When I was asked to review The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Best Family Destinations by Family Tree Forum with Kyle McCarthy, I admitted to a certain prejudice for this book. I have quite the collection of Idiot’s Guides, on a wide range of topics, and I love them all. Their orange bindings are quite dominant on my bookshelves. I have a fair amount of travel experience and my husband a great deal more. However, this year we will be traveling for the first time with our one year old daughter. I wanted to love this book. The bad news is I didn’t. The good news is that I didn’t hate it either.
If you have a location picked out and are looking for advice, you might be better off with a destination specific guide. If you are someone trying to decide on a location for the next family trip this book is a great fit. The book is broken up into parts based on North American geography (with Mexico and Canada each getting their own part). Hawaii is included in the part covering the west, and Alaska the northwest. Each section has chapters for city, culture and outdoor activities personalized to the region being covered (i.e. hiking, amusement parks etc.) In regions where there are notable family beach destinations, they get their own chapter.
Those familiar to Idiot’s Guides will recognize the sidebars feature. These sidebars include fun facts, fellow travelers say, travelers beware and vacation planning tips. On the positive side, many of the fun facts really are fun, or at least interesting, and the “fellow travelers say” section offers the voice of real world experience. The vacation planning tips are really just an extension of what’s already in the book. Sometimes these tips are about how to make advance reservations or a notable place in or near the city being written about.
The promise of listing age appropriateness and best time to travel that’s made in the introduction is broken in more than one chapter. Sometimes the “travelers beware” sidebar will mention something is inappropriate for small children, and some of the highlights do mention what ages would likely be interested. But this isn’t consistent. The bigger problem with this book is that there is very little contact information included. The city chapter in the Midwest section features Chicago, Kansas City, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul. This is a great representation of city life in the Midwest with lots of great suggestions on where to take your kids while visiting these cities. The problem is that there is no contact information for any of these great suggestions. The tourism web site for the city and state is listed at the end of the section for each city. But no other web sites, phone numbers or admission information are listed. I realize many of these places can be found by a simple internet search but for a book that claims to have “hundreds of the best family-friendly vacation spots throughout North America, all in one handy place,” I think this information should be included. Besides, have you ever tried to do any kind of web search with a toddler nearby? There is nothing simple about it.
The book contains two appendices, the first of which is really just a rehash of the books main destinations but in list form. Appendix B might be some of the most useful information in the book. It’s an alphabetical listing of family travel resources from airports to trip planning. Though the latter is more of a pitch for the Family Travel Forum’s website, but since it is free I won’t criticize that. The entry for “baby gear” explains that you don’t need to take everything with you and lists a web site that rents such gear. The “hotels” entry lists information for a number of larger chains with the tip that many offer family promotions.
There are lots of good tips and great advice in this book but it’s not a standalone travel guide. If you’re looking for ideas for your next family trip and don’t mind doing some research on your own, then this book is for you. If you want a complete resource then you need to keep looking.