Planning a family vacation can be a major undertaking. After all, you don't really know what to expect or how family-friendly it will turn out to be. To ease the process, we sought out the advice of family travel expert Lissa Poirot, editor of FamilyVacationCritic.com. As a mother of two, she has spent her fair share of time searching out the best destinations for a family vacation. Here, she shares her picks of 10 great destinations for families.
Spend Time with Mickey
It comes as no surprise that Disney World is a top choice for family vacations. With the various Disney theme parks in Orlando, Fla., there's something to entertain kids of all ages. And, even if you've been before, there's always more to see on your next visit. "This year, Disney unveils its new, expanded Fantasyland with new treats and tricks for anyone who has already visited the Magic Kingdom," Poirot said. Other great family theme parks include Universal Studios, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND which have locations in Florida and California.
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Hit the Big Apple
Although most people don't think of New York City as a family-friendly destination, this hopping city actually has plenty to attract families. "The stores in Times Square offer attractions and rides -- visit Toys"R"Us and ride its in-store merry-go-round -- and there is something for all ages, including museums, historic sites, drama and more," Poirot said. In Central Park, visit the Children's Zoo for polar bears and catch the musical show on the Delacorte Clock. Also, hop aboard a Circle Line boat or Gray Line New York double-decker bus for awesome city tours.
Enjoy Sunny San Diego
Thanks to year-round great weather, a wide selection of attractions and, of course, the beach, San Diego is perfect for families, Poirot said. Key sites include the legendary San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Legoland, The Maritime Museum of San Diego, Balboa Park, and Old Town, which provides a look into San Diego's past.
Head to the Islands
If you're interested in a family getaway beyond our borders, make your way to Turks & Caicos for a Caribbean vacation. Consider staying at Beaches Resort, Grace Bay Club, Somerset on Grace Bay or Club Med Turks & Caicos, as well as a number of other all-inclusive resorts – all of which celebrate families with a number of kids' programs and fun to keep kids busy all day long, Poirot said. Family fun is also to be had in St. John in the US Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, the Florida Keys and Kauai, Hawaii. And you can take a cruise to many of these destinations for extra family fun in the sun.
Escape to the Cape
If you prefer a quieter, more relaxed locale, head to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. "This is the ultimate destination for rekindling with your family because its sleepy beachside communities beg for families to take it easy and relax," Poirot said. "Biking, mini-golfing, beaching ... you can't beat it." And, due to its location, it tends to be cooler during summer months.
Visit Our Nation's Capital
You can never go wrong when bringing the family to Washington, D.C. "This is history at its best," Poirot said. "A trip to D.C. should be required for all kids, especially those old enough to be learning American history. Taking the family on a trip to D.C. gives you the chance to bring their history books to life." To make it easier, more than 20 Smithsonian museums are free, not to mention the monuments around town.
Check Out the Water Park Capital
The Wisconsin Dells boast one of the best assets to bring families to the area: It's the self-proclaimed water park capital of the world. "I don't know any kid who doesn't want to spend a day pruning like a raisin as they repeatedly ride down water slides," said Poirot, who fondly recalls trips to the Dells as a youngster with her parents. She also recommends the region's beautiful park areas for hiking.
Travel Across the Pond
Interested in taking the kids to Europe, but not sure where to go? Poirot suggests London as a great starting point. "Families can comfortably travel without a language barrier and get a glimpse into where America got her start," she said. Highlights include the Tower of London to see the crown jewels, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, checking the time at Big Ben and a spin on the London Eye for a bird's-eye view of the city.
Make It Grand
The Grand Canyon should be on every family's list for a vacation destination. "A visit to any western national park will provide a family with views beyond comprehension, but the Grand Canyon is one of those must-visits!" Poirot said. "There is nothing more splendid, and it is certainly a trip your kids will not forget." Consider riding down into the canyon during a mule-riding tour, or hit the rapids on a whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River.
Hit the Slopes
For those looking for a ski getaway, Poirot recommends Beaver Creek, Colo., in the Colorado Rockies. "It's a perfect place for families, with trails and activities geared toward kids," she said. "Beaver Creek has great activities like snow tubing, ski schools for kids of all ages, dog sledding and ice skating on the mountains and at its many kid-friendly hotels." Families also love to go snowshoeing and on snowmobile rides. Other snowy destinations include Keystone, Colorado and Park City, Utah. East coasters can visit Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts or Boone & Blowing Rock in North Carolina.