25 Vacation Spots for Families with Big Kids
Keystone Resort, Colorado
Snow-tubing in shorts? Sign us up! This mountaintop paradise about 90 miles west of the Denver airport, brings the white stuff from its mountain peaks to its high-altitude tubing trails (for kids 42 inches and up) all summer. The temps average 70°F, but there’s still plenty of snow for sledding. Rooms are a lot cheaper than in ski season and adventures like biking clinics, fly-fishing, and white-water rafting abound. Summer rates are usually a fraction of the peak-season prices.
Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Arizona
If you’re searching for an all- inclusive with a drop-off camp your tweens will look forward to, put this dude ranch, on your bucket list. “My four kids, ages 7 to 12, couldn’t believe how much time they got with the horses—riding, grooming, feeding, and even helping to bathe them,” says Amber Marmian, founder of the blog Global Munchkins. “The wranglers are also excellent at matching the horse with the child.” While the kids are happy, you can ride plus enjoy tennis, mountain biking, hiking, and fishing. Rates start at about $4,000 for a six-night stay for two adults and two kids ages 4 to 11, including all meals, the kids’ club, and most activities.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Take a family camping trip to a new level at this popular national park. The largest of five campgrounds, Moraine Park, is surrounded by a pine forest; it’s just a few miles west of the Beaver Meadows entrance on the park’s east side. “Your family will likely see elk and deer,” says public-affairs officer Kyle Patterson. The campground offers 244 sites, and can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet long. Electric outlets and solar shower stalls are available in the bathrooms (pick up a 5-gallon bag for water on amazon.com). Campers gather in the amphitheater for nighttime ranger activities. In fact, Rocky Mountain’s Junior Ranger program for 6- to 12-year-olds is one of the most extensive of the national-park system, offering opportunities to earn a pin plus astronomy and firefighting badges. Camping reservations are accepted six months in advance. Got a fourth-grader? Your whole family can enter any national park for free all year long. Print out a pass at everykidinapark.gov.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Ease your reluctant adventurers into a national-park trip by spending the first night or two in this Wild West town. They won’t be able to resist lasso games, mechanical-bull rides, and sheep chasing (yep, that’s a thing) at the Jackson Hole Rodeo. White-water rafting down the Snake River with Mad River Boat Trips (ages 6 and up) will also help them forget about the YouTube videos they’re missing.
From Jackson Hole, drive about 125 miles to Yellowstone, where the earth is oozing, bubbling, or bursting along practically every hiking trail. “If that doesn’t motivate kids to forget about how long they’re walking, the animals will,” says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, the family-vacations expert at About.com. “My kids were so excited when they saw elk, bison, prairie dogs, eagles, and even vultures.” Her family stayed at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel; other options include four reservation-only campgrounds and the Fishing Bridge RV park near the Yellowstone River. The park offers about 340 sites with full hookups for electricity, water, and sewer for hard-sided RVs up to 40 feet long.
The Plantation on Crystal River, Florida
What’s cooler than snorkeling? Snorkeling alongside manatees. About 90 miles northwest of Orlando, this resort offers a three-hour family trip to Kings Bay, where West Indian manatees hang out all year long. Kids must wear the loaner wet suit (available in size 6 and up) to take part. Stay awhile so you’ll have enough time for other resort activities like kayaking and fishing and to explore Crystal River Preserve State Park.
Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore, Hawaii
For wannabe surfers: The three-hour Keiki Waterman Adventure at this family-friendly resorton Oahu, gives 7- to 14-year-olds a chance to try tandem surfing, outrigger canoeing, and stand-uppaddle boarding with help from pros. They’ll head to Kawela Bay, a quiet area of the resort where Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hunger Games were filmed. Use your kid-free time for mountain biking, golfing, or hanging by the pool. When you’re all back together, drive to Matsumoto Shave Ice and then do it all again the next day. The nearby Polynesian Cultural Center offers an amazing luau plus stand-up paddle-boarding and ukulele lessons.
TradeWinds Island Resorts, St. Pete Beach, Florida
A floating water park in the Gulf of Mexico sounds like a kids’ fantasy, but it’s the real deal. The giant inflatables are about 60 feet from shore and contain a climbing wall, trampoline, balance beam, and side-by-side slides. Your kid can slide right into the warm gulf waters! Children need to be at least 40 inches tall to enter the floating park (they swim out) and 46 inches to go in without an adult. “The resort supplies life jackets—and lifeguards make sure the kids are wearing them—so I felt good letting my kids, ages 7, 11, and 12, play while I watched from the beach,” says Marisa Langford, who blogs at Adventures of TampaMama. Pack lots of sunscreen because a 200-foot inflatable water slide on the beach, stand-up paddle boarding, two ocean-side heated activity pools, and kayaking will keep your mini thrill seeker active for the entire trip.
Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas
Your big kid won’t find anything lame about playing in the water at this Caribbean paradise. The massive Mayan Temple houses five wild water slides—two of which send swimmers (48 inches and up) through a clear acrylic tunnel that’s submerged in a shark-filled lagoon. The other slides are perfect for riding with besties, sibs, or even you. “My 10-year-old liked racing her dad on the Mayan Temple’s Challenger Slide—at the bottom, riders can check the time clocks so there’s no doubt about who won,” says Lisa Goodmurphy, founder of the blog Gone With the Family.
Cape Canaveral, Florida
Watch a real rocket launch, ask an astronaut a question, take an eight-minute simulated shuttle ride, and check out the space shuttle Atlantis—all on your family’s trip to the Kennedy SpaceCenter Visitor Complex. If you have a true space junkie, you’ll need at least two days to see everything. Round out your trip to Florida’s Space Coast with a trip to the Brevard Zoo (40 new flamingos) and Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures. Spend the night at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cocoa Beach.
Bring your Brownie or help organize a troop trip to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace museum. A recent remodel of the home of the Girl Scout founder has made it more hands-on, offering interactive tables, videos, and a Poe-Tree (a place to read and write poems) plus displays of past uniforms and cookie boxes.
The Atlanta Braves’ new home, SunTrust Park, is the only Major League stadium with a concourse where kids can pitch, hit, and test their base-running speed plus zoom down a zip line and up a climbing tower. Use the Braves app to reserve a time slot. Get your tickets for a Sunday, when all kids are invited to run the bases on the team’s infield after the game. Other activities to check out in town include the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Zoo (baby panda twins!), and an Atlanta movie tour (with stops featured in Hunger Games and Captain America: Civil War). Stay at the Omni Hotel at The Battery, which is in the ballpark’s backyard.
Is your kid obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack? Show her where “the world turned upside down.” At the Yorktown Battlefield, families can take a 45-minute tour to see fortifications, tents, and canyons in the fields where the British surrendered. Then visit the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. You might hear, “Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!” as your kid sees a bust of the Marquis de Lafayette. Continue your trip with stops at Jamestown Settlement (kids can climb aboard recreations of three ships that sailed from England to Virginia) and Colonial Williamsburg (tour the Governor’s Palace and nearby gardens). Buy an America’s Historic Triangle ticket, which covers admission to all these attractions.
Balance the historical attractions with a trip to Busch Gardens (there’s a new wooden coaster for kids 46 inches and up), guided horseback riding tour at Lakewood Trails (age 7 and up), and round of mini golf at Pirates Cove Adventure Golf. Stay in one of the condos at Kingsmill Resort, which offers a playground, spa with treatments for the whole family, and pool complex with a lazy river, slide, and pop-up water features.
Your family’s first trip across the pond will be more affordable this summer thanks to a good exchange rate. Check out the iconic London activities like double-decker bus rides, the changing of the guard, The London Eye, and Kensington Palace. You can find discounts on attraction using a London Pass. Add a few free museums to the list: The British Museum (game-design workshops plus Egyptian artifacts), Natural History Museum (for your dinosaur fan), and Tate Modern (create digital drawings). Tour Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and when they impress their English Lit teacher in a few years, you’ll thank us. See a show at The Globe (Hamlet and As You Like It are among those playing this summer) or on the West End—even full-price tickets to The Lion King, Matilda, Wicked, and Aladdin, cost far less in London than in New York City.
Stay at a hotel in a great location. Near the London Eye and Big Ben, the newly renovated London Marriott Hotel County Hall is one of just a handful of city hotels with a pool; kids under age 12 eat for free in the restaurant. If you’re looking for a smaller, boutique hotel, try the Montague on the Gardens located near the British Museum. It Kids Go Free package includes free dining for children under age 12, plus there are all kinds of thoughtful amenities for little ones ranging from baby monitors to loaner board games.
For tweens, Los Angeles is all about seeing stars and going to In-N-Out Burger for the first time. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is 1.3 unshaded miles, so go to the Walk of Fame site to note the location of a favorite celebrity. From there, hop on a Starline Tour to see movie locations. Set aside several hours for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood (8 and up). A guide will zoom your clan and other families around the back lot, pointing out where, for instance, The Big Bang Theory is filmed, and letting you off a few times to see a working set, a prop house, and memorabilia, like the Batmobiles. Try to snag tickets to be in the audience during a TV show taping; TV Tickets posts about two months in advance and notes the minimum age. Stay down the street from the Brady Bunch house at The Garland hotel; it offers family suites.
New York City
The Big Apple will be #trending this summer thanks to new activities and eats. In Times Square, visit Gulliver’s Gate with its 1,000+ model train cars and other miniatures and grab a flower-shaped gelato at Amorino Gelato Al Naturale or cookie-dough treats at Cookie DÓ NYC. Take in a Broadway show like Disney’s Frozen The Musical (age 6+) or Anastasia The Musical (age 7+). Hop on the ferry to Governors Island to see The Hills, a park with hill slides. Stay at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, near Central Park, which offers several family packages, including one with American Girl Place.
Raleigh, North Carolina
You know D.C. has fantastic and free Smithsonian museums. But Raleigh also offers Smithsonian options, focusing on natural science, art, and history. Highlights include slime-making, Egyptian art, and a sculpture-filled park. Stay at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel, which is located in an outdoor lifestyle center with a farmers’ market on Saturdays.
For kids who have read The Diary of Anne Frank, Amsterdam is a fantastic side trip from London or Paris. It’s just a few hours away thanks to the high-speed Eurostar train. The Anne Frank House includes the 15-year-old author’s famous hiding place behind a bookcase and a display of the original diary she wrote in. Exhibits showcase the impact of her life and book. Be sure to book your ticket on-line in advance of your trip; otherwise, the wait to get in may be hours. School-age kids will also appreciate the Van Gogh Museum and Vondelpark (the city’s equivalent to New York City’s Central Park). Save time to bike—there are bike lanes and rentals all over town. Stay at the Pulitzer Amsterdam, a few blocks away from the Anne Frank House, offering family suites with bunk beds, a playground, and board games.
Attractions in the Windy City are close to each other so you can split up for a bit if your family has different interests. The American Girl Place store and café is near the Art Institute of Chicago (Impressionists galore plus Warhol, free for ages 13 and under) and the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium are within steps of each other. Stay at Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown or Palmer House, A Hilton Hotel.
Oh the places you can take your Dr. Seuss fan! The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, about a half-hour north of Hartford, Connecticut, offers interactive exhibits that encourage reading. You can also snap Instagram-worthy shots of your reader with The Cat In the Hat, Horton, and more at the free Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Stay at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island, San Antonio, Texas
Families with special needs, take note: The country’s first fully-accessible water park is open. Loaner waterproof wheelchairs make geysers, dumping buckets, and riverboats fun for all. Buy a ticket (it’s free for guests with special needs) that includes admission to its accessible theme park, Morgan’s Wonderland.
Universal Orlando Resort
If your kid is ready for thrill rides, he’ll have a blast spending a couple of days turning upside, spinning around, and sliding down attraction after attraction. The most popular park sections, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, offer themed coasters plus rides through Hogwarts Castle (48” and up) and Gringotts Bank (42” and up) that aren’t for the faint of heart. Hop on the Hogwarts Express with a “Chocolate Frog” (well, duh) to travel between the sections.
Elsewhere in the parks, save time for two new rides—the Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Skull Island: The Reign of Kong Ride. Plan to spend one day at the Volcano Bay water park. Five attractions, including two body slides with twin trapdoors are built into the 200-foot volcano that erupts water. A multidirectional wave pool with sandy beaches and a lazy river are also among the park’s 18 attractions. A high-tech wristband will work in conjunction with a Virtual Line System so you spend more time playing and less time waiting. You can buy a multi-day ticket that covers both theme parks and water park. Stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which offers family suites, two massive pools, and a bowling alley.
Niagara Falls, Canada
It’s really not a tourist trap! The parks in front of the falls are gorgeous, rainbows pop up all the time, and the Hornblower Cruise that takes you under the falls and gets your poncho-clad family soaked is selfie-worthy. And so is the nearby Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory where more than 2,000 tropical butterflies fly freely among lush tropical plants in this indoor oasis. If you’re lucky, one will land on you. Beat the crowds and take a half hour ride to Niagara on the Lake, a beautiful town dotted with fun shops to explore. It’s also home to the Shaw Festival, which features plays (including some kid-friendly options) in four theatres in town. Back in Niagara Falls, spend the night at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Campground offers cabins, tent sites, and RV hookups, or stay at the Sheraton On the Falls. Many rooms have fantastic views of the waterfalls.
Thanks to a fantastic exchange rate, Toronto is more affordable for Americans this summer. And its attractions are world-class: You’d be hard-pressed to find a science museum in the U.S. that’s cooler than the Ontario Science Centre. Dinner at CN Tower’s revolving restaurant will be a meal that your kids will tell their friends about. A trip to Casa Loma, with its majestic gardens, secret passages, and climbable towers, will make your kid feel like a princess! Ontario Place, a waterfront park, recently re-opened.
Stay at the Chelsea Hotel, where kids have a check-in desk.
Prince Edward Island, Canada
If you’re looking for a relaxing trip to help the whole family unplug, this is it. Spend your days outdoors in scenery that looks like it’s from a painting. The beautiful beaches offer fishing and water sports, much of the island is bikeable, and you can visit nearby farms and country markets. Another big draw: Anne of the Green Gables. The plot of classic chapter book takes place on the island. See Green Gables Heritage Place (charming house and grounds that inspired the book), Avonlea Village (for costumed characters); and Anne of Green Gables—The Musical (runs from June 18 to September 22, 2018.) Find a family-friendly vacation rental on Airbnb or look for rentals or hotels on Tourismpei.
Its festival is the best place to introduce your kids to Shakespeare; Romeo and Juliet performs through October (from $12.50)