The only thing better than spending time together with the family is spending time together on a family vacation. Within the boundaries of this giant playground called Earth, there are many places where families can explore, relax and play together. The key is knowing where to go.
8 Great Family Vacation Ideas
1. Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
This might sound cliché, but there are reasons that Walt Disney World theme parks continue to attract millions of visitors. One such reason is their appeal to all members of the family. When Walt Disney first conceived his first theme park, he wanted a place where everyone could find entertainment. The result is a variety of attractions which cater to all age groups from kiddies to grandparents.
Where: Encompassing Lake Buena Vista County just outside of Orlando, Florida, this is a city unto itself with an exquisite transport system for shuttling or taking a monorail ride between parks and resorts.
Why families will love it: Many of the resort's hotels offer accommodations for larger families, and they're pros at offering packages aimed at including the extended family as well. Add to that their great-value, easy-to-use dining packages, and the hassle of dining out with the family is greatly diminished.
Fun factors: With thrill rides, live entertainment, and animatronic adventures, Disney World is synonymous with fun. Even people with no stomach for any of these attractions will love seeing the kids squeal in delight after their first trip on Space Mountain.
2. Caribbean Cruise
Cruise lines like to emphasize that you can do everything or nothing aboard their ships. That concept translates well when it comes to a family vacation. All members can pursue their various interests - whether they prefer shopping, splashing in the pool, or just trying to get rid of some tan lines - and then reunite for dinner together followed by a nightly show. You can spend as much time together or apart as you like. There's something for everyone on a cruise besides the buffets.
Where: From North America, the Caribbean is the closest tropical playground. Many major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, leave directly from major metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston, Houston and Baltimore. This can eliminate the need to navigate your family through an airport. Caribbean ports of call are well-versed in handling cruise passengers safely, and a wide range of shore excursions appeal to all tastes and fitness levels.
Why families will love it: Aside from the romance of being at sea, kids can participate in age-appropriate programs that will keep them abundantly occupied, and parents can take advantage of that freedom to pursue their own interests. With meals included, there's no worry about the dinner bill each night, which is a plus for parents with teenagers. All the nonstop activities and entertainment ensure spending quality time together is as simple as looking at your in-room cruise program.
Fun factors: The race for unique activities aboard ship continues as cruise lines equip their vessels with everything from zip-lines, wave pools, movies under the stars, and ice skating rinks. Even ships without the latest and the greatest attractions still boast extensive dining options, live entertainment, and incredible sea views.
3. Casa De Campo, Dominican Republic
Beach resorts like Casa De Campo, a 7,000 acre resort in the Dominican Republic, have long been a family favorite. Offering every beach-related activity imaginable, this sprawling enclave is a destination all its own.
Where: Casa De Campo is located in the southeastern Dominican Republic, just outside the popular resort town of La Romana (IATA airport code LRM). With several weekly flights directly from the U.S., getting there is not as difficult as some other Caribbean destinations.
Why families will love it: Much like the cruise lines mentioned above, Campo De Casa offers special programs geared for kids of all ages as well as activities that include the entire family.
Fun factors: Golf, horseback riding, spa treatments, water sports... what's not to like?
4. National Parks of the U.S. Southwest
The U.S. Southwest is a nature-lover's delight. Families with a love of the outdoors will find themselves immersed in some of the most amazing scenery the country has to offer, and it's all within a wide range of budgets and comfort levels from park lodges to camping and RV opportunities.
Where: Grand Canyon National Park tops the list of must-see sites as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in nearby southern Utah are also not to be missed.
Why families will love it: Outdoor lovers will have the chance to indulge their passion in dramatic canyons and surreal rock-scapes. Marveling at the natural beauty in every direction can do a lot to draw a family together.
Fun factors: In addition to well-established hiking trails, many parks offer horseback rides through the interior. Park lodges also provide a wealth of information about the geology, flora and fauna to be found within park borders.
5. African Safari
Most people dream of going on an African safari someday. The reality is that you can turn someday into this day by visiting the game parks of southern and eastern Africa. This isn't a budget-friendly option since the flights alone will cost a bundle, but a trek through the African continent will be the highlight of a lifetime.
Where: For safe and culturally-immersive safari options, the game parks of Kenya and Tanzania, such as the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, are a popular option. South Africa's private reserves and the posh, tented safaris in neighboring Botswana are also an excellent choice. Safari experts Micato Safaris offer itineraries in both regions to make that dream trip a reality.
Why families will love it: In addition to the thrill of seeing animals in the wild, the safari experience includes opportunities for quality time with the family. Whether you're all dining around an outdoor fire or watching one of the famed African sunsets, the memories made on safari will last a lifetime.
Fun factors: Seeing animals such as elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes and cheetahs in their natural environment will electrify animal lovers of all ages. By scratching this off their own bucket list, parents can cross it off their kids' lists before they even make one.
Long the realm of honeymooners, the 50th state has become increasingly family-friendly. This makes exploring this Pacific wonderland a more viable option for families on a relatively small budget.
Where: Most Hawaiian tourism centers around the islands of Oahu and Maui, with the city of Honolulu as the port of entry for most. For families looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience, the islands of Kauai and Hawaii (a.k.a. the Big Island) are worthy destinations.
Why families will love it: With waterfalls, rain forests, great beaches, diving and snorkeling, Hawaii is a dream destination. Families will appreciate that many tour operators offer rental condominiums, not just hotel stays; this allows a family to dine in on occasions when they're not out enjoying a luau.
Fun factors: The entire family can splash and play right on Honolulu's doorstep at Waikiki Beach. Activities such as horseback riding, biking, volcano hikes and all forms of water sports guarantee that nobody will have the chance to become bored.
7. Capitals of Europe
The idea of traipsing through Europe with the kids in tow may not seem appealing at first. However, if the kids old enough to appreciate a little culture, a guided tour of Europe's capital cities can successfully navigate the fine line between hassle and wonder and leave everyone with a greater appreciation of the culture.
Where: Companies such as Globus and Collette Vacations offer hassle-free tours that include local guides, transportation, some meals, and excellent accommodations. Popular itineraries take in multiple cities (London-Paris-Rome) or extended city stays in the European nation of choice.
Why families will love it: Visiting some of the world's most famous monuments will leave all members of the family with memories (and photos) that they'll keep forever.
Fun factors: Lovers of art, architecture and good food will have a ball exploring these bastions of culture that have left their mark on the history of the world.
8. New York City
New York City is a prime tourist destination with more than just a little something for everyone. It may not be a cheap place to stay, but the attractions are world-class, and many can be visited for little to no cost.
Where: You can stay in one of the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens or even Staten Island, but Manhattan is where you'll find the lion's share of famous attractions within a few stops on New York's extensive subway system.
Why families will love it: No city in the world can match the energy of the "city that never sleeps." With world-renowned museums, sporting arenas, and performance venues - not to mention unlimited shopping and dining options - NYC has something for all members of the family.
Fun factors: A carriage ride through Central Park and a trip to the Empire State Building's observatory are tourism rites of passage. The simple (and free) pleasure of standing in the middle of Times Square and absorbing the high-wattage excitement of the "Crossroads of the World" is also not to be missed.
Choose Your Playground
Traveling with the family may have its challenges, but the payoff is huge in memories made and bonding time. Picking the right playground isn't difficult if you factor in your family's interests, your budget, and the amount of time at your disposal. Whether you choose a theme park, a cruise, or an outdoor adventure, family time is a common destination worth visiting together.