Family-Friendly Travel Destinations
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is a buzzing, cosmopolitan city with modern architecture and many ethnic neighborhoods that parents will appreciate. But there are also lots of parks and activities for kids. The city is surrounded by water, so kids can get a kick out of riding ferries everywhere. Take a ferry to Granville Island in the bay, just off downtown. The Kids Market, located in an old factory on Granville Island, has toy stores, a water park next door, and plenty to entertain all ages.
Where to stay: The Granville Island Hotel, near the Kids Market (granvilleislandhotel.com).
Let us count the ways it’s family-friendly: There’s the San Diego Zoo, and the Wild Animal Park, where animals roam in natural settings. There are theme parks: One worth standing in a few lines for is LegoLand, about 33 miles north of San Diego, in Carlsbad; it’s small enough to cover in a day and has villages geared to different age groups. Kids can ride coasters; parents can marvel at the Lego White House replica. Then, when you’re ready to take a break from the lines and lounge in the sand for a day (or a few days), there are beaches. In the suburb of La Jolla, La Jolla Shores has fire containers for barbecues. La Jolla Cove's beach is smaller, but it has a grassy play area and arguably the best snorkeling in San Diego.
Where to stay: The Omni San Diego (omnihotels.com).
"It has a nice balance of things to do but isn't as crowded as some other islands," says Erik Budde, owner of the website travelwithyourkids.com. "You can make any destination appealing to kids as long as you have the two P's: pools and parks," he adds. A few favorite activities for the pint-size: swimming in the ocean or, yes, pools; whale watching; and biking the Haleakala volcano―which is all downhill, so there shouldn't be any whining.
Where to stay: The reasonable Outrigger Napili Shores hotel (outrigger.com) has kitchens, separate bedrooms for kids, and a big lawn where children congregate.
Almost everything you want to do is near downtown, and attractions are clustered together, so there's no schlepping toddlers from one end of the city to the other. The city is laid out like a grid (read: less time consulting maps while the kids are darting off in every direction). The "L," Chicago's elevated train, takes you from downtown to Lincoln Park, where you'll find the Lincoln Park Zoo (bonus: It’s free). Millennium Park, part of Grant Park (home of the Art Institute of Chicago), has art installations that both adults and kids can appreciate. Its Cloud Gate, a $23 million polished stainless-steel sculpture nicknamed "the Bean," distorts reflections like a fun-house mirror. Crown Fountain has 50-foot LED screens with slide shows of Chicago citizens' faces; occasionally water shoots out of a spout in the center of the screen so that it appears to be coming from the person's mouth. To top it all off, "Chicago has beaches! That surprises people," says travel adviser Erik Budde. "The city comes alive in the summer."
Where to stay: The Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago (starwoodhotels.com), which is just a short walk from Oak Street Beach.
Steamboat, Colorado; Okemo, Vermont
Resorts in both locations have ski school for every level. You can choose full- or half-day programs, so Mom and Dad get some time to themselves. If you stay slope-side, you spend less time lugging skis and poles. You can also save money by going home for lunch, and "if you get tired midday, you can ski home and not affect everyone else's plans," says Heather Burke, editor of familyskitrips.com. Other pluses: Steamboat is just 45 minutes from the natural springs at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. At night, ride the Steamboat gondola to restaurants on the mountain. Okemo, meanwhile, offers a picturesque village, and its wide, gentle slopes are perfect for kids. "There's a lot of grooming in Okemo," says Burke, meaning there are fewer icy patches.
Where to stay: The Steamboat Grand hotel (steamboatgrand.com) offers good packages with airline discounts. And in Okemo, the Jackson Gore Inn has rooms right on the mountain and slope-side condos to rent (okemo.com). For the best prices at U.S. ski resorts, go in January, after the holidays, or in late March for the nicest weather.
Being trapped on a boat with lots of children may not sound like a vacation, but cruises can satisfy several age groups at once. What's more, ships always have kids' programs, so parents can spend time alone. Buffets leave little chance that your picky eater won't find something she likes, and "you can see a lot of places without changing hotels," says Eileen Ogintz, a syndicated columnist and the creator of takingthekids.com. "Cruises are all-inclusive, so you aren't being nickeled-and-dimed to death."
Which to book: Go to cruising.org for links to 26 cruise lines.