30 Best Vacation Ideas for Families Who Want to Avoid Winter
Ready to ditch your winter blues for a family-friendly vacation in climates warmer than here?
From perpetually wet feet to relentlessly bundling (and unbundling) your kids with layer upon layer, the need to escape grows for many parents as the winter season drags on—and on. Even those families who don't live with the finicky four-season cycle might prefer their vacation with a side of palm trees, rather than fur-trimmed snow boots. So whether you're seeking to escape the cold or just don't want to vacation in it, we've rounded up more than two dozen of our favorite warm-weather destinations that beckon you to shed your parka and bask in the sun.
Strolling through the incredible aquarium is just one of the many activities a family can enjoy at Atlantis Resort.
1. Atlantis, Paradise Island — This Bahamas resort and island are the fantasy destination for many, not just the kids. The Atlantis Resort offers an out-of-this-world water park with nearly a dozen pools, all manner of activities, kids club, beach and boating, and countless room options on this tropical isle. Also consider the nearby, budget-minded Comfort Suites, which provides free admission to Atlantis, so you can slip and slide the day away but return to your clean and simple room in the evening for a fraction of the price.
2. Grand Lucayan, Bahamas — This beachfront family resort is everything you've dreamed of from your frost-bitten state. The Grand Lucayan Beach & Golf Resort is the largest hotel on the island and considered by many to be the finest. The hotel offers the sandy beaches, warm sun, and ocean breezes for which the Bahamas are known. Expect lots of amenities, dining options, and planned activities. It's in the island's touristy Lucaya district, making it easy enough to take in some of the local sights if you want.
3. Cayman Islands — This chain of three islands features glorious shallow water and calm sea, so all ages may enjoy a dip in the Caribbean. Diving and snorkeling are popular activities, while young naturalists will enjoy visiting Cayman Turtle Farm. Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort has recently completed an extensive transformation, making it an excellent choice for families staying on Grand Cayman.
Stunningly blue water surrounds you at Beaches, Turks and Caicos.
4. Beaches, Turks and Caicos — It’s hard to beat Beaches Resorts for a family vacation. These all-inclusive resorts are designed from top to bottom to ensure that every member of the family has a spectacular time. Turks and Caicos is a jewel in the Beaches family crown with stunningly blue waters and a long coral reef with amazing aquatic life to take advantage of the only resorts where scuba diving is included.
5. Disney Cruise — If running around a theme park isn’t your idea of fun, taking a Disney Cruise can be a great way to get your Disney on. The magic makers pull out all the stops from impressive theme restaurants, magical entertainment and, of course, one-on-one time with your favorite characters. With lots of grown-up only areas to enjoy while your kids are busy at the incredible kids' clubs, this is a lux vacation everyone will enjoy. We've tried several different cruises, including a Star Wars-themed ship, a ride with Beauty and Beast, and even a tour of Europe with an incredible kids' club.
Soak up the sun, pools, and family fun in Cabo at the Grand Solmar Land's End Resort.
6. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico —There's so much to do in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico's Baja California, especially for families. During the winter season, get up close and personal with whales migrating from the Arctic to the warm, calm waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula. You can go zip-lining, rock-climbing, swimming with dolphins and even camel riding in the desert! We were thoroughly spoiled at the all-inclusive Grand Velas Los Cabos with its spa, pools, and attention to detail. A stay at Grand Solmar Land's End Resort will also leave you sun-kissed, relaxed and well-fed.
7. San Diego, California — With its near-perfect year-round climate, world-class zoo, miles of beach, and cute Old Town, San Diego is loaded with personality. Take a scenic cruise around San Diego Bay before you enjoy some fresh Pacific seafood for dinner. The Hotel Del Coronado is an iconic resort that caters to kids, but we've also rounded up another half-dozen kid-friendly hotels in this coastal California town.
Orlando is a kid's paradise and not just at the theme parks. Enjoy the pools at the Grove Resort and Water Park. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
8. Orlando, Florida — With mild to hot temperatures year-round, plenty of hotel rooms designed for multigenerational families, and yes, a certain mouse-themed series of amusement parks, it's no surprise that Orlando tops any list of family vacations. But step outside of Disney World mania for a moment, and you'll discover that Orlando has dozens of additional family-friendly attractions, from a science center and museums to balloon rides and boating.
9. Scottsdale, Arizona — Scottsdale is a golf, tennis and spa mecca, and families are welcomed with open arms. The dry desert air works magic on winter-weary bones of all ages. The Westin Kierland Resort offers tweens and teens nonstop fun with the FlowRider, a machine that lets you pseudo surf in the desert. Giant swimming pools and numerous children’s programs are also on the menu.
Meet Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters while hanging out in the water park at Disney's Aulani Resort.
10. Aulani, Hawaii — The Hawaiian Islands are a fantasy destination for many. Whether you want to learn to surf on popular Waikiki Beach on Oahu or visit the volcanic wonders on the Big Island, this chain of islands is paradise. Families are flocking to Aulani, a Disney resort that has garnered numerous accolades, including from our own reviewer who called it "an absolutely luxurious resort vacation with enough family fun that parents can enjoy without feeling like they are vacationing in Romper Room."
11. The Florida Keys — The laid-back beach vibe and sparkling, turquoise water that surrounds the towns that make up the Florida Keys are sure to charm all ages. Myriad family-friendly outdoor activities abound in this south Florida charmer of a region, from swims with dolphins to boating and snorkeling, but also a stunning marine sanctuary, state parks, lighthouse, and more.
Circus Circus in Vegas has just about every activity a kid could wish for, including a splash pad.
12. Las Vegas — Love it or hate it, this Nevada oasis has succeeded in becoming a family town with pools aplenty, a children's museum, aquarium, and even numerous babysitting options for parents looking for a night out. Consider a stay at Circus Circus, offering thousands of hotel rooms right on the Las Vegas Strip, an indoor theme park, live circus acts, and cheap and cheerful buffets. If you’re feeling Lady Luck on your side, there’s an onsite casino. Or try The Orleans Hotel and Casino with its onsite child care, indoor jungle gym, arcade, and more family entertainment.
13. Florida beaches — We've already named a few of our favorite Florida destinations, but really the Sunshine State offers a number of charming options to help everyone thaw out. Try one of these top beach towns now or on spring break when temps really start to soar in the south.
Kids will enjoy the characters (and slime), while grown-ups hit the pool and beach at the Nickelodeon Resort Punta Cana. Photo by Jaime Sumersille
14. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic — The Dominican Republic is easy to reach, thanks to numerous nonstop flights from many East Coast cities, and we've enjoyed several of the island's top beachfront resorts that cater to families. Club Med Punta Cana features cool activities from Creactive by Cirque du Soleil, boutique-hotel styling, and a full kids program. The Nickelodeon Resort is another great option for families, with a water park, character visits, kids club, and stunning beachside pools.
15. San Juan, Puerto Rico — Old San Juan has the charm, history and culinary delights of a foreign destination without the hassles of needing a passport. Plus, nature seekers will enjoy hiking in nearby El Yunque rain forest. The Condado Plaza Hilton gives you the best of the beach with the culture of Old San Juan just outside your doorstep. (Please be aware that the hotel is undergoing renovations as the island as a whole continues to repair after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.)
The Caribbean glimmers just outside the Azul Beach Resort Riviera Cancun.
16. Cancun, Mexico — You could grab a lounge chair and never leave the silky sand and the Caribbean Sea at one of the dozens of hotels in Cancun, like Azul Beach Resort Riviera Cancun, which makes travel with kids as seamless as possible, but it would be a shame to miss out on excursions to places like the Mayan ruins in Tulum and many other unforgettable destinations nearby.
17. Los Angeles — Trade your snowy city for palm trees and SoCal sunshine in Los Angeles, a sprawling family playground filled with museums, top-notch eats, and of course, a few nearby theme parks! Relax after a day of exploring with a stay at one of these kid-friendly LA hotels. Save time to visit another popular locale, such as Santa Barbara, where botanic gardens, sailing, and more family-friendly seaside pursuits will put everyone in that laid-back California state of mind.
18. Legoland — Speaking of theme parks, whether you visit the Legoland in Southern California or the Winter Haven, Florida location, the kids are sure to reward you with big smiles as you all warm up at these amusement parks based on everyone's favorite building brick. You might even tack on a visit to the Florida park with a Tampa beach vacation, or Orlando theme park bonanza. The Carlsbad, California park is a great add-on for a visit to San Diego, as is its water park. Bonus: Each amusement park offers some fun, Lego-themed lodging options, including Florida's Legoland Hotel and its Beach Retreat, and the brand-new Legoland Castle Hotel in California.
At El Conquistador, Puerto Rico parents can relax while the kids enjoy mini golf, a water park, and more.
19. El Conquistador, Puerto Rico — El Conquistador makes a splash with its on-site water park, a private resort island, Arthur Hills Golf Course, deluxe Waldorf Astoria Spa and more, making an ideal vacation spot for the whole family. (Again, keep in mind that the hotel is undergoing renovations as the island as a whole continues to repair after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.)
20. San Antonio, Texas — This charming Texas town is loaded with appeal. Take a narrated cruise or stroll River Walk, visit the Alamo, and enjoy delicious Mexican food. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, head indoors to the San Antonio children’s museum, The DoSeum. The Witte Museum is a fabulous place to discover Texas heritage with a smattering of science and natural history thrown in for good measure. Embassy Suites Riverwalk and the Mokara Hotel and Spa are fine hotel options on the River Walk.
21. New Orleans — From swamp tours to a children's museum, there is plenty in New Orleans to entertain families. So forget about that image of a 24/7 Mardi Gras drinking fest and make your way to the French Quarter for live jazz and outdoor family brunch.
The Saguaro in Palm Springs is known for its hipster-meets-diaper poolside scenes.
22. Palm Springs, California — Welcoming Palm Springs is a popular destination for LGBT families, design, and architecture buffs, or anyone who enjoys stylish mid-century hotels with giant swimming pools shaded by palm trees. Family favorites include The Saguaro and the Ace Hotel, which are both popular for their hipster-meets-diaper poolside scenes, but the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa offers a family-friendly water park that's hard to beat. Beyond the pool, there's hiking galore, dinosaur fun, and museums, too.
23. Mexico's Riviera Maya — Along Mexico's Caribbean coast lies the Riviera Maya region with stunning beachside towns, such as Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Myriad outdoor family-friendly activities abound, including underwater tours, snorkeling, animal interactions, a natural outdoor water park, zip lines, and Mayan ruins. You'll quickly forget all about mittens and hats with a week spent here.
You can't go wrong with guaranteed warm weather at the indoor water park, Great Wolf Lodge.
24. Great Wolf Lodge — If airfare isn’t in your budget this year, a drive to the closest Great Wolf Lodge might be just the ticket to thaw out your bones. This national chain of resorts offers indoor water parks that kids go ga-ga for, including in the Pennsylvania Poconos and the Los Angeles areas. Trek to one of its southern or western locations, including Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, or Scottsdale, Arizona, to truly warm up.
25. Palm Coast, Florida — This quiet little northern Florida beach area is the perfect place to let your stress melt away. The beach may be cold during winter, but you can enjoy Hammock Beach Resort’s Fantasy Pool Complex, golf, tennis, a huge spa, kids club and more. There’s lots to do within a few hours drive including Orlando theme parks, Kennedy Space Center, and Marineland Dolphin Adventure.
Surround yourself with the tropics during a stay at the Beach House at the Tree House Lodge in Costa Rica.
26. Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica — Costa Rica offers so many unique and wonderful experiences. We’ve raved about the new Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica before, but how about taking an Into the Woods adventure, sleeping in a beachside treehouse in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge with a visit to the nearby Jaguar Rescue Park Tree House Lodge is a fairy tale getaway to be sure.
27. Nashville, Tennessee — Tour Music City by trolley, or stroll around the Tennessee Capitol building by foot in this country-music loving southern city. There are kid-friendly museums, a science center, outdoor adventures, and plenty of local grub to savor.
28. Charleston, South Carolina —The charm of this low country hot spot is not to be missed in any season. The newly minted southern foodie city offers a bit of everything, from beaches to a historic French Quarter to an aquarium popular with families. Charleston is also renowned for its hospitality, another sure-fire way to melt away those winter blues.
29. Indoor water park — Kids go crazy for water parks, and during the winter months, we don't mind hanging in these steamy, faux tropical environments, too. We've rounded up 10 of our favorite indoor water parks for families across the country. Most of them are attached to resorts with additional amenities, from spas to arcades and skiing.
This article was first published in November 2015 but has since been updated and revised. Additional reporting by Rose Gordon Sala.
All photos courtesy of the hotels except where noted