If you've ever come away from an overcrowded island resort feeling like you need another vacation, these five under-the-radar destinations are calling for you. Our advice? Let them.
From a Canadian glamping retreat in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to the Caribbean's best-kept secret, this list defies the family resort clichés and will make your next island escape something truly worthy of your precious vacation time.
You don't have to travel to Africa to have a wild safari experience. A 45-minute seaplane ride from Vancouver, the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort's exotic locale inside a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve makes it the most spectacular glamping getaway in North America. Families sleep in luxurious tents—replete with thermostat-controlled wood stoves, opulent rugs, oil lamps, and private outdoor showers—and there are seemingly endless ways to spend a day. Operating from mid-May through September, the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort can pack a summer's worth of camp into a weekend with activities such as whale watching, sailing, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, archery, mountain biking, zip lining, and surfing. Not to mention the spa, daily yoga classes, and wood-fired hot tubs and saunas. Situated on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in a coastal temperate rainforest, the area provides phenomenal wildlife viewing with more than 300 vertebrate species such as black bear, cougar, mink, and grey wolf. But even with all the non-stop action available, families may find themselves happiest relaxing on their tent's private deck, surrounded by stress-relieving views of the estuary and Bedwell River.
A 15-minute boat ride across the glistening Venetian lagoon will transport you to the famous floating city; that's if you even want to leave the private car-free island of Isola delle Rose. With 40 acres of safe open space to run free among 100 olive trees, rose gardens, a beautiful Romanesque Revival church, and a century-old park, kids won't realize there isn't a beach—and parents won't miss it, what with the stunning waterfront spa, rooftop pool, and Michelin-starred Dopolavoro restaurant. In addition to a kid's club for 4- to 12-year-olds, a fleet of bicycles, and a newly enlarged family pool area, the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa's enriching activities are far more fun than fighting the tourists in St. Mark's Square: kids can pick vegetables in the on-site garden as part of a pizza cooking class, create their own carnival-inspired masks with a local artisan, or take a scenic trip over to Murano to watch master glass-blowers demonstrate their craft.
Off the coast of Hilton Head is a bridge-less, car-free barrier island that will win you over before you even get there. On the 30-minute ferry ride, expect to sit next to one of the 200 year-round Daufuskians who'll strike up a conversation like you're already friends—and it won't be long before you're having sundowners on their veranda and play dates on the surprisingly empty driftwood-dappled beaches. The lush, untamed setting has a Where the Wild Things Are feel (just swap monsters for alligators and armadillos). Residents travel by golf cart, and everyone comes together to volunteer on an eight-acre organic community farm with baby goats and roaming guinea fowl. Eco-friendly resort-like Haig Point offers a Discovery Experience package that includes charming rooms at the Strachan Mansion or 1873 Lighthouse, meals prepared by a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, a family pool area, and activities ranging from kayaking and horseback riding to an adventure with Tour Daufuskie, which showcases the five-mile-long island's rich history, culture, and vast array of wildlife and plant species. Kids will enjoy learning about maritime forest edibles such as sassafras, a natural pain reliever that's used in root beer and smells like Fruit Loops. While winding around the narrow tree-lined roads in your own electric golf cart, stops must be made for Lucy Bell's banana bread pudding, the world-renowned Iron Fish Gallery, and the Old Daufuskie Crab Company, where families like to play corn hole and catch the magic hour while dining on Daufuskie Devil Crab and a basket of fried fresh-off-the-boat shrimp.
No place nails the family vacation quite like a Caribbean island, but Dominica takes escapism to a whole new level. The "Nature Island" has striking black and white sand beaches, 365 rivers, and 300 miles of hiking trails amid lush rainforests that are sure to get little ones excited about the great outdoors. On the southeast coast, kids can participate in a sea turtle program, releasing baby turtles and welcoming leatherbacks at eco wellness destination Rosalie Bay, tucked beneath the foothills of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site with high-drop waterfalls, hot springs, five volcanoes, and the second largest boiling lake in the world. Or experience the rugged edge-of-the-Earth beauty of Dominica's northeastern corner with a stay in Calibishie Cove's 1,500-square-foot penthouse, which includes a private plunge pool and wraparound balcony, perched 80 feet above Hodges Bay Beach. After lunching on local creole delicacies like coconut-infused crayfish and oxtail stew at Poz restaurant, explore nearby Red Rock Haven beach and Point Baptiste that you'll have all to yourself no matter the season.
Often overshadowed by Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Block Island is considered to be one of the 12 "Last Great Places" in the Western Hemisphere, according to The Nature Conservancy. Situated a 30-minute ferry ride off the coast of Rhode Island, this unassuming "Island of the little gods" has retained its offbeat vibe despite a wave of hip newcomers like The Darius Inn, a design-conscious, family-friendly hotel with direct beach access, discounts on bike rentals, a big homey backyard, and delicious frittatas and peanut-butter-banana cookies. At the south end of Crescent Beach, bring a picnic—and the Ocean State's famed Del's Frozen Lemonade—to the well-sheltered stretch of sand known as Baby Beach, where you'll likely meet local families splashing in the calm, shallow waters. Beyond the island's 17 miles of pristine beaches, there's Clay Head Preserve's 150-acre birding paradise, the staggering clay cliffs at Mohegan Bluffs, and the quaint shops and seafood restaurants like Eli's and Beachhead that dot the main drag along Water Street. A trip isn't complete without a scoop of homemade ice cream from Aldo's and a visit to the Abrams Animal Farm to coo with the llamas, emus, sheep, donkeys, and camels.