People always ask me what my favorite family vacation destinations are. Narrowing it down to just five is so hard — the more you travel, the more favorites you have. But if I had to pick, they would be Italy, Iceland, dude ranches, Mexico and the Caribbean, and just about anywhere with a beach. Here’s why, and a few of my top tips for visiting each destination.
Note, these are all incredibly popular … some fill up as much as a year in advance. Book sooner rather than later!
Favorite Summer Vacation Ideas for Kids
There are countless reasons that families love Italy: climate, people, food, history, architecture, landscape and art, just to name a few. Luckily, there is so much to do that you can keep going back again and again. One trip might be Rome, Florence and Venice; on the next, you could explore the Tuscan countryside. Or combine Rome and the Amalfi Coast, or Venice and the Lakes District. If you really want to get off the beaten path, make your way down to Puglia or Sardinia. Before you start planning, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Most stays in a Tuscan agriturismo require a seven-night, Saturday-to-Saturday reservation.
- Hotels in prime locations on the Amalfi Coast can book up six to nine months in advance for summer (and lots of walking and stairs make this region not so ideal for toddlers).
- You’ll need about 10 days to properly cover Rome, Florence and Venice.
- Family-friendly guides can add so much to the Italy experience and really keep kids engaged. Our Family Vacation Advisors work with a hand-selected list of guides who are excellent with all ages.
- It isn’t just about the tours — be sure to leave room in the budget for those special experiences that become the most remembered moments. I loved it when my daughter’s “what I did last summer” essay talked about her experience learning to make pizza in Italy.
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A visit to Iceland feels like an out-of-this-world experience. While it may be easy to stop in Reykjavik for a short layover on the way to Europe, I would really encourage a longer stay to get into the beautiful countryside. But there are some big caveats to be aware of from the start when planning an Iceland trip:
- Iceland hotels fill up six to 12 months in advance, so you absolutely must book early.
- Most hotel rooms here feature either one double bed or two twin beds. There are very few family rooms (and they book up fast), so budget for two rooms for a family of four.
- You may be able to get cheap flights to Iceland, but that is where the bargains stop. Unless you are camping, plan on spending at least $10-15k for a week, and even more if you want some really special experiences like Super Jeep tours or helicopter rides.
- Distances can be deceiving. Iceland is bigger than you think — it pays to work with an experienced planner to help you map out where to stay based on what you want to do, or you will be spending your whole trip in the car. Even then, expect a lot of driving and a fair amount of moving from hotel to hotel.
We can’t say enough about the benefits of a dude ranch for connecting as a family (and disconnecting from the rest of the world). Follow these tips for finding the right match:
- Dude ranches come in all flavors, from rustic working ranches to super-posh luxury ranches complete with spa and gourmet food.
- Most ranches are all-inclusive and require a seven-night stay.
- Many ranches are primarily focused on horseback riding. If that isn’t your thing, be sure to check out what other activities are available.
- It can be helpful to call the ranch to get an idea of the age range of the families visiting during certain weeks so you can pick a good match for your family demographics.
- There are a lot of ranches out there, but a trusted advisor can help you sort through them to find a good fit.
- Since families like to return to their favorite ranch year after year, it pays to book early, as some weeks sell out fast.
Mexico and the Caribbean
For families looking for a deal, there are plenty to be had in Mexico and the Caribbean during the summer — both accommodations and airfare are usually affordable. In late summer, you may want to avoid the Yucatan Peninsula and other areas in the hurricane belt, but be sure to ask your travel advisor if there are any promotions going on that you can take advantage of, especially for a last-minute getaway. Caribbean islands that are usually drier include Aruba and Curacao.
All-inclusive resorts are prolific in both Mexico and the Caribbean and can be quite cost-effective (especially with hungry teens). If you go this route, make a list of your top priorities, such as high-quality food, a wide range of activities, beach access or spa treatments, then choose a property that checks the right boxes.
The classic U.S. beach vacation is a family favorite. It is hard to pick just a few great beach destinations, but some nearly foolproof ideas include:
- New England — Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod, Rhode Island and Maine
- Carolina coast, especially North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Kiawah Island, South Carolina
- Florida Keys
- Sanibel, Captiva and Naples on Florida’s west coast
- Southern California, from Laguna Beach outside Los Angeles to Coronado Island off the San Diego coast
For destinations with short summer seasons, like New England or even some of the Carolina coast, be sure to book early. Year-round destinations like Florida may offer more bargains in the summer.
And One More …
I’ll also throw in one more bonus summer destination, and that is British Columbia in Canada. Perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, British Columbia offers everything from whale watching and bear viewing to ziplining, off-roading, rafting, rock climbing, hiking and more. Plus, with a strong U.S. dollar right now, your vacation budget can go a lot farther!
I recently covered these tips and more in a Facebook Live session. Be sure to check it out below, and follow Ciao Bambino on Facebook to keep up with the latest in family travel tips and ideas!
Editor’s Note: Photos by Tamara Gruber.