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Destination Toddler Heaven: Best U.S. Vacations for Families with Tots in Tow

Traveling with a toddler is not for the faint of heart, but fear not: these resorts ensure smiles for every member of the family.

It’s a treasured photo in our household: our 13-month-old daughter perched on her dad’s shoulders, sporting her little white coverup and glamorous daisy sunglasses. They’re grinning, standing in the courtyard of the JW Marriott Marco Island in south Florida. Our first true getaway as a family of three, the weekend fills me with vivid, happy memories— thanks in large part to the resort staff’s conscious effort to cater to families with littles.

Of course, vacationing with a toddler has a lot of potential for meltdowns, snags and sideways looks from other hotel guests. To guarantee smooth sailing and happy campers, look to a property that specializes in crowd-pleasing for all ages, from parents to preschoolers. Here are eight foolproof options.

A Luxe Refuge in Disney World's Backyard

In October 2021, Disney World launched its 50th-anniversary celebration with a slew of new experiences, making it a great time to bring your brood to the most magical place on Earth. Bonus: children under 3 are admitted for free. An extensive number of rides and shows welcome all ages – from classics like the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel and “it’s a small world” to newer attractions like Na’vi River Journey and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

After full days at the park, avert overstimulation by staying just off Disney grounds at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, renovated to the tune of $30 million in 2021. Plan a down day to enjoy the splash zone, jungle gym and lazy river; older siblings keep busy at AquaCourse 360 (minimum 48 inches) and the Ritz Kids program (ages 4 to 12). Everyone gets in on the fun spying Florida wildlife like deer, river otters, alligators and shorebirds on a naturalist-guided Sunrise Safari through the resort’s 500 acres.

After dark, watch park fireworks from your balcony, then crash in a king feather bed while Junior cozies up in a pint-sized tent—a special amenity that comes with a book, a stuffed animal and a s’mores-themed treat. The setup is available to guests who book an executive suite, which also includes access to the Club Lounge (hello, snacks galore). When you’re ready to don your Mickey ears, the resort fee includes shuttle rides to the parks.

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

Top rated
Orlando
9.0 Excellent (3560 reviews)

Disney Dazzle Meets Island Idyll

Disney has perfected the art of pandering to preschoolers; add in the incredible scenery and rich culture of Oahu, and it’s a recipe for kid paradise. Disney “Imagineers” collaborated with local artists and cultural practitioners in the development of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, and immersive experiences range from the hotel’s voyageur-themed luau to Rainbow Reef fish feedings, hosted by a marine biologist.

The epicenter of the action is the resort’s Waikolohe Pool, spanning 8,200 square feet and sporting a zero entry that’s just right for tykes. Don’t miss pool parties here, with games, dancing and character appearances. Kids 48 inches and under can also burn energy at the tidal-pool-inspired Keiki Cove (rainbow water jets) and the Menehune Bridge (interactive water elements, slides and a climbing structure).

Get to know the island on an all-ages Farm to Forest tour or Honolulu Heights excursion. Then reward good listeners with resort goodies like Mickey-ear shave ice from Pāpālua Shave Ice or a macadamia-nut-and-pineapple cupcake at Mama’s Snack Stop.

Hotel Aulani A Disney Resort And Spa

Top rated
Kapolei
8.9 Excellent (2965 reviews)

California Dreaming in an Iconic Grand Dame Hotel

The red cupolas and white-clapboard façade of Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton have formed a quintessential backdrop for summer fun since the property’s debut in 1888. From sandcastle building to roasting marshmallows over a private bonfire, playtime centers on the 1.5-mile-long beach, glinting silver-white in the sun and once named the best in the U.S. by Dr. Beach. Families also love seasonal movies on the sand (December flicks may include the likes of Elf and How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

For the most space, stay at the hotel’s Beach Village – featuring cottages and villas with separate bedrooms and full kitchens, plus use of beach umbrellas and chairs. It’s a comfy, chic home base for outings to attractions like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo, both just 20 minutes away. The latter shelters more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals in its 100-acre wildlife park, set amid rolling hills and canyons.

Back at the hotel, refuel at Beach & Taco Shack, featuring live music four evenings a week. Then indulge your sweet pea’s sweet tooth with gourmet gelato and handmade popsicles at Sundaes. Or arrange for an in-room, licensed and CPR-certified babysitter through the resort, and head to Serẽa for sea-to-table dishes served with romantic ocean views.

Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton

Coronado
7.7 Good (2223 reviews)

All-Suite Retreat on the South Carolina Coast

Tots feel extra-welcome from the moment they arrive at Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort: at check-in, they receive a backpack loaded with an activity book, stickers, crayons and games. The hospitality continues at the zero-entry resort pool, the 4-foot-deep family pool, the splash pad and the onsite playground. When hunger strikes, Buoy Bar’s Little Surfers menu offers toddler-approved items like hot dogs, grilled cheese and watermelon push-pops; grown-ups appreciate the extensive cocktail menu of umbrella drinks.

Young ones will love romping on the wide Atlantic beach (patrolled by lifeguards in the summer) and riding along 50 miles of paved paths— bikes, child-seats, beach-chairs and umbrella rentals are available at the hotel. Playing with life-size chess pieces as big as they are is also a hit. Brothers and sisters ages 4 to 13 can take advantage of the fully supervised Kid’s Camp (summers only). Off property, don’t miss a pirate cruise, complete with face painting and treasure.

After dark, pick up a family s’mores kit from Palmetto Market and belly up to one of the two fire pits before turning in: every single room is a suite with a mini kitchen.

Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort

Top rated
Hilton Head Island
8.6 Excellent (1777 reviews)

A 27-Acre Oasis in the Arizona Desert

When the winter gloom sets in, escape to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, set in one of America’s sunniest destinations. Families flock to the 2.5-acre pool area, encompassing 10 pools (yes, 10) and programming like face painting, water-balloon tosses and sandcastle making.

Beyond the water, the property also boasts giant Jenga, giant Chess, giant Connect Four, cornhole and a putting green, as well as a climbing wall for older kids and Camp Hyatt for ages 3 to 12. Plus, every Friday, the whole family can enjoy a birds-of-prey presentation featuring live raptors (selfies encouraged), followed by a cultural demonstration of Native American music and dance.

The resort’s location near Phoenix means toddler-friendly attractions abound. Try OdySea Aquarium, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, the Phoenix Zoo, and a stagecoach ride at MacDonald’s Ranch—children age 2 and under are free at all of the above. Resort shuttles also transport hiking families to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. After all that excitement, tuck exhausted kiddos into bed and slip out to your private balcony to sip Gainey Ranch Sangria under the desert stars.

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch

Top rated
Scottsdale
8.9 Excellent (1955 reviews)

Year-Round Playground Near the Windy City

Great Wolf Lodge Chicago/Gurnee centers on all-seasons family fun thanks to its expansive indoor water park, where the water is always a toasty 84 degrees. Toddlers have several ways to play: the Fort Mackenzie treehouse delights littles with interactive splash features and a giant tipping bucket, while Whooping Hollow is equipped with gentle mini slides. There’s also the zero-entry Cub Paw Pool, where rainbow- colored jet skis with water cannons are perfectly pint-sized. Older family members can explore water slides, a wave pool and an activity pool.

Kid food is, of course, plentiful (think pizza, burgers, chicken strips and ice cream) so meals aren’t a battle, but moms and dads also get into vacation mode with blended drinks, fresh seafood and small-plate options. If you need a little dry time, there’s mini golf, bowling and even an onsite Build-a-Bear Workshop.

Reserve a day to head into the city to visit the Navy Pier carousel and legendary institutions like the Shedd Aquarium, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Field Museum – home to SUE, the famous T. rex. When everyone is finally tuckered out, the lodge’s cave- and cabin-themed suites make even bedtime an adventure.

Great Wolf Lodge Chicago/Gurnee

Gurnee
8.2 Very good (1024 reviews)

Endless Summer in South Florida

With daytime highs of 76 even in the dead of winter, south Florida keeps that summertime vibe alive all year long. Families take full advantage of the balmy weather at JW Marriott Marco Island—basking on sugary Gulf beaches, snuggling at dive-in movies, and splashing in the Tiki Pool; the last has a shallow wading area with rock features where shaky walkers can stabilize themselves.

Kids ages 5 to 12 can participate in the Tiki Tribe Discovery Day Camp, while A Tender Loving Care Service provides background-checked, in- room babysitters for younger guests. Temporarily relieved of your parenting duties, you can Jet Ski through the Ten Thousand Islands, relax at the spa, or toast with tropical drinks at Kane Tiki Bar & Grill. Energized, reunite the whole crew on a dolphin-watching cruise.

High chairs freckle the outdoor patio of Quinn’s on the Beach, where kids’ meals come with sides like applesauce and a jumbo cookie. Bellies full, stroll back to the sand to watch the live nightly fire-dancing show as the sunset paints the sky in brilliant pastels.

JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort

Top rated
Marco Island
8.9 Excellent (1446 reviews)

A Ski Trip for Toddlers—Really

The words “ski vacation” and “toddler” may not seem compatible, but you’d be surprised: at Hotel Keystone Lodge & Spa by Keystone, ski lessons are available for kids as young as 3. Even if you haven’t yet reached that milestone, bring your bambino along on a sleigh ride, and explore the massive Kidtopia Snow Fort that crowns Dercum Mountain. Perched at 11,640 feet, this chilly play place features mazes, slides, thrones and tunnels. Plus, in typical years, the resort’s River Run Nursery accepts babies as young as 2 months, so you can hit the slopes child-free.

Summertime ushers in a completely different experience. Families can take advantage of a bungee tramp, paddle boats, gem panning, yard games, horse-drawn wagon tours and scenic gondola rides in Colorado‘s Rocky Mountains. Splurge on a hotel loft suite to spread out, and begin each day at the Edgewater Café, munching on chocolate-chip pancakes (for them) and avocado toast (for you) while gazing at Keystone Lake.

Hotel Keystone Lodge & Spa by Keystone

Keystone
8.4 Very good (2003 reviews)