Spring break will be here before you know it, and booking a trip in advance will not only afford you the best rates and availability but also, you’ll have something to look forward to as you make your way through the chilly winter months. From beach vacations to urban escapes to mountain top romps in the sunshine, we’ve got you covered. Read on for vacation inspiration as well as for trends in travel for the new year.

photo: courtesy Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa

Splurge on a Brand-New Resort in the Northern Maldives

A splurge-worthy island adventure awaits you at the brand-new all-inclusive resort, which is also home to the largest kid’s club in the Maldives.

Play: The wraparound reef at the Emerald makes it easy for families to enjoy water sports like kayaking and kite surfing, and scuba enthusiasts can take advantage of the on-site Diving Centre, which is staffed by PADI-certified instructors. Kids ages 3-12 can spend time in the Dolphin Club. Spread out over 1500 square meters, there’s an outdoor playground with mini pool, a splash park, slides, climbing structures and even a kid-sized zip wire. Indoor activities are diverse and plentiful: cupcake making, movie nights, Zumba lessons, fruit cocktail mixology and more.

Sleep:

Eat: This is an all-inclusive resort, so there’s plenty of food and treats to be had at the signature buffet restaurant Aqua, which offers menu items from all over the world including Mediterranean, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, vegetarian and even plant-based options. There are two concept restaurants worth sampling as well. The rainforest-inspired Amazònico is a fun dining experience for the whole family, Le Asiatique offers live cooking shows on a teppanyaki grill. If you’re down at the beach, the Beach Club Grill and Pool Bar has kid-friendly, to-go pizza and pasta, and for parents, be sure to try the grilled lobster and seafood platters.

Good to know: If you book now, you’ll receive 20% off the best available rate for a minimum of 7 night’s stay for a maximum of two adults and two children, applicable for all bookings received before 20th December 2020. Offer includes deluxe all-inclusive package, complimentary 60 minutes massage for two adults and 1 x in-room family breakfast. Terms and conditions apply.

Online: emerald-maldives.com

photo: Aspen Ski Co

Hit the Slopes - Snowmass, CO

The largest of the four Aspen-area ski mountains, Snowmass is one of the most family-friendly mountains with all kids skiing free up to age seven.

Play: This resort comes in at over 3,300 acres of terrain with 91 trails of groomies, halfpipes, terrain parks and more. Families flock here for their state-of-the-art Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center, a gigantic childcare facility for kids ages eight weeks to four years old. With a nurse on staff and themed rooms, this is where your kids will get introduced to skiing. And, once your kids turn two, they’re welcome to enroll in Snowmass’ Cubs on Skis program, a mix of early childhood education and skiing based out of this nature-themed adventure center.

There's also the brand-new Snowmass Base Village Plaza, which opened in December 2018. Families will be able to ice skate, enjoy fire pits, pop-up activities and casual dining. Kids of all ages can also try their skills on the rock climbing wall that adorns the front of the new Limelight hotel built across from the plaza. 

Good to Know: The Treehouse at Snowmass isn’t the only spot your kid will love. Pay a visit to nearby Buttermilk Mountain to experience The Hideout, a 7,500 square foot facility just for kids. Don’t blame your kids if they forget they’re in the mountains and get lost in The Hideout’s custom-designed play features like a lookout tower and interactive play room.

Live Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Take your brood to Northwest Costa Rica to revel in the warm weather and lush landscape, full of animals, markets, and family-friendly beach parties. 

Play: Consider volunteering for one of the select Service Days while visiting Peninsula Papagayo, with an outreach program that benefits local school children. Visit Costa Rica, and you’ll be rewarded with big adventures that your family will remember and talk about for years to come. 

Sleep: Peninsula Papagayo, home to the luxury Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica and Andaz Costa Rica Resort, is a private community spanning over 1,400 acres. Surrounded by Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, a UNESCO World Heritage site, you’ll see thousands of protected plant species and hundreds of multi-hued bird and butterfly types. 

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Wander the Windy City - Chicago, IL

Play: Spring in Chicago is a lovely time to visit. From museums with activities designed with littles in mind to spring break kids’ camps at Lincoln Park Zoo and The Second City to baseball season to children’s theatre, the Windy City has much to offer families. Eat your way through Chicago’s neighborhoods, sampling diverse cuisine and fan favorites like Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizza.

Sleep: Hotel Zachary, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, is right across from the famous Wrigley Field as well as within walking distance to shopping, dining, and entertainment. Run around Gallagher Way, across the street from the hotel, go to a Chicago Cubs game, and hit some balls in Sluggers World Class Sports Bar’s batting cages.

Root for Your Home Team at Spring Training — FL or AZ

Daydreaming of hot dogs and Crackerjacks? Take your baseball-loving family on a memorable (and thematic) trip to see spring training in action. Catching a game at Arizona's Cactus League or Florida's Grapefruit League means you can root, root, root for your home team at smaller stadiums before Opening Day. To figure out which teams play where — and when — check out the Cactus League and Grapefruit League websites.

Play: Make sure all of your kiddos are baseball fans because Spring Training is all about the game. The major advantage to seeing teams play pre-season is that you get see games on a much smaller scale. In other words, better seats, cheaper tickets, and the opportunity to see your favorite players up close and personal. 

Tip: Get there early, and be sure little ones bring their gloves and/or clean baseballs for scoring autographs

Sleep: Where you shack up depends on your favorite teams. Florida's spring training is spread across the state, with teams playing in four regions: Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando, and the east coast between Jupiter and Port St. Lucie. If you’re Cactus League-bound, keep in mind that most games are played within a 40-mile radius of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. 

Eat: Pack a picnic! Most Spring Training stadiums offer (cheap!) lawn seats, so the whole family can spread out on the grass while keeping score of the game. The view isn't as good, but you may catch a glimpse of your favorite players as they head in and out of the stadium.

Online: mlb.com/springtraining

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Culture, Beach, Style on Turks and Caicos Islands

There’s more to these islands than bright azure water and fine white sand—travel here, and you’ll be rewarded with rich cultural experiences that come with the conveniences of the U.S. dollar and English language. When the kids return to school, they can tell their teachers that they traveled to where Christopher Columbus first hit land in the Americas and where pirates used to hide out within the 40 small islands and cays.

Play: Sapodilla Bay and Taylor Bay are the best for kids because of the calm waves and shallow water. Go snorkeling for an afternoon at Bight Reef and Smith’s Reef and see an array of colorful little fish and coral. Visit Little Water Cay, also called Iguana Island, and see loads of Rock Iguanas basking in the hot sand. Long Bay Beach is where you’ll see kiteboarders, a shipwreck marooned in the shallow water and beaches full of huge spiny conch shells. For a truly unique island experience, that you can’t find anywhere else, visit Potcake Place, a charity in Providenciales that rescues dogs and finds them forever homes. Volunteers can take a puppy for a walk in the morning and give them love and socialization—not to mention, fresh air and sunshine. Everything will be provided for your day out, and if you fall in love, you can adopt the puppy and bring her home.

Sleep: Ocean Club Resorts (Ocean Club and Ocean Club West), located on Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales, are perfect for families that want an affordable option with lots of choices. Plus, the pink umbrellas that line the beaches will be great backdrops for your family photos. The two properties are located 15 minutes from each other along the sand, and if you stay at one, you can play at both. Kids can take part in the interactive exploration game, Seafari Kids, where at check-in they’ll be given a kit that encourages them to find and identify indigenous plants and species that are located around the resorts—prizes are awarded for completing the adventure.  Tip: Check out the Mangrove Tour.

Eat: Pop into Crackpot Kitchen, where Chef Nik will serve up authentic local Caribbean dishes, passed down from his father, Aulden “Smokey” Smith. Order family style and try a selection of favorites like the Salt Cay Fully Loaded Stew Conch or Smokey’s Loaded Peas and Grits and dine on the rooftop full of locals doing the same.

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Island Serenity - Captiva and Sanibel Islands, FL

Sometimes less is more, and on Captiva and Sanibel Islands, where nothing is built higher than a palm tree and tchotchke shops are few and far between, your family will easily settle into a schedule that revolves around sunsets and searching for seashells. These islands are the sort of places where people laugh easily, wave at each other freely and collectively gasp at dolphin and manatee sightings.

Play: When you’ve explored your home-base beach enough, take a boat excursion with Captiva Cruises to Cayo Costa Island, a state park that is known for excellent shelling. In Sanibel, visit Gene’s Books, a fabulous store full of so many titles that they don’t all fit on the shelves. Kids can get lost in the children’s section, with stacks of books in every direction, which will make finding the perfect book an absolute adventure.  

Sleep: Rest your head at the historic Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa on Captiva Island, which is located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pine Island Sound. You’ll have access to the beach as well as the marina while staying in one of the brightly colored cottages, named after the resort’s famous past visitors—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, J.N. “Ding” Darling, and Theodore Roosevelt have all stayed here. Borrow a free bicycle and take a ride into town, or paddle in a free kayak around the mangroves.

Eat: T2 Traders, located at The Village Shops on Periwinkle Way in Sanibel, has great sandwiches, flatbreads and salads. The location is ideal because you can do a little shopping afterward. On Captiva Island, be sure to visit the Bubble Room, where kitsch reigns supreme. Order a slice of their famous orange cake, try their bubble bread and bring your camera—you’ll want to walk around and take pictures of the interior. Tween Waters also has great restaurants, namely Old Captiva House, Crow’s Nest and the Oasis Pool Bar.

photo: Kate Loweth

Enjoy Big Views at Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

In 2019, Grand Canyon National Park celebrated the centennial. This park, full of colorful layers of geological wonders, cliff dwellings, animals, and even waterfalls, is something every family should see together.

Play: The folks at Austin Adventures appreciate history and geology and they will educate travelers about the natural history of the Grand Canyon while also acknowledging the cultural history of the native tribes that call this national park home. Adventuresome kids can hike around with an Austin Adventures’ day pack, which is full of national park keepsakes and treasures, inspiring kids to learn more and explore the park. The trip includes rafting, hiking and biking around the South Rim, Flagstaff, Williams, Prescott, Sedona and Coconino National Forest—what fun!

Sleep: Select trip dates are available for families for this six-day Grand Canyon Family Vacation Package with the expert guides at Austin Adventures. Accommodations include a wide variety of lodges and hotels over the week, including a stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, located next to the train depot, one block from downtown Williams and historic Route 66.

Eat: Dining ranges from high-quality restaurants to picnic lunches to dinner made at a campfire—you’ll enjoy healthy food and snacks all along the way.

photo: Courtesy Disney Cruise Line

Sail the High Seas with the Disney Dream - Port Canaveral, FL

Play, Sleep & Eat: Disney is synonymous with the feeling of wonder and treating your family to a Disney Cruise, aboard the Disney Dream, is an experience that your children will always remember. From live shows to thematic restaurants to luxe accommodations to swimming pools and waterslides, Disney goes big when it comes to magical fun. You’ll also notice the high quality of service, which is the bread and butter of the whole adventure. The ship will drop anchor in Castaway Cay, a private island reserved for guests to enjoy, and the Bahamas, creating extra opportunities for exploration. Find out more from our insider's guide here

Don't want to go to Florida? No worries. Disney cruises also leave from Galveston, TX, New Orleans, LA, New York, NY and San Diego, CA 

Mile High Adventures in Denver

Denver sits one mile above sea level, giving the city its moniker. There is no shortage of things to do here for families and you can expect to have a panoramic view of the mountain ranges while exploring the parks, museums, and attractions.

Play: Visit the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Downtown Aquarium and take a ride on the Denver Trolley to learn about Denver’s gold rush history. Of course, there’s also the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, the Denver Art Museum and the Children’s Museum of Denver. Take a trip just outside of the city, and hike around Dinosaur Ridge at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre—you can see Allosaurus and Stegosaurus bones and touch real dinosaur footprints preserved in the sandstone. If a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is on your travel wish-list, and it should be, make sure you spend some time in Estes Park, the gateway to RMNP. 

Sleep: One of the best places to stay is AC Hotel Denver Downtown, a stylish boutique hotel with top-notch staff that will help your family with anything you may need. The property is well-located, making it easy to get where you need to go on foot and, bonus, you’ll earn Marriott points with your stay. If you have Fido with you, the hotel is pet-friendly as well.

Eat: Enjoy outdoor dining at Corinne Restaurant and be sure to check out the views from the 54thirty alfresco rooftop, the highest one in the city. The AC Kitchen is a great breakfast option. Union Station has James Beard award-winning chefs, Jennifer Jasinski and Alex Seidel, at the helm of Stoic & Genuine, Ultreia and Mercantile (grab and go options also exist).

Check out our insider's guide here

Latin America Love in Panama

There’s so much to do in the consistently warm country of Panama, and with Panama City—the capital and largest city in the country—as your takeoff point, you’ll have access to popular landmarks and attractions.

Play: Don't miss a visit to the Panama Canal, a 50-mile waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, a feat that is one of the most difficult engineering projects ever completed. Kids will love watching the ships raise up in the canal and pass through Miraflores locks, bringing their cargo with them. Visit Casco Viejo “new Panama”, a UNESCO World Heritage site with Spanish colonial architecture, historic churches and plazas with boutiques, restaurants and colorful markets. Make time for a visit to the Sloth Sanctuary and the Gamboa Rainforest. Ride above the tree canopy in an aerial tram, where you may spot a white-faced capuchin monkey or hear the deep guttural sounds of a howler monkey.

Sleep: The Westin Playa Bonita, located only twenty minutes from Panama City and thirty minutes from the Miraflores Locks, is a great place to start your adventure. Romp around on Bonita Beach and cool off in the Pacific Ocean, hike in the nearby rainforests and swim in one of the three infinity pools. Free activities for kids are available every day. Kids can splash around in the Children’s Pool or parents can take kids out on a complimentary kayak. 

Eat: Ocho y Media is a garden-style restaurant that serves global cuisine. Sit outside and enjoy the strung lights overhead while noshing on a slice of warm baked apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Karimar Restaurant serves up traditional Panamanian fare, by the symphonic sea—you won’t want to leave. Take advantage of The Westin Playa Bonita’s restaurants as well—there are six to choose from. For authentic Panamanian cuisine with kid-friendly entertainment, try Diablicos in the Casco Viejo district.

Resort Road Trip: If it's an all-inclusive experience you seek, head for the Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort, which lies about two hours outside the city limits and is accessible by boat and car/shuttle service. With 12 pools (eight of them are for everyone), a kids' club with activities like overnight campouts and cookie making, this 400-acre resort has something for everyone. There's a playground, free bike rentals, a climbing wall, zip line and wildlife zoo, stables, a sports club that have both private lessons and camps like an aquatic camp or a soccer camp, two beach clubs, 10 restaurants and even a world-famous 18-hole golf course that is the crown jewel of PGA Latin America. Rooms are ample size, the smallest being 527 sq. feet, and there are five suits with connecting rooms and a half-bath in the living room. For multi-gen travel, consider one of the four-bedroom villas that line the pond. 

photo: Maria Chambers

Discover a Hidden Gem - St. Louis, MO

Find out what the Gateway to the West has to offer

Play: Numero uno on the list of best places to play in St. Louis no doubt goes to City Museum. It’s an all-ages, city-inspired fun house that will inspire you and get the creative juices flowing as you climb, burrow and snake your way through passageways and shafts. With no maps or any real sense of direction, you’re forced to explore, touch and interact with everything . . . and you’ll be glad you did. Plus, St. Louis boasts more free chief visitor attractions than anywhere else in America, outside of the nation’s capital that is. The Saint Louis Art MuseumZooHistory MuseumAnheuser-Busch BreweryLaumeier Sculpture ParkCitygarden and more are free of charge and perfect for families that want to see a lot, but not spend a lot.

Sleep: Located in the heart of all St. Louis has to offer, the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis makes a perfect home base for your family getaway. Mini road trippers will be greeted with a Radio Flyer wagon full of toys and a plate with their names written in chocolate and handmade solid chocolate arches standing tall alongside sprinkle-covered marshmallow treats.

Eat: University City and Delmar Loop is about 20 minutes northwest of St. Louis. Here, in this old streetcar suburb, you’ll find Blueberry Hill Pub and Restaurant for American cuisine and pop culture memorabilia, Fitz’s Restaurant and Bottling Company known for their delicious pub grub and house-made soda that churns out on a visible bottling line (a bottle a second!) and Blueprint Coffee with in-house roasted beans when you’re ready for a little caffeine jolt (don’t leave without grabbing a jar of their canned jelly for home).

Find out more here

photo: Gabby Cullen

Enjoy the Quiet of Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Nestled between the world’s second-largest barrier reef and an expansive nature preserve lies the tiny fishing village of Puerto Morelos.

Play: Home to just 1,200 year-round residents, this quaint spot is merely 11 miles away from downtown Cancun. Fresh seafood restaurants line the beaches, and there’s live music on the weekends. Stroll down the dock over clear waters to view catamaran sailboats, wander and shop the charming avenues, burn off steam at the playground in the center square and admire the leaning lighthouse that has survived nearly one-hundred years of coastal storms. Book a snorkeling adventure with Lighthouse Tours. Their two-hour guided tour is easy even for young kids. A highlight for families is nearby Crococun, a local wildlife center filled with crocodiles, parrots, turtles, iguanas, spider monkeys and more. Each tour is guided by a biologist; kids will be able to hold a baby crocodile, feed deer and turtles, plus there’s picnic/playground area that’s perfect for fueling up after seeing all the animals.

Sleep: Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is a five-star resort that feels more like a home than a hotel. If you want a truly relaxing location for your mid-winter break, spring break or beyond, this is your answer. The resort is made up of all suite-style rooms, which means you have choices: You can book anything from a one-to three-bedroom suite that comes equipped with everything from a small kitchenette to a full kitchen/laundry with extra murphy beds in the living room. There’s even a four-bedroom presidential suite that sleeps up to 13 (ahem, multi-gen vacation). You can book your stay as an all-inclusive or as an a la carte, and here’s a huge perk: kids ages 12 and under stay for free. It doesn’t take much to keep yourself entertained here, and there’s a definite wellness vibe for those who like to be active. The Grand Residences has four pools (one is a lap pool), tennis courts with thrice-weekly clinics, bike rentals, and even the option to charter a sailboat for an extra charge.

Eat: When you tire of El Faro Grill and Flor de Canela at the Grand Residences, head for downtown Puerto Morelos. For an early lunch with access to docks, try Pelicanos for excellent nachos and ceviche. For dinner, we recommend Boquinete, one of the newest restaurants to line the beachfront of Puerto Morelos. The tacos are plentiful and fresh, as is the ceviche and reef fish. They have a beachfront, which can be helpful for parents with wiggly kids or be a memorable dining spot for an adults-only night.

To Get Your Adventure On - Gatlinburg, TN

Looking for a healthy dose of outdoor adventure on your spring break trip? Anakeetsa, an activity and nature center in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the perfect destination for your family. Not only will you be able to take in the beauty of the nation’s most visited national park, but Anakeetsa is jam-packed with activities for visitors of all ages.

Play: You’ll have a hard time deciding what to tackle first at Anakeetsa, as the outdoor opportunities are endless. In addition to hiking and ziplining, kids will have a blast walking across connecting bridges, exploring treehouses, and trying their hand at gem mining. If you’re looking to get out and explore the area, there’s world-class skiing in nearby Ober, Ripley’s Aquarium, and a variety of entertainment shows.

Sleep: If you want to stay nearby, the Greystone Lodge offers spacious rooms (and free hot breakfast) on the river in downtown Gatlinburg. Cottages are also available at the Greystone for families who are looking for a little more space and privacy.

Eat: Stroll around and stop for a bite to eat in Firefly Village, which is nestled among the treetops in the heart of the Smokies. Depending on what you’re in the mood for—a quick bite or a hearty southern meal—there’s Pearl’s Pie in the Sky, which offers baked goods, ice cream, and (of course) pie; and the Anakeetsa Summit Smokehouse, where you’ll get a dose of mouth-watering barbecue.

photo: Resorts World Bimini

Bring Your Brood to Bimini

One of the hottest destinations for 2020 is Bimini, a family-friendly island off of the Bahamas. You won’t have to travel far, as this island is only 50 miles off of the coast of Florida, but you’ll feel like you’re in a far-flung destination as soon as you poke your toes into the hot white sand and peer out onto the azure horizon.

Play: Taste Bimini Bread, made fresh in the colorful town; fill up on conch salad from one of the shacks along the beach, and learn about the culture from local Biminites. Chanel Ernest Hemingway, a resident of the island in the '30s, and go fishing or spend the day in the sea. 

Sleep: The Hilton at Resorts World Bimini, a luxury beachfront resort that caters to families. All guest rooms, designed with a contemporary aesthetic, have either a terrace or balcony. Suites are large in size and complete with high-quality amenities. You’ll have many choices for dining as the resort: The Tides, The Sushi Bar or the Oasis swim-up bar. Resorts World Bimini also has multiple swimming pools and access to Paradise Beach. For fun, take a golf cart to any of the island’s other beaches to explore a different landscape. Shop at Fisherman’s Village, a market along the marina. You’ll find that for your family, there’s plenty to do, see, and eat in Bimini.

For Great Scenery & Small Town Charm - Mammoth, CA

If you're not looking for warm weather just yet, Mammoth Mountain is the ultimate spring break destination for families who want to hit the slopes. And for those times when you just want to kick back and relax, Mammoth is packed with tons of restaurants, kids' activities, and even incredible natural hot springs in the Eastern Sierra.

Play: When you go to Mammoth, you go for the skiing. But even if your kids aren't up to speed on the slopes just yet, with the help of the lessons offered, they just might be by the time you leave. Here, patient pros will help guide the most novice of skiers in small group lessons, as well as kids and adults with disabilities in their Adaptive Ski School. In addition to the skiing, Mammoth has a ton more to offer in terms of winter sports, including snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and letting loose at Wooly's Tube Park and Snow Play, where kids of all ages will have a blast.

Sleep: For cozy accommodations after a day on the slopes, look to the splurge-worthy Sierra Nevada Resort, which has been a longtime local favorite. The 149-room hotel has a super rustic feel and almost all rooms are appointed for families (with heated bathroom floors and fireplaces!). There's also a shuttle that regularly runs from the hotel to the mountain lodges, as well as to the airport.

Eat: For nights when everyone is exhausted from playing in the snow, Sierra Nevada Resort's Rafters—and all of their local, organic produce—is a fantastic option. When you want to venture out, there are tons of restaurants featuring all sorts of fare to choose from, including Jimmy's Taverna for seafood lovers, Campo to satisfy your hankering for Italian, and The Stove for an unforgettable home-style breakfast.

photo: courtesy Hyatt Regency Maui

Check Maui Off Your Bucket List

Maui offers many adventures for families, whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation or you want to toss in some intrepid experiences for good measure.

Play: Begin your trip at one of the world’s best aquariums, Maui Ocean Center, to get an idea of what you might see while snorkeling or during a boat cruise. Arrange for a luau experience to learn about the Hawaiian culture—most hotels can assist with planning. Take a family-friendly surfing lesson. Make time for a hike in Iao State Park, which is rich with history. Visit Maui Tropical Plantation and see a lush landscape full of fruits, produce, and flowers.

After touring the working farm, dine at The Mill House for a culinary experience like no other. Plan early, and see the sunrise at Haleakala National Park. Drive the Road to Hana to see rainforests, lava tubes, caves, waterfalls, and all of that jaw-dropping scenery that Maui is known for. Take lots of photographs—likely, one will make your holiday card for next year.

Sleep: The Hyatt Regency Maui's stunning oceanfront property has something for everyone. From swimming pools with water slides to penguin tours at the local wildlife center and even stargazing to the Regency Club, where for an added fee there are snacks, food and amenities all day long, this resort is ideal for your dream vacation.

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Waterslide Heaven — Wisconsin Dells, WI

No sun? No problem. At Wisconsin Dells, every day is waterpark weather. A buzzing Midwestern tourist's destination that's located midway between Chicago and Minneapolis, Wisconsin Dells is the self-proclaimed "Waterpark Capital of the World" (21 waterparks and counting!)—and it's got a slew of indoor parks for when the weather isn't exactly bathing suit friendly.

Play: Families with wee ones will want to hit the Great Wolf Lodge or the Wilderness Resort, both of which cater to smaller visitors. 

Note: You'll have to stay at these resorts to use their water parks.

Family tapped out on water? There are plenty of other options. Hop on the saddle for a trail ride at the Canyon Creek Riding Stable, speed across 6,000 feet of cables with Big Foot Ziplines (kids must be above 43 inches to zip), or give the kids a fun glimpse at the history of the circus at Circus World.

Sleep: There are so many choices when it comes to kid-centered lodging that it's hard to find a place that won't blow your kids’ minds. But the Great Wolf Lodge, the Kalahari Resort, and the Wilderness Resort top our list because of their sheer number of kid-friendly attractions (think arcades, mini-golf, kids crafts, theatrical shows, etc.) and the special attention both resorts pay to little ones.

Eat: Want your dinner delivered by miniature train? Head to Buffalo Phils, which serves up burgers and BBQ in a bustling Wild West-themed atmosphere. It's also under the same roof as Knuckleheads Bowling & Trampoline Park and right next door to the Outlets at the Dells (with over 75 shops!). It sounds like a play date to us.

Make Like a Cowboy — Tucson, AZ

Google "ranch vacations" and you’ll find a whole heap of ‘em. But the rustic-yet-luxe Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona tops our list because it’s open year-round and has loads of fun activities for little cowboys. Like horses? Your kids can spend all day at the kids club (activities for kids under four are available by request), where they’ll enjoy riding lessons, trail rides, arts and crafts and more. For folks who aren’t keen on giddying up in the saddle, there are other activities including yoga, swimming, fishing, hiking, and a spa.

Play: Besides the plethora of activities at the ranch, you can also venture out into the Tucson area and enjoy downhill skiing, golfing, cave exploring, shopping, and more. 

Sleep: After a long day of activities on the ranch, you and your kids will be happy to nestle down in Tanque Verde's modern adobe casitas, all of which boast stretching views of the surrounding desert and mountains.

Note: In keeping with the rustic theme, there aren’t TVs in any of the rooms and the WiFi can be a bit spotty.

Eat: All-inclusive means you and your kids will get three meals a day of award-winning Southwestern cuisine. Want to dine in the Great Wide Open? Sign up for a breakfast ride and feast on blueberry pancakes and ranch-style eggs amid the cacti and tumbleweeds. On Wednesdays and Sundays, the ranch has “cowboy cookouts” that include a tasty barbecue buffet and live entertainment. 

 

photo: Gabby Cullen

Take the Kids to Tuscany

Italy, and more specifically, Tuscany, is famous not only for the Italian Renaissance but also for the countryside. Families can explore at their own pace, traveling from Siena, known for its medieval streets, to San Gimignano, where you can stroll cobblestone streets and order gelato in one of the squares. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is also fun to see, and kids will recognize it right away.

Play: Of course, Tuscany has kid-centered activities that any major city has: zoos, theme parks (Pinocchio Park is one), waterparks, and museums, but there is so much more to experience here with your family in tow. UNESCO has declared seven World Heritage Sites in Tuscany, there are amazing underground cave and grotto systems, 120 protected nature reserves, and families can learn how to make pecorino cheese in Cugusi, the area between Pienza and Montepulciano.

Sleep: Snuggled in the Serchio Valley, between the Apuan Alps and the Tuscan Emilian Apennines, conveniently about an hour from Lucca, Florence, and Pisa, sits Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa. A stay here rewards families with easy access to medieval towns, market tours, onsite cooking lessons, an outdoor pool with mountain views.

Eat: It’s no surprise that Italians like to eat well and spending time with family is a big part of the culture. Dining out is part of the experience and kids are welcome—and celebrated—in eateries all over Tuscany. Further, many restaurants have gardens or lovely piazzas where it’s entirely appropriate for kids to run around and play while waiting for dinner to arrive. Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa has a wide variety of dining options as well—La Veranda has traditional favorites available or, better yet, arrange for a day with the chef. Shop in the local market and indulge in a private cooking lesson—you will eat your meal with pride having made it yourself. Kids can also join a cupcake making class and provide the dessert for your family table

—Wendy Altschuler with Melissa Heckscher

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Feature photo courtesy Aspen Ski Company spring break