Hotels and Cruises Where Kids Are King
Planning a great family vacation means plenty of quality time with the kids. But there still may be times when you want to head your separate ways to indulge in private time or have fun with peers. The most family-friendly resorts and cruise ships have you covered with kids programs that offer age-appropriate fun in a supervised setting while Mom and Dad grab time in the fitness center or spa, on the golf course, or maybe with a cocktail at the bar.
Looking for a guaranteed win-win on your next family vacation? Click through to find the cream of the crop of kids clubs.
Tyler Place Family Resort
This all-inclusive family camp-style resort in the northwest corner of Vermont has the best hotel children's program we've ever encountered. A day at the Tyler Place allows for kids to have fun with kids, grown-ups to have fun together, and also for families to spend quality time together. There are 10 age-staggered groups from newborns through young adults, each with its own clubhouse and super-low counselor-to-child ratios. Each age group has its own schedule of activities. Kids learn to play old stalwarts like Capture the Flag and Kick the Can, go swimming in the lake, play on the giant water trampoline, and go kayaking and boating. There are craft projects, nature outings, and scavenger hunts. In the evening group, there are movie nights and pizza parties. In other words, they have a terrific week at camp.
The problem with many hotel kids programs is simply that kids quickly outgrow them. No chance of that happening at the Tyler Place. The majority of families return year after year because the children's program grows with your child. As they move up through the age groups, kids get exposed to progressively more grown-up and daring activities.
Disney Cruise Line
While most cruise ships these days offer some sort of kids club, the fun factor can vary considerably depending on the cruise line. As you might expect, the children's programs on Disney Cruise Line's four ships go the extra mile to blend fun activities with immersive experiences that integrate Disney's vast trove of characters and assets. Ships feature lavish Oceaneer Club areas and separate, interactive Oceaneer Labs where kids can conduct crazy science experiments, express their creative sides through art projects, or take a cooking class. Highlights include:
- On the Disney Dream, the Oceaneer Club for kids age 3 to 12 includes a replica of the interior of the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo's iconic spaceship. The highly themed space is surrounded by interactive panels with over one thousand LED lights and hundreds of buttons and levers.
- Marvel Days at Sea is a special day-long celebration aboard select sailings on the Disney Magic, whose many onboard attractions include the AquaDunk water slide. Families can take part in numerous Marvel-themed activities during this special event, which is included in the Disney Cruise Fare.
- Star Wars Days at Sea is a special day-long celebration aboard special sailings on the Disney Fantasy, whose many onboard attractions include the AquaDuck Water Coaster. These select sailings feature a full day of Star Wars celebrations, including a deck party, meet-and-greets with favorite intergalactic characters, Star Wars-themed youth activities, unique food and beverage offerings, and special merchandise.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay
In Florida, the all-inclusive Club Med Sandpiper Bay offers tons of family activities and great kids' programs. While many resorts limit their supervised activity programs for potty-trained kids 3 and up, Club Med is also a boon for families with babies and toddlers. Programs start for babies 4 months and up and run all the way to 17 years. Two highlights are Club Med's famed circus school, where kids (and adults) can learn juggling and the trapeze, and its tennis academy, which offers Le Petit Tennis for kids ages 4 to 7, Junior Tennis Initiation for ages 8 to 13, and an adults program for older teens and parents.
Hotel del Coronado
The most iconic resort in San Diego is also one of the most family-friendly, thanks to its superb setting on 26 beachfront acres and roster of.laid-back activities like drive-in movie nights and s'more roasts. Hotel del Coronado's children's club, Kidtopia, offers three-hour camps and one-hour programs for children ages 4 to 12, with a fun mix of indoor and outdoor activities. The highlight of the program is the learn-to-surf lessons available daily for kids age 4 and up. Paddleboard lessons are also available.
See also: Best California Resorts for Families
Mohonk Mountain House
Just two hours north of New York City, Mohonk Mountain House offers a family-friendly haven with 85 miles of hiking trails and rock scrambles, guided nature hikes, boating and paddleboarding on the lake, a golf course, many tennis courts, scheduled kids' and teen's programming, and an array of yoga, meditation and fitness classes. In the winter, the spectacular covered ice rink is a boon for the children's club and family time.
Parents of toddlers will appreciate that Mohonk's kids' program accepts children as young as 2. A full-day program is open all summer for kids ages 2 to 12. Activities include hikes, pony rides, frog hunts, swimming, tennis, and more. The kids club is also open during school breaks and holiday weekends.
While all Royal Caribbean ships offer its amazing kids clubs, the newest ships, such as Anthem of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas, take it to another level with enormous spaces dedicated to kids' facilities. The Adventure Ocean program separates kids into five groups: Aquanauts for ages 3 to 5; Explorers for ages 6 to 8; Voyagers for ages 9 to 11; and two teen groups for ages 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. Expect large play spaces for the different age groups, including a nursery for babies and toddlers and ultracool hangouts for teens and tweens, plus a top-deck waterpark, an arcade, a science lab and a theater.
Royal Caribbean is known for extra-large ships that deliver a wow factor. Harmony of the Seas features an 82-foot zip line, a handcrafted carousel, the AquaTheater high-diving venue and Central Park, an incredible urban-like green space with more than 12,000 live trees and plants.
Franklyn D. Resort
Got little ones? While many family resorts in the Caribbean offer terrific children's programs clubs and non-stop activities, the all-inclusive Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica offers something unbeatable for families with babies and little ones: your very own, exclusive vacation nanny. For more than seven hours every day, your nanny is available to look after your children and be your personal guide at the resort. The supervised kids' center is open day and evening and has a baby area, crafts area, movies, and computer games.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line's Splash Academy breaks kids into three age groups: Turtles for ages 3 to 5; Seals for ages 6 to 9; and Dolphins for ages 10 to 12. Programming includes learning to juggle and do other circus tricks, arts and crafts, and Nintendo Wii competitions. For teens ages 13 to 17, Entourage offers sports, movie nights, and a hip clubhouse packed with foosball, air hockey, Wii and other games.
The newer ships, such as Breakaway and Getaway, offer double-deck kids club and an industrial-chic teen center.
Smugglers' Notch is a year-round resort in Vermont with a crackerjack children's program no matter the season. Want to get your family on the slopes? Year after year, Ski magazine readers vote Smuggs the number one ski resort for families in the East, citing the best ski program in the industry, a plentiful number of on-mountain condos, diverse terrain, top-notch daycare, and few crowds.
During warmer months, children ages 3 to 17 can participate in the kids camp, where they can take swimming lessons, go hiking, climbing, biking, do arts and crafts, and much more. Meanwhile, for families with young kids, the resort's 10,000-square-foot Treasures childcare center is available for ages 6 weeks to 3 years.