Candid snapshots of smiling, on vacation faces are a highlight of every family photo album—but we all know it’s not easy to keep a smile on those faces while traveling. Requirements for happiness differs between toddlers, tweens, teens, and adults. How, then, do you find a place that’s right for everyone?
There’s a world of travel possibilities, and I’m here to help you narrow down your choices to a handful of safe bets. I’ve got three boys, and I know there’s often a fine line between merriment and meltdowns on a family vacation. Over the years, I’ve developed a few rules to travel by with kids:
A. Book early to budget accordingly for your family vacation, especially if you want to travel during holidays or school breaks;
B. Focus on all-inclusive resorts (saving you money in the long run by including all meals, beverages, and activities) and villa-style properties (which give you all the comforts of home along with access to hotel amenities and services);
C. Look for destinations which offer family fun programs and activities—bonus if there are special programs just for kids so grown-ups can get a break; and
D. Consider inviting your extended family—having grandparents or older kids along enriches the experience (and, between us, gives parents built-in babysitting options).
Now that you know the rules, join me on a tempting tour of nine of my favorite destinations for a family vacation. When headed to any one, pack your camera to capture all the fun—and all the smiling faces!
Nickelodeon Resort, Dominican Republic
Who vacations in a pineapple under the sea? Your family does! Following Disney World’s lead, this resort invites children of all ages to vacation with some of their favorite animated characters (like SpongeBob Square Pants) with accommodations to match (like “The Pineapple Villa”). Their version of all-inclusive includes gourmet cuisine and premium drinks as well as personalized service and activities hand-selected for guests, from getting slimed at Nickelodeon Place to serving an ace at the Sports Hub. And though certainly geared towards high-energy families, the resort also has a 14,000-sq.-ft. Vassa Spa and a slew of “Romance” activities to ensure you have lots of love alongside the laughs.
Generations Riviera Maya, Mexico
As the name implies, this is the place to visit with multiple generations, from a baby to a baby-boomer grandparent, with something for everyone. Set along the glittering blue of the Mexican Caribbean, this beachside resort pampers with an all-inclusive concept featuring a la carte dining and bars, relaxing treatments at Náay Spa, fun activities for kids of all ages (including Eko Kids Club and Little Eko Chefs), and more. At Generations, every room is a suite with butler service and 24-hour room service—and you can choose the suite that’s perfect for your family from nearly a dozen different options (perhaps you’ll choose the suite with an oversized terrace and private infinity pool?).
Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, Jamaica
Once you arrive here, you never have to leave—and you may never want to! Oriented for adults and kids of all ages, your stay here includes unlimited dining at a number of unique restaurants (as well as dining carts and 24-hour room service; they also have the ability to handle special dietary requests), beverages (from freshly brewed Jamaican coffee to cocktails), beach and pool concierge service, a 24-hour gym (offering yoga, pilates, and cardio classes), watersports, games on the pool deck, and a nightly show at the outdoor theater. Where to regroup each night? The resort offers plenty of unique rooms and suites, including the Swim-Up, which gives you and your family (ages 13+) access to a private pool.
Azul Beach Resort, Mexico
Though managed by the same company that oversees the Nickelodeon Resort in the DR, this beachfront boutique resort is a decidedly more low-key, ultra-pampering affair. Case in point: upon arrival, adults are given a glass of champagne while kids receive a Nickelodeon smoothie to sip while making a selection from the aromatherapy and pillow menu. Intimately set on a half-mile of white-sand beach, everything at this all-inclusive oasis is just a stroll (or stroller ride!) away, including six gourmet restaurants, swim-up bars, Vassa Spa, and lot of fun for kids, from My Gym (for guests ages 4 to 12) to special spa treatments for guests ages 5 to 17—also, their all-inclusive baby amenities program provides everything parents need, from strollers to sterilizers, bottles to baby food. Accommodation options include newly renovated Deluxe Rooms and spacious suites, all with goodies like built-in daybeds, Jacuzzi® bathtubs, and air-conditioning. Should you feel the need for a change of venue, Azul Beach Resort is close enough for a day trip to Playa del Carmen.
This is a mega resort and, as such, it offers mega delights for your family, with lots of beaches, restaurants, and kid’s camp activities as well as a chance to swim with dolphins or sea lions and an on-site casino for grown-ups. It’s also home to Aquaventure, a one-of-a-kind 141-acre waterscape with 20 swimming areas, 11 swimming pools, a water-play fort for kids, a mile-long river ride, and high-speed water slides. There are seven different accommodation areas, from the Royal Towers to the Atlantis Marina; larger families should consider a suite or multiple rooms. Though not all-inclusive, a trio of Dining Plans are available (and children 11 and under eat free with the purchase of an adult dining plan).
Beaches, Turks & Caicos
Beaches is the pioneer of ultra-all-inclusive family vacations. As such, they set the bar really, really high with delights like four distinct villages (reflecting the architecture and attitude of Italy, France, Key West, and the Caribbean), a 45,000 square-foot waterpark (with everything from lazy river journeys to a swim-up soda bar), 19 restaurants, 15 bars, six pools (including a dedicated toddler pool), and fun for the under-18 set, like Sesame Street® characters for tots, Xbox Play Lounge for tweens, and Liquid at Beaches, a disco for teens, as well as a supervised camp for kids of all ages. Located on the north shore of the island, on 12 miles of white-sand beach along calm and clear turquoise waters, it’s a perfect place to experience every type of water sport. Last, but not least, there are more than two dozen accommodation options, from ocean-view rooms to private villas.
Coconut Bay Beach Resort, St. Lucia
You know when you fear your boisterous kids are bothering the singles around you? You won’t have that feeling at Coconut Bay. Because moments after you arrive—a quick five minutes from the airport, and after you accept a cold towel and either a glass of champagne, rum punch, or bottled water—you’ll turn your back on the adults-only wing of this 85-acre, all-inclusive resort as you head for Splash, the casual, family-friendly wing. Translation: boisterous kids aren’t just welcomed, they’re expected! And you’ll keep those kiddos moving with delights like the island’s largest waterpark (complete with aquatic playground, lazy river, and water slides), a paintball facility able to host 10 players, a fully supervised 50,000 square-foot Kidz Klub (with daily adventures like mini zip lines and petting zoo), and an air-conditioned indoor playroom; there are also numerous restaurants and bars and fun for adults with a complete fitness center, full-service salon, and oceanfront spa. All rooms are air-conditioned and overlook the sea; adjoining rooms are available for those who need extra space.
Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
Stretching out over 7,000 acres, with what seems like 7,000 things to do, it actually takes some effort to be bored at this villa resort. Choose from a number of guest rooms, one- and two-bedroom suites, and spacious villas, then take on the seven restaurants (with meal plans and dine-around options), five bars, a night club, spa, wellness center, and activities that range from world-class golf to water sports, sport fishing, and horseback riding. When the kids want to be with other kids, or the adults need alone-time, there are lessons for little ones (like Junior Shooting Academy for ages 7+ and Junior Tennis Academy for ages 5+), Summer Camp 2017, and a variety of award-winning half- and full-day programs for toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens; the resort also offers professional nanny and babysitting services.
Half Moon, Jamaica
A resort gets no higher compliment than that of a repeat guest—and, for 60+ years, this villa resort has hosted many repeat guests, watching children grow up and return with their own children and grandchildren. Start your own Half Moon legacy! Set on 400 manicured acres with two miles of beautiful beachfront, Half Moon offers multi-generational fun, from family dive trips to tennis tournaments to horseback riding adventures, along with family-friendly accommodation options, like interconnecting rooms or a villa with private pool, cook, butler, and housekeeper. For the grown-ups, there’s Jamaica’s largest award-winning spa and an 18-hole par-72 championship golf course; for kids ages 3 to 12, there’s Anancy Children’s Village (a learning, play, and discovery village inspired by Jamaican folklore) and, from mid-July to mid-August, Camp Half Moon keeps kids ages 4 to 12 busy; and for the smallest travelers, a nanny service gives parents a break. Half Moon is affiliated with Penn State University’s esteemed “Better Kid Care” program, so parents can rest assured that all nannies and counselors are certified in best practices and age-appropriate activities.
This list is by no means complete. Finding it hard to choose your favorite? Let me match your family with your just-right escape—it might even be a place not on this list! As a Travel Specialist, I’ve spent the last 20 years helping families plan and enjoy dream vacations—and I know the best places to visit, whether you’re a family of three or an extended family of 13.
Contact me today (call 603-418-8698 or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know how I can help!