Like a comfortable pair of slippers, fine wine, or a classic holiday movie that you look forward to watching year after year, some things just get better over time. For many traveling families, a regular return to a familiar vacation destination creates treasured traditions, generating feelings of contentment and rejuvenation that last long after the holiday. After all, isn’t that what vacation is all about? From Disney World to the Outer Banks, here are a host of enduring family vacations worthy of a reprise.
1. Outer Banks, NC
Beautiful beaches and huge, affordably priced vacation homes keep families flocking back to North Carolina’s Outer Banks year after year. With 12 barrier island beaches situated along 100 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, the area offers an array of sandy spots to set your beach chair, from well-developed to primitive. The lure of sea and sand is supplemented by a range of family-friendly amusements. Kids can hunt for ghost crabs, test their wings at the newly remodeled Wright Brothers National Memorial, learn about sea turtles at the North Carolina Aquarium, and see famous wild horses on a Corolla sightseeing adventure. Between the end of vacation and next year’s visit, they’ll eagerly look forward to doing it all over again.
Recommended Hotel: Sanderling Resort
2. Disney World, FL
The central Florida capital of family fun, Disney World ranks high on family wish lists as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination, as well as a favorite for return visits. In fact, Disney Vacation Club (Disney’s timeshare division) has honed in on this “frequent repeat” trend, targeting return travelers with a hospitable “Welcome Home” message. With four theme parks spread across more than 1,000 acres, offering more than 50 iconic rides and a myriad of shows, along with regular refreshment in the form of new attractions, there’s something both classic and cutting-edge to experience on every Disney World visit. The 36 (and soon 37!) resort hotel properties are an attraction practically unto themselves, offering themed and immersive accommodations, food and entertainment. On the West Coast, Disneyland enjoys similar fan club status among families.
Recommended Resort: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Providing a window to the world, a crazy array of kid-friendly amusements–from go-karts to sky rides–and instant around-the-clock food, cruises are (for many) the ultimate family vacation. Convenience, kid-friendliness and entertainment appeal are major return factors cited by frequent cruise “repeaters.” A wide variety of itineraries, price points, stateroom configurations and excursions (and did we mention the food?) up the attraction factor for multi-generational parties. Supervised childcare is another repeat motivator for cruising families–so it’s really no surprise that the cruise lines that excel at entertaining all ages are consistently rated the most family-friendly. Which cruise line is best for your family? Check out Best Cruise Lines for Families.
4. Orlando, FL
Yes, Disney World and Orlando BOTH make our list! With 10 theme parks, close proximity to both Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches, and warm weather year-round—Orlando is a popular annual vacation for many families. Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Parks, and nearby LEGOLAND Florida are a major draw for out-of-state and Florida residents alike, making it one of the world’s most popular staycation spots. With 450 hotels to choose from, including more themed and immersive hotels than possibly any other destination, families can spend a lifetime of vacations with a new experience at every visit.
Recommended Resort: JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes
5. Lake Vacations
Take one part water, one part familiar small town, and one part family togetherness—what do you have? A low-key, warm-weather getaway that’s bound to become a family tradition. Ranking high on the lists of families seeking together-time, lake vacations are a perennial favorite for their simplicity, affordability and potential for group bonding. Pack your fishing gear and board games, and prepare to enjoy life’s simple pleasures! From lovely Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, to Big Bear Lake, California, to New York’s family-friendly Finger Lakes, the options are refreshing.
Recommended Resort: Tan-Tar-A Resort Golf Club, Marina and Indoor Waterpark
6. Ski Vacations
Families that reside in the northern U.S., Canada or another frequently snow-showered spot are blessed with easy access to ski slopes, making a ski holiday an appealing and practical weekend getaway. For those who hail from warmer climates (and for true enthusiasts), a week-long ski vacation is a favorite annual family vacation tradition. Whether you’re snowboarding at Beaver Creek, back-country skiing in Whistler, learning to ski at Smugglers’ Notch, or swooshing down the slopes in Okemo, you’re sure to have fun and enjoy favorite activities, along with warm moments of snow-capped family togetherness. And that’s why, in line with popular belief, some adventures are best served chilled.
Recommended Resort: Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
7. Cape Cod, MA
Featuring all of the elements of a quintessential New England seaside vacation–from roadside clam shacks to whale-watching excursions, Cape Cod is a classic family beach destination. Crowds swell in the summertime, when a variety of kid-friendly beaches, from calm Cockle Beach on the warm waters of Nantucket Sound to First Encounter Beach in Eastam, beckon families. If you can tear them away from the sandy shores, take the kids on a ferry ride, to a movie at a classic drive-in, or invite them to explore a pirate shipwreck. In between, they’ll have a ball sorting shells, smacking on saltwater taffy and thoroughly enjoying the simple joys of a shore getaway. Many families opt for a week-long vacation rental when visiting the Cape; however, a few hotels in each of Cape Cod’s 15 towns cater to families.
Recommended Resort: Wequassett Resort and Golf Club
8. New York City
Bite into the Big Apple once, and you’ll want to go back for more. Besides a mind-boggling amount of native cultural and historic attractions, from the Empire State Building to Broadway, New York City offers visitors an opportunity to experience major league sports, as well as world cultures–the latter in over a dozen ethnic neighborhoods, from Little Italy to Chinatown. While typical New York City hotel rates trend towards the higher end of vacation affordability, there are some great budget options, not to mention an impressive number of free attractions, such as Central Park and The Staten Island Ferry. What’s more–if you’re one of New York State’s 18 million residents, free admission to many other area attractions is available with a library card.
Recommended Resort: Hotel Elysee by Library Hotel Collection
9. Gulf Shores, AL
If you’ve visited Alabama’s Gulf Coast in the summertime, when traffic along beach bound roads often resembles ants descending upon a picnic, you’ll quickly realize one thing: people love Alabama’s beaches! The good news is that with clever timing and a little finessing, even during high season, you can reach you sandy destination with relative ease. In Gulf Shores, 32 miles of beautiful sandy beaches offer families plenty to occupy their time. Beyond the beach, there’s a terrific zoo, classic amusement centers, a water park and kid-friendly fishing and boating excursions. A staggering number of vacation rental properties, from condos to beachfront cottages, along with a number of new modern hotels, make it possible to enjoy some extra elbow room, along with the comforts of home.
Recommended Resort: The Beach Club
Jackie Perrin has covered the best of family travel for nearly two decades, for media ranging from newspapers and magazines to TripAdvisor.com. At home and on the go, she manages a crew of companions. Follow her on Pinterest, TripAdvisor and Instagram, @NYfamtravels.