Best Vacations with Kids
All-Inclusive Family Resorts
Diapers? Check. Endless supply of Goldfish crackers and juice boxes? Check. Puzzles, Barbie dolls and tiny plastic dinosaurs? Check, check, check.
Any parent knows that traveling with kids is an exercise in logistical planning. The good news is many all-inclusive vacation spots now exist that strive to understand what families need -- and provide it.
Tops on parents' wish list are activities to keep Junior occupied, a plentiful and always available supply of kid-friendly food (think buffet), family-friendly sleeping arrangements and even an extra set of hands to ensure Mom and Dad get a break too.
Catering to these needs -- and offering the bonus of a vacation tab that's nailed down in advance -- are all-inclusive family-oriented resorts. These establishments often feature fantastic pools, water sports and supervised kiddie clubs for the young ones, plus spas, fine dining and adult entertainment for their parents.
Deals vary, but your bill at most all-inclusive resorts includes lodging, food and drink (including alcoholic beverages), transportation to and from the resort, taxes, gratuities, non-motorized water sports, organized games and activities, kiddie clubs (though some resorts add a fee for this) and evening entertainment.
Taking advantage of these resorts lets parents spend less time thinking about where to eat and what their kids will do, and more time relaxing.
Below we've selected our top picks for resorts and resort companies that make time off with the kids as good as time off should feel.
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With its 3 family-focused properties in Jamaica and 1 in Turks and Caicos, all-inclusive Beaches caters to everyone in the family. An exclusive deal with Sesame Street means lots of opportunities to eat and play with the kids' favorite furry friends, from dinner with Elmo to staged shows and weekly parades with other Sesame Street characters. Beaches properties also offer Crayola Art camps, water parks (at Beaches Negril and Boscobel in Jamaica, with 1 coming soon to Beaches Turks and Caicos), water sports, multiple swimming pools (including kids-only pools), kids camps run by certified "ultra nannies," luxury family suites that sleep up to 5 people (Beaches Boscobel and Turks and Caicos) and a "Rockin' teen disco" (Beaches Boscobel), plus the usual -- sun, sand, surf and lots of food -- that you'd expect at a resort.
This all-inclusive resort company boasts 8 properties that cater to families, offering up an assortment of features for kids and parents alike. Club Med's Baby Welcome program provides all the comforts of home -- crib, changing table, baby bath, bottle warmer and more -- in your room, plus microwaves, blenders, bottle warmers and kid seats in children's corners at resort dining spots. Select resorts also offer child care -- with face painting, games, puppet shows, arts and crafts, pajama parties and more -- for kids under 3 years old. There are programs for older kids too, with a Mini Club Med program for 4- to 10-year-olds that includes learning to fly the trapeze, soccer, sailing, in-line skating, science activities and other kid-centered fun. For older kids, Junior Club Med -- offered at no extra cost -- seeks to strike that balance between cool and safe while Passworld, offered at select resorts, presents teen-tailed activities like jewelry making, sound mixing and even graffiti work in exclusive areas built just for teens. There's also the Siesta Club, where you can leave your little ones in qualified hands to nap, listen to stories or cuddle up and watch a movie. And, of course, child-friendly Club Meds have kiddie meals; some even offer separate restaurants just for tiny diners.
All-suite FDR Pebbles promises the usual appeal of sun, sand and sea, and the no-hassle attraction of an all-inclusive set-up, but with an added plus: every arriving family is assigned their own personal vacation nanny. The nanny is on duty all day to take over kid patrol in your suite or accompany your youngsters to the kids club, where they'll have their pick of games, books and activities. Teens and pre-teens have their own activities, including supervised trips to an outdoor campsite, beach parties, fishing, sailing, windsurfing, hiking, all-terrain bicycle trips and other field trips. That leaves Mom and Dad plenty of time to get a massage, read a book, tackle an adventure of their own or just enjoy a quiet meal -- in an adults-only restaurant -- without the constant chorus of little voices clamoring for attention. Be sure to check out their specials, which include a "Bring the grandparents for free" deal, "Family fly free" fall deal and family reunion package.
Dreams Cancun Resort and Spa
Surrounded on 3 sides by the glittering Caribbean, Dreams offers a luxurious setting that appeals to couples and families alike. They promise that "children are always welcome" at its Explorer's Club, a supervised program that keeps kids ages 3 to 12 busy with science and nature projects, as well as the usual array of games and activities (including a once-weekly camping adventure on the beach). For grown-up fun, there's a first-rate spa -- although you'll have to pay extra to use it -- fine dining, and a variety of land and water sports. Best of all is the newest attraction: the dolphinarium, a gleaming lagoon that's home to 5 dolphins. Book a room in 1 of the dolphin-view rooms and watch them frolic from your terrace. You can also take part in the Dolphin Experience, which offers a rare chance to swim with the dolphins.