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8 Great Family Getaways

From Caribbean beaches to Old World Europe,
these vacations please all ages

By Van Sheridan

Vacations Magazine: 8 Great Family Getaways
The Walt Disney Co.
Every year, parents search for vacation ideas that will inspire and delight the entire family, where everyone can create lasting memories.

A family vacation should offer activities and entertainment for all ages, leaving no one out. That's a tall order if you have kids at different stages in life. Taking this into consideration, we've selected eight fun-filled getaways -- four terrific beachside resorts and four exhilarating tours designed just for families. Each has attractions and activities that can be enjoyed by the youngest member of your crew to the oldest.

Four Fantastic Resort Getaways

Dominican Republic: The Stone Age comes alive on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty and their precocious kids, Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles, show visitors how to yabba-dabba-doo it up at the all-inclusive Melia Caribe Tropical in Punta Cana.

Nestled amid a tropical garden, the fun-filled, 1,440-suite escape has been designed with children in mind. The 450-square-foot Family Deluxe Junior Suites feature bathroom amenities just for pint-size guests, like a step stool at the sink and amenity kit with bubble bath and floating toy. Suite occupants also can request a PlayStation for their rooms.

Teens can try a variety of water sports, from windsurfing to Sunfish sailing. For their younger siblings, there's The Flintstones Land, where Fred Flintstone and Dino set up activities in such Bedrock-themed areas as Stone Lake, and Roc-Adventure, where youngsters can scale rock-climbing walls and test their balance on rope bridges. Afterward, they can refuel in Betty's Kitchen, where drawing on tablecloths is applauded.

The Flintstones Land is divided into three age groups. At the Baby Rock Club for ages 4 months to 4 years, youngsters can stretch their imagination with arts and crafts, music workshops and sensory programs. The Bamm-Bamm Club is for ages 5 to 8 and boasts its own game room where kids can get creative with T-shirt painting and magic workshops. The Cool Club for ages 9 to 13 offers sports and games.

The Bahamas: Dive into the deep blue at Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. This 2,300-room megaresort doubles as a vacation destination and theme park, with jaw-dropping waterscapes.

Atlantis' 141-acre Aquaventure Water Park features high-speed waterslides, a water-play fort, swimming pools and a mile-long river ride with waves and rapids. Aquarium exhibits showcase marine life like sea lions, sharks, dolphins and rare alligator gars. One of the largest such exhibits in the world, it holds more than 50,000 aquatic animals, representing more than 250 marine species.

The hair-raising Leap of Faith slide -- a 60-foot, nearly vertical drop from a Mayan temple replica -- propels people out of the sculpted mouth of a Mayan god and into a see-through tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon. Another heart-throbbing slide is the Abyss, which plunges 50 feet into complete darkness.

Atlantis packs a pulsing nightlife scene for tweens and teens. Earlier this year, the resort opened the $11 million, teen-only Crush, a high-tech night spot with an Internet lounge, gaming stadium and 1,500-square-foot dance floor. Crush is for ages 13 to 17, but Club Rush is a supervised evening hangout for ages 9 to 13. Rush frequently hosts live concerts, including such acts as Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.

The younger set won't miss out on the fun, with Atlantis Kids Adventures for ages 3 to 12. Programs stimulate the imagination, like electronic art workshops and a three-ring circus staged by the children. For budding chefs ages 6 to 12, Cooks@Play offers hands-on experience in the kitchen, where they can create molten chocolate cakes and candy pizzas.

Some Atlantis programs appeal to all generations. At the Earth and Fire Pottery Studio, for example, guests can create picture frames, vases and other items. The resort offers about two dozen dining options, including chef-driven showpieces like Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Cafe Martinique. Popular among families is the Lagoon Bar and Grill, where they can order pizzas and sandwiches and watch the sharks swim.

Turks and Caicos: Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa on the island of Providenciales is part of Sandals' kid-friendly all-inclusive brand. It's located on a 12-mile ribbon of beach on Grace Bay, and there are many ways for the young at heart to make a splash here.

The 45,000-square-foot Pirates Island features a lazy river, seven new waterslides and a state-of-the-art surf simulator that re-creates several kinds of waves, from rapid river surges to gentle ripples for young surfers. With nine slides total, kids can experience up to 300 feet of twists and turns. There's also a splash deck outfitted with water cannons, pop-up jets and sprays. Meanwhile, little tots can safely play in a zero-entry pool.

The Italian Village includes a 7,000-square-foot retail mecca with a boutique shop, art gallery and candy store. It adds 162 luxury two-bedroom family units to the existing 453 rooms at Beaches and houses the new pirate-and-mermaid-themed children's facility. The area features an expanded Xbox 360 Game Garage, beach science programs and the Crayola Art Camp, which provides such activities as a scavenger hunt on the beach to find items to personalize a picture frame.

Pre-teens can participate in glass-bottom boat rides, beach soccer, pizza making and reggae jam sessions. A popular tween hangout is Trench Town, a game room featuring electronic basketball-shooting hoops and laser hockey games.

For little ones, there are the Caribbean Adventures activities with Sesame Street characters, including Cookie Monster and Elmo. Potty-trained toddlers supervised by certified nannies are entertained with puppet shows and magic tricks.

Meanwhile, older ones can let loose at Liquid, the teen nightclub, or learn how to mix music at the Scratch DJ Academy, co-founded by hip-hop legend Jam Master Jay of Run DMC.

Hawaii: The ocean provides an alluring aquatic playground at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Lahaina, where accommodations offer private lanais with panoramic views. But there are other attractions, like an on-site spa and the two golf courses adjacent to the hotel.

For the youngest guests, there's Camp Hyatt, which has teamed up with National Geographic Kids to provide green activities for ages 5 to 12. Programs include animal crafts, photo safaris, hula lessons and the making of flower leis.

The swimming pool complex is a lush tropical oasis for the entire family, with a 150-foot lava-tube waterslide and the Grotto Bar, tucked beneath dual waterfalls.

The newest family attraction is Cirque Polynesia, a show that packs plenty of wow factor. Inspired by Cirque du Soleil, this nighttime extravaganza takes on a Pacific Rim flavor, with artists, aerialists and contortionists performing acrobatics.

Meanwhile, on Kaanapali Beach, beating drums, the sound of a conch shell and rhythmic chants signal the nightly luau, which features traditional music and dance. The tempo builds up around the imu ceremony, where a whole pig is roasted for the Hawaiian buffet.

After dinner, guests can partake in a cosmic experience through the resort's astronomy program and learn how to interpret the sky nine stories up on the hotel rooftop.

Four Fun Family Tours

Wyoming: Don a cowboy hat for "Wyoming Family Vacation: Quest for the West," a weeklong grand tour from Adventures by Disney.

Upon arriving in Jackson, travelers are whisked to the historic Wort Hotel, located near museums, galleries, restaurants and boutiques. The next day, participants tour this town known as the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Family activities and a Western-themed lunch at the Jackson Hole Playhouse are capped off by whoop-it-up entertainment.

A Snake River white-water rafting trip follows for parents and children ages 6 and older. While floating along the river, be sure to look to the skies to catch sight of eagles, ospreys and herons. The next couple of days are devoted to exploring the country's first national park, Yellowstone, and hiking to an 80-foot waterfall.

Guests also get close to geysers, bubbling mud pots, hot springs and steam vents powered by a still-active volcano. Another highlight is a hike around the Grand Canyon, where folks should keep their eyes open for wildlife. After a picnic lunch, mosey on toward Brooks Lake Lodge, a guest ranch and fly-fishing destination that also has a spa.

After a home-style meal and story-swapping around a roaring campfire, snuggle up to watch a classic Disney film -- and rest up for the next day's trail ride.

Italy: Explore the country's many allures during the seven-day "Ciao Italia!" vacation by Globus, starting with the Eternal City of Rome, where kids can get a lesson in art history in Vatican City, home of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

Guests also tour the Colosseum and get a glimpse of the life of a gladiator before heading to the Tuscan capital of Florence, where sightseeing stops include the Galleria dell'Accademia, home of Michelangelo's sculpture of David. Later, learn to make authentic Italian pizza at a local restaurant before heading to the spa town of Montecatini.

There's a stop in Pisa, where you can capture photos of the 180-foot leaning tower, and opportunities to sample gelato.

A scenic drive through the Apennine hills and across the plains of the rushing Po River leads to magical Venice. Participants enter this city of water and bridges on a private boat, followed by a walking tour that includes St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs. Kids and parents also create traditional Venetian masks in a local workshop and take a gondola ride. A farewell dinner on Burano island, famous for handmade lace, ends the tour.

Costa Rica: This Central American nation is a tropical haven that's easily explored on an eight-day itinerary from Trafalgar Tours called " Monkeys, Jungles and Volcanoes."

On the first morning, guests head east from the capital city, San Jose, through Braulio Carrillo National Park toward the Caribbean Sea, stopping to explore a banana plantation on the way. Next stop is Tortuguero National Park, brimming with canals, lagoons and wildlife -- keep an eye out for monkeys, exotic birds, ocelots and river otters. The beaches are prime nesting grounds for sea turtles, something participants learn more about at a research station.

There are visits to a hearts of palm plantation and organic pineapple farm before continuing to the Hotel Arenal Manoa near the active Arenal Volcano. When morning arrives, travelers hike through the jungle for an up-close view of the crater. Later, get the camera ready for the Danaus Eco-Center, where inhabitants include caimans, iguanas and lizards that walk on water. End the trip on a high note in Manuel Antonio National Park, where you'll soar through the forest canopy on zip lines.

During the trip, vacationers also can soak in thermal mineral pools, visit sugar-white sandy beaches and partake of optional activities like snorkeling and horseback riding.

Central Europe: The Danube River has inspired countless songs. See why firsthand on the eight-day "Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure" from Tauck Bridges, which starts in Budapest. The waterway divides this Hungarian city into two sections -- Buda and Pest. Here, explore Heroes' Square and Fisherman's Bastion before settling aboard the Swiss Jewel.

The next morning, families engage in a scavenger hunt and white-water rafting in Bratislava, Slovakia, before a cultural presentation and dinner of local specialties. Next stop: Vienna, city of music and former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many great classical composers spent hours sipping coffee drinks in its elegant cafes -- long before Starbucks existed. Coffee making still is an art here.

Explore Schoenbrunn, the summer residence of the ruling Habsburgs during the 18th century, and navigate the garden maze that once was reserved for royals. The princely treatment continues that night at a private palace, where a welcome dinner is followed by Viennese-style entertainment.

Guests also visit the world-famous Vienna Prater amusement park, with more than 250 rides, including a giant Ferris wheel. Film buffs may recognize it from the Orson Welles movie "The Third Man." Afterward, families are treated to a horse-drawn carriage ride through the picturesque Old Town.

Back on the riverboat, learn how a favorite flaky pastry is made at a strudel demonstration. The following day, tour the medieval town of Durnstein, Austria, known for its Baroque abbey with blue-and-white clock tower, and take a leisurely bike ride along the Danube.

In Salzburg, birthplace of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, guests see locations made famous in "The Sound of Music" movie. A stop is made in Passau, Germany, to visit St. Stephen's Cathedral, home to one of Europe's largest pipe organs. Church workers demonstrate the massive instrument, which has nearly 18,000 pipes.

Passengers conclude their Danube adventure with a sweet treat: a chance to create figures of marzipan, a pliable confection of sugar and ground almonds.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in March/April 2011.

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