Atlantis  /  Atlantis
The Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, according to, is the best place for a family vacation.
updated 3/11/2004 5:03:53 PM ET 2004-03-11T22:03:53

If you've ever argued with your spouse and kids over whether that evening you will all be watching the football game, "Sex and the City" or the Cartoon Network, you have a pretty good idea of how hard it is to plan a family vacation. Everyone wants something different, and too often, everyone winds up grumbling.

When it comes to television, the easy solution is to have several TVs. With vacations, it's even easier: Just pick one of the resorts on our list.

That's because increasingly, resorts are offering activities that appeal to every age and energy level. Such places as Atlantis in the Bahamas, Colorado's The Broadmoor and the Wyndham El Conquistador in Puerto Rico have spa facilities for mom, golf courses for dad, and water sports and day camps for the kids. And, if mom wants to go water-skiing, dad wants a facial and the kids want to hit the links, that's just as easy. In other words, the whole family can have fun.

Meal times can be equally stress-free. Most large resorts offer a range of dining options: From poolside snack bars serving cheeseburgers and fries to elegant restaurants with linen tablecloths, there is usually something for everyone — even if your teenage daughter recently announced she's a vegan.

It's more than consideration for individual diets that makes these resorts spend the money to accommodate everyone in the family. Family vacations represent one of the biggest market shares when it comes to travel. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America, family vacations accounted for 74 percent of all vacations in the United States in 2002, up from 72 percent in 1998. The average family vacation costs $1,067 per trip, with the typical duration of a trip lasting 6.9 nights.

To lure more families, major hotel chains such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Four Seasons offer incentives such as kids' menus or free meals for children. New York City-based Family Travel Forum Consulting reports in a recent survey that 90 percent of the major hotel chains allow children under 18 to stay for free in their parents' room, and 65 percent offer a kids' menu. Only one-third of the chain hotels surveyed offered a second-room discount — which is one of the top requests from parents.

"The family travel sector is enormous," says Kyle McCarthy at Family Travel Forum. "There's no bigger travel sector." McCarthy points out that "family travel" also includes grandparents traveling with children, siblings traveling with their children, or couples traveling to a family reunion. One of the earliest hotel companies to market itself directly to families was Holiday Inn, which is now a subsidiary of InterContinental Hotels. "Back in 1953, Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson promised that children under 18 could sleep free in their parents' room," says McCarthy. "Now more than fifty years later, 90 percent of the chains offer this perk." Other hotels, such as Loews and Hilton, lure family travelers with flexible pricing options and children's programs.

"Most families do not book vacations using discount websites because their needs are so specific," says McCarthy. "The hotels have responded to this by creating plenty of packages and programs." She points out that Loews has targeted teens, grandparents and young children in its marketing campaigns, and it has been 11 years since Hilton launched its "Vacation Station" program, which includes facilities that range from toy lending desks to supervised children's camps.

Not every family vacation has to be spent at a large resort. Families who prefer smaller, more intimate resorts without a water slide or video game in sight may want to consider places such as the Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island, where there are no telephones or televisions, and evening activities revolve around good old-fashioned story telling or board games. Other top choices for smaller hotels include the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia, where parents can sneak some history and cultural excursions into a beach vacation.

The hotels on our list of Best Family Resorts vary in size, but what they have in common is their setting and facilities. Most of the resorts are in beach locations, which are a natural fit for a family vacation. Best of all, they are self-contained, which means that kids can run around all day without parents worrying too much. If only it was this easy being at home.

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