The best tropical destinations for your winter family holiday


We compare the top spots for young families seeking the sun.

Fiji, Thailand, Bali or the Gold Coast?


It's hard not to be captivated by the turquoise waters of an island holiday, especially in the dark winter months. What parent hasn't dreamed of abandoning the commute, the lunchboxes and the laundry to spend a week or two in a tropical paradise where the kids are having as good a time as you are?

Bali, Thailand, Fiji and, closer to home, the Gold Coast, are among Australians' most popular destinations for soaking up some sun. Can't decide which is best for your family? We've looked at the pros and cons of each to help steer you to the perfect beach break for your clan.

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The Gold Coast is the indisputable number one domestic beach holiday destination for Aussie families.

Bali is Australia's most visited overseas tropical destination, with 810,000 Australians holidaying in Indonesia last year.

Thailand had 395,000 Aussie holidaymakers in 2015 putting it in second place in the international tropical getaway stakes. And Fiji comes in next, with 205,000.

But each destination offers a different experience. We've uncovered some golden rules and industry insights so you can choose the destination that's just right for your sun-seeking crew.

Culture, food and fun

The Gold Coast offers surf, water parks, theme parks, city-style entertainment options and natural hinterland adventures.

Thailand and Bali offer a smorgasbord of good value experiences, including beaches, islands, jungles, temples, snorkelling, surfing in Bali and wonderful food.

Fiji is an iconic island getaway with glittering crystalline waters but a smaller selection of experiences on offer. The people of Fiji, Bali and Thailand are all known to be friendly and welcoming; Fijians are particularly well known for their warmth towards children of tourists.

Weather

While paradise may be just a plane ride away, it's worth checking when your destination is going to be at its very best.

Thailand

Parts of Thailand such as Koh Samui are good to visit during the Australian winter months, according to Natalie Hadikin from Travel Specialists Mosman, but Phuket should be avoided as July to October is the monsoon season.

Lonely Planet describes November to March as cool and dry in Thailand. April to June and September to October are hot but with sea breezes in coastal areas – but again, check how the area you're looking to stay is affected by monsoon season.

Fiji

Fiji is lovely between May and October with comfortable temperatures of approximately 28°C, low humidity, low rainfall and less risk of cyclones, according to Lonely Planet.

Bali

Bali is best in May, June and September when it's dry and not so humid. Average temperatures hover around 26°C and are fairly steady all year round.

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is often sunny in winter with an average maximum temperature of 21°C during the day. The waterparks heat the water to about 25°C but you may need wetsuits for the beach.

Costs and accommodation

It's tricky to compare each destination equally. According to family travel specialist Natalie Hadikin, Fiji is likely to be the most expensive, followed by Thailand then Bali, and the Gold Coast would be the cheapest, purely because you'll avoid the international airfares with the latter.

It's also important to consider the value of the Australian dollar – you'll get less for your money in some areas overseas than you would have a few years ago.

School holidays or value deal periods?

Good deals can be found outside the school holidays if you have that option; however, it can be enormously beneficial for children to have other kids to play with. We compared the cost of travelling during school holidays and outside those dates in our article about school holiday price hikes.

Motorbikes, tuk tuks... seatbelts!

When it comes to road safety parents of little ones need to be on their game. Regulations are often more lax overseas and it's up to you to seek out the standards you expect to keep your family safe.

Mother of two Cindy Sciberras told us she was horrified to see Westerners in Thailand hiring motorbikes and transporting their young children on the back. And remember, your travel insurance may not cover accidents under these kinds of circumstances. Read CHOICE's advice on travel insurance and risky behaviour.

CHOICE journalist Kate Browne, who has holidayed in Thailand and Fiji with two young children, describes Thai traffic as "crazy" but says she found things a lot more sedate in Fiji. She also found that taxis with seatbelts were easier to find in Fiji.

Sadly, motorcycle and other road vehicle accidents are common in both Thailand and Bali. According to the World Health Organization, 24,237 people died on Thai roads in 2013, and 72% of these were on motorbikes or three-wheeled Tuk Tuks.

You could take your own child carseat, as many hire vehicles don't come with them. Ask in advance when booking transport, but it's not a guarantee they'll be in the vehicle.

But even if you do take your own restraints, you may find they don't fit. Nicole Reber, a family travel expert with Travel Specialists in Sydney, says many taxis and minivans in Bali, Thailand and Fiji are unlikely to have the safety anchor points found in Australian vehicles.

Kids' clubs

Younger children might not want to spend days exploring cultural sites and may be happy simply using the resort facilities. It's always worth researching the kids clubs and facilities on offer just to make sure your junior holiday makers are catered for.

Plenty of Gold Coast resorts come with kids' clubs with water parks and fun activities on offer, and they're also close to the theme parks.

Bali and Thailand have beautiful resorts with great pools, kids' clubs and facilities, but they also have a tantalising variety of sightseeing and other adventures for families looking for more than just downtime.

Many kids' clubs are outstanding with a variety of activities on offer and accredited staff, but this isn't always the case and parents should investigate the quality of care for themselves.

Read more about finding a quality kids club and nanny service on holiday in kids' clubs: what to look for.

Travel insurance, hospitals, illness, vaccinations and medications

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is as critical as bringing your passport. Otherwise you could find yourself up for crippling medical costs after coming off that jet ski or an unexpected stay in a local hospital.

Luckily when it comes to travel insurance we've done the research for you – see our travel insurance reviews and get yourself some real holiday peace of mind! For more help in understanding policy exclusions and terms, see our travel insurance buying guide.

And remember, it's always a good idea to take paperwork to show evidence of your family's insurance cover.

Hospitals

Hospitals in Thailand near the tourist areas are modern and well-equipped, according to Cindy Sciberras. She told CHOICE: "We stayed in Koh Samui and the hospital was like a hotel! ... That made me feel that if the kids got sick I could have confidence in the medical care."

The main hospitals in Bali are sound but don't match Australian standards. There are two private international hospitals that cater to westerners in Nusa Dua and Kuta.

Fiji's medical services and hospitals are poor compared to Australia's.

Illness

Dengue fever and malaria are present in Bali and Thailand. There've been reports of transmission of Zika virus in Thailand and Bali, but it's more widespread in Fiji (which also has dengue fever).

Cover up with mosquito nets over strollers, use repellents, wear long-sleeved clothes and look for accommodation with fly screens.

Food and water contamination is an issue in all three destinations, and only bottled water should be drunk.

Read CHOICE's travel health guide for expert advice on staying healthy on holiday.

Vaccinations

Family travel adviser Nicole Reber tells her clients to visit the family doctor and make sure everyone is up to date with vaccinations eight weeks prior to your holiday.

Medications

Thailand and Indonesia have strict drug laws. If you're travelling with ADHD medications, prescription drugs or drugs containing codeine you should first contact the Thai Embassy or the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra to confirm it's legal.

For more on official health advice for each destination visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Smart Traveller website.

Flying with children

Young flying companions can exact a heavy toll on parents, bookending the dream adventure in a ragged haze. Navigating customs, baggage and transfers to your destination with a crotchety crew can make for a forgettable start and finish to an otherwise fabulous holiday.

Consider the length of the flights and the transfers, and the times of departure and arrival.

Flying during the day might be easier than travelling overnight or arriving home very early in the morning with your bleary-eyed family.

Night flights sound good, but if your child is crying while everyone else is sleeping it can become a high-altitude nightmare for all onboard. Plan flights around naps if possible, and choose seats near doors, at the bulkhead or near the toilets.

Length of flights

Flying can be exciting for the young traveller, but the novelty can wear off after an hour or two! We've collated approximate flying times for each destination from around Australia.

Sadly, we couldn't find direct flights from Hobart to any of the destinations.

Bali

If you live on the west coast of Australia, flying to Bali is an easy option as it's just over 3.5 hours to Denpasar from Perth.

For East Coast dwellers it's a longer (six- to seven-hour) flight to Denpasar. Be mindful of the flights that bring you home in the red-eyed morning hours!

Fiji

Flying to Nadi, Fiji, is a snap if you're on the East Coast. It's five to six hours from Melbourne and four to five hours from Sydney and Brisbane. Unfortunately if you live near Perth, Adelaide, Darwin or in Tasmania, and want a Pacific Islands getaway, we couldn't find any direct flights available to Fiji.

If you're staying on an island off the mainland you'll also have a boat trip to contend with, and some of the boats can be pretty small and the seas pretty rough – sick bag, anyone?

Thailand

Thailand is a more intrepid mission for young families. It will involve longer (and less frequent) flights to Phuket, or to Bangkok and then domestic travel to your final destination, possibly on a boat.

Families travelling to Thailand will find their children are up very early in the morning and falling asleep in their dinner. The time differences are more manageable with Bali and Fiji, depending on where you're flying out from.

At the time of writing, and on the days we looked, only Jetstar was­ flying directly from Sydney to Phuket and flights from Melbourne were intermittent – and even less frequent from Brisbane.

Flight lengths to Bangkok from the East Coast are about nine to 10 hours.

We didn't find any direct flights between Phuket and Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth on the dates we looked but schedules may change. Bangkok is a fairly short flight from Perth at six to seven hours.

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is a winner in this regard, with shorter flights, no jetlag and no need to deal with customs, visa or passport issues.

However, we only found one (five hour) flight from Perth that flew overnight, arriving at 6:30am.

Adelaide had more options when we searched, although it wasn't consistent. And as previously stated, we couldn't find a direct flight from Hobart to the Gold Coast.

Sydney and Melbourne have plenty of flight options to the Gold Coast and the flight time is only about an hour. Driving is also an option.

Political instability and terrorism

Terrorism is a concern in some areas and it's wise to be aware of the local political barometer when travelling.

At the time of writing, DFAT classifies both Indonesia (including Bali) and Thailand as countries in which Australians should "exercise a high degree of caution" because of the risk of civil unrest and terrorist activity. Fiji, on the other hand, is in the same category as New Zealand, with the advice to "exercise normal safety precautions".

But before you travel check DFAT's Smart Traveller website for any updates. Among other things, the site details some of the most dangerous areas to avoid, and scams that tourists are commonly reporting.

Australia's trusted emergency, medical and security services are a drawcard for Queensland should the worst-case scenario unfold.


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