Why go: Planning, packing, and schlepping gear—camping is nothing if not a lot of work, which is why someone invented luxury camping. Get used to the concept at El Capitan Canyon in Los Padres National Forest, near Santa Barbara, California.
Why it's relaxing: You'll snuggle under a comforter on a queen-size bed in a roomy, wood-floored safari tent—the only thing you might have to pitch is your Pack 'N Play. If you still manage to strain your back, spring for a massage from a Canyon therapist in your tent or under a secluded sycamore. Meanwhile, your brood can hop on horses, swim in the pool or the ocean, or hike the 15 miles of trails. Provisions?Bug spray, hotdogs, s'more kits, even lattes are available at the resort's market.
Winning detail: This trip is easy on the pocketbook—and you'll forever be one of those parents who really did take the kids camping. (Psst: Cabins—with bathrooms and kitchens—are also available.)
Info:Twenty miles from Santa Barbara, Calif.; 866/352-2729; www.elcapitancanyon.com; tents from $145, cabins from $225.
Why go: In the race to be the family-friendliest posh beach resort, One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos is a leader of the pack.
Why it's relaxing: There's major help with the kids. As soon as you walk through the puerta, they're handed a beach bag stuffed with a T-shirt, hat, and Mexican toy; in your room, you'll find a crib (plus a menu of bedsheets) and a bathroom stocked with adult and baby products from Lady Primrose's. Come bedtime, a bunny or chick shows up to read a story over milk and cookies.
Winning detail: At the free children's program (ages 4 to 12), los chicos make piñatas, learn Spanish, and perfect their downward-dog pose, while you hit the spa or the adults-only pool.
3 of 15Courtesy of Fort Lewis Plantation/Richard Boyd
Relax: Fort Lewis Plantation & Lodge, Virginia
Why go: You and your young pioneers can glimpse life in olden times—without enduring the slightest hardship—at the Fort Lewis Plantation & Lodge, a 200-year-old cattle farm on 3,200 acres in Virginia's Allegheny Mountains.
Why it's relaxing: By day, you'll pitch horseshoes, fish for rock bass, and float down Cow Pasture River in an inner tube. After dark, there's the viewing platform, where you can marvel at a sky lit by a million stars. Guests sleep in the farmhouse, silo, or log cabins; meals made with ingredients from farm and forest are served family style in a renovated grist mill.
Winning detail: Just ask, and the owner will build a bonfire to order.
Info:Millboro, Va.; 540/925-2314; www.fortlewislodge.com; family suites from $210, plus $45 for each kid 2–12, $70 for kids over 12, including breakfast and dinner. Open April through mid-November.
Why go: Not one, not three, but five top-rated golf courses blanket Kiawah Island off the coast of Charleston, SC. Yet, golf clinics and family tee times are just some of the perks.
Why it's relaxing: Kids aged six and up can spot alligators on nature walks, explore 10 miles of packed-sand beach on a bike, or learn about the island's loggerhead turtles and other critters on one- or two-hour hikes; sibs as young as three attend Kamp Kiawah ($35-45 half day; $60 full). The Sanctuary, the island's only hotel, has all the requisite swanky-digs amenities, or you can rent your own place (villas and houses are available via the resort and private agencies, such as www.kiawahisland.com and www.resortquest.com).
Winning detail: When evening rolls around, head out for ice-cream socials, seaside movies on an inflatable screen, and campfire sing-alongs.
Info:Doubles at the Sanctuary from $461, two-bedroom homes from $220.
Why go: Smack in the middle of Center City, in a landmark skyscraper, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel offers just-refurbished suites within walking distance of some of Colonial America's greatest hits—the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross's house, anyone?
Why it's relaxing: It's all mapped out for you. Follow in Ben Franklin's footsteps from the site of his former abode on Chestnut Street to his printing shop on Market. Grab lunch inside the Reading Terminal farmer's market, then meander along Elfreth's Alley, lined with 18th-century houses, that look like they were sized for elves. More must-sees: the Franklin Institute Science Museum, currently hosting the King Tut show; Al Capone's one-time home, Eastern State Penitentiary, now an astonishing museum; and, if you have intrepid teens, the Mütter Museum of medical oddities (home to Grover Cleveland's mouth tumor!).
Winning detail: The eye-level view of William Penn's statue atop City Hall from Loews' 33rd floor. In 1932, city regulations demanded nothing be higher than the founding father—so they built to the very top of his hat.
Why go: Take a trip with Cooking Vacations for a delicious week in Florence, Positano, Sorrento, or Rome.
On the syllabus: You and the kids will wander (to bakeries, pizza joints, farms), sightsee (Pompeii, the Uffizi), and, of course, measure, mix, knead, cook, and eat. In Florence, bake pizza in an outdoor oven; in Positano, pick lemons and make a big batch of fragrant granita (Italian slush). Participants are put up at inns and villas with plenty of outdoor play space.
Extra credit: Limited to eight, the tours are perfect for an extended family, and appeal to all ages (when a ball of sticky dough won't suffice, babysitters are available).
What it is: A trip to the stratosphere may be overambitious, but training with the kids for a shuttle mission at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, is a pretty cool substitute.
On the syllabus: At Space Camp's parent-child three-day program, kids 7 to 12 and their folks try out scaled-down versions of the flight simulator equipment astronauts use. That's right: they get to feel what it's like to tumble weightless. Trainees also build and launch two-foot rockets. For total ground control, students stay in a dorm (there's also a Marriott on campus).
Extra credit: NASA-issue jumpsuits in all sizes go for $80.
Info:Huntsville, Ala.; 800/637-7223; www.spacecamp.com; family of four from $998, including dorm and meals.
What it is: While you collapse on Sanibel Island's white sand, enroll your guppies at the brand-new nonprofit Sanibel Sea School, started by a marine biologist to teach kids 6 to 13 about animal life on this barrier island sanctuary.
On the syllabus: After a briefing on wading birds or mangrove crabs, children head out to get their hands sandy, often in parts of the island closed to the public.
Extra credit: Adults are encouraged to join in (though you might have to provide your own transportation if the school bus is full).
What it is: At Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina, your group can choose between rafting, canoe, and kayak classes—watch for Olympians practicing in the next boat—or take off on a mountain-biking jaunt. The center's cabins sleep from four to 30.
On the syllabus: Seven rivers run through these hills, and you can sign on for a one-day white-water sampler ($95), or a weekend of activities.
Extra credit: Switch from water to air: Scale the center's 50-foot climbing structure or conquer its ropes course.
Info:Bryson City, N.C.; 888/905-7238; www.noc.com; four-person cabins from $88 per night.
What to do: Blue-butt monkey alert! CC Africa's 41 comfy lodges and camps—in 18 game reserves across six countries—are designed for daylong game-spotting. The company is noted for its community-mindedness: 80 percent of its employees are locals, and a percentage of its profits goes to conservation projects. A $10 donation sends an African child on a game drive.
The awe factor: Young guests go on mini safaris to collect frogs and bugs, and on "poo" walks to identify scat. Those over 11 take two daily jeep outings, one at sunrise, to watch elephants wake up, another as the sun sets, to view the nocturnal doings of mongooses and leopards.
Top this: Hyenas and lions permitting, guides serve dinner, complete with candlelight and linens, in the bush.
Info:888/882-3742; www.ccafrica.com; lodges from $400 per person per night, all-inclusive.
What to do: Heading all the way to Australia?Take in this vast country's greatest hits with Abercrombie & Kent's Australia Family Adventure.
The awe factor: Your 13-day tour starts out in Sydney, where the group learns to surf at Bondi Beach, and from there the action never stops: there's marsupial watching on Kangaroo Island, boomerang tossing in the Outback, and tours (by air and water) of the Great Barrier Reef.
Top this: Aboriginal hosts teach kids the art of spear chucking.
What to do: For a grand tour without a grand bill attached, take a trip to the Grand Canyon. The National Park Service's Web site (www.nps.gov) has all the essentials, including how to book a room at one of the park's eight well-priced hotels (choicest is El Tovar, a 1905 lodge on the south rim with spectacular views).
The awe factor: You can hike with the pros from the nonprofit Grand Canyon Field Institute (www.grandcanyon.org) to an 800-year-old pueblo or to rocks embedded with marine fossils older than the dinosaurs.
Top this: April to October, kids eight and older can sluice down Colorado River waters with Hualapai Indian guides.
What to do: If your vision of heaven involves baguettes, Beaujolais, and fields of lavender, lease a farmhouse in the south of France from Ciao Bambino.
The awe factor: The folks at this villa-rental agency pick kid-friendly properties (in Italy, too), hook you up with a sitter and/or personal chef, and help plan trips to Van Gogh's haunts or a Roman aqueduct.
Top this: In France, spring is one long series of festivals. Check out the Provençal-style bullfights—acrobatic, not bloody—in Arles.
What to do: Pack in two World Heritage sites on an adventure guaranteed to rank as everyone's most memorable vacation.
The awe factor: On the first leg of Lindblad Expeditions' 16-day excursion to the Galápagos Islands and Peru, you'll cruise around this remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador on a trim and tidy repurposed Swedish ferry and watch as giant sea turtles, iguanas, albatross, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies go about their business just inches away from you and your kids. Next up: the Peruvian mountain city of Cusco and the ancient sacred site Machu Picchu.
Top this: During the Cusco leg of the journey, an overnight at the Sanctuary puts you right outside the gates to Machu Picchu. You'll enter the Incan ruins at dawn, when kids can bond with the resident llamas before other tourists descend.