More and more resorts are catering to children -- though the quality of their kids' programs still varies.
It's not enough at a top property to have a table with arts and crafts, a pool and a playground. As parents, we want to give our children the opportunity to experience the destination, spend time exploring and learn something. We've come to expect more, and so have our kids.
The resorts highlighted here all operate a supervised children's program, camp or club, where you can drop off your children daily to participate in organized activities. They each dedicate ample and separate space for the children's activities, and offer something extraordinary, above and beyond the expected.
No. 1 -- Cayman Islands: The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman
Located on the famous Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman, The Ritz-Carlton's children's program, Ambassadors of the Environment, is as unique and educational as it is entertaining.
Created in conjunction with Jean-Michel Cousteau, the program offers kids ages 4 to 18 the opportunity to explore their surroundings with cool adventures like pontoon boat rides through the mangroves and rides in the resort's own submarine, Atlantis XI, which sinks to a depth of 100 feet so kids can view the underwater reefs off Grand Cayman firsthand.
The program allows kids to choose six from more than 40 themed experiences each day. Three modules are geared to kids ages 4 to 7 and three to kids ages 8 to 17.
The program divides into morning (9:30 a.m. through 12:30 p.m.), afternoon (2 through 5 p.m.) and evening (6:15 through 9 p.m.) segments. Parents are encouraged (but not required) to share the activities with their kids.
In Discovering Sea Turtles, kids learn all about the creature's habitat, as well as environmental threats to their well-being. They even get to track two real, tagged green sea turtles.
In Fun With the Sun, kids make solar prints and eat cookies they've baked in a solar oven.
Other popular themes are Eco-Chefs, Traditional Caymanian Crafts and the Sea Floor Submarine Adventure.
No. 2 -- Hawaii: Grand Wailea
Although its stunning location on Maui's Wailea Beach might be enough to please the kids, The Grand Wailea (part of the Waldorf Astoria collection) has a wonderful, supervised children's program for kids ages 5 to 12 years.
Camp Grande is more than 20,000 square feet, open seven days a week and offers full-day, morning, afternoon and night camps.
The spread is impressive and includes a whale-shaped outdoor wading pool, a play kitchen and tool set, a private movie theater, snack bar, craft room and a full-sized soda fountain.
Other popular spots are the game room, which has foosball, ping-pong and pool, and the arcade.
Children can participate in activities like exploring tidal pools, sand castle building, nature walks, Hawaiian lei making, and hula lessons.
Night Camp includes dinner, a Walkie Talkie Tag at Night game, sand crab hunting, theater games, scavenger hunts and more.
No. 3 -- New York: Mohonk Mountain House
The Mohonk Mountain House has a fairytale setting kids will love, nestled in the secluded woods of the Hudson River Valley.
The resort's children's program stands out because it puts the kids in touch with nature and local wildlife through an impressive array of outdoor activities.
Parents of toddlers also will appreciate that Mohonk accepts children as young as 2 years old, as opposed to the standard 3.
A full-day program is open from mid-June through Labor Day and kids ages 2 to 12 can join in hikes, take pony rides, go on frog hunts, go swimming, take boat rides and get plenty of beach and playground time.
Older kids, ages 7 to 12, also have the option of learning rock scrambling, as well as joining in tennis and golf clinics and sports tournaments.
Supervised activities for children ages 13 to 17 take place in the teen lounge, a separate space where teens can listen to music, watch movies and just hang out away from mom and dad.
In the winter, kids can take ice-skating lessons, or go snow tubing or snow shoeing.
Mohonk also offers a program for children ages 4 to 12 on Saturday evenings.
No. 4 -- Georgia: Cloister at Sea Island
The Cloister at Sea Island, located on five miles of private beach on Georgia's Atlantic coast, has an impressive children's center. The resort's seasonal kid's club, Camp Cloister, has an impressive selection of activities for children ages three to 12, including fishing, crabbing, baking and even tennis and shooting schools.
Each day explores a different theme, from pirates to frogs and birds, and kids participate in activities like arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, and fishing.
There is a separate space, Club Sea Island, for pre-teens, ages 9 to 12, that operates during peak travel periods.
On Saturdays, kids can don their own personalized chef hats and play chef as they bake and decorate cookies.
This resort's club also operates a children's dinner on Friday and Saturday nights for kids ages 3 to 12, so parents can dine solo.
The Shooting School at the Cloister at Sea offers private and group lessons, and an Air Rifle Bull's-Eye Hour for children ages 5 to 12 takes them on educational adventures in the great outdoors such as reptile encounters and summertime campouts.
No. 5 -- New Mexico: Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa
Hyatt Regency Tamaya is a great example of a resort that takes great care to enrich the children's program with local culture and flavor.
The 500-acre resort is located on part of a Native American Pueblo and offers kids ages 3 to 12 the chance to experience the art and history of this culture firsthand within organized activities at Camp Hyatt. Kids will create their own sand paintings, play Native American games, and explore the Rio Grande River on a guided stroll of the Bosque.
Camp Hyatt works with National Geographic Kids to create eco-friendly and locally inspired activities. Each day of the week brings a different theme, including New Mexico Sunday, Tamaya Monday, Hisru Ku Hinu [You and Me] Tuesday, Wildlife Wednesday, Land of Enchantment Thursday, Farming Friday and Native American Saturday.
In addition to the kids' program, Hyatt Regency Tamaya offers other family activities like trail riding, Pueblo pottery making, adobe brick making, hot air balloon rides and Native American stories under the stars.
No. 6 -- Jamaica: Half Moon Bay
If it's luxury you're after, the posh Half Moon Bay in Jamaica promises to spoil your kids as much as they spoil you.
Half Moon's kids' program is housed in the resort's Anancy Children's Village, where kids ages 3 to 12 can join in many different supervised activities.
Named after Jamaica's fabled children's character "Anancy the Spider," the space includes shaded play areas, activity rooms, a wading pool and a sand box. There are puppet shows in Tacoomah Hut, cold refreshments in Patoo's Lookout, an arts and crafts area and daily story times.
Teens can participate in tennis clinics, volleyball, nature walks, golf, squash, horseback riding and water sports. The Hype Zone is open to teens 13 to 17 and has a game room with air hockey, table tennis and pool, a cyber lounge with Internet access and a mini spa.
Half Moon's Equestrian Centre has horses and rides to fit every skill level. Guided tours will take you on a ride through paths in the hills or valleys, or down to the beach. The resort's Dolphin Lagoon is a great opportunity for kids ages 4 and older to get a hands-on experience with the dolphins. They are allowed enter the water to touch, swim and play with them.
No. 7 -- Jamaica: Franklyn D. Resort
Franklyn D. Resort's children's program scores major points from parents with babies because of its unique nanny service.
When you check in to the resort, you are assigned our own personal nanny for the duration of your stay. She is available every day from 9 a.m. until 4:40 p.m. and will do it all, including bathing and dressing the kids, and feeding them breakfast and lunch.
FDR's supervised kids' club for ages birth to 16 offers tons of organized activities, including picnics, cooking classes, playground and computer time, beach games, movies and games.
Nannies can --but do not need to -- supervise all of these activities.
Teens have their own program and can take part in discos, group trips, dance classes, scuba diving (through an outside company, for a fee), board games and organized sessions to get to know one another.
Activities run from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., so mom and dad can have dinner alone, if they choose.
No. 8 -- Florida: The Ritz-Carlton Naples
The Ritz-Carlton Naples, overlooking Florida's Gulf Coast, is home to the impressive Nature's Wonders Center, where kids and parents will be wowed by the sanctuary they have created there.
There are 11 aquariums housing fish, sharks, crabs, jellyfish, eel and even alligators, and touch talks allow kids to get hands on.
Older children can make use of a small lab with microscopes, slides and Petri dishes to learn about tiny marine life.
Programs available through the Nature's Wonders program include nature walks through the butterfly garden, boat rides to the estuary, learning about alligators, participating in feeding, and beach combing, among other field trips.
The Nature's Wonder camp is open to kids ages 5 to 12 daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kids can attend for a full-day, half-day or for an hour at a time.
Other cool spaces for kids are the Nature Vision Theater, which plays National Geographic and Discovery Channel specials and Disney movies, and the vue (virtual user experience) lounge, which is open to kids ages 8 and older.
The vue houses interactive virtual reality games played on 40-inch LCDs, as well as XBox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii.
No. 9 -- Vermont: Smuggler's Notch
Smuggler's Notch, or "Smuggs," as it is affectionately known, is arguably the best ski out there for families. Its ski lessons for kids (which begin at age 2.5) are second to none, and led by friendly and knowledgeable instructors.
Group classes and private lessons are available for every skill and comfort level imaginable.
But there is more to Smuggs than just skiing. It also offers snowboarding, snowshoeing, dogsledding, airboarding, snowmobiling, skating and tubing.
During the warmer months, children ages 3 to 17 can participate in summer camp, where they may take swimming lessons, go hiking, biking, paddle, join in theater and music projects, and do arts and crafts.
The resort's supervised child care center, Treasures, is open daily to children from six weeks to three years old. With almost 10,000 square feet of total space, indoors and out, the kids will be entertained with singing, arts and crafts, a ball pit and story time.
No. 10 -- California: Hotel del Coronado
Moms and dads visiting San Diego will love the Hotel Del Coronado's children's facility, Kidtopia.
The program offers three-hour camps and one-hour programs for children ages 4 to 12, with plenty of fun indoor and outdoor activities. There is a beach-themed room where kids can put on stage performances, a cool funhouse mirror and entertainment stations with computers.
But what's a visit to San Diego without hitting the surf? Perhaps the best feature of the program is the surfing lessons, which are available for kids ages 6 and older three days a week. The resort will provide the equipment, wet suit and lesson for a fee of $90.
The resort also has a space dedicated to teens ages 13 to 17. VIBZ, a hip lounge, has computers, karaoke and foosball tables.
Teens ages 13 and up also can visit the spa for special massages and facials.
Summertime activities for the whole family include dive-in movie nights, surf camps and family s'mores night.
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