Someones backpack is lost, your youngest has decided cereal for breakfast is worse than taking a bath, and the coffee pot is making gurgling noises that sound like a gremlin with the flu. Just a normal morning. It’s only natural this may lead you to think that taking the kids on a vacation while they’re young is an insane idea and would take far more energy than a dying coffee machine could provide. It’s true that getting everyone packed and on a trip can be a lot of work, but without question, the U.S. holds incredible destinations that beg for a family vacation, before the kids grow up.
We’ve all experienced infectious happiness – when someone you love is overflowing with so much excitement and joy that it rubs off on everyone else and everything you do. Taking your children on an unforgettable vacation before they’re too cool or too busy or too old is one of the best gifts you can ever share with them. Here are our favorite five family vacations to take (all within the U.S.) before the kids are grown. Infectious happiness guaranteed.
1. Disney Parks
It seems like we’re cheating to include this one in our list, but the Disney Parks undeniably have a special kind of magic (pixie dust) that we think is incredibly deserving of a family vacation before the kids grow up, much to Peter Pan’s dismay. Radiating with kid-friendly activities, rides, shows, food, and accommodations, the Disney Parks in both California and Florida can make for some of the best family vacation memories.
The age range for an ideal trip to a Disney Park is one only your family can decide. Some attractions have height minimums, which could be a negative if one family member isn’t tall enough. There’s also an endurance aspect to taking on a day at Disney, regardless of age. You’ll walk miles without trying. You’ll also probably have to stand in a few lines throughout the day.
A usually successful plan of attack for a day at Disney is to stay on the property or very nearby and be there when the park opens before the crowd arrives. Take a midday break back at the hotel for a swim or nap time and return to the parks later in the day for dinner, the night shows, and fireworks.
If you’re feeling more international, the Disney Parks in Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo are a delight, as well. And we can’t ignore the amazing Aulani Disney resort on Oahu or the many Disney Cruises that serve both the U.S. and international ports.
2. Explore the U.S. National Parks
Attention to the parents with a child in the 4th grade: You get to visit any National Park in the country for free! From the beginning on September 1 until August 31 of the following year, your 4th grader gets an “Every Kids in a Park” pass which given unlimited access to visit any or all of the National Parks. This means your entire family gets in for free.
The best family vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot. Like when your two-year-old son asked Santa for balloons for Christmas, often joy has nothing to do with the price tag. A yearly pass for your family into the National Parks is absolutely something to take advantage of. While there are states that don’t have a National Park, it’s likely that one is within a half day of driving. Alternatively, head to California, Utah, or Alaska for a road trip through the states with the highest concentration of parks to explore. A road trip also cuts down or entirely eliminates the need for flying.
Check out our guide to flying with kids for tips on how to make the journey easier on everyone.
Camping is a great way to get fully immersed in the National Parks and a fun way for kids to gain a new perspective on living – cooking on a campfire and sleeping under the stars, not to mention the life-changing experience of s’mores. If camping doesn’t suit your family consider renting an RV or staying at a lodge within the park (if there is one).
Most National Parks have programs from kids to learn all about the local flora and fauna. Park Rangers are an excellent resource so send your kids straight to them to answer any questions they might have.
Paradise in the U.S. The palm trees, warm water, postcard-worthy beaches, and active (but currently not too active) volcanoes. Taking kids to Hawaii offers up some of nature’s best scenery paired with a relaxing vacation that every parent on a getaway is looking for.
Many resorts offer kids activity days where they get dropped off after breakfast and picked up in the late afternoon, offering parents a kid-free day to spend exploring or doing absolutely nothing – your choice while the kids are off learning about Hawaiian nature, culture, or trying out a new activity.
Touring a pineapple or banana plantation, snorkeling, attending a luau and learning to hula dance, or hanging out by the pool – all of these make for a memorable and enjoyable Hawaiian family vacation. Rent a Jeep, take the top off, apply sunscreen until everyone looks like they bathed in it, and hit the road to find secluded hidden beaches. Or take the kids on a zipline adventure or horseback riding in Hawaii’s lush landscapes.
While Hawaii can be an expensive destination, it doesn’t have to be. Choose accommodations that allow you to cook some of your own meals, a resort with on-site activities, and keep an eye out for cheap flights which are common to Hawaii from mainland U.S., especially if you live on the west coast.
4. Cruise Into Happiness
Cruising as a family is a great option for a stress-free vacation that keeps every generation happy. Once onboard, your family can stick together for the duration, hopping between numerous pools while at sea and taking part in cultural activities in ports. Or your family could take on some independent excursions, signing up for whichever activity/event interests them most.
Cruising as a family while the kids are younger is one of the least stressful modes of travel since getting to each port is significantly more enjoyable than the kids in the back seat pointing out every red car they see. Many cruises have special activities onboard specifically for kids that teaches them all about marine life or culture in the spots you’ll be stopping to explore.
Check out our guide to three amazing family cruises here, but keep in mind some of them travel internationally so be sure all family members have valid passports.
5. Southern California
The sunny shores of Southern California provide endless opportunities for a family vacation with activities we find especially suitable for kids. To begin with The San Diego Zoo has over 3,700 animals spread out over the 100-acre zoo in Balboa Park. This is certainly a day to wear your comfortable walking shoes. We recommend you start this zoo adventure with the guided bus tour to get acquainted with the park and its offerings. Then head off on foot to explore all the exhibits that interest you. Certainly check out the zoo events while planning because there are some seriously cool activities like having breakfast with elephants. This is a prime activity for gaining entrance into the “Parent of the Year” award. Definitely plan on spending most of a day at this incredible zoo.
If your feet are sore the following day, head to the ocean – La Jolla cove. This stretch of soft sand is a great place for the kids to take a surfing lesson, rent a kayak, or try to stand up on a stand-up paddle board. San Diego also offers some of the best whale watching in the U.S. if your family is interested in other ocean activities.
Other family activities we love in Southern California are exploring Joshua Tree National Park, hiking Torrey Pines, Legoland, and Catalina Island.
The San Diego area is about a two-hour drive from Disneyland in Anaheim, meaning it would be totally possible to join these two destinations together for an ultimate California family vacation.
Where is Your Family Heading in 2020?
We’re experts at planning family vacations that all generations can enjoy. You have bigger issues to deal with than booking the best hotel or finding a flight that doesn’t involve a 6-hour layover. We’re here to help you with that. Send us a message and we’ll get planning so you can spend your time searching for that lost backpack or figuring out what’s wrong with the coffee maker.