Preston Mack/Walt Disney World
Traveling as a family is both gratifying and inherently challenging, a stacking puzzle of personalities and preferences you hope to keep stable no matter what bumps the table. In my decade as a parent who regularly hits the road, my most significant takeaways from family travel are these: First, you absolutely must remain flexible, ready to postpone or abandon a plan if someone is grouchy, hungry, or just too tired to manage. And second, no matter where you are going, everyone must have literal (and often metaphorical) space to be themselves.
For kids, it’s usually the literal space that’s required. I have never met a young person who does well in a confined space, unless that space is, say, an indoor trampoline park. For my family, that means our landing place needs a nearby playground or an easily accessed beach, lake, or swath of woods. And as I listed out the winning properties below, I felt confirmed in the above musts, as every single one checks this box in its own way. Here’s hoping the following resorts help you book your next storm-free family trip – summer is just around the corner, believe it or not.
Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior, Two Harbors, Minnesota
It turns out families needn’t fly to Finland for the ultimate lake vacation. A wood-fired Finnish sauna sits near the shore of Lake Superior at this resort, and guests are encouraged to do what the Finns do – follow your sauna session with a plunge in the cold waters just outside. Guided kayak, canoe, and paddle board experiences are among other ways families can get on the lake here.
The Winnetu Oceanside Resort, Edgartown, Massachusetts
A family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard is bucket-list stuff, and this is the resort to stay at. Attend a clambake in the summer, then follow the private path to South Beach for some time in the sand. And don’t miss the chance to take a water taxi ride in Katama Bay – it’ll drop you in adorable downtown Edgartown, where you can shop for souvenirs, snacks, and sweets.
The Woodlands Resort, The Woodlands, Texas
Just 30 miles from Houston, this resort in the Curio Collection by Hilton boasts an incredible onsite water park. Families can spend hours at Forest Oasis Water Park and Lazy River, a year-round spot with waterslides, a zero-entry sprayground, and an activity pool with underwater music and more. Pools are heated in winter and day passes are available.
Capitol Reef Resort, Torrey, Utah
This resort is right outside the bounds of Utah’s glorious Capitol Reef National Park, so you’ll have incredible views of (and easy access to) the park’s unique and towering sandstone structures. Cabins and suites are available, but we’d opt for a stay in a tent or a Conestoga wagon – these types of accommodations are more likely to help you enjoy your one-of-a-kind surroundings.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Oahu, Hawaii
With villas that can accommodate up to 12 guests and incredible programming for all ages, Aulani is designed for happy multigenerational travel – its Ko Olina waterfront location doesn’t hurt either. Snorkel in crystalline Hawaiian waters (or in the resort’s private lagoon), play in the Keiki Cove Splash Zone, or spend hours cruising in Waikolohe Stream, Aulani’s answer to a lazy river with inner tubes for all, cool caverns, and spots with rushing water. Afterwards, snack on a Mickey-shaped Spam musubi, perhaps the perfect Disney/Hawaii mashup.
Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, Oahu, Hawaii
Set on Waikiki Beach and incredibly close to Ala Moana and Fort DeRussy beaches, Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort is situated perfectly for families who want to explore the best stretches of sand in the island’s most populous district. Consider a room with a view of Diamond Head, the famous (and hikable) volcanic cone just in the distance, and don’t miss nightly live Hawaiian music by local performers or a wood-carving session with a master of the craft.
South Seas Island Resort, Captiva, Florida
Though currently undergoing significant renovations due to damage from Hurricane Ian, South Seas Island Resort aims to reopen later this year. Along with hotel accommodations and multi-room condos, the resort will offer brand new amenities, from a sparkling pool and 12-hole short golf course to reimagined versions of its beloved candy shop and casual beachside eatery.
Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
A luxury vacation in a safari tent is the signature offering by Under Canvas, a brand that debuted in 2012. Set near the entrance of the eponymous park, Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains makes for an ideal homebase for park explorers while also offering a dense list of outdoor programming, from guided hikes and trivia or movie nights to yoga sessions and live music. Note that it is a seasonal property, generally open from spring to late November.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, Anaheim, California
A superb replica of American parkitecture design, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa feels both rustic and luxurious, and it offers all the perks family travelers need. We love its grand, lodge-like lobby, where a piano player often regales crowds with Disney tunes. Easy entry to Disneyland Resort parks is an incredible perk for overnight guests, but so is the pool deck, where three pools and a 90-foot water slide around a faux redwood tree stump entertain kids of all ages. Parents, try a cocktail from the poolside GCH Craftsman Bar, too.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, Vero Beach, Florida
Golfers, water-sport enthusiasts, and folks who love to fish have long adored Vero Beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and if you’re heading to the destination with kids, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is the place to stay. Enjoy pristine sands right off the property, or the giant pool with a two-story, pirate-themed water slide. There’s also an on-site 9-hole mini golf course and a bookable loggerhead turtle conservation outing.
Whiteface Lodge, Lake Placid, New York
Six million acres of Adirondack forest is your backyard at Whiteface Lodge, a luxury lodge on upstate New York’s Lake Placid. Fantastic all year round, lodge guests can hike, boat, bike ride, and rock climb in the warmer months. In winter, all imaginable snow sports are possible, including downhill skiing, dog sledding, and toboggan-chute riding. There’s also a catch-and-release fishing pond on site and a 56-seat movie theater that plays three films a day.
Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island is a true respite with its laid-back vibe, family-friendly beaches, and beautiful natural surroundings. This Disney resort nods to island history, designed with the aesthetic of a 1940s hunting and fishing lodge front of mind. Guests here have easy access to miles of sandy beaches and bike trails, three pools and a water slide, plus campsite storytelling sessions, fishing and crabbing excursions, and outdoor movie nights.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
One of many Walt Disney World Resort accommodation options, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge shines with a surreal sense of place – that is, its recreation of the African savannah. More than 200 live animals roam these grounds, from flamingos to giraffes, and programming guided by expert naturalists is available to help young animal enthusiasts learn about the fauna. Complimentary transportation to the theme park is a convenient inclusion, too.
Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
For a completely different vibe in the same location, families love Disney’s Beach Club Resort, designed with coastal New England in mind. The pool deck, known as Stormalong Bay, is essentially a three-acre onsite waterpark that includes a life-size shipwreck to play around, three pools, and a lazy river. And you’re a short walk to the Disney Skyliner gondola system, which can whisk you to and from the theme parks via air.
Under Canvas Moab, Moab, Utah
Another winning location from Under Canvas, this one is set seven miles outside Arches National Park, which is best known for its improbable sandstone arch formations. Families love the safari-inspired lodging here, complete with luxurious West Elm furnishings, private bathrooms, and access to communal grills and a lobby tent with grab-and-go snacks. Guided hiking, rafting, and canyoneering excursions can be booked, too. Note that this is a seasonal property, generally open late winter to mid fall.