â€œWe could have just taken them to the west side of Florida, to a nice hotel,â€ said David Egozi, speaking of his three children and the dream of their first big family trip of the pandemic. But Mr. Egozi, a 36-year-old real estate developer from Aventura, Fla., and his wife, Jessica, have always been avid travelers, dotting the calendar with one trip after the next, including regular visits to see family in Israel.
â€œTheyâ€™ve been locked up for so long,â€ Mr. Egozi said of his children, ages 10, 8 and 4. â€œWe needed to do something big; we wanted to make sure weâ€™d be giving them a trip that was memorable.â€
So last month saw the family zipping down water slides, careening over waves on a Jet Ski, seeing sharks and turtles up close and feasting their way through high-end restaurants at Baha Mar, a 1,000-acre resort development in the Bahamas.
Although not every parent (or child, for that matter) will share the Egozisâ€™ strong stomachs for, say, cliff diving into pools, the overall tenor of their recent vacation â€” making up for lost time and doubling down on the fun factor, as if to exert â€œrevengeâ€ on the last 18 months â€” is one that is now guiding the family travel sector in ways large and small.
â€œAll of a sudden, it was â€˜boom.â€™ Everyoneâ€™s searching: Travelâ€™s back,â€ said Karen Akpan, the founder of The Mom Trotter and Black Kids Do Travel, a pair of family-travel websites and social-media communities. â€œMany parents are more comfortable with the idea of traveling than they were before.â€
But even for families eager to travel, the worrisome Delta variant and the lack of vaccines for the youngest children continue to be top of mind for parents. To prepare for a trip to Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., in mid August, Erica Tijerina-Rojas, 36, has been practicing social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing with her daughters, 10 and 11, who have not had any in-person schooling since March 2020.
â€œIâ€™m still a little nervous about it,â€ she said. â€œMy husband and I are fully vaccinated, but the girls are not. But this is going to be the new normal, and we have to teach them how to be self-caring â€” how to protect themselves.â€
The Delta variant now accounts for the majority of coronavirus cases in the United States and has created another set of virus hot-spots, many on the Gulf Coast. Disney reinstated its indoor-mask policy in late July for employees and guests ages 2 and up, regardless of vaccination status.
As for Ms. Tijerina-Rojas: She will hardly be the first parent to recoup lost time under the doe-eyed â€” albeit distanced â€” gaze of Cinderella. In the Walt Disney Companyâ€™s second-quarter earnings report, attendance figures for the Orlando and California parks were cited as â€œat or nearâ€ reduced capacity levels. And although the family regularly visits South Padre Island â€” about an hour and change from their home in Pharr, Texas, the week at Disney has extra weight and meaning.
â€œThis might be the last opportunity to go to Disney together because they could be outgrowing it â€” at a certain point theyâ€™re not going to be interested,â€ said Ms. Tijerina-Rojas, an office manager at a real estate agency.
Wary, but willing, parents
In a recent survey of around 3,500 active leisure travelers, the research company MMGY Travel Intelligence found that family travelers â€” those with children under 18 â€” are more interested in vacationing this year than nonfamily travelers. Data from Vacasa, a large vacation rental platform, shows that summer reservations with kids are up around 33 percent over 2019. In an undoubtedly parent-friendly move, Hilton is in the process of implementing â€œConfirmed Connecting Rooms,â€ a new online feature that allows guests to book â€” and instantly confirm â€” connecting rooms at its 18 hotel brands. Even travel companies not usually associated with sippy cups are getting in on the game: The recently renovated W South Beach has just started hosting outdoor yoga classes for children.
â€œThe pandemic has been a wake-up call beyond wake-up calls,â€ said Nicole Wineland-Thomson, the director of Family Expeditions at Thomson Family Adventures, which runs small-group and customized private trips. â€œParents are feeling a sense of urgency they didnâ€™t feel two years ago. We used to say, â€˜Oh, we have the rest of our lives to take our kids places.â€™ Thatâ€™s changed.â€
Even as Priyanka Desai Agrawal, 36, warily monitors infection and vaccination rates while considering where to go for a four-to-six-week international trip in December that will celebrate her husbandâ€™s 40th birthday, she is still hellbent on not remaining housebound with her two children, 3Â½ and 1.
â€œMy older son had been on 32 flights by the time he was 2,â€ said Ms. Agrawal, who lives in Tysons Corner, Va. â€œI was devastated to not be able to travel; I was trying to at least go for walks, but that didnâ€™t cut it for me.â€
In spring â€” when attendance capacity was severely restricted â€” Ms. Agrawal and her family spent nine days at Disney World. Sheâ€™s taken her sons to Indiana to see family. Thereâ€™s a day trip planned to Dutch Wonderland, in Lancaster, Pa., as well as Labor Day Weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The most popular Thomson Family Adventures departures this year include Hawaii, Baja and Costa Rica â€” all outdoorsy destinations that are relatively easy to get to. But for 2022 and 2023, thereâ€™s unprecedented demand for considerably more ambitious trips that venture to Europe and beyond as the world reopens; say, Italy, Peru (where Ms. Wineland-Thomson just took her 6-year-old son, only to encounter a nearly empty Machu Picchu), Tanzania and parts of Asia.
â€œPeople are looking ahead to the future and thinking, â€˜OK, thereâ€™s a chance that we might be able to get to these places that we couldnâ€™t even touch for the last 18 months,â€™â€ Ms. Wineland-Thomson said.
At Backroads, an adventure travel company that segments its family trips by childrenâ€™s ages, bookings for family trips next year are up 150 percent from where they were at this point in 2019, with Ecuador, Costa Rica and Peru surging for fall and the holidays.
â€œPent-up demand is huge,â€ said Tom Hale, founder and president of Backroads. â€œPeople are planning ahead and putting vacations on their calendars now so that they can have an adventure on the horizon to look forward to.â€
Lest even more time go by before Madison, 21, the oldest of his three children, enters the working world, Chris Miller, 56, who lives in Houston, was also determined to go big this spring.
â€œWe probably wonâ€™t have another chance to do two weeks as a family,â€ said Mr. Miller, the head of North America Energy Investment Banking at Citigroup. â€œThis summer was it, so we were damn sure going to go somewhere when things got workable.â€
The Millers tapped Indagare, a members-only, boutique travel-planning company, to coordinate a 12-night trip to Egypt, which is open to Americans with a virus test. They cruised down the Nile River, went kiteboarding in Sharm El Sheikh and marveled at the Great Pyramids of Giza.
â€œThe kids love the adventure of long trans-Atlantic flights,â€ he said. â€œThere was some exhilaration in just getting on the plane and going.â€