Top spot ... Disneyland.

Top spot ... Disneyland.

The annual beach break is out and adventure is in for time-poor families, writes Debbie Hunter.

Experiences that open children's minds to history, the environment, art and technology are on the hot list. Once considered suitable only for intrepid adults, destinations such as Africa and Asia are as much sought-after as the beaches of Hawaii and Fiji.

A travel consultant for more than 20 years (12 of those years specialising in upmarket family holidays), mother of two twentysomething young adults and Travel With Kidz founder Wendy Buckley says time-poor families are no longer content with the traditional two-week annual trip to the coast.

"They are beginning to think quality, not quantity, and are demanding more active and interesting breaks," she says.

"The needs of children under five are simple - a comfortable, warm bed, regular feeding, rested parents and lots of cuddles.

"Toddlers are busy little people with higher demands and therefore more suited to the 'beach and bucket' experience.

"In primary school years, children are very active and start to appreciate various cultures and geography. In their high school years they start choosing the subjects that will lead them to careers."

After recently gathering years of feedback from her youngest clients, she has come up with a list of top 10 holiday experiences (see below). Top of that list is a trip to Cambodia's ancient Angkor Wat temple. "That's up there with Egypt pyramids but the difference is you can view the history on the walls and actually climb through the temples," she says. "It's a hands-on history lesson which becomes important in high school years."

Every Australian school child should experience our indigenous culture so they can learn respect for our heritage, Buckley says about experience number two.

She also believes that other holiday favourites like playing volleyball with Fijians on white sandy beaches and swimming with dolphins in Hawaii teach children about the environment and why it's important that we preserve it.

A trip to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania to dance with the Masaai tribes and see the animals is another big hit.

"There were 200,000 lions 20 years ago; now there are less than 18,000 in Africa and numbers are reducing due to farming, poaching and disease - so, again, this helps kids learn to respect the environment," she says.

With so much of what our kids watch on television coming out of the US and their obsession with Nike, New York is the best example of "mad America".

Children hate cars but they love riding in a gondola and eating pizza and gelato, which is why Venice rates highly, Buckley says. "In a city where there are no vegetables to be forced on them - it's kids' heaven."

And of course, every child dreams of going to Disneyland to meet Mickey Mouse. But she notes it has to be the original Disneyland (in Anaheim, California).

In choosing a variety of holiday experiences, Buckley says by year 11 you will have provided them with the opportunity to make an informed and interesting decision about their future, "because they have been exposed to so many different things".

In a recent survey conducted by Out & About With Kids magazine, Hong Kong topped the list of must-see family destinations because it has everything families say they are looking for - diversity in culture, food and attractions.

"There's been renewed interest in Hong Kong because of the Olympics," says the magazine's editor, Tracey Spicer.

While families were often intimidated by mainland China, Hong Kong is seen as the next best option, she says. "It's the perfect East-meets-West destination."

While it has great shopping and dining options and a cheap, efficient transport system, Spicer says kids love the activities on offer, including a cable-car ride and a chance to see giant pandas at Ocean Park.

"We've found Fiji to be another great family destination," she says.

"It's a short flight away and the resorts provide carers you can really trust. The food has also really improved over the years."

Spicer notes that Hawaii is another island resort taking off again as a great family destination.

"The new Waikiki beachfront is a really beautiful place to take your kids and it's not as overcrowded with tourists as you might think," she says.

"We've just come back from there and as we took a dip along a stretch of water off the beach, three green turtles swam by."

Holidays that offer encounters with nature are very popular with children, Spicer says.

While fuel hikes and high mortgages have forced some families to reconsider holiday plans, Buckley says parents should try to get away with their offspring at least once a year.

"Rested parents are better parents," she says.

For the big trips you should pick one every few years, which gives you time to plan and save. "By each family member making some sacrifices - like giving up takeaway once a week or foregoing the latest gadget - you can make it happen," Buckley says.

Those sacrifices help the whole family value the trip a lot more, she says.

Spicer says costs can be reduced by choosing similar experiences closer to home, like the Gold Coast, which has fantastic and varied theme parks, and Port Stephens, which offers dolphin-watching.

Phillip Island offers other natural encounters while activities such as quad-biking satisfy a teenager's quest for adventure.

And you still can't go past a traditional budget option - the caravan or tent, says Spicer, who classes it as one of her family's favourites.

"My kids love watching their dad build a fire and follow the ping pong ball down the stream. It's that real old-fashioned, Huckleberry Finn kind of fun."

Top 10 family trips

1. Climb the steps of Angkor Wat and view history engraved on the walls.

2. Sit with indigenous Australians and learn the art of dot painting. View the sunrise over Uluru and ride quad bikes in the desert.

3. Learn to ski and make snowmen at Thredbo Village.

4. Play volleyball with Fijians on white-sand beaches.

5. Swim with dolphins at Dolphin Quest in Hawaii.

6. Walk down Broadway in New York and ride the lift to the top of the Empire State Building.

7. Visit the Pope's home in Vatican City. Climb the steps of St Peter's Basilica and view Rome from the top.

8. Ride a gondola through the canals of Venice and eat gelato in Piazza San Marco.

9. Introduce the kids to Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disneyland.

10. Dance with the Masaai at Ngorongoro Crater and watch lions under a tree on the great plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania.

WHAT KIDS WANT

James Duncan, 5

"I want to go to the biggest toy store in the world in New York. I also want to go skiing where there are big mountains."

Scarlet Smithies, 7

"I love to go to the seaside. Mummy and daddy take us to Cornwall [England]. That's where I caught my first wave. I love to go camping, on boat rides and watch the fishermen pull up their crab pots."

Rachel Pulver, 10

"I'd love to go to Disney World in Florida, where it's also hot and there's a beach nearby."

Felicity Light, 13

"I love Tokyo because of the awesome shopping. The theme parks, like Sanrio Puroland and Disneyland, and the neon lights at night all make it so different from Sydney."

Holly Gleave, 14

"I love Crescent Head because you just spend all day at the beach and there's not much else to do but be together. It's great, too, because you always meet new friends when you are there and at the end of the day you all end up having dinner together."

HOT TIPS

* Half the fun is in the planning - the whole family should get involved in researching on the internet, gathering brochures or reading books about the destination.

* Ensure that each family member gets to choose a day they want.

"It can be something as silly as chasing squirrels around Central Park, which my daughter chose to do on a visit to New York," Buckley says. "My son wanted to go up the Empire State Building, I wanted to go shopping, while my husband chose the Guggenheim Museum."

* Encourage the children to keep a journal where they can record their memories and keep ticket stubs.

* Jumping on a plane is better than long drives in the car.

* Choose quality, not quantity - five nights, not 10.

* Stick to one destination and don't try to cram in too much.

* On long road trips, take a portable DVD player for passengers.

* Pack healthy meals not loaded with sugar, especially on plane trips.

* Research toilet stops.

* Pack favourite toys.

* Pack light and hire as many items as possible.