51 Great Family Summer Vacation Ideas

Author: Family Travel Forum Staff

Tags : Canada, Caribbean, Eco-Tourism, Europe, Golf, Hiking, Kids Club, Multigen, Museums & Culture, National Parks, Resort, Tennis, USA, Volunteer, Water & Themeparks, Weekend & Short Break

Summer vacation is the time to reconnect and relax with family, to recreate favorite childhood memories and make news ones together. Do you see the family lying on a beach or around a resort pool, hiking mountain trails, learning history from a national park ranger, exploring a new city, being thrilled by an exotic adventure or a daring new theme park ride? We have ideas for every fantasy.

With Eileen Ogintz of TakingtheKids.com, we are sharing 51 summer vacation ideas to help you plan own vacation. For even more ideas, inspiration and last minute specials, please click here and dig in. We guarantee there is a memorable getaway for everyone, and kids can help pay for the vacation by sharing their travel tales in our 10th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship. Of course, we also welcome you to post your own vacation fantasies in the Comments field below.

1. ADVENTURE Thinking Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu? You can have all the memorable adventures you want without any stress when you let experts lead the way on trips that are designed for families. Consider companies like O.A.R.S, which has been offering VIP access to environmentally protected parts of Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and five other National Parks since 1969. Hosting families with kids ages 4 up to adult, they offer multi-day rafting trips, sea kayaking excursions or multi-sport adventures in the U.S., Asia, South and Central America and Africa. Be one of the first to book your 2016 family adventure and save up to 10% on most trips! Request your free copy of the 2016 O.A.R.S. Family Adventures Catalog today.

2. ALASKA Sail the Inside Passage on many large cruise lines including Disney, which has 5, 7, or 9-night cruises aboard the Disney Wonder departing from Vancouver B.C. This is a great option for multi-generational families and those with young kids. But you can also tour Alaska on a different kind of cruise, like the 12-passenger Sea Wolf that enables you to kayak every day in Glacier Bay or hike onshore. See what Eileen Ogintz wrote about her Sea Wolf adventure.

3. ARIZONA may be hot in the summer but it's got great hotel bargains and natural attractions like the Sedona Valley and the Grand Canyon. Escape the heat lounging at a spectacular resort like the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which welcomes swimmers and sand castle builders alike at six pools and a new 9,000-square-foot sand beach. Tune up summer learning at the remarkable Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, and come back for waterslides, supervised kids activities, dive-in poolside movies, after dark Techno Glo parties, and weekend fireworks. The Sip, Savor & Sand Package starts at $179/N with a $50 daily resort credit to spend on ice cream, from May 1 to September 10. For a cool excursion, book the Grand Canyon Railway tour, based in Williams.

4. ASPEN AND THE ARTS In many mountain towns, locals joke that they came for the slopes and stayed because of the summer. Chic Aspen, Colorado hits the peak for clear mountain air, places to hike, fish, mountain bike and festivals galore. Since 1949, the Aspen Music Festival has brought more than 300 classical music events (many orchestras are comprised of top students, and there are workshop classes for kids as well) , during an eight week summer run. Anderson Ranch runs one-day and longer workshops for all ages and skill level in arts ranging from ceramics to furniture making. There's music at outdoor cafes, lectures and open air concerts, galleries, even the weekly farmer's market is an aesthetic treasure. Be sure to visit the nearby Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center which celebrates the discovery of a huge cache of prehistoric Mastadon bones. Note that early bookers can score a bargain on lodging at more than half off winter prices.

5. ATLANTIC BEACHES From Maine to Florida, East coast and regional families have dozens of beautiful beaches to choose from. The farther south you go, however, the better the weather and warmer the water. Without jumping straight to Florida (see below), your family will find rentals at quiet Bethany Beach in Delaware, and farther south in Virginia Beach, Virginia with its long and famous boardwalk packed with shops and restaurants. With older kids and active families, we like Myrtle Beach for its golf, amusement parks, shopping malls, Grand Strand boardwalks and variety of beachfront family resorts in all price points.

6. BOSTON AND CAPE COD There's no better city to learn a little American history (think Freedom Trail and Boston National Historical Park) and experience baseball than Boston. A CityPASS ticket booklet provides discounted, first in line admission to the New England Aquarium (ask about whale-watching cruises while you're there), Museum of Science, Museum Fine Arts, Boston and the sky-high Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center. (CityPASS is also available in 11 other US cities you may be considering for teen-friendly getaways.) After a few days in the city, head east to Cape Cod. The Chatham Bars Inn opened in 1914 for wealthy Bostonians and today welcomes families with more than 200 rooms and suites, varied recreational options on one of the prettiest beaches, an exclusive spa and a daily kids program where kids 4-12 can bake, visit the resort's own farm, and perfect their kitchen crafts at the Chopping Block Institute.

7. CALIFORNIA Take your pick of Disneyland (look for deals from Southwest Vacations), Universal Studios Hollywood (where a new Harry Potter land just opened) or Legoland. You can head to surfing towns like Huntington Beach, explore museums and restaurants in San Francisco, or ogle the movie stars or a huge dinosaur in Los Angeles. Santa Monica is the ideal SOCAL beach destination because its pier boasts rides and a carousel at Pacific Ocean Park, places to fish, and easy access for daytrips to Disneyland and Los Angeles. To the south, commune with animals at the famous San Diego Zoo or Sea World or stay busy at the 15 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Park. Even if you're not traveling with your pet, don't miss the Coronado Dog Beach near Mission Bay where each summer you can catch the Loews Coronado Bay Surf Dog Competition.

8. CARIBBEAN Low season in the Caribbean and Central America starts in mid-April, and prices drop throughout summer for a dreamy tropical vacation. For toes in the sand fun, be pampered at Club Med resorts. Leave your wallet at home when you stay at these all-inclusives: sleep, dine very well and play all day long, on land and in the water, for one price at any of their 65 "villages" around the world. Stay closer to home at the Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Florida, and perfect your tennis, golf, beach volleyball, and workouts with their excellent training academies. As in Mexico, Dominican Republic and other resorts, the kid's club is phenomenal, so while your kids are happily in the aquapark, adults can enjoy some time alone. Club Med Sandpiper Bay even offers a Baby Club for 4 to 23-month-olds and a Petit Club for ages 2 to 3 (for a fee), plus age-appropriate clubs for older kids from 4 to 17 (included in rates). And, great news ñ kids under 4 stay free. Prefer to go a la carte? St. Croix's pastel pink Buccaneer, Antigua's posh Curtain Bluff, or Virgin Gorda's classic Bitter End Yacht Club are family-welcoming options. On Paradise Island, the flashy Atlantis is featuring a very fun, free program of activities June 20-August 21 themed with Cartoon Network.

9. CITY LIGHTS According to Sojern's Q1 Global Travel Insights report, the top searched-for U.S. cities for family summer visits are Orlando, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York. We say, travel on a weekend when business travelers have gone home. Websites like trivago.com allow you to compare hotel prices and ratings, and sites like airbnb.com and vrbo.com showcase rooms or private apartment rentals in cities you want to visit. A chain like Omni Hotels & Resorts, with more than 60 properties in major locations, is a family-friendly bet for luxury, convenience and savings with 15% off the best available rates and free breakfast (Omni's loyalty program members already get a free morning beverage delivered by room service, we love that) this summer. For a staycation in your own city, go to a baseball game, museum, festival, theatrical performance or new restaurant; your city's official tourism website will have the latest deals and family offerings. Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. You will be amazed where they lead you!

10. COLLEGE TOURING Leave the other kids in the family behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior or senior. Stay in a B&B near the campus to pick up some intel from locals. Don't try to cram too many schools into one trip. Check out GoSeeCampus.com, a free website offering an online college trip planner for high school students and parents. Don't forget to ask your student to make notes after each visit, and to keep your own.

11. COOKING CLASSES Whether you're a toddler decorating sugar cookies or an adult trying to perfect your coq au vin, chances are there's a local cooking class at your destination. Sites like Cozymeal.com pair local chefs with visitors who want to take a class or hit the markets; pizza making is a popular choice for families. For authentically Italian pizza, check out the family-oriented cooking tours in Italy by Cooking-Vacations.com. Adults traveling with with Tour-de-Friends.com learn how to pair wines while cooking the seasonal cuisine of four regions of France. Love tapas? Spend a day in Barcelona learning how to make your own with daily classes from Barcelona Cooking, a welcoming group of local chefs who welcome kids ages 4+ to attend classes, a fun way to make new friends while traveling.

12. CRUISE from a port near your home; you have more than 20 to choose from hosting the major cruise lines. Cruises are good bets for families whether the kids are preschoolers (organized activities), teens (all they can eat, a safe place to roam) or grandparents. If you're ready for something more authentic and a bit adventurous, take a look at AdventureSmith Explorations for inspiration. With their small-capacity, adventure-oriented yachts and expedition vessels your family can explore Alaska, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon and other fascinating bucket list destinations. Off-ship activities include hiking, sea kayaking and exploring the remote wilderness. This summer welcomes the Santa Cruz II, a new ship in the Galapagos Islands with many interconnecting cabins -- perfect for families.

13. CULTURAL EXCHANGE IN CUBA A new cruise brand from Carnival, Fathom, has just begun social impact cruises from Florida to Cuba, the first U.S. vessel to do so in 50 years. The comfortable 704-passenger MV Adonia makes calls at Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba to provide travelers the opportunity to engage with locals, and experience the island's colonial architecture, traditional music and dance, coastal fortresses and cathedrals. School kids will be interested to see Cojimar, Ernest Hemingway's favorite fishing village and the setting for "Old Man and the Sea."

14. DISNEY VACATION If the kids (or your partner) are begging to go on a Disney vacation ñ and we mean a theme park, cruise, resort or guided tour ñ save yourself time, money and grief with a specialty travel agent. Mickey's Travel, an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner for the Disney Parks, Disney Cruise Line, and Disney vacation destinations worldwide, is staffed by people who love Disney, and have the expertise to offer 100% free personalized vacation planning. Get the vacation you want at the best value.

15. EUROPE BY TOUR If you want to introduce the kids to the Continent but don't want to spend your vacation navigating and lugging bags from train station to hotel, or worrying about security, join a special family-oriented tour from expert companies like Trafalgar, Adventures by Disney, Tauck Bridges or Collette. Families love the comfortable river cruisers and barges operated by CroisiEurope, celebrating their 40th year of river cruising in Europe. Another plus for packaged vacations: You pay one price in advance in American dollars for food, lodging, entertainment, guides and transportation.

16. FARM STAYS Well recognized in Europe, farm vacations are gaining popularity as more farms offer overnight lodging, meals and a peek into the agricultural lifestyle. Here's your chance for the kids to see where their food comes from. Eggs are collected fresh from the hen house; carrots are pulled from the ground, berries from a bush. Go to Farm Stay U.S. for a directory with nearly 1,000 working farms and ranches across the U.S. (in all 50 states and U.S. Territories).

17. FLORIDA Head to a less discovered area like South Walton on the Gulf Coast, where there are large developments such as the golf and tennis mecca of Sandestin and charming coastal towns like picturesque Seaside, the low-key Grayton Beach with its rare dune lakes habitat, and Watercolor, where the Boat Club gives stand up paddleboard and kayak lessons. Eileen Ogintz is a fan of Amelia Island, another low key Florida beach area. Collect shells in Sanibel or anchor your gang at a Palm Beach area resort and hit the spa and view the alligators in the Everglades. Tradewinds Island Grand Resort in St Petersburg and its sister Guy Harvey Outpost have a floating water park in the Gulf of Mexico and, even better, a staff trained in working with guests on the spectrum, making these popular destinations for kids with autism.

18. HAWAII Aloha to those on the West Coast (check out the new airlift from Alberta via Westjet), who will great deals in Hawaii from Pleasant Holidays, where you can score an air-car-condo deal at Maui's Ka'anapali Beach, or a grand resort on Kauai. Summer brings lots of fun festivals: the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, June 9-12 on Maui, is the place to meet world-renowned winemakers, sommeliers, celebrated chefs, and industry insiders for themed tastings and seminars. The world's largest long distance outrigger canoe race brings 2,500 paddlers to Kona, Hawaii for five days over Labor Day. Talk about making a big splash with the kids -- book this one ahead.

19. HILTON HEAD, SOUTH CAROLINA is a small island with beautiful Atlantic beaches, golf, tennis and more. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve offers boardwalks to explore the wetlands, observation decks, and a nice hike. The Coastal Discovery Museum has guided tours of the beaches. Explore via bike or kayak -- you'll probably have several dolphin sightings as you paddle. Here's what Allison Tibaldi had to say about her recent adventures on Hilton Head Island. The newly renovated Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island has a heated lagoon-style swimming pool, lap pool, tennis and golf. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, ages 3-5 (half days) and 6-12 (full days) are welcomed in the supervised kids camp. Summer offers include a free room upgrade,breakfast, round of golf or 20-minute massage with every two-night stay.

20. HISTORY Build a trip around an aspect of American history the kids may be studying, whether in the Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown, or Philadelphia, where you might meet Betsy Ross or see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. If your family is into war history, you can tour many exhibits, museums and reenactments following the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which continues through year's end. The site CivilWarTraveler.com has an easy search function to pinpoint activities at destinations around the U.S.

21. HOUSEBOATING is a super laid-back vacation with family and friends. Cruise among spectacular sandstone canyons and 2,000 miles of coastline on the border of Arizona and Utah -- but do check the water levels before you head out. You can pause to swim, water ski, fish, explore side canyons or camp on the beach. Share a boat and the trip is even more economical. The agency Houseboating.org gives you options around the country with regular pricing specials, and it's fun; just read our account of a Lake Powell family reunion.

22. IDAHO While throngs head to the National Parks this summer, head to the largest single Wilderness Area in the lower 48 states in Idaho. Visit Lewis and Clark expedition sites, and the Nez Perce National Historical Park where families can participate in erecting a tipi, see a rich collection of tribal art and artifacts and interact with the hands-on exhibits. At River Dance Lodge, the five-day "Mountain and River Discovery" all-inclusive package (lodging, meals, activities) includes rafting, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, biking, hiking and campfire evenings, starting at $569/person in four-person log cabins complete with hot tubs. We love the "Single Parent Family" deal which enables one parent to travel with all the kids and take $200 off the total price, through August 31, 2016.

23. KEYSTONE MOUNTAIN RESORT. Once the snow melts, you can enjoy hiking and biking within 90 minutes of Denver at almost 10,000 feet. The temperature hovers around 70 degrees -- the perfect conditions for a cool summer holiday. Depending on your group, choose a condo ranging from studios to a four bedroom townhome so you can save on breakfast, and have somewhere to dry those bathing suits. Learn how to bike downhill on 100 miles of lift-serviced singletrack mountain biking terrain, or try stand-up paddle boarding on Keystone Lake, or tee off at Keystone's two golf courses. The resort's free Kidtopia program schedules fun nature hikes, games, kite workshops and more. On Friday evenings there are free live concerts, a perfect way to celebrate a Rocky Mountain high vacation.

24. KIAWAH ISLAND GOLF RESORT Ranked among the top family resorts nationally by Travel + Leisure, this island resort off the South Carolina coast is a 30-minute drive from historic Charleston. One of the most unique aspects of the island is its commitment to the unusual salt marsh environment. The Kiawah Conservancy can show you how your kids and you can help. There are miles of bike trails, kayaks, fishing and Kamp Kiawah, which offers kids an activity-filled day camp environment where they can play the day away. Tennis buffs should know it nabbed the TennisResortsOnline No. 1 ranking this year because of the quality and diversity of its tennis instruction and programs run by former pro Roy Barth.

25. MAKE A MUSEUM YOUR FOCUS Learn something new together. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is a great example of a place you can return to again and again. Scientists-in-Residence at the world's largest children's museum will lead families on real dinosaur digs in the Dinosphere or catapult them into the future at "Beyond Spaceship Earth," where you can see NASA's Liberty Bell 7 capsule and go behind the scenes with a truly realistic version of the International Space Station. "Doc McStuffins," the first-ever museum exhibit based on Disney Junior's Peabody Award-Winning series about an aspiring young doctor, designed for kids 2-7. There are cool museums in small towns, too, like the Baseball Hall of Fame celebrating more than 75 years in Cooperstown, New York. Study the history of music at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City or the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, or go undercover at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

26. MEXICO You'll find great deals at Mexico all-inclusives along the Riviera Maya, the Caribbean coast which attracts history and archeology buffs to ancient Mayan sites at Tulum and Coba, and which is still considered safe from Zika virus. For those who like luxury, Karisma Hotels and Resorts fit the bill. The family-friendly Azul Hotels by Karisma are offering up to 43% off with their Suite Summer Savings on an upscale "Gourmet Inclusive" vacation including fine dining and top shelf drinks, watersports like Scuba lessons, kids clubs, dedicated concierges and deluxe accommodations ranging from beachfront Jacuzzi swim-up suites to rooftop Sky Suites to private oceanfront villas with minibars. Adults can relax on beach beds in the adult pool while supervised clubs for toddlers, kids and teens keep kids happy. There is also a Karisma resort in Negril on Jamaica's Seven Mile Beach (for your second summer vacation.)

27. MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST means 30 miles of white beaches, water sports, nature parks and historic sites. Take the ferry out to Ship Island where historic Fort Massachusetts and a beach rated among the finest in the world await. And don't forget to look for the dolphins during your ride to and from the island. Choose from a day at the water park or an eco-tour on the Pascagoula River where experienced guides bring you to those hard to reach areas to experience and enjoy native wildlife and vegetation.

28. NATIONAL PARKS This summer the entire country is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. And, 2016 is also the first year when all fourth graders and family can visit any park for free. Avoid Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and check out the hundreds of less crowded alternatives (with cheaper hotels.) See towering trees in Sequoia & Kings Canyon in California, hike the fantastic Badlands of South Dakota, and watch bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Check out our Top 10 National Parks for Family Vacations and keep in mind that at all parks and monuments, park rangers provide special activities, including Junior Ranger and recreation programs, free of charge.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE AND MT. WASHINGTON VALLEY Cool, close and pristine in nature, the Mt Washington Valley is in the shadow of the tallest peak in the Northeast. Enjoy giant swings, mountain coasters, indoor and outdoor water parks, Santa's Village or Story Land, ziplines, BMX bike parks, mini-golf, climbing walls, all near the Bretton Arms Inn and the Mt. Washington Resort, both Omni Hotels located by the historic Bretton Woods ski area. This summer (through December 31, 2016), you can save 15% off the best available rates at all Omni Hotels when you stay two or more nights, and many of their resorts are including a complimentary breakfast. Check out the Escape and Save offer and use your savings to hit the Settlers' Green Outlet Village, Tanger Outlets or the Merrimack Premium Outlets for tax-free Back to School shopping.

30. NEW MEXICO offers a great mix of history, culture in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, the chance to learn Native American history and outdoor adventures. Check out Bandelier National Monument, outside the suddenly hip town of Los Alamos, which draws a diverse group of scientists (and their families) to its famous Los Alamos National Laboratories. Stay at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, which is owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo; there's a lot of Native American culture, from weekly rodeos and cuisine to adobe brick making classes, as well as blue corn treatments at the spa. This summer, get free breakfast and discounted room rates, plus s'mores roasted in an authentic orno for a special tribal experience.

31. NEW YORK CITY is tops on every family's wish list and it is easy to see why -- from Broadway to world-class museums, myriad neighborhoods to explore, Central Park (go for a SummerStage concert), great sports (take your pick of two major league baseball teams -- the Yankees and the Mets), as well as great eats and the remarkable 9/11 Memorial Museum (best with ages 10+.) Don't miss a stroll along the city's latest park, the High Line overlooking the Hudson River. Come over a weekend and use a CityPASS to get up to 50% off with discounted, prepaid admission to top attractions. Eileen Ogintz' new The Kid's Guide to New York City has lots of ideas to keep the kids busy.

32. OREGON Southern Oregon is a family vacation paradise just seven hours north of San Francisco and four hours south of Portland by car. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is one of the main attractions, especially as we celebrate 400 years since The Bard's death, and the weekend Family Matinees ($25/ticket) are very popular. Don't miss Crater Lake National Park and the famous Rogue River for whitewater rafting. Fly kites over the Pacific in Lincoln City and visit the first rate Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

33. ORLANDO Every park has new attractions this summer -- with "Stars Wars Galaxy" at Disney's Hollywood Studios, "The LEGO Movie 4D A New Adventure" and weekend fireworks at LEGOLAND Florida, shows and the secret new ride vehicle for "Skull Island: Reign of Kong" at Universal Orlando, and the night time opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom, previewed here. A lot has been happening on the thoroughfare International Drive, known locally as I-Drive, where the towering Orlando Eye ferris wheel and Skyplex indoor amusement park have been joined by shops and restaurants like the world's largest McDonald's (sadly, not in the shape of French fries like its predecessor) with a 22-foot-tall play place, 51 arcade games, and open pizza kitchen. Come in May and June to score a better hotel deal and avoid the crowds.

34. PARK CITY, UTAH is home to the newly combined Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, the largest snowsports terrain in the U.S. with 400 miles of trails maintained for hiking and mountain biking. Utah Olympic Park dates to 2002 but the signature Comet Bobsled ride -- 60 mph on a concrete track with a trained pilot -- is as new a thrill as it gets. This Wild West style town has a great blend of all-American and healthy foodie fare at more than 100 restaurants, plenty of glamorous hotels, and bargain condos in town that rent for 40% less than in ski season. Don't miss the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market where live bands and costumed street buskers entertain chefs, food vendors, craftsmen and tourists. The weekly concert series featuring Emmylou Harris and Jewel takes place outdoors at Deer Valley's amphitheater, where picnics are welcome.

35. PENNSYLVANIA: DUTCH COUNTRY AND HERSHEY Fashion a trip that combines Amish culture in Lancaster County -- the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country -- with chocolate and theme park fun. Try one of the area's interpretive attractions like the Amish Village where kids can ask all the questions they want. Anyone who loves chocolate loves Hersheypark and its sweet roller coasters and Hershey's Chocolate World, where an amusement park ride has overtaken the old-fashioned factory tour. Free samples, golf, camp sites, and a hotel with an indoor water park (Hershey Lodge), where rates start at $289 for a family of four including theme park admission and breakfast for the kids, guarantee fun.

36. RANCH AND RIDE ADVENTURES Wannabe' cowboys, cowgirls and anyone who enjoys the outdoors will love a genuine Western dude ranch experience. Saddle up and let the Dude Ranchers Association help you select an unforgettable ride. You'll learn from wranglers and ranchers how to horseback ride, rope and rustle, and how ranches thrive on team work by all ages. From the camaraderie of campfires, chores well done, and panning for gold, to sharing authentic pasture-to-table meals, the whole family will be transformed by this uniquely American adventure.

37. RVING With falling gas prices and the variety of new rigs, RVing is cheaper than other vacations (studies show 24%-59% less than comparable road trips) and an easy way to experience the outdoors. Just as important, parents say, are the instant friends they and their kids make at campgrounds. According to the trade group, RVIA, RV travel / campgrounds is a $6.3 billion business and, of the 9.3 million households who own an RV, more than 7 in 10 say they use them for mini vacations, averaging 25 days of use per year. Visit GoRVing.com for ideas on how to get started, where to go and what you'll need to bring. Prefer to start your camping in a tent? Check out the 400+ campgrounds run by KOA which offer tents or RV sites, pools, WiFi and even cabins.

38. SAIL AWAY Moorings and Sunsail are companies that charter a yacht, with or without a captain or a personal chef, for a high-seas family vacation. The British Virgin Islands is acknowledged as among the best boating destinations in the world, because you are rarely out of sight of land and rates are discounted in summer. Drop anchor any time to go snorkeling or try scuba, fish, read or sunbathe. Sunsail also run sailing schools in the BVI and Grenada. Read Eileen's account of her family's recent sailing trip.

39. SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS A city that boasts more than 300 days a year of sunshine is hot, dry and busy in summer because of The Alamo, America's latest UNESCO World Heritage Site. The legend, a mission turned fort complete with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, is more interesting than the site, so you'll want to visit one of the nearby multimedia attractions that illuminates the story. Riverwalk, an entertaining riverfront promenade lined with cafes and biking paths, is where you'll spend your time when you're not boating, touring SeaWorld, or visiting one of the nearby Hill Country ranches or resorts.

40. SAN FRANCISCO AND BEYOND Cable cars, Alcatraz, sea lions off Pier 39 and street performers: this beautiful city has plenty to offer all ages. It's diverse, it's hilly, there's a great California Science Center and the innovative Exploratorium, and the food tastes fresh everywhere. Head north over the Golden Gate Bridge to see the Giant Redwoods in Muir Woods, bark with the sea lions on Muir Beach, and hear live music while touring the kid- and pet-friendly Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. Head south from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay to explore tide pools, visit farms or fish; and to Santa Cruz to surf.

41. SEA ISLAND is a top nature destination and resort off the southeastern coast of Georgia that offers tennis, squash, fishing, nature walks, cooking class, sea turtle excursions and more. A variety of housing has grown up around the historic, luxurious The Cloister, a resort where families can choose between The Lodge and The Cottages facing the Atlantic or the golf course. Camp Cloister serves ages 3 to 14 junior naturalist programs (including frog dissection), plus night parties and special activities for teens.

42. SEATTLE AND SAN JUAN ISLANDS Seattle is a great bet for entertaining families, from the original REI to the very first Starbucks to a world-class aquarium where you can learn all about Puget Sound sea life, to Pike Place Market, the classic and colorful fish and produce market currently being expanded for the first time since 1907. From there, head offshore to the San Juan Islands for the chance to kayak and to see Orcas in their home environment; there are several guided boat tours and charming little BnBs, inns, cabins and camp sites on the islands to spend the night.

43. SIERRA CLUB OUTINGS The conservation group known for being leaders in environmentally-friendly outdoor advocacy runs moderately priced, guided trips for people of all ages, abilities, and interests. There are opportunities to help others, hut hikes and sea kayaking, backpacking, beach adventures, and international treks, all of which contribute to our understanding of the world around us while fees go toward their work. There are also family service trips, where children learn to be good stewards of the environment.

44. SPECIAL CHALLENGES AND DISABILITIES There are more vacation options than ever if a child or other family member faces special challenges. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with those on the spectrum. The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado schedule several different outdoors programs for children with disabilities that include families. Even theme parks are providing mobility devices, visual and hearing tools, special maps and allergen-free diets for their visitors.

45. STOWE, VERMONT New base lodging, the posh Stoweflake Spa, and small shops, crafts places, markets and pubs along scenic Mountain Road make Stowe a family favorite. Head over to the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory for 20-minute tours and tastings that are well worth the stop, and pay your respects at the Flavor Graveyard where unsuccessful combos have been laid to rest. Mountain bikers use lifts at nearby Sugarbush; hikers of all abilities use the scenic 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path where there's room for biking and in-line skating as well. The region has zip lines, golf and minigolf, tennis, an Alpine slide and more to keep everyone busy.

46. TORONTO COOL Picture a selfie with a blue lobster at the Ripley's Aquarium, or lying on a glass floor in the CN Tower, more than 1,800 feet above the street. All that plus good eats, wonderful museums and a 30% boost to your spending power thanks to a strong U.S. dollar, and you have more than enough reason to plan a Canada family vacation this summer.

47. TRAIN TRAVEL Amtrak offers 50% discounts for kids 2-12 and 15% off for students ages 17-25 who book 3 days ahead on Amtrak.com. Have a 4th grader? Take advantage of a 75% discount for kids who bring an adult with them to the national parks this summer -- you save on transport and get free entry. Did you know that most long distance trains feature volunteer guides who answer questions about the natural and cultural heritage sites passing by? America's railway also has more than 50 national park packages including hotel, sightseeing, activities, dining and more on their site.

48. VOLUNTEER Opportunities for travelers to give back abound these days, whether you're touring with your church, an educational group, or on your own. Even a theme park like Universal Orlando gives families the chance to spend four hours working for the local Give Kids The World, a vacation residence for children with life-threatening illnesses, as part of a three-night stay. Weeklong Fathom cruises to the Dominican Republic combine land-based volunteer opportunities suitable to families, with onboard education in the region's culture, language and lives of the people who travelers assist. Together for Good lists over 120 groups that families can contact about donating supplies or volunteering half days while on a resort vacation or cruise in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.

49. WATERPARKS INDOORS AND OUT Summer's the season when most waterparks open, and there's nothing more fun than a sunny day spent at Hurricane Harbor (Six Flags), Adventure Island (next to Busch Gardens), Wet n' Wild (Universal Orlando), Sandcastle in Pittsburgh, Gator Run at New Orleans' Audobon Park, Schlitterbahn and others. Hate the sun? Facing monsoon rains? Head indoors to the best family vacation invention ever -- indoor waterparks. Great Wolf Lodge Resorts are indoor waterpark heavens located around the country, making them ideal for long weekend getaways, road trip respites, or just a fun staycation. The newest lodge in Southern California brings the number to 13, each with family suites, huge indoor water play areas (the Garden Grove, CA location is 105,000 square feet), indoor mini golf, toddler activities and PJ parties, family yoga and bowling. Dry off and play MagiQuest, which sends kids on a scavenger hunt around the property, and watch little ones get mani/pedis at Scooops Kid Spa. This summer, receive 30% off when you book online with a two night stay. Enter code: SAVEMORE.

50. WINDJAMMERS Sail powered cruises in Maine give kids the opportunity to help sail historic vessels and learn traditional skills like knot tying, steering, hauling sails, polishing brass, rowing, and cranking ice cream -- at budget prices. There's plenty of shore time for tidal pool exploration, swimming, berry-picking, stone skipping and seaglass hunting. Imagine windjamming like camping at sea: there's stargazing, storytelling, singing, games and sleeping out on deck on one of the nine historic vessels -- a sight to behold.

51. WHISTLER, BC This Olympic caliber snow sports mountain in Western Canada has plenty of summer action, plus golf on one of the four championship courses (pick between greens designed by Robert Cupp, Robert Trent Jones Jr., Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer). Spa Scandinave combines traditional sweat lodges with frozen plunge pools to kickstart your circulation, likely not needed after your float plane trip, bungee jump, jet boat ride, tree trek or side by side ATV jaunt. Families love the safety of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for bear-spotting, and the arts workshops and multimedia performances during Children's Festival, July 8-10. Through October, visitors who stay four nights can save 40% on their condo or hotel (more if they prepay some activities in advance) so, with the 30% discount Americans already enjoy thanks to the strong dollar, this place is an adventurers' bargain.

Please share your favorite summer vacation ideas with us in the Comments Field below so next year's roundup can be even better.

 

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