Samuel Jefferson Contributor

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Fabulous Beach Vacations Appeal to the Whole Family

It's time to plan the family vacation and you're running into trouble again. Just once you'd like to find something that everyone will love, but you don't think you can find it; after all, you have the twins who are six years old, a terminally bored teenager, and a preteen daughter whose idea of the perfect vacation is a trip to the mall. Your husband loves to golf, and your idea of a vacation, frankly, is anywhere you can just relax and take it easy for a change!

You could try asking the whole family where they'd like to go for a vacation, but you could get answers like this:

  • Somewhere I can go shopping for some really cool stuff!
  • The beach, so I can get some surfing in.
  • A golf resort would be nice - I'd like to improve my handicap.
  • Can we go someplace where there are rides? And lots of games?
  • I think the kids should learn something on this trip;
  • let's go someplace cultural.

There's no place that meets those standards anywhere in the world better than Mexico! If you want everyone to enjoy themselves and spend a week or two without ever hearing about your necessity with paper work, you could plan your trip and choose a perfect place, but if choosing is a challenge - "There's nothing to do", then Mexican beach vacations are the perfect choice!

Sun, sand and surf:

Family beach vacations have always appealed to every generation, and for good reason. There's something universal about the pull of the ocean. Warm, white sands that are soft under your feet and lapis blue waters that are crystal clear invoke relaxation and a sense of peace and renewal that can't be found anywhere else. Mexico has thousands of miles of soft white beaches that are family-friendly with miles of gorgeous surf.

While you relax with a Pina Colada and a good book and enjoy the sea breeze, the twins can be dashing in and out of the tide, collecting sea shells and admiring hermit crabs as they dart into their holes. Your daughter can work on her tan or stroll over to one of the booths where locals wait to cornrow her hair.

And don't forget the terminal case of boredom - he's trying out a surfboard that he rented from the cabana at the hotel. Tomorrow he plans to try his hand at windsurfing or parasailing. Your husband is catching everything on film for later.

And when evening rolls around:

When night falls there's still plenty to do on a beach vacation. Most resorts offer a choice or restaurants from family-friendly pizza parlors to fine dining with a great wine cellar. Or you can explore the local town for a sampling of local cuisine that's sure to surprise and delight you and your children. If you enjoy seafood, there's nothing that beats finding a local seafood joint with seating on the beach for atmosphere and fun.

After the sun goes down, take a stroll on the beach at night and look for sea turtles if the season is right. These magnificent creatures are an unforgettable experience for young and old alike.

If you head to the boardwalks that abound along most beaches, you're sure to find games and rides for the whole family. Your six year olds will be delighted with a Ferris wheel ride with a spectacular view of the ocean while your daughter gets her caricature done by a local artist.

When you step away from the beach, there's still plenty to do:

Beach vacations in Mexico don't stop at the edge of the water. All of those fabulous beach resorts are located near wonderful little resort towns that have colorful bazaars and market districts, so the shopping is fantastic! Remember to do some holiday shopping, and look for a few colorful pieces of clothing to show off when you get back home!

Mexico is full of cultural and historical bounty, so don't forget to visit some of the rich historical treasures of the area while you're visiting. Your family will be amazed by the impressive size and grandeur of Mayan ruins just miles from the beaches. These ancient ruins are a reminder of the area's rich heritage and shouldn't be missed.

When visiting the ruins take the time to admire the villages and towns you pass through; Mexico is a rich mix of heritages. Descendants of the Maya, Inca and Spanish settlers all make up the rich heritage of today's Mexico.

Meanwhile, back on the beach:

After a few days of sightseeing, shopping, and golfing even the most energetic family members will want to relax, and that's why beach vacations are the best thing going - total relaxation!

Close your eyes and think about the beach and you can almost feel yourself relax, can't you? Imagine your children building elaborate sand castles in toasted white sands and decorating them with delicate sea shells they've collected along the shore. Picture your teenagers lazily swimming on the rolling waves, ducking under the crystal-clear blue of tropical waters to watch fish flicking about around their legs.

Beach vacations can also give you the opportunity to learn something new and exciting together. Try parasailing - there's nothing as exhilarating as sailing through the seabreezes as you look down on the coast from the air like a seagull! If you've always wanted to try sailing, a beach vacation will give your whole family the opportunity to go out on a sailboat for the day.

There are so many tremendous opportunities to do things when your family takes a beach vacation to Mexico. Whether you want to enjoy the sand and sun, try a little bit of adventure, sample great local foods and wines or make the kids squeal with laughter, you'll find more than enough to fill every day on fabulous Mexico beach vacation packages!

Finally, keep in mind that, since family vacations usually mean traveling in the summer months, a Mexico beach vacation can be a great bargain. Since these months are considered "off season" in this area of the country, you'll be surprised by just how affordable a really fabulous stay on a stretch of white sand beach in Mexico can be while your kids are on summer break.

Seeing Europe on a European River Cruise

European river cruises give you the opportunity to see a country up close and meet its people. To truly experience a country you have to spend time there, but that often involves road time, and driving the roads of Europe can be anything but relaxing.

European river cruises allow you to travel through France, Holland or Belgium without the hassles of traffic and long lines. Whether you're taking walking tours of vineyards or exploring a French chateau, your on-board cabin is your home for the trip.

Wine and the French Chateaux

The winemaking industry of France is a national treasure, and no lover of fine wine would consider visiting France without sampling the world class wines that are produced there. Many of the vineyards grow along canals and rivers, so hotel barges offer a unique opportunity to view wine making up close (and sampling of the wines is a must!).

French river cruises explore some of the most fabled wine-making regions of France. Burgundy is a popular choice for cruise travelers, and a trip through the region includes such stops as Dijon and Beaune, Burgundy's wine capital.

Vineyards dot the countryside in France, but it's the medieval castles that dominate the landscape. Built for defense, French castles reflect the history of a violent past—and a castle tour brings home that point. But castles were also hubs of society, not to mention the final destination of many of those fine wines we were just talking about. A castle tour will introduce you to a way of life long since past.

The medieval castles eventually evolved into the more modern chateaux, large manors with or without fortifications. The main function was no longer protection of the people and the surrounding area, but showing off one's wealth. Luckily, most chateau owners met this goal.

The French chateaux have quickly evolved into popular tourist attractions for European travelers and, as such, tours of a chateau can be noisy, crowded affairs, quite at odds with the beauty and elegance of the chateau itself. Taking this into account, many European river cruises organize private tours of the French chateaux they visit. Often these private tours are le8d by the chateau owners themselves.

Holland: Tulips, Gouda and Springtime Cruises

If you're planning a European river cruise in the spring, consider cruising through Holland, but you should leave all your paper work and distance work. For example Au.PapersOwl can help you out with that if your work is connected with writing. In Holland, where everything must be seen and nothing must be missed, tulips rule the countryside between March and May, blooming along canals and in parks—in fact, almost everywhere! You can't rival Holland in the spring for sheer beauty and color.

While France is famous for its wine, Holland is known for great Gouda. This mellow, yellow cheese was named after the Dutch town of Gouda and is a very versatile cheese, going well with many different types of food, from fruits to fondue. Get some Gouda while you're there. You'll enjoy the memory of your visit to Holland when you're back on board enjoying it with a fine wine.

Life on the River

The abundant tourist attractions and appeal of the European rivers are obvious, but what can you expect when you board your hotel barge for a river cruise? Barges come equipped with lounges, saloons and dining areas. Dinners are elaborate four or five course affairs, served with the best French wine (and possibly Gouda cheese). Planned tours are often included.

European river cruises offer a variety of on-board appointments. The largest barges, plying the larger rivers, can hold up to 90 passengers. Smaller barges average between 20 and 30 passengers. For more private voyages, barges that hold six to ten passengers are more intimate and are perfect for a family vacation.

Of course, if you prefer more independence or don't fancy sharing your holiday with strangers, you might consider skippering your own barge. Most self-skippered barges hold five to six passengers. You can pick from a number of travel itineraries, and help is only a phone call away. Self-skippered barges travel at a sedate five miles per hour, so they're easy to use and navigate. Your travel itinerary takes you through calm, gentle waterways, so the experience is as safe as it is thrilling.

The galley of a self-skippered barge is well stocked with all the equipment, food and wine you'll need to prepare your own meals. If you're not thrilled about cooking, don't worry. You're provided with extensive information on the best restaurants and attractions on your route.

Life onboard a hotel barge is luxurious and relaxing, with elegant dinners and lunch buffets. There's something wonderfully decadent about drinking your morning coffee on deck as you watch the countryside unfold before your eyes, but you should also plan to explore the local attractions. Most European river cruises offer a range of walking tours for their guests.

Luxury Hotel Barge Cruises with European Waterways - European Waterways is Europe's largest all-inclusive luxury hotel barging company, offering vacations in nine countries and carrying well over 2,000 passengers a year. Founded nearly 40 years ago, we own, operate and market a private fleet of luxury hotel barges with cruises in France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

You walk at your own pace, seeing the attractions you want to see. And, of course, at the end of the day there's another remarkable dinner on board to give you the energy you'll need for the next day. Most barges also provide bicycles for their passengers' use. You can arrange to have the staff pack you a picnic lunch and go cycling through the French countryside.

Take a Trip Through Italy’s Wine Regions

Italy's strong reputation for wine is well earned, as it produces and exports more wine than any other country in the world. Its climate, soil and very old traditions make Italy a natural wine-growing country. Italy also offers the greatest variety of wines, ranging through nearly every color, flavor and style of wine imaginable. Some of Italy's signature wines include popular reds like Sangiovese, Barbera and Merlot, while Trebbiano and Pinot Grigio are leading white wines.

With about 80 million hectoliters being produced in Italian vineyards annually, France is the only country that comes close in production. However, not even France can compete with Italy in wine consumption. Italians are well known as enthusiastic wine drinkers, with an average annual consumption of around 90 liters (over 23 gallons) per person.

Take a Tour of Tuscany

If you want to experience Italian winemaking, a trip to Tuscany will provide you with lasting memories. Tuscany produces more than thirty unique wines. In addition to the great, well-known and appreciated red wines like Chianti, Tuscany also produces some distinguishable whites including Vermentino and Bolgheri Bianco.

Summer is the best time to visit Tuscany, as small villages throughout Tuscany host festivals each weekend like the Sagra di Porcini of Monte Catini in August. At these festivals, which are often free, thanks to sponsored part of, you'll have the opportunity to sample the featured food and taste wines from that village and other regions of the country.

Many guided tours in Tuscany consist of full- or half-day visits to villa and castle wine producing estates. Tours include the world-renowned Chianti region near Florence, where the Chianti Classico and Gallo Nero wines are produced. The two famous hilltop towns of Siena and San Gimignano offer cellar visits and tastings of Chianti Classico and Vernaccia wines.

How to Read an Italian Wine Label

Unless you're fluent in Italian, reading Italian wine labels can be a bit tricky. The following list explains the significance of the main terms found on most Italian wine labels:

  • DOC (Demoninazione di Origine Controllata)specifies that the wine comes from a specific vineyard, locality or region and is produced using traditional methods.
  • DOCG (Demoninazione di Origine Controllata Garantita) certifies that the wine has been produced under strict government regulations.
  • Classico guarantees that the wine was produced from grapes grown in the oldest vineyard area in that locality.
  • Riserva certifies that the wine has been aged for at least three years before bottling.
  • Vino da Tavola refers to table wine.