So your great, big family wants to go on vacation together. Great news! The only downside when you’re traveling with a crowd—whether that’s an extended family or a gaggle of kids that surpasses the average 2.5 per family—is that things can get expensive very quickly.
When cost is a factor, chances are, you won’t be jetting off to Bora Bora with your entourage. But the good news is that North America is full of exciting vacation destinations with lots to do for big families—and at an acceptable price point, to boot.
1. Saguenay Lac St. Jean – Quebec, Canada
If you’ve never heard of this region about 2.5 hours north of Quebec City, you’re not alone. And if you’re looking for one of the most affordable vacations in North America with wild nature at your doorstep and tons of activities for all types of travelers, Saguenay Lac St. Jean is a place to know about.
Vacation villages like the Resort Village Dam-en-Terre and Ferme 5 Etoile offer accommodations of varied types (cabins, campsites, standard hotel rooms) and for varied budgets in one setting. Among the many things you can do in this gorgeous region of Quebec are go cycling on the Blueberry Route, hike in the boreal forest, cruise the fjord to look for belugas, dig for crystals in an open-air mine at Cristal du Lac and observe black bears in their native environment with Contact Nature.
Recommended Hotel: Ferme 5 Etoiles
2. San Antonio, TX
This Texas city, known for its lively River Walk and historic Spanish missions, makes for an affordable family vacation best enjoyed outside of the hot summer months. Vacation rentals to accommodate large families abound both in downtown San Antonio and in its outskirts, with the most affordable lodging options on the northwest side of town and near the airport.The city’s new SEA LIFE aquarium is set to open in early 2020, and of course, there are the many theme parks to explore (Six Flags, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND Discovery Park among them). But San Antonio also has The DoSeum and Kiddie Park among other affordable options for big-family fun.
Recommended Hotel: Drury Inn & Suites San Antonio Riverwalk
3. Cocoa Beach, FL
Florida beaches hardly get more laidback and affordable than Cocoa Beach on the state’s Space Coast. This no-frills east coast community with beautiful beaches makes a perfect base of operations for visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and taking in the area’s wallet-friendly parks, including the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the gorgeous beaches of Canaveral National Seashore. At the latter, you can even head out on ranger-led tours during the summer to see mama sea turtles lay their eggs. Take the kids to Port Canaveral, too, where there are many affordable restaurants with outdoor terraces (Rusty’s is a favorite) from which you can post up and watch massive cruise ships leaving for the Caribbean.
Recommended Hotel: La Quinta & Suites Cocoa Beach Oceanfront
4. Kissimmee, FL
In what has to be one of the major vacation rental capitals of the country, Kissimmee in Central Florida is loaded with affordable places to stay—whether you’re looking for a whole house with a pool or an affordable hotel with connecting rooms to accommodate your large family. You’re within easy striking distance of all the Orlando theme parks here, of course, as well as cool, lesser-known attractions your family might enjoy such as the Paddling Center at Shingle Creek for kayaking trips in a cypress swamp, the free-entry outdoor entertainment zone called Old Town, and historic Pioneer Village.
Recommended Hotel: Margaritaville Resort Orlando
5. Cancun, Mexico
Always a popular spot for sun and idyllic beaches, Cancun is a great place to vacation with a large family. There are so many affordable options for a stay here—take your pick between Airbnbs, affordable all-inclusive chains like Fiesta Americana, and independent hotels, too—it can be dizzying. Cancun is also one of those destinations where flight deals and packages that wrap in both airfare and accommodations abound, meaning you can usually find a good deal here no matter the time of year. For a fun and affordable day trip, make the short trip by ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, 8 miles offshore, and rent golf carts to haul everyone around to snorkel and explore the island’s wild beaches.
Recommended Hotel: Fiesta Americana Condesa All Inclusive Cancun
6. Caribbean Cruise
Cruises from ports in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Cape Canaveral and Miami to points all around the Caribbean are a reliably affordable way to gather everyone together in one place for a tropical vacation at a modest price. Carnival has a reputation as the most affordable of the big ships for cruises lasting anywhere between two and ten days, with destinations in the Bahamas and Mexico among the ports of call. But compare prices with other cruise lines, too, including Norwegian (with its new ship, Encore) and Royal Caribbean, as last-minute deals can often be found. And remember, those interior cabins are always the least expensive, as long as you can live without windows.
7. Outer Banks, North Carolina
For another coastal destination with lots in the way of affordable vacation rentals for large families (particularly when you look for areas set back from the oceanfront), this North Carolina coastal vacation mainstay is another a good choice. Check realtor pages such as Twiddy’s for discounted rentals throughout the Outer Banks. From kids’ museums and mini golf to go-karts and miles of golden beaches, there are so many affordable things to do in the Outer Banks. If there’s a full moon while you’re in town, be sure to book a Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Full Moon Tour ($8 for adults and $4 for kids).
Recommended Hotel: Sanderling Resort
8. Lake George, NY
For an old-school lake vacation surrounded by beautiful forests and with lots of options when it comes to affordable vacation rentals and motels, put the Lake George region in the Adirondacks on your list of options. Summer vacations here are all about swimming, tubing and canoeing trips with operators like Beaver Brook Outfitters on hidden lakes. During autumn, the changing leaves are an attraction all their own. Quirky family activities that might interest you include the country’s oldest rodeo at the Painted Pony. And there’s always Six Flags Great Escape, too.
Recommended Hotel: Lodges at Cresthaven
9. The Catskills, NY
There’s no denying the Dirty Dancing vibes in the Catskills, a rolling region of southeastern New York that brims with affordable hotel options that range from chains like the Best Western to family-run inns that have been in business for decades. Among the many free and affordable things to enjoy are hikes to the double-tiered cascade at Kaaterskill Falls and biking along the 2-mile Tannersville Bike Path. If you’re okay with splurging on something more adventurous and pricier one day, head to Hunter Mountain to soar above the trees with New York Zipline Canopy Tours.
Recommended Hotel: Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark
10. Tampa, FL
Beach vacations can be pricey, especially in Florida. So base your big family in Tampa, close to some of the country’s best beaches (St. Pete and Clearwater, we’re looking at you!) and drive over for the day while keeping prices down with a city stay. Families usually have Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on their radars, and there are many budget hotels near the theme park. The downtown Tampa Riverwalk is a free place to stroll along the Hillsborough River, and don’t miss the fascinating permanent pirate exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center.
Recommended Hotel: Staybridge Suites Tampa East
11. Gatlinburg, TN
Whether your large family is the cabin, camping or hotel and motel type, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounds offer spectacular view and tons to do in and around the towns of Gaitlinburg and Pigeon Forge. You can enjoy the many area hikes or take the easy way up the mountain with an open-air chair lift at Gaitlinburg SkyLift Park, where kids 3 and under ride free. Waterparks, Ferris wheels and ziplining are among the many things to do in Pigeon Forge. But in this part of the country, the best attraction is just being together in the outdoors, where you don’t have to spend a cent to have fun.
Recommended Hotel: River Edge Motor Lodge
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.