Let’s get real for a minute. They may be fun, but family vacations are rarely a break for mom and dad. Between planning and packing, coordinating activities and no childcare, parents often come home wondering when their vacation begins.
But these getaways offer fun for all (and maybe even a little alone time for the grownups).
Beautiful beaches, ridiculous scenery, endless outdoor fun – no place epitomizes the dream tropical getaway quite like Maui. But before you have a bank balance freakout, know there are bargains to be had. Napili Kai Beach Resort is set on one of Maui’s most pristine beaches and takes a bite out of that painful Canadian exchange rate with a kids eat free program and one and two nights free on five- and seven-night stays, respectively.
The kids will love: Building their own canoe, bamboo fishing and learning local crafts at the resort’s complimentary Keiki (kids) Club.
You’ll love: Grown-up organized games that make you feel like a kid again at the resort’s weekly adults-only putting party.
You’ll both love: Watching migratory humpback whales from the shore. They’re so close, who needs a whale watching cruise?
Big White, B.C.
Soaring 2,315 metres over the Okanagan, Big White is the highest mountain in this part of interior B.C. It’s also home to Big White Ski Resort, which has been rated “best powder” by Ski Canada magazine and is recognized as one of the best family ski resorts around. Accommodations range from full service hotels to condo and luxury home rentals.
The kids will love: Wall climbing-slash-movie night and other fun programming at the Kids Centre After Dark.
You’ll love: The peace of mind of hitting the more advanced runs knowing your kids are being tracked by Flaik GPS systems during their lessons (the system also lets you review their progress together over hot chocolate later).
You’ll both love: Roasting s’mores at your own tabletop fire pit at Globe Cafe and Tapas Bar.
Hitting up a European city with kids generally means you’re likely to experience more whine than wine. After all, they’re likely to think all that culture and history is a snooze, and picky eaters can make it hard to sample the local food scene. But with its whimsical vibe, Barcelona is the antidote to the usual challenges.
The kids will love: Enchanting Gaudi architecture at sites such as Casa Batllo and Park Guell. (They may love the colourful white chocolate replicas of Gaudi’s iconic salamanders, available at La Boqueria market, even more.)
You’ll love: The fact that dining with kids is de rigueur here. From tapas bars to arrocerias, most Spanish restaurants are extremely child friendly – you’re likely to spot local families dining till late. (And when it comes to sleep, flying east means the jet lag works in your favour.)
You’ll both love: The fact that with its seaside and bustling centre, Barcelona offers both a city and beach holiday in one.
Victoria, British Columbia
Picturesque Victoria is a gateway to rugged Vancouver Island, and it also offers heaps of family fun, both inside and out.
The kids will love: Honing their wildlife photography skills or digging for fossils at Royal B.C. Museum’s kids camps.
You’ll love: Never once hearing “how much further do we have to ride?” on a grown up bike tour of local craft breweries with The Pedaler.
Within road-tripping distance from Toronto and Montreal, the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region of Quebec is chalk full of pretty towns, hundreds of kilometres of paved biking routes and one of the world’s longest fjords. Stay at Village-Vacances in Petit-Saguenay, a family-friendly resort with chalet-style and camping accommodations.
The kids will love: Sanctioned messiness with a fjord mud bath.
You’ll love: An organized 1.3-km hike which ends with a tasting of wines and local cheeses.
You’ll both love: The many ways to get out on the water: kayaking, sailing and whale watching by Zodiac, to name a few.
OK, for some of us it’s not exactly a getaway in the too far out of town sense, but if you are one of those who lives nearby, take advantage of no plane flights and no exchange rates and live like ballers for a few days at Four Seasons, the number one rated hotel in Toronto on TripAdvisor. You’ll be steps from some of the city’s top attractions – but with such swank digs and amenities such as a sunny indoor pool that offers an underwater soundtrack, plus an extra-warm welcome for the kids, we wouldn’t blame you if no one in your family wants to leave the hotel.
The kids will love: Their own kid-sized bathrobes and a secret candy machine.
You’ll love: Stay three nights, get 25 per cent off – which is almost a free night.
You’ll both love: Having the night off from each other. Treat the kids to a movie and room service, then use the hotel’s babysitting services so you can enjoy dinner for two at the acclaimed Café Boulud downstairs.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Close to Cancun airport and steps from soft white sand and dazzling, bath-warm Caribbean waters, the Mayan Riviera offers a relaxing getaway, whether for a long weekend or the whole week. Check out Azul resorts, a group of all-inclusives with top-notch kids’ facilities.
The kids will love: Age-appropriate activities and facilities that let little ones breakfast with SpongeBob, swing and jump like monkeys at the My Gym ropes course and trampoline, and teen guests perfect their mixing and scratching skills at DJ lessons.
You’ll love: Not having to pack three suitcases full of baby paraphernalia. From strollers and baby baths to bottle sterilizers and warmers, Azul has you covered. As the resort likes to say, “just bring the baby.”
You’ll both love: Azul’s “gourmet inclusive” food program, which is a cut above the grub you’ll find at many all-inclusives.
Caribbean cruising with NCL
You’re unlikely to hear the refrain “I’m bored” even once on a cruise these days, considering that today’s monster ships are decked out with everything from waterslides to rock climbing and ice skating. Though cruising may seem pricey, booking early can net you perks such as free shore excursions or drink plans while a little online sleuthing can turn up decent last-minute deals. And cruise lines such as Norwegian offer complimentary programming that’ll keep little ones entertained from morning till night.
The kids will love: Staging their own circus after learning tricks such as juggling and stilt walking at Norwegian’s “Big Top at Sea,” part of the cruise line’s Splash Academy program.
You’ll love: Cooling off with fruit skewers, water spritzers and cold towels as you lounge the day away at Posh or Vibe Beach Club (depending on which ship you’re on), adults-only enclaves accessible via a private glass elevator.
You’ll both love: Varied dining to suit all palates, from pizza and burgers to high-end French cuisine. Even if you upgrade to an a la carte restaurant, kids under 12 still eat free.
Jay Peak, Vermont
Known as one of the best ski destinations in the east, Jay Peak Resort offers great terrain for all levels of skiing, plus free daycare for resort guests and expert ski lessons for kids aged three and up. Families with special needs can get in on all the fun thanks to an adaptive ski program, where kids with different abilities work with specially-trained instructors to learn to ski.
The kids will love: The abundance of options on and off the snow: there’s fun on the slopes, obviously, plus fat tire biking, snow shoeing, a pro-sized hockey arena and even a 50,000 square foot water park.
You’ll love: That the resort accepts Canadian dollars on par.
You’ll both love: Getting a different sort of adrenaline rush than is typical at a ski resort, when you plunge 20 metres down the Le Chute waterslide, at a speed of more than 70 kilometres per hour.