Favorite family vacation destinations

Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, Fla., offers a program for kids 5-11 years that includes arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts.

I’m sharing my personal picks for best kid-friendly vacation spots.

Every family is different—and, mercifully, my children have not hit the teen years yet—so the places I’ve chosen won’t suit everyone, but they’re the ones that have worked best for me (exhausted working mom), my husband (exhausted stay-at-home dad), and our kids (hyperkinetic eight- and nine-year-old boys).

The Tides Inn, Chesapeake Bay, Va.
Everybody has his or her ideal view. For some it’s turquoise ocean, for others it’s snow-capped mountains. For me it’s the view from The Tides Inn in Irvington, Va. This country inn and marina sit on a small, picturesque Chesapeake Bay harbor, dotted with sailboats and lined with green woods half hiding pretty white houses, in a lesser-known pocket of Virginia that is brimming with history yet somehow empty of tourists.

Chatham Bars Inn, Cape Cod, Mass.
It’s all too rare that an elegant, historic hotel can keep kids from 4 to 17 entertained and occupied for a week—with a minimum of electronics—while preserving an adult atmosphere of tranquility. This Cape Cod oceanfront resort has a serene and surprisingly empty beach; a huge, heated, gated pool—with a panoramic ocean view; a barrier-reef island full of playful seals and a boat to take you there; a daily lineup of kid-friendly activities; a historic trolley car to take you into the charming town of Chatham—and all of it included in the rate.

Coral Beach Club, St. Maarten
Coral Beach Club is a terrific base for exploring the Caribbean island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. It’s right on the Dutch/French border, which means you can quickly reach the can’t-miss family activities of the French side while also having convenient access to the boating and water sports infrastructure of the Dutch side.

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream
In addition to innovative touches such as two bathrooms per cabin, the Disney Dream has parent-friendly features that other cruise lines don’t: The children’s center takes kids off your hands all the way from 9 a.m. till 1 a.m. and will even feed them meals. And there’s an adults-only deck area where you can relax in the hot tub with a piña colada and not a kid in sight.

Four Seasons Hawaii Hualalai
Hawaii’s Big Island is one of the world’s great natural playgrounds. There are so many fun and educational family activities — from getting up close to molten lava in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to stargazing from Mauna Kea’s astronomical observatory at night — that the only problem with making the Four Seasons your base is that you run the risk of missing it all because you won’t want to leave the property.

Great Wolf Lodges
This chain of indoor water park resorts is a godsend for families in sun-challenged states who want to escape the cold without having to board a plane.

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Orlando, Fla.
The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is such a bargain, considering everything that you get, and because it strikes that nice balance of being convenient to Disney World yet also providing a calm counterpoint to the Disney insanity.

Norwegian Cruise Line
More than on any other cruise line we’ve sailed—and we’ve taken eight cruises—my boys never want to leave the kids’ club on Norwegian. The reason, I’ve figured out, is the social bonds they form with both counselors and other kids as a consequence of Norwegian’s frequent, structured group activities. This was the case on all three Norwegian ships we’ve experienced: the Gem, the Jade, and the Star.

The Reef Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
So your family is clamoring for a trip to Atlantis, the behemoth Bahamian waterpark resort, and you don’t know which of its five hotels to choose. The answer: The Reef.

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, Hawaii
The problem with family-oriented hotels is that all too often they’re giant, charmless, themed megaresorts with plenty to keep kids entertained but also plenty to turn parents’ stomachs. Not The Royal Hawaiian. It allows you to escape a kid-centered circus and unwind in a tasteful, tranquil, very adult oasis, yet with kid-friendly amenities right next door.

Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach, Florida
At the Sandpearl Resort, lots of activities for kids are included in your room rate or, rather, in your daily resort fee: A huge pool with two hot tubs, beach volleyball, Ping-Pong, a human-size chess board, a bean-bag toss game, s’mores on the beach at night, and a giant, fuzzy, huggable turtle named Ridley who shows up at sunset when the kids get to ring the historic dinner bell.

The Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg, Virginia
When I took my kids to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, for spring break last year, my goal was not a hotel that’s a playground for kids. My goal was for my kids to make Colonial Williamsburg itself their playground. So we stayed next door at The Williamsburg Lodge — a decision that paid off when it came to the travel journals my kids created based on their trip as well as subsequent school reports they’ve done on 18th-century America.

Read more about Wendy’s family travel tips and destinations

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