The following travel destinations have been awarded the
of Approval from The National Parenting Center. Judged by
independent family testers, these sites were evaluated on criteria
including programming, family services, price, physical plant, food,
amenities and more.
Our Family Travel Reviewers are families like yours:
they are members of the National Parenting Center and are
selected at random. These families get to travel to resorts and other exotic destinations to evaluate family
We need families with children above the ages of 2 to
evaluate these numerous family travel packages.
To participate, join the National Parenting Center TODAY!
Beach & Tennis Resort
Marriott's Marco Island Resort
With The Stars
Grand Flamenco Xcaret
Family Services: includes understanding family
needs and a flexibility to respond to different requirements,
Programs: includes scores for babies, children, teens and
adults. Judged on variety, programming, creativity and originality
Staff: includes availability, attitude and helpfulness
Physical Plant: includes rooms, grounds and level of
Food Service: includes variety of food, quality and service
When the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer settles over the east coast of
this country where can your family turn for relief? We discovered a haven of cool, wet fun just northeast of
Philadelphia, Sesame Place. Now that
two generations have grown up with the gang at Sesame Street, we're talking
about a place that feels right at home for both parents and kids. The whole gang is here too, Big Bird, Ernie
& Bert, Oscar, Cookie Monster, The Count and more. But what makes this theme park a mid-summer
must-see destination is the water play.
There are water slides like Slimy Chute, Teeny Tiny Tidal Wave Pool, Big
Bird's Rambling River and lots more to fill your family's day with a refreshing
Our review teams ranged in age from 4 to 18 and everyone had a super day.
The park is clean and well maintained. The characters are always around and
available for great photo opportunities.
The emphasis on the rides is more gentle fun than the rip-roaring scream
rides found at other theme parks. There
are rides that will get your heart pumping, to be sure, but the idea is family
fun and lots of it. The Rubber Ducky
slide, a big raft that twists and turns down a wide shoot to a waiting final
drop, is a ride that the whole family can experience together. The piped in
music of favorite Sesame Street songs helped add a nostalgic touch that brought
testers had no problem exploring the entire expanse of the park, managing to
"do" the entire park in a whole day.
The food also got high marks, special notes for the freshly carved
turkey sandwiches. Come prepared with
your own bathing suits, towels, water shoes and sunscreen.
we send our evaluation teams out on the road we want them to explore every part
of any travel experience, but we don't expect them to go to extremes. This team did manage to do it all
though. We'll spare you the sordid
details but we can report that the nurse's station was well staffed with
friendly professionals who did a superb job.
$30 admission fee for each member of the family is steep but quite in line with
comparative theme park prices. Sesame Place is open from Mid-May through
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When it's hot and the family is wilting there's no better destination than a water
park. Just thinking about it is enough to drop the temperature a few degrees. Our
family review team, sweltering under the Florida sun, found one of the country's
finest family water parks right in the heart of America's entertainment mecca, otherwise known
as Orlando. Water Mania has everything you are looking for in its 36-acre location.
With ride names like Wipe-Out, The Abyss, or The Screamer, you can be sure that
you will get good and wet and have a wonderful time. There are plenty of rides and activities
to suit any age or thrill-seeking level all day long.
Cruisin' Creek, an 850-foot river has its own current that carries rafts and swimmers
around the park, was a real favorite. The large sized rafts in The Anaconda shoot
down a twisting water maze for a thrilling, exciting ride that the whole family can
enjoy together. If you and yours enjoy living on the edge then you'll have to take a
turn in The Abyss, a 300 foot black-out tunnel, or The Screamer, which will reaffirm
your belief in gravity, trust us.
The Rain Forest and Squirt Pond's shallow waters are perfect for younger water babies
with its giant pirate ship and small sized water slides.
But there is more to Water Mania than the rides. There are volleyball and basketball
courts and a large shady picnic area that make Water Mania a great idea for group
outings or even family reunions.
The food options were a pleasant surprise to our testers, who found the quality and
service to be quite good. There are a sufficient number of lockers available and
the staff appeared to be everywhere, ready to help.
Next time you are visiting Orlando, and need a break from the heat, consider the wet
alternative of Water Mania.
Price for family of four (2 adults, 2 children): \$83.80 plus tax
- Family Services-94
- Physical Plant-84
- Food Service-88
OVERALL SCORE: 92
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Lake Buena Vista, FL
When it comes to family travel Disney World has established itself as more of an
institution than a destination. We were eager to send our review team, a family
of five with children aged 10, 7 and 2, who in turn were admittedly anxious to see
Mickey and the gang. What they discovered was one of the most impressive achievements the
travel world has ever seen. The magic touch of Disney has transformed central Florida
into an oasis for family fun.
Almost as soon as you enter the sprawling complex you are under the Disney spell.
Our reviewers stayed in the new Boardwalk Villa Resort which curves around a lake
with a planked boardwalk designed to reproduce the aura of the early 1900's. The
hotel's suites are nicely furnished and come complete with a full kitchen. The suites can
sleep four comfortably when using the fold out couch. Upon check-in each family
member receives a personalized credit card which serves as room key and credit card
for use anywhere in the entire complex. EPCOT is just a five minute stroll from the hotel,
while Disney/MGM is a short ferry boat trip away, the ferry docks right at the hotel.
Getting to the Magic Kingdom was a little more complex and involved a ferry and
Everywhere you look, everywhere you go there is the sense that everything has been
thought of for you. Every fine detail has been examined, designed and built to allow
you to just enjoy the magic. The attempt to control every facet of the experience
can strike the cynical traveler as overly manipulative, but there is little point in
that since, as our testers found, if you let yourself enjoy what the folks at Disney
have worked so hard to build, you will return home awash in the aura they project.
That is, if you aren't exhausted from exploring all that Disney World has to offer.
There is so much to do within the complex that unless you allow at least seven full
nights you will miss something. Our reviewers were on-site for only four nights
and reported to us that they struggled valiently but ultimately failed in trying to cram
everything in. You don't want to miss EPCOT, which is a brilliant monument to Walt
Disney's vision of a global community and forward thinking ideas. Disney/MGM is
a tribute to Hollywood that will shed some light on the mysteries of the movies. The Magic
Kingdom is still going strong and even if you've been many times before either in
California, Florida, Japan or France its a blast each time. But wait there's more!
From Blizzard Beach and River Country to Discovery Island and Pleasure Island, not to
mention the fun you can have just staying in your hotel, you could really spend two
full weeks in Disney World before you felt that you had done it all.
There is no denying that you will spend money and lots of it during your stay.
From the food to the souvenirs, there is little escaping the elevated fees. To
find a low cost food alternative you'll have to work hard since it is a trek to exit
the park into town for more reasonably priced fare.
Disney World is a destination that should be considered whenever you are traveling
with your children. It is the kind of experience that will create long lasting memories
that you will cherish forever.
Additional Notes: Certain times of year the parks, despite their size, can become very overcrowded.
The lines can ruin your day so try to book alternative dates if possible. Restaurant
reservations should also be made well in advance as you can find yourself shut out
of the better eating establishments.
Price for family of four (2 adults, 2 children), seven nights: $5,168 One bedroom
preferred view suite with kitchen. Food & Fun package includes unlimited park admissions
and up to $55 food allowance per day for adults, $25 for children.
- Family Services-100
- Physical Plant-100
- OVERALL SCORE: 93
UPDATE: To find out what is new and upcoming at Walt Disney World visit: www.DisneyParksBlog.com
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The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort
Longboat Key, FL
If your family craves more than just the run-of-the-mill beach vacation and if
tennis is your sport, then The Colony should be high on your list when making travel
plans. This tennis resort is located right on the Gulf of Mexico just minutes from
Sarasota. Our reviewing family stayed in a two bedroom loft apartment that was well appointed
and comfortable. You won't find The Colony to be a fancy or exclusive club. There
is an informal appeal to the property which is dotted with two story buildings and 21 tennis courts. Between all the courts, buildings and driveways there is little
room for much else in the way of greenery and that does detract slightly from the
ambiance. What the main grounds lack is more than made up for when you hit the beach.
The white, soft sand beachfront is beautiful to behold and the first sunset you watch
over the Gulf will leave its mark on your soul.
But what The Colony is really all about is the tennis. There are lessons, clinics,
match play, tournaments and more making this THE resort if your family loves tennis.
There are so many regularly scheduled events with a host of pros that you could
conceivably play from dawn to dusk if your body would let you. The Colony is prepared
for your body's meltdown, with a well appointed spa and gym. There are fitness classes
throughout the day and the club's masseuse's really worked magic on aching, too-long-dormant tennis muscles.
While the grown-ups were busy working on their tennis elbows, the kids were enjoying
all that The Colony's children's program had to offer. The camp program is staffed
by enthusiastic counselors who work hard to entertain and involve children with games and activities throughout the day. There is a concerted effort here to make the
kids feel right at home and they succeed quite well. The camp's space is a little
crowded and during peak season, when our team was there it was bursting at the seams.
Daily events include games, nature hunts, crafts, water play and of course, tennis.
There are two restaurants on the grounds offering informal and formal dining options,
and another outdoor cafe for afternoon meals. The food was very good and the children's
meals while not exceptionally varied were good sized and tasty. The staff were attentive and determined to make everyone in the family feel welcome.
Our review team reported that they met many families who were returning to The
Colony for the third, sixth and one family told them, the 13th straight year. You
can determine for yourself what that says about the property.
If at least two members of your family are into tennis then The Colony should be
on your list of places to explore for a warm weather vacation destination that everyone
can enjoy. If tennis isn't your thing or if your not sure about your commitment
to the sport, then you might prefer a property with more diverse offerings. Additional Notes: The rooms all come with balconies but when children are about there should always
be an adult supervising. There are limited wheelchair and stroller access points.
Price for family of four, seven night, Fun & Sun package: $3,150 Two Bedroom Suite,
package includes 2 tennis clinics, Daily Children's Program, Continental Breakfasts,
Dinner Certificate and more.
- Family Services-92
- Physical Plant -81
- Food Service-88
- OVERALL SCORE: 89
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Franklyn D. Resort
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
FDR features all of the amenities of a large resort in
an intimate setting where families can enjoy each other while playing
in the warm Jamaican sun. Attentive, friendly staff are everywhere to
ensure that you are having the best vacation ever. This is all
highlighted by FDR's exclusive Girl Friday Program, featuring your
own nanny who comes to your room at 9am ready to make your day run
smoothly. Whether it's supervising the children in the Kids Activity
Center, making up your room or restocking your in-room refrigerator,
these well-trained specialists make FDR a premier family travel spot.
The entertainment staff are friendly, enthusiastic and fun. Don't be
surprised to find yourself caught up in a variety of playful pursuits
including crab and goat racing. There are three small beaches, not
the wide expanse of white sand you might expect, but the cozy coves
are safe and gentle. This all-inclusive resort features good food and
plenty of it in a beautiful sea-side setting. There are plenty of
dining options for the kids and enough variety to please parents. The
open bar was a pleasure, and the kids loved ordering their own
alcohol-free versions of island Daiquiris. The rooms (actually they
are all suites), regardless of the size, were spacious, clean and
comfortable. Full kitchens, while almost superfluous due to the
generous amounts of food, featured sinks and full sized
The pool is small and often crowded. The water sports shack was
undermanned and poorly outfitted. FDR is a long drive from the
Montego Bay airport, nearly and hour and a half. Kids who have just
sat through a plane ride can get very antsy.
Price for family of four, seven days: $3,500
One bedroom suite. (All Food beverages, activities, transfers and
Family Services: 98
Physical Plant: 90
Food Service: 85
OVERALL SCORE: 91
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Marriott's Marco Island
Marco Island, FL
Hidden away on one of the best kept secrets in
Florida, Marco Island, the Marriott is everything a traveling family
is looking for in a resort vacation. While this property is not
exclusively geared to families, in fact it hosts many conventions,
honeymooners and more, they have taken steps to make everyone feel
welcome, comfortable and relaxed. Located on the serene Gulf Coast of
Florida, the Marriott is a superb facility featuring three pools plus
a kiddie pool, two playgrounds and miniature golf. The beach is
expansive and filled with sea shells that will stop you in your
tracks with their variety and beauty. There are five restaurants on
the grounds of the hotel offering a range of prices and each
featuring great food and inexpensive child menus. The rooms all have
refrigerators and oceanview balconies, and they are all slightly
larger than normal. There is a Beach Bandits program for kids aged 5
to 12 which is staffed by friendly and enthusiastic counselors armed
with a six hour schedule of activities. There is a charge of \$29 per
day which includes lunch. There are also nannies available, the hotel
screens them all, for \$7 per hour. The Gulf of Mexico and the
adjacent 10,000 islands make the surrounding environment of this
resort one of it's finest features. The beachside watersports shack
is filled with great diversions such as parasailing, kayaking, and
waverunners. Our testers took a guided tour on waverunners into the
everglades to see egrets, ibis' and other wildlife that was a
breathtaking thrill. A catamaran excursion to a sea shell strewn
shoal netted a magnificent assortment of bounty from the sea.
Summer makes for a real bargain vacation here as rates tumble to
half their high season numbers and family packages including a day at
Beach Bandits, breakfast each morning and more make it the way to go.
The Beach Bandits program was poorly attended which resulted in only
two or three participants. This did not affect the fun the kids had
or the enthusiasm of the counselors. The beach while large is not a
soft sand beach. It is full of shells and you'll want to wear beach
Price for family of five, seven days: \$1,064
Deluxe Room Family Package (includes breakfast, one pizza dinner, one
picnic lunch, one round miniature golf, one day Beach Bandits, one
sailboat trip, one tennis clinic)
Family Services: 88
Physical Plant: 93
Food Service: 94
OVERALL SCORE: 90
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Sail with the
This unique cruising program operates twice each year
taking a chartered group of travelers to exotic locations with some
of the hottest young stars in Hollywood. This is an opportunity to
get up-close and personal with stars from television and movies while
being together as a family on a top flight cruise. Our testing family
cruised for one week from Vancouver to Alaska on board Holland
America's Westerdam. They found the program's staff to be warm,
sincere and dedicated to their appointed task of making everyone feel
included and welcome. The celebrities were open and approachable and
fit in comfortably with the regular folk. This is a program that is
marketed to families of teens of all ages. Our testers felt that the
ideal range would be 10 to 15, provided that the kids had a real
interest in meeting and traveling with these celebrities since their
inclusion is a contributing factor to a rather substantial price tag.
Part of each cruises fee is donated to various charitable causes. The
Starlight Foundation from this cruise received over \$30,000.
The cruise itself was an eye opening experience as the magnificent
Alaskan coast provided the backdrop for seven days filled with
exploration. On board the food was superb as was the entertainment
including great music and dancing. This is a program that is clearly
aimed at the kids meaning that the adults had to frequently find
their own diversions. Depending on your point of view this can be a
positive or a negative.
It is hard to lump the entire range of teenage years in one group. A
split on teens 10-14 and then 15-18 would have created a better group
interaction and increased participation.
Price for family of four, seven days:
Alaskan Cruise, \$4,800 Outside cabin
Caribbean Cruise, \$4,000 Outside cabin
(both cruises include meals, port charges & taxes)
Family Services: 84
Physical Plant: 84
Food Service: 88
OVERALL SCORE: 85
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Grand Flamenco Xcaret
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The Grand Flamenco Xcaret, one of the Occidental Hotel
chain’s newest resorts in the recently developed Riviera Maya section of
Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, is a standout destination for a variety of
reasons. First and foremost is its size. The immense, sprawling property has
nearly 800 rooms with buildings no higher than three stories. There are huge
pools and river-like waterways that connect them. Visitors will also find 11
restaurants, a large outdoor theater, shops, tennis courts, a spa, a
children’s camp and everything else you might expect from a modern beachfront
all-inclusive resort. However, what sets the Grand Flamenco Xcaret apart is
the fact that it was designed and built with a minimal amount of impact to the
lush jungle surroundings of the region. The resort features walkways and
bridges that cut through areas of undisturbed natural beauty which are
respectfully maintained by an attentive staff. Lizards, deer and spectacular
butterflies are abundant and each calls the resort home. And then, to top off
what can only be described as an embarrassment of riches, the hotel is
adjacent to the magnificent Xcaret Theme park (see more below).
From the moment our review team entered the property it
was easy to see that no expense had been spared in designing this spectacular
The soaring thatched roofs above belied the beauty of the shining marble
floors below (more on that later). Waterfalls and staff were
everywhere cleaning, polishing and ready to lend a helping hand. There is a
definite European flair to the style and feel of the resort, slightly more
formal, slightly more cosmopolitan. This made sense since this is not a
resort that is regularly overrun with Americans. In fact our reviewers met
visitors from every continent during their visit. The “deluxe” rooms which
our review families stayed in were standard sized hotel rooms, but they were
appointed nicely, especially the bathrooms which extended the marble theme
throughout. Our team had two adjoining rooms, nice for a family of five,
though we would recommend booking one of the corner suite options of a Junior
Suite and adjoining regular room.
Bringing a family to an all-inclusive resort is a real
pleasure, especially when traveling out of the country. The Grand Flamenco is
a great place for you and your children to indulge in as much or as little
food as you want. (It’s vacation, who would opt for the latter?) The three
buffet restaurants, spread throughout the property, featured a varied
assortment of dishes both local and American. The food is plentiful and the
children enjoyed trying some of everything, especially the desserts. Dinners
offer a wider assortment of choices as the resort’s themed restaurants open
for business. You will need to make reservations, although that was a mystery
since the restaurants were barely half full each night. Everyone must wear
shoes in the restaurants and men must wear long pants, part of that European
flair again. The Hacienda (Mexican theme) and D’Oriental were standouts,
while the Sonora Grill and Los Olivos disappointed.
The pools are wonderfully clean and ingeniously designed
with a variety of depths so that you can easily sit on a chaise lounge half
submerged in the water if you like, or you can slip into a sunken Jacuzzi.
There are plenty of rope hammocks and other ways to relax
and unwind, such as an outdoor bar where you sit on swings and hundreds of
available chaise lounges.
The number of employees is truly remarkable. There are
over 600, which means that you will be hard pressed to look anywhere without
finding a uniformed staff member, most of whom were exceptionally friendly and
The most significant drawing card of the Grand Flamenco
Xcaret, is Xcaret itself. This unique theme park is part zoo, part beach,
part historical preserve and so much more. Imagine Sea World, Epcot and the
San Diego Zoo all rolled into one. Are you getting the picture now? Included
in your stay at the Grand Flamenco are tickets (a $49 per person value) to
this remarkable, one-of-a-kind experience. Our reviewers strolled into the
park from the resort’s private entrance which is less than 100 yards from the
lobby. There is so much to see and do that you will want to plan a full day
at the park. From climbing over and through Mayan ruins to seeing monkeys,
jaguars and pumas up close your camera will be working overtime. The
butterfly pavilion is magnificent as is the Sea Turtle exhibit, both are must
sees. There is a nice swimming beach but if you want to cool off you must
float down one of the two rivers that meander through and under the park,
through limestone canyons, lush jungles and underground caves. (We recommend
renting the snorkeling flippers, but the facemask is unnecessary.) And while
quite expensive, swimming with the dolphins is an experience that really must
be had. The park is situated just south of the resort and has been created in
much the same way the resort has, with minimal impact to the environment,
meaning you will be walking through lush landscape that is really quite
1) There are enthusiastic, well meaning activities
counselors, who do their best to drum up participants in a variety of
activities, but it feels forced and the enthusiasm often waned.
2) There is a drop-off Kids Center that despite its best intentions was
staffed by lackluster counselors and a setup that puts too much emphasis on
3) If you are looking for miles of white sandy Caribbean beaches, this
is not your resort. The beach is a cramped affair that is really a cove,
making the beach more of a salt-water pool.
4) There is a very nice disco that is open late but attempts to open
the club up to teens early each night could not draw even a single
5) The resort is all-inclusive but more often than expected, you can
get caught in need of money when you are least expecting it. For instance, if
you make the trek (either on foot or with the nicely provided shuttles) to the
beach and want to snorkel, you’ll need to find a waterproof place for your
money or credit card in your bathing suit since you’ll need to leave a
deposit. Want to pick something up in one of the resort shops and charge it
to your room? No dice. The result is people walking around with very soggy
6) Part of the appealing design of the resort is also part of a problem
that needs to be addressed. The man-made river that flows from the lobby,
past the shops and into Xcaret Park, is a more of stagnant pool, which quite
often was unpleasantly malodorous.
7) This brings us to our final, yet very critical shortcoming. The
attractive marble tile that is used everywhere in strikingly beautiful fashion
is nothing short of a disaster on the floors of this resort. When wet, either
from rain or from dripping bathing suits, the marble turns into a slippery
nightmare, our reviewers watched as visitors slipped or fell morning, noon and
night. Hotel managers are obviously aware of the condition since they
frequently dispatch employees to dry the floors. Regardless, Occidental must
address this dangerous situation immediately.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The Grand Flamenco Xcaret is not the ideal “Family”
resort if you are planning to have a separate yet together vacation. By which
we mean, a place you can drop the kids and have loads of grown-up alone time.
Also, with the paucity of included ocean activities, leaving the resort and
Xcaret as your best activity options you probably won’t want to spend a full
week either. However, for a five night stay, this can be destination that
will serve up a
very memorable vacation. Our suggestion is that if you have to
spend more than 4 hours flying to Cancun you should probably look elsewhere.
That said, we are quite confident that the Grand Flamenco can play host to a
trip that you will enjoy as a family, creating terrific and lasting memories,
which is really what great family vacations are all about. -Audrey Kennedy
Price for family of five for a five nights: One Jr.
Suite, One Deluxe Room $2,615 USD
- Family Services - 60
- Programs - 82
- Staff - 90
- Physical Plant - 92
- Food Service - 88
OVERALL SCORE: 82
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St. Ann, Jamaica
Many family resorts are now featuring kids "camps" or
"centers" where children can be entertained while under the
supervision of counselors. The finest example our testers have seen
to date is managed by the Boscobel Beach Resort. Boscobel features
separate Kiddie Centres including the Tiny Town Nursery (infants) and
Tiny Town (2-3), Bears Bungalow (4-7), Boscobel Bunch (8-12) and the
Teen Program. Each Centre is fully staffed and features a brightly
decorated environment that is inviting and appealing. There are age
appropriate toys and games, as well as a strong and varied program
that changes each day. Children are engaged all day with events such
as Lawn Olympics, Beach Games, Face Painting, Treasure Hunts, Dance
Classes, Glass Bottom Boat Rides, Sandcastle Building, and much more.
Parents can sign their children in and out whenever they wish and
the program is open until 10pm for kids over 4.
Resorts looking to create or update their existing children's
programming need look no further than Boscobel.
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