Aruba, Jamaica… Bermuda, Bahama: These are not just the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ song Kokomo. They itemize some of the top island targets for family vacations: familiar places that everyone has heard about.
But if you’re one of those families who likes to write your own agenda in a place that has friends asking “Where’s that?” we have several off-the-radar recommendations. So get that song out of your head (sorry for the brain worm), and start booking the secret Caribbean island vacation you didn’t even know was on your bucket list.
Don’t take the Bahamas off your list just because Nassau and Freeport loom large in the family vacation scheme of things. You’ve seen those visuals of swimming with pigs? Exuma is where that happens. Island-hopping tours through Exuma’s 365 cays afford you not only that wildlife experience, but also encounters with rare iguanas, sharks, rays, and other marine life. Exquisite beaches and snorkeling also recommend the island group. Make Great Exuma home base, with its range of family accommodations from small inns to a gated community of rental homes. Furthermore, Exuma’s close proximity to U.S. shores make it perfect for family travel.
Recommended Hotel: Grand Isle Resort & Spa particularly suits families with its white-sand beach and one- to four-bedroom villas. Plus it’s near a marina for easy access to island hopping.
2. St. Croix
St. Thomas is the most well-known of the U.S. Virgin Islands, an easy destination for families to visit (especially on a cruise), as no passports or international phone plans are required. But sister island, St. Croix, is more laid-back and less crowded. Secluded beaches, lush rainforest, endless water sports opportunities and family-friendly resorts make it a good choice for families. Bonus: U.S. travelers don’t need a passport to visit St. Croix (or these other vacation destinations that don’t require a passport).
Recommended Hotel: The historic Buccaneer Resort is operated by an old Crucian family and caters to kids with cottage suites, three beaches, planned activities, golf, and complimentary use of water sports equipment.
Nutmeg ice cream. If that’s not reason enough to take the family to Grenada, the chocolate, beaches, waterfalls, wild monkeys, dune buggy tours, and colonial forts help fill in the picture. Known as “The Spice Island,” Grenada spreads a lush carpet of forests and farms that produce culinary treats the kids will have fun trying, including breadfruit, papaya, cocoa, passionfruit, nutmeg jelly, and a stew called oildown.
Recommended Hotel: Mount Cinnamon Resort & Beach Club overlooks Grand Anse Beach and is an all-suite and villa property with kids’ programs and lawn games.
Tortola is still recovering from the ravages of 2017’s hurricane hit. Nonetheless, its beaches and water sports scene make it a good fit for active families. From mountain top to sea level, its laid-back, nautical vibe invites relaxation and uncrowded exploration with casual beach restaurants and a compact downtown area of charming shops. Don’t miss taking a ferry to explore nearby Jost Van Dyke. Many of the main resorts, such as Long Bay Beach Resort, are still making their comeback. In the meantime, Sebastian’s on the Beach is an intimate budget-friendly property with an onsite restaurant and family-sized units that contain kitchenettes.
Recommended Hotel: Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina is a private island off of Tortola, with family-sized accommodations, beaches, and all manner of water sports including from-shore snorkeling and a sailing school.
You feel like you’re part of a family on Nevis, a tick of an island where everybody knows everyone else. This is the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, so don’t miss the opportunity to give the kids a gentle history lesson amidst his current popularity by visiting his childhood home, now a museum.
Recommended Hotel: Known for its lovely plantation inns, Nevi also holds Four Seasons Nevis, which is entirely family friendly with kids programs that teach about local flora, fauna, and culture, plus a beach and water sports that just may be all they require. Walk down the beach to Sunshine’s beach shack for lunch or go to the Golden Rock Plantation Inn, where you’re sure to hear and see wild monkeys at play.
Inevitably, friends will jump to the conclusion that you are headed to the Dominican Republic, but Dominica could not be further from that highly visited destination. Known as the “Nature Island,” it easily rests on its indigenous laurels to enthrall families: native people, sea turtles, whales, a boiling lake, waterfalls, warm sulphur springs, and snorkeling in bubbly waters.
Recommended Hotel: Pamper your family in eco-lodge luxury at the highly hailed Secret Bay, a secluded adventure of beaches, river, caves and complimentary water sports.
7. Ambergris Caye
Just a few years ago, this offshore Belize island was a true secret, but in recent years, it’s seen some major resorts open. Although the beaches aren’t the best in the Caribbean, the snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve is stellar and safe for the kiddies. You can pretty much get around the island and its charming town of San Pedro by foot or golf cart.
Recommended Hotel: Ramon’s Village Resort is central and one of the island’s few beach resorts. Suites have kitchenettes and can accommodate four.
Though it’s not the household word big brother Trinidad is, Tobago has been slowly growing in popularity thanks to its swimmingly gorgeous beaches and old-Caribbean flavor. Here, families get a true taste of island culture away from Trinidad’s metro vibe—steel drum bands, calypso, carnival, deep-seated island traditions, and authentic West Indian dishes. On the flip side, forest trails and snorkeling opportunities enrich kids’ love of the outdoors.
Recommended Hotel: Pretty, boutique Coco Reef Resort & Spa offers family accommodations, free breakfast, a lovely beach, water sports, and a pool.
Chelle Koster Walton has been writing about the Caribbean and family travel for more than 20 years. As a resident of Sanibel Island, Florida, she believes sea water runs through her veins and a love for islands beats at her core.