19 Best Family Vacations for All Ages | Islands

19 Best Family Vacations for All Ages

Find the best family vacation for your crew, no matter who’s tagging along for the ride

A family vacation is no longer about loading the kids in the car and heading to the nearest beach. Today’s families are looking to stretch their imaginations, sharing their passion for travel with their loved ones. Organized by age group, our guide shows the best destinations and activities for kids of all ages. Find the right getaway for your crew, no matter who’s tagging along for the ride.

Best Family Vacations: The Bahamas

The Abacos in the Bahamas is top destinations for family vacations.

Shutterstock

The Abacos, The Out Islands of the Bahamas

Best for: Ages 3-12

Chances are, you’ve already been to Nassau on a family vacation. Take the road less traveled: With 700-plus islands and more than 2,000 cays, the Out Islands of the Bahamas offers the whole brood a chance to experience the real Bahamian way of life.

Forgo fancy duds and pack extra swimsuits for the Abacos’ endless water activities, including boating, snorkeling, swimming and paddleboarding in the clear, shallow waters. Island-hopping is a must: Green Turtle Cay offers plenty of shelling and a bit of history at the colonial settlement of New Plymouth, while the Sunday-afternoon pig roast at Nipper’s Beach Bar & Grill in Guana Cay is a tradition — kids can build sandcastles and splash in the calm blue water while you wait. Abaco Beach Resort’s “Bahama Buddies” program introduces younger visitors to local children and invites them to spend the day together, learning how to catch and cook fish, make island crafts and crack coconuts. There’s a variety of accommodations for all family sizes: oceanfront rooms with two beds, and one-bedroom suites with a pullout sofa.

Best Family Vacations: Alaska Cruise with Un-Cruise Adventures

Family-bonding moment: kayaking alongside a steep fjord in Alaska.

Un-Cruise Adventures

Un-Cruise Adventures

Best for: Ages 8-13

With its jaw-dropping landscapes (larger-than-life glaciers) and abundant sea and wildlife (humpback whales, sea lions and polar bears), Alaska is a must-see bucket-list destination for all ages. Opting for a cruise is a no-brainer: The mix of family-friendly onboard activities will keep all generations entertained, and water- and land-based tours make exploring the Final Frontier a cinch.

On an eight-day trip with Un-Cruise, adventures include touching anemones in tide pools and looking at plankton kids have collected under the microscope. Movie nights and dance parties keep the group camaraderie going on board. Book the Inner Reaches Eastern Coves itinerary for access to harbor seals in Endicott Arm, humpbacks in Stephens Passage, and lessons in Tlingit and Haida culture.

Best Family Vacations: La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Test your limits at Sky Adventures Arenal Park.

Sky Adventures

La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Best for: Ages 6-12

Just about every adventurous activity imaginable can be found in Costa Rica: kayaking, zip-lining and surfing, to name a few. Plus, there’s the opportunity to see fascinating wildlife — monkeys, sloths, hundreds of bird species — right outside your door. Bonus: This exotic destination won’t bust your budget. Zip-lining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting: that’s just some of the GoPro-worthy action you’ll find at Sky Adventures Arenal Park. Too extreme? Try the three-hour walk across hanging bridges high in the canopies, or glide 3,200 feet above the rainforest in the Sky Tram. Take a break from the hot Central American sun with a day pass to the water slides and pools at Baldi Hot Springs Hotel Resort & Spa.

In La Fortuna, at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, you’ll find a variety of lodging options; many boast hot springs and natural pools on the property. Hotel Los Lagos offers villa rentals that can sleep up to nine and feature a full kitchen, dining room and volcano views. Arenal Kioro has spacious family suites with two queen beds and a daybed that can sleep a small child, as well as options for connecting or adjoining rooms and free cribs on request.

Best Family Vacations: Oahu, Hawaii

The shallow saltwater lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is perfect for wading toddlers.

Zach Stovall

Oahu, Hawaii

Best for: All ages

Nearly 3 million visitors come to Waikiki, Oahu’s iconic resort area, each year. Why? Because it boasts one of Hawaii’s best beaches, with tons of watersports, dining and shopping options. Plus, attractions like a zoo and an aquarium promise fun for all ages.

The 22-acre Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort complex, set on the widest strip of beach in Waikiki, is a family-entertainment mecca. You can swim, surf, snorkel and paddleboard right from the hotel. Ideal for little ones is its beachfront lagoon, which lets them experience salt water without the big waves. Four nights of the week, the hotel stages Waikiki’s only outdoor luau, with traditional food, Polynesian dancing and music, and fire dancers. The resort’s Spirit of Aloha snorkel tours include a visit to Turtle Canyon. Sea turtles come to a spot where fish “clean” them before the turtles push off, making way for the next ones in line. If you don’t want to get wet while experiencing the ocean, descend 100 feet in an Atlantis Submarine to see reefs, sunken boats and planes, along with fish, sharks and turtles. — Todd Pitock

Best Family Vacations: Cayman Islands

Swimming with gentle rays at Stingray City.

Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Best for: Ages 4-11

The Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac) caters to those seeking endless beach time, as well as those in search of history, culture and a chill Caribbean vibe. Nonstop flights to the main island of Grand Cayman from several major hubs means getting here is as easy as being here.

A must-do excursion is Stingray City, where kids can touch, feed and snorkel with giant wild stingrays. There are a number of tour operators, but we recommend a half-day excursion with Captain Marvin’s. The affordable two- and three-bedroom units at Christopher Columbus Condos have full kitchens, plus access to a large pool and Seven Mile Beach.

Best Family Vacations: Disney Cruises

A Disney Cruise provides fun for all ages.

Disney Cruises

Disney Cruises

Best for: All ages

Not only are you promised plenty of Disney-themed fun, you’ll also never have to worry about your child’s food allergies. You’ll get a separate menu, plus the staff (often the chef) will stop by your table to explain how they can assist with any dietary needs. Says one mom: “My son ate his very first ‘ice cream’ on a Disney Cruise thanks to their allergy accommodations. He was so happy to join in.”

Best Family Vacations: Velas Resorts

Velas Resorts in Mexico caters to families.

Velas Resorts

Mexico

Best for: Ages 0-5

At Velas Resorts, an onsite Baby Concierge means you can leave cumbersome gear at home knowing that a crib, a stroller, bottle warmers and sterilizers will be waiting in your room. The service is committed to making little ones comfortable, from a massage to help soothe fussy babies to a first haircut (with a certificate) to guarantee they look sharp at dinner.

Best Family Vacations: St. Lucia

The Kids Club at St. James’s Club Morgan Bay.

St. James’s Club Morgan Bay

Saint Lucia

Best for: Ages 2-12

Kids can learn patois, the local dialect in Saint Lucia, as part of the Kids Club offerings at St. James’s Club Morgan Bay. Tots’ yoga classes, cooking classes and mocktail lessons are here too, all aimed at giving kids a taste of the local culture for no extra fee.

Best Family Vacations: Cayman Brac

Cayman Brac

Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Little Cayman/Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

Best for: Ages 13-17

Divers and snorkelers will be endlessly entertained while exploring the abundant sea life surrounding these two islands. On Little Cayman, Reef Divers is a popular outfitter that works with newcomers and seasoned divers alike. Above water, Nature Cayman offers visitors a free tour of Cayman Brac (above) that includes some of its hundreds of caves.

On Cayman Brac, the newly renovated Cayman Brac Beach Resort features beach access and a large pool. Meanwhile, The Club on Little Cayman has one- to three-bedroom condos.

Best Family Vacations: Kamalame Cay

Kamalame Cay provides fresh homemade cookies each afternoon.

Kamalame Cay

Andros, The Out Islands of the Bahamas

Best for: Ages 2-12

Filled with reefs and blue holes (underwater caves), Andros is the least developed of the Out Islands. Days here are full of fishing excursions, hikes through pine forests, and diving at the third-largest barrier reef in the world. Crab catching is an island pastime; in June, don’t miss the All Andros Crab Fest, with land crabs cooked 101 ways.

White-sand beaches run the length of the 96-acre Kamalame Cay private-island resort. If your kids aren’t smitten with the place from the moment they hop off the private ferry from Andros, the fresh homemade cookies laid out each afternoon should do the trick. Villas are pricey, but a good choice for multigenerational stays. Alternatively, the all-inclusive Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros has 21 beachfront cottages.

Best Family Vacations: Alaskan Dream Cruise

Sailings on Alaskan Dream Cruises feature an onboard youth-expedition leader.

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Best for: Ages 7-15

Children are always welcome on Alaskan Dream Cruises’ smaller ships, but even more so on the Become a True Alaskan Family Cruise sailings (July and August). For ages 7 and up, the eight-day Alaska’s Glacier Bay and Island Adventure trips feature an onboard youth-expedition leader who guides photo scavenger hunts, teaches navigation basics, and heads hiking and kayaking excursions. You’ll sail on the 74-passenger Chichagof Dream, which offers convertible family cabins. Bonus: Kids under 15 save 30 percent.

Best Family Vacations: Costa Rica

Littles can learn to surf in Nosara, Costa Rica.

Safari Surf School

Nosara, Costa Rica

Best for: Ages 13-17

Surfers flock to the fantastically consistent waves of Playa Guiones, on the country’s Pacific coast, but you don’t need to be Laird Hamilton to experience Nosara’s excellent surf. Safari Surf School caters to all levels, even those who’ve never been on a board, and the gentle white water makes it ideal for beginners. Packages include two lessons per day over six days, plus accommodations, most meals and all equipment.

Olas Verdes is the area’s first LEED-certified hotel, and its location near Playa Guiones makes it ideal for beach-lovers. The flexible layout lets you connect suites, depending on your family’s size. Two-bedroom units sleep up to seven, and rates include daily breakfast.

Best Family Vacations: The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Starfish Cay at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Best for: Ages 0-5

Days should include time on the white sands of world-renowned Seven Mile Beach. The Public Beach, near the center of Seven Mile, has a playground, picnic tables and bathrooms. The waves are usually small, and the sand gently slopes from the shore, making this an ideal spot for little ones.

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s new Starfish Cay is a zero-entry splash area complete with slides and kid-size loungers.

Best Family Vacations: Pineapple Fields Resort

Pineapple Fields Resort features self-catering condos that offer conveniences like washers and dryers.

Pineapple Fields Resort

Eleuthera/Harbour Island, The Out Islands of the Bahamas

Best for: Ages 5-12

With their quiet sophistication, these two islands are the Nantuckets of the Bahamas. Explore the local history with a trip to Governor’s Harbour, or rent bicycles to pedal around Harbour Island. Shelling in the morning and stargazing at night are markers of a great day. The more adventurous can try horseback riding on the beach (ages 12 and up, or pony rides, ages 5-11) at Oceanview Farm.

For a chic boutique vibe, book a two-bedroom suite at The Cove, with onsite activities including boating and paddle boarding. Another option: The centrally located Pineapple Fields Resort features self-catering condos that offer conveniences like washers and dryers.

Best Family Vacations: Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises offers several Kids Club options for different age groups.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises, Alaska

Best for: Ages 3-17

Twelve-time winner of “best cruise line in Alaska” from Travel Weekly’s Readers Choice Awards, Princess Cruises recognizes that different ages have different needs. Kids clubs are divided into two age groups: 3-7 and 8-12, while teens 13-17 have their own space at Remix, with DJ workshops and hip-hop dance classes. The whole family can come together for the Klondike Festival (with sled-dog presentations) and the Midnight Sun Party (an all-ages gathering on the top deck under the Midnight Sun). Excursions include visiting a gold mine and watching a lumberjack competition. Princess has even teamed up with the Discovery Channel to present adventures tied to the popular Deadliest Catch franchise.

Best Family Vacations: Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Tourism Board

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Best for: Ages 6-12

The toughest part about being a pint-size tourist in Costa Rica is that many of the activities are often — literally — out of reach, with size, weight or age restrictions. Instead, peg your adventure to nature. Manuel Antonio National Park, which stretches from the Pacific coast up into the mountainous rainforest, is brimming with wildlife: Hundreds of species of mammals and birds live within its 1,700 acres. (If you don’t spot a few white-headed capuchin monkeys, you aren’t looking.) Visitor numbers are capped, so start early, and take the flat, easy main trail. Pack a swimsuit for this family vacation: Off the trail is the famous Playa Manuel Antonio, with warm blue waters and a crescent-shaped ivory-sand beach. (Note: The park is closed on Mondays.)

Located inside the park, the eco-friendly Falls Resort is set among lush gardens filled with sloths, toucans and monkeys, and it’s just five minutes from wide, sandy Esterillos Este beach. All rooms, including double queens, have outdoor space. Stay tuned: Plans are underway for three-bedroom treehouses.

Best Family Vacations: Cayman Turtle Farm

Hands-on fun at the Cayman Turtle Farm.

Cayman Turtle Farm

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Best for: Ages 4-12

Have some hands-on fun at Cayman Turtle Farm, where kids can get up close with reptiles. It’s also a marine park, with freshwater and saltwater lagoons, the largest swimming pool on the island, two waterfalls, an underwater view of a predator tank, and a swim-with-the-turtles experience.

Best Family Vacations: Arenal Volcano

Take a seven-day Volcanoes and Beaches tour in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Tourism Board

Arenal Volcano/Guanacaste/Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Best for: Ages 6-12

Costa Rica’s strong safety record makes it a great spot for solo parents looking to take a family vacation: Locals are friendly, and roads are easy to navigate. Or trust Thomson Family Adventures: The seven-day Volcanoes and Beaches tour is best for those who are new to the country.

Best Family Vacations: Cayman Islands

Spy colorful blue iguanas at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.

Dave Rogers on behalf of Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Best for: All ages

Break up a day at the beach with an outing to the Cayman Islands National Museum. The colonial-era building depicts the island’s natural and cultural history in 3-D displays, murals and videos. Or spy colorful blue iguanas at the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, located in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. A 90-minute guided tour is suitable for the entire family, and if grandma doesn’t share the kids’ fascination for lizards, she can always enjoy the native flora in the park instead.

East End is a quiet alternative to buzzy Seven Mile; it’s also more convenient to better-known dive spots. Roomy and affordable, Turtle Nest Inn & Condos has one- and two-bedroom units with full kitchens; some have washers and dryers.

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