Best Hotel Kids' Programs
From skiing near Vancouver to snorkeling in Florida, these North American hotels offer great child-friendly activities.
On the last day of a weeklong Funky Fish Ocean Adventure camp, on Florida’s southeast coast,
you’re headed to an offshore reef with a boatload of sun-kissed children to witness their
newfound snorkeling prowess. You have never seen your daughter this excited. Once the vessel
arrives at the reef, she dons her mask, snorkel, and fins, and a moment later all you see is the
bobbing tip of a snorkel as she explores the wonders of a foreign world. At $59 a day, this camp,
offered by the Ocean Sands
Resort & Spa in Pompano Beach, is one great way to ensure that kids make the most of a
vacation—while giving parents some much-needed time to relax.
Many destinations offer attractive options for family outings, among them farm stays,
ranch experiences, and cottages on the beach. But sometimes the ideal hotel program is one that
keeps the kids occupied while the adults go their own way. These offerings, often called clubs or
camps, come in all shapes and sizes; so-called family resorts pioneered the genre in the 1970s, but
the programs are relatively new to mainstream hotels, whose focus has understandably been on adults
rather than their progeny.
The most rudimentary offerings, typically offered to ages 3 through 10, are simply
certified daycare facilities, costing on average $60 to $90 a day (many are offered by the half-day
as well). Increasingly, though, hotels are tapping into the desire of parents to give children more
compelling, immersive activities.
“Parents are realizing that they just don’t want their kids to be inside
coloring for four hours when there’s so much around them to discover,” says Denise
Naguib, director of environmental programs for Ritz-Carlton hotels. “They want them to have
an experience they can’t get every day, like learning about an ecosystem.” That’s
just what children do at one of the programs Naguila oversees, the Jean-Michel Cousteau
Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz-Carlton
Kapalua, in Maui, where
snorkeling is taught one session and underwater photography the next. A like-minded program at the
Mohonk Mountain House, in New
York’s Hudson River Valley, offers youngsters unusual ways to gain insight about local
wildlife—by, for instance, having them build a “debris shelter” in the woods to
imagine what it’s like for an animal to survive the winter.
All the camps we’ve chosen to highlight share the philosophy that a program ought
to be unique to its surroundings and engage kids with hands-on experience and a lot of time
outdoors. Activities range from the weeklong ski school at British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb
Ski Resort—right at the doorstep of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler—to the Farm Barn at Shelburne Farms,
on Vermont’s Lake
Champlain, where kids collect eggs, brush horses, and watch cheesemakers turn 6,000 pounds of milk
into 400 pounds of exceptional cheddar cheese.
With offerings like these, parents will often feel like putting down that novel and
actually joining in.