You've got the whole family in tow, so you want your island vacation to be easy. You want it to be fun. You want it to be safe. And you don't want anyone to get bored. To help, we've rounded up seven islands in the U.S. and Caribbean that are total crowd-pleasers, featuring swimming beaches, animal encounters and all-ages activities. And ice cream. Lots of ice cream. From island aquariums to tropical zoos, here's what to do and where to go for the best family vacation ever.
Hawaii's fourth-largest island, Kauai attracts families with its beautiful beaches, natural wonders and Old Hawaii feel. Poipu Beach, on the south shore, is tops thanks to its calm water, plentiful tropical fish, and lazy monk seals napping on the sand. Families can hike in Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, or marvel at the 4,000-foot Napali Cliffs on a catamaran tour with Captain Andy's. All ages get into the aloha spirit at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Luau; kids who stay at the resort can also get excited for free activities like lei-making classes, koi-fish feedings, and photo ops with the resident parrot.
Home to Atlantis — the grande dame of family hotels — Nassau is a no-brainer for your tribe. The immense resort features several kids clubs, a water park and the largest open-air aquarium in the world. Over on Cable Beach, the new Grand Hyatt Baha Mar flaunts its own fair share of animal encounters, including green sea turtles, stingrays, nurse sharks and 50-plus species of tropical fish. Beyond your resort gate, other discoveries await, from souvenir shopping in the Straw Market to pink flamingos at Ardastra Gardens, Zoo & Conservation Centre.
Simple pleasures rule in sleepy Anna Maria — a golf-cart ride to get ice cream at Two Scoops, indulging at The Donut Experiment, the Friday-night fish fry at Anna Maria Island Beach Café. Kids will get a kick out of eating high over the water at the Rod and Reel Pier, or applauding the sunset before digging into yummy seafood at the Beach House Restaurant. For the convenience of a full kitchen and multiple bedrooms, book a vacation home through Island Real Estate or Duncan Real Estate. Of course, most of your time will be spent on AMI's soft white-sand beaches — building sand castles, hunting for shells, and keeping your eyes peeled for dolphins swimming in the Gulf.
Turks and Caicos is a natural playground of thriving reefs, mangrove jungles and sugar-sand beaches. A regular on best-beaches lists, Providenciales' 12-mile Grace Bay is a magnet for families, who find homey comforts like full kitchens, separate living rooms and washers/dryers at The Venetian and The Tuscany. Grab a sweet treat at Island Scoop before stocking up with basic grocery items at the Graceway Gourmet upscale supermarket. Little ones will love seeing indigenous wild rock iguanas on Little Water Cay, or glimpsing below the ocean's surface on a glass-bottom-boat tour.
OK, we admit, Coronado Island is technically a peninsula, but this all-American beach vacation destination is so family-focused, it would be irresponsible not to include it. Older kids can kayak in San Diego Bay for views of downtown, and the whole crew can take advantage of Coronado's 15 miles of bike paths — rentals range from beach cruisers to fringed surreys. Beach days are a given: Try Glorietta Bay for extra amenities like a playground and restrooms, or Silver Strand State Beach for shady picnic spots. Of course, San Diego's popular attractions like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo are a short drive away. Bonus: Even if you don't stay at Coronado's famous Hotel Del Coronado, you can enjoy some of the family-friendly features, such as the MooTime Creamery and movie nights on the sand.
Combine the familiarity of Florida with quintessentially Caribbean white sand and turquoise water — that's Grand Cayman. Families can't go wrong on Seven Mile Beach, lined with well-known resort brands like Marriott and Westin (at the latter, the weekly beach bonfire features make-your-own s'mores). Or go for all-inclusive convenience at Wyndham Reef Resort on the East End. Kid-centric fun ranges from a dose of island history at Pedro St. James to feeding the hungry tarpon at Grand Old House restaurant. Don't miss encounters with sea turtles and other wildlife at the Cayman Turtle Centre.