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Family Travel, Minus the Mouse: Kid-Friendly Trips That Aren’t to Disney

Done with Disney? Try a family-friendly resort vacation that’s not theme park-themed.

A trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland has become a modern rite of passage for families. But it’s a big world out there, and a fun family trip doesn’t have to involve character breakfasts and endless lines. Resorts are increasingly catering to families, welcoming kids and even offering adults a little relaxation, too.


Jamie Jones, chief operating officer of WhirlAway Travel in West Chester, said parents should ask themselves some questions, the biggest being what your family likes to do and eat.


“If you’re not big buffet eaters, then you don’t want to go to a place where you’re going to be buffet dining all the time,” she said.


Other things to think about:


Is this trip all about family togetherness, or do the parents and the kids want some time to themselves? Don’t pay for a kids’ club if you want your children with you all the time.


How do you like to sleep? With more than one child, consider a suite or a cabin.


How adventurous are you? Do you want to experience the culture of your destination, or stay on resort property the whole time?


What do you want to spend? You can get a bargain, or spend a mint. Know your budget before you set your heart on a resort.


Do you want the amenities of a resort – such as meals and housekeeping – or would you prefer something more like home?


Ready to plan? Here are some ideal places for your next family getaway.


For the social family: The Tyler Place Family Resort, Swanton, Vermont


This is old-fashioned family fun, on a beautiful bay near the Canadian border. It’s a traditional resort, with boating, swimming, and a ton of family activities, but with a twist: mom and dad get an actual vacation!


Kids over 2 ½ spend much of their time with staff-guided groups of children their own age, reuniting with the adults for some afternoon family time. The youngest kids play in small groups, minded by a caregiver. After the kids are in bed, babysitting is available, so parents can mingle with other adults at the resort bar. You pay extra for those drinks and babysitters, but essentially everything else is included.


Families from all over become friends, returning for the same week year after year (a tip for first-timers: go early or late in the season for the best rates, and the best chance to get the room you want). There’s a range of accommodations, too, from traditional rooms to cottages and suites.


For the family with older kids: Consider a European river cruise. Several lines, including Uniworld, Tauck River Cruising, and AmaWaterways, now offer luxury family cruises that are kid-friendly but don’t skimp on amenities. Because you’re on a river, the scenery is super close, and there are frequent stops and terrific walking tours of European beauties such as Prague, Amsterdam, and Paris.


“It’s the way I want to go to Europe with my family,” Jones said.


Many boats have a kids’ table at dinner, so your younger ones can socialize while you have some quiet time. It’s not ideal for families with kids under 10 or so, but slightly older kids can really explore the cities and then retreat to their room.


For the camping family that doesn’t want to rough it: The Resort at Paws Up, Greenough, Montana.


Jones calls it “glamping,” and it’s perfect for people who like the idea of camping but also enjoy taking a shower. (You can stay in an estate home, too.) Family-style meals and beer and wine are included, as are an assortment of fun activities, from fly fishing to horseback riding. You’ll pay extra for some activities, including hot air ballooning.


Set on 37,000 acres of glorious wilderness, the resort offers socializing opportunities but gives families some space, too.

For the multi-season family: Vista Verde Ranch, Steamboat, Colorado.


Can’t decide if you want a summer or winter vacation? This resort has both, so you can choose from the traditional dude ranch experience or a fun winter getaway, with sleigh rides, snow tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.


All meals and activities are included, plus beer and wine for the adults. Like Tyler Place, there’s an emphasis here on carving out time for parents: kids spend the mornings and part of the afternoon with their peers. There’s even a two-tiered dinner that’s a quick bite for the kids and a more leisurely experience for adults.



For a warm place that’s not Florida: JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona.


Winter and early spring in Tucson are glorious, and this resort — perched amid the Saguaro cacti in the Tucson Mountains on the west side of town — is the perfect place to enjoy it.


There’s great food and golf for the adults, swimming and activities for the kids, and you’re close to the amazing Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a must-see for families. Plus, there’s an adorable tribe of javelinas that wander through the resort for the perfect desert photo op.



Lead photograph courtesy of Vista Verde Ranch. 



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