5 Family-Friendly Resorts

Many getaways have a summer-camp feel with loads of family projects, programs, and activities strictly for the kids -- and the amenities adults appreciate, too.


With their two little ones in tow (Jessica is 2 1/2, Christina is 9 months), Carrie and Jeff Knight celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary at Safari West, a 400-acre African wildlife and educational preserve just outside Santa Rosa, California. Giraffes, zebras, ostriches, and 400 species of wildlife roam the grounds, never far from the luxury tent-cabins that have hot-water showers, handcrafted furnishings, and hardwood floors. "There were no telephones, no TV, no cell phone service, no distractions -- it was awesome," says Jeff. "My girls got three uninterrupted days with Dad. That's rare."

Each day there's an adventure in store, especially for the kids. Games and supervised activities include scavenger hunts (locating various animals with clues, such as "I am the fastest mammal on land." The answer: cheetah) and hikes to Catfish Lake. "Wild Kids Night" is a favorite weekend program offered May through September, which includes dinner, games, a wildlife lecture from one of the naturalists on staff, and folktales around the campfire. A teen program can be designed with advance notice.

The Knights took advantage of one of several guided Safari Tours during which they sighted rare and endangered African wildlife and learned little-known facts about the bush from their guide, a botanist whose expertise knew no bounds. "She explained that the striping on the zebras is based on climate, terrain, and survival," says Jeff. The bumpy and often washed-out roads lent the safari an authentic African feel.

Parents can opt for a round of golf, tennis, or full spa treatments while children are engaged in activities provided by the staff. Safari West is accredited by American Zoo and Aquarium.

For information call 800-616-2695 or visit www.safariwest.com.

You'll only hear the clang of bicycle bells and the clip-clop of horses' hooves -- no motorized vehicles are allowed on scenic Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw), situated between lakes Huron and Michigan. With all the charm of preindustrial life, the island is such a gem that it was made a state park and has been spared from overdevelopment since 1875.

One of the most popular family resorts on the island is Mission Point, "our home away from home," say Karen and Roger Powell, Realtors from Lansing, Michigan, who stay there with her family at least one week a year.

While adults enjoy golfing, shopping, or riding around town in a horse-drawn carriage, Mission Point offers "Kids Club," a day camp for kids ages 4 to 10. Supervised activities include nature hikes, outdoor games, and making and flying kites. For kids ages 2 to 4, there are balloon games and teddy bear picnics. Old-fashioned hayrides, fly-fishing, lighthouse tours, and horseback riding are arranged by request. As if that isn't enough, you are welcome to check out books, playing cards, and board games from the library.

At bedtime a special tradition has grown up around the hotel mascot, Mac the Moose. With parent's permission, Mac offers a nightly "tuck-in service" that includes a cuddly stuffed animal and a good-night hug. During the day he poses for pictures, hosts birthday parties, and tinkles the ivories with little prompting.

When the Powell's pack for Mackinac, they bring their own bikes -- advice they gladly pass along. The island is home to hundreds of bicycles, many of them for rent, but they become hard to find (and costly) as the summer season progresses.

Call 800-833-7711 or visit www.MissionPoint.com. For information about the island, visit www.mackinac.com.

"We live in a small city, and the idea of shepherding sheep and collecting eggs was too fun to pass up," says Andy Howard, who vacationed with his wife, Katie, at Fairburn Farm in the heart of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. This is a hands-on working organic farm and an antiques-filled bed-and-breakfast. Owners Anthea and Darrel Archer have kept the butter churns and spinning wheels -- all workable treasures that adults enjoy playing with as much as children.

Families participate in running the farm if they choose. Seasonal activities include feeding the farm animals, planting wildflower seeds, haymaking, harvesting in the orchard, and picking vegetables from the garden. This fresh produce is likely to be served at meals along with freshly caught fish and game.

The Howards call their time there "enchanting." They plan to return with son Willem, age 4, and daughter Lena, 21 months. "It's one of the most enjoyable vacations we've had, and I think the kids will love petting the big St. Croix sheep and feeding the newborn calves," Andy says. The Archers are always eager to offer history to folks who show an interest in their farm, but they also encourage guests -- especially children -- to just take a moment to listen to the silence. Anthea adds, "Children always want to know where eggs come from, and the wool from the sweaters they wear, and so forth. So this is a real education for them and it's great fun."

The farm is located on 130 lush acres, much of it wooded and crisscrossed with hiking trails. Wildlife includes numerous bird species, deer, and occasionally shy black bears.

Call 250-746-4637 or visit www.fairburnfarm.bc.ca.

The South Seas Resort on Captiva Island off of Florida's Gulf Coast is a resort and wildlife sanctuary. It is home to a variety of sea creatures, including manatees, pods of playful Bottlenose dolphins, and hundreds of fluorescent-color fish. The nature guides from Captiva's Kids Club lead young kayakers through mangrove estuaries to spot snowy egrets, spoonbills, and loggerhead turtles. When coconuts drop to the ground they are gathered so kids can paint them and take them home as souvenirs. There are fishing contests, guided beach walks with an on-site naturalist, and family cruises aboard the 150-passenger ship, Lady Chadwick, to watch schools of dolphins at play.

If it's adventure you're after, hire a private boat to explore legendary pirate waters off a mysterious uninhabited island on the Gulf Coast. This "Discover Your Own Island" package includes settling down for a picnic lunch (provided for you) on a private beach.

Call 888-2-CAPTIVA or visit www.south-seas-resort.com.

The Lighthouse Inn on Cape Cod in West Dennis, Massachusetts, retains the grace of a bygone era. The Stone family has run this historic 1855 lighthouse as an inn for more than 60 years. Locals will tell you that the soul of the inn is Mary Stone, a former waitress (hired in 1938) who married the proprietor's son, Robert. The Stones raised five children here, and the activities and games they played so long ago are now part of the InnKids Day Program held throughout July and August.

"This is definitely a place for families," says third-generation director Pat Stone. Each child is welcomed to the Inn with a sand bucket and shovel for beach play.

The spirit of the relaxed Atlantic shore has inspired long-lasting relationships between guests and the Inn. Numerous families have come here for three and four generations. Gloria Chick of Concord, Massachusetts, paid her first visit in 1944. "When I was 10 my brother and I stayed here with my mother," she says. "I have wonderful memories of sunny days on the beach." The dinner menu features fine New England cuisine, specializing in fresh local seafood. Five public 18-hole golf courses are located within 5 miles of the Inn.

The Lighthouse Inn is open May through October. For information, call 508-398-2244 or visit www.lighthouseinn.com.

All contact and service information were accurate at the time of publication. Contact each resort for the most up-to-date information.

Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, August 2004.

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