Parents of young children - get ready to travel. There are many fun family vacation options waiting for you and your kids. We've outlined ten of the best along with the resources you'll need to plan your getaway.
For great vacation values, families with young children should plan to travel during non-holiday periods in the fall and late spring. These are generally low seasons for most destinations, so the crowds are gone and bargains are plentiful. In addition, many resorts offer special packages and deals for families with little ones during these time periods.
In addition, if you're flying and don't want to tote a lot of gear, consider services such as Babies Travel Lite and Jet Set Babies. For tips on traveling with young children, take a look at these pointers on The Family Travel Network.
According to a recent travel agent survey, beaches are the most popular destination for family vacations. When traveling with babies and toddlers, however, it's important to pick a place that's small tot-friendly. Look for beach destinations that have calm waters, lots of clean sand for building sandcastles, and great amenities and attractions for families. The Family Travel Network reviews family beach regularly and provides a wealth of resources on this topic. Spots such as Fripp Island, South Carolina, Captiva Island, Florida and Kauai's Poipu Beach are great for small children because of their protected shallow ocean areas, tidal pools and gently lapping waves.
Many families and friends rent large vacation homes at the beach to save money and provide built-in playmates and babysitters. Check the Vacation Rental Managers Association, HomeAway.com, VRBO, Redweek, and FlipKey for more information and options. Marriott Vacation Club also offers spacious villa accommodations in beach resort settings for families seeking kitchens and room to spread out. If you're looking for a deal on a last-minute beach getaway, check out PackLate.com.
Beach resorts are also catering to families of young children with special packages. For instance, Florida's Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort offers a free Baby Butler program, eliminating the need to pack bulky diapers and supplies. The resort also features a kid-friendly Tiki pool and a pristine white sand beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico. Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic also offers programs for babies and toddlers, including a vacation nanny option.
Cruise lines are catering to families with expansive indoor and outdoor play areas, children's programs, and a variety of fun-filled activities aboard their ships. These floating resorts are good vacation choices for families with babies and toddlers. Parents appreciate the value cruises offer and the fact that most vacation costs are included. The key, however, is to determine which cruise lines and ships offer the amenities that will best meet your family's needs.
It's important to note that there are minimum age restrictions on cruise ships. Children must be at least 6 months of age to cruise on Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. For Disney, babies must be at least 3 months old. Some lines require infants to be at least one year old for trans-ocean crossings and specific types of itineraries. Check with the cruise line or your travel agent.
The best cruise lines for families with young children are Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean. Disney Cruise Line is the acknowledged leader in cruise vacations for families with babies and toddlers. Their ships offer Flounder's Reef Nursery for children from 12 weeks to 36 months of age, large family-sized staterooms, and a free Oceaneer Club children's program for kids 3 and up. The ships feature Disney-themed kids pools and there's also a water play area for children who are still in diapers. Royal Caribbean also has a nursery available on their Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas ships.
Not every cruise line or ship offers all of these amenities. While Royal Caribbean has a small toddler pool for kids in diapers on their Freedom- and Oasis-class ships, Carnival Cruise Line does not. It's important to research what's available on each ship you're considering.
Tot-friendly theme parks provide a fun, affordable way for families with little ones to make great vacation memories and spend time together. There's a wide variety of options to match every budget, from destination parks such as Disney and Legoland to smaller ones closer to home.
Walt Disney World is always high on parents' lists of family-friendly vacation and the parks cater to families with babies and toddlers. The parks' Baby Care Centers are perfect for families with little ones. The Centers offer restrooms with child-sized toilets, a nursing room, changing tables, a feeding area with high chairs and bottle warmers for wee ones, and much more. Stroller rentals are also available. The parks' rider swap policy, allowing family members with young children to ride attractions with minimal wait times, is very popular. For more good suggestions on visiting Walt Disney World with little ones, check out Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers by Lisa Battista.
Another popular park for families with babies and toddlers is Pennsylvania's Sesame Place. Parents often choose Sesame Place for their child's first theme park visit because it's based entirely on the Sesame Street television show and designed specifically for families with young children.
For tips on visiting a theme park with your kids, visit the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions website.
Ranch and Farm Vacations
What could be more fun than pony rides, feeding farm animals and playing outdoors? For many toddlers, that sounds like heaven. If your tot is one of these, head for a farm or ranch resort on your next vacation. Ranch resorts often feature a variety of activities in addition to pony rides, such a children's programs, kids pools and indoor waterparks, arts and crafts, babysitting, and a variety of outdoor activities. Petting zoos and other outdoor attractions can also be great for little ones.
New Hampshire's Inn at East Hill Farm is a popular choice for farm vacations. The Inn offers farm family weekends from September through June. These weekends are packed with recreation and farm activities for kids of all ages.
Rocking Horse Ranch has a comprehensive nursery program and a wide range of play options for little ones. Colorado's Snow Mountain Ranch is a favorite for family reunions. Other good choices for families with small children include Arkansas' Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Bluffdale Vacation Farm in Illinois, Ridin' Hy Ranch Resort in New York's Adirondacks, and Bar Lazy J Ranch in Colorado. For more information on a wide variety of approved dude ranch resorts, visit The Dude Ranchers' Association.
All-inclusive resorts are one of the fastest growing segments of the vacation industry and are particularly popular with families. After all, it's comforting to know exactly how much your vacation is going to cost before you purchase it. In addition, some all-inclusive resorts offer the most extensive amenities for families with babies and toddlers. These include such services as Vacation Nannies, waterparks with special features for little ones, free children's programs, family suites with separate kids rooms, gourmet meal programs for babies and more.
At Jamaica's all-inclusive FDR Resorts, a vacation nanny is assigned to each family vacationing at their condominium-style properties and a wide range of children's activities are available. Beaches Resorts also offer certified nannies as part of their Parents in a Pinch program along with Sesame Street kids programs, family suites, Crayola Art Camps and more. Club Med offers a Baby Welcome Program and the Baby Club Med program for children ages 4 to 23 months at resorts in Florida, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and France. Petit Club Med for children 2-3 years old is also available. Almond Beach Village in Barbados is another great choice for families with babies and toddlers, offering nursery care for children ages 0-23 months and a mini-club for tots ages 2-4. SuperClubs' Breezes Resorts offer vacation options for families with young children as well. At Breezes Curacao, professional nannies staff the nursery for infants and toddlers up to 2 years old with Kids Club programs for older children. In Jamaica, Breezes Trelawny cares for children ages 6 months and up at their Kids Club.
With its Toddler & Baby inclusive program, the Azul Hotels by Karisma are also great choices for families with little ones - particularly the Azul Beach Hotel with its wide variety of baby gear. The Azulitos Kid's Club features a Fisher-Price educational play program and the resorts offer Gourmet Gerber, an all-inclusive meal program for babies. For more insights on great all-inclusives for babies and toddlers, visit Vacation Kids.
Indoor Water Parks
Kids love water, so it's no surprise that hotels and resorts with waterparks are incredibly popular with families. According to a study by Hotel Waterpark Resort Research and Consulting, the number of indoor waterpark resorts grew by more than 225% during a recent five-year period and more are under construction. Parents love the self-contained nature of these indoor waterparks and there are many areas where babies and toddlers can splash around safely.
The country's largest chain of indoor waterpark resorts Great Wolf Lodge, offers a number of amenities that appeal to families with young children including a Club Paw Pool, story time, an evening clock tower show, free life jackets, and other activities. KeyLime Cove in Gurnee, Illinois, has many attractions for little ones including Lil' Limers, a play pond area just for small children, stories and entertainment by the Leapin' Lizards staff, and more. Other popular waterpark resorts include Kalahari Resorts, CoCo Key Water Resorts and Castaway Bay.
Many families used to think of mountain resorts solely for snow fun, but not any more. Many of these vacation spots offer four seasons of family fun as well as special amenities for their youngest guests. During the summer and fall months, mountain resorts can offer incredible values. In addition, these resorts are a self-contained vacation destination where everything is within easy reach.
Vermont's Smugglers' Notch is perennially named as one of the nation's top mountain resorts for families. The Smugglers' Notch Treasures child care center cares for children as young as six weeks of age year-round and a wide variety of kids' and family-oriented programs are offered at the resort. Utah's Deer Valley Resort is another family favorite with excellent programs for young children.
Many ski resorts offer child care for infants and toddlers during the winter months. Dan Sherman of Ski.com, a good resource for planning mountain vacations, also suggests such resorts as Aspen/Snowmass, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Steamboat for families with little ones.
Even the smallest children are thrilled by nature. Take your little ones to a place where wildlife is abundant, such as Assateague Island, Virginia or Sanibel Island, Florida. Assateague Island National Seashore features over 37 miles of beaches and more than 300 wild ponies roam the area. The much loved children's book, Misty of Chincoteague, chronicles the true story of a pony that was born here.
With its lovely white sand beaches and abundant shells, Sanibel Island is also a great destination for families with small children. In addition, two-thirds of the island is set aside as a nature preserve. Children of all ages are thrilled by everyday sights of roseate spoonbills, eagles, armadillos, and dolphins. Sanibel is also a fun for bike riders, and bike and tot trailers are readily available from many bike rental shops.
With their calm waters and multitude of attractions for families, lake destinations are also wonderful choices for fun with the little ones. Kids can enjoy picnics, collecting shells, playing on the beach, learning how to fish, and wading in the shallow waters.
The Family Travel Network provides detailed information on 15 of the best lake vacation destinations for families. Some favorites include Maryland's Deep Creek Lake, Georgia's Lake Lanier, Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Ohio's Lake Erie Shores.
Lake Tahoe is another popular spot year-round for families with little ones. The Kidszone Museum in Truckee provides fun activities for infants and toddlers and lake cruises are also entertaining. During the winter months, sleigh rides and dog sledding provide lots of excitement.
For a wonderful all-inclusive lake getaway, take a look at the all-inclusive Tyler Place Family Resort. The resort is fabulous for families and caters particularly well to parents of infants and toddlers. The Tyler Place provides an Infant & Toddler program as well as caregivers and Parents' Helpers to give parents time alone as well as time together as a family.
Cities are loaded with attractions for families with babies and toddlers, such as zoos, aquariums, children's museums and more. In addition, there are so many tot-friendly hotels and restaurants from which to choose.
Cities such as Washington, D.C., Jacksonville, Florida and San Diego, California are particularly popular. Washington's museums are free of charge and feature kid-captivating displays such as the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History's dinosaur exhibits and the Air and Space Museum's spacecraft and planes. San Diego is filled with tot-pleasing attractions such as Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Balboa Park, and lovely Coronado Beach.
When choosing lodging, look for all-suites properties such as Homewood Suites and Embassy Suites that offer kitchens and places to relax while the children are sleeping. City-based destination resorts with lots of attractions, such as Gaylord Hotels, can also be a good bet.