China is so vast, varied and thrilling that pinpointing interesting sites, sounds and experiences is—as the old saying in those parts has it—like throwing pebbles at the moon. New adventures wrapped in an aura of exoticism beckon, and the allure of the country is such that the old Middle Kingdom presently ranks as one of the world’s most popular destinations in the relatively short time since it opened its gates to modern tourism.
According to Hui Ma, assistant director of the China National Tourist Office (CNTO) in New York, “The most popular and natural destinations within China for families traveling together include Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Chengdu. They are all easy to explore for those traveling with children, and even for mature adults who may or may not have limited mobility. Visiting those destinations will often seem surreal. Besides, the food is delicious.”
Culinary delights and exotic names aside, China is a formidable market for travel agents who will find it rapidly adapting itself into a family-friendly destination. According to CNTO, American arrivals strictly for sightseeing and tourism in 2012 alone numbered more than one million, with a growing portion comprised of families traveling together.
Ma adds that one of CNTO’s goals is to lure “more and more multigenerational visitors to China, as they will find [there] a culture deeply rooted in family traditions.”
According to a spokesman from the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, “Culture is the soul of travel. China, an ancient Asian giant with a history of over 5,000 years, bears a special cultural magnetism for Americans. The Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Expo Shanghai 2010 and other international events further promoted its popularity, especially for families.”
When it comes to family travel, China is rapidly transforming itself into one of the world’s great destinations.
With so much going for it, booking a trip there can be exhausting. But Globus family of brands seems to have gone the proverbial extra mile to offer traveling families a glimpse of the best among the multitude of alluring destinations that lie within its vast borders. The company is comprised of four different brands: Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways—each distinct, yet offering tours in premier, first-class and value ranges.
For 2014, the company is unveiling Treasures of China (from approximately $2,300 pp land-only), an 11-day trek that includes Beijing, Xian, Guilin, Shanghai and Suzhou. Families will find it a fun-filled adventure accented by extraordinary joys like touring Hutong by rickshaw, cruising along the placid Li River and tea-making demonstrations at a centuries-old tea plantation.
Hutong, Beijing’s ancient suburb crisscrossed by narrow lanes and full of quaint shops in timeless courtyards, is said to represent the true soul of the city. It’s the first choice for those who want to sample Beijing, and its visitors feel like they’ve traveled in a time capsule to the Yuan Dynasty.
According to Ryan Droegemueller, product manager, Asia, South Pacific, East & Southern Africa, Globus family of brands, “Most of those traveling with us are visiting China for the first time. That’s why we include destinations like the Great Wall, the famous terracotta warriors at Xian and other sites that more seasoned travelers are very familiar with, but that younger travelers have only read about in school.
“A by-product of traveling to China is to learn something about its fascinating culture,” he continues. “Younger travelers will receive a significant insight into its varied culture. Those traveling with children will view our tours as a good teaching tool, as we limit our groups to fewer than 20.”
Droegemueller adds that Monograms, Globus’ custom-designed branch, offers tours in which all sightseeing and exploration are conducted privately while offering a “lot of one-on-one interaction between highly qualified guides and guests, thus giving our experts the opportunity to interact with multigenerational travelers.”
One such package called China Escape (from $1,379 pp, land-only) is a 9-day trek that visits Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. This private tour is a thumbnail introduction to the wonders of China, from strolling along Ming Dynasty-era gardens to sampling the culinary wonders of Shanghai.
Monograms’ Captivating China (from $1,919 pp, land only) is a similar tour that lasts 12 days and includes a boat trip along the serene Li River amid astounding mountain scenery.
Avalon Waterways, meanwhile, features Enchanting China and the Yangtze River, a more in-depth, 15-day trip (from $3,899 pp, land-only) that, in addition to the usual stops, takes in the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs before embarking on a trip down the legendary river.
According to Droegemueller, an acrobatic show in Beijing rivaling Cirque du Soleil, calligraphy classes in Shanghai, and the Lijiang Impression Show that stands as a mesmerizing example of Chinese art, captivate children. In addition, there are cloisonne and lacquer workshops and noodle-making demonstrations.
The most exotic segment of the tour, however, is a 3-day cruise on the Yangtze unwinding past the Three Gorges Dam and offering a delightful sampan ride on a nearby river, two spots that spellbind young and old.
all in the family
As baby boomers age and longevity is extending, it’s common to see three generations traveling together to faraway places that once seemed remote and inaccessible. That said, you should keep in mind that the youngest age allowed on Globus’ regular tours is 8 (they do, however, allow travelers as young as 5 on “family travel”-designated packages), and sometimes mobility issues can be a hindrance in destinations such as China.
According to Droegemueller, although some modern sites have disabled access, using a wheelchair in China can be a challenge. Many destinations have old and uneven stone surfaces and numberous flights of stairs. On the Yangtze, getting to and from the ship often includes many steps as well, but the ships have been trained to assist, so that’s generally not a problem. In China—even more than in other destinations—a traveling companion who can assist is really needed for disabled travelers and those using wheelchairs.
But China is making what Jani Mayar, SATH’s (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality) executive coordinator, says is “tremendous progress when it comes to the needs of those with limited mobility.”
She says that since the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, even spots like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and other remote places “are accessible.”
What advice does Mayar have for those travelers and the travel agents coordinating their bookings?
“The most important thing is to plan well in advance,” she says. “Second, choosing the right travel agent, with specialty in these matters, is essential.” And if you are not yet dipping into this market, you should start looking into it. According to figures from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), baby boomers are “twice more likely to use assistive walking devices than previous generations. These individuals, who may have disabilities or simply be ‘slow walkers,’ also make up a significant part of the $13.6 billion per year accessible travel segment and the $192 billion mature adult-slow walker segment—the fastest growing market segments in travel.”