Once upon a time, a vacation meant candlelit dinners, strolls along the beach and visits to quiet museum exhibitions, or perhaps loud rock concerts. Then the kids came along and meals grew cold as you tended to their needs, getting kicked under the table while trying to hold a conversation above the din of the very family-friendly restaurant. Beach strolls still occurred, but with buckets to hold the seashell treasures the kids found. Visits to museums became harried and to child-focused exhibits ("Yuck, mom, do we have to look at paintings all day?") and those crazy concerts turned into the kid-themed tent at music -- and also very family-friendly -- festivals.
Finding romance isn't impossible while traveling with children though. If you're looking to spice up your next trip with the kids, here are some tips to help you have the best of both worlds:
Seek Resorts with Kids' Clubs
Many resorts feature clubs where children of various ages can spend mornings or afternoons in camp-like settings, making crafts, taking adventure walks, learning to swim, and playing games with other children their age. Typically found at bustling Disney World or all-inclusive Caribbean resorts, there may be a lot of action. But while kids are enrolled in the club for a day or two, couples can sneak off to enjoy a spa treatment, hit the links or take that quiet sunset walk along the beach.
Some hotels and resorts, such as The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney's Beach Club Resort, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney's Polynesian Resort offer special Kids' Night Out evening programs that may last two to four hours. Kids get dinner (typically pizza-party style), movies, campfire fun and games, but it's really a treat for parents who want to enjoy a night out.
For hotels without special programs to keep the kids occupied, some keep a list of trusted babysitters who will come to your hotel room and watch the children so you can get a little alone time. Even if not advertised, contact the concierge to find out if they can refer you to local sitters.
Find Spots with Special Offerings for Parents, Too
Plenty of family-friendly resorts offer romantic, unique activities and programs for parents, and there's no reason you shouldn't take advantage of them, especially if the hotel offers babysitting services or a kid's club. For instance, the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa offers a Romance Tour of the Stars, in which parents can share champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries while they look through the lens of a 16-inch reflector telescope atop the hotel (where a luxurious swimming pool is also located); there's also several kids' programs, including night camps.
Another excellent outlet for parent-friendly, romantic fun is a cruise. Mom and dad can play a few rounds of blackjack at the casino, get a relaxing massage at the spa and indulge in a refreshing cocktail while children play with games and arts and crafts at the kid's club. Many cruise ships, such as Carnival Miracle, provide an adults-only (and often outdoor) area, as well, so parents can lounge (the Miracle features oversized pods that beckon guests to take an afternoon nap) and enjoy some peace and quiet.
Perhaps the little ones aren't so interested in the "boring" art museums, but selecting a destination filled with both romance and history can help you stroll hand-in-hand with doe-eyed pleasure while the kids get an up-close-and-personal peek into their history books. Love will not be lost in the city of romance, and while you and your partner devour chocolates and walk along the Seine in Paris, the kids will happily tag along and marvel over the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. In the U.S., cities like Colonial Williamsburg are rich in family-friendly activities and history, as well as romantic charm, with quaint restaurants and boutique shops aplenty. Many of the area's luxury hotels provide babysitters and fine dining right on the premises, too. Such is the case at Providence Hall Guesthouses' Regency Room, an AAA-4 Diamond rated restaurant, which necessitates fancy clothing and provides outstanding food.
Travel in the Off-Season
During winter months, even if you're sick of shoveling out of the snow and are desperate for a warm-weather getaway, traveling to a cold-weather destination like Montreal, Snowmass or Steamboat Springs will help you avoid the hordes of families heading to the beach. Bundle up and take the kids skiing, ice skating or dog sledding during the day, and after they crash into bed each night, open a bottle of wine and snuggle up by your in-room fireplace, found at most ski lodges or nearby hotels, including Fairfield Inn & Suites Steamboat Springs and Sky Hotel in Aspen. Many rentals feature private Jacuzzi tubs beneath a blanket of stars and the absolute quiet of the surrounding snow-covered mountains. What could be more romantic?
Even with children, you can still keep the sizzle in your relationship with the element of surprise. Remember when you were dating and one of you would plan an unexpected getaway? Do it now, with the entire family. You can keep your destination a secret until you get to the airport, or spirit your partner away for a last-minute weekend getaway. But if you're seeking a surprise that requires a little less planning, try planning a secret excursion, restaurant outing or even hotel stay while on vacation. For example, if you decided not to book a room in that luxurious and historic Irish castle because it was too expensive, covertly cancel your replacement reservations at the more affordable hotel, and book one night in the castle.
A cheaper way to surprise your significant other -- with equally positive results -- is to purchase something your loved one would enjoy using on your next trip together. Then hide the gift in your travel partner's suitcase so he or she discovers the item while unpacking, such as guidebooks, candy, a new sweater, binoculars or a novel by his or her favorite author. Having a bouqet of flowers and/or a bottle of champagne waiting in the room upon check-in always ends with a smile and a kiss, too.
Get Romantic Pre-Trip
Sometimes it's the planning of a big trip that gets us the most excited. Using that pre-trip time to do some things alone together in preparation can be very romantic. If you and the clan have decided Mexico will be the big summer vacation excursion, consider enrolling in a Spanish class together and learn a new language you'll be able to use on your vacation. After the trip, keep the memory alive with date-night outings to Mexican restaurants.
More from Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Kids' Programs
Keep the Romance Alive While Traveling with Kids: Share Your Tips