Nancy Hecker - Travel Consultant/Travel Writer
Intergenerational Travel
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An essay on travel with grandchildren

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Intergenerational Travel

My Australian Adventures with Allie

 

With so many baby boomers now coming into the grand parenting phase of their lives, intergenerational travel is definitely a growing niche market in the travel industry.  What better way to bond with the younger generation in your family than to share an adventure through travel?  The memories you make together will last both you and your grandchild a lifetime.

 

Being in the tour business, I was certainly aware that there are tour operators such as the Washington DC based Grandtravel or Tauck Bridges that had discovered this market several years ago.  But it wasn’t until I became a grandparent myself that my interest was tweaked and I realized the benefits of such endeavors.

 

While my grandchildren were still too young to consider this particular kind of travel, I admired one of my best friends who is just a few years older than me.  Evelyn has eleven grandchildren, and as they reach an appropriate age, she is taking each one of them on a singularly significant trip.  She brought her granddaughter, Marissa, on my "Anne of Green Gables" tour to Prince Edward Island in Canada.  Marissa celebrated her thirteenth birthday on our trip, while re-living the story of Anne, the little red-haired orphan girl made famous in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s endearing novels. A few years later, Evelyn’s granddaughter Rachel joined us on my “Dickens Christmas” tour to London.  We spent a day in Rochester/Kent at their annual Dickens Festival, interacting with Mr. Pickwick and many of the other characters that appear in Dickens well known stories. Not long after, Evelyn's granddaughter Sarah joined us on our "Magical Memories in Manhattan" tour, where Sarah's highlight was dancing with the Rockettes, as well as sipping tea with her grandmother and friends at the elegant Four Seasons.  Evelyn’s trips with Marissa, Rachel and Sarah were "magical memories" indeed!

 

Inspired by Evelyn, I began talking to my granddaughter, Allie, about taking a special trip with Grandma.  Allie was only nine years old at the time, so we had a few years to think about where we wanted to go.  This was all the better to build up the anticipation!  Then, just a few weeks before Allie’s tenth birthday, tragedy struck our family.  Allie’s father and my son, Army Major William F. Hecker III, was killed while serving our country in Iraq.  

 

The loss of our son was a life-changing event for me.  I’ve since closed down my tour company, and moved with my husband from Virginia to Colorado Springs to be near Allie and our three other grandchildren.  As I worked my way through the grieving process, I found that the wonderful memories of our family’s many travels together were particularly comforting to me.  So many precious (and sometimes hilarious) moments came to mind, eliciting a smile or much needed chuckle during a time of great sadness. The realization of how much these memories meant to our family made my goal for travel with Allie, and in turn with each of her three siblings, all the more important. 

 

Allie recently turned twelve, which seemed just the right age to embark on our adventure together!  So we began to make our plans.  I left the decision about our destination up to Allie, and found she was determined that we go somewhere I had not been before.  This proved to be somewhat difficult, as after seventeen years in the tour business I have covered a good part of the world.  In frustration, Allie finally asked: “Well, Grandma, where haven’t you been?”  I told her that I’d never been to Australia and had always wanted to go. That did it for Allie. The decision was made.  Australia it would be!

 

Because the seasons in Australia are the reverse of ours, we decided that our trip would take place over Allie’s spring vacation in March.  That would be the equivalent of our early fall in the “Land Down Under,” a perfect time to visit.  We would only have ten days, of which two would be taken up by travel to get there.  And Australia is a big country, so we needed to narrow down our focus.  We zeroed in on the cosmopolitan city of Sydney, the capitol of New South Wales.  From there we would fly to the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage site in Queensland on the northeast coast of Australia.  We have plenty of “outback” here in Colorado, but not too many beaches, so this decision made sense for us.   

 

I began to research and plan our itinerary with all the passion and intensity that I had been accustomed to putting into my group tours, but this time keeping in mind that I would be traveling with a twelve year old.  I soon discovered that Allie had chosen the perfect destination for us to share, for there are a wealth of sights and activities that would appeal to both young and old alike.  Together, we prioritized what we most wanted to do.  Allie wanted to have her picture taken cuddling with the Koala’s and Kangaroos.  As an enthusiastic member of her middle school band, she wanted to have a go at playing the didgeridoo, an Aboriginal musical instrument.  And she definitely wanted to try an introductory scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef.  I was pleased to learn that she also wanted to attend a performance at the Sydney Opera House. 

 

So we had plotted our course and eagerly waited for our departure date.  Before we knew it, it was time to pack our suitcases and head to the Denver International Airport. With passports in hand we boarded our United flight to San Francisco.  From there we connected to a fourteen-hour flight to Sydney.  En route we crossed the International Date Line.  When the wheels of our 747 touched down in Sydney it was now two days later….very early in the morning on Good Friday to be exact. 

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Quote from Allie:
I might have traveled more than a day on a plane, but it was well worth the journey to be able to go to Australia with my grandmother!

We took a short taxi ride from the airport to the City Centre, and were soon checking in to the lovely Marriott Sydney Harbour Hotel at Circular Quay (pronounced Key.)  We were greeted warmly by the hotel staff, and with the good news that our room on the 31st floor overlooking the renowned Sydney Opera House was ready and waiting for us.  After a refreshing shower and bite of breakfast in the executive lounge, we were off to explore together! 

 

We started with a short walk down the normally bustling Pitt Street to the Sydney Tower.  All was eerily quiet downtown, as Good Friday is a significant holiday here, with most of the shops closed.  Thankfully, the Tower was open and the perfect place to start our tour.  We tuned our ears to the Aussie accent, and enjoyed their narrated OzTrek ride, a virtual journey through Australia’s history and geography.  Then it was up the elevator to the top of the Tower offering us a fabulous overview high above this spectacular city!

 

We returned to Circular Quay for a stroll along the busy harbour.  A Princess cruise ship was in port, and unlike downtown, the dock area was teeming with activity.  A crowd was gathered around an Aboriginal street performer, listening to the strange sounds he was eliciting as he played his didgeridoo!  Allie was fascinated and eager to try one out.  We wandered in to Ulladulla’s Art Gallery where Allie soon purchased her very own didgeridoo.  Then we boarded one of Captain Cook’s ships for a two-hour cruise of the harbour that gave us yet another perspective of Sydney, this time from the water!

 

Ensuing days found us shopping in the historic “Rocks” area where Allie purchased an opal pendant for her mom.  We walked across the Harbour Bridge, and climbed the Pylon Tower.  Looking out over the bridge, we could see groups of brave adventurers inching their way over the top of the “coat hanger,” a unique and popular Sydney experience that we decided to forego.  We ate ricotta pancakes at Bill’s Restaurant, fish and chips at Doyles, and tried Chinese at the Neptune Palace before attending a performance at the Sydney Opera House! 

 

We took a four-wheel adventure in a monster truck out to the Blue Mountains.  A stop at the Featherdale Animal Park gave Allie the opportunity to see a Koala up close, and have her picture taken feeding the Kangaroos.  Surprisingly, they were much smaller than we expected.  Our final day in Sydney we spent in the Darling Harbour area, an easy walk or fun ferry ride from the Marriott.  We visited the top rated Sydney Aquarium, the National Maritime Museum, and afterwards enjoyed watching the circus performers who were participating in the Darling Harbour Hoopla weekend. We stepped under one of the tents where Allie tried her hand at juggling, and grandma discovered she could still walk on stilts!

 

Thoroughly charmed by Sydney and its lovely setting seemingly surrounded by water, we bid the city farewell, dreaming of a return visit one day!  Then it was back to the airport and a three-hour Virgin Blue flight to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef!  We had reservations at the four star, family friendly Kewarra Beach Resort located just outside of Cairns.  A driver from Kewarra was waiting for us at the airport, and upon our arrival at the resort we were greeted in the lobby with a welcome fruit drink.  We immediately fell in love with the rainforest setting and indigenous decor of this award winning property.  Accommodations here are in little huts called “mauds.”  We were escorted along paths lush with vegetation to our own two bedroom “bauhinia suite”, a nice upgrade.  It only took a few minutes before we were changed into our swim suits and enjoying one of their two free formed swimming pools, with waterfall spa and rock cave!  Allie made friends with two girls her age who were also in the pool….one from Germany, and another from Canada….a nice international experience that whet her appetite to learn to speak German.

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Quote from Allie:
"Wow" is what I said when we came to the Kewarra Beach Resort in Cairns!  It was amazing with its feel for the rain forest all around us.  

I had booked Kewarra’s “Voyage of Discovery” package with a number of great inclusions.  The highlight was our cruise aboard the Ocean Spirit out to Michaelmas Cay, where we had the opportunity to either snorkel in the incredibly beautiful coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef, or for an extra $100 we could try an introductory scuba dive.  This is what Allie had been waiting for! I was more than a little apprehensive, but I built up my courage and decided I should try the scuba dive with her!  Donning our weight belts, vests, tanks and masks, we hooked arms with our instructor and went under!  After an initial moment of panic, I settled down and enjoyed the dive.  Allie did great from start to finish.  And although we were never very deep, we now have bragging rights!  For the rest of our lives we can say we scuba dived at the Great Barrier Reef! 

 

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Quote from Allie:
"Blub, Blub, Blub!"  Can you guess that I'm at the bottom of the Coral Sea, swimming in the crystal clear water over the Great Barrier Reef?  I see a large sea turtle, giant clams, colorful coral, and Nemo and his dad.  There is not a care in the world for a scuba diver!

Other highlights included a Skyrail ride over the tree canopies in the rainforest, and an early morning hot air balloon ride that lifted us straight up through the clouds! Allie had to endure a few lessons on manners and reminders about sitting up straight in a nice restaurant, but she managed to do so cheerfully.  We shared lots of giggles, as well as several stories about her dad.  Curled up next to each other trying to grab a few moments of sleep in our seats on the long flight back home, I could almost feel my son smiling down on the two of us with great affection.  My Australian Adventures with Allie only served to strengthen the bond that already exists between grandmother and granddaughter….and like Evelyn’s trips with her granddaughters, it provided us both with many magical memories, indeed! No doubt they will last both Allie and me a lifetime!

GRANDTRAVEL

TAUCK BRIDGES

SYDNEY HARBOUR MARRIOTT HOTEL AT CIRCULAR QUAY

KEWARRA BEACH RESORT, CAIRNS

SYDNEY TOWER

CAPTAIN COOKS CRUISES

OCEAN SPIRIT

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It's all about the journey and the friends you make along the way!  
This website is dedicated to my best friends who have traveled with me on my many tours, and more importantly on my journey through life!  Each one of you is a treasure to me!