As the saying goes “the days are long, but the years are short.” We blink and suddenly our babbling bundle of joy has grown into his or her own little person, an opinionated individual with complex emotions, desires and new ways to drive us crazy. That’s why important to travel now, before the kids are all grown up and ready to leave the nest.
If you’re looking for a family vacation that’s easy to plan and immersive, with inventive programs the kids will love, consider staying at an all-inclusive resort. From luxury all-inclusive dude ranches in Colorado, to mega all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, there are many styles from which to choose.
These are the nine all-inclusive resorts your kids should visit before they grow up.
1. Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana, just 25 miles north of Punta Cana Airport along the white sands of Uvero Alto Beach, is a kid’s dream vacation.The major draw is Aqua Nick’s water park and splash pad, complete with colorful wateslides, a lazy river, water cannons, special foam parties, and—the best part—a daily afternoon Mass Sliming, where green-colored goo is dumped on your head! The kids will go wild.
Meet your favorite Nickelodeon characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora The Explorer, the Paw Patrol crew and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and check out the Just Kiddin’ kids’ club, offering a ton of complimentary supervised activities for children ages 4 to 12.
For a unique experience young SpongeBob fans will love, you can actually stay overnight in a giant pineapple! This two-bedroom villa features a bikini-bottom-inspired design that comes with an infinity pool and private butler.
The all-inclusive food program, called Gourmet Inclusive Experience, gives you access to 10 restaurants (including Spacewalker, a futuristic eatery that offers wearable space helmets to their littlest diners), premium alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, full-service concierge, and 24-hour room service. For families traveling with infants or toddlers, the resort also provides amenities such as baby food, strollers, cribs, kids’ robes and baby bottle warmers.
2. C Lazy U Ranch – Granby, CO
Unleash your child’s inner cowboy with a visit to a dude ranch. C Lazy U Ranch sits on a sprawling 8,500-acre estate in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, just a two-hour drive west of Denver. This 100- year-old resort with its 40 private cabins, is one of Colorado’s premier luxury guest ranch getaways. With fine-dining, an award-winning wine program, uniquely decorated private cabins and a wide array of outdoor activities for the kids, C Lazy U Ranch promises a high-end, all-inclusive American West dude ranch experience for the whole family.
Specially trained counselors keep the kids entertained daily with activities such as horseback riding, archery, yoga, fly fishing, golf, mountain biking, tennis and a variety of ropes courses and ziplines. A visit here gets your kids outside in nature and learning the art of horsemanship against one of the most beautiful backdrops in the country.
Children ages 3 to 5 years can participate in the resort’s “Cowpokes” program, where they’ll spend their days riding small ponies, panning for gold and hiking on trails looking for local wildlife. For older children ages 6 to 12, the “Mustang” program offers horseback riding, scavenger hunts, trail adventures, cookouts and Western-themed games.
As any good cowgirl knows, a full day of ranching can really work up an appetite. In the Main Lodge, kids and adults dine, family-style, on regional specialties such as Rocky Mountain trout and rosemary rack of lamb. The atmosphere is relaxed luxury and camaraderie as you meet and mingle with other families staying at the lodge.
Rates include all lodging, food, ranch activities and counselors for the children’s programing.
Related: 15 Best Dude Ranches for Families
3. Jabulani Safari – South Africa
For the trip of a lifetime, take your kids to Jabulani, located in South Africa’s Kapama Game Reserve near Kruger National Park.
A Relais & Chateaux luxury resort, Jabulani offers all-inclusive, family-friendly safari adventures at this part five-star African lodge, part elephant sanctuary where 15 rescued elephants now reside. Daily activities include private game drives in open 4 X 4 vehicles, unique elephant experiences, guided bush walks, and access to Team Tusker Kids, an excellent children’s program for safari-goers 6 years and older. Beyond the safaris, the resort offers myriad immersive activities for kids including lessons on everything from tracking to bug catching, bird watching and how to survive in the bush.
Rates include luxury accommodation, gourmet meals (with a customized kids’ menu), daily activities, all game drives and bush walks, Team Tusker activities, laundry service and transfers.
4. Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun – Cancun, Mexico
Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun is a great choice for families looking for a secluded, all-inclusive beach vacation in Mexico. The resort offers 602 oceanfront suites, each with their own private terrace overlooking Instagram-worthy turquoise waters.
One of the coolest kids’ play spaces anywhere, Coral KidZ Club offers supervised activities in zones broken down by ages 3 to 12. There’s a jungle-themed room, Mercado and construction zone for the younger set, and high-tech rooms with interactive video games and a light-up dance floor for the older kids. There are all-ages cooking classes, led by the resort’s executive chef, where kids don pint-sized aprons to whip up their own culinary creations. For kids who like to splash, the Mayan-themed playground—complete with waterslides that snake through caves, giant dinosaur fossils, remote controlled toy vehicles and temples you can climb on—is 5,166 square feet of fun.
Beyond the beautiful location, fine-dining options and access to water sports such as ocean kayaking and sightseeing by glass-bottom boat, there’s also an amazing spa. Coral Beach Gem Spa, a 40,000-square-foot wellness center, has kid-friendly services like the Tutti Fruitti Facial, plus a 10-step hydrotherapy ritual for parents.
While the resort isn’t a traditional all-inclusive property, it offers a package called “U,” offering unlimited dining at onsite restaurants and premium brand drinks.
5. Beaches Negril – Negril, Jamaica
Want to know how to get to Sesame Street? Just fly to Beaches Negril in Jamaica for a Caribbean adventure with some of your child’s favorite Sesame Street characters. Bake chocolate chip cookies with Cookie Monster, hunt for hidden treasure with Abby Cadabby, and make handmade telescopes for a nature bird walk with Big Bird. The resort hosts a nightly Sesame Street show for the kids and a parade across the resort once a week.
Beyond character meet and greets, one of the highlights of Beaches Negril is their 18,000 square foot pirate-themed waterpark, complete with waterslides, a misting pool, lazy river and swim up soda bars.
You’ll find supervised activities at the kids’ camp—everything from face painting, sand castle building, magic shows, pizza making to reggae jam sessions. If you have a babe-in-arms, their infant program offers care for newborns to 24 months. All team members are trained to offer specialized services for families who have children with autism and other special needs. The Kids Camp is especially great if you want to drop your kids off for a few hours while you experience the resort’s PADI certified scuba program. Yes, even the price of instruction and equipment is included in rates.
But the surprises don’t stop there. After an exhilarating day spent learning to sail, kayaking, building sandcastles and splashing around the water park, you can get a bedtime story and private tuck-in by your child’s favorite Sesame Street character!
Prices include all meals at nine different restaurants, unlimited premium spirits, roundtrip airport transfers and all tips, taxes and gratuities.
6. Severn Lodge – Ontario, Canada
Located 90 miles north of Toronto in “cottage country,” Severn Lodge is one of Ontario’ s premier lakeside resorts. In the heart of the Muskoka Georgian Bay lake district, this all-inclusive resort sits on 100 acres of waterfront property and has a wealth of supervised activities for children during the summer months. From water skiing and tubing on the lake, to mountain biking, a water trampoline, tennis, fishing, pedal boating and wooded hiking trails, families will love all the outdoor activities.
Severn Lodge has a toddler program (2 to 4), a junior program (5 to 8) and a youth program (9 to 12), with daily activities that include arts and crafts, fishing derbies, scavenger hunts, canoeing and beach bonfires.
Meals, all included in the price, are mostly served in the main lodge, a historic building originally built in the mid 1800s. Rates cover all meals, boating equipment, supervised activities for the kids and evening entertainment.
7. Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa – Oahu, HI
How about whisking your own little prince or princess off to fairyland? The exotic Polynesian paradise at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, just a 20-minute drive from Honolulu airport on the island of Oahu, might be just what your fairy godmother ordered.
Beyond the beautiful location and perfect cove for splashing around in the Pacific Ocean, one of the things that really sets Aulani apart from the rest is its robust kids club. Aunty’s Beach House, a 5,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art mecca for young Disney fans, offers a dizzying array of complimentary activities for guests age 3 to 12. The space is beautifully designed with a huge outdoor play space, a room for Hawaiian arts and crafts, a costume closet for dress-up fun, and a movie screening room with Disney classics. Other activities immerse the kids in Hawaiian culture traditions, from free hula lessons to playing the ‘ukulele, local live music performances to learning sand-sculpting techniques and traditional storytelling by the Mo‘olelo Fire Pit.
Let’s not forget this is a Disney branded hotel. Throughout the resort, little ones are sure to spot some of their favorite Disney characters, from Mickey Mouse to Moana, many of whom also perform daily in the “Shaka Shaka Pool Party.”
On the subject of pools, Aulani has eight areas to explore, including a lazy river, waterslides, an interactive splash zone called Menehune Bridge and another called Keiki Cove, specifically designed for kids ages 5 and under.
For newbie snorkelers, Rainbow Reef is a man-made lagoon stocked with tropical fish. It’s an extra fee of $25 for adults, $20 per child, but it’s worth the underwater experience and is especially great for beginners.
While a stay at Aulani has many all inclusive vacation elements (among them, accommodations, complimentary kids’ camp activities at Aunty’s Beach House, water park access and Disney character appearances), food and beverage is not included in the resort price. This gives families the freedom to experience local restaurants off-property, sample traditional Hawaiian cuisine from food trucks, or even cook their own meals. If you stay in one of Aulani’s villas, each room comes with separate living room areas, laundry facilities and full kitchens so you can prepare meals and snacks from the comfort of your villa.
Related: 4 All-Inclusive Hawaii Resorts
8. Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa –
Just five minutes from the international airport, Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive Caribbean resort that offers a wealth of wet and wild experiences for its young guests.
Stay at Splash, Coconut Bay’s family-friendly wing. There you’ll find CocoLand, St. Lucia’s largest water park. Spend the day zipping down waterslides like The Coconut Coaster, or floating down the 1,500-square-foot lazy river.
The Kidz Klub offers a wide range of supervised indoor and outdoor activities for children grouped by ages 3 and under, 4 to 7 and 8 to 12. From March to November, when Saint Lucia’s beaches are nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles, Kidz Klub attendees take guided beach walks to spot hatchlings and learn how to identify different turtle species. Your little animal lovers will also enjoy the on-site petting zoo, where they can feed rescued goats, ducks, sheep, donkeys and horses.
Thrill-seeking guests over 8 years old can sign up for a free introductory kite surfing lesson. Or, for the 13-plus crowd, slip into a camo jumpsuit and run amuck across the paintball course. The Zone is the Caribbean’s first paintball facility and costs around $20 per a person to play.
The resort’s Premium All-Inclusive plan includes airport transfers, accommodations, unlimited a la carte and buffet dining at nine restaurants, nightly entertainment, and access to the fitness center, tennis and basketball courts, water park and all Kidz Klub activities.
9. Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort – Fiji
A former coconut plantation on the island of Vanua Levu, Jean Michel Cousteau Resort is a bucket list destination in the South Pacific.
On property, there are guided snorkeling trips with a marine biologist, yoga classes, medicinal walks, Hobie cats and kayak experiences. The resort also gives their youngest guests the chance to experience authentic Fijian culture. There is a junior chef farm-to-table program, where kids learn to prepare local-style meals featuring organic produce grown on the resort, and a “Connect with Kids” program takes visitors to the local school to meet up with other kids.
A complimentary award-winning children’s program called Bula Club is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and offers a swimming pool with a waterslide, a toddlers’ pool, a jungle gym, zipline, trampoline, sandbox, and arts and crafts center. Bula also incorporates childcare so parents can, for instance, spend the day enjoying the island’s world-class diving while the kids play with new friends. As part of the Bula Club, each child under 6 is assigned a dedicated nanny for the duration of their stay. Kids ages 6 to 12 years are placed in small groups of up to five children and get their own Fijian buddy to explore this private island.
Rates include all meals, non-alcoholic beverages, private round-trip airport transfers, Bula Club access for kids, all activities and equipment rentals, wash and fold laundry services and select local beverages.
Julia Dimon is a family travel expert and a co-host on Word Travels, a 40-episode TV series about the real lives of travel writers, broadcast worldwide on National Geographic Adventurea and Travel Channel UK in over 100 countries and 21 languages. Julia has been featured as a travel expert by CNN, ABC Nightline, New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel & Leisure, Forbes Traveler, MSNBC, E! News, Outside Magazine, and the Travel Channel, among other major outlets. She is also the author of “Travel Junkie: A Badass Guide to Solo Female Travel,” featuring travel tips and advice for young women.
A mom of two, Julia aims to empower likeminded parents to get out of their comfort zones and explore the world with their young children. For more family travel tips and vacation ideas, check out her website, JuliaDimon.com.