If you find yourself counting how many summers you have left with your kids before they leave the nest, perhaps it’s time to think big and plan a trip that usurps all other vacations. The time you’ll spend together exploring the planet will create memories sure to be the subject of conversation around the dinner table well into the future. We’ve rounded up some of the most amazing experiences that are worth every penny—splurge vacations that will give you a return on investment in spades. Go big or go home, right?
Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa - Tuscany, Italy
Imagine sipping your morning coffee from the balcony, while listening to the sounds of birds and a barking dog or two off in the distance, as you survey the verdant countryside below. After room service or a full breakfast in Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa’s restaurant, La Veranda, you’ll head out to explore the local village of Barga with the hotel’s expert chef. Your family will handpick ingredients from a local market, visit the cheese and meat shops, and see what Tuscan living is really all about. Once you’ve made it back to the hotel, you’ll don chef hats and aprons and participate in an Italian cooking lesson in the kitchen. The whole family will whirl around the bubbling pots of tomato sauce, shape pasta by hand, and slice up vegetables. Perhaps the lessons you’ll learn here, in Italy’s Serchico Valley, will be carried over into your own kitchen at home, where the whole family is involved in creating the meal.
Relax at the outdoor pool, afterward, or indulge in a spa treatment. Other nearby attractions include the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the charming town of Lucca, Parco Levigliese Adventures Park, Selva Del Buffardello Adventure Park, and Game Park in Fornaci di Barga.
Rates for a Balcony Deluxe View Room, including breakfast, is $352 per night.
The Valley Isle: Maui
This second-largest Hawaiian island is exactly what we picture when we think of “paradise”. The beaches—sandy to rocky, dark to light—are as varied as the diverse landscapes and it’s easy to see why Conde Nast Traveler would vote Maui as the “Best Island in the U.S.” Visit the Iao Valley, spot migrating humpback whales on the horizon, satiate your palate with farm-to-table fresh meals, drive the winding Road to Hana, and watch the sunrise or sunset from Haleakala “House of the Sun”, a dormant volcano. Experience the spirit of Aloha and learn about the dances, art, and culture through hula and festive luaus. Kids will love the Maui Ocean Center, home to manta rays and sharks; the Hawaii Nature Center, in Wailuku; and the Junior Ranger program at Haleakala Visitor Center.
Luxury properties that are sure to “wow” your family: Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Grand Wailea—a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Fairmont Kea Lani Maui, Travaasa Hana and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. Family programming abounds at these high-end, well-located resorts.
Westin Playa Bonita, Panama
If you’re an intrepid family that has visited many places and is looking for a destination that is unique, give Panama a try. The country is full of appetizing local cuisine, rich cultural and ecological experiences, and where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic. Of course, the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal is a must-see. The canal generates a huge chunk of the country’s economy. It’s here, at the crossroads of the Americas, where you can visit Casco Viejo’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you have a sloth fan in your family, visit the Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary and Wildlife Rescue Center where you can see these magical slowly-moving creatures up close. You can also ride a narrow tram to the top of a lookout, spotting wildlife along the way.
Stay on a high floor at the stunning Westin Playa Bonita, a beach oasis with indelible panoramic Pacific Ocean views, located 20 minutes from Panama City and 30 minutes from the canal’s Miraflores Locks. You can hear the container ships, off in the distance, waiting their turn to enter the famed canal. The hotel features multiple dining options, three swimming pools, and a Club Lounge that is a welcome respite.
Rooms with Club Lounge access and a balcony with an ocean view, start at $200 per night.
Terranea, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Who's ready for a giant dose of vitamin Sea? This 102-acre private paradise set on the Pacific Coast in SoCal brings the spirit and beauty of the Mediterranean stateside. The eco resort has plenty of room for basking in beach-laden sunshine with four ocean-view pools, an oceanfront golf course and a Spa with views of the coastline. Their Villas are a luxurious home away from home with panoramic views of Catalina Island, dedicated on-call concierge services and the conveniences of a private garage and laundry room and a gourmet kitchen. Kids will dive into the pool that's complete with a 140-foot waterslide––and they'll love the local activities of kayaking, surf camps, standup paddleboarding and evening s'mores by the fire pits.
Peak season (June and on) prices start at $455 per night.
REI Adventures, The Globe
Most folks know REI for their outdoor great gear and clothing, but REI Adventures, the travel arm of the company, provides some of the wildest and most memorable experiences for families—led by expert guides. Take a safari in Tanzania; spend nearly two weeks hiking, biking, zip lining and kayaking in Thailand; hear the forest sounds on a kid-centric adventure in Costa Rica; enjoy a multi-day hike in Italy, Scotland, Greece, or Ireland; see Machu Picchu or explore the upper Amazon Basin and the islands of the Galapagos archipelago, thick with wild animals and verdant lands. These memories will provide fodder for stories for years to come.
Adventure awaits in Colorado, a state that should really be called “The Sunshine State” because it receives over 300 sunny days per year. From horseback riding at dude ranches to ATV rides to whitewater rafting to kayaking, this state has it all. Culture, history, outdoor activities, great dining, charming towns (hello, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Estes Park and Golden) and unique attractions are what this state is all about.
Check out the historic hot springs loop, which includes five destinations that highlight nearly 20 different hot spring facilities: Chaffee County, Pagosa Springs, Ouray County, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs. Ouray Hot Springs recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation, Iron Mountain Hot Springs has 16 mineral hot springs pools and a separate family pool, Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a popular outdoor hangout, and Antero Hot Springs features three cabins decked out with their very own hot springs-fed pools.
Dude ranches are one of those quintessential family-friendly experiences that everyone should indulge in at least once. For those awe-inspiring views and horseback riding activities, book a stay at Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Sundance Trail Guest Ranch near Roosevelt National Forest, M Lazy C Ranch with views of Lake George, Coulter Lake Guest Ranch or Latigo Ranch.
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Finally, a nature-heavy adventure that is perfect for multigenerational families. Bring the grandparents and have an experience of a lifetime with the Canadian rail-tour company, Rocky Mountaineer. Pick one of the four rail routes that glide through British Columbia, Alberta, and the U.S. state of Washington and peek out the glass-domed ceiling to spot some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. You’ll be privy to some of the most untouched natural areas, only accessible by train, and wildlife is plentiful—keep your peepers open for bear, elk, deer, moose, eagles, osprey, and mountain goats.
An onboard steward will point out the sights, tell you some of the area’s history and be an all-around resource for you while you journey through the mountains. Guests are served hot delectable meals while on board, including gourmet nibbles and snacks, and complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. If you have small children in tow, the seats are able to turn to face each other in a pod of four. If you’d like a longer vacation, consider booking a Rail and Cruise Vacation Package, which partners with Holland America Cruise Lines for an Alaskan cruise.
Best-selling packages start at $2,014 per passenger.
Dromoland Castle, Ireland
Talk about a vacation fit for a queen! This 16th-century castle in Clare, Ireland is the crowning glory. The O'Briens of Dromoland, the Kings of Thomond, whose lineage dates back 1,000 years once called it home. You'll find grand staircases, antique chandeliers and lavishly decorated rooms inside, plus the estate has more than 400 acres to explore with the kids. Take a boat out onto the lake to feed the ducks or try your hand at an archery class or falconry. There's also clay shooting, fishing, horseback and pony riding and more. Stay in one of their Family Deluxe rooms where kids' amenities include junior bathrobes and specially tailored menus. Parents will love being pampered at The Spa and will treasure a plunge in the outdoor, gazebo-covered hydro pool. It might be hard to come back to earth after this royally lovely vacation.
Peak season rates start at $719 per night.
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
Here's your chance to try ranch life with a five-star twist. The Ranch at Rock Creek is an all-inclusive ranch vacation experience in Montana's Big Sky country. The serene, picturesque setting is the star of this vacay, but a stay in the resort's Bear House luxury home will be a close second. The 2,668 sq. foot abode comes with any amenity your family will need plus a hot tub, private deck, sunroom and personal mountain bikes to boot. The Little Grizzlies Kids Club gives little ones a chance to experience the Frontier West with activities like forest exploration, horse safety & care and riding and roping, geocaching and more.
May-Jun. is an ideal time for fly fishing—head for Rock Creek with a trained fishing guide. Photography workshops, a ropes course, Granite Spa and yoga and meditation classes round out the impeccable offerings at this dreamy locale. And of course, you'll definitely want a horseback ride across the 6,600 acres of breathtaking beauty.
Peak season rates start at $867 per night.
Loews Chicago Hotel - Chicago, IL
Be the ultimate city slickers in the heart of the windy city with Loews Chicago Hotels Chicago Discovery Family Package. The breeze will be at your back as you explore the wonders of Chicago and the city's top tourist spots. Kids can keep track of the adventures with an Urban Explorer kit that's stocked with every junior traveler’s biggest survival needs: a backpack, water bottle, sunglasses, journal and pens, a compass and more. Also included: free breakfast for kids and milk and cookies delivered to your luxury suite. Be sure to hop on over to Streeterville Social, a hip rooftop terrace with fun activities for families.
You'll also be well situated to stroll Michigan Ave. or head to the beach or nearby museums including Field, Shedd, Adler, Art Institute or Lincoln Park Zoo and Navy Pier. For indoor activities, don't miss Pinstripes which has a great breakfast buffet and bowling. FTW is right down the street and has video games, air hockey and six-hole mini golf. A must-do dining experience is SafeHouse Chicago––a spy-themed restaurant where you have to know the password to get in. If you don't know the password, they make you do tricks. But it's worth it because there's non-stop fun once you're inside.
Peak season rates start at $326 per night.
Beresheet Hotel, Israel
Israel may not immediately spring to mind when planning summer travel, but our guide to Big Fun in Little Israel outlines a plethora of reasons why this destination makes for a memorable family adventure. Stay at the Beresheet Hotel to be situated near the Negev Desert which is home to Ramon Crater, a heart-shaped 200 million-year-old stunner which forms Israel's biggest national park. All ages can rappel down the cliffs of the equator and go on Jeep tours of the desert.
After adventuring, cool off in the infinity pool at the Beresheet that overlooks the crater and the ancient spice route. The hotel's desert rooms with balconies overlook the ancient landscape with incredible and unique views. Perks for hotel guests include free baby food (when arranged in advance) and a fully equipped, interactive room with computer games, video games, tv and non-electronic games. For another extraordinary experience, book a one-hour helicopter ride from the Tel Aviv airport.
Rates start at $566 per night.
Bali at Sayan, Bali, Indonesia
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is just another way of saying "paradise." Unwind in the midst of water features, rainforest gardens and the sacred Ayung River. The resort's Family Suite boasts gorgeous, authentic Balinese decor with a romantic hideaway master bedroom. The Pici Pici Club for kids age 4-12 offers daily cooking classes, exploration of the property's Rice Barn Tree House which is nestled in its own jungle wonderland, Balinese dance classes and Balinese Art Deco such as palm leaf folding. Take a relaxing dip in the swimming pool from which you can hear the sounds of the Ayung River, or go on a biking adventure, river rafting, climb an active volcano, or attend cooking school in an open-air bamboo facility. This family vacation is the perfect combo of soothing rejuvenation and wild excursions.
Peak season rates start at $610 per night.
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, Aruba
We know that the Beach Boys’ lick “Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take ya” has been front of mind for a large chunk of your life when you think of islands in the Caribbean Sea. So, why not visit this Dutch Caribbean island and sing with pride? Aruba, part of the ABC islands along with Bonaire and Curacao, sits in the Leeward Antilles on the southern island chain of the Lesser Antilles. Gentle trade winds cool off this dry climate and you’ll hear English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento as you relax on the golden sand.
The oceanfront Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is situated on Palm Beach, with surrounding gardens, and it’s every bit as lovely as that sounds. Of course, there’s a pool, fitness center and spa, but the real highlight is the views from the beach. Should you want to venture off into town, shopping, dining and such are nearby.
Book an Ocean View Junior Suite for $839 per night, which includes breakfast, lunch, tea and more.
LEGOLAND Holiday Village, Denmark
Visit Denmark's LEGO House and stay at the LEGOLAND Holiday Village to really immerse your family in LEGO culture and blow your little brick lover's mind in the town where LEGO was invented! Choose between NINJAGO cabins, Wild West cabins, Wilderness Barrels, Pirate rooms or a stay in Indian tents on their camping ground. Read all about the LEGO House to learn why a visit to this 12,000-sq. meter "Home of the Brick" filled with 25 million LEGO bricks will be worth the splurge.
Rates start at $383 per night.
Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas, Crete, Greece
Fancy living large in a Grecian cove on your own private beach? The Mansion at Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas will put you in the lap of luxury. This tri-level hillside stunner has staff quarters, a private spa with indoor and outdoor heated pools, a gym, breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea and most any creature comfort you could ask for. The Resort is situated in its own bay with dreamy white sand beaches. The Kids Club offers childcare for babies and tots in the Crèche Club by UK childcare experts Worldwide Kids Co., and there are programs kids and teens will love at this family-welcoming Resort. From tennis and swimming to trips in canoes, kayaks, water-bikes and pedalos around the bay, or cruise in a private yacht, motorboat or catamaran, all available to rent––you'll get your sea legs in no time. You'll also love dining on traditional Greek cuisine at the Resorts myriad restaurants.
Rates are available upon request.
Got a dragon obsessed kiddo? Take him/her on a New Zealand adventure, where they filmed Pete's Dragon, and make memories that will last a lifetime. Our extensive guide to exploring Wellington, New Zealand tells you everything you need to know from the best flight to where to play, eat and must-see spots. Stay at the design-minded, exquisite QT Museum Wellington Hotel in one of their opulent, quirky apartment suites for a truly out of this world experience. Take note that our summer is New Zealand's winter, so pack warm clothes!
Rates start at $221 per night.
Madikwe Safari Lodge, South Africa
Your little cubs will ROAR at the chance to go on an African safari! The luxurious Madikwe Lelapa Lodge is the perfect natural haven for families—featuring 12 spacious, gorgeously designed suites to host 24 people. Venture out on a private African safari of no more than eight people to make the experience intimate and personal, led by a Madikwe guide, where you'll head into the wild to see animals big and small from rhinos to dung beetles and elephants to leopards. This all day "game drive" includes breakfast, high tea and dinner. We can't think of a more bucket-list worthy vacation than this!
Rates start at $547 per person per night.
Club Med - Opio en Provence, France
There are plenty of good reasons to vacation in France, and the region of Provence is one of them. For a family-friendly experience, book a stay at all-inclusive Club Med at Opio en Provence. Included in your stay are gourmet cuisine, children's club activities, unlimited water and land sports and day and night entertainment. The resort boasts three inviting pools and the Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil playground, which offers over 25 different activities for guests (like flying trapeze school)! Nestled between the sea and the mountains and calm olive groves, village life and nature, you get the best of both worlds. You can schedule day trips to other areas in the French Riveria too, like Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Antibes and more.
Peak season rates start at $355 per night.
The Eloise Suite at The Plaza New York
Life imitates art in the most beautiful and charming manner at The Eloise Suite at The Plaza New York. Designed by Betsey Johnson to reflect the beloved literary character, Eloise, this perfectly pink suite is the stuff dreams are made of. Complete with a king-sized bed adorned with custom Eloise-themed bedding, Eloise books and dolls and a big neon pink Eloise sign, the fun continues way beyond the suite in The Plaza's Eloise-themed tea time in The Palm Court and in the Eloise-themed shop that's chock-full of outfits, accessories and more. Of course, The Plaza is also perfectly poised on Fifth Avenue at Central Park South to take advantage of all the magical, bustling city life. How 'suite' it is.
Rates available upon request.
‘Tween Waters Island Resort and Spa - Captiva, Florida
Sometimes a chill beach vacation, at a destination that’s low-key sans t-shirt and tchotchke shops lining the sand, is what’s desirable. Enter: Captiva, Florida. Visit the Chapel by the Sea, originally built for use as a schoolhouse in 1901; C.R.O.W., the clinic for rehabilitation of wildlife that treats thousands of patients each year; J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, home to hundreds of species of birds, reptiles and mammals; and the Captiva Village Square for dining and shopping. Of course, the main reason to visit Captiva are the sunsets—make time at the end of each day to watch the golden ball dip below the horizon and maybe, just maybe, you’ll spot the elusive green flash.
‘Tween Waters Island Resort and Spa is the ideal spot to rest your head. They are located between the ocean and the marina, providing the best of both worlds. Kayaks and bicycles can be borrowed for free, kids will love the crab races and the swimming pool, and cottages are roomy enough to hold your entire family.
––Wendy Altschuler with Beth Shea