Gone are the days when a family friendly resort implied wearing a colored bracelet, performing an embarrassing birdie dance pool side, and then bracing yourself for a rugby scrum at the lunchtime buffet table. A growing number of luxurious resorts now marry fine taste, exclusivity, and gourmet dining with inventive and highly specialized all day children’s programs. From boutique-style hotels on castaway beaches to grand, posh enclaves where butlers magically appear to tilt your umbrella before rounding up the kids off for a spot of beach yoga or a sushi making class, to wilderness ranches where youngsters can embrace their inner Huck Finn, luxury hotels have evolved to cater to the discriminating tastes and needs of seasoned global travelers who quite like to vacation in style and with their children in tow.
Four Seasons, Punta Mita, Mexico
Few brands know how to marry luxury with kid friendly quite like the Four Seasons. For a tropical resort experience without the stress of a long haul flight, you don’t have to look much further than the Four Seasons Punta Mita. A 90-minute drive north from Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, this exclusive beachside haven is a perennial favorite with young So-Cal families due to its gorgeous location on a pristine, white sand beach. The infinity pool (family pool) is heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and has a zero depth area for toddlers. The kid’s club activity program includes iguana feeding, treasure hunts on the beach, and water balloon fights. The expansive grounds enable families to play together with a myriad of activities from cruising down the lazy river, to paddle boarding, and even a scuba lesson in the pool.
The three onsite restaurants offer the full gourmet experience that you’d expect from the Four Seasons; at Bahí, parents can relax over margaritas and superb seafood while the children launch their own unofficial beach party just a few feet away.
Prices range considerably according to season, from $490 in low season to $750 in the high season for a standard room. It’s always worth checking the Four Seasons website for special offers.
Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
There’s no shortage of superlatives to describe the 144-acre Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman resort. Located on Seven Mile Beach, the seven-story main building is a tasteful fusion of British colonial grandeur and Caribbean flair featuring lots of burnished wood and gold offset by colorful local art and crafts. Expansive rooms featuring spacious bathrooms and every high-tech convenience imaginable cater well to family travel.
In true Ritz style, acclaimed industry names tempt guests to indulge and play while the kids are otherwise entertained. Eric Ripert, from Le Bernardin in New York, takes the helm of the lauded seafood restaurant, Blue. The golf course was designed by Greg Norman and the hotel’s tennis program is headed by famed Agassi coach Nick Bollettieri. For parents who like their children to be engaged with the local environment (and learn at the same time), Caribbean kid’s clubs don’t get much better than Ritzkids. The Ambassadors of the Environment children’s program was the vision of Jean-Michel Cousteau and activities are focused upon water, land, environmental responsibility, and local Caymanian culture.
The ever courteous, discreet Ritz Carlton staff is fazed by nothing, so there’s no need to be thrown off kilter if your two-year-old has a meltdown over a lobster dinner. Prices range from $400 in the low season (summer) to $900 in the high season (winter.)
Tanque Verde Ranch, Arizona
There are certainly more polished and exclusive ranches out there, but for families who prioritize outdoor adventure and an authentic ranch experience over 800 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, Tanque Verde is hard to beat. Just a 30-minute transfer from Tucson airport, this old school ranch is the perfect antidote to the technological onslaught. Kids ages four and up are matched with a suitable horse that they take care of and ride (twice daily) for the duration of their stay. In addition to riding, kids activities include an early morning hike to the homestead for breakfast, games in the heated pool, fishing in the lake, playing mini golf, and after dinner (served separately from adults) there are movie screenings and more interactive games.
Adult equestrians can pretty much ride for most of the day, hike the trails that lead from the ranch, enjoy a massage followed by a potent habanero-laced cocktail in the saloon, or just hang out and socialize by the pool. The gourmet meals are a far cry from typical ranch fodder and are served with flair, communal style, in the rustic dining room. Rooms and casitas are characterful, spacious ,and in keeping with the stunning desert landscape.
Prices from $150 per person, per night, in the low season (May to September) to $250 per person, per night, in the high season. Rates include all activities and three meals daily.
Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz
Run by the same family since 1869, the Mohonk Mountain House resort makes you dream of the vacations you always wishes you’d had as a kid. There’s the historic, Victorian whimsy of the buildings, the endless outdoor activities, and the mystical mountain setting where children’s imaginations can truly run wild — all smack bang in the middle of the Hudson Valley, just 90 miles from New York City.
Thoughtfully conceived rooms range in style from old world Europe to country cottage flounce. The expansive Tower Rooms, located in the resort’s stone turrets, are magical for kids and feature wood-burning fireplaces. There’s a top class spa with 15 treatment rooms in addition to a heated indoor pool and the well regarded Granary restaurant that has outdoor seating overlooking Lake Mohonk.
But what draws return guests year after year is the staggering array of outdoor activities. In summer, there’s horse riding, hiking, rock climbing, golf, and canoeing, while in winter you can ski, skate, and enjoy lashings of kitsch when the resort embraces the festive season with gusto. The children’s program is exceptional. Kids, grouped according to age, can choose from activities that include hikes, fossil hunts, fishing, riding, boating, rock scrambles, and evening movies. There’s a more holistic approach for adults, with a daily activity schedule that features pillates class, meditation sessions, and garden tours. Mohonk is quite the bastion of traditionalism and jackets are required for gents over 12 years in the formal dining room.
Rates vary considerably, from $199 – $400 per person per night, including meals and activities.
Grace Bay Club, Turks and Caicos
With three elegantly appointed ocean front buildings, each featuring a stunning infinity pool that overlooks one of the island’s best beaches, Grace Bay Club has become one of the most sought after Caribbean resorts for families. The service is superb, the atmosphere elegant but relaxed, and the kid’s club activities raise the bar with off-site water sports and horseback riding activities in addition to beach olympics, sandcastle competitions, and for an additional fee, youngsters can partake in the VIK (very important kids) program.
Adults, meanwhile, can indulge in a range of treatments at the Anani spa, chill on the beach, graze on tapas at the Infiniti Bar, lounge by the pool, or sign up for any number of recreational activities ranging from kayaking, scuba diving, golf, or horseback riding. Anacano is the hotel’s renowned ocean front gourmet restaurant (for guests 12 years and over) while the pool side Krave is a family friendly upscale experience serving hearty iterations of fusion fare (think blackened grouper, fish fry, and conch stew.) Unlike most resorts of this ilk, Wi-Fi and breakfast is included.
Family oceanfront villa rates start at $775 in the low (summer) season to $1,045 in the high (winter) season.