Finding a destination that has multigenerational attractions and dining and hotel options that can accommodate groups can be difficult. Finding a vacation spot that won't destroy your wallet can be even tougher. Based on traveler feedback, editor analysis and factors like sights and accessibility, U.S. News compiled a list of the best affordable, kid-friendly locales that won't break the bank. Use these rankings to start devising travel plans for a trip – but first, vote for your favorite family vacation destinations below.
San Miguel de Allende: San Miguel de Allende is one of the safest places in Mexico, as evidenced by its popularity with expats. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated almost right in the middle of Mexico and offers cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial churches and plenty of great restaurants. The nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco, less than 10 miles away, is also a World Heritage Site and an important pilgrimage site for penitent Mexicans and tourists alike. Getty Images
Denver: With mild weather and plenty of museums to explore, Denver is a family-friendly and affordable summer vacation this year. According to WalletHub’s Best Places to Visit in Summer, Denver ranks sixth, earning a spot for its low travel costs and minimal hassles. KAYAK’s 2018 Travel Hacker guide also lists median airfare to Denver under $250 round-trip from the U.S. and Canada for the summer months, and median hotel nightly rates around $150. Getty Images/iStockphoto
What to do: Since they’re open year-round, the indoor water parks can be enjoyed any month. Get a day pass for Noah's Ark water park (America's largest) and race each other down 2018’s newest ride, the Raja, which ends in the mouth of a king cobra. Or book one of the wet and wild resorts, like the African-themed Kalahari (the Sahara Sidewinders looping slides literally drop you through the roof) or Mt. Olympus (the Lost City of Atlantis water fortress has slides, geysers and monster dump buckets).
What to do: Visit Panda Trek first or last in the day, when crowds are lightest, to see the zoo’s black and white superstars, as well as red pandas. Don’t miss: Elephant Odyssey, where the pachyderms often have pool parties; and Northern Frontier, to watch polar bears swimming underwater and see playful arctic foxes. Also noteworthy is the Africa Rocks exhibit (baboons, leopards, blue-eyed lemurs, etc.) that opened in 2017.
Larounis also advised making a beeline to an airline club; if you don’t belong to one for your flight, buy a day pass. “When there’s a delay or cancellation, everyone rushes to the terminal agent’s customer service desk. But the airline clubs rarely have lines and they have the same capability—sometimes they’re more empowered than the agents downstairs and can bend the rules to get you on flights that look sold out.”
What to do: There's lots of free PG-rated fun in festive Jackson Square, where magicians, jugglers, mimes and jazz bands make the street their stage. Take in the lively scene from an outside table at Café du Monde, famous for its yummy beignets (warm French doughnuts smothered with powdered sugar). A quick stroll along the Mississippi River leads to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (little ones will love the touch pools) and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (creepy crawly thrills include bug tasting). Hop the St. Charles streetcar to the lovely Garden District and the Audubon Zoo where the kids can check feeding giraffes off their bucket lists.
Price/Availability: Price is per person, based on double occupancy, and includes hotel rates, hotel taxes, roundtrip airfare, and gov't taxes/fees applicable to airfare based on specified departure city. Price shown is sample price found 6/21/17 on jetblue.com/vacations for travel departing New York (JFK) between 9/24/18 and 9/27/18 and may not represent current savings. Package/price subject to availability; may change without notice; valid for new bookings only; capacity controlled; may not be available on all dates or with all flights; and may be restricted to certain hotel room categories.
Merida and Valladolid: Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, recommends these two towns as great alternatives to other nearby tourist hot spots. “A lot of people go to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but on the Yucatan Peninsula there are these two beautiful colonial cities that are so welcoming, colorful, and full of traditions that travelers won’t regret visiting them,” he says. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Why: While the devastating hurricanes of 2017 impacted just a portion of the Caribbean region, it damaged some of its more cruise-popular spots, like Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, St. Bart's, and the U.S.V.I.’s St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. While all are under significant rehab and rebuilding — and most are actually now open to cruise ships and tourists, this could be a perfect year to explore more exotic islands. That’s because lines like Windstar, which had, pre-hurricanes, planned to offer BVI-centric trips, relocated ships to other parts of the Caribbean. The winning trip? We love Wind Surf, one of the line’s sailing vessels, with its trip out of Barbados; ports include Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Montserrat — all islands that heretofore have often been bypassed by established cruise lines. And get this: There’s plenty of cruise capacity in this region, particularly when it comes to small ship sailings. In part, excess cabins are available because many skittish travelers canceled their bookings. As well, they can typically be more expensive (look for $300 per person, per day) than big ship vessels. But do the math: Windstar, and other small ship lines like Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Azamara, Oceania and Viking Oceans, can actually be quite a good value when compared to land-based properties because they’re more price inclusive. Look for deals that include cocktails, gratuities and shore excursions not to mention pre- and post-cruise hotel stays and, in some cases, airfare to the ships’ port of embarkation.
The best family vacations become the stuff of legend, inspiring the stories you and your relatives repeat and reminisce over for years. That’s not to say mishaps don’t happen: National Lampoon has made five Vacation films based on that very pretense. The stakes can sometimes feel impossibly high to plan the perfect vacation that everyone will love. (And that’s without factoring in a budget.) Travel + Leisure’s writers and editors know how stressful planning family vacations can be, but also how stress-free they should be. With a discerning eye for value, multigenerational fun, and simplicity, they can help reduce the hassle and maximize the memories.
Why you should go: Don’t let the name fool you; Isla Grande is an intimate, gorgeous Caribbean island just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena, full of exceedingly friendly locals and all the hallmarks of a tiny paradise. You’ve got your idyllic beaches, your lagoons of bioluminescent plankton that turn the water bright blue, your fresh seafood and multiple options for diving and canoeing. The chance to visit such a place is probably why you bother to earn money in the first place. - Daniel Cole, Thrillist contributor
San Jose del Cabo, Mexico: You’ll find savings and a favorable exchange rate in Mexico this summer. Skip out on party-centric Cabo San Lucas and head to “the other Cabo,” San Jose del Cabo, instead. Low airfare to Cabo stands out this season; the average cost of a round-trip flight to/from Los Angeles is around $300 and $500 to/from New York City. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Where to stay: HALCYON, a hotel in Cherry Creek, located in the charming walking-friendly neighborhood, has a rooftop pool, a free gear garage with bikes and longboards, and complimentary muffins and scones in the morning, plus snacks, coffee drinks, and even wine and beer for mom and dad from 4 to 9 p.m. at its “kitchen counter” check-in desk, from $179 a night. It’s also right around the corner from a Whole Foods and one of the city’s most-beloved burger spots, The Cherry Cricket. Be sure to check out these awesome spring break getaways for families too.
Virginia’s Historic Triangle extends to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, where innovative exhibits and educational experiences depict America’s first permanent English colony and guide visitors through the battlefield where American independence was won – advance 7-day passes are available, so you can return with the family to explore time and time again. Merchants Square, an 18th-century-style village, includes more than 40 shops and restaurants ranging from family-style to fine dining.
Why: A genuine bucket list trip for many, a visit to Australia and New Zealand can be super-pricey. Cities are spread out, way out, which means a lot of hopping on planes to get from one place to another. And for top level accommodations, not to mention simple daily necessities like a flat white, you’ll shell out big bucks. What’s good about a cruise itinerary that includes visits to both countries is that the big expenses are included in fares – onboard meals, accommodations, entertainment and transportation from place to place. On Oceania Cruises, which offers a New Zealand/Australia itinerary, for instance, the per diem is $350 a night, but you pretty much don’t have to whip out a credit card beyond that (do note that it’s priced at per-person, based on two sharing a cabin). Consider that in super-expensive cities like Auckland and Sydney, a hotel stay at a four-star place like the Hilton and Westin respectively will run you $350 or so. And that’s for the room only — you’ll pay out of pocket for food, entertainment and bars. One tip: Look for a cruise line that arranges its itineraries to spend maximum time in port, whether it’s long days or plenty of overnights, so you can have as much time to explore as possible. As well, you’re better off, in most cases, avoiding cruise-line shore excursions, which can be overpriced and epitomize group cattle travel, and engage a travel agency specialist in the region to plan private tours for your days in port. Bottom line, though, is when experiencing Australia and New Zealand by cruise ship, especially on your first visit to the region, the biggest plus is not just the convenience of unpacking once and keeping short-hop plane trips to a minimum. It’s also that, depending on the itinerary you choose, you can visit some pretty special somewhat off-the-grid places in between marquee stops at Auckland and Sydney. New Zealand’s Akaroa, Dunedin and Wellington, and Australia’s Eden, Burnie and Melbourne, might otherwise be missed — and shouldn’t be.
Family Vacation Ideas with Toddlers: When planning a trip with toddlers, remember a few key points: they have short attention spans, get tired quickly and need simple engaging activities such as pouring water or transferring beans. It will take a lot of effort to keep them happy on a long airplane trip, although with careful planning it can be done. They will probably want to sleep with you in an unfamiliar hotel room and may not like resort food all that much. On the other hand, having many new things to see and do will be exciting, as long as they are not tired or hungry. If you only have time for a long weekend getaway, pick a quick getaway that won’t require a lot of time to get to or having to deal with jet lag. If you have time for a longer vacation, consider destinations with nice beaches where your toddler will be able to run around, splash water and have a lot of fun.
Wonderful humor is applied to the actual challenges faced if you consider traveling to other worlds in our solar system. Information and science from 50 years of space exploration is used to provide a planning guide for visiting our solar system neighbors. The result is a thoughtful look at what manned exploration of other planets requires, and it's presented in the context that the reader would actually make the trip.
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
Why: The Greek Island of Karpathos offers much of the same allure as chic Santorini and Mykonos, but with the advantage of lower prices. Karpathos is the second largest of the Dodecanese Island chain, which includes better-known Rhodes. Karpathos dates back to the 5th century BC, offering history buffs a way to have two trips in one, combining sun and sand with a step back in time. Ancient ruins can still be seen at Aghia Anastasia, while the island’s history can be studied in more detail in the Archaeological Museum. Beyond lounging on white-sand beaches, active travelers can choose from a selection of sports: fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and sailing. Away from the well-worn tourist path, Karpathos has hillsides covered in vibrant wild flowers and small villages like Arkasas to explore. The island’s capital, Pighadia, is a modern city, but in small towns like Olympos, traditional dress is still worn day-to-day and life has the authentic feel of the past. Karpathos has many apartments and studios to rent, resulting in real savings. There are plenty of budget hotels under $100. Multiple restaurants and tavernas dot the countryside, where you can savor traditional Greek dishes at low prices.
Yelapa: Yelapa is “Mexico’s last authentic beach town,” says Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, “and is definitely under the radar. [Expect] great seafood, great beaches, nice hotels and none of the inflated prices.” Note that it’s in one of the State Department’s orange zones, while nearby Puerto Vallarta is exempted — so you’ll want to do a bit more research before choosing this part of Jalisco. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Some of the top destinations for families are the Caribbean, Florida, California and Hawaii, attracting vacationers with their sandy beaches and colorful sunsets, especially during the colder months and in the summer when there is no school and kids can get away for a longer vacation. Many families enjoy cruises which allow them to see many destinations in a short span of time. Mega cruise ships offer a wide variety of activities, from pools and waterslides to rock climbing and kids' clubs. Consider the season - the destinations that work best in the spring and summer may not be as interesting in the winter. Resorts with water parks include the Arizona Grand Resort, the Lake Lanier Islands, the Gaylord Palms Resort. Unique getaways in the U.S. include The Cloister at Sea Island, The Bishop's Lodge, Hilton Hawaiian Village and Grand Wailea Resort.
Climb a sand dune to watch a fiery sunset on a Family Adventure in Southern Africa. And Botswana, in southern Africa. Tours leave from Windhoek, once a German colonial city and now the capital of Namibia. The land looks other-worldly, with its shimmering sand dunes and dried lakebeds, but this is a great place for kids (and adults) to learn about desert ecology and the region’s history. Guides lead interactive walks into the bush and explain the tracking skills and survival methods used by the San tribe, inhabitants of this area for over 30,000 years. You’ll pass hippos and elephants as you paddle canoes through the Okavango Delta, one of the best places in the country to spot animals and birds. The journey ends at Victoria Falls, known as the world’s largest waterfall, in Zimbabwe.
Why: Manaus in the north of Brazil is a short flight from Miami and provides multiple economical options in one. It is a top destination for adventure travel or a sedate wildlife and photography sojourn or a serious eco-tour. Although it's a city of 1 million inhabitants, Manaus is mainly famous as the gateway to the Amazon rain forest. Comfortable, modern hotels like the Caesar Business Hotel start at $63 year round. Aside from visits upriver in the rainforest, Manaus offers sites ranging from the local Amazon tributary, the Rio Negro and the fabled Renaissance-style Manaus Opera House/Amazon Theatre. For an up-close look at wildlife, including endangered species, there is a free, small zoo at the Hotel Tropical. A biologist heads up this state-certified rescue center that has elusive deep-rainforest species, from jaguars to the lovable 120-pound capybaras. The Bosque da Ciencia (Science Center) is a popular open-air wildlife park just outside the city of Manaus. Local species roam freely in front of strolling tourists. Day-trip options include short visits to the rain forest as well as the Presidente Figueiredo Waterfalls and Gruta do Refugio do Maroaga, a cave filled with marine life and bats. Traveling in the rainy season provides an even better value, and the weather is no hindrance to boating and spotting a wide array of tropical birds, pink dolphins and a feisty piranha or two.
Whether you love theme parks, state parks or water parks, building sandcastles or beach bonfires, exploring kid-friendly museums or hiking trails, families always have a blast in San Diego. In fact, San Diego is consistently ranked one of the Top Family Destinations in America, and it's no wonder. With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, world-class attractions like the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California, and budget-friendly hotels, dining and activities, there are plenty of family vacation options available. Plus, many San Diego hotels and resorts offer special children's programs for kids of all ages. From crafts, puzzles and games for younger kids to X-Box 360®, air hockey and sports lessons for teenagers (some even complimentary), the entire family can be entertained from sun up to sun down.
Planning on taking an Arkansas vacation this year or just want to visit Hot Springs for a weekendgetaway? Our free vacation-planning guide provides valuable information about Hot Springs National Park as well as lodging and places to stay attractions and fun things to do, an events calendar and free discount coupons for Hot Springs hotels, restaurants, events, attractions and shops.
What to do: Watch your kids awaken their inner superheroes at the museum’s American Comic Book Heroes exhibit or walk their way through the world’s largest pop-up book in Reading Adventureland. For nostalgia, visit the Toy Halls of Fame and play your way through the history of video games at eGameRevolution. Expect to spend at least four hours at The Strong National Museum of Play.
Your child may be on his or her way to being a master builder—or not—but either way, few Florida destinations are as child-friendly as Winter Haven. That’s because of the incredible LEGOLAND, where single- or multi-day passes are available to purchase. This child-centric haven is practically overflowing with Lego bricks. What’s more, every room is themed—from pirates to knights to adventurers.