Despite tears, tantrums, bathroom close-calls, and other miscellaneous headaches, family trips are meant to bring your clan together. And the biggest perk of traveling with your kids? Seeing the world from their point of view. These locations are especially magical when experienced young—we promise they’ll give your kids a trip to remember.
Walt Disney World Resort
The world famous resort, aptly called “The Happiest Place on Earth,” really is just that—and it’s unanimously at the top of every child’s dream vacation list. Just ask your child (but be prepared to follow through if you want to avoid a serious meltdown). And now with the park’s new Fantasyland expansion, there’s even more to see (and yes, spend money on). New attractions include Ariel’s undersea grotto and a Beauty and the Beast castle with a French-inspired Be Our Guest restaurant. And this should please some parents: For the first time in the park’s history, alcohol is being served during the day—meaning that French bistro will be all the more authentic with a full wine menu. After three consecutive spins on the It’s a Small World ride, no one will begrudge you a glass, we guarantee it. Plus, Disney promises that new additions will continue to be revealed through 2014.
The Grand Canyon
If you’d rather avoid the long lines for rides and the accompanying complaining, marvel at the majesty of nature at the Grand Canyon. At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and 6,000 feet deep, it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Feeling adventurous? Strut your stuff on the Grand Canyon Skywalk—this glass-bottomed path extending 70 feet from the ridge will make you feel like you’re walking on air. For an experience that won’t make you light-headed, mule trips from the north rim are offered year-round and will undoubtedly delight the kids.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Is your kid a fossil fanatic? Does “Jurassic Park” play on loop in your house? Then you need to book a trip to Dinosaur Valley near Glen Rose, Texas. This state park has some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. You’ll want to don a swimsuit before wading into the Paluxy riverbed, where the prints of long-necked sauropods and feathered theropods can be found.
For another dramatic vista, take in the most beautiful border-crossing in the United States. Remember to pack your passports in order to get a glimpse of the stunning falls from both the American and Canadian sides. While there, book a ride aboard the Maiden of the Mists to see (and feel) the falls up close. Yes, you’ll get a little wet—but it’s better than any water ride.
We have three words for you: world’s biggest aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium houses an astonishing 120,000 animals in 8.5 million gallons of water. Even you might geek out at the sight of the 100-foot-long tunnel leading to the second largest viewing window in the world. It’s the perfect place to watch the aquarium’s whale sharks. For extra brownie points, book a family sleepover and be treated to behind-the-scenes tours, activities and the chance to wake up beneath a tank filled with exotic fish.
This marshland is the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist side-by-side. And it doesn’t stop at toothy and scaly—the Everglades are also home to plenty of other animals, including the rare Florida panther. This is one location you’d better see while you can, as pollution, urban development and climate change are all threatening to do it in. While there, opt for a canoe rather than the popular airboat tours—they’re really bad for the wildlife and are forbidden in the actual park.
Yellowstone National Park
If your child goes crazy for critters, Yellowstone National Park is another location to keep in mind. The world’s first National Park, which spreads across the borders of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, is home to many endangered animals, including the grizzly bear, gray wolf, bald eagle and Canada Lynx. A whopping two-thirds of the world’s geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone, so you’ll want to make a stop and watch one erupt. The most famous of them, Old Faithful, shoots steam every 60 to 110 minutes.
John F. Kennedy Space Center
For an out-of-this-world experience, come see the place where the first rocket to land people on the moon was launched. An easy hour’s drive from Orlando, the John F. Kennedy Space Center is a testament to the heights of scientific accomplishment. And frankly, astronauts are simply super cool—just ask any 8 year old. Though not currently launching manned space flights, the complex remains open for tours. Check out the Vehicle Assembly Building, the largest single-story building in the world, where the space shuttles were once constructed. Or have lunch with a veteran astronaut and get the scoop on what space is really like.
Civil Rights Trail
Finally, every kid should have the chance to walk in the footsteps of heroes (and we’re not talking about Batman or Ironman). Your kids can do just that on the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail. Established in 1996, the 54-mile trail commemorates the courage and loss of those who, over three protests in 1965, drew national attention to the civil rights movement and prompted the passing of the Voting Rights Act. Immerse yourself in history at each of the trail’s three stops. Birmingham, Alabama’s biggest city, Montgomery, the state capital, and Selma, where the protests began, all feature museums worth a look. Afterward, pig out on some world-famous Southern cooking.
Elina Bolokhova is a lifestyle editor at AOL who specializes in writing about travel, parenting, beauty and food. Find her on Twitter at @elinabolokhova.