Family-friendly destinations for the holidays By Mimi Slawoff
San Juan, Puerto Rico (Courtesy MeetPuertoRico.com)
Do the winter holidays have you dreaming of a sunny Christmas? If sitting on a warm, sandy beach sounds better than huddling by a crackling fireplace, then consider adding these 10 destinations on your holiday wish list. Better yet, there’s no time like the present to start planning a festive family vacation in a sunny destination.
Here are our top picks for a warm and sunny Christmas for families.
(MORE: Offer_Kids_Club_Package Breakfast for the kids and more in the Caribbean and Mexico CODE* MAJ (Valid through 11/10/16, See Landing Page for Terms and Conditions))
With pristine beaches and a historic capital city that’s fun to explore, Puerto Rico is a family-friendly destination year-round. San Juan is especially festive during the holidays. Fun things to do with kids include exploring forts, such as Castillo de San Cristobal and zip lining with EcoQuest Adventures.
Puerto Rico has many kid-friendly hotels. Based in San Juan, Hotel El Convento is walking distance to restaurants and major kid-friendly attractions. Just outside Old San Juan, the oceanfront Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino San Juan has a prime beach location, large family pool and a seasonal children’s program.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Courtesy GoDominicanRepublic.com)
Exotic Punta Cana’s beaches are ideal for water sports and kid-friendly activities. Families can interact with dolphins at Dolphin Island Park or Dolphin Explorer Wildlife Park and see local marine life up close on a Marinarium Snorkeling Cruise. And who wouldn’t want to explore the Fun Fun Cave, one of the largest caves in the Dominican Republic.
Situated on a private beach, Club Med Punta Cana is an all-inclusive resort with an excellent children’s program and so many fun onsite activities you may never leave the grounds. At the Majestic Elegance Hotel Punta Cana, family amenities include a kids’ pool, babysitting and complimentary breakfast.
The capital of the Bahamas, Nassau is a popular cruise ship port stop with kid-friendly beaches and unique attractions. Fun places to visit with kids include the Pirates of Nassau interactive museum and Graycliff Chocolatier, where you can make your own candy.
For outrageous water play and dolphin encounters, stay at the popular Atlantis Paradise Island. The beachfront resort’s main attraction is the 141-acre Aquaventure, a water park with slides, lazy rivers, pools and a marine habitat.
Jamaica (Courtesy VisitJamaica.com)
Friendly locals and a laid-back vibe attract families to this year-round sunny island. Thrilling family-friendly adventures include the Dunn’s River Falls & Snorkeling Adventure Tour in Ocho Rios and excursions by Chukka Tours, which include rafting, dune buggy riding and zip lining.
Cabo San Lucas
With sunny beaches and loads of kid-friendly attractions, it’s no wonder Cabo is a favorite family vacation destination. A top kid-friendly attraction is the Buccaneer Queen, a pirate-themed ship that sails by the famous arches, Lovers Beach and the coral reefs. And at Cabo Dolphins, you can touch, feed and swim with dolphins.
After an exciting sightseeing day, unwind at the beachfront Villa Del Arco Beach Resort, equipped with kitchenettes and private balconies.
Home to volcanoes and black sand beaches, the Big Island has larger than life adventures. Walk through an ancient lava tube, then hike to the bottom of the Halemamau Crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For aerial views of flowing lava and waterfalls, catch a ride with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Snorkel in crystal clear water with Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides. The evening Manta Ray cruise is also a fun family adventure!
The largest of three Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman is a water lover’s paradise with thrilling family-friendly activities. For a memorable experience, visit Stingray City, a natural habitat for stingrays along shallow sandbars. Feed and pet the gentle creatures. At Dolphin Discovery, you can swim with dolphins in shallow water.
Several hotels are situated on pristine Seven Mile Beach (a destination in itself). Enjoy water sports at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, and the large pool at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Grand Cayman.
Los Angeles, CA (Flickr: Justin Vidamo)
While temperatures are typically cooler during the winter months, most days are warm enough for outings to beaches, parks, mountains and family-friendly attractions in Los Angeles. If sun and surf is what your family seeks, head to the Santa Monica Pier, home to an amusement park, carousel, aquarium and restaurants. Wade in the ocean and picnic on the wide state beach. Another top family destination is Griffith Park, where you can ride horses and miniature trains, visit the LA Zoo and check out starry sights at the Griffith Observatory.
Among LA’s many family-friendly hotels is the Sheraton Universal Hotel, just steps from Universal Studios Hollywood. Prefer staying near the beach? Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is a short walk to the beach.
Riviera Maya and Cozumel
Riviera Maya, Mexico (Photo: Michelle Uy)
While best known for Mayan ruins, Riviera Maya has stunning family-friendly beaches as well as attractions utilizing natural surroundings. For example, Xel-Ha is a 210-acre natural aquarium and tropical jungle that’s simply magical. Activities include snorkeling, tubing and cliff diving. Also a must-see is Tulum, the site of a pre-Columbian Maya walled city overlooking the azure sea below. In nearby Cozumel (about a 45-minute ferry ride), families can swim in a lagoon, snorkel and play laser tag in mock ruins at the Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park.
Great kid-friendly, all-inclusive resorts in the Riviera Maya area include the luxurious Grand Velas Riviera Maya, which has pools, gourmet restaurants and personalized butler concierge services. El Cozumeleno Beach Resort Cozumel faces the Caribbean and is near downtown’s shops and restaurants.
With several world-class theme parks, Orlando is practically synonymous with thrilling family vacations. Walt Disney World has four theme parks and two water parks while Universal Orlando has two theme parks and CityWalk, with the well-designed Wizarding World of Harry Potter straddles both parks.
For Disney perks including free transportation to the parks, stay at an onsite hotel, such as Disney’s All Star Movies Resort or Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Universal Orlando onsite hotels, such as the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a family favorite for its amenities and close proximity to the parks.
Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.