One of the best ways to break up the long months of wintertide, when the skies are often less sunny and bright, is to take the kids on vacation. Whether you prefer skiing and snowshoeing trips to embrace the snow or you want to bury your toes in the heated sand on a beach, we’ve got you covered. Here are some family-friendly travel suggestions that are textbook for securing quality time with your favorite people over Christmas break.
See the Splendor of a National Park in Utah
Play: National Parks are definitely America’s best idea and exploring the great outdoors is such a healthy and fun activity for families. Utah’s first and most popular national park, Zion National Park, is a great destination for the winter months. Seeing the multi-hued sandstone cliffs, slot canyons and wildlife (bighorn sheep, mule deer, bats and a mammal called the petite kangaroo rat) are what draw visitors to this park all year long. Due to relatively mild seasonal weather, travelers can go on super scenic drives, hiking and cross country skiing. Take the kids on a ranger-led winter hike or participate in the Junior Ranger program to earn a badge. The best part: the crowds have thinned out, and you’ll feel like you have the park all to yourselves like nature intended.
Experience the Magic of Disney with a Tropical Twist
Play & Stay: 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.
See Why Kids Love Aruba
Play: Aruba, known as One Happy Island, is the ideal warm-weather destination for families in the southern Caribbean Sea. Not only are there excellent beaches, like Palm Beach and Baby Beach, but also the island is chock-full of kid-friendly adventures worth exploring. For animal lovers, visit the island’s Ostrich Farm, Butterfly Farm, Donkey Sanctuary, and Philips Animal Garden. For adventure seekers, take an off-road safari or UTV tour with De Palm Tours and see the California Lighthouse and Arikok National Park. Snorkel cruises are another way to get on the water and enjoy the super-charged sunshine that the island offers.
Stay: To make planning easier, stay at the all-inclusive Barceló Aruba and spring for the Royal Level, which includes perks like personalized check-in, exclusive dining, complimentary Wi-Fi, accommodations on higher-level floors and room service. The hotel not only has easy access to Palm Beach, nightly live entertainment and daily activities for kids, but also, the beach palapas and pool-side loungers are available for guests to use without an extra charge. The resort’s kid’s club is full of supervised activities and play equipment, and is included for children ages 4 to 12.
Channel Elvis in Hawaii
Play & Stay: Leave your passport at home and fly to the Hawaiian Islands. The islands of Lanai and Maui are full of adventures that are perfect for families. The Four Seasons Resort Lanai can arrange cultural experiences for families like hula dance lessons, ukulele instruction, floral leis making, and even an oral history lesson given by Lanai’s elders. Take a guided island tour in a UTV, go sailing on a catamaran, stroll through the botanic gardens, and lounge by the lagoon-style swimming pool at the resort. Enjoy a sunrise hike to Puu Pehe, or Sweetheart Rock, go horseback riding, or snorkel in the warm water—the options are endless.
In Maui, the Valley Isle, try your hand at outrigger canoeing, visit the Ali’i Kula Lavender Garden, see sharks at the Maui Ocean Center, and go snorkeling to see a wide variety of colorful sea wildlife. Older kids, ages 12 and older, might like to try tandem paragliding with Proflyght. During the winter months, you can see migrating humpback whales and nothing beats seeing the sun rise at Haleakala National Park, where you can see a massive volcano.
Play: Vancouver, an urban delight for families, is also ideal for nature-loving kids, even in the chillier winter months. In November and December, visit the Vancouver Christmas Market, for German noshes and nibbles and to find a new holiday ornament. Ride the Bright Nights Christmas Train in Stanley Park to see millions of twinkling lights, displays, and live entertainment. Vancouver also has incredible hands-on museums for kids: Science World British Columbia, Vancouver Maritime Museum, and H.R. MacMillan Space Center.
Book the FlyOver Canada adventure with Pursuit, an exhilarating experience that safely takes you across Canada, east to west, in eight minutes on an immersive flight ride. You’ll feel the wind in your face and smell the fresh air as you see Canada’s grandeur like never before.
Winter in New York City
Play: Visiting New York City in the winter is an enchanting experience for families—the city is still alive and electric in the chillier months. Create enduring memories for your family by ice skating at Rockefeller Center and seeing the larger-than-life Christmas tree, watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, or visit one of the many incredible museums—Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex, Guggenheim Museum, and of course, the Statue of Liberty. For something really special, take a behind-the-scenes tour of Yankee Stadium, visit the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (you can also do a backstage tour of the music hall) or see The Nutcracker at The New York City Ballet.
Stay: The city is full of great overnight possibilities. The Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel has a fantastic midtown location, a fitness center, a complimentary crib if needed and extra space in their Parlor Room with a built-in Murphy Bed, plus kids 12 & under eat free. Other family-friendly hotels include Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel, which is pet friendly and has a cool Terrace Suite with panoramic views of the city and New York Marriott Marquis, with family connecting suites, restaurant options and concierge services.
Backpacking and Day Trips in America’s Southwest
Play: Finally, something for the older kids in your family—backpacking and day hiking in some of the most beautiful parts of America’s southwest. Imagine how proud your tween will feel when she hikes for multiple miles, from beginning to end, and learns about geology along the way. If you don’t want to worry about how to get from point A to point B, and you don’t want to pack gear or figure out food options, check out Four Season Guides—they lead groups and private hiking trips through Havasu Falls, Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
See Grand Canyon National Park like you’ve never seen it before—dip below the rim and hike past layers and layers of various geological history to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and stay at the famous Phantom Ranch before heading back out of the canyon on the beautiful Bright Angel Trail. Everyone will love the physical challenge and remember the adventure for years to come.
Pro Tip: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots—Vasque has quality trail footwear for kids—and break them in before your trip to prevent sore feet or blisters.
Find out more: fsguides.com
Be the First to Splash in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Play & Stay: Book a stay at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Esmeralda and enjoy the impressive waterpark, not to mention other perks at this gorgeous Mexican resort which advertises as being a "luxury playground catering to adults and children alike." (Um, yes please!!) Features like luxury Family Concierge Suites and two-bedroom Master Suites perfect for larger groups, and special treats and games for kids at check-in, prove that this resort has your family’s best-vacation interests at heart. Plus this oceanfront paradise set among tropical mangroves, boasts 13 bars and restaurants, a spa and Kids Club. And of course, there's that white sand beach we'd be remiss not to mention...
Find out more at melia.com
Home Sweet Chicago
Play: If you ask any Chicagoan what they love the most about their city, they’ll likely say they love the culture—museums, theater, restaurants—sports, lakefront and neighborhoods (Chicago has more than 100 neighborhoods). Take the kids ice skating at Maggie Daley Park’s ribbon. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum (you’ll love the new Maximo Titanosaur), and the Museum of Science and Industry—all of the museums have a free or discounted admission day and nearly all have sleep-at-the-museum overnight opportunities. Travel 1,000 feet above the Magnificent Mile and check out 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck, home of the sky-high moving platform TILT, that gives you a kaleidoscopic view, high above the city. Take your family to a fun-for-winter show via Broadway in Chicago, Drury Lane, First Folio, Marriott Children’s Theatre, or The Chicago Theatre—check the websites to see what productions are running.
Stay: Hotel EMC2 is a modern hotel with robots that deliver anything you’ve forgotten or need. Another cool option is the Intercontinental Chicago where you’ll find a stunning pool, Michael Jordan’s Steak House, and an onion dome that was meant (but not used) to dock blimps before the Hindenburg disaster.
Be Trendy in T-Town
Play: Toronto is a diverse and bustling metropolis that offers a plethora of indoor and outdoor adventures for culture seekers. It’s easy to see why this Canadian city is rising to the top of the list for best places to visit for multi-generational families. Explore gems like the Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum, Hockey Hall of Fame and Toronto Botanical Garden. Thrill seekers will be challenged walking around the top of CN Tower—on the outside—116 stories high. And, of course, with a lot of immigrants—half of the population was born outside of Canada—you’ll have plenty of dining options to choose from (not everything is covered in bacon and maple syrup either).
Stay: If you want a hotel that is located in the action, look no further than the four-diamond Intercontinental Toronto—it’s near CN Tower, museums, Ripley’s Aquarium Canada and Toronto’s Entertainment District. Kids will love the saltwater pool, parents will love the spa and if you brought Fido, he’s welcome too.
Go Greek in Tarpon Springs, FL
Play: Do you want to feel like you are in a different country, exposing your kids to a rich culture, without ever leaving the states? Check out Tarpon Springs, Florida, a small town with the highest population of Greek-Americans of any city in the U.S. Families will love seeing the sponge fisherman working on the Sponge Docks on Dodecanese Boulevard. You can even take a cruise and watch a sponge diver, wearing a vintage suit, dive down and pull out a fresh gooey sponge. Enjoy the sweet sunshine and walk along the street full of shops, restaurants and museums full of Greek heritage. Opa!
Stay: Say goodnight on 900 wooded acres at Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort. You’ll be minutes from the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and a stone’s throw from Tampa International Airport. The resort has a relaxing atmosphere, with a spa, multiple restaurant options, and a large Loch Ness Monster Pool with slides. Kids can take golf or tennis lessons, go fishing, have fun in the kid’s club, and rent bikes to explore the area.
Play: From snowmobiling to cross-country skiing to sledding to snowshoeing to dog sledding to ice fishing to fat bike winter riding—you won’t run out of outdoor things to do in Wisconsin during the winter months. Beginners will love learning how to downhill ski at Granite Peak, Christmas Mountain, Alpine Valley, Devil’s Head Resort, Cascade Mountain and Mt. Crosse, among other places. Visit Wisconsin Dells, the waterpark capital of the world, for indoor slide and amusement park fun. For something truly special though, visit Door County in the winter months, when it’s quiet, peaceful and not flooded with tourists. Take a horse-drawn carriage, go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, and check out one of the many events happening throughout the 75-mile-long stretch between Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Stay: Book a cozy stay, in the middle of the forest, at Sunrise Shores Log Cabin in Sturgeon Bay, Door County. The cozy cabin, with a large front porch and side-screened porch, is walking distance to a public beach, dogs are welcome, and your entire family will love the warm stone fireplace.
Explore Art in Houston
Play: Of course, the fourth largest city in America will be ripe with fantastic museums, dining and shopping, and Space Center Houston is an obvious standout, but there’s something else that Houston offers young visitors: art. Toward the end of November, families can go to Hue: Houston Urban Experience Mural Festival, part of Houston Art Week, to see artists from around the world use a variety of techniques and color to brighten up urban landscapes. Mural tours will be available during the event as well as throughout December. After seeing the street art, bring your family to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston where kids can take part in weekly family programming including Creation Station, Family Tours and Story Time.
Pro Tip: The Houston CityPASS allows families to visit several museums and attractions throughout the city, like the Houston Zoo, Children’s Museum, and Downtown Aquarium for a discounted rate. If you click on VisitHouston.com, you can also print off coupons for discounts at hotels, restaurants, transportation and more, all over the city. Also, on the website is a link for Houston for Free, which lists free family-friendly activities.
Ski in Switzerland
Play: If you want to make it an international vacation, Switzerland offers many winter-y adventures for intrepid families. Engelberg, the mountain of angels, is a small town that offers big fun. You’ll want to spend some time at Titlis mountain, 10,623 feet above sea level. You’ll take the world’s first revolving cable car, the Titlis Rotair, from the gorgeous Trubsee lake to the top of the mountain. Wander through a glacier cave (you can even see frozen flowers inside), take a ride over a glacier on the Ice Flyer and walk across Europe’s highest situated suspension bridge, with a 1,640 feet drop.
The little skiers in your family will have a blast at Globi’s Winterland where they can learn to ski in a safe environment with a fun and friendly mascot—two ski lifts, two magic carpets, a ski carousel, and a new family restaurant are available.
Pro Tip: Use your Swiss Travel Pass (unlimited travel, throughout Switzerland, on all buses, trains and boats) and take a short train ride to Lucerne to round out the vacation. Visit the Lion Monument, Chapel Bridge, City Walls/Musegg Wall, Bourbaki Panorama Museum, and eat as much chocolate as you can stomach. The Tourist Office Lucerne is located right in the train station—you might want to stop in for any questions you may have.
Stay: In Engelberg, Hotel Bellevue-Terminus is located right across from the train station, making it super easy to get everywhere you need to go. The hotel has a full and fabulous breakfast in their artsy dining room, included each morning. In Lucerne, stay at Hotel Des Balances, located in the heart of Old Town, right along River Reuss.
Go All-Inclusive in the Maya Riviera
For families that want a warm-weather, all-inclusive, family beach vacation to escape the cold winter, look no further than the Yucatán Peninsula’s Caribbean coast in Riviera Maya, Mexico. The classy and colorful Barcelo Maya Beach has an excellent deal for families with their Stay at One and Play at Four Hotels package. Vacationers booked at the Barceló Maya Beach can enjoy access the expansive Barceló Maya Grand Resort complex, made up of the Barceló Maya Beach, Barceló Maya Caribe, Barceló Maya Colonial and Barceló Maya Tropical.
Indulge in the region’s stunning stretch of private beach, be entertained with nightly shows, pick from multiple specialty restaurants, swim at one of several pools, get a spa treatment (there’s even a kid’s spa!), and go shopping at the Maya Mall. Teens will love the teen disco, and kids of all ages will have fun bowling, playing miniature golf, romping around the playground, and splashing in the waterpark with a surf pool. Babysitting and kids club services are also available if adults want some much-needed alone time.
Find out more: barcelo.com/hotels/riviera-maya
Get Wild in Wyoming
Play: Wyoming is a huge state full of fun cowboy culture and mountain adventures. On one end, you have Cheyenne, Wyoming, the nation’s rodeo and railroad capital. Don your SmartWool sweaters and thick socks and visit Terry Bison Ranch to see over 2,000 bison grazing on 30,000 acres of rolling hills. Take the family on a downtown walking tour or hop on the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley (Christmas Lights tours are available in December). Pop in the Cheyenne Depot and Depot Museum, and let the kids burn off energy in The Paul Smith Children’s Village (in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens), which is home to Engine 1242, the oldest train engine in Wyoming. Admittance to the gardens is free and open year-round.
On the other end of the state, sits one of the most beautiful and evergreen cities in our country: Jackson Hole. This western town is near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, which opens up a world of adventure for families. Outside of the park, families can have many fun experiences such as winter fat biking, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, snowshoeing and, of course, skiing.
Stay: Rest your head in Jackson Hole at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, located next to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, where your family can go skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, tubing or riding on a horse-pulled sleigh. The resort has great deals, like the National Parks Explorer package.
Rock Out with Kidz Bop in the Riviera Maya
Play & Stay: There's something for everyone, including your picky tween, at the new Kidz Bop Experience at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. For any performers, there's a pop star lounge with everything kids need to become a pop star including a karaoke session for the whole family. For those who aren't interested in hitting the stage, there's plenty of other ways to stay busy. Check out Rockaway Bay Water Park, hit the resort's private beach, tackle the on-site obstacle course or relax by the pool.
Besides the kid-friendly fare you'll find at the pool and throughout the resort, we also recommend spending an evening at recommending Zen for teppanyaki dining.
— Wendy Altschuler