Illinois Tourism & Travel

Crazy About Travel

Best family vacation hotels of 2021



CNN
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The past 18 months have kept many of us apart — 6 feet at a minimum, to be exact. But when it comes to our immediate families, we’ve seen plenty of them — up close and perhaps a little too personal.

But the pandemic isn’t over, so if you’re considering traveling again this year, chances are you’ll want to stay somewhere where everyone in your pod can spread out and perhaps even do their own thing from time to time. After all, a change of scenery is good for the mind and the soul, but doing it with the same people you’ve been stuck at home with for over a year may not be.

Before you choose a hotel, there are a few features to look for to ensure the property has the space and amenities to allow everyone to claim a spot, spread their wings and perhaps even meet new friends that don’t share the same address. Here’s what to look for:

  • Lots of nooks and crannies. Acreage is great, but also take a look at the way the hotel is designed. Are there a variety of places to curl up with a book, check your email or just lounge in the sun without bumping into your other family members? Depending on the layout, even a boutique hotel can work for families, so long as there are multiple zones where everyone can do their own thing.
  • A mix of organized and spontaneous activities. Boating excursions, guided hikes and museum visits are fun, but a hotel that also offers a variety of activities you can choose to do on impulse is ideal. We’re talking poolside limbo contests, pop-up ice cream stands and kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
  • More than just a kids club. If you’re traveling with little ones, having a kids club is great, but not if it comes with a ton of restrictions — especially limited hours. A resort that provides organized activities for younger children that goes beyond crafting in the room designated as the “kids club” is a much better bet, particularly if you’re staying for more than just a couple of days and you really need a break from parenting (no judgment here).

Now that you know what to keep an eye out for when choosing the perfect hotel for your next family vacation, check out these great resorts that provide plenty of room for families to spread out and claim their own space.

The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, Solvang

If you live in the city and want to get back to nature, this luxury ranch spread over nearly 11,000 acres in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is a perfect fit. All that wide-open space means activities like horseback riding, scenic cycling, hiking, fishing, kayaking and, for the body-and-spirit-minded traveler in your group, yoga.

You’ll feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder exploring the rolling hills and the charming barn, getting to know the grazing cows and hiking the trails. Each of 73 private cottages comes with wood-burning fireplaces for a cozy retreat at the end of a day spent outdoors.

Enchantment Resort, Sedona

For an American Southwest vibe that’s almost spiritual, there’s no better place than Sedona’s Enchantment Resort. Spread over 70 acres, this “bike-in, bike-out” property provides easy access to nearly 400 miles of trails, each one with a dramatic canyon landscape as the backdrop. There are also over 100 weekly activities included with your stay, from wine and watercolor workshops to photography and pottery classes.

If your mind and soul need some attention (and whose don’t these days?), there’s guided meditation, yoga and lots of stargazing. Active families can choose from tennis and pickleball courts, a refreshing swimming pool and the resort’s new adventure center, the Trail House.

The Wigwam, Litchfield Park

The Wigwam

The Wigwam features three golf courses, including two designed by golf legend Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

Surrounded by the cacti-studded Sonoran Desert, the Wigwam is perfect for families of all types, but especially those with small children. With a Superhero Training Camp for the Clark Kent wannabes, a Wildlife World Zoo for animal lovers, plus two water slides, lawn games and poolside movies, they may never want to leave.

But they’re not the only ones. Golfers have three 18-hole courses to choose from, including two designed by golf legend Robert Trent Jones, Sr. There’s also a full-service spa and, thanks to the area’s average of 300 days of sunshine each year, outdoor yoga, barre and meditation classes. Adobe-style luxury casitas and suites provide plenty of room for families, as do the 440 acres of wide-open space.

The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva

The grand dame of the Midwest, the 1,300-acre Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is just three miles from downtown Lake Geneva. From scooter tours and golf clinics to horseback riding, kayaking, archery and disc golf, this four-season destination offers a wide range of activities throughout the year. With so much ground to explore, it’s easy for family members to find a spot under a tree or near a fire pit that’s perfect for solo relaxing or curling up with a good book.

The on-site Adventure Center morphs from a full-scale winter sports snow park to a hub for warm-weather activities depending on the season, so don’t distinguish the “Grand” as a summer-only resort. Two water parks and several family-friendly ski resorts nearby offer plenty to do off property any time of the year as well. Plus, there’s always Lake Geneva itself, with its breathtaking shore paths perfect for long strolls, and a narrated excursion around the lake aboard the US Mailboat, one of only a handful of places where mail is still delivered by water.

The Lodge at Blue Sky, Wanship

Located just outside Park City, this high-end resort appeals to active families who enjoy exploring Mother Nature but want a whole bunch of creature comforts too. Surrounded by 3,500 acres of gorgeous hills dotted with roaming wildlife, you can expect the usual Utah pursuits here, but with a view: mountain biking, fly fishing, horseback riding and, if you visit during the winter, heliskiing.

Of course, you can always just stay at the lodge and visit the massive spa for a relaxing massage; sip a drink at the High West Distillery, which produces its own whiskey; or soak in the infinity pool overlooking the mountains. Spacious lodge-like rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows so you can make the most of the amazing views, while canyon-facing suites built into the hillside have a private terrace and an outdoor fireplace.

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, Pigeon Forge

Dolly Parton is an American icon, and she sure knows a thing or two about Southern hospitality. In addition to her famous Dollywood theme park, the country crooner also came up with the idea for the 100-acre DreamMore Resort and Spa next door. Several pools — including an indoor option and another with a waterfall — along with a game room, a playground, a spa and activities such as story time around the fireplace provide around-the-clock entertainment.

Guests also score perks at both Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country theme parks, with free transportation and early Saturday entry. During the cooler months, the resort provides free shuttles to explore Pigeon Forge and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, Cape Cod

Get a beautiful view of the water during sunset at the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod.

Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club

Get a beautiful view of the water during sunset at the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod.

It’s hard to find a hotel that spawns over 400 acres, but the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod fits the bill. With this much room to roam, it’ll be hard for families to step on one another’s toes.

Kayak or go paddleboarding on Blueberry Pond, lounge by one of five sparkling pools or take a long walk or bike ride on the 26-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail — and that’s just to start. You can also polish your tennis or pickleball skills with a clinic, and the next day play 18 holes on the resort’s stunning private course.

When it’s time to get the gang back together, join an oyster bed tour for an education in aquaculture. The villas here are perfect for families, with multiple bedrooms so everyone has plenty of space to themselves. Add to all this a swimming beach that’s perfect for little ones, a robust calendar of daily activities and seasonal archery lessons for travelers who want to try something new, and it’s safe to say there’ll never be a dull moment.

Montage Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton

Beaches understandably get a lot of attention, but rivers have a rugged natural beauty to them that’s just as ideal for a tranquil escape. Hidden away in the Carolina lowcountry, the Montage Palmetto Bluff sits on the May River halfway between Hilton Head Island and Savannah.

The 20,000-acre community surrounding the resort encompasses a nature preserve with walking trails, but the real stars of the show here are the over 300 species of birds. The resort’s resident naturalist takes guests on walks to Bird Island, sharing a history of the area and pointing out the local flora and fauna with every step. Plus, kids will love the kayak tours that get up close to the dolphins that live there year-round.

Activities at the resort include fishing the May River, teeing off at the May River Golf Club or spending a leisurely afternoon at the 13,000-square-foot spa. And in addition to the property’s rooms and suites, riverside cottages provide plenty of space. Plus, two villages full of shops and restaurants feature tons of options for Southern-style dining — or if you just need to get away.

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, Hilton Head

The Westin Hilton Head is an oceanfront gem with a whopping 12 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, which means the odds are high you’ll find a spot to yourself somewhere. With an eye on conservation, it’s perfect for science-loving children. Turtle Patrol scavenger hunts are designed to protect sea turtles while educating young guests about the importance of doing so. Kids are also invited to fill in sand holes and flatten mounds to receive free treats.

For a one-of-a-kind adventure, families can go horseback riding on the pristine beaches of Daufuskie Island, one of the last places in the US where you can ride horseback on the beach. Three oceanfront pools, a handful of restaurants and a spa add to the list of things to do when you need some distance from your brood. Guests also enjoy access to the Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club, home to manicured fairways and Har-Tru tennis courts. All rooms and suites have private balconies, allowing you to enjoy the region’s temperate weather year-round.

Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, Orlando

Enjoy family-friendly poolside activities at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Enjoy family-friendly poolside activities at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

Tucked away in the 482-acre Bonnet Creek nature preserve, it’s hard to believe the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is just five minutes from Orlando’s theme parks. For the young and young at heart, there’s a 3-acre-long lazy river, a mix of quiet pools with roomy cabanas and family-friendly poolside activities like scavenger hunts and mermaid lessons. And yes, the resort provides complimentary Disney park shuttles so that teens and die-hard Mickey fans can make it to the theme park rides as well.

Even the standard guest rooms are spacious at 400 square feet, with bunk-style rooms available for families traveling with multiple kids. Plus, one of the coolest things about this property is that it shares use of the amenities at the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek next door. That means a lot of additional room to roam with another six pools, two more lazy rivers and a mini golf course.

On the other side of the same lake, Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek provides even homier digs with spacious one-, two- and three-bedroom suites that come with full kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms. Ideal for younger kids, it has a pirate shipwreck in the middle of the main pool and offers unlimited ice cream sundaes. And it’s all less than a mile from the entrance to Walt Disney World.

Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Key Largo

Waterfront access in the Florida Keys is a coveted commodity, but secluded too? That’s a rarity. One of the most recent new-build resorts in the Keys in years, the Playa Largo Resort & Spa is a chic oasis that manages to mix both tropical and cosmopolitan styles perfectly, with nary a clichéd palm motif in sight.

In addition to the rooms and suites, the resort has 10 bungalows and a beach house for families looking for more space. Anyone seeking solitude from their nearest and dearest can curl up on a beachside hammock for a siesta under the gumbo limbo trees, while water lovers should head straight for the on-site Caribbean Watersports hub for snorkeling coral reefs, paddling Florida Bay and eco-tours that whisk you to nearby Everglades National Park. The resort’s Kids’ Night Out activities, such as s’more-making and stargazing, mean adults will also have some time to themselves for grown-up restaurants.

Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, Michès

If your family loves beach resorts, the Dominican Republic is one of the Caribbean’s best values. But if it’s room to roam you’re after, leave the crowded tourist strip of Punta Cana behind in favor of Michés, an undiscovered seaside town far from the hustle and bustle that’s home to the new Club Med Michès.

The first and only operating resort in the region, this property is for families who want a luxury, all-inclusive tropical getaway. Spread across 93 acres on a pristine stretch of white sand beach, the resort is set up as four boutique “villages,” each centered around a unique theme such as wellness or adventure. Families can book an oceanfront penthouse suite in family-centric Explorer Cove village, complete with a rooftop terrace, multiple bedrooms and access to a private family pool.

Attend a cooking demonstration and pick up a few skills to try at home, escape for a moment of  Zen with treetop yoga classes or enjoy the privacy of the adults-only Zen Oasis while the kiddos take part in customized programs that may include trips to a Secret Chocolate Room, a speakeasy for little ones featuring unlimited sweets made with locally sourced cocoa.

Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, New Providence Island

The biggest resort opening in the Bahamas since Atlantis, the sprawling Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in New Providence has an interior casino with Vegas-style vibes, slot machines and poker tables surrounded by luxury boutiques and a bevy of restaurants that range from a French boulangerie to a sushi hot spot. Outside, there’s even more room to spread your wings. In fact, if you play your cards right, you don’t necessarily have to see your family members for days if you don’t want to.

To reach the long stretch of Cable Beach, one of the Bahamas’ most famous shorelines, you’ll have to take a pleasant stroll through manicured tropical gardens and seven pools, some with cascading waterfalls, cliff jumps and cave-like grottos. You might also pass the flamingo sanctuary and many of the resort’s 40+ restaurants, bars and lounge areas.

And that’s just the Grand Hyatt. This massive property spread out over 1,000 acres actually encompasses three resorts — the family-friendly Grand Hyatt, the sleek and sexy SLS and the swanky Rosewood, tripling the number of nooks and crannies to explore.

Guests at all three properties also receive unlimited access to the resort’s new 15-acre beachfront water park, Baha Bay, featuring 24 water slides, group raft rides and a lazy river. That’s in addition to the complimentary stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, water hammocks and floating lounges. And when you’re ready to bond as a family again, you can snorkel with sharks, stingrays and sea turtles at the Beach Sanctuary.

For a twist on the usual kids club activities, little ones can take part in bake-offs and cooking classes as well as wildlife tours at the new Explorer’s Club. Adults can squeeze in a round of golf on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, indulge at the 30,000-square-foot ESPA luxury spa or just lounge the day away in a poolside cabana.

Beaches Turks & Caicos, Providenciales

There are always plenty of outdoor activities for families at the Beaches Turks & Caicos resort.

Beaches Resorts

There are always plenty of outdoor activities for families at the Beaches Turks & Caicos resort.

This property has become the Caribbean’s designated go-to when it comes to all-inclusive family vacations that provide great value since there’s so much to do for guests of all ages. There’s a 45,000-square-foot on-site water park, 21 restaurants, unlimited PADI-certified scuba diving and water sports, a 12-mile beach, a spa and 10 pools — whew!

There are also endless activities for toddlers to tweens and teens, including Sesame Street character breakfasts, an Xbox Play Lounge and a teen disco. Plus, the rooms and suites recently received a makeover, including four-bedroom villas that have three floors and sleep up to 10.

Caribe Hilton, San Juan

Want to feel like you’re traveling internationally without the passport? Just minutes from the historic heart of Old San Juan, the Caribe Hilton is a beachfront oasis known for its warm, welcoming and chatty resident parrots. Travelers can cool off in oceanfront swimming pools or sign up for snorkeling and “snuba diving” (like scuba for beginners).

On the other hand, tennis enthusiasts can practice their backhand with lessons at the Monica Puig tennis center, named after the local Olympic gold medalist. And foodies won’t want to miss a poolside mofongo-making class, where resort chefs teach you how to make this traditional Puerto Rican dish.

Finally, when you’re ready to venture out, you can head to the Manatee Conservation Center, where kids can be a “Manatee Caretaker for a Day,” or enjoy nighttime kayaking with glow-in-the-dark LED kayaks in the nearby Condado Lagoon.