Fun Family Vacation Ideas & Planning Tips
Eliminate the stress from your next family vacation by reading our frequently asked questions. Learn how to pick the best family vacation destinations for traveling with children, learn how to survive a long airplane flight and read our easy tricks for getting the best hotel or resort deal.
Planning a trip with kids can be a fun project for everyone involved. The best way to get started is to consider everyone's favorite activities and narrow it down to top family vacations & ideas that are best for you. Younger kids usually like sandy beaches where they can build sandcastles and surf gentle waves in the shallow waters. Pre-teens and teens tend to like resorts with many attractions such as water slides, activity centers that rent kayaks, teen spas, and kids' clubs with games. Since every family is different, fining the best spot for yours involves a bit of careful planning. Last but not least, families can save a lot of money on vacation by looking for last minute hotel deals and packages. Before you leave, call ahead and book all the favorite activities because they often sell out, especially during peak holiday weeks.
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- Where should we go? Pick the best family trip ideas based on the interests of everyone in your group. The age of the children and how well they travel in a car or a plane will determine whether you will be checking into a nearby resort, taking a flight to a Caribbean island or going on a family trip to Europe. Other equally important considerations when picking the best kids vacations are budget, how long is your vacation and what type of a destination your family finds the most exciting and fun. Babies and toddlers will be happy crawling around a sandy beach and carrying a bucket of water from the ocean all day long. Older kids will need more entertainment, however, everyone is generally happy and relaxed next to the water, whether that’s a lake or the Pacific Ocean.
- When is the best time to go? You will be less limited with a baby or a toddler because they don’t yet go to school, allowing you to plan a trip in September or early May when places are less crowded and room rates are lower. If you have older children that are in school, you will need to get away during their school holidays like spring break and summer. During the summer season, most beach destinations are quite crowded while cities tent to be emptier and a good choice as vacations for kids. If you have a teenager who is learning about the U.S. history, take her to Washington D.C. and spend a few days at the Smithsonian Museums.
- What are the best affordable family destinations? The biggest vacation cost is usually the airfare, so the closer to home you can find a destination that will please the whole family, the cheaper the trip. Take a look at our weekend getaways section which lists ideas from major U.S. cities, family vacations on the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, the South and Southwest. If you are on a budget, stay in a cabin or a campground in a national park, or look for cheap vacation rentals online that will let you stay for under $100 per night. If you have access to the kitchen, you can prepare some of your own meals which will save you a lot of money. For best value, look for destinations where you will have access to many free activities, whether that’s hiking along a scenic trail, outdoor pool, games, or a kids’ club. Take a look at our family packages section for some of the best packages hand-picked by our editors.
- Where do we go on the East Coast? During the summer months, visit the scenic coast of Maine, stay at a family resort in Vermont, take a trip to New Hampshire, relax on the beach in Cape Cod and enjoy other family vacation spots. Visit the museums of New York, Boston and Philadelphia, dine a family-friendly restaurants, and watch outdoor theater performances with older children. In the winter, plan a ski trip that will let your kids learn how to downhill ski, cross-country ski or snowboards at a New England mountain resort such as Stowe, Killington or Sugarbush.
- Where do we go on the West Coast? Explore California’s scenic coastal towns, have fun at Disneyland, tour Hollywood and check into a full service spa resort for a few days of pampering and relaxation. Some family-friendly ski resorts to try on the West Coast include Mammoth, Badger Pass and Snowmass. San Diego is a popular destination for families with kids, offering amusement parks, beaches, the New Children’s Museum, Maritime Museum and a zoo which will keep little ones busy.
- What are the best luxury vacation ideas for families? If you are looking to spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a family vacation, you can be as picky as you like (although that will not buy you a first class airline ticket). Luxury resort rooms and suites start at $350 per night, and can go as high as $900 per night for a villa in an exotic destination like Fiji. Some of the best luxury beach destinations for families include plush resorts in Barbados, Paradise Island in the Bahamas and beach resorts in Maui. Look for all inclusive rates at Sandals resorts in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos where you will have access to many fun activities for kids of all ages. Families have access to a wide selection of room and suite layouts, letting you balance cost and just the right layout. On your luxury family vacation, look for activities that will be fun for adults as well as kids, such as golf, spas and fun dining options. If you have a baby, Club Med’s Ixtapa resort in Mexico offers the Baby Med program which includes a crib, bottle warmers and diapers in your room.
- Family Vacation Ideas with Toddlers: When planning a trip with toddlers, remember a few key points: they have short attention spans, get tired quickly and need simple engaging activities such as pouring water or transferring beans. It will take a lot of effort to keep them happy on a long airplane trip, although with careful planning it can be done. They will probably want to sleep with you in an unfamiliar hotel room and may not like resort food all that much. On the other hand, having many new things to see and do will be exciting, as long as they are not tired or hungry. If you only have time for a long weekend getaway, pick a quick getaway that won’t require a lot of time to get to or having to deal with jet lag. If you have time for a longer vacation, consider destinations with nice beaches where your toddler will be able to run around, splash water and have a lot of fun.
- Family Vacation Ideas with Teenagers: Traveling with teens is a lot of fun when they are interested in attractions around them and getting involved in the activities. The opposite is quite true as well – plan the wrong kind of a vacation and they will be impossible to be around. If you have a sedentary child, vacation may not be the best time to take her river rafting. She may prefer exploring a museum, shopping and people watching at a café. If you have an adventurous young man who loves the outdoors, don’t take him to Europe in August, but instead plan a fun family vacation in the Rocky Mountains, hiking, mountain biking and swimming in mountain lakes.
- Disney Cruises for Families: Disney Cruises are such a favorite with kids that they deserve their own mention. Disney has four ships designed with kids in mind, complete with a theater and a cinema playing all of the kids’ favorite Disney movies. There are several pools to choose from, with water slides and other water fun. Dream and Fantasy ships feature the AquaDuck with a transparent, acrylic tube that spans four decks of the ship and over the side of the ship over the ocean. The spa is meant for adults only, so you can enjoy a peaceful time to yourself while kids participate in the children’s program. Kids are divided into several age groups: infant – 3, 3 – 4, 5 – 7, 8 – 9, and 10 – 12. Teens have access to a private club, featuring plush couches, games and a bar serving soft drinks.
- Active Getaways: It’s amazing how many things kids are interested in if you sit down and talk to them about it. A 12-year-old may want to take a cooking class and learn how to prepare meals using farm-fresh ingredients with the hotel chef. A 5-year-old may want to see a polar bear swimming in a pool in a local zoo. A 3-year-old may be extremely interested in building various machines from blocks and legos so his ultimate dream vacation may be a morning spent at Legoland. Getaways with a touch of adventure create fun memories. In California, visit Safari West and watch unique wildlife in a natural setting. Take a cruise aboard Disney Fantasy, a mega ship that offers many things to do and comfortable staterooms with an extra half bath. At Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado, kids can go horseback riding and learn about the inns and outs of a working dude ranch. Lake Villarrica in Chile is a stunning lakeside getaway with a view of a volcano. Explore the natural wonders of the Pikes Peak region of Colorado, go horseback riding and visit a zoo. Other cheap family vacations include Yellowstone and Jackson Hole where you will be surrounded by the spectacular Tetons.
- Last Minute Deals and Packages: If you decide to take a last minute trip with the kids, look for savings and special offers, especially in the off-season. Lately we've been seeing major resort discounts even during high season, so once you decide where you want to go, call the hotel or resort directly and don't be afraid to ask for a package deal before you book. Offers can include room discounts, dining and activity credit, free transportation to and from the airport, and other perks. Most hotels will let you book connecting rooms so that you can keep an eye on the kids while still enjoying some privacy on vacation. If you are taking a weekend trip to a major city such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco or London, hotels usually discount rooms on weekends because there are no business travelers on weekends, so it's quite easy to find a last minute deal. In the Caribbean, look for all-inlcusive packages and affordable rates in the summer.
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Best Family Vacation Destinations
Some of the top destinations for families are the Caribbean, Florida, California and Hawaii, attracting vacationers with their sandy beaches and colorful sunsets, especially during the colder months and in the summer when there is no school and kids can get away for a longer vacation. Many families enjoy cruises which allow them to see many destinations in a short span of time.
Mega cruise ships offer a wide variety of activities, from pools and waterslides to rock climbing and kids' clubs. Consider the season - the destinations that work best in the spring and summer may not be as interesting in the winter. Resorts with water parks include the Arizona Grand Resort, the Lake Lanier Islands, the Gaylord Palms Resort. Unique getaways in the U.S. include The Cloister at Sea Island, The Bishop's Lodge, Hilton Hawaiian Village and Grand Wailea Resort.
- Cleveland: For art lovers, Cleveland is a delight. This modern, vibrant city has more than its fair share of world-class museums, galleries and theatres. Cleveland Museum of Art, located in Fine Arts Garden north of the Wade Lagoon, has more than 30,000 priceless art pieces. Cleveland Cultural Gardens, created by University of Cleveland students, features living, blooming exhibitions of world cultures and history. Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art showcases modern local artists in a range of permanent and temporary exhibits. Check the program of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the world’s most renowned institutions of its kind. There is always something going on at Playhouse Square, among the country’s biggest and best performing arts centers. There is also The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is dedicated to archiving the history of music and those artists who have influenced it. If all this art becomes a bit too heavy, sit on the bench in the University Circle, a green square mile in the center of Cleveland, where everything that happens in the city intersects. It is the beating heart of Cleveland.
- St. Augustine, FL: Strolling through St. Augustine, you will sometimes have a hard time believing that it belongs to the 21st century America. From the 17th century Castillo de San Marcos on the western shore of Matanzas Bay to the lavish historic Hotel Alcazar that today hosts the Lightner Museum of Victorian times, St. Augustine has retained the elegance and charm of its past and preserved its historic treasures with lots of love and care. Stroll through the cobblestoned streets of the Old City, St. George, Hypolita and Charlotte Streets, and have a cup of coffee in one of the many quaint shops. Visit the Ximenez-Fatio House built in 1798, an architectural gem that showcases the life of 19th century Florida. A visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park and pristine beaches of Anastasia State Park will show you that some things are timeless and never change.
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A trip to Europe is for families who enjoy exploring historic sites, sampling local cuisine and learning about a different culture. Visit Florence, Italy, which is an easy historic city to explore with children. Another great city to visit with kids is New York. Younger children can explore a huge variety of playgrounds, climb on giant statues representing characters from children's books, visit a zoo, ride on a carousel, visit a planetarium and watch a show at the Marionette Theater.
There are many getaways to choose from in Canada, such as the Canadian Rockies, British Columbia, St. Andrews by-the-Sea and Banff. Best getaways provide parents and kids with plenty to do so that they can re-connect while learning new activities and exploring new destinations. A full service resort with a tropical beach where you will be able to swim, kayak, snorkel and relax is ideal if you need a place to recharge.
Some popular resorts in Florida include The Breakers which has many family-friendly facilities and programs, Doral with its pool complex and famous golf courses, and The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island with its Ritz Kids program. Ginn Hammock Beach Resort has a year-round water park, a 9-hole putting course and a program for guests ages 4-12. While kids are busy with their own activities, parents can treat themselves to relaxing massages at the spa, fitness and a selection of outdoor activities.
An inexpensive way to visit the Caribbean can be aboard a cruise ship. The cruise industry is constantly coming up with bigger ships packed with activities for vacationers of all ages. You can cruise Bermuda and the Bahamas with Regent Seven Seas, take a Nickelodeon-themed family cruise or pick one of the many affordable itineraries offered by the Royal Caribbean.
Family resorts abound in Hawaii where you can spend your days playing in the waves and building sand castles. Grown-ups can indulge in a few rounds of golf and relaxing spa treatments. The Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island of Hawaii has a sandy beach which is very kid friendly because it's well protected from the waves year-round. The Four Seasons Resort Maui offers luxury accommodations and access to the golf courses and beach in Wailea. Maui offers many family-friendly beaches, such as the top rated Kapalua, Napili and Makena Beaches. Sometimes you just need to get away quick family weekend when you need to recharge but don't have time for a longer trip.
Kid-friendly resorts are great at offering many things to see and do, a choice of accommodations that best fit your needs and varied dining options. Some great choices include the new Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Atlantis in the Bahamas and the Breakers in Florida.
Family Ski Trips
Family ski trips can be great fun and there are many unique destinations to choose from. In Canada, The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort offers skiing on Blackcomb Mountain. Beginners and seasoned skiers alike can enroll in the Ski & Snowboard School which offers programs for kids. In British Columbia, Canada, The Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside provides all-suite accommodations which have plenty of space. Colorado ski destinations include Aspen, Vail, Telluride and Beaver Creek, all offering exceptional skiing.