10 Top Vacation Ideas for Families with Teens


Maui HI Outrigger Canoe Sail
By Candyce H. Stapen

Curious and active, teens like new experiences. No matter what adventures you choose to take with your teens, be sure to include them in the decision-making and schedule plenty of down time for relaxing and bonding.

But you may need a few ideas to begin planning. If you have outdoorsy kids, consider adding whitewater rafting, kitesurfing, or hiking to a family getaway to the beach or mountains. For something physical and lower-impact that everyone can do, go on cycling or tennis holidays. Or with a young culture lover, explore a foreign city, visiting the museums and tasting the local cuisine. And then there are these ideas, broken down by destination, to build a vacation that everyone in the family will love and cherish for years to come.

Photo by C. Stapen
Jungle Vacation: O.A.R.S. Costa Rica
Jungle Vacation: O.A.R.S. Costa Rica

On a six-day O.A.R.S multisport trip (www.oars.com), which operates in the summer months, sample Costa Rica eco-adventures paired with lodge-based comforts. From riverside Rios Tropicales Lodge, not far from the Gulf coast, you and your teens paddle the swift-moving Pacuare River, glide through the rainforest canopy on a zipline, and cool off by jumping into waterfalls. Then, at Tortuga Lodge, situated in Tortuguero National Park, wake up to the grunts of howler monkeys. While kayaking the creeks, keep an eye out for sloths slumbering in the tree branches. On a nighttime walk of Tortuguero’s beach, if you're lucky you may spot one of the Atlantic green sea turtles that, from June through October, climb the sands, dig a nest, lay eggs, and then cover the nest before slowly lumbering back to disappear into the waves.

Photo by James Kaiser, O.A.R.S.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking and Hokum: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge, TN

The Great Smoky Mountains offer a gift to the eye: series of craggy peaks and soft ridges that roll, seemingly endlessly, into the soft, blue, smoky mist from which the chain takes its name. For 70 miles, these dramatic mountains straddle the border of Tennessee and northwestern North Carolina. There’s plenty of time to talk with your teens on hikes that meander through shady woods to scenic overlooks and to tumbling waterfalls such as popular Abrams Falls (pictured). But even the most nature-loving teen welcomes a day with some man-made attractions. That’s why a good family base is Pigeon Forge, not far from the Gatlinburg park entrance. The town offers touristy restaurants, souvenir and candy shops, and the theme park Dollywood. Ride the roller coasters, including the Lightning Rod, touted as the world’s fastest wooden coaster with a top speed of 73 mph and a drop of 165 feet.

Photo by Buddha Dog/Flickr
Palm Beach, Aruba
Beach: Aruba

’s constant breezes and stretches of calm seas make it a wind-sport mecca. For teens, the epitome of Caribbean cool is to glide across the water, jibing like a seagull. Head over to Hadicurari Beach to watch the experts and, inspired, sign up for kiteboarding and windsurfing lessons on Palm Beach, a social oceanfront stretch where teens love to see and be seen. For off-the-sands fun, take a guided jeep tour of the rugged northeast coast, a landscape of rocky shores and fast-breaking surf, and ride horses at Arikok National Park and meet the big birds at the Ostrich Farm. Feeding the long-necked beauties and holding an ostrich egg just might bring out the little kid in you—and even your teen.

Photo by Aruba Tourism
Barcelona, Spain
International city: Barcelona

, a flamboyant mix of wide boulevards, medieval neighborhoods, and beaches, gives teens plenty of places to meander—and the Spanish rhythms of afternoon siestas and late–night dining match teen touring preferences. People-watch on Las Ramblas, the city’s premier promenade, a blend of cafes, shops, flower stalls and street performers. Teens always have something to say about architect Antoni Gaudí’s buildings, especially his Sagrada Familia, an unfinished cathedral of twisting shapes and spiral staircases. In the Gothic Quarter, a warren of narrow alleys lined with centuries-old stone walls, visit the Catedral de Barcelona. The Museu Picasso displays many of Picasso’s early works, even some he himself did as a teenager. At Fundació Joan Miró, explore the works of the noted artist, see the Olympic Stadium, and return at night to see the "Magic Fountain" lit by colored lights and “dancing” to music. There's nothing too old-fashioned about Barcelona.

Photo by eye1/Flickr
Club Med Punta Cana
All-inclusive resort: Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

If you pick an all-inclusive resort, you can play the good cop, saying "yes" to second helpings of sports and food because most activities and meals are included with the lodging. Along with wide sands, Club Med Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, features a hang-out for teens plus engaging activities: sailing, tennis, archery, and windsurfing by day and by night, beach parties and movies. At Creactive, a circus-and-acrobatic program, team up with your teen to learn how to fly on a trapeze, dance on stilts, and star in a human pyramid, an awesome image for your Snapchat feed.

Photo by Club Med
Royal Caribbean Ships
Cruise: Royal Caribbean ships

Cruises offer non-stop activities, unlimited food, and a boatload of other teens for yours to mingle with—plus interesting ports that are usually suited to families of all ages. Royal Caribbean's ships feature separate organized programs for ages 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 as well as activities that both challenge and engage these active cruisers. Together with your teen, try rock climbing, ice skating, and hanging 10 on the FlowRider surf simulator, available on many Royal Caribbean vessels. The Anthem of the Seas adds bumper cars (pictured) and RipCord by iFly, a wind tunnel that simulates the sensation of skydiving. Anthem sails the Caribbean in the summer. Although the newer Harmony of the Seas lacks iFly, the ship lures teens with multi-deck slides, a 3-D movie theater, and the show Grease. (www.royalcaribbean.com)

Photo by C. Stapen
Backroads Cycling in Croatia
Cycling: Backroads Family Breakaway Croatia

You taught your kids how to ride a two-wheeler. Now reap the rewards by bicycling with them along Croatia’s scenic Dalmatian Coast. Since Backroads Family Breakaway's six-day trips, held in the summer, target older teens and twentysomethings, typically ages 17 to 24, your progeny will probably have peers to pedal and talk with—always important. Nonetheless, there’s time for parent-teen togetherness as you cycle winding roads with sweeping sea views, pass vineyards and olive groves, pause in fishing villages, and enjoy a boat trip when you take a break. Daily cycling routes vary from 15 to 45 miles, but you can always opt for fewer miles because vans are following you to help you over the steep hills. (www.backroads.com)

Photo by Backroads
Outrigger Canoes in Maui Hawaii
Island Culture: Beach and Adventures, Maui, HI

cachet makes even reluctant teens want to take a family trip. There’s so much to do that’s different from your typical beach break. Take surfing lessons, learn to paddle an outrigger canoe (pictured), and snorkel in a semi-submerged volcanic crater. Inland, hike rainforest trails and explore Haleakala, the island’s dormant volcano. Intrepid teens and adults can bike the windy roads that lead from the moon-like, nearly 10,000-foot-high summit down to sea level. For more local culture, reserve tickets to Napili Kai Beach Resort’s Wednesday evening slack key guitar show, which is definitely not your great-grandpa’s music. Concert regulars include George Kahumoku Jr., a multiple-Grammy winner whose songs back up George Clooney’s movie The Descendants (check the schedule for performers). Your teen can find T-shirts and souvenirs (and shaved ice treats) in Lahaina, and you can choose from an array of inexpensive places to eat.

Photo by C. Stapen
Hot air balloon Park City, Utah
Mountain vacation: Park City, UT

Even without snow, Park City, Utah, a top-rated ski resort, delivers thrills. Zoom through the treetops on a zipline, soar above the countryside in a hot air balloon (pictured), challenge each other to disc golf, or glide down the 3,000-foot alpine slide. Ride the chairlift up the mountain and either pedal down on bikes or foot it on woodsy trails. Book a condominium and get more space for the money than a hotel, and, if possible, a separate room for your teen. (You both need some time apart.) Your teen can hop on the town lift to explore Park City on their own.

Photo by Matthew Blank/Flickr
Kiawah Island tennis lesson
Resort Sport: Tennis, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, SC

Yes, the resort has "golf" in its name—which not every teenager likes—but the tennis instruction is excellent, too. Kiawah (www.kiawahresort.com), a top-rated tennis facility on South Carolina's coast, offers separate programs for adults as well as tweens and teens at various levels of play. Beginners and intermediates focus on serves, volleys, forehand, and backhand at either one or two-hour daily clinics. Ranked teens can opt for two hours of daily practice with the Junior Tournament Tough Workout or five-hours of daily play at the Barth Tennis Academy. Off the court, stroll the 10-mile-long beach, swim in the ocean, kayak the creeks that lace the marshes, and go on a daytrips to nearby Charleston, about 45 minutes south, for city sights and shopping.

Photo by Kiawah Island Golf Resort


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