By Jessica Festa
The prospect of traveling with children can indeed seem daunting, sometimes so much so that the very idea of it keeps families from leaving home altogether. Rest assured, there’s hope out there yet for your next kids-inclusive vacation, thanks to these 10 family-friendly hotels that offer plenty of fun for the kiddies, without skimping on the amenities for adults.
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The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain
The luxurious Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain touts fun family-friendly features like a swim-up Hot Cocoa Butler, who, on cooler days, serves up warm drinks to guests swimming in the heated pool. "Dive-in" movies are also on hand, inviting families to relax in the pool, under the stars, while taking in an outdoor flick. Continue the stargazing well into the evening, with a professional telescope and little light pollution combining for some stellar night-sky views. Golf-minded clans, meanwhile, can partake in family golf lessons, golf putting challenges, and special "glow golf" evening games.
For a just-right mix of adventure and education, look to Ranger Rick, who you definitely can’t miss upon arrival—he’s the guy in the lobby joined by two non-poisonous snakes and a people-loving tarantula. Head out on his guided hikes into the Sonoran Desert, where guests will get a better understanding of Arizona’s flora and fauna. Other options include bike-riding excursions, desert animal meet-and-greets, and educational workshops informing guests about the region’s rich Native American, cowboy, and pioneer traditions.
Family-Friendly Tip: No need to take the gang to the zoo, as the resort is currently home to a few unusual pets: a native California King snake, a gopher snake, a striped scorpion, and a blond tarantula, which are all on display for observing and feeding.
Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz, New York
Mohonk Mountain House is the perfect place for a nature-themed family getaway, with activities like guided hiking, swimming or boating on the lake (in summer), horseback riding, and ice-skating and skiing (in the winter), all included in the room rate. Unique theme programs like ballroom dance lessons, "Whodunit?" mystery events, and culinary demonstrations, as well as nightly entertainment, help ensure a range of activities to appease the whole clan. To help parents enjoy their vacation independently and allow kids to interact with others their own age, there’s the Mohonk Kids’ Club, featuring fun programming built around hikes, frog hunts, tennis, arts and crafts, games, and nature programs. During certain times of the year, there’s also a teen program in place, as well as a promotion that allows children to stay at the hotel completely free of charge.
Family-Friendly Tip: For the curious and adventurous child, the hotel’s new Junior Naturalist Experience helps kids gain skills in the outdoors with activities like examining weather instruments, creating a rain gauge, and observing different types of flora and fauna.
Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort
Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort is home to Pirates Island Waterpark, offering numerous waterslides, a lazy river, a surf simulator, a tots-only pool, a kids-themed swim-up bar, and more. Youths will also flock to the XBOX 360 gaming center, Kids Camps boasting activities like treasure hunts and shell collecting, and meet-and-greets and shows hosted by Sesame Street characters. DJing workshops, discos, and tennis clinics ensure teenagers’ tastes are sated, too.
Family-Friendly Tip: The kids aren’t the only ones who should be having fun on vacation: Swim-up pool bars, candlelight dining, water sports, bonfires, and unlimited premium-brand drinks are all part of a stay at Beaches Turks & Caicos.
Paradise Island, Bahamas
Atlantis is not only one of the world’s best-known hotels, but also one of it’s most family-friendly. The property is like one giant theme park for kids and adults alike, encompassing a water park, dolphin cay, marine habitat, and more. A Kids Club also offers morning and evening fun with activities like cooking classes, theater performances, circus games, sleepless slumber parties, and much more. The on-site Imagination Station allows the young ones to get creative with activities like Lego building or playing in a life-size dollhouse. Rooms dedicated to games, computers, and arts and craft are also on hand.
Family-Friendly Tip: Book by February 17 for rates from $199/night for travel through June 13, 2012.
Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
The Grand Wailea is a Waldorf Astoria resort that caters to families with Camp Grande, a fun mini-resort for kids ages 5 to 12, which offers activities both children and parents can enjoy, like painting, crafts, and learning about ancient Hawaiian culture through games and storytelling. When the kids get hungry, there’s the all-you-can-eat Keiki Buffet for children ages 12 and under, featuring cuisine like macaroni-and-cheese, pigs in a blanket, and chicken fingers. When bedtime rolls around, the Grand Wailea also has a tasty turndown service, including cookies and milk, assorted chocolates, and a opportunity for kids to decorate animal-shaped butter cookies.
Family-Friendly Tip: Book the Grand Family Adventures Package for special opportunities to get up close to sea life, explore different cultures, make new friends, and learn more about what the Hawaiian Islands have to offer. Included in this package are tickets for a family of four to visit the Hawaiian Aquarium; plus, a daily breakfast buffet and a $100 resort gift card are thrown in the mix. Rates for this package are based on double adult occupancy and vary by room type and travel period.
Novotel Twin Waters Resort
Sunshine Coast, Australia
The Novotel Twin Waters Resort is well-known for its kid-centric programming, operated by Kidz Cove. They put guests’ kids (ages 2 to 12) in the hands of qualified professionals for daily hosted morning and afternoon sessions, plus evening sessions on Friday and Saturday nights. Face painting, craft and cooking classes, disco parties, popcorn and movies, and more, are all part of the fun. And, when the kids are tuckered out and the adults need a break, parents can make use of the resort’s in-room babysitting services. For the older children, there are game rooms, as well as a unique Cirque Escape program that has trained professionals teach circus skills like juggling, trapeze, tightwire, and bungee trampoline. And when it’s time for the family to come together, programming like jellyfish feeding, soccer shootout competitions, and beach sports provide fun for all ages.
Family-Friendly Tip: Until March 31, 2012, Novotel Twin Waters Resort is offering the Family Package, including overnight accommodations with a garden view for two adults and two children, full buffet breakfast, a welcome gift for the little ones, two three-hour Kids Club sessions, and two one-hour adult push-bike hires. Prices begin at $229/night.
Westin St. John Resort & Villas
St. John, Virgin Islands
The beachfront Westin St. John Resort & Villas offers a Westin Kids Club, designed for both entertaining and educating children, with a focus on the island’s rich cultural and natural environment (two-thirds of which is designated national park). Activities include arts and crafts, sailing lessons, iguana hunts, sandcastle building, and more. The resort offers teen-specific activities, as well, such as an arcade, water trampoline, floating climbing wall, kayaks, and catamaran cruises. For the whole family, look to Island Hopper Experiences, complete with an onboard Boating Butler and activities like group scavenger hunts. Moreover, a full schedule of daily activities offers fun all-ages options like bobbing for sodas, tie-dye creations, iguana feeding, Wii tournaments, and dive-in movies.
Family-Friendly Tip: For parents who want the evening off, the resort offers a Parents Night Out program: While your child plays and dines, you can enjoy some adults-only time with a stone massage at the spa or some fine dining indulgence.
Club Med Punta Cana
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Club Med Punta Cana is an all-inclusive Caribbean resort offering childcare programs for infants through teens. In the Baby Club Med, babies (ages 4 months to just under 2 years of age) are cuddled, fed, and put down for naps. For children ages 2 to 4, Petit Club Med provides caretaker-led outdoor play and creative activities. Mini Club Med is designed for children ages 4 to 10, with plenty of sports and activities, while 11- to 18-year-olds can enjoy Club Med Passworld, featuring video editing classes, dance workshops, DJ lessons, theater groups, and more.
Family-Friendly Tip: Some more unique activities for the young ones include a Baby Gym, Petit Golf, Petit Tennis, a Teen Spa, and Zumba for Kids.
Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort
At the enormous Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort, adults can spend the day participating in scuba diving, golf clinics, archery, beach volleyball, and windsurfing, while teens can partake in similar activities, courtesy of special programming for guests ages 12 to 19. For smaller children, the Penguin Club provides kid-themed programming like Marco Polo games, mask making, musical chairs, and Thai flower garland making. There are also babysitters available 24/7 for when parents are hankering for some alone time. Or, for some family time poolside, Le Meridien boasts two oversize swimming pools, a lagoon-style pool, a lap pool, and a paddling pool, as well as beachfront access.
Family-Friendly Tip: Look for tons more activities for the whole clan, like family golf matches, the Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World (admission is discounted with your Le Meridien room key), and arts and crafts lessons.
Tamarijn Aruba All-Inclusive Beach Resort
Palm Beach, Aruba
The Tamarijn Aruba offers generously sized units for families with up to three children, which even include a washer and dryer. Teens and adults can partake in free activities like snorkeling clinics, windsurfing lessons, beach sports, arts and crafts, dance lessons, and kayaking, while the Kids Club hosts activities like pizza making, face painting, and field trips to nearby attractions like the local Butterfly Farm. And, when it’s time for the whole family to come together, Caribbean theme parties, circus-style shows, movie nights on the beach, and an on-site crafts market provide some wholesome fun. Once a week, families can also take part in the Snorkel Bike Trips offered by the resort, when families can bike to Moomba Beach for some close-up fish viewing.
Family-Friendly Tip: Through December 21, 2012, kids (up to age 11) stay, play, and eat for free (up to two kids in a room, with two paying adults). And, for the teens ages 12 to 17, a discounted rate of $75 per child, per night, is also on offer.
Photo Credit: Mohonk Mountain House, courtesy of Jim Smith Photography