Bahamas, Barbados, Mexico, and US Virgin Islands
Courtesy of Bougainvillea Beach resort, Barbados
Just 55 miles off the Florida coast, the Bahamas are an easy trip with kids, says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, managing editor of MiniTime, a family-travel website.
Sand Sanctuaries In Nassau on Paradise Island, Atlantis resort is home to a supervised club for kids ages 3 to 12 featuring cooking lessons, a stage, a walk-in dollhouse, and a Lego construction room. The resort also offers a water park (with a pirate ship for the under-6 set), dolphin encounters, and babysitting. (Rates start at $199 per night. Book between March 1 and 31 for travel between May 1 and July 31 at atlantis.com/parents to get a free rock-climbing session and 2-for-1 pricing at the kids' club.) On Grand Bahama Island, stay at the beachfront Grand Lucayan in Freeport. A camp for kids ages 3 to 12 and a nursery for younger ones give you free time to hit the golf course or spa. (Spring and summer rates for a room with two beds start at $135 per night; grandlucayan.com.)
Side Trips In Nassau, take the 60-minute Graycliff Chocolatier Factory Tour, where families make some treats ($50 for adults, $35 for kids under 11; graycliff.com).
The island with strong British roots is one of the most versatile in the Caribbean. "There are resorts for all budgets and while the beaches are tremendous for families, the nature preserves in the middle of the island are intriguing," says Ryan Ver Berkmoes, coordinating author of Lonely Planet's Caribbean Guide.
Sand Sanctuaries On the South Coast just five minutes from the capital of Bridgetown, The Hilton Barbados Resort offers a great seafront location with calm waters, a drop-off club for kids ages 4 to 12, and a children's pool. (Spring rates for a room with two beds start at $299 per night. Summer rates start at $179 per night; hiltoncaribbean.com.) If you want a little more room, consider the Bougainvillea Beach Resort, which offers one-bedroom suites with a master bedroom and a sofa bed in the living room for the kids. A drop-off club for kids ages 3 to 12, three pools, and babysitting are among the perks. (Spring rates for a deluxe one-bedroom suite start at $318 per night. Summer rates start at $281 per night. Use the code PARENTSSAVE20% to receive the discount for stays of five nights or more; bougainvillearesort.com.)
Side Trips See peacocks, parrots, and green monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve ($12 for adults, $6 for kids 3 to 12, free for younger kids; barbados.org/reserve) across the road from Farley Hill National Park. Another must-do: Harrison's Cave. Board a tram that takes you underground past streams and waterfalls ($25 for adults, $13 for kids 12 and under), or kids 5 to 12 can go on a Junior Explorers tour with nature packs ($10; harrisonscave.com).
Sure, Mexico is not technically part of the Caribbean, but the Riviera Maya does border the Caribbean Sea. "This area, which is less crowded than other parts of the country, has lovely beaches and lots of family-friendly resorts," suggests Eileen Ogintz, founder of TakingTheKids.com.
Sand Sanctuaries The all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya has a drop-off club for kids 4 to 12 and babysitting services. A family play area for younger ones in partnership with HIT Entertainment (think: Angelina Ballerina, Thomas & Friends, and Bob the Builder) opened a few months ago. (Spring and summer rates start at $200 per night per adult for rooms with two beds, free for kids under 12; hrhrivieramaya.com.) For a lower-key adventure, try the all-inclusive Azul Beach Hotel, which offers free canopy beach beds (perfect for a toddler who needs to nap while older kids are still playing in the sand), a drop-off club that features pi?ata-making and other crafts for kids ages 4 to 12, and family Spanish lessons. (Rates start at $252 per night per adult, $120 per child ages 3 to 12, free for younger kids. Use code AZULPARENTS when booking from March 1, 2014 to June 30, 2014 for stays between May 1 and September 30 to receive a 40 percent discount on any Azul Hotel; karismahotels.com.)
Side Trips Check out Xcaret, a Disney-esque water-themed eco park. Kids can watch live shows (such as Mexican rodeos and Mayan ball games), walk through a butterfly pavilion, and take a guided nature tour ($89 for adults, $45 for kids 5 to 11, free for younger kids; xcaret.com).
10. U.S. Virgin Islands
The other Caribbean destination on our list that doesn't require a passport, the U.S. Virgin Islands are a great mix of the foreign and the familiar. "St. Thomas is easier to fly into and less expensive, but St. John and St. Croix offer more local culture," says McCarthy. "Since there is easy, inexpensive ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John, and boats to St. Croix, which is about 40 miles away, choose the resort you want to stay at and go island hopping."
Sand Sanctuaries The recently renovated Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas wows kids with a splash zone, an oceanfront pool, and a club for ages 3 to 12 with pirate-lore storytelling. Babysitting is available. (Spring and summer rates start at $224 per night with the "Family Island Adventure" package, which includes a room with two beds plus a $200 credit in the Adventure Center for swimming with the turtles, paddleboarding, yoga, kayak tours, or other activities; frenchmansreefmarriott.com). On the neighboring island, the newly renovated Westin St. John Resort & Villas has a great location, a drop-off club for kids 3 to 12, family activities such as coconut bowling and hermit-crab racing, and free kayak rentals and snorkeling gear. (Spring rates start at $439 per night for a room with two beds. Summer rates start at $369 per night; westinresortstjohn.com.)
Side Trips In St. Thomas visit Coral World Ocean Park, where kids can feed the stingrays, watch a sea-lion show, and for an extra fee get an up-close encounter ($19 per adult, $10 for kids 12 and under for regular admission; $86 per adult, $77 per child for admission plus the sea-lion encounter and coral world; coralworldvi.com). On St. John, don't miss the Cinnamon Bay area of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park; it has a level, paved nature trail, a beautiful beach with lots of fish to see, picnic tables, and restrooms.
Originally published in the March 2014 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.