best family vacation spots

Take a peek at the best family vacation spots in North America. (Photo: Getty Images)

Couples + Family

The Gang’s All Here: Plan a Multigenerational Trip Everyone Will Love

When it comes to vacation planning, it’s relatively easy to pick a romantic retreat or a fun destination for the kids. But where do you go when everyone’s along for the ride? With so many divergent interests and different tastes, choosing a destination that pleases everyone — from grandparents and couples to mercurial teens and young children — suddenly becomes a lot harder.

Planning multigenerational and multi-age travel is all about one thing: location, location, location. Luckily, we’ve rounded up six great North American destinations and resorts that offer the wide range of activities and amenities necessary to keep everyone on the trip happy. Which, if you ask the Griswolds, is certainly no easy feat.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Long since shedding its onetime reputation as a sleepy retirement community and evolving into one of the region’s premier year-round destinations, South Carolina’s world-famous tourist destination of Hilton Head Island offers a wide range of options for any type of traveler.

A dolphin tour with Mermaid of Hilton Head or pirate ship adventure at Pirates of Hilton Head will keep the kids happy, while teens can enjoy canopy adventures at Zipline Hilton Head or escaping reality at the Atomic VR Virtual Arcade.

All ages can enjoy a day at Hilton Head’s spectacular beaches, with Islanders and Driessen being among the most family friendly. Afterward, round up the whole crew and make a beeline over to the popular Salty Dog Café and take turns recalling tales of the day’s adventures over fresh seafood and blended drinks on the waterfront.

At the oceanfront Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, parents don’t need to feel guilty about taking some extra time at the Heavenly Spa by Westin — not when there’s so much for kids to do at the Westin Family Kids Club, from beach Olympics to scouting expeditions and more. And if the rest of the members of the family just want to sit around the fire pit staring into the ocean, that’s quite alright, as well.

Orlando, Florida

While Orlando is synonymous with the world-famous Walt Disney World (as well as other mega attractions like Universal Studios and SeaWorld), there’s more to Orlando than just theme parks and cheesy T-shirts. The city has worked hard to diversify in recent years, and one of America’s most-visited cities now claims a buzzing nightlife scene in downtown Orlando in the area around Orange Avenue (and far from the theme parks).

best family vacation spots
Play with a wee gator at Gatorland. (Photo: Getty Images)

While a trip to Disney World is a bucket list must for many travelers, families might want to consider more lesser-known alternatives like the funky Gatorland alligator-themed park or the delightfully strange Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium.

Airboat rides with a local company like Black Hammock Airboat Rides are a great way to experience the local environment, while teens will enjoy spending time in one of Orlando’s large malls like The Florida Mall or The Mall at Millennia. Young adults can explore the city’s hip Mills 50 District, while family dinner can be had away from the chains in one of Orlando’s cool enclaves like Little Vietnam or Little India.

When you base your Orlando exploration from the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, you can take the free shuttle to major theme parks or just kick back by the pool with a drink in hand on the lush 500-acre property. With everything from a gentle lazy river to an adrenaline-packed aqua obstacle course, travelers of any age are guaranteed to find something to like here.

Lexington, Kentucky

Long known as the “Horse Capital of the World,” Kentucky’s second-largest city is nothing short of a delight. With a number of spectacular horse farms surrounding a charming city whose compact downtown district is tailor-made for exploring, there’s no horsing around when it comes to having fun in Lexington.

Kids can get their kicks at Malibu Jack’s Indoor Theme Park or Monkey Joe’s indoor play space, while teens can try and touch the sky at the Sky Zone trampoline park or wander the expansive Fayette Mall.

Young adults can check out the bars and distilleries of Lexington’s hip Distillery District (where, yes, they’re pouring plenty of bourbon), while all ages will enjoy a visit to the iconic Kentucky Horse Park or a University of Kentucky basketball game at the legendary Rupp Arena. And with a number of year-round festivals, including the CRAVE Food + Music Festival, there’s always something going on to get someone in the family excited.

The entire clan can relax in style at the four-star Lexington Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, a scenic oasis nestled in the Bluegrass Country hills north of the city.

The Spa at Griffin Gate or Griffin Gate Golf Club should keep mom and dad happy, while the whole family can get aboard a lazy day spent ordering food and drinks poolside from the hotel’s Top Deck restaurant. You’re on vacation, remember?

Charlotte, North Carolina

North Carolina’s largest city has grown increasingly dynamic in recent years, evolving from a financial hub into a leading regional center for culture and tourism. Most of the tourist action is centered around Charlotte‘s thriving Uptown district, with a walkable urban core marked by the hustle and bustle of Tryon Street.

Children will find plenty of entertainment at the kid-friendly science museum Discovery Place and at ImaginOn learning center, while teens will gravitate more toward indoor go-kart racetrack K1.

Families looking for adventure can hit the U.S. National Whitewater Center outdoor adventure park or Carowinds amusement park, couples can check out the cool art galleries and restaurants of the hip NoDa neighborhood, and travelers of all ages will appreciate the stuffed milkshakes and treats at Ninety’s Dessert Bar. It’s true: Nothing brings the family together like ice cream.

At The Ballantyne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, families can bask in all the typical amenities of a four-star resort, including a golf course, tennis courts and a spa. But the resort also kicks it up a notch with more family-friendly activities for different age groups, such as glow-in-the dark putting and long-drive contests, complimentary cruiser bike rentals and plenty of lawn games, from bocce to Frisbee.

Victoria, British Columbia

British Columbia’s adorable capital city may be Canada’s best-kept secret. Packed with historic Victorian architecture that helps the city cultivate more of a British-aristocracy vibe, Victoria (nicknamed “The Garden City”) boasts a delightfully walkable downtown harbor district surrounded by nature on all sides.

Take older members of the family to some of the city’s many gardens (Butchart Gardens being the most famous), while all ages will find something to enjoy at parks such as Goldstream Provincial Park and beaches like the breathtaking Sandcut Beach.

Harbor tours and whale-watching expeditions with local tour companies like Victoria Harbour Ferry are fun for the whole family, while young adults might want to check out more offbeat attractions like Miniature World or the Victoria Bug Zoo.

Take grandma and grandpa to sip some afternoon tea at the iconic Empress Hotel, or head out of town with your significant other on a romantic tour of a local winery like Church & State Wines.

You’ll feel like the king of the castle at the Delta Hotels Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort, nestled along the waterfront a short walk from the British Columbia Parliament Buildings and Royal BC Museum. While the children participate in the kids scavenger hunt and kids storytime, adults can kick back like royalty at the spa or take in a decadent meal at LURE Restaurant & Bar. It’s what we call a win-win.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The infamous beachfront city of Fort Lauderdale has worked doggedly to shed its hard-partying spring break image in recent years and now caters to a more upscale crowd as America’s yachting capital and home to many cruise ships departing to the Caribbean. Located 30 miles north of Miami, the city also boasts an extensive canal system that helps it cultivate a new image as the “Venice of America.”

Yet despite all the city’s recent development, the beach remains Lauderdale’s number one attraction. The Strip along Fort Lauderdale Beach is the main center of action here, with the adult crowd gravitating more toward East Las Olas Boulevard while younger party seekers tend to stick more to West Las Olas.

A dinner cruise aboard a local vessel like the Jungle Queen is always a hit with the older crowd, while more middle-aged thrill seekers can drive down A1A in style with a luxury vehicle from Fort Lauderdale Exotic Car Rentals. Meanwhile, the whole family should find something to get pumped about at the iconic International Swimming Hall of Fame, located — where else? — just off Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa has everything that any generation could ever ask for in a beach resort — and then some.

There’s a children’s activity area with arts and crafts, video games and multimedia. For the older kids, there are Jet Ski, paddleboard and kayak rentals. And for adults, there’s an 8,000-square-foot lagoon-style pool paired with a 22,000-square-foot, full-service spa. The family might never want to leave. And that’s OK.