Best Vacations With Kids
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 that many all-inclusive vacation spots now 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 buffets); family-friendly sleeping arrangements; and even an extra set of hands to ensure that 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 family-oriented, all-inclusive 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.
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.
With its 2 family-focused properties in Jamaica and 1 in Turks and Caicos, all-inclusive Beaches resorts cater 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 story time with Elmo to staged shows and weekly parades with other characters. Beaches properties also offer water parks, water sports, multiple swimming pools (including kids-only pools), kids' camps and luxury family suites that sleep up to 5 people — plus the usual sun, sand, surf and abundant food that you'd expect at a resort.
Kailua Beach Park, Kailua, HI
A favorite beach for many on Oahu, Kailua Beach Park boasts turquoise blue waters, plenty of free parking and lots of family-friendly water activities, like kayaking and boogie boarding. Kids will love watching the kite surfers, maybe even more than a trip to Island Snow for shave ice. Kalapawai Market is located at the park entrance, so pick up some deli sandwiches for an afternoon picnic on the beach.
Seaside, South Walton, FL
With turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and 16 charming beach neighborhoods, it’s hard to pick just one best beach for kids in South Walton, but time and again, families flock to Seaside on Florida’s northwest coast. Enjoy biking and stand-up paddleboarding before heading to Airstream Row for food trucks serving up everything from grilled cheese to homemade custard.
Agios Georgios Beach, Naxos, Greece
Many of the beaches in Naxos boast warm waters that are gentle and shallow, particularly those on the southwest coast of the island, making them ideal for families with small children. One of the best is Agios Georgios Beach. Eat breakfast at one of the cafés on the beach for fantastic views of the bay. The beach is also an easy walk to Hora, the island’s colorful capital city.
St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, FL
For wide beaches, a 4-acre beachfront park and plenty of space to play, even with your dog, head to St. Augustine Beach in St. Augustine. Walk along the shores where Spanish explorers landed so many years ago, then let the kids go wild at the splash park on the pier. Spend time at nearby Anastasia State Park where you can bike on the beach and paddle in a saltwater lagoon.
Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Kids can play on the white sandy beach by day and make s’mores around a bonfire by night at Carmel Beach. Pet lovers will love this dog-friendly (and leash-free) beach, so bring a tennis ball or two to make a few new furry friends. Take the free trolley into town for cheese blintzes at the Little Swiss Café or ride out to Monterey for an afternoon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Menemsha Beach, Martha's Vineyard, MA
Martha’s Vineyard is widely touted as one of the loveliest parts of New England, though kids may love the area more for its beaches than its beauty. Try Menemsha Beach, a popular pick for families in search of gentle surf, fantastic sunsets and one of the best clam shacks on the island. Crowds at The Bite line up early, so keep this in mind if you’re thinking about a beach picnic.
Coligny Beach, Hilton Head, SC
For families who want to be active from morning until night, head to Hilton Head for kayaking, tennis, crabbing, stand-up paddleboarding, and of course, splashing in the waves at Coligny Beach. Rent bikes at Hilton Head Outfitters in Palmetto Dunes. It’s the best way to explore the island. Go on a boat cruise with Pirates of Hilton Head or fly through the sky at Zipline Hilton Head.
Short Sands Beach, York, ME
One of several popular beaches in York, Short Sands Beach has sand, surf, a playground, and even an arcade. Have a picnic at Ellis Park then spend the afternoon at York’s Wild Kingdom, the largest zoo and amusement park in Maine. Take the trolley to Long Sands Beach for views of the Cape Leddick Lighthouse before heading to the “Surfing Only” area to pick up pointers from the surfers.
Coronado Central Beach, San Diego, CA
Just across the bridge from downtown San Diego you’ll find Coronado Central Beach. Kids will love building castles from sand that glistens year-round thanks to the glittery mineral, mica, which is mixed in with the sand. Walk along the beach to take in historic mansions, as well as the majestic Hotel del Coronado, the inspiration behind Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian.
Resort Beach, Virginia Beach, VA
There’s no shortage of things to do both on and off the beach in Virginia Beach. Walk or ride a surrey bike along the 3-mile boardwalk before snapping a selfie with the 34-foot bronze statue of King Neptune. Go horseback riding or take surfing lessons at Resort Beach, then let the kids go wild at Grommet Island Beach Park, a 100% wheelchair accessible children’s park.
Podaca Beach, Makarska Riviera, Croatia
Stretching nearly 40 miles between Makarska and Split is the Makarska Riviera, which boasts a number of beach towns with palm tree-lined promenades, ice cream shops and pedal boats to take out onto the delightfully blue water. Book a villa or stay in a family-run campsite along the pebble beach. Off the beach, kids will love hiking around nearby Biokovo Nature Park.
Cannon Beach, OR
Cannon Beach is wide and flat, offering plenty of room for kids to walk, run, ride three-wheelers or go tide pooling in search of sea life and shells. Its postcard attraction is Haystack Rock, a 235-foot tall rock, which sits on the beach near the downtown area. Kite flying is perfect at Cannon Beach since the winds seem to blow at just the right speed.
Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, MA
Cape Cod is a favorite year after year and Coast Guard Beach is perfect for long walks and building sand castles as a family. At the Salt Pond Visitor Center, pick up the park newspaper for the scoop on ranger-led nature walks and Junior Ranger programs. Ride bikes along one of three paved bike trails or go kayaking through the famous salt marshes.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina has long been a top pick for families. Book a vacation rental right on the soft, sandy beach or park near the southernmost beach access point in Corolla for restrooms and showers. Go biking, take the ferry to Knotts Island or get hip to all kinds of water sports at Kitty Hawk Kayaks & Surf School.
Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, AL
In summer, families flock to incredible beach towns in Alabama, like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Kids will have a ball swimming, crabbing and kayaking along the two-mile stretch of beach at Gulf State Park. There are hiking and biking trails, as well as a nature center that hosts guided nature walks. Just off the beach, head to Waterville USA for water slides, a lazy river and mini golf.
Poipu Beach Park, Kauai, HI
Families with kids of all ages will love Poipu Beach Park. Look for snorkeling and surfing for the big kids, as well as a playground and a shallow wading area for little ones. Enjoy a picnic under the shade of the palm trees or go for a coastal hike along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. In the evening, book a relaxing sunset catamaran cruise to see more of the scenic south side of the island.
La Concha Beach, San Sebastian, Spain
One of the most famous city beaches in Europe, La Concha Beach, is also one of the best beaches for familes. Look for a carousel and multiple playgrounds that dot the beach and the town. Take the funicular railway to the top of Monte Igueldo for unmatched views of La Concha Bay. As a bonus, there’s an amusement park at the summit complete with bumper cars and pony rides.
Kiawah Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, SC
Just south of Charleston, explore nature, wildlife and beautiful South Carolina coastline on Kiawah Island. Kids can sing songs and take art lessons at Kamp Kiawah, as well as splash and play at Kiawah Beachwalker Park, a quiet beach that’s well-suited for small children. Rent bikes to explore the island or take classes to become a Junior Naturalist.
Long Beach, WA
Dig for razor clams or take in the views of the Pacific from the half-mile wooden boardwalk located on the Long Beach Peninsula. Explore nearby lighthouses with the kids, hike along the Willapa Interpretive Art Trail or get your game on at the Funland Arcade. Work up an appetite paddling at Willapa Bay before indulging in a milkshake at Hungry Harbor Grille.
Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel Island, FL
With more than 25 miles of paved trails, Sanibel Island is a fantastic place to explore by bike. Look for warm waters and gentle surf, as well as more than 300 kinds of seashells. Enroll the kids in Sanibel Sea School to learn about marine conservation before hopping a ferry to Cayo Costa State Park. Families will especially love Bowman’s Beach, which has a playground and magical sunsets.
Assateague Island National Seashore, MD
Nearly 38 miles long, the Assateague Island National Seashore is a protected wildlife sanctuary. Stay in nearby Chincoteague or camp out on the beach of this barrier island. Kids will love hiking, clamming, crabbing and fishing on the beach, but the main attraction is the wild ponies, which have roamed the beaches and saltwater marshes since the 1600s.
Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester, MA
Known for soft, white sands and gentle waters, Wingaersheek Beach is the place to take the kids at low tide where you’ll find loads of clams, shells, even sand dollars, all over the beach. Pack a picnic lunch or grab a bite at one of several snack shops that that dot the beach. Parking isn’t cheap and you’ll need to get there early but you will be rewarded with kids who can’t wait to go back.
Sunset Beach, Cape May, NJ
Sunset Beach is one of a handful of spots on the east coast where you can see the sunset from the beach. Come for the Victorian homes, the free parking and the crab cake sandwiches at the Sunset Beach Grill. Kids will love splashing in the surf and hunting for Cape May diamonds (quartz pebbles). Bring a camera to snap photos of the S.S. Atlantus, which sits just offshore.
Camusdarach Beach, Arisaig, Scotland
Located in one of the most scenic parts of the Scottish Highlands, you won’t go wrong camping near Camusdarach Beach and taking sea kayaks out into the water to explore the coves. Children will love playing in the sand and the calm, clear waters on the beach. Collect shells and enjoy the views of the Isle of Skye before settling in for the evening sunset.
Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, FL
Pier 60 is the place to be in Clearwater Beach for spectacular sunsets and a nightly sunset festival that includes live music, magicians, stilt walkers and local artisans. The crystal clear, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico makes this a great choice for families. Book a dolphin cruise or take to the sky for parasailing. Look to nearby Caladesi Island State Park for great shelling.
Boasting properties on every continent (except Antarctica, of course), the Club Med all-inclusive resort company caters to families with an assortment of features for kids and parents alike. The 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 for kids 3 and younger, complete with face painting, games, puppet shows, arts and crafts, pajama parties and more. There are options for older kids, too: The Mini Club Med program for 4- to 10-year-olds includes trapeze lessons, soccer, sailing, in-line skating, science activities and other kid-centered fun. For 11- to 17-year-olds, 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-tailored activities such as 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.
Franklyn D. Resort & Spa
The all-suite Franklyn D. Resort & Spa promises the usual appeal of sun, sand and sea, and the no-hassle attraction of an all-inclusive setup, but with a bonus: Every arriving family is assigned its 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 preteens have their own activities, too, 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 massages, read books, 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 the resort's specials, which include a "bring the grandparents for free" deal, a "family fly free" fall deal and a family reunion package.
Atlantis Paradise Island Resort
The legendary underwater world bearing the same name has nothing on this Bahamian resort that beckons children and their parents with luxurious resort surroundings and outrageous kids' activities. Kids can choose their own adventures at the stellar AKA (Atlantis Kids Adventure) program. Aspiring chefs can twist pretzels or make pizza in culinary classes and budding architects can don their hard hats and get building in the Lego Construction room. Wizards? Check. There's a cozy tree with perfect nooks for reading the latest magical tale. Extravagant tea party? Atlantis has this one covered, too, in the life-sized Victorian dollhouse equipped with the highest quality in pretend kitchens. There's gaming systems galore, a performance gallery complete with costumes and equipment to make movies, and arts and crafts to rival the best art institute. If the kids ever choose to leave the club, parents might squeeze in a fast family meal before the wee ones are off to the water slides, river rides, rock climbing or marine habitat.
Smuggler’s Notch Resort
Sure, school is out, but the kids won't mind being students enrolled in the ski programs at Smugglers Notch. Aspiring snowboarders can learn the ropes on Burton snowboards equipped with a softer flex and beveled bottom that help with the learning curve. Cross-country skiers can hone their skills on the bumps and play area at the mini terrain park. The staff is so confident in their students at Snow Sport University that there's a refund if participants don't learn or improve. When class is out, kids can tackle a new hill -- the 22-foot giant double lane slide and the rest of the inflatable fun at FunZone. Indoor pools, dog-sledding, ice-skating and art classes are available to keep the entire family busy.
Rancho de los Caballeros
Saddle up for a unique spring break at an old-school dude ranch in Arizona. It's like sleep-away camp for the entire family, but with better food and cozier accommodations. Rancho de los Caballeros has been giving families an insider's look at cowboy life since 1947, so it's no surprise they've mastered the art of the family vacation. The children's club starts at 8:00 a.m. with breakfast before a ride on the trails or around the corral for the mini cowboys and girls. The kids are busy with swimming, crafts, hiking, sports and scavenger hunts while parents can spend some time relaxing or playing golf. After lunch, the family is reunited for some together time and more horseback riding or just horsing around in the pool. Then come dinner time, the kids are back to the club and a campfire while mom and dad enjoy dinner in the dining room. It's the best of both worlds and, best of all, most activities in the children's program are free of charge.
Sandy Lane Resort is a spring break destination to aspire toward with chauffeured luxury cars, palatial suites and chilled, scented towels on arrival. This exclusive resort is pricy, but a worthy investment if you're looking for a refined resort atmosphere with plenty of engaging activities to keep the little ones happy. Parents can enjoy a few rounds of golf on impeccably manicured fairways or slip into the spa for a massage or the moisturizing Rose Hydrating Cocoon. Kids will dig the Treehouse Club with themed events and activities like nature walks, sports, crafts and carnival days, complete with stilt-walking. Teens chill in the Den with pool, air hockey, video games and organized pool parties and water sports. The whole family will love swimming with the rare Hawksbill turtles in the reefs located just off the shore.
Steamboat Springs is a dreamboat for families with great children's ski instructions and a bundle of apres-ski activities. The Kid's Vacation Center is the starting point for families with a streamlined check-in process and a spacious facility to prepare your young ones for the cold. Lessons are available for kids starting at 2.5-years-old, and there are 5 kids-only slopes where little ones can master the art of the wedge before moving on to the kiddies terrain park. The Rough Rider Basin is a nod to the Old West with teepees, a log-cabin playhouse and snack areas. The whole family will enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the Great Rockies followed with a soak in the area's natural hot springs. Kids Fly Free domestic packages coupled with Kids Rent Free and Kids Ski Free all reduce the price of one cool family vacation.
Loews Coronado Bay
San Diego is an ideal pick for families looking for spring break fun with loads of diversity. There's the beach, of course, but there are also great parks, cool museums and two fantastic zoos. The San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park is a sprawling and hilly enclave made up of nine unique zones spread out over 100 acres. Plan on spending a few hours checking out the polar bears, elephants and gorillas, and hop on the guided bus to learn about the animals and give your legs a rest. The Wild Animal Park, 35 miles outside of the city, provides a safari experience as you traverse the 1,800-acre park in an open bus perfect for viewing the herds of wild animals like rhinos and giraffes in a more natural setting. The Loews Coronado Bay resort makes kids and teens feel right at home with club activities, water sports, surfing classes and gondola rides through the Coronado Cays canals.
Kauai Surf School
If you can swim, then you can surf. At least that's what the folks at Kauai Surf School believe. Families can arrange for group sessions so the whole crew can wipe out and encourage each other to hop back up again. Group lessons maintain a ratio of 4 students for every instructor, ensuring that everyone has ample time to catch some waves. Parents must accompany children under 12 in group lessons. The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort is a family-favorite with an outrageous pool complex including saltwater lagoons and freshwater pools with waterfalls, grottos and a 150-foot slide. Parents don't need to feel guilty about dropping off the keiki, or kids, at Camp Hyatt where kids ages 3-12 can learn the hula, meet the resident parrots or make cool cultural crafts.
Kalahari Resort Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin is king of water parks, and these monstrous slides aren't limited to the great outdoors. Families can save on the sunscreen and splurge on the fun at this indoor water wonderland made up of 125,000 square feet of slides, lazy rivers, wave pools and whirlpools. The Master Blaster uphill water rollercoaster and family raft river rapids are not to be missed. If you can get the kids out of the pool, there's an indoor theme park with a Ferris wheel, indoor go-carts, bowling and arcade games. Admission to the water park is included in the price for on-site accommodations, which include standard hotel rooms and roomier family suites.
South Seas Island Resort
In the midst of hectic resorts and crowded beaches, Captiva Island feels like a secret spot where families can turn it down and enjoy a retreat from the everyday. Located on Florida's Gulf Coast, the area has unspoiled beaches and unique wildlife that can be encountered while kayaking through the quiet estuaries or touring the freshwater ponds. It's also a great spot for collecting seashells, so bring along a bucket. But don't confuse a bit of peace and quiet with boring -- there's plenty to do at South Seas Island Resort from sailing in the harbor to playing in the lagoon pool complex or sliding down the waterslides at H2Whoa!
Club Med Dominican Republic
The beauty of an all-inclusive vacation is that you can put your wallet away and relax once you reach your destination. The Club Med Punta Cana caters to families with oceanfront family suites and even simplifies your packing by making baby essentials, like bathtubs, strollers and even baby food, available for your use. There are activities galore for parents and kids to enjoy together including infant classes at the Baby Gym and catamaran adventures. Supervised camps are included in your package price for kids over 4 and are available at an extra cost for babies through preschoolers up to 4.
With 8 resorts in Mexico — along with several others elsewhere in the Caribbean — Dreams offers a luxurious setting that appeals to couples and families alike. The company promises that "children are always welcome" at its Explorer's Clubs, supervised programs that keep 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 resorts have first-rate spas (although you'll have to pay extra to use them), fine dining and a variety of land and water sports. Best of all is the newest attraction at Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa in Mexico: the dolphinarium, a gleaming lagoon that's home to 5 dolphins. Book a room in one of the dolphin-view rooms and watch the animals frolic from your terrace. You can also take part in the Dolphin Experience, which offers a rare chance to swim with the dolphins.
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