Unforgettable Christmas Family Vacation Ideas
Whether you want the convenience of an all-inclusive resort or the adventure of forging your own trails, exploring new places can be a learning opportunity for children, as well as an unforgettable bonding experience for the whole family.
If eco-travel is your family’s passion, head to St. Lucia and explore mineral pools and volcanoes; discover the rain forests of Costa Rica high among the clouds; or swim up to coral reefs in secluded Dominica.
If, instead, you’re hoping for a picture-perfect white Christmas, there’s always ice skating in Ottawa or skiing in Whistler.
Or if you desire a lavish and relaxing beach vacation with poolside drinks and fine dining, Turks and Caicos or the Bahamas has got you covered.
Why Go: When temperatures drop, there’s little more inviting than white-sand beaches, turquoise water, and hidden cays to explore.
What the Kids Will Love: Besides days spent making sand castles and splashing in warm waters, little ones will be enthralled by the spooky interactive show Pirates of Nassau, which also provides something of a history lesson about the era of the famous pirate Blackbeard.
Where to Stay: Melia Nassau Beach is an all-inclusive resort with activities for all ages, including straw weaving, billiards, and water sports.
Why Go: The happiest place on earth becomes even more magical at Christmas time with a visit to Disneyworld’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Here, the family can learn about worldwide Christmas traditions at Epcot World Showcase, and meet Santa Claus at Disney Springs.
What to do: If the force is strong with your kids, they will be delighted to encounter Chewbacca at the newest “Star Wars” exhibit at Hollywood Studios. They can also brush up on their Jedi training at the launch bay. “Frozen” fans can set sail on the new Frozen Ever After ride at Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. (Fair warning: the lines are very long.)
Where to Stay: Swan and Dolphin Resort boasts hotel amenities like a water slide, five heated swimming pools, a sandy beach, a playground, swan paddle boats, a games room, a basketball court, and—the best of all—hammocks for tired parents. A walk along the boardwalk at night offers a great view of the Disney fireworks.
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Why Go: A white Christmas is spectacular in Whistler, which is located in the Coast Mountains, about a two and a half hour drive from Vancouver Airport. Villages are covered in snow and there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor family fun—skiing! skating! sledding!—as well as special holiday events.
What to Do: Here, it’s all about winter sports: tubing, ice-skating, snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding. Also worth checking out are the fire and ice show at Skier’s Plaza, where professional athletes perform stunts, and festive activities at the Olympic Plaza. Both of these events are free.
Where to Stay: Summit Lodge is a premier boutique hotel in Whistler Village conveniently located next to Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Another bonus: inside you’ll find the local family-favorite restaurant, Elements Urban Tapas Parlour, which is committed to serving organic food with plenty of options for people with dietary restrictions.
Greater Phoenix, Arizona
Why Go: While the desert may get cooler at night, during the day in some parts of the American Southwest it’s hot enough for families to swim in pools and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, jeep tours, and hot-air balloon rides, which offer a bird’s eye view of Camelback Mountain and the Sonoran Desert.
What to Do: Starting in mid-November, the city offers a Polar Express ride that takes kids to the ‘North Pole’ to meet Santa Clause and his reindeer. This time of year also heralds the outdoor exhibit Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden, a display of more than 8,000 twinkling Luminaria bags accompanied by the sounds of ringing bells and singing.
Where to Stay: If you stay at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa At Gainey Ranch, the kids may never want to leave the resort, which boasts a three-story waterslide and a water playground featuring 10 (!) pools, 20 fountains, and 45 waterfalls. There’s also a sandy beach, a new 28-foot rock climbing wall, and a Gondola boat ride.
Palm Beach, Aruba
Why Go: Besides a two-mile strip of high-rise luxury hotels, Aruba’s Palm Beach has the benefit of proximity to the warm inviting waters of the southern Caribbean. The climate is dry, so it’s unusual for any outdoor plans to be ruined by rain.
What to Do: While the shoreline is by far Palm Beach’s main draw, it’s common for visitors to rent a car and drive into town for meals and the occasional indoor activity, like glow bowling or shopping.
Where to Stay: Amenities at Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club include a lazy river, a kids’ waterslide, and tennis and volleyball courts. Adorable (and harmless) iguanas crawl around and each morning and at 10 a.m. guests can feed them.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Why Go: If your family is into snow sports (think: skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding), then you should consider the winter wonderland that is Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Here, you can make snow angels on Parliament Hill or check out the huge decorated Christmas tree in the great hall of the National Gallery of Canada.
What to Do: Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest ice-skating rink, stretching almost five miles. If it’s not open for the season yet, skate at the SENS Rink of Dreams just outside Ottawa City Hall or the Skating Court in Lansdowne Park. Don’t miss the Christmas Lights Across Canada festivities; the downtown streets and federal building light up starting in the first week of December.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is a circa-1912 French Renaissance Hotel perfect for kids who love castles and the magic of old winding hallways. They will feel like royalty wrapped in their child-sized bathrobes after a swim in the Art Deco pool.
Why Go: There’s a reason people from all over the world head to this beautiful isle in the eastern Caribbean. St. Lucia offers beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, gardens, and plenty of opportunity for active adventuring. The culture, too, is particularly complex, influenced as it is by its African, French, English, and Indian heritage.
What to Do: Head to Soufriere, to Sulphur Springs Park, to see St. Lucia’s active drive-in volcano located on 45 hectares. Then take mud bath in a nearby black water mineral pool. Alternatively, take a rainforest tour, go zip-lining, explore waterfalls, go hiking along the Gros Piton Nature Trail, or go diving. However you spend your days, make sure you end your vacation with fresh spices bought at the famous Castries Market, where they’re sold in coconut shells
Where to stay: St. James’s Club Morgan Bay, an all-inclusive family resort in Choc Bay, boasts four pools, including a kids pool with slide, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and a sandy beach. Oh, and there is no extra charge to play with the friendly cats that call St. James Club home.
Why Go: If you haven’t seen Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary, or A Christmas Carol, you’ll have to take our word on it: there’s little to parallel the magic of spending the holiday season in London. Here they do it right, with lit-up Christmas trees, street decorations, winter markets, and fabulous gift shopping for everyone on your list. London is also home to four world heritage sites (Including the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Tower of London) and other world-class attractions that date back thousands of years.
What to Do: Hyde Park becomes something seriously special during the winter months. Beginning in mid November, families can skate on the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink and ooh and ah over 100,000 twinkling lights. Another fun activity for the kids is the Hogwarts in the Snow tour, at the Warner Brothers Studio, where families can learn how the filmmakers created fire, snow, and ice.
Where to stay: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London is close to London’s major attractions and overlooks Hyde Park. It also caters to families, offering children’s services like storybooks and mini-bathrobes.
Monteverde / Montezuma, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Why Go: With 20 natural parks, eight reserves, and innumerable rivers, lakes, and rain forests, Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. Spend a few days exploring the jungles of Monteverde before hitting the the beach in Montezuma.
What to Do: The Monteverde Cloud Forest will teach you all about the flora and fauna inside the reserve. (Challenge your kids to find the famous quetzal bird!) For those with particularly brave children, there are six suspension bridges—the longest is 984 feet!—criss-crossing the rainforest. If you are traveling with older kids, try a canopy tour; after all, Monteverde is known for the best cloud forests in the country.
Where to Stay: The family-owned Ylang Ylang Beach Resort (named after the Ylang Ylang flower) is the kind of laid-back, beach-front property you’ll want for a Christmas in Montezuma. It’s a natural oasis; monkeys swing from trees outside your room and exotic birds, wooly opossums, and armadillos are often spotted on the property. Rooms include breakfast and dinner, plus they provide kids menus and cater to dietary preferences. For a midday snack, hit up Café Organico, which whips up a mean papaya-and-avocado ice cream shake. It’s only about a 15-minute walk from the resort.
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Why Go: Providenciales (“Provo”) is the most developed and accessible of the some 47 islands of Turks and Caicos. Here’s what awaits you: white-sand beaches, coral reefs, amazing aquatic life, small cays, and turquoise water.
What to Do: If you stay at Beaches Turks and Caicos, your family has access to a 45,000-square-foot water park, which includes a surf simulator, lazy rivers, and waterslides. See also: a kids camp and unlimited scuba diving.
Where to stay: A stay at the all-inclusive Beaches resort means you have access to 22 restaurants, including a 1950s-style American diner (which serves cotton candy!) and Café de Paris, which has a 17th-century ambience.
Commonwealth of Dominica
Why Go: Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is a secret oasis known as the nature island. It’s located halfway along the Eastern Caribbean archipelago and boasts tropical rainforests, rivers, waterfalls, and volcanoes. International flights from North America and Europe fly through Caribbean hubs like Barbados and Puerto Rico. A trip here is for the more adventurous traveler.
What to Do: Dominica is known for having some of the best diving in the Caribbean, plus secret oases like the Emerald Pool, named for it’s lush green color, which is located in the middle of the rain forest. Four sea turtle species lay their eggs along Dominica’s shores, and although the mating and hatching season is over by December, it’s still possible to spot a huge leatherback taking a leisurely swim.
Where to stay: Rosalie Bay, a family-owned eco resort built by hand over a nine-year period, sits 45 minutes from the capital city, Roseau. It’s hidden among the foothills of the Morne Trois Pitons on 22 acres right where the Atlantic Ocean and Rosalie River intersect. The resort’s restaurant, Zamaan, serves dishes made with fresh ingredients from their garden. If you want to venture out, locals recommend Papillote Rainforest Restaurant. It’s open to the public for lunch and dinner, set in the middle of the rainforest, and serves Creole-style island food.