Based on a child’s opinion of what makes an excellent summer family vacation, it’s all about the pool. Luckily, bunk beds and water slides can pair nicely with more refined luxe touches parents seek in a destination resort. From a new age of day care featuring exciting DIY cooking and craft projects to a hotel that doles out chocolate bars upon arrival, we’ve tallied up the country’s best family-friendly resorts for the summer, brimming with amenities that aim to please kids of all ages. —Zachary Laks
Bringing the Disney experience to the islands, vacationers can expect to see the familiar faces of Mickey and his pals roaming the halls of Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. Remote from the hubbub of Waikiki, the 359-room resort goes the extra mile for the younger set, with inspired touches of Disney Imagineering throughout the property, like the Menehune Bridge water, the Shake-A-Shaka Pool Party dance-off, and a never-ending hunt to find the hidden mouse silhouettes. Family entertainment fills every night with activities like Starlit Hui, a variety show that features plenty of grass-skirt hula dancing and ukuleles. Those looking for something more familiar can head to the screenings of Disney movie classics under the stars.
Club Med Sandpiper
Port St. Lucie, Florida
A half hour north of West Palm Beach, set on the St. Lucie River in Florida’s Treasure Coast, Club Med Sandpiper offers a premium family retreat with an all-inclusive rate that takes the guesswork out of budgeting for meals and activities. Top-rated children’s programs occupy kids for the day with activities that include flying trapeze lessons, sailing, hikes, and picnics, with nighttime activities that include beachfront movies and beach parties. Favorite amenities for the adults include premium open bar day and night, a L’OCCITANE spa, and a fitness program that includes Zumba classes, Pilates, and yoga.
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Dollywood's Dreammore Resort
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Graced with the country charm and hospitality of living legend Dolly Parton, Dollywood's DreamMore Resort offers easy access to one of the country’s best theme parks, Dollywood. However, the 307-room resort stands on its own as a family destination, featuring an excellent pool complex adorned with waterfalls, the daily Camp DW for ages 4 to 10 with nature-focused programming, and a nightly storytelling program for families in partnership with the International Storytelling Center. The value adds up quickly with a stay at the DreamMore, as all guests are granted a special TimeSaver Pass for decreasing wait times on select attractions in Dollywood, early access to the park on Saturday mornings, and free shuttles to and from the parks.
The pristine oceanfront of Wailea Beach is just one of nine options for a refreshing splash at the palatialGrand Wailea Resort Hotel in Kihei, Hawaii, a mega-resort that features nine pools. From the 2,000-foot-long Wailea Canyon Activity Pool complete with water slides, waterfalls, and caves, to the adults-only scene at the Hibiscus Pool, the grounds have been scaled to provide guests of its 780-room complex with a relaxed and uncrowded getaway. For the best family thrill on site, head to the resort’s Fishpipe, a rotating barrel ride that simulates a mile-long waterslide. Test your limits on this zany ride and see what speeds you can handle on your 90-second spin.
The Harborside Hotel
Bar Harbor, Maine
With a prime spot on Bar Harbor’s scenic coastline, The Harborside Hotel furthers its appeal to families looking for a refined summer getaway with its new Kid’s Suites, which feature a “room within a room” layout, providing younger guests with a bunk bed and their own entertainment haven, complete with a TV, DVD player, and PlayStation. Once the thrill of the TV set wears off, the resort’s Bar Harbor Kids Club is happy to entertain with adventures through the harbor for ages 5 through 12.
The Hotel Hershey
The front desk greeting, "Do you prefer milk or dark chocolate?" sets the tone for a sweet stay at the iconic Hotel Hershey, a highlight of any family vacation to Hershey, Pennsylvania. In a town dedicated to its founding father of chocolate, Milton Hershey, the hotel opened in 1933 and has since undergone multiple expansions and renovations to its 276 guest rooms and suites. Among the family-forward amenities offered at the resort, there’s great value in the hotel’s exclusive access to Hersheypark an hour before the gates open, foregoing long lines and allowing for multiple rides on park favorites. The resort’s Cocoa Clubhouse offers an immersive day of summer fun for kids 5 and up, with activities that include visits to the property’s butterfly house, swimming, and ice cream making.
A resort built with families in mind, Kingsmill Resort sits just miles away from two of the county’s most popular theme parks (Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA) and the Historic Triangle of colonial Virginia—Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Location aside, the resort knows its guests well and offers a relaxing alternative from the hubbub of the parks with an expansive river pool complex that features a waterslide, sandy beach, and plenty of chaise lounges for soaking in the sun. If you’re looking for a little alone time to explore the resort’s sprawling 2,900 acres, the “Kidsmill” program welcomes kids age 5 to 12 for daylong programming that includes sports, water games, and activities on the marina beach.
Montauk Yacht Club
Montauk, New York
A standout of luxury and service in the Hamptons, Montauk Yacht Club recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, unveiling updated rooms, renewed restaurants, and chic lounges. A haven for families, the resort’s long list of amenities includes a private beach, three pools (one indoor and two outdoor), Har-Tru lit tennis courts, and a children’s playground. For more active youth, the Kid’s Surf Academy and Junior Tennis Camps offer pro-taught lessons and clinics, while more casual games are struck up often on the volleyball and bocce ball courts. The resort is the ideal base for the exploring Montauk’s scenic coast with complimentary paddleboats and bikes available.
For the rest of the best family-friendly resorts for your summer vacation, like Vista Verde Ranch set inside northern Colorado's Routt National Forest, visit Fodor's.