America’s Best Hotels for Families 2015
These hotels make it their business to cater to guests of all ages, from tiny first-time flyers to seasoned travelers. Take the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, which will arrange childproofed rooms, but also has a concierge who specializes in family travel, to help parents choose kid-friendly dining options and plan unforgettable adventures around island.
Also in Hawaii: the Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, which not only has 5,200-square-foot supervised kids club (called Aunty’s Beach House) with a costume closet and “magical portals,” but also a teen spa that offers an acai-bowl bar and treatments designed for older kids. Across the country, at the Sagamore Resort on Lake George in New York, activities range from the typical lakeside fun to games held in a massive rec center.
Of course, the best hotels for families also understand that it’s not all about the little ones—which is why so many of the properties that made our list offer indulgent spa treatments, gourmet restaurants (like the boozy, for adults-only Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar at Disney's Polynesian Resort) and views that will captivate even the most jaded traveler.
At the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, in South Carolina, guests can drop the kids off at camp knowing that they’ll have a blast hunting for treasure, building pirate boats, and crabbing. Then the grownups can book a Couples Elopement package at the spa, paddle a canoe under centuries-old oak trees draped in Spanish moss, or kick back with a mint julep on the porch of their private cottage. The only tough decision you should have to make on your family vacation is whether to come back year after year, or try all of these 25 amazing properties.
No. 25 Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
This nautical-themed lakeside hotel is just a short ferry ride away from Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. The sleeping quarters, appointed in blues and creams, have private balconies—some overlooking the resort's featured attraction, Stormalong Bay. This three-acre water wonderland has a sandy-bottomed swimming pool, water slides (a mini for the tadpoles and a high one atop a shipwreck for experienced swimmers), tranquil "quiet" pools, a lazy river, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, and an elevated tanning deck. Families can also play a round of mini golf or rent a boat from the marina and charter their own voyage around Crescent Lake.
No. 24 Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Nestled among towering pine trees, Disney's rustic-meets-luxe resort lets families experience glamping without straying too far from the Magic Kingdom. “Disney is masterful when it comes to immersion experiences,” T+L reader Susan Knight said. “You can be in Florida, in July, when you can slice the humidity with a Boy Scout knife—but you will feel like you’re in the Great Northwest.” The lobby features multi-story totem poles, a replica geyser, and a waterfall-fed rock pool. Outside, there are more activities than you'd find at a summer camp, including rides in a horse-drawn carriage, boat rentals, a children's activity center, and a waterslide carved from rock that splashes into a heated pool. There are also nature trails to explore, and campfire sing-alongs at the Wilderness Resort and Campground. Some of the fan-favorite attractions on this list, including the beach and playground, are currently closed for refurbishment. But come 2017, they’ll be better than ever.
No. 23 Disney's Beach Club Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Located just a four-minute walk from Epcot, this Cape Cod-in-Orlando resort has so many activities, one T+L voter admitted to skipping a day at the parks to hang out at the hotel. Like its slightly more buttoned-up sister, Disney's Yacht Club Resort, the Beach Club offers full access to Stormalong Bay and its sandy-bottomed swim zone, water slides (bigger kids love the one that starts from the top of a ship's mast), and lazy circular river. Add an old-fashioned soda shop and a mini golf course, and it’s little surprise that families can have a hard time tearing themselves away.
No. 22 St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, California
In early April 2016, this luxury coastal resort is unveiling its new Miraval Life in Balance Spa, which will offer many of the same pampering treatments as the original Arizona location but with a coastal flavor—like massages with sea salt, algae, and marine muds. Younger guests, meanwhile, can Zen out in age-appropriate meditation and yoga classes, or find their bliss in other family-oriented activities. The Ocean Explorers package includes four tickets for a whale watching cruise and a DIY kit for exploring the tide pools at the resort’s private beach. There are also stand up paddleboard lessons, trail hikes, and an outing with a Surf Butler. Families can take a day trip to the 230-year-old San Juan Capistrano mission for a trip back in time, or ex get up close and personal with marine life at the Ocean Institute.
No. 20 (tie) Montage Deer Valley, Park City, Utah
For outdoorsy families, Montage Deer Valley is a breath of fresh air. After waking up to the sight of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains (all of the 154 rooms, 66 suites, and private residences have views of the peaks), guests can hit the slopes at the Deer Valley ski resort outside their front door. Come spring and summer, families can go on nature hikes, take fly-casting lessons, participate outdoor photography sessions, and take all-ages yoga classes. Refuel at one of the six restaurants—there are also bowling lanes and arcade games—and at a nightly S'mores gathering around the fire pit. The house-made marshmallows are served year-round, and during winter months, Olympic Ski Ambassador Shannon Bahrke joins the group to share stories. The resort's resident celebrities, Monty the Bernese mountain dog and his puppy pal, Parker, are available for petting sessions and photo ops.
No. 20 (tie) Disney's Polynesian Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
While relaxing under the palm trees at this South Seas-styled paradise, families feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of Disney—even though they're just a Monorail ride away (two stops to the Magic Kingdom; six to Epcot). Torch-lined walkways wind around koi ponds and beaches; rooms are in bungalows perched over water. The main draw for kids is the steaming faux volcano with its three-story waterslide, but there's also an on-site supervised kids activity center (one sample art project involves creating an exploding mini volcano). Nighttime offers another awe-inspiring event—after the family-style luau—a beachside viewing of the Electric Water Pageant, a parade of illuminated floats.
No. 19 Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Mackinac Island, Michigan
This genteel property opened in 1887 as a summer retreat for vacationers, who arrived at the pedestrian-only island by lake steamer and by rail. Since then, generations of families have enjoyed lawn games, after-dinner dancing, and promenades along the hotel’s 660-foot-long front porch. Kids today—who stay at the hotel free or at a significantly discounted rate—can also engage in more modern activities, like Quidditch matches, butterfly house visits, duck pin bowling, movie nights, and arts and crafts. Swimming in the hotel’s serpentine-shaped pool offers hours of fun for a budding Esther Williams—it is named after the pool-and-screen star, whose 1947 movie This Time For Keeps was filmed on the island.
No. 18 The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Guests of all ages will be treated with Southern hospitality at this oceanfront antebellum mansion 21 miles from Charleston. It’s well known as a golfer’s paradise, and little swingers can play alongside their parents on the 90 holes of championship courses, while kids from 8 to 17 can up their game with lessons. The resort also offers surf camps, paddling tours, beach cruiser rentals, guided nature hikes, fly-fishing, and archery. Children age 3 to 11 can sign attend Kamp Kiawah at Night Heron Park, where counselors will guide them through crab races, sandcastle-building, T-shirt tie dying, and pirate-treasure hunts. Parents can steal away to the spa for a Mint Julep facial.
No. 17 Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, Teton Village, Wyoming
This luxury lodge is on the slopes of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, steps from the entrance of Grand Teton National Park, and a 90-minute drive from Yellowstone National Park. Skiers and snowboarders will delight in the fresh powder; in the warm months, there’s hiking, horseback riding, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and animal spotting ( buffalo, moose, and elk). A National Parks Explorer Package includes three nights in a Lodge Room (with granite countertops and a mini fridge to store snacks), a seven-day pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks, field guides written by the resort’s in-house naturalist, and a $100 resort credit that can be used for a post-hike massage at the resort’s new 16,000-square-foot spa.
No. 16 Ocean House, Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Inhale the refreshing ocean spray and the essence of Gatsby-era glamour at this stunning property dating back to 1868. The Ocean House, which underwent a modernization not too long ago, is perched on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and has a private white sand beach for sunning, swimming, and sandcastle building. During the summer, kids ages 5-10 can go sailing, take nature walks, make crafts, and go scavenger hunting with the resort’s Sand Castles supervised children’s program. Special outings, such as clamming at local farms, can also be arranged.
No. 15 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
One of the best shows at Disney is playing right outside your room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. From your private balcony overlooking the 43-acre wildlife preserve, you can spot over 200 birds and animals, including zebras, giraffes, and gazelles. The resort also has a savannah-facing swimming pool modeled after a natural watering hole—but with a waterslide. Only a short walk away, you’ll find an animal observation water playground with squirting Venus flytraps, a rope bridge, and water cannons. In the evening, drop the kids at Simba’s Playhouse and enjoy a parents-only dinner at Jiko, an upscale restaurant serving African-inspired cuisine. Then make a reservation for the whole family to tour the grounds by open-air truck. With the assistance of special night-vision goggles, you’ll be able to wish all the animals a good night.
No. 14 The Sagamore Resort, Bolton Landing, New York
The stately Sagamore Resort is the grand dame of Lake George, and commands sweeping views of the lake and the surrounding Adirondack Mountains. At the waterfront, families can go fishing, swimming, boating, or parasailing. For a different perspective of the lake, take a trip on The Morgan, a replica of a 19th-century boat. While parents relax at the spa or play a round of golf, kids ages 4 to 12 will get the full summer camp experience at the Sagamore Kids Club (included in the resort fee). Add in a 10,000-square-foot, indoor recreational facility with basketball courts and gaming stations, an outdoor sand volleyball court, five tennis courts, and a horseshoe pit, and you’ll find so much to do that a week’s stay won’t feel long enough.
No. 13 Cavallo Point—The Lodge at the Golden Gate, Sausalito, California
This upscale modern resort tucked in the scenic Marin Headlands, has an unusual pedigree: it was once an army base. The guestrooms are located in former officers’ residences, and open up to wide green spaces with plenty of room for playing tag, tossing Frisbees, and flying kites. No matter how you choose to keep yourself (and the kids) occupied, you’re always within view of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. There are miles of hiking and biking at nearby Golden Gate National Park, and many of the trails are easy for even tiny trekkers. Right next door (in the same cove as the resort), is the Bay Area Discovery Museum, with its Imagination Playground full of foam blocks for creative building, a 2.5-acre outdoor, interactive exploration area, and the new FabLab, a high-tech maker-space for kids opening in May 2016.
No. 12 Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham, Massachusetts
This haute coastal resort on Cape Cod has mastered the trick of keeping kids entertained while providing a sophisticated sanctuary for adults. The horseshoe-shaped compound faces an expansive private beach, which is the site of many of the children’s program activities (like pirate’s treasure hunts) as well as a perfect spot to enjoy swimming and kite flying. A daily lineup of kid-friendly activities also takes place at the outdoor heated pool, on the lawn, and at the sports field. The Beach House restaurant, with its view of the pool and ocean, feels intimate—yet still welcoming for children. There are even family theme nights during the summer. “Cape Cod resort attire” is suggested, so pack your best khakis, pastel polos, and boat shoes.
No. 11: Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
The Sea Pines Resort beckons golfers from around the world with its candy cane-striped lighthouse, which sits just behind the 18th green at the famous Harbour Town (known as the “must play” course on an island of 50 outstanding golf courses). But the links are just one option for family fun at this 5,000-acre upscale compound. There are also five miles of pristine beaches, 20 miles of bike trails and nature paths, and an extensive menu of year-round activities. Families can enjoy sightseeing by bike, crabbing, horseback riding, tennis, kayaking, fishing—even a boat safari to spot alligators in their natural habitat.
No. 10: Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, Anaheim, California
A room at this centrally located, Craftsman-style hotel guarantees you VIP-access to the California Adventure Park. By using the hotel’s private entrance, you can beat the morning crowds (sometimes by as much as an hour) and get back to your room with minimal hassle. Request a room with a bunk bed, which is arguably more fun for the kids and also clears space in the room for all of their stuff. Kids love the hotel’s three pools, waterslide, and the crafts offered at Pinocchio’s Workshop. Parents, meanwhile, appreciate the espressos at the Heartstone Lounge and the extensive wine list and regional cuisine at the Napa Rose restaurant. The children’s menu is unusually highbrow, offering dishes such as roasted chicken with lemon-whipped potatoes and Pacific salmon with basmati rice.
No. 9: Kauai Marriott Resort, Kaua'i, Hawaii
In addition to fantastic views of the Kalapaki Bay, this property boasts the largest single-level swimming pool in Hawaii (26,000 square feet) and a Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course. Beachcombers will love the 800 acres of beach, where they can try boogie boarding, swimming, sailing, and canoeing. Break for lunch at one of the resort’s five al fresco restaurants. “We have been there as a family,” said one World’s Best voter, “and as a couple for a romantic anniversary celebration.”
No. 7 (tie): Hilton Waikoloa Village, Big Island, Hawaii
The Hilton Waikoloa Village offers the fantasy version of Hawaii—swimming with dolphins, a kaleidoscopic Luau show with hula and fire dancers, a 175-foot-long twisting waterslide—and kids go crazy for it. The sprawling 62-acre resort on the Big Island’s sunny Kohala Coast has its own saltwater lagoon filled with tropical fish and rare sea turtles. Mahogany wood boats glide through the canals between buildings, shuttling guests from the 1,240 guest rooms and suites to the 14 restaurants and bars and three swimming pools. Visitors can also opt for the air-conditioned trams that traverse the property. There are two golf courses (for grown-ups) as well as a putting course with glow-in-the-dark mini golf tournaments (for kids and grown-ups). Adults can also slip away to the oceanfront beach and rent snorkeling equipment or simply camp out in a cabana. The Waikoloa Village is also known for being one of the more affordable places for families to stay.
No. 7 (tie) The Cloister, Sea Island, Georgia
Thanks to its 1,000 acres of barrier island beach, this resort offers opportunities to explore all year round. Visitors can take a tour of the salt marsh onboard the Cloister Belle—a restored antique yacht—rent bicycles for an island history tour, or go horseback riding along the south end of Sea Island beach (riders must be at least 10 years old). Back at the 1928 Mediterranean-style resort, parents can relax at one of the four swimming pools, in the overstuffed chairs in the luxuriously appointed rooms and suites, (63 new rooms are set to open in April 2016), or at the new two-story spa with its own indoor forest and lagoon. For after-dinner entertainment, there are family movie nights at the 100-seat resort theater and Gold Brick Sundaes at the Wonderland Ice Cream Parlor. Repeat guests dream about the chocolate-butter-pecan topping.
No. 6 Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, Maui, Hawaii
Families feel truly pampered at this Four Seasons island resort. The 600-square-foot standard rooms are some of the largest in Hawaii, and are as safe and comfortable as they are luxurious (you can request safety netting for balconies, beach gear, and high chairs, all at no extra charge). The knowledgeable concierges provide guidance about family-friendly activities like snorkeling and outrigger canoe excursions, as well as adult adventures such as scuba diving. They can also help arrange tropical family picnics or set up a whale-watching expedition by catamaran. There’s even a complimentary kids program with unique island activities ( gecko hunts, Hula lessons, Hawaiian bowling, and visits with Ricky and Lucy, the resort’s parrot mascot).
No. 5 Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, New York
This unique, castle-esque property, with its turrets and gables, overlooks a pristine, mountain lake and has been enticing families to the Hudson Valle. The surrounding hills boast sweeping views of the Catskills, and can be explored on foot, mountain bike, horseback, or cross-country skis. From Thanksgiving to early spring, parents can wear the kids out before bed at the 9,700-square-foot ice rink meant for skating, broomball, and curling. When the weather warms, guests amble down to Lake Mohonk, a half-mile long, 60-foot-deep mountain lake, and enjoy swimming, boating, and fly-fishing. The surrounding Shawagunk Ridge (known fondly as “the Gunks”) is a favorite with rock climbers. On the hotel’s grounds, there’s a historic barn museum with local antiques and a heated pool. Look out for discounted kids travel packages, which are offered regularly throughout the year, and include meals and scheduled children’s programs.
No. 4 Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Maui, Hawaii
The Wailea Canyon Activity Pool is the stuff of which kids’ dreams are made. The 770,000-gallon aquatic wonderland features nine pools flowing over six levels, seven waterslides, a Tarzan pool with rope swing, a sand-bottomed lagoon, six waterfalls, caves, and the world’s first water elevator—all connected by a river that carries adventurous swimmers through rapids. For grown-ups at the Grand Wailea, there’s a swim-up bar in a grotto hideaway (tropical libations include a “surf’s slush” with Citron vodka, Grand Marnier, and frozen lemonade), and an adults-only pool. Parents can also unwind at the largest spa in Hawaii. Kids will never want to get out of the pool(s), but when they do, there’s a 20,000-square-foot kids’ center with video games, air hockey and Ping-Pong. Not to mention the namesake Wailea Beach.
No. 3 Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach, Florida
Families have plenty of room to stretch out in this beach resort’s apartment-like suites, which have full kitchens, washer/dryers, and furnished balconies. Just outside is the sugar-white sand and crystalline water for which the Gulf Coast is famous. Take a dip in the zero-entry, lagoon-style heated pool or in the surf at the private beach. Sandpearl is as eco-conscious as it is elegant, and offers adventures that help kids appreciate the surrounding natural beauty: an eco-tour through the Intracoastal Waterway, kayaking across local estuaries, nature walks, and scavenger hunts with the Camp Ridley children’s club. One thrilled guest reported to T+L, “we started planning our return trip before we even left—and our ids talk about returning at least once a week.”
No. 2 Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawaii
Hawaiian culture and natural resources are the main sources of entertainment at this ride-free Disney resort. Located on a crescent of white sand along Oahu’s western shore, Aulani caters specifically to vacationing families. Spacious, minimalist rooms incorporate charming touches like a surf-happy Mickey carved into a wooden lamp base. Restaurants offer casual kid-friendly fare as well as upscale dining for when a babysitter is on duty. Outdoor adventures abound, including swimming with stingrays, watersliding through lava rock into the swimming pools, snorkeling lessons, and paddleboarding. There’s not only a supervised children’s club for guests ages 3 to 12, but also a teen spa that offers DIY body-polish workshops and treatments for boys as well as girls. Surf parties by the pool feature special appearances by Disney characters, and there are nighttime screenings of Disney classics.
No. 1 Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort, Bluffton, South Carolina
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff gets rave reviews for its quintessentially Southern combo of coziness and luxury. Families love feeling like they can slow waaaay down and stay put (if only for a school vacation) in one of the resort’s rooms, suites, cottages, or village homes: many with riverfront views. With 20,000 acres to play on, everyone from preschoolers to grandparents can engage in low-country activities like fly-fishing, bird-watching, and naturalist-led alligator “hunts.” For the more adventurous, there’s horseback riding, paddleboarding, and swimming. But the most remarked-upon feature of this resort is the opportunity to stay in expansive private cottages with screened-in porches. Consider this the ideal site for sitting in a rocker with a Mint Julep (locals call it “porching”) and luxuriating in the moment.