Watch any family at the park and you’re bound to see their collective personality emerge. There’s the 6-year-old kid who’s squealing, “Higher! Higher!” as her mom enthusiastically pushes the swing ever closer toward the treetops. Then there’s the 8-year-old who’s brought his bug catcher, traipsing off into the bushes, eagerly calling after his dad to come see what he’s found.
Different families have different interests and personalities. No wonder, then, what works for one family when it comes to plotting out a vacation might bore – or horrify – another.
What vacay personality are you? Check out our list to see where your family fits. Then discover three uber destinations for each, plus one wow-worthy trip you might’ve never heard of – or considered. Then start planning your adventure!
Does your idea of getting away include long days on the beach coated in sunscreen and drifting in and out of consciousness to the sound of the rolling waves – all while your partner and kids play in the surf? These familes seek to slow down the pace and fill their days with leisurely activities – if they plan anything at all other than sitting by the pool or in the sand. You’re likely to find the best fit at a beachside resort.
If relaxation is your goal, Chris Wommer, a senior account rep with AAA in Dearborn, suggests all-inclusive resorts. Besides including lodging and food for one price, those that cater to families have activities on property to keep your kids busy. Plus, they do some of the packing for you.
“We went to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun and they had everything from the crib right down to the bottle warmer,” says the father of two. “We didn’t need to worry about all the little extras for our son, it was taken care of for us.”
Hotspots to unwind
- Open-sea sands. North Carolina’s Outer Banks trace the coastline, slipping out toward the Atlantic Ocean offering beaches on either side for plenty of places for your own spot of sand.
- South of the border. Don’t even want to bother looking for a restaurant? Cancun has definitely got you covered. This Mexican mecca is packed with family-friendly all-inclusive resorts.
- Caribbean chill. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, you’ll get full-fledged beach beauty. Bonus: No currency exchange or passports needed.
- Beach Hop. For an off-the-beaten-path choice, book a flight to Atlanta and pass right through Savannah – on to Tybee Island. You could visit a different beach each day with your crew, like the popular South Beach with nearby restaurants and shops or the laid-back Mid Island Beach.
In my family, it’s not a vacation unless it involves an adrenaline spike or two – whether that’s from zip lining through the treetops or kayaking amongst prehistoric manatees that tend to pop up unexpectedly (just hopefully not right under your boat). Families like mine nix relaxation in favor of filling their time away with activities. Your family may be thrill trekkers, too, if you seek out the biggest, craziest roller coasters – or maybe you’re the first down the newest ride at the water park.
“The key to packing in as many thrills as possible is choosing a destination that caters to adrenaline seekers,” says Terri Gutierrez Weeks, a travel agent and mom of three who blogs at travel50stateswithkids.com. “West Virginia is ideal for adventurous families. World-class whitewater rafting is the main draw, and on top of that you can find zip lines, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more, sometimes without leaving your resort.” She also recommends Caribbean cruises. “Some of the cruise ships offer recreational options like rock walls and ropes courses, and the shore excursions offer even more thrills.”
Hotspots for action
- Theme park heaven. Aboard the Viking ship InvadR, experience airtime over the course of nine hills and one 74-foot plunge as part of the newest wooden roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The park is divided into different countries like Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland and others, with mind-blowing rides in each.
- White knuckling. Kentucky claims some of the toughest whitewater rafting rapids in the country. Maybe skip the Class V+ rapids and opt for the more doable – but still challenging – Cumberland River or Elkhorn Creek rafting trips.
- Desert daredevils. Race through the Arizona desert on a dune buggy or ATV – with a guide or on your own.
- Underground Thrills. Zip lines are all the rage now, but what about zooming along the lines completely underground? Take a two-hour tour through Louisville’s Mega Cavern, the only completely underground zip line in the world. And yes, you’ll need a headlamp.
Mix it up!
Got a bit of both? Try this idea from Chris Wommer with AAA in Dearborn.
Spend a day or more chilling on the beaches in the Tampa/Clearwater, Florida area. Then visit nearby Busch Gardens Tampa, which includes roller coasters with wild names like Cobra’s Curse and Cheetah Hunt – and even wilder twists and turns.
Families that prefer a tent over a hotel, landscapes instead of cityscapes and think of a meal around the fire as fine dining definitely qualify. Michigan offers a variety of natural getaways, from Sleeping Bear Dunes (consistently ranked as one of the best family vacation spots) to campsites in the Upper Peninsula where you can book a rustic lot and not see anyone else for miles around. If you’re looking to venture farther, take your pick from national and state parks.
Hotspots to get back to nature
- Majestic trees. Next to Yellowstone, California’s Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It’s well known for its giant sequoias and waterfalls.
- Mountain views. Montana’s Glacier National Park boasts some of the most dramatic. Reserve a camping spot early and start studying up on the constellations – you’ll have the perfect setting for stargazing.
- One word: Alaska. This year is Denali National Park‘s 100th anniversary. Make the most of your visit to Alaska by taking part in a ranger-led program with your kids. And remember to look for Aurora Borealis to light up the night sky.
- Treehouse Lounging. Sleep among – make that in – the trees at Mohican State Park in Ohio. There are four to choose from; some even have a full bath, and all have plenty of windows so you can enjoy the view of the forest floor below.
“In a recent survey from AAA, we found that visiting the national parks is one of the most common types of vacations adults are planning,” says travel agent Chris Wommer. He recommends you make reservations early to ensure you can find lodging. Another option? Go on a guided vacation. Several tour companies offer this service. Families don’t need to worry about getting into the destination of their choice; they just pick the tour they’d like to go on, and lodging and meals are included – along with a guide.
When you go on a vacation, are you itching to stop at every historic marker you pass? What about famous landmarks – do you plan your day so you can visit as many as possible? Then again, maybe your family is all about looking for famous characters of another type – the action figure or cartoon variety. True tourists are those who don’t mind crowds of other people as long as they’re able to see the sites they’ve read about in history books, or seen on movie screens. They embrace the hype as a way to plan out where they’ll be going during their trip.
Hotspots for tourists
- Disney it up: Disneyland and Walt Disney World are the ultimate destination for true tourists and their mouse-ear seeking kids who can now find the occasional Stormtrooper amongst the princesses.
- We Love NYC: It’s the city that never sleeps, after all. Visit Lady Liberty, take in Times Square and a kid-friendly Broadway show and roam Central Park.
- Go to Washington: If history is your family’s sensibility, our capital won’t disappoint. Check out any of D.C.’s 17 Smithsonian museums – 11 are on the National Mall, so you can also snag pix by iconic monuments galore.
- Aloha, Oahu: Hawaii’s third-largest island is also big on family tourism. A zoo, ocean-side train ride and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor are here – plus luaus and iconic “shave ice” treats.
Take your tourist trip to the next level by taking the train instead of flying or driving. AAA agent Chris Wommer points out that one of the Amtrak’s lines makes stops in Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo on its way to Chicago. “It’s great because you don’t have to worry about battling traffic or long lines at the airport – and the train goes right into downtown.”
Mix it up!
If you have a blend here, local travel agent Chris Wommer has a trip for you.
Boston includes plenty of go-to tourist spots like the Freedom Trail, Fenway Park and the Museum of Fine Arts. Once you’ve had your fill of culture and history, satisfy the nature lovers by driving 90 minutes south to camp at Cape Cod.
Photos by Lauren Jeziorski.