hopping on and off easy – a plus for catching all that's in Budapest — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
River cruises are wildly popular with passengers who like a little comfort and coddling. Ships carry in the range of 130 passengers, which means lots of personal attention on detail-oriented lines such as Viking River Cruises. Two of Viking's most popular sails are the 8-day "Rhine Getaway" from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland and the 15-day "Grand European Tour" which sails both the Rhine and Danube rivers.
Both cruises are ideal for those who have haven't traveled much in Europe. Riverside cities are-less touristed and rich with Old World architecture.
3. Route 66 Road Trip
Price range: $
Arizona waxes nostalgic when it comes to Route 66 — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
Route 66 is America's memory lane and Arizona has a good crop of nostalgic throwback towns. A fun Route 66 Passport earns stamps at classic stops such as Snow Cap Diner in Seligman, a tiny town with big Route 66 memories.
Flagstaff is another 66 mecca with retro Galaxy Diner and Museum Club roadhouse. This friendly college town is ideal for an overnight stay, plus it's an hour from the Grand Canyon, a not-to-be-missed side trip.
4. Paddleboat Cruise on Lower Mississippi
Price range: $$ or $$$
A Mississippi cruise on a paddleboat is an invitation to enjoy the relaxed pace of life in the South — Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company
The Queen of the Mississippi and American Queen are two modern ships dolled up like paddleboats of days gone by. Both offer slow-mo trips on the lower Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans. The easygoing sail allows ample time to gaze at farm fields and small towns, but also includes a visit to a sugar plantation in Louisiana and the chance to take a solemn look at Civil War battlefields of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Staterooms are comfy, food is good and New Orleans awaits. Book extra nights to savor the town. American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company offer the lower Mississippi cruise.
5. New Zealand
Price range: $$$
The road from New Zealand's Queenstown to Glenorchy offers stunning lake and mountain views with little traffic — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
A country to visit at any age, New Zealand is spectacular with jagged mountains, postcard beaches and misty fjords. Scenery finds its match in hospitality – locals are happy to chat and help out travelers. Self-guided touring companies make trip-planning easier; pre-planned itineraries follow routes that focus on beaches, or you might choose mountains, or perhaps it's fjords that will thrill your parents.
There are also geothermal areas, glaciers and wine country. Choosing is hard, but the trip itself is easy. Trip notes are handed over with car keys, hotels are pre-booked and sites pre-ticketed.
Self-guided tour company Pure Journeys provides traveler phone assistance any time of day or night. One twist to self-drive tours: New Zealand drives on the left. Don't fret – roads are good and traffic grows thin once beyond Auckland.
6. Britain's Lake District
Price range: $$$
Country inns abound in Britain's Lake District, where hiking the hills or lazing before a fire are the mode of the day — Photo courtesy of www.golakes.co.uk
Parents can think of this as their own Downton Abbey trip, not quite living in a manor house but a good substitute – living the good life in a Lake District in England. Send parents on a three-hour train ride from London to Windermere to the lovely country inn you booked.
They can join Brits walking green hills and strolling along lakes. If weather gets foul – and it certainly will – sitting fireside drinking tea will be just the ticket. Plus, many a friendly pub is nearby. Parents can also visit poet William Wordsworth's Dove Cottage and Hill Top farm where Beatrix Potter wrote Peter Rabbit.
7. New York
Price range: $$
A walk on New York's High Line may be new to parents. The overhead park, formerly a railroad spur, opened in 2009. — Photo courtesy of Will Steacy for NYCGO
If you know your way around New York better than your parents, you're golden for creating a great trip. Book dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant, get tickets to a Broadway show you loved. Find a walking tour of the Meat Packing District or Greenwich Village.
A boat trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is particularly touching if relatives immigrated through Ellis Island –your parents can probably find their names. For freebies, map out the High Line walk in Chelsea and add tips for Central Park, Times Square and stores on Fifth Avenue.
8. California's Coastal Highway One
Price range: $$
The classic drive along California Highway One is a spectacular route with innumerable "must stops" such as Carmel — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
San Francisco is the hop-on point for this classic road trip winding past cliffs that give way to the sea. Compelling stops include quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea and neighboring Monterey. Book two nights' lodging to fit in strolling in Carmel, a haven of art galleries and wealth-polished quaintness. In Monterey, visit Cannery Row and Monterey Aquarium.
The 17-mile drive to Pebble Beach is stunning. Further down the road past Big Sur, huge elephant seals are a sight at Año Nuevo State Beach. Just south, book an overnight at one of Cambria's Moonlight Beach hotels. Check out a nearby tour at quirky Hearst Castle in the hills, once a 1930's party favorite of Hollywood stars. Built by odd-duck newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the castle is now a popular state park.
A Highway One road trip can end in Cambria by heading inland to Highway 5 for a fast route back to San Francisco. Or you can continue to San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara, then loop inland for a faster return.
9. Coastal Norway Cruise
Price range: $$$
Crab catch on an icy fjord leads to all-you-can-eat crab feast aboard a Hurtigruten shore trip into "real" Norway — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
Here's the anti-cruise for the parent who cringes at the thought of cruising. Norway's fjords and coastal Arctic are spectacular and plenty of cruise lines go there. The alternative is Norway's Hurtigruten ships. They're hybrids – part cruise ship/part working ship, stopping to drop packages and pick up passengers in scattered coastal towns.
Dead-of-night stops at tiny Arctic outposts are the stuff of anti-cruise, and spare cabins are not unlike a seaman's. But bars, an espresso bar, lounges and dining areas are very nice and service is good from an English-speaking crew. Plus, shore excursions get to the heart of Norway: midnight concert in Arctic cathedral, crabbing on a frozen fjord, celebrating summer's midnight sun.
10. Coastal Oregon
Price range: $
A road trip along Oregon's rocky coastline can be a slo-mo trip, enjoyed for natural beauty and lack of agenda — Photo courtesy of Satoshi Eto for Travel Oregon
If a poke-along trip with no checklist of "must-sees" is the relaxing road trip your parents need, Highway 101 along the coast of Oregon fits the bill. Plentiful beaches are rocky and windy, ideal for walking, beach-combing and whale-watching, but rarely sunbathing. Weather is often gloomy – think atmospheric.
Small towns invite browsing; Newport and Seaside have more resort-like features. It's not that there's nothing to see along this coast – touring nine lighthouses or fishing expeditions on charter boats could become a project. And one feature that always gets rave reviews is that Oregon has no sales tax. The must-do of this trip could be a toned-down version of retail relaxation.
Prices are per person; airfare is not included.
$$$$ $4,000 to $5,500
$$ around $2,000
$ less than $2,000