How to research a family vacation online

Relax and recharge this March Break at a resort or on an adventure.

Family riding the current at Atlantis resort in the Bahamas

By Heather Camlot

A spring break holiday with the family sounds awfully tempting, until you realize just how much work it can take to find that perfect combination of downtime for Mom and Dad and spot-on entertainment for the kids.

Word of mouth is still key to finding that gem of a family-friendly resort. But if the word isn’t out, the next best bet is to head online.

Researching a family adventure online doesn’t have to be daunting – you just have to know how to go about it. Follow these steps to finding the best vacation destination. Bon voyage!

Step 1: Pick the right search terms

The narrower your focus, the quicker you’ll find what you’re looking for. So if you already know you want to head to Disney, try a search string like “Best family resorts Disney.” The first result for us: “Best Hotel Bets in Walt Disney World” from reliable website Frommer’s.

Step 2: Compile trustworthy websites

Regardless of the type of research you’re doing, you want to gather information from well-known, dependable websites. In our search for “Best family resorts,” we culled through the results to find appropriate offerings from U.S. television’s Travel Channel, from Travel + Leisure, Parents and Forbes magazines, and from longstanding travel guides Frommer’s and Fodor’s.

Step 3: Cross-reference the lists

Each of our selected websites offered lists of their top picks. While you’ll want to scan all the choices to find those that pique your interest (by location, amenities, activities, etc.), you’ll also want to keep an eye on which resorts are named most frequently. The more recommendations, the better.

Step 4: Visit the resort websites

Once you’ve selected your top five, it’s time to head over to the resort sites. There you’ll find more information on where they are located, what they offer, whom they cater to and of course rates and room types. Some go above and beyond the written word to offer photo galleries and videos – a picture is worth a thousand words after all. You’ll also want to see if they’ve recently won any prestigious awards.

Step 5: Email and book

You should have a pretty good idea now of where you want to go. But if you’re still a bit hesitant, email your top few choices to friends to see if they or anyone they know stayed at the resorts. If yes, great. If not, well, you’ll have to make the final choice yourself. But rest assured, you’ve done enough research to know that anything you pick at this point should be a winner.

Curious about what our search revealed? Check out our top picks:

Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.  Considered one of the best family resorts around, the mega Atlantis features an impressive staff-hosted kids club that offers children the opportunity to join a cooking school or a three-ring circus, chill at the Victorian playhouse or Lego construction site, not to mention splash outside at the pools. Meanwhile, teens can take a pottery class, hit the water park, swim with dolphins and more. All while mom and dad get a much-deserved breather.

Four Seasons Lana’i at Manele Bay in Hawaii. The Four Seasons treats little ones in the highest esteem, from supplying pint-size bathrobes and childproofing hotel rooms to providing milk and cookies on the first night. At the kids camp, children learn all about Hawaii, from how the islands were formed to what aloha actually means.  Along the way, they get the opportunity to build their own erupting volcano, hunt for lizards and koi fish, and make a lei.  How do we say “awesome” in Hawaiian?

Beaches Turks & Caicos. Little ones will be blown away by sightings of their favourite Sesame Street characters roaming the resort. Older ones needing a break from Mom and Dad will approve of the teens-only games room. Parents will appreciate the full-service nursery, kid-specific restaurants and dedicated toddler pool with canopy. As a family, they can enjoy the free all-ages scuba program and massive state-of-the-art water park. If that isn’t enough, Beaches Turks & Caicos was named the 2010 “World’s Leading Family Resort” by the World Travel Awards — for the fourth consecutive year.

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando, Florida. If you have kids you’ll most likely head to Disney one day. But the Grand Floridian is less for the kids and more for the parents. Sure, there is a a games room, a kiddie pool, lovely sandy beaches, not to mention the actual amusement parks. But it’s the Mouseketeer Club, a supervised evening play area for kids three to 12, which is the real helping hand. Hello date night.

Wildland Adventures. For the family who prefers an adventure to a beach resort, Wildland is the travel company to visit. Known as the family travel pros, they creates experiential vacations around the world, with discounts for children and teenagers. Nice. Spring break 2011 trips include the Galapagos Islands, where you can snorkel with marine life, Belize, where you’ll paddle along the Macal River and witness iguanas and stalactites, and the Serengeti, where a safari takes you up close (but not too close) with the beloved African animals. Wildland was named Best Adventure Travel Company by National Geographic Adventure in 2009.

Image: Jeffrey Brown, Atlantis

First published February 3, 2011, on



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