Top Getaways for your Fun-Loving Family
In this work-hard, play-hard world, you deserve a summer escape that’s relaxing, rewarding and easy to plan. With vacation and family time at a premium, where should you invest those precious days off? We talked to top travel experts to round up luxe destinations that are fabulous enough to earn a spot on your bucket list, way-cool for kids (yes, even teens with attitude), and have abundant activities to win over multiple generations, assuming you want to ask the grandparents to come along. “Daily life does enough to pull families in different directions,” says Tom Armstrong of Tauck Tours. “Travel is an opportunity to reconnect.” At these near and far places, you can bond, unplug—turn off that smartphone—and have adventures so memorable they’ll blow any theme-park trip away.
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff is a charming escape in the South Carolina Lowcountry, a historic resort between Charleston and Savannah that attracts visitors with its exceptional golf and riding programs (The May River Golf Club, an eighteen-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature course, is on site). At the resort’s Longfield Stables—which encompass an outdoor dressage area, a twenty-four-stall barn and a five-acre event field—riding enthusiasts can take a private lesson with famous jockey Eddie Maple, a National Riding Hall of Fame inductee. The rivers and creeks surrounding the Bluff are a paddler’s paradise and guests can use canoes or kayaks to explore the local waterways. This is gator country, too, and the resort’s naturalist uses radio telemetry to track the creatures in their habitat and bring guests along for a glimpse. Inland and offshore fishing, boating through the marshes to Page Island, tennis, croquet, swimming and treatments at the 9,500-square-foot spa will keep all ages more than occupied. Of course, Southern cooking comes into play at the three resort restaurants; don’t miss the biscuit bar breakfast menu with fresh-baked goods that are made to order. Because of the range of activities at the resort and the guest cottage and multi-bedroom house accommodations, Palmetto Bluff is well-suited for vacations with extended family.
Inn at Palmetto Bluff, (866) 706-6565; palmettobluffresort.com
It’s called Vacationland for good reason, and Maine’s most picturesque locales are even more memorable when viewed during this super-active trip along the coast, from Camden and Penobscot Bay to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. For the bike-hike-kayak tour, kids must be at least age seven in order to ride their own wheels. (The company can provide the gear you need, including Piccolo Trailers that connect to mom’s or dad’s bike.) On most days, there are several routes available, so kids—or, let’s face it, parents who need a break—can always choose the shorter distance, say, four miles instead of twenty-one. A van will take your group to the next inn or hotel. The trip begins with a hike up the Camden Hills, the place that inspired the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Your family will kayak on Lake Megunticook, bike to Rockland to shop and visit the Farnsworth Art Museum, home to a sizeable Wyeth collection. On some evenings, adults and kids eat at separate locations, so the grown-ups can enjoy fine dining at a slow and leisurely pace. In Acadia National Park, kids visit the Mount Desert Oceanarium. (They’ll love the fact that there are lobsters in the touch tank!) After hiking the Ocean Head trail, kids can go for a rock climb at Otter Cliffs. On the last day, hike up Mt. Cadillac for the exceptional views—the summit is the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard. All this activity will work up your appetite, of course, one that only a dinner at a lobster pound or a gourmet picnic can satisfy.
Backroads Travel Company, (800) 462-2848; backroads.com
What says family togetherness more than a vacation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks? At Amangani Resort, you can explore the great outdoors, but you don’t have to rough it. Families stay in one of the West’s most exclusive boutique resorts—it has just forty stylishly sophisticated suites—surrounded by awe-inspiring mountain scenery and wildflower meadows. While the resort has no shortage of incredible amenities—including a dramatic quartzite pool and a luxe spa—Amangani’s allure also lies in the guided trips and excursions that give families a chance to soak up Big Sky Country’s natural beauty. In addition to daily trips and picnic lunches at the famous parks, you can sign up for a four-wheel drive safari with a biologist who will take you out to see Western wildlife up close—elk, black bears, bison, bighorn sheep, moose and pronghorn. Soar above the Tetons in a glider flown by a private pilot or get a bird’s-eye view by catching the Snow King lift to the summit. Right in Jackson Hole, sports options include fly-fishing, horseback riding, paragliding, mountain biking, tennis, golf, and rafting through Snake River Canyon. While you’re feeling at home on the range, check out real cowboys at the Jackson Hole Rodeo and take the family to the covered wagon cookout and dinner show.
Amangani Resort, (877) 734-7333; amanresorts.com
With the city hosting the 2012 Olympics and the Queen celebrating her Royal Jubilee, it’s a good time to visit London, although the eight-day Castle & Kings tour by Tauck is jolly good fun for the family any year. You’ll explore the sights of the British capital—as well as hot spots in Paris—in a way that appeals to kids and adults. In London, there’s a cycling trip through the Royal Parks, an afternoon “spy walk,” a speedboat adventure on the Thames and a ride on the London Eye to see the city from 450 feet up. While at royal Windsor Castle, children will want to check out the miniatures in Queen Mary’s Doll House. In the evening, you’ll go for a traditional pub dinner and hit the West End Theater district for a performance of The Wizard of Oz. After a high-speed train ride through the Chunnel, you’ll begin your City of Light tour at some of the most recognized landmarks, the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysées. The story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame springs to life at the famed cathedral. Round out your voyage magnifique with an afternoon in Montemartre and dinner at a Parisian bistro.
Tauck Tours, (800) 760-0080; tauck.com
This adventure on the Crystal Cruise line brings travelers out on the Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Estonia, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Berlin and Copenhagen onboard the award-winning, 940-guest Symphony. This ship is truly designed with families in mind, as there are many adjoining cabins and a junior activities program (from ages three to seventeen) that rivals any top summer camp: think water polo, swimming, paddle tennis, hide-and-seek, talent shows, kite flying, cooking classes, dance classes, fashion shows, karaoke nights, a disco for teens, a Hollywood-style movie theater and more. Adults can get their share of enrichment too, with classes ranging from Photoshop to Pilates. The ship has outstanding amenities, but the time spent in the ports of call is the real attraction. On shore in Stockholm, take a guided walking tour of the city’s medieval Old Town and lunch on a smorgasbord or visit the eighteenth-century Drottingholm Palace. During your three days in St. Petersburg, enjoy different excursions—several new for 2012—that lead you to the baroque Stroganov Palace, home of Dostoesvsky, the State Hermitage Museum and lunch at one of the finest restaurants in Russia, with caviar, champagne and vodka on the menu. Check the site for specials whereby kids under eleven sail free with their parents.
Crystal Cruises, (888) 722-0021; crystalcruises.com
Virgin Gorda, BV
Accessible only by boat, the secluded Bitter End Resort on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands is an unspoiled family getaway and top watersports resort that has been owned since the early 1970s by the Hokin family of Darien. If you really want to teach your kids sailing, this is the place. While other Caribbean hotels might take you out for a sunset cruise, the Bitter End gives guests access to a fleet of boats that includes Hobie Waves and catamarans, Lasers, 420s, Hunter 216s, IC-24s, Optimists, windsurfers and, oh yes, a Boston Whaler for fishing. Through the junior sailing program, kids can learn boathandling, rigging and sail trim. During the summer, the resort also hosts the British Virgin Islands’ annual Billfish Tournament. Prefer a quiet sail with your spouse? You can get out on the North Sound while the kids are at camp. Or take the whole family by boat for a snorkeling trip to the grotto of caves at The Baths on Virgin Gorda, to Norman Island or Diamond Reef. On shore, relax in your beachfront villa, visit the spa for a Neem Leaf body wrap, try a poolside yoga class or order a rum drink from Gunny, the bartender who’s been pouring at The Crawl Pub since 1975. You can feel good about this resort’s commitment to protect its island environment, as the hotel is truly green. The Bitter End generates its own electricity, uses solar power and even distills its own water.
Bitter End Yacht Club, (800) 872-2392; beyc.com
Every woman needs a getaway with the girls, and more of us are planning these unisex escapes with mom and sister as travel companions. One of the best destinations for this fun but fussy crew is Calistoga Ranch, where you can experience a spa weekend like no other. This pristine property is spread out over 140 acres in the heart of Napa Valley. It’s one of a number of elite resorts in the region, but its size, layout and decor (think organic chic) make it distinctive. It’s not excessive but it’s perfectly luxurious, right down to the glass of champagne you’re handed poolside upon arrival. Let the bonding begin! The bungalows with private outdoor spaces attract their fair share of newlyweds, but the opportunity for confidential conversation could also appeal to the family matriarch and the female members of her clan. Then there’s the spa, which has an outdoor lobby with roaring fireplace and dynamic views of green pine trees from the serene treatment rooms. Vinotherapy is an option here, too, as the ranch has a private vineyard, where you can immerse yourself in the fine art of winemaking. When it’s time to get active, hike the long and lovely trails at the ranch or go off-site for hot-air balloon rides.
Calistoga Ranch, Auberge Resort, (800) 942-4220; calistogaranch.com
Ranked as a top destination for 2012, St. Vincent and the Grenadines offer an archipelago of islands and cays known for exceptional diving, snorkeling and sailing, and for hosting Johnny Depp—the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here. At Buccament Bay, a new five-star, all-inclusive British resort on St. Vincent, families have a chance to indulge in some unusual activities. Beyond the usual watersports, there’s the Liverpool Football Club soccer school where kids play and perfect their footwork with coaching from pro U.K. footballers. Is your son or daughter more of a Broadway wannabe? Or maybe you’re the closet performer? All ages can practice musical theater at the Harlequin Performing Arts School, where stars from top shows such as Wicked and Phantom teach the classes. There’s also the Little Harlequin Kids Club, where your children can get busy with a seashell treasure hunt, a turtle sanctuary or a boisterous beach party while you lounge by the pool, go kayaking or snorkeling, have a lesson at the Pat Cash Tennis academy, take a siesta in your villa or indulge in a two-hour Tropical Soother massage.
Buccament Bay Resort, (877) 502-2022; buccamentbay.com
Herradura, Costa Rica
Set in an 1,100-acre rainforest overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Los Sueños resort encompasses a five-star Marriott hotel, villas, an eighteen-hole golf course, a private beach club, and a 200-slip marina for access to some of the best sportfishing in the world—sixty-five world records have been set in Costa Rican waters. All of this makes Los Sueños one prime spot for a guys’ adventure trip. If the men (and boys) in your family are into fishing, they can hook up with a charter captain at the marina and head out to hunt for marlin, sailfish, tuna and dorado. And they should be ready for action: Regulars on the Pacific side of Costa Rica say that twenty-fish days are not uncommon. Once the lines are pulled in, the hotel concierge can arrange horseback riding, sea kayaking, rafting, crocodile adventures, sailing and surfing lessons with champions from the national team. All of this is available close to the resort. For a day trip, drive one hour to Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can hike the rainforest trails and spot sloths, along with iguanas and squirrel monkeys, or go snorkeling near coral reefs. There’s some nightlife too, with a casino onsite and popular clubs and restaurants in nearby Jaco Beach. If you prefer to kick back at your villa, then arrange for a tobacconist to stop by and hand-roll cigars.
Los Sueños Resort and Marina, (866) 865-9759; lsrm.com