From Switzerland to Costa Rica, these 10 family excursions are a great alternative to all-inclusive kid-friendly resorts and cruises.
Sometimes all parents want to do on vacation is drop the little angels off at the kids’ club for the day and kick back with an Aperol Spritz. And to that, we say #bless! But the greatest vacation memories—the kind that turns into family stories you’ll tell for decades to come—come from the days you all go on an adventure together, immersing yourselves in the destination you’re visiting. Resorts are catching on to the fact that sometimes the point of traveling together is to do just that, and are offering family adventures that are part team-building exercise, part field trip, and 100 percent fun. Whether your family’s idea of a good time is an alpine hike, a Mediterranean cruise, or desert camp-out, there’s an excursion destined to become your best trip ever. Here are 10 unforgettable options that will keep you and yours from reaching for the iPad.
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Sail Away on a Traditional Caique in Crete
WHERE: The Blue Palace
Rising from the shores of sparkling Mirabello Bay, the Blue Palace in Elounda, Crete offers plenty of kid-friendly diversions on land, from a kids’ club to courtyard foosball tables to open-air movies screened at night. But your best bonding opportunity is the traditional caique island sail and picnic, which brings your crew out into the Mediterranean Sea.
After a small tender zooms you out to the picture-perfect Greek fishing boat, you’ll climb aboard and set sail for a two-hour idyll that involves floating past Spinalonga islet with its ruins of a 16th-century Venetian fortress and the old leper colony made famous in Victoria Hislop’s The Island. You’ll drop anchor in a hidden bay that seems to exist only for your family and the occasional passing fisherman. Then there’s jumping off the deck to swim, gathering around the table for a picnic feast of Greek delicacies from stuffed grape leaves to shrimp sandwiches, and taking photos and videos to prove that water this blue really exists.
INSIDER TIP The Traditional Caique Experience Island Escape and Picnic costs 440 euros for two adults, plus 30 euros for each child. On the property, be prepared for some cuteness overload: every room with underage guests comes with kid-sized bathrobes.
Follow A 'Fox' on a Scavenger Hunt Through the Swiss Alps
WHERE: The Valbella Resort
The Valbella Resort in Switzerland’s Grisons Mountains boasts a LEGO-themed kids’ club, forest kindergarten, and entertainment that changes every day for its tiniest guests. But for families with kids aged eight and up, adventure awaits in the mountains year-round on the two-hour Foxtrail scavenger hunt.
This organized excursion has you “tracking” a fox by cracking codes, deciphering messages, and clambering around waterfalls in the stunning Lenzerheide alpine valley. The hills are alive with the sound of “I’ve got it!”
INSIDER TIPValbella is completing its renovation this August, but parts of the resort are open throughout the season. The Foxtrail excursion is available in summer or winter and costs from $78 to $104 for two adults and two children.
Hang out With Wild Monkeys in Costa Rica
WHERE: Hotel Punta Islita
One of the best things about vacationing together is meeting other families—in this case, the clans of howler, white-faced, and capuchin monkeys found all over Punta Islita on the lush northwest side of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. During the Hotel Punta Islita’s Monkey Quest, you’ll pile into a 4×4 driven by a hotel guide who will lead you through local communities where you can spot the swinging simians hanging from the trees in their natural habitat.
If your own little monkeys can’t get enough of tropical animals, the eco-resort can also arrange access to the Wild Scarlet Macaw reserve and the Camaronal Sea Turtle Refuge. Or, take the courtesy shuttle down the hillside to the beach and spend the day looking for horseshoe crabs.
INSIDER TIPThe Monkey Quest is offered on weekdays and costs $57 per person, plus a 4% tax. It’s ideal for ages five and up.
Ride Camels With the Kiddos in Marrakech
WHERE: Jnane Tamsna
There are five pools and a tennis court at Jnane Tamsna, an enchanted-garden-like resort outside of Marrakech, Morocco, run by the country’s only Black female hotelier. As if that weren’t enough to do, kids can take on-site classes in performing magic or writing their names in Arabic calligraphy.
With all the diversions, it might take some doing to convince everyone to leave the hotel, but it’s worth it for a late-afternoon group camel ride. Cameleers will pick up your family caravan on the doorstep of the hotel, and guide you on a 40-60 minute adventure through the groves of palm trees that give the area, Palmeraie, its name. Book the excursion at sunset, when the weather’s not too hot and the palm groves seem to grow; you’ll trot through the lush oasis and return to the hotel in time for dinner in the gardens.
INSIDER TIPThe camel ride is $30 per camel; children under 10 share a camel with a parent.
Explore a Sacred Cave in Mexico
WHERE: Nizuc Resort
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to take a dip on-site at Nizuc, a 29-acre oceanfront resort near Cancun, Mexico—you can kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and snorkel right out of the hotel on not one but two beaches, or splash around in one of the property’s three pools. But to swim in surroundings unlike any you’ve seen before, take the excursion to the Rio Secreto, a network of limestone caves that contain an underground river.
The cenote, which was discovered in 2004 and opened to the public in 2008, is a protected nature reserve, and visits begin with an educational component where you and yours will learn all about the stalagmites and stalactites that grace the cave, and the fish and bats that live within it. Then, once you’re suited up in a wetsuit and a headlamp, a guide will lead you hiking, wading, and swimming through a 1-km tour within the cave—a surf and turf adventure underground.
INSIDER TIPThe Rio Secreto excursion includes transportation in a shared van and costs $129 per adult and $64.50 per child. It’s open to children ages 7 and up.
Take a 'Forest Bath' in Maine
WHERE: Hidden Pond Resort
You can enjoy Shirin Yoku, the Japanese art of “forest bathing” in the continental US, on the tree-lined grounds of Hidden Pond resort in Kennebunkport, Maine. The practice—of spending time enjoying nature with all five of your senses—has been shown to promote relaxation, lower blood pressure and stress hormones, and generally boost your mood. (Talk about an enchanted forest!)
Certified Forest Therapy guide Jeanne Christie (who’s also a Registered Maine Guide) leads your group on a two-and-a-half or three-hour walk past birch and balsam trees, before ending the excursion with snacks and a tea ceremony. Follow up your forest bath with a soak in the lodge pool, or, if it’s a Sunday, plunge into the Nighttime Glow Swim, when the family-friendly pool is lit up after dark.
INSIDER TIPA Forest Therapy walk costs $55 a person for a group of 2-6. You can also schedule a walk with Christie off the property at Crescent Beach State Park or Bradbury Mountain State Park.
Glamp Out in Joshua Tree National Park in California
WHERE: La Quinta Resort & Club
Enjoy a desert oasis two different ways with the Camp’d Out experience at La Quinta Resort & Club near Palm Springs, California. You’ll stay by the swimming pools and golf courses of the resort at the foothills of the Santa Rosa mountains on the first and third night. But the second night you’ll sleep under the stars in a luxurious tent set up in Joshua Tree National Park.
The glamping experience includes dinner, s’mores, overnight butler service, and morning coffee. La Quinta staff will drive you out to the national park, set up your tent, and prep your camp meal; you’ll provide the ghost stories, desert hikes, and bonding around the campfire.
INSIDER TIPThe Camp’d Out experience starts at $2,450 with a minimum three-night stay. Depending on the size of your family, extra tents can be provided.
Explore Sandbars and Spot Dolphins in Georgia
WHERE: Perry Lane Hotel
Now you see it, now you don’t. That’s the nature of the sandbars or vanishing islands you and yours will explore during a three-hour nature cruise out of the Perry Lane Hotel. Though the property is smack in the heart of Savannah’s historic district (and you’ll have 360-degree views of the city from the rooftop pool), they arrange several experiences designed to get guests out onto the coast to discover the marsh and Sea Islands of Georgia’s Lowcountry.
The Private Shark Tooth Island tour takes families of up to six on naturalist-led cruises of the Savannah riverfront that venture into the sea to seek out the local dolphin population at play. The boat then stops near a sandbar, only visible at low tide, so you can spot sand dollars, starfish, and shells. It’s like your own private Where the Crawdads Sing, minus the drama.
INSIDER TIPThe Private Shark Tooth Island tour costs $595 for up to six people; Larger boats can be arranged for groups of up to 16.
Root for the Home Team in Boston
WHERE: The Hotel Commonwealth
Yankee fans, consider yourselves warned: The Hotel Commonwealth is the official hotel of the Boston Red Sox. For anyone who considers that good news, here’s more: The property stands in Kenmore Square, a baseball’s throw from historic Fenway Park.
Take everyone out to the ball game with the Commonwealth’s Family of Fans Red Sox Game Package, which includes four tickets to a Red Sox game which you’ll view from the exclusive Pavilion section, a $500 gift card to the Red Sox team store, a welcome message to your clan which will appear on the scoreboard during the game, and seat visits from a kid-friendly mascot. After the game, you’ll skip the traffic by walking back to the hotel, where you can relive post-game highlights in your room. All in all, it’s a home run.
INSIDER TIPThis is just one of several Red-Sox-themed packages available at the Hotel Commonwealth; starting rates for Red Sox season packages range from $409 to $2,359. Contact the reservations department to discuss game dates and availability.
Learn About Ocean Life Near Sarasota, Florida
WHERE: Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
The Beach Excursion at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota invites families to explore the ocean with the experts—both human and aquatic. First, comb the white-sand shores of Lido Key on a one-hour “beach safari” led by a nature guide from Mote Marine Aquarium. Then, visit the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, to meet manatees, sharks, sea turtles, and otters.
Your family will also receive an Adopt-an-Animal kit with a certificate of adoption, picture of a sea creature, and a letter from the animal’s caretaker, so mini-marine-biologists can go home knowing there’s an alligator, jellyfish, octopus, seahorse, or shark whose care they contributed to back in Florida.
INSIDER TIPThe Private Beach Excursion is included in an accommodations package that starts at $800 a night for a family of four.