20 Extraordinary Family Vacations Kids Will Actually, Truly Enjoy
Beach break? Mountain trek? Wildlife adventure? African odyssey? Summer is that sublime time of year when families can travel unencumbered by school schedules. And choices abound. Some destinations are all about kids, all of the time. Other properties may tolerate children but certainly do not lay out a welcome mat. Then, there is that idyllic place in between: properties that cater to families with thoughtful perks and culturally rich activities.
Related: Best Family Getaways 2014
This list is designed for parents looking for something out of the ordinary. From turtle-hatching programs to a close encounter with an elephant, an expedition to forage for your own clams for dinner or kayaking through tidal inlets, these retreats offer experiences the whole family can enjoy together. Whether staying on American soil or trekking to parts unknown, we guarantee a Dropbox full of memories.
Round Hill Hotel & Villas in Montego Bay, Jamaica
Round Hill does not roar with opulence. Instead, luxury is whispered in the classic Colonial architecture, the understated elegance of the Ralph Lauren-designed guest rooms, and the quiet, secluded nature of the former plantation property. The resort’s impeccable service is neither hovering nor haughty, helping your kin to truly unwind. On-property activities include glass bottom boat outings, a speedboat trip through secret lagoons, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and tennis. Little ones can be dropped at The Pineapple Kids Club, where Caribbean-themed activities are endless: reggae lessons, shell hunts, fish feeding, and talent shows. A new Family Memories package offers a private tour of the organic garden and a cooking lesson with the chef. Either way, spend at least one perfect afternoon crafting sand castles under the shade of decades-old sea almond trees. From $249 a night.
Acqualina in Miami
South Beach may be a playground for adults, but a few miles north lies paradise for the pint-sized. Acqualina is a sparkling, seaside beacon for families who want a low-key beach holiday with thoughtful programming for kids. Already known for its educational, marine biology-themed camp, the property is stepping up its aquatic offerings with a new activity (in partnership with EcoAdventures, a division of Miami Dade Parks) that explores sea turtles during the summer hatching season. Using sea turtle artifacts, shells, and a nest search along the shore, a naturalist expert will guide families through the life cycle to learn why the animals come to shore, what they eat, and how they spend their days. From $450 a night.
Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
If your family goes wild for all things Old West, this authentic (recently revamped) dude ranch in Tucson will fit the bill. Start your day with an early morning gallop through the hills of the Sonoran Desert, followed by a blueberry pancake breakfast amongst the cacti. The ranch has a jam-packed schedule of weekly outdoors activities such as fishing on Lake Corchran, guided hikes in Saguaro National Park, mountain biking, and mountain jeep adventures. Wind down with a killer, fireside cowboy-style barbecue (S’mores, cornbread, ribs) and live music. Take advantage of the Kids Stay Free package, from June 1 through Sept 3, allowing kids to eat three meals a day and attend camp for free when they share a room with their parents. From $500 a night.
Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago
Architecture buffs and their brood will love this Jeanne Gang-designed skyscraper, located a short walk from Navy Pier, Lake Michigan, and Lakeshore Park East. In addition to jaw-dropping views of the city, the property boasts three pools, a small movie theatre, a half-basketball court, and a billiards room. This summer, the hotel debuted Kids Kamping. This in-room camping experience comes complete with a tent that kids can keep, a coloring book, a stuffed bear, and a S’mores kit. Just be sure to take your tykes to one of the roof deck fire pits before they start roasting. Book a room on one of the hotel’s Business Class floors: for a small upcharge, families have access to a free hot breakfast, as well as snacks and refreshments throughout the day. When the kids are asleep, mom and dad can take advantage of the complimentary wine reception held each evening. From $279 a night.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Hawaii
The Four Seasons is known for next-level family programming. With a tropical resort that doubles as a playground, the array of options to engage kids—from toddlers to teens—is staggering. There are seven pools, including one for toddlers with a graduated white sand bottom and a beachfront ocean pool, carved straight out of the natural lava rock, that doubles as an enormous aquarium home to more than 3,000 tropical fish. Daily, supervised activities include sand sculpting, tide pool explorations, volcano building, Eagle Ray feeding, marine life demonstrations, and lei making lessons. For even more personalized service, families can tap into the new Suite Experience Manager, 24-hour concierge dedicated solely to guests staying in the property’s most luxe suites. The team can design bespoke experiences (helicopter tour of the island with a landing near a waterfall for lunch; a hike through ancient lava tubes), provide unpacking and packing services, and organize exclusive meals. From $1,045 a night.
Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui, Hawaii
Fairmont Kea Lani’s $70 million upgrade transformed what was really good into something spectacular. The Hawaiian culture-focused kids club invites little ones to partake in hula dancing, lei making, coconut painting, and tide pool explorations while adventurous teens can hike, snorkel, sail, canoe, and even mountain bike down a volcano. Factor in the three pools interconnected with a 140-foot waterslide and five A-list restaurants and you’ve got paradise on the Pacific. The family-oriented villas are equipped with a full kitchen (for home-cooked meals) a private plunge pool, and a living room stocked with board games. From $689 a night.
Hotel Monaco in San Francisco
This boutique hotel is both stylish, as well as affordable, and offers some crazy cool amenities for every member of the family. For parents, the smartly located property (two blocks shy of Union Square) offers easy access to theaters and the city’s best dining. New this May is the Kimpton Kids family program that includes complimentary bike usage, free movie rentals (with popcorn), museum passes, and unlimited hot chocolate in the morning. Snag tickets to the nearby Children’s Creativity Museum, or take advantage of our favorite quirky perk: the Guppy Love amenity that grants children a surrogate pet goldfish for the duration of their stay. From $259 a night.
Ocean House in Westerly, Rhode Island
If you are drawn to Gatsby-era glamour (think afternoon croquet or squash matches, yachting, and sunset watching from a cabana on a private stretch of beach) a visit to the Relais & Chateaux Ocean House is required. Situated on a bluff with impossibly beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, Montauk, and Block Island, the casually classy vibe is more reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century summer estate than a five star hotel. Specialized outings, such as clamming at local farms, can be arranged. Turn your catch into a farm-to-table meal in the property’s new center for wine and culinary arts. From $820 a night.
The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Avon, Colorado
A stay at Bachelor Gulch is essentially luxed-up overnight camp. Families can hike, raft in Beaver Creek, go bird watching, and build s’mores at sunset (with gourmet chocolate and an aptly-named smoreologist). For families, the newly minted Ritz Ranger program offers a heightened outdoor experience. The property’s own naturalist, Ranger Jackie, will lead daily guided hikes through White River National Forest, host animal evidence scavenger hunts, bird watching outings, geocaching sessions, and evening stargazing. From $237 a night, or $599 with the Lil’ Campout Package.
The Four Seasons in Washington, D.C.
Parents may love rubbing shoulders with political power players, but at this grand Georgetown hotel, kids will go gaga for the urban glamping (that’s glamorous camping, folks) experience executed for petite guests. Rollaway beds are tricked out with tents and stocked with a mini robe, National Geographic magazine, and a coloring book. The “campfire” element comes in the form of a toy stove outfitted with a pan of (vanilla marshmallow) sunny side up eggs, a pot of Twizzler-made spaghetti and meatballs, and a mini grill with fresh fruit kabobs. Of course, you’ll want to coax the kids out of the room to explore the city’s incredible clutch of monuments and museum. Book the hotel’s Monuments by Moonlight tour. From $870 a night.
The James in NYC
Like people, certain hotels emanate je ne sais quoi, a vibe that ensures quantum cool and unparalleled service. On top of this SoHo spot’s groovy décor, rooftop pool, and notable array of in room amenities (kiddie room service, pre-loaded i-Pads, classic board games, and a milk and cookies turndown service) a new partnership with Seedling supplies kids with an imagination-based welcome gift. This hands-on learning company gifts a “Citizens of the World Map” kit, complete with stickers, or a self-explanatory “I’ll Write You a Postcard” set. Additional packages can be provided upon request, including the “Design Your Own Yoyo,” and “Pocket Box of Party Tricks,” to keep kids engaged after conquering the city’s sights. Sign on for the hotel’s Family Adventurer package, a curated outing with tickets to local museums and attractions, and your kids will be saying “I love New York” before checkout. From $249 a night.
St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, California
A new Ocean Explorers package is pure marine magic for little ones. Included are tickets for a wale watching catamaran ride with Captain Dave, a field guide for a DIY, on-property tide pool exploration, and a DVD featuring the region’s whales and dolphins, in addition to other thoughtful items. The St. Regis has no shortage of family-oriented activities, including a paddleboard lesson and an outing with a Surf Butler. Take a day to visit the 200-year-old San Juan Capistrano mission, and spending an evening at Ocean Institute’s Samueli Science Night, where the family can survey stars, explore the seas, and take part in a hands-on lab program. From $495 a night.
Wequassett Resort & Golf Club in Harwich, Massachusetts
This tony waterfront hideaway, perched on the elbow of Cape Cod, is all about good, old-fashioned fun: boating, water sports, tennis, teen gaming nights, and an impressive “tot lot” equipped with climbable pirate ships and an aquatic playground for the littlest members of your family. This year, new elements have been added to ramp up the property’s emphasis on classic summer Americana. Check out the floating dock—for perfecting your cannonball—and an outdoor amphitheater intended for live performances and drive-in style movies on the lawn. Factor in the sun-dappled, whitewashed cottages and you’ve got an unforgettable family vacation by the shore experience in the making. From $215 a night.
Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee
Simple pleasures are often the most sublime. Situated on a sweeping 4,200 acres is this picture of pastoral perfection. Take the family fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking, or canoeing, all in the shadows of the impressive Smoky Mountains. For kids, Camp Blackberry (with a sparkling new facility on the horizon) is an all-access pass to hands-on adventure featuring wildlife encounters, beekeeping, foraging, paddling clinics, and mountain skills. Later, the family can kick up their heels at The Barn where music and dancing happen each night. From $795 a night.
Thompson Family Adventures in Alaska
If an Alaskan odyssey is on your bucket list, there is no finer way to experience glaciers and whale-filled straits than with a tour outfitter that keeps groups small and experiences bold. For 17 years, Thomson Family Travel has organized family adventures that deliver “horizon broadening” encounters equal in greatness to the fun factor. This new trip, Cruising Glacier Country, splits a stay between downtown Juneau and aboard the 84-guest ship Safari Endeavour. Guided by locals, participants will kayak, hike, interact with totem pole carvers, explore tidal inlets, cruise porpoise-filled waterways, and take in the splendor of Baranof Island and Frederick Sound. From $3,895-$6,695 a person.
The Stafford in London, England
Old school is often the best school. Stay in the century-old Stafford Hotel, tucked away on cobbled mews behind the chaos of Piccadilly. This quintessentially British property is stylish, charming, and hosts a beguiling sense of history that will fascinate both children as well as adults. The hotel was originally a private residence for predecessors of Princess Diana, and its expansive wine cellar was a bomb shelter during WWII. The current Carriage House Rooms are converted stables (with original beams, doors, and windows) built by Lord Godolphin in 1744 and named after racehorses. Not only is the hotel walking distance to museums, Buckingham Palace, and The Mall, but also a new summer family program will boast a behind-the scenes-hotel tour with the butler, and feature cupcake decorating with the chef, a family cooking experience with the culinary team, a movie night in-house with popcorn, and a classic cookies and milk turndown service. From $769 a night.
Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris, France
Swanky hotels can be a snooze for fun-loving kids. Happily, this artsy Philippe Starck-designed property has some tricks up its quirky-cool sleeves. Reflective of its creative verve, the property offers Saturday Le Petit Royal workshops themed in accordance with exhibitions in Paris. To wit: kids will design a cutout trends book based on Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Sidewalk to Catwalk”“ show at the Grand Palais, or embark on a treasure hunt through the Louvre’s Egyptian galleries. Children can also attend pizza making and cookie baking workshops, attend screenings in the hotel theater, and get their sugar fix at the Pierre Herme ice cream bar. From $1,921 a night.
Palais Namaskar in Marrakech, Morocco
Rising imperiously from the palm-studded palmeraie is a grand riad that will dazzle adults with its Moorish accents and impress kids with its strong resemblance to Jasmine’s palace in the Disney hit, Aladdin. The bespoke l’experience Namaskar activities offered are pure adventure, and range from camel rides across palm groves to maneuvering quad bikes through desert sand dunes. Active families can experience authentic Bedouin culture on a trek through the Atlas Mountains, or explore the hidden mazes of the souk teeming with snake charmers, musicians, storytellers, and acrobats. Thrill seekers can even book a night’s stay in a tent in the Sahara Desert. What better way to foster good-family feelings than with a campfire dinner under the starlit sky? From $440 a night.
Elephant Watch in Nairobi, Kenya
There are many grand safari camps in Kenya, but few that are a quick drive from the science center where the world’s top elephant conservationists, Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, operate their Save The Elephants charity and research station. Elephant Watch Camp consists of six luxury, eco-bush tents in Samburu National Reserve, an ecosystem with one of the largest elephant populations in Kenya. The preserve is also home to the Samburu people, who live nomadically amongst the animals. Such an intimate setting (and the fact that guides can identify individual elephants by sight) allows guests to have an exceptionally close encounter with these gentle giants. Aside from experiencing conservation in action, families will embark on game drives, bush walks with Samburu warriors, hikes up the sacred Ol Donyo mountain, picnics in the bush, and a host of other priceless wildlife interactions. Don’t be startled if you witness an elephant or monkeys wandering freely through the camp at night. From $610 a night.
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic in Iceland
Hit this Nordic wonderland with outdoorsman extraordinaire, Sven Lindblad, who is leading a new immersive land and sea adventure this July. Expect hiking and biking in Reykjavík, photo stops for misty geysers and steaming landscapes, a trip to the Golden Circle, and a picnic on Viðey Island. Participants will then board the National Geographic Explorer for a three day jaunt into the wild western coast to inspect remote natural reserves (Látrabjarg cliffs; Hornstrandir peninsula) only accessible by boat. Also joining the trip will be notable Icelanders and an ethno-musicologist. From $4,990 a person.