Free for All

Family trips can leave parents feeling like they need a vacation from their vacation. Moms and dads can't always cater to kids—they occasionally need to indulge in adult-friendly pursuits, like flying down a white-knuckle mountain-bike trail or taking off on a sailboard. Here are five innovative trips—with built-in baby-sitting—so children have fun while parents enjoy a guilt-free leave of absence.

Put your best feet forward on vacation     Photo: PhotoDisc

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For more great family vacation ideas, check out the2003 Outside Traveler Family Edition—available on newsstands now!

Thomson Family Adventures
A SPECIALIST IN TRAVEL en famille to destinations such as China, Egypt, and Peru, Thomson Family Adventures has a kids' Adventure Club that creates parental downtime for a few hours each day. Each child is assigned a foreign pen pal to correspond with beforehand; during the trip, the kids meet, teaching one another songs or games. In Tanzania, there was a memorable soccer game where players used rolled-up socks as a ball and dribbled through cows on the field. Adventure Club "mentors," often professional teachers, also oversee journal-writing and play. Hike through cloudforests and play on remote beaches for just $1,390 per adult ($1,290 per child 12 to 17) on the eight-day trip to Costa Rica. Contact: 800-262-6255, www.familyadventures.com

Mackay Wilderness River Trips
ON THESE RAFT TRIPS, parental furloughs are elevated to a wilderness art form. Along with a full complement of river guides, Mackay Wilderness River Trips sends along a real pro—an elementary schoolteacher—to lead activities with kids during off-water hours. Children learn about Native American culture, making dream catchers or hearing lore about the Sheepeater Indians. The über-teacher also arranges scavenger hunts and beach volleyball. The kids' program is so much fun, in fact, that no one is surprised when parents grow envious and choose to play along. A six-day trip on the Main Fork of the Salmon River costs $1,395 per adult; five days on the Snake River, $1,195. Kids under 14 are half-price. Contact: 800-635-5336, www.mackayriver.com
Keystone Resort
CHECK INTO A CONDO with a full kitchen at Keystone Resort—in June, a two-bedroom, two-bath unit for a family of four costs $953 for six days—and get an Adventure Passport: $500 worth of fun at no extra cost. Cash in the passport for bike and in-line skate rentals, yoga classes, and other activities, as well as something just for kids scheduled each day—kite flying, mural painting, panning for gold, or pony rides. What's more, the all-day Kid's Camp (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., for kids two months to 12 years old) gives parents a day to themselves; Kid's Night Out amuses the brood with stargazing and campfire stories while couples sneak off for dinner alone. So what's a parent to do with the free time? The Colorado resort's mountain biking, hiking, fly-fishing, and horseback riding are sublime. Contact: 800-222-0188, www.keystone.snow.com

The FDR Pebbles Resort
THIS FIND SOUNDED too good to be true—so we checked and double-checked. But it's true: The FDR Pebbles Resort, on Jamaica's north coast, issues a nanny to every family that chooses the resort's all-inclusive package. The nanny, on call from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (with an hour off for lunch), will watch the little ones or tackle domestic chores around the hotel suite, like stocking the fridge or picking up. Meanwhile, there are free activities for kids—especially teenagers—including windsurfing, snorkel, and scuba lessons as well as a camp-out. Special summer rates at the resort dip as low as $700 per adult for five days, including meals, with one child under 16 free per paid adult. Contact: 800-330-8272, www.fdrfamily.com

Butterfield & Robinson
THIS SUMMER, the outfitter Butterfield & Robinson debuts its "Homebase" twist to family travel. This six-day program establishes a beachhead at an exclusive European property, with separate programs for parents and kids. For infants and toddlers, there's daycare, open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., that parents can use as little or as much as they like. For the older kids, there are age-specific activities scheduled throughout the day; think surf camp, horseback rides, and kid-only dinners. Parents can attend language or painting classes, or use their kid-free time to follow their own muses. In Tuscany, guests stay at a restored farmhouse; in Brittany, it's a château. Cost is $3,995 per adult for Tuscany, $4,495 for Brittany; call for kid prices. Contact: 800-678-1147, www.butterfield.com

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