The Best Family Vacation Destinations

From the WebMD Archives

By Stacy Lu

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Traveling with the kids (and maybe even your parents) need not be a compromise or a chore. Here, getaways for all generations.

If going to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas Eve doesn’t provide enough together time for your family (and how could it?), there’s a new trend you may want to try. Increasingly, vacationers are including Grandma and Grandpa on their summer getaways. The appeal is obvious: Active, healthy seniors are eager to share fun times with the kids; overworked parents get to relax with all their loved ones; youngsters revel in twice the attention; and everybody gets to reconnect in a new setting, build even stronger bonds, and create lifelong memories.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Then there’s the other possible scenario: You and your husband trapped in an overcrowded hotel suite with warring tweens and an overanxious mother-in-law. But don’t worry. Choosing the right destination goes a long way toward guaranteeing that your gang-of-all-ages will stay happy, excited, and entertained. Here, three affordable, irresistible ideas for three-generation vacations that will delight all your loved ones, young and old.


For most families, the secret of togetherness is spending several daytime hours apart — and family camps and resorts are set up to let that happen, with a smorgasbord of organized programs, day and night, generally all included in the price of your stay. That means that as you plan, you should consider not only what each of you likes to do, but what potential new areas you want to explore — because if you’ve never tried snorkeling or water-skiing, this is your big chance. Typically, you can also choose among a number of lodging and dining options, giving your family even further flexibility to mix and match until you create a getaway that will be great for everyone.

YMCA Wonders

With family camps throughout the country (and beyond), the YMCA serves up some of the best — and most affordable — sites for outdoor fun. Each camp is a gem that makes the most of its natural setting — pristine lake, primeval forest, unsullied beach — with comfy lodgings and a long list of location-specific things to do that will swiftly and easily erase any generation gap.


Perched in Missouri’s Eastern Ozarks, Trout Lodge overlooks the vast Sunnen Lake, surrounded by acres of lush forest. There’s an activity for just about every letter of the alphabet, from archery and horseback riding to trout fishing and woodworking. The camp’s family-friendly accommodations include buffet-style meals and suites in the main lodge, as well as adjoining two-bedroom cabins that share a common room.

Other standout camps in the Y’s stable: Sandy Island by the crystal waters of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire provides sailing lessons, water-skiing, line dancing classes, and talent shows. The YMCA of the Adirondacks in Silver Bay, NY, features rowing and kayaking, while Camp Nawakwa, in Lac du Flambeau, WI, is located next to a Chippewa reservation where you can tour an original Native American village.

Details: Summer room rates at Trout Lodge are $149 per night for one adult; each additional adult is $59. Kids 6 through 17 are $49; 5 and under are free. Includes all meals and most activities.

To book: For Trout Lodge, call 888-386-9622 or go to Browse the offerings at to find a camp near you or in a locale you’d like to visit.

Summer at a Ski Resort

With spectacular scenery, luxurious amenities, and a full roster of fun (which may include such kid thrillers as tubing on a waterslide, bungee bouncing, and balloon rides), the slopes make just as great a getaway when they’re sunny, warm, and snow-free — and the price is often much lower. Take Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont, where, as the grown-ups linger over a leisurely breakfast, the kids can hop onto the resort’s free shuttle bus bound for skate camp, theater workshops, or one of four water parks. Alternatively, some combination of adults can join little ones in building a toy sailboat or taking a guided nature walk while the rest of the party quaffs cocoa or cocktails at the lodge. At night, the resort hosts live performances, movies, bonfires, and a genuine Vermont country fair, featuring games of all kinds, food stands, and local musicians.


Other mountains to hit when it’s hot include Whistler Blackcomb, in Whistler, British Columbia, which has mountain biking, fishing, mini golf, horseback riding, and bungee trampolines. Less strenuous but equally entertaining activities like fly-fishing and soaking in hot springs draw families to Colorado’s Steamboat Springs.

Details: Smugglers’ Notch condo lodging offers three bedrooms for three nights/four days starting at $1,737: includes most activities. Mention Good Housekeeping if you’re booking six summer nights, and your seventh will be free.

To book: For Smugglers’ Notch, call 800-451-8752 or visit For Whistler Blackcomb, see For Steamboat Springs, log on to


From ocean liners to houseboats, water getaways of all kinds are great for families since they offer fun activities as well as peaceful perusal of the landscape. If cruises are what interests you, know that today’s liners are virtually floating resorts, conveniently jam-packed with fun and food tailored to every age. For families seeking more intimacy and interaction, smaller boats that you can steer yourself probably fill the bill.

Live Large on a Liner

For a big-boat cruise that caters to everyone in your brood, consider Royal Caribbean’s new Freedom-class line. Among the attractions for kids are teen-only dance clubs, a climbing wall, a surf simulator, and a water park. The younger set can participate in hands-on classes in art, science (think volcano making!), and theater. Meanwhile, adults can enjoy live performances, wine tastings, jazz clubs, dance classes, a swimming solarium, and the staff’s attentive service.

Despite these onboard luxuries, disembarking from your liner also has its appeal: Many itineraries allow travelers to tour the festive plazas, commanding forts, and antique churches of Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan, one of the oldest settlements in U.S. territory. At other typical island stops, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, some of the best beaches in the world (plus duty-free shopping) await.

Details: Per person, double occupancy prices start at $749 for seven nights. Prices vary by ship.

To book: Call 800-769-2522 or go to


Helm a Houseboat

Steer your own personal home through the quiet coves and rippling lakes of Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Amazingly, no sailing experience is necessary: You’ll receive easy-to-follow maps and instructions well before you step on board a houseboat from Voyagaire, one of the area’s renters. Boats are generally equipped with full kitchens, bathrooms, grills, and (just as essential) a swim slide — and many have air-conditioning and hot tubs. All provide safety features such as radios and life jackets, and you can opt to have the outfitter deliver whatever supplies you need daily.

Other idyllic locations for houseboating? Try Utah’s Lake Powell, ringed with red rock formations and soft sand beaches, or Dale Hollow Lake on the border between Tennessee and Kentucky, which offers some of the nation’s best bass fishing.

Details: Price for a Voyagaire boat with five double beds is $485 daily, $2,425 weekly. Good Housekeeping readers receive free linen service.

To book: For Voyagaire, call 800-882-6287 or go to For houseboats in other areas, visit and

Travel on a Tall Ship

Love the romantic many-masted ships of yore? Sail back in time with the Maine Windjammer Association, 12 privately owned tall ships that supply an authentic New England seafaring experience (as well as a crew to do the serious sailing — good news for landlubbers). The company’s oldest vessel was built in 1871, and seven are registered as National Historic Landmarks. These beautiful boats are almost entirely wind powered, so get in the spirit and leave your cell phones and laptops at home. You’ll find yourself hauling lobster traps and sails, tying knots, fishing, and seal spotting as you sail the quiet paradise of Penobscot Bay. When you go ashore, explore fishing harbors and tidal pools and savor an authentic Maine lobster bake before heading back to the boat to bunk down by lamplight on board.

Details: Cruises carry between six and 40 and run three to six nights from May through October; prices are about $150 per day per person and include all meals and activities. Children must be 5 or older. Age restrictions and activities vary by boat: Ask in advance.

To book: Call 800-807-9463 or visit



Packages that focus on once-in-a-lifetime experiences may sound too physically challenging for seniors and too nerve-racking for parents with kids to watch out for. But today’s family-friendly adventure travel no longer means inaccessible locales, hefty price tags, or endurance marathons. Play it safe, though: Be sure to share any potential health issues or concerns with your outfitter before booking your trip to see if it’s necessary to make special arrangements for kids or seniors.

River Rapids Ride

Why rough it when you can brave the white water by day and still relax in a comfy camp at night? On a rafting trip from Holiday Expeditions, families float down 44 winding miles of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument park, CO, admiring the stunning 2,500-foot peaks of ocher and amber overhead. A trained guide from the outfitter steers your vessel through excitingly real (but never too racy) rapids.

Back on land, you can fish in a blue-ribbon trout stream, play boccie ball, or take an easy hike up the craggy slopes to view ancient Native American rock etchings. Meanwhile, the staff will be setting up your camp (including latrines) and preparing a hearty campfire cookout to provide the perfect finale to each day.

Details: A three-night, four-day excursion costs $845 per adult and $725 for each child under 18 or senior over 65. Minimum age is 8.

To book: Call 800-624-6323 or go to Find other expeditions and outfitters on

Safari in the States

Do an overnight where the wild things are by camping on an animal preserve. Try Safari West, a 400-acre accredited animal park in Santa Rosa, CA, inhabited by giraffes, zebras, buffalo, wildebeests, warthogs, and impalas, among others. Your family can get a good look at these seldom-seen beasts on open-air Jeep tours led by knowledgeable guides who get you close while keeping you safe. After you’ve left the preserve, rediscover creature comforts at the Napa or Sonoma wineries nearby.

Come nightfall, youngsters will be thrilled to stay in real tents built on high wooden platforms, while the grown-ups in your party will be equally thrilled to find that these lodgings include many unexpected luxuries like plush beds, hardwood floors, and full bathrooms. Attached decks offer still more chances for animal observation.


Details: Tents cost $230 to $255 per night, double occupancy. Safari tours are $65 for adults and $30 for children 3 to 12. Groups of six or more who mention Good Housekeeping when booking will receive a 20 percent discount.

To book: Call 800-616-2695 or visit

Sports Spectacular

Golf is the perfect all-ages physical activity, with basics that are easy for kids to learn, and intricacies that can keep adults engaged for hours. The legendary Pinehurst, in North Carolina, where generations of champion golfers have played, is ramping up its appeal for amateurs, with new (shorter) “family tees” on seven of its eight courses. Share a day on the greens together with the resort’s Family Fairways package, which includes free club rentals for everyone, a one-hour beginners’ or basics-refresher clinic, unlimited time on the range, and a leisurely round of late-afternoon golf that you can play on a families-only course. Off the fairways, spend an afternoon fishing on Lake Pinehurst or enjoy a mud wrap at the spa. Kids 3 to 12 can join one of the resort’s organized games, excursions, or craft-making sessions, or even try one of the many treatments that are available for kids and teens at Pinehurst’s spa.

Details: The Summer Tee Social Package (including room, daily breakfast and dinner, and most activities) is $1,548 for a family of six for four days/three nights. Kids 17 and under stay, eat, and golf free; Family Fairways costs an additional $130 per family of four and runs Easter through Thanksgiving. Mention Good Housekeeping for a 10 percent discount midweek; see for details.

To book: Call 800-487-4653 or visit


Is Your Package Worth the Price?

A single price tag for your whole trip may sound appealing, but don’t assume it means more savings or more fun. Ask the following before you book:

Have they given you a discount for booking as a family?

Bringing in a big chunk of business should yield real benefits, such as discounted or upgraded rooms and lower-priced meals for kids and seniors. (Do note, however, that most hotels already let kids under 18 stay free — so don’t consider that to be a big-group bonus.) Some airlines, like Northwest or Southwest, even offer fare discounts for groups of 10 or more.


Are fees hidden in the fine print?

Some hotels charge every guest for things like gym visits and poolside towels, even if they never use them: Look out for the “resort fee.” Also, ask whether it will cost extra to have a mini fridge or cot in the room, and if there’s a charge for parking.

Does your package entitle you to private excursions or special pricing for activities?

For example, groups of eight or more who stay at a Disney resort are eligible for “magical gatherings” packages, which can include activities like fireworks cruises and safari tours that let kids meet and greet the animals (both the real and costumed kinds).

Originally published on April 15, 2008

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Reprinted with permission from Hearst Communications, Inc.