Published: March 2011
By Barbara Peck
Welcome to our favorite family resorts from coast to coast. No need to leave the premises; these eight spots are Summer Central. See you down at the dock!
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Three More Classic Family Resorts
Canada's Wild West
Middle Beach Lodge
Two cedar-sided main buildings hide among the evergreens on a rocky peninsula as far west as you can go on Vancouver Island. Families can book one of 22 cabins; all have kitchenettes, fun loft beds with ladders to climb, and wood- or gas-burning stoves to take away the morning chill.
WHERE THE GREEN FERNS GROW In adjoining Pacific Rim National Park, trails wind through silent old-growth forests on ground that's spongy underfoot, thick with fir needles and roots. The park's Long Beach stretches for six glorious miles, scoured by wind and waves and littered with bleached driftwood.
DIG THE DUGOUT Members of a local First Nations tribe take visitors on excursions in canoes carved from cedar logs. One highlight: Meares Island, with its Wild Grocery Walk in the rain forest. Or try whale-watching by Zodiac with an outfitter called Remote Passages; you'll spot gray whales in their summer feeding grounds—and maybe killer whales, porpoises, puffins, and bald eagles.
HANG TEN BLUE TOES Take lessons at Pa-cific Surf School. The waves at Cox Bay are non-threatening (only two to five feet high), though water temperatures hover around the fifties (wet suits recommended).
FOLLOW THE FIR TREES To get to Middle Beach, fly to Tofino via Seattle, or take the ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. From there it's a thrilling three-hour drive.
Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia; 250/725-2900; www.middlebeach.com; one-bedroom cabins from $200, including breakfast.
Vermont Straight Up
Basin Harbor Club
The aptly named Beach family has run this lakeside resort for 118 years. Its stone and shingled cottages (there are 77 of them, spread over 700 acres) have carved-wood screen doors that swing shut with the thwack that says summer.
PRUNY FINGERS Kids spend their days in the Olympic-sized pool, or down at the lake kayaking, sailing, waterskiing, and cannonballing off the water trampoline. Rite of passage: learning to swim well enough to get out to the floating dock.
DRESS FOR EXCESS In July and August, "gentlemen over the age of 12" must wear a coat and tie in the main dining room after 6 p.m.(parents, take note: the restaurant has a Wine Spectator-recognized wine list). More informal families head instead to the resort's Red Mill (in an old sawmill) for a burger, or they join the weekly picnic, shore dinner, or grill by the dock. (Kids, take note: the buffet lunch in the Ranger Room ends with a sundae bar.)
ANY RESEMBLANCE TO BARNEY IS PURELY ACCIDENTAL Champ, the sea monstersaid to inhabit Lake Champlain, makes weekly appearances. Other throwbacks: hayrides, golf, and Adirondack chairs painted red and green.
Vergennes, Vermont; 800/622-4000 or 802/475-2311; www.basinharbor.com; one-bedroom cottages from $425 a day for four, including all meals and a children's program for ages 3-15.
The Height of the Adirondacks
This place would thrill Thoreau: log buildings; log railings; and log cabins, fitted with twig towel hooks and door handles.
ONLY THE KIDS ARE WIRED Forget about HBO; there's no TV. Though the main lodge has electricity, the 23 tin-roofed cabins are lit by propane lamps, and propane heaters supply hot water. A woodstove keeps you warm.
THEN TRY MAKING A LANYARD After taking a trail ride, canoeing on Indian Lake, and hitting some bull's-eyes at the archery range, head to the woodshop, where you can assemble a birdhouse or decorate a frame with birch bark—and twigs.
PASS THE STUFFING Everyone eats together at long tables on a porch overlooking the lake. And at noon on Sundays there's always a turkey dinner.
Indian Lake, New York; 518/648-5494; www.timberlock.com; two-bedroom cabins from $416 for four, including meals.
Georgia Beach, Baby!
A lavish seaside retreat designed in Spanish Mediterranean-style by Florida's Addison Mizner, the Cloister is the Miss Congeniality of resorts.
IT'S ALL IN THE NUMBERS Two pools, three 18-hole golf courses, five restaurants, 18 tennis courts, and 279 rooms (though 69 in the main building are currently being renovated).
MOMMY OR MUMMY Kids happily occupied?Repair to the resort's Sea Island Spa to be slathered in oil and warm mud—the "Georgia mud pie wrap."
IT'S AN ACQUIRED TASTE Sample boiled peanuts at the weekly plantation supper, served on an island in the marsh. Also on the menu: boiled shrimp, corn on the cob, fried chicken, and Gullah music.
ANOTHER WAY TO BAKE Kids who have logged enough beach time can join Cookie Cutters, a baking workshop. Tasting encouraged.
TEEN SPIRIT There are junior golf and tennis clinics, chip-and-putt and shuffleboard tournaments, beauty makeovers, and power shopping trips to St. Simons Island.
IF THEY WANTED YOU TO WATCH, WOULDN'T THEY DO IT IN DAYLIGHT? In May and August, a guide escorts guests down the beach in the moonlight to glimpse 300-pound loggerhead turtles laying their eggs.
Sea Island, Georgia; 800/732-4752 or 912/638-3611; www.seaisland.com; doubles from $300. Ask about packages that include the children's program for ages 3-11.
Midwest Time Warp
This Victorian resort in Leelanau, Michigan's most scenic county, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1863, a French fur trader drilling for oil struck a gusher of water instead; hence the name Fountain Point. Visitors started coming by steamboat and buggy in 1889 to stay at a guesthouse here. By 1934, 19 clapboard cottages had been added. They now have kitchens, but no phones or TV's.
READY, SET, RELAX On 54 acres of lawns and woods, the resort frontsskinny, very swimmable Lake Leelanau. Visitors play shuffleboard and horseshoes; kids can go on guided "critter hunts." Inside the main building there's a grand piano and three parlors with slate fireplaces and overstuffed chairs.
OKAY, IT'S NOT ALL OLD You can rent a Waverunner (like a floating motorcycle, but quieter) to race across the lake. Or get your kids to try a wakeboard (like a floating snowboard, but easier). Next summer, Fountain Point enters a new era when Windows restaurant, a big hit in Traverse City, moves to the resort.
Lake Leelanau, Michigan; 231/256-9800; www.fountainpointresort.com; cottages $1,490 per week for a family of four.
Even Better Without Snow?
Sun Valley Resort
This was America's first ski resort when it debuted in 1936, along with something completely new: chairlifts. Folks have since discovered Sun Valley's summer charms. Arnold Schwarzen-egger and Maria Shriver, Tom Hanks, and Bruce Willis all own houses nearby, and you might spot them at the resort's three outdoor pools, seven restaurants, 18 tennis courts, or 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course.
ICE PACK Yes, the resort's rink is outdoors, and yes, it's open all summer. During the day it's used for lessons and recreational skating, and on Saturday nights there's always an ice show. Past headliners: Sasha Cohen, Victor Petrenko, Scott Hamilton, and Brian Boitano.
NO SKIS NEEDED Hop on the chairlift and be whisked to the top of Mount Baldy, with its heart-stopping views. The hike down takes less than two hours—but it's a lot faster by mountain bike.
Sun Valley, Idaho; 800/786-8259 or 208/622-4111; www.sunvalley.com; doubles from $239; children's program, for ages six months to 14 years, $59 per day.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
Open since 1946, this cattle ranch is just a half-hour north of Santa Barbara, in the dry, rolling wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley. The 73 cottages have wood-burning fireplaces, but no phones or TV's. Try to snag one with a porch.
COULD BE A CAREER PATH Kids can gather freshly laid eggs at the petting zoo and learn to groom a pony. The ranch has more than 100 horses and maintains 50 miles of trails, which wind among groves of oak and sycamore.
PREFER A TIN CUP TO A STIRRUP? There are two 18-hole golf courses (if you're lucky you'll spot Kevin Costner) as well as seven tennis courts, and fishing and boating on a 100-acre spring-fed lake.
EXCUSE TO BUY A STRING TIE Men must wear dinner jackets in the Ranch Room at night.
ANOTHER EXCUSE At the Wednesday rodeo, wranglers show off their calf-roping, quick-drawing, and barrel-racing expertise. Then there's a barbecue and peppy line dancing.
Solvang, California; 800/425-4725 or 805/688-6411; www.alisal.com; cottages from $425, including breakfast and dinner (two-day minimum stay); kids three to six, $50; seven and up, $80; children's activity fees start at $10.
Classic in the Making
Elk Mountain Resort
The main lodge looks like a 19th-century hunting retreat, but the activities aim to please both granddads and Matrix fans. The 75-room spread opens this month in Colorado's San Juan Mountains, 40 minutes from Telluride.
ALL FIRED UP Hayrides, fly-fishing, and panning for gold compete with an ATV course, go-kart and motocross tracks, a paintball park that's a simulated World War I battleground, and a scarily state-of-the-art, 16,000-square-foot "pistol facility."
CALLING ALL KIDS Concerned about letting your children roam the 275 acres unaccompanied?Don't be. Equip them with the resort's GPS devices and you'll be able to pinpoint their location in plenty of time for dinner.
Montrose, Colorado; 970/252-4900; www.elkmountainresort.com; doubles from $700.
For those "Just settle down!" travel moments, introduce your kids to the Pontiki Pet, Japan's inch-high answer to Mr. Potato Head. (Take inspiration from the obsessed at www.pontiki-showcase.com.) 212/777-7735; www.kidrobot.com; $4.95.
SURVEY RESULTS Orlando may be the hands-down favorite destination for vacationing families, but a poll Travel + Leisure recently conducted with AOL's Travel Channel reveals several other popular urban holidays. Nearly a half-million AOL members point the way:
BEST OVERALL VALUE FOR VISITING FAMILIES Minneapolis-St. Paul: land of 10,000 lakes, the Mall of America, the Minnesota Children's Museum, and the Children's Theatre Company—which last year became the first kids' theater ever to receive a Tony Award.
BEST RESTAURANTS FOR ALL AGES After Orlando (don't miss Animal Kingdom's Jiko): San Francisco, San Diego, San Antonio, and Honolulu.
MOST UP-TO-THE-MINUTE FUN FOR TEENS Almost as popular as Orlando:San Diego and its theme parks; surfer-centric Honolulu; and San Antonio—hello, Alamo, Riverwalk, and SPAhhhT, the hip kids' spa at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country.
MOST FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOTELS Orlando, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Diego, and Phoenix-Scottsdale were rated tops in hospitality.
For complete poll results, see www.travelandleisure.com/afc.
Wetter and Wilder
Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa
800-888-6100; www.grandwailea.com; doubles from $465, children's program for ages 5-12, $75 for a full day.
Grand is an understatement. At this 40-acre resort, built in 1991, everything seems oversized, from the open-air lobby (including a pool with an outrigger canoe) to the 780 guest rooms to the name of its most popular restaurant. The Humuhumunukunukuapua (just sound it out) floats on a saltwater lagoon; inside there's a huge aquarium full of fish to watch, not eat. Order the lobster.
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE Just off the beach, nine swimming pools are linked by water slides, waterfalls, white-water rapids, and a water elevator that uses hydraulic power to lift swimmers back up to the top of the slides. And at the 50,000-square-foot Spa Grande there are five aromatic hydrotherapy baths and a delicious cascading waterfall massage.
HOW TO AVOID SUNBURN Camp Grande has so many diversions your kids might never make it to the beach: a theater, video arcade, computer room, and a craft room where they can learn to make a lei, tie-dye a T-shirt, or dance the hula (parents are welcome to join in).
Welcome to Brahmin-ville
Mount Washington Hotel & Resort
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
877/873-0626; www.mtwashington.com; doubles from $380, including children's program.
The most famous of the Northeast's great old hotels is a 1902 Spanish-Renaissance Revival building that is now a National Historic Landmark. Its 200 high-ceilinged rooms still look much as they did when Winston Churchill and Babe Ruth crashed here. A good alternative for families are the 70 town houses linked to the resort by a shuttle.
CHECK THE SCHEDULE The weekly menu of Kids' Camp activities features: Monday fishing, Tuesday tennis, Wednesday cooking with the chef, Thursday golf with the pro, Friday kids' Olympics, Saturday "visiting artist," and Sunday, nature adventure. In between, kids squeeze in some swimming and croquet.
I THOUGHT I COULD Not far from the hotel, a steam-powered train takes a leisurely one and a half hours to chug its way up 6,288-foot Mount Washington by means of a cog railway. The first of its kind, it was built in 1869 and designed to allow a locomotive to negotiate a steep, often raised track. At the top, you're up above the clouds.
A Shore Classic
The Winnetu Inn & Resort
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
978/443-1733; www.winnetu.com; two-bedroom suites from $450 (with kitchens), including children's program.
An old motel on this prime South Beach site below Edgartown was demolished to make way for the Winnetu, which opened in 2000 with 50 suites. While the outside has the traditional ocean-weathered Vineyard shingles, the inside is spick-and-span contemporary.
IT IS SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE WATER The movie Jaws was filmed on Martha's Vineyard in 1974, but as long as your kids don't know this they'll enjoy being on one of the island's best beaches.
REELING THEM IN The resort's new chef, Ed Gannon, has cooked at the Four Seasons Boston and the legendary White Barn Inn, in Maine. There's also a weekly clambake by the pool, with the requisite "chowdah," lobsters, and grilled hot dogs.
EASY RIDERS A bike path is right outside your door—and after you make it all the way to Gay Head Lighthouse (24 miles), you and your bike can take the bus back. The resort's 1945 fire engine and vintage Ford woody station wagons also ferry guests around.
DIDN'T ONE OF THESE TRY TO KILL HARRY POTTER? A life-size outdoor chess set has four-foot teak pieces; moving them is a two-person challenge. New this summer are the pond's five-foot-long steamboats, navigated by remote control.