Best Family Beach Vacations

These seaside getaways welcome water wings and diaper bags without skimping on the perks you remember from your pre-kid days.
Family beach vacation

In a world where practically every beach resort promises its guests something to do with the kids, it's hard to know which ones live up to their own hype. So you don't get burned on your next vacation, Parents asked family travel agents and tourism boards to nominate resorts in the United States and the Caribbean that are right on the beach but light on the credit card. We also made sure they have tons of family activities but some adults-only stuff as well. (After all, this is your vacation too!) For each of their 75 picks, we gathered detailed info about their shoreline, the pools, kids' program, restaurants, rooms, and other important info. Our ten winners are water wonderlands, plus each offers a terrific drop-off kids' camp and will help you schedule babysitting (even for infants) if you want some alone or couple time. With rates no higher than $275 a night for a room that sleeps two adults and two small kids, or $475 for an all-inclusive for a family of 4, you might even have money left in your vacation fund.

Number 1: Atlantis

Shark swim at Atlantis

Paradise Island, Bahamas

It really is a kingdom. With 13 pools (three of them specifically for kids), a mind-blowing water park, a great strip of beach, an aquarium that rivals the best in the U.S., and a new camp for kids 3 and up that has more to do than most children's museums, Atlantis is nonstop action. Your family won't want to miss the daily fish feedings (some fish even do somersaults while they're eating). Plan on spending hours at Splashers water-play area -- with rope bridges, water cannons, and spiral slides just for kids under 54 inches tall. Another must: hanging out in the shallow pool with dolphins and sea lions. "It's even safe for parents to bring their 1- and 2-year-olds in the pool with these animals," says Lisa Linden, director of guest activities. Put on your celeb radar -- Ana Ortiz, Carrie Underwood, and Miley Cyrus have been spotted getting cozy with the dolphins.

When you need a breather, book yourself an appointment at the Mandara Spa, then drop off your little campers at the kids' club (three-hour sessions start at $45). Cooking lessons from resort chefs take place daily in the 21-seat, state-of-the art kitchen -- kids even get their names written in chocolate and a recipe card with their picture to take home. They'll also have a blast on the performance stage, where they can put on little skits in costume. Preschoolers will love shopping in a mock grocery store, building in the Lego Construction Zone, and making postcards in the arts & crafts studio.

Spring and summer room rates typically start at $270 per night, but there is a great special through March 15; check it out at atlantis.com.

Family Vacations: Atlantis Paradise Island
Family Vacations: Atlantis Paradise Island

Number 2: The Franklyn D. Resort

Runaway Bay, Jamaica

You get a nanny. When you check into this all-inclusive resort, you're assigned an experienced, CPR-trained sitter for your kids during the day at no charge. With or without you in tow, the nanny will take them to any of the dozens of activities, from crab races to tie-dyeing, soccer matches to cooking lessons, plus the shallow pools and beach. While there's snorkeling, tennis, and other lessons for school-age kids, Franklyn D. focuses on little ones. "About 80 percent of our families have kids 6 and under," says Patrice Doyley, sales manager.

The rooms aren't fancy here, but they are big: Everybody gets a suite with a living room, kitchen, and separate bedroom for the kids. The nanny keeps the fridge stocked. For an extra $6 an hour, she'll hang around at night to take your kids to a buffet with their fave foods while you enjoy your dinner and music in the lounge.

All-inclusive spring and summer rates start at $420 per family per night, add $50 more for each child 6 and over; fdrholidays.com.

Number 3: South Seas Island Resort

Captiva Island, Florida

The beach rocks. Kids can fill up their bucket with perfect rippled or twisty seashells while basking in gentle waves, crystal-clear water, and powdery white sand. In fact, half of the resort is a nature preserve. "We have a naturalist who gives family kayak tours, where kids will likely see dolphins," says Rick Hayduk, general manager. "He also leads family nature walks and gives tours of our nature center."

The wildlife adds to the serene atmosphere of the resort, which has been recently remodeled. Families take a trolley or bikes (pull-behinds and carriages are available) from their room to the pool complex, tennis courts (there are lessons for children 5 and up), restaurants, or new ice-cream shop featuring organic flavors. Another must-stop: The Tiva Kids Club. Although children need to be at least 4 years old to join in the club's treasure hunts and coconut painting, younger ones can hang with their parents in a new toy-filled room just for them.

Spring room rates start at $229 per night and summer ones at $169; southseas.com.

Number 4: Loews Miami Beach Hotel

Pool at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel

Florida

Kids aren't just welcome here -- they're spoiled. It starts at check-in when they go to their own pint-size desk for a list of activities geared to kids 3 and up (outdoor movies, sand-castle contests, water balloon tosses!) plus a little gift. If they're bored at one of the restaurants, the waiter will hand them a Magna Doodle. If they're hot at the pool, frozen grapes and smoothie samples are theirs for the taking. They even have their own play area on the ultra-wide beach, with slides, pails, and all kinds of sand toys.

There's pampering for you too. The hotel has just been remodeled (think Ritz quality at a real-life price), and you can book a beach-side massage or put 4- to 12-year-olds in an evening camp if you want to check out the sushi lounge or South Beach nightlife. Childproofing services, healthy kids' food, and loaner baby equipment should also make your life easier.

Spring and summer room rates start at $249 per night; loewshotels.com.

Number 5: Beaches

Turks and Caicos

Location, location, location. All four Beaches resorts have the Sesame Street gang and a seemingly endless variety of crafts to entertain the kids, but this one is set on 12 miles of white sand in a preserved national park. "Just six feet off the shoreline, the snorkeling is amazing because we have coral reefs out there," says Joel Ryan, entertainment manager. A new Italian Village with family suites and a water-park expansion opened last year. "Little kids love the new wading pool, plus they're wild about the sprinklers and other pop-up water features they can run through," says Ryan. "I've seen families spend hours floating down our new lazy-river ride."

A supervised nursery for babies as young as 4 months as well as themed camps for kids 2 and up are part of the all-inclusive price. Plus, all Beaches locations have counselors who have received training to work with special-needs children. While the kids are having fun, head out to the swim-up pool bar or learn how to windsurf.

All-inclusive spring and summer rates start at $450 per night; beaches.com.

Number 6: Loews Coronado Bay

San Diego

It's as green as it gets. Your family can take part in a tour and mini cleanup of neighboring Silver Strand State Beach. "Rangers show kids rare plants, animals, and mud flats," says Kathleen Cochran, general manager. The resort also has its own herb garden, offers trips to the farmers' market, and buys most of its produce, meat, and fish locally. Even the kids' menu at Mistral -- the chic yet affordable restaurant -- encourages young diners to "adopt a farmer" and gives them a packet of tomato seeds.

A new Pottery Barn Kids camp for 4- to 12-year-olds features GPS-led scavenger hunts and a Harry Potter magic school. While your kids are there, take a gondola ride through the nearby canals or book a Champagne Manicure at the spa. Bringing Baby on the trip? Childproofing supplies and all kinds of gear are yours to borrow.

Spring room rates start at $199 per night and summer at $249; loewshotels.com.

Number 7: Club Med Ixtapa Pacific

Ixtapa, Mexico

It's paradise. The latest of the family-oriented, all-inclusive Club Med locations to get a total makeover -- new pools! new rooms! new restaurants! -- Ixtapa (pronounced eeks-tah-pa) has all of the chain's innovative children's programs. There are kids' lessons for almost any sport you can think of: tennis, kayaking, soccer, archery. And even 2-year-olds can take part in the resort's circus school. The toddlers mainly stick to magic tricks while those 4 and up learn how to walk a tightrope, fly through the air on a trapeze, and juggle. Babies 4 to 23 months get their own nursery with music, developmental toys, and all the gear they need

While the kids are busy, you can sign up for a fitness class, kayaking instructions, or tennis lessons, or plop yourself on the half-mile beach with a good book. The shoreline also features a family palapa (a thatched-roof tiki hut), which lets kids play in the sand without being in the direct sunlight.

Spring and summer all-inclusive rates start at $463 per night; clubmed.us.

Number 8: Hilton Hawaiian Village

Honolulu

An oceanside oasis awaits you. The resort's strip of Waikiki Beach is perfect for kids: clean and warm. Your water babies will want to try out all four pools too, including a new one with sprinklers and slides. Kids will also be delighted to see the resort's African penguins -- you can watch them being fed every morning -- plus flamingos, koi fish, and talking parrots that will sit on your shoulder. In a shaded cabana area, families can create their own leis or take a hula lesson.

If you prefer alone time, kids 5 to 12 can do these activities -- plus learn about Hawaiian history and visit the nearby zoo or aquarium -- in the resort's new Camp Penguin. Make a reservation for the fruit-filled open-air breakfast buffet or treat yourself to a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage at the Mandara Spa. Friday night brings fireworks; on Sunday through Thursday enjoy a luau.

Spring and summer rates start at $189 per night; hiltonhawaiianvillage.com.

Number 9: Winnetu Oceanside Resort

Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard

New England charm abounds here. While you take a free yoga or fitness class, kids as young as 3 can start their day at a free morning activity program with parachute games, scavenger hunts, sand-castle building, and -- the most popular of all -- turtle searches at the pond. "We have so many of them, the kids shriek in delight," says Tammy Moreis, activities director. Afternoons are spent as a family riding the vintage fire trucks, collecting shells, or hanging at the playground that's modeled after a pirate ship. Look for the lemonade and cookies in the lobby to cool off.

Lure, the resort's gourmet restaurant, caters to families with a play area inside where the kids can hang out after finishing their food. Your family can also roast s'mores at night or borrow a game from the lobby. During toddler weeks in early June and September, there are extra activities for infants to 4-year-olds and discounts on rooms.

Spring room rates start at $165 per night and summer ones at $240; winnetu.com.

Number 10: Wild Dunes

Isle of Palms, South Carolina

The beach is the center of the action. On the resort's two-plus miles of lush oceanside property -- about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston -- the recreation staff schedules kite-flying, ecotours of the marshes, crab searches, and seashell hunts. "Families spend a lot of time doing nature activities," says Elizabeth Worrell, marketing communications manager. "For instance, we'll teach them about birds, and then they'll create a bird house." Kids ages 5 to 12 can take part in the drop-off camp.

Sports are big here too. The resort has 17 clay tennis courts (and lessons for the whole family) plus two great golf courses designed by Tom Fazio. Don't miss breakfast at The Lettered Olive, which offers kids a "flight of milk" (chocolate, plain, and strawberry) along with polka-dot pancakes.

Spring and summer room rates start at $199 per night; wilddunes.com.

Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.

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