Sam Chapman of Westerville, Ohio stopped putting Christmas gifts under the tree for his two daughters when they were just 11 and 13 years old. No, he didn’t turn into the Grinch; quite the opposite, in fact. Sam, his wife and daughters had opted instead to put their money toward an annual family vacation with Adventures by Disney (AbD).
Started about 12 years ago, AbD organizes upscale guided tours in the U.S. and abroad (mostly for families, natch) that rival some of the best luxury tours out there. Most itineraries are sprinkled with a bit of fairy dust (that’s magic for those in the know) with one-of-a-kind experiences like glacier climbing in Norway, paella making in Seville or zip lining amidst the Swiss Alps.
One of Chapman’s most memorable AbD experiences was a private tour of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. “We had the place to ourselves,” Chapman says. “We were able to lie on our backs to soak up Michelangelo’s masterpiece, something we never would’ve been able to do otherwise. I will never forget it,” he said.
If you’re looking for your own unforgettable family vacation, here are ten Adventures by Disney tours you might want to check out.
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
Rice farming in Laos — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
With a focus on history – from the Vietnam War to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat – this tour hits some of the most intriguing spots in three different countries over 12 days. Travelers can hike up the steps of Mount Phousi (“The Holy Mountain”) with local monks in Laos’ Luang Prabang, tour the narrow Cú Chi tunnels that were once living quarters, hideouts and guerilla strongholds for the Viet Cong, and shop for ingredients at local markets to use in a private cooking class.
One of the trip’s most memorable meals may be at Hanoi’s KOTO (Know One, Teach One), a restaurant that trains street kids to be restaurant professionals.
Kid favorites: A treasure hunt (via tuk-tuk) to various temples of Angkor Archaeological Park in the Cambodian forest and attending a performance at the Thang Long Water Puppetry Theatre in Hanoi.
Sumptuous snoozing: Park Hyatt Saigon, Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra in Cambodia and the Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi
Kids make pretzels in Germany — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
For those who believe that fairy tales and Disney go hand in hand, this nine-day trip to Germany won’t disappoint. Learn about the Brothers Grimm whose storytelling gave birth to tales of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
The most enchanting time may be the nights at Hotel Schloss Waldeck, a fairy tale castle perched on a mountain overlooking Lake Edersee. Wander among the cobblestone streets of Rothenburg’s old town, which inspired the sets for Pinocchio, join in the revelry at Munich’s Oktoberfest, and visit Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Kid favorites: Princes and princesses revel in their castle digs at Hotel Schloss Waldeck and are transported to another time when they participate in a night tour of Rothenburg, by lantern light with a costumed night watchman who regales them with tales of centuries past. Also popular is pretzel making at Rothenburg’s oldest bakery and a picture-taking session in a cellar vault with medieval knight and princess costumes.
Sumptuous snoozing: Heidelberg Marriott, Hotel Schloss Waldeck, Hotel Eisenhut in Rothenburg, Hotel VierJahreszeiten Kempinski Munich
Exploring Rome's Colisseum — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
This eight-day trip to Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Venice includes an after-hours private tour of the Vatican Museum where guests can marvel at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without being pushed along by crowds.
Other adventures include a private tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, a medieval-themed banquet set in a 15th century manor in Tuscany (complete with costumed servers), a private pasta-making class at a Tuscan farm and a private gondola ride through the picturesque canals of Venice.
Kid favorites: The interactive Roman Colosseum tour teaches Junior Adventurers about ancient Rome. Kids can also become mini sleuths at the Venetian Doge's Palace, make their own Carnival masks in Venice and flavor local olive oils while their parents sip Italian wine at a tasting event.
Sumptuous snoozing: Gran Meliá Rome, Hotel Borgo di Cortefreda in Tuscany, Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice
Rhine River Cruise
Rhine river cruise cycling excursion — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
After a popular launch of their family river cruises along the Danube in 2016, AbD added a Rhine River cruise in 2017 that includes stops in France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. AmaWaterways has built custom ships to accommodate families.
When in port, adventure guides lead groups on various adventures, from cycling through wine country to making macarons in a French baking class. If you want a true taste of fairy tale magic, opt for the holiday Rhine River cruise with stops at many of Germany’s festive Christkindlesmarkte (Christmas markets).
Kid favorites: Ride a toboggan through the Black Forest, visit the famous storybook Heidelberg Castle with a costumed guide and learn to paint clogs in the Netherlands. On board, kids (of all ages) will be eager to snap Instagram-worthy photos of the famous “spaghetti” ice cream being made.
Sumptuous snoozing: Couple or family suites on board the AmaKristina, specially designed for AbD
The Amazon and the Galapagos Islands
Interacting with wildlife in the Galapagos — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
Whether you fancy an early morning hike through the Amazon or traversing the treetops on a jungle canopy walk, this 12-day adventure is designed for nature lovers and adventurers. Adrenaline junkies can take a nocturnal rainforest tour while others can hit the Limoncocha Biological Reserve to ogle hundreds of fireflies, species of birds and possibly a black caiman croc – the largest predator in the Amazon ecosystem.
Kid favorites: Junior Adventurers prepare a traditional dessert at a local restaurant and make jewelry in a small village with local artisans. A canoe trip on the Napo River provides an opportunity to spot toucans, monkeys, river turtles and maybe a rare sloth. They are sure to love the Galapagos tortoise reserve where they can meet the island's most-famous creatures.
Sumptuous snoozing: JW Marriott, and a four-night stay aboard the Anakonda riverboat, privately reserved for AbD
AbD fans pose in China — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
In a country with over a billion people (and a lot more if you count tourists), private tours of the most culturally significant attractions can be the difference between vacation thriving or barely surviving.
This 12-day itinerary includes private guided visits at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing, the giant panda breeding research base in Chengdu and the excavation site of Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors. Hike along the Great Wall and attend a Bian Lian performance – a dramatic Sichuan opera featuring traditional face-changing masks.
Kid favorites: Friends may have visited Anaheim or Orlando but aren’t likely to have hit Shanghai Disneyland, the newest park. Families spend a day here and another exploring Hong Kong Disneyland Resort (including Fast Passes to maximize your visit).
Sumptuous snoozing: The Peninsula Hong Kong, Rosewood Beijing and Ritz Carlton Chengdu
Whitewater rafting on Montana's Gallatin River — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
Just added in 2017, this week-long tour encourages guests to unplug and rediscover the wild, wild west. (Not too wild since your meals are prepared and there’s a bathroom inside your glamping safari tent.)
Stay at an authentic dude ranch, bounce around the whitewater rapids of the Gallatin River and bond with the family while navigating a high ropes course or zip lining at Big Sky Resort. Don’t worry, less adventurous folk can take it easy on a fly-fishing excursion.
Kid favorites: Travel through Yellowstone National Park in a stagecoach with a storytelling cowboy at the reins, chill out over rustic meals outdoors and play an interactive geothermal game while visiting Old Faithful.
Sumptuous snoozing: Yellowstone Village Inn, Yellowstone Under Canvas (safari tents), private cabins at the 320 Guest Ranch
Adults learn about viticulture on the SF Weekender — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
For those who need a mini-escape, this three-night trip to San Francisco includes behind-the-scenes tours of the Walt Disney Family Museum, Lucasfilm headquarters in the historic and beautiful Presidio and cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. Aspiring winemakers can stomp grapes and tour a working winery with sampling by oenophiles over age 21.
Kid favorites: Explore the spectacular giant redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument with your adventure guides and see a noodle-pulling demonstration during dinner in San Francisco’s famous Chinatown neighborhood. The rare classic Star Wars poster collection and memorabilia at Lucasfilm is sure to please mini Jedi warriors, particularly after being greeted by life-size replicas of Boba Fett and Darth Vader.
Sumptuous snoozing:Omni San Francisco
Arizona and Utah
AbD guests picnic with a view of the Grand Canyon — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
Barbecuing along the rim of the Grand Canyon, going on safari to see bears, bison and other wildlife in their (somewhat) natural habitat, and discovering some of the west’s most awe-inspiring national parks are all on the itinerary for this eight-day tour.
The trip starts among the beautiful red rocks of Sedona and later highlights Native American history with native dance performances at the Grand Canyon and a Navajo guide who escorts guests through the geologically-fascinating Monument Valley.
Kid favorites: Whitewater rafting down the Colorado River, learning about dinosaurs in Moab and exploring the teepees at Red Cliffs Lodge. Junior adventurers are also invited to a kids-only dinner party and movie at Red Cliffs.
Sumptuous snoozing: Enchantment Resort Sedona, Grand Canyon National Park lodges and Red Cliffs Lodge
Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic
Exploring Sound of Music film locations — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
Perhaps the most memorable experience on this nine-day tour is the private dinner in the Emperor’s Pavilion at the Vienna Zoo, which follows an after-hours zoologist-led tour of the zoo – the oldest in Europe.
Guests can also learn to waltz in Vienna and take private tours in Prague and Salzburg. There’s also a stop in magical Český Krumlov, an unforgettable UNESCO World Heritage site near the Austrian border. And pack your parka to explore ice formations and waterfalls inside Eisriesenwelt (an ice cave) after entering through a hole in the side of the Alps.
Kid favorites: Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – and snapping shots of Sound of Music filming locations – are sure to be some of the kids’ favorite things. They can also visit the children’s museum at Schonbrunn Palace and make traditional German pretzels (and eat them when they're done).
Sumptuous snoozing: Prague Marriott Hotel, Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden, Hotel Edelweiss, Ritz Carlton Vienna
*All itineraries are subject to change year to year.