Spring break isn’t just for college kids, but it can feel like that sometimes. And the last thing you want to do is plan a family spring break vacation, only to be bombarded by the antics of wild 20-somethings taking time off from the books. We’ve scoured the U.S., Caribbean and Mexico for the the best places (including some surprises you may not have considered!) to whisk your crew away for a wholesome and fun spring break family vacation.
1. Dominica, Caribbean
For a real Caribbean adventure with the family, far from the spring break and mass tourism crowds, set your sights on the Nature Island, Dominica. The English-speaking volcanic island rises between the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles, and is reached from the U.S. via quick hops from Barbados and St. Martin. Batibou Beach on the island’s Atlantic coast is the best beach around. But this is an island where you’ll likely have more fun rafting down the Indian River, chasing waterfalls and hiking through the lush rainforest and jungle that drapes the entire island. The newest hotel to open here (in October 2019), Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica is also Dominica’s first five-star luxury property. It borders Cabrits National Park, along the island’s northwest coast.
Recommended Hotel: Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica
2. Wisconsin Dells, WI
Enjoy some old-fashioned fun in Wisconsin Dells. Family water parks and theme parks abound in what’s considered, perhaps surprisingly, the Water Park Capital of the World. Among the many water parks to put on your itinerary is Mt. Olympus Theme Park and Water Park Resort. Accommodations in and around the Dells include water park hotels, lakeside cabins, and campsites for a more rustic getaway with the gang. Among the many other activities to keep you busy are mini-golf and family dinner theater attractions.
Recommended Hotel: Great Wolf Lodge Wisconsin Dells
3. Panama City Beach, FL
Once a raucous spring break capital, Panama City Beach has grown up a bit—and into one of Florida’s best spring break vacation destinations for families. Some 27 miles of powdery beaches await families, lapped by the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But there’s tons to do off the sand, too. Take the gang on an airboat adventure to spot native Florida wildlife like alligators osprey and American bald eagles. Go for a spin on the SkyWheel at Pier Park for incredible views of the Emerald Coast. Or head out on a fishing trip or cruise to Shell Island on a dolphin-spotting tour. When it comes to lodging, your options range from high-end hotels and mom and pop places to camping at beautiful St. Andrews State Park.
Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach
4. Indianapolis, IN
A big city in the Midwest might not first spring to mind as an ideal family spring break spot. But you might be surprised by all that Indianapolis has to offer. And since 2020 is the city’s bicentennial, you can count on tons of city-wide events and exhibits ratcheting up the good vibes. The world’s largest children’s museum, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, is here in Indy. One of the best children’s museums for toddlers and kids, it has an incredible paleontology lab you can visit with your littles, plus other fascinating exhibits dedicated to science, weather, outer space and more. The train lovers in your family will love staying at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station, where you can spend the night inside an authentic Pullman Traincar sleeper. And the city’s new Red Line mass transit system makes it easier than ever to roll around town in real life, with bus stops that connect downtown to the children’s museum.
Recommended Hotel: The Westin Indianapolis
5. Mayakoba, Mexico
Along the spring break-bullseye of the Riviera Maya, but secreted away in a little world all its own, the gated community of Mayakoba (45 minutes south of Cancun’s International Airport) lives up to the meaning of its name: village of water. A network of canals connects several properties here, earning Mayakoba its tagline as the “Venice of the Caribbean.” Surrounded by nature, the luxury resorts here put cenotes, freshwater lagoons and beautiful beaches at your doorstep in an area where preserving the natural habitat figured large during development. Deciding where to stay among the handful of exclusive properties that include the Andaz Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Fairmont Mayakoba and Rosewood Mayakoba, might be your biggest challenge.
Recommended Hotel: Fairmont Mayakoba
6. Grand Cayman, Caribbean
Families love Grand Cayman, the largest and most developed of the Cayman Islands, not only for its gorgeous beaches, but also because it’s easy to get to and offers much of the familiarity of home. There’s a well-developed infrastructure of island roads that are easy to navigate with a rental car (but note they drive on the left-hand side of the road!), familiar hotel chains, and international restaurants galore in and around the capital, George Town. Seven Mile Beach will beckon you for time on the sand, where powdery white meets those Caribbean baby blues. A visit to the north side of the island and the little spit of beach at Rum Point is a must. And from there, you can take tours that include glass-bottom boat rides or a visit to the famous Stingray City Sandbar, where you can wade into the water to snorkel with enormous (and friendly!) Southern Stingrays.
Recommended Hotel: Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
7. Ogden, UT
For a ski scene in Utah that doesn’t get as inundated as the state’s big-name resorts do over spring break, set your sights on the adorable mountain burg of Ogden, about 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City. Enjoy the town’s great restaurants and shops along 25th Street with the family. And when it’s time to ski, you’re just 20 minutes from Snowbasin Resort and a tad farther from Powder Mountain, both of which have great ski programs for kids and iconic Wasatch Mountain views.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Ogden
8. Titusville, FL
Never heard of Titusville on Florida’s Space Coast? It’s within a few miles of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, as well as some of the country’s most gorgeous and pristine beaches along Canaveral National Seashore. And a visit here offers much fun with the family in Florida’s spectacular nature along the Indian River Lagoon. Strap on the life jackets for a family paddling outing into the lagoon with A Day Away Kayak Tours and you might spot manatees and dolphins. During nighttime paddling tours over the spring break months, the water even glows with comb jelly bioluminescence.
Recommended Hotel: Towneplace Suites by Marriott Titusville Kennedy Space Center
9. Puerto Rico
For a beachy spring break in the Caribbean that doesn’t require passports, Puerto Rico is the place to be. The island is almost fully back in business following the destructive forces of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Consider getting your teens certified to dive on the beautiful beaches of the west coast with Aquatica Dive & Surf. There are walking and bike trails to enjoy in the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats and National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for bird watching. And exploring old San Juan and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro is always a must-do when in Puerto Rico, too.
Recommended Hotel: Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
10. Florida Keys, FL
A family vacation in the Florida Keys is a good idea any time of the year. But an escape to these cays and islands strung off the tip of Florida can feel like a real departure from the mainland spring break scene. Whether you base in Key Largo, Key West, or one of many islands in between, family activities (most of them admittedly water-focused) abound. At The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, the kids can learn about and see sea turtles being rehabbed. Bahia Honda State Park has some of the best waterfront tent sites for camping in the entire state, and also runs snorkeling tours to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, home to some of the prettiest and best-preserved reefs in the Keys. And don’t forget a trolley tour through the pretty streets of Key West when it’s time to take a break from go-go-go.
Recommended Hotel: Hawks Cay Resort
11. Hilton Head, SC
While the college spring breakers can be found in Myrtle Beach, the families scoot further south to Hilton Head. Just off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia is a 12-mile-long, 5-mile-wide island featuring 14 miles of sandy beaches, 20 world-class golf courses and more than 100 miles of bike paths. This is the place to wile away your days in peace and quiet during your spring break family vacation.
Resort choices are aplenty here, with family-friendly hotels, beachside resorts, and vacation rentals available. Hop in the car for quick trips into Savannah or Charleston for a taste of the Old South and its rich history, then return for eco-adventures like crabbing or spotting bottlenose dolphins playing in the surf.
Recommended Hotel: Inn at Harbor Town – Sea Pines Resort
12. San Antonio, TX
While many spring breakers may head to South Padre Island, your family might like a trip to San Antonio. You’ll love to explore the world-famous River Walk with its many shops and restaurants. The five San Antonio Missions, which include the Alamo, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it a great place for the kids to learn more about the cultures of Texas and Mexico.
But there’s plenty of entertainment opportunities, too, at SeaWorld, Six Flags, and even a toilet museum—Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum (just outside San Antonio), which will surely give the kids a giggle. Another can’t-miss attraction? Morgan’s Wonderland—the world’s first amusement park created for those with special needs.
Recommended Hotel: JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa
13. New York, NY
Spring break vacations for families don’t have to be in warm-weather destinations. Now is the perfect time to visit the city that never sleeps and show the kids a good time. From its iconic landmarks to its top-notch entertainment, the Big Apple makes it easy to find something to do for kids of all ages.
Visit the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Central Park and Times Square, followed by a Broadway show. Or visit to the American Museum of Natural History, where “Night at the Museum” was filmed. You can even sleep over at the museum, too!
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Giraffe
14. Carlsbad, CA
Located 30 minutes from San Diego, one of the best family spring break vacations is Carlsbad, with beaches, theme parks, zoos and museums. Spend a morning at the Carlsbad State Beach before heading to Carlsbad Village for snacks and shopping.
Be sure to schedule a day at LEGOLAND California and the San Diego Zoo. The latter offers a special experience for visitors who are early risers. Families can sign up to see the various animals, like the pandas, up close during a two-hour tour before the park even opens. Plus, you can hop on the Carlsbad Coaster to get there—it’ll be an inexpensive train ride the kids will love!
Recommended Hotel: West Inn & Suites
Longtime travel writer and adventurer Terry Ward lives in Florida with her husband and young son and daughter. She’s constantly on the lookout for the next Scandinavia Airlines Kids Fly Free deal to save money on flights to Norway, her favorite place to visit both in the winter (Northern Lights!) and summer (Midnight Sun!). A travel writer since 2001 (read: long before the kids came along), she’s written for such publications as Endless Vacation Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Scuba Diving Magazine, among many others. Find Terry on her website, Terry-Ward.com.