Given the current state of the world, travel may not be at the forefront of your mind. However, we must all remember: this too shall pass… and when it does, we’re all going to need a vacation.
Here are 5 places to go and actually relax- (yes, I said relax)- with kids:
1). IKOS RESORTS: Various locations in Greece- and now in Spain, too!
Ikos Aria- Kos Island, Greece
Ahh, Ikos. Even saying the name inadvertently forces me to exhale a sigh of calm. The Ikos brand quickly became a family favorite of ours when we visited their resort, Ikos Dassia, on the Greek island of Corfu, two years ago. Since then, we’ve stayed at Ikos Aria, their even larger, also beachfront, hotel on the Greek Island of Kos… And as soon as booking became available, we reserved 10 nights at their first non-Greek location, on the Costa del Sole in Spain, where we look forward to exploring and enjoying this fall. Needless to say, we’re hooked.
Ikos is one of *the only* true luxury, five-star, all-inclusive resort brands in the world, offering outstanding Michelin-starred restaurants, an activity-packed kids club, gorgeous grounds, placid pools, water sports, Broadway-caliber entertainment, and a healthy dose of Greek culture and cuisine- all in some of the most stunning locations on this planet. Guests will also enjoy a full-day, self-led excursion to tour the property’s surroundings, in one of the resort’s signature Ikos-blue Mini Coopers- a hotel bonus we’ve enjoyed immensely. When some hotels claim to be “all-inclusive,” there is often a caveat, and there’s almost always some added fees- but at Ikos, it really is an “infinite lifestyle,” as the company has coined it, where what you see is what you get.
Insider tip: If your schedule allows, go in the fall- September or October, as nightly prices will drop dramatically, potentially cutting the nightly rate in half. Your stay will be a fraction of the cost of going to Disney World (think, rates as low as $350/night- for everything, all your food, fun, drinks- for a family of 4) and you’ll be infinitely more relaxed.
2). GRAND SOLMAR LAND’S END: Cabo San Lucas- Baja Peninsula Sur, Mexico
Sunset at Grand Solmar, Land’s End
Sun, sand, swimming- and tacos + guac for days. That is how we spent the better part of 2 weeks at Grand Solmar Land’s End (with some margaritas sprinkled in for the ad-ults, of course). Perched at the edge of Cabo San Lucas’ Land’s End- the dividing point between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, the resort property at Grand Solmar embodies the natural beauty of the Baja Peninsula’s rugged coastline, where the desert meets the sea. With dozens of child-friendly activities, from whale-watching to horse (and camel!) riding along the beach, Cabo has plenty to do for families, whether seeking adventure, or simply a break from the daily grind… not to mention, an ever-growing food scene that keeps guests returning year after year. But with eight restaurants, a handful of expansive, well-heated pools (the infinity pool is particularly picturesque as it seemingly dips off into the ocean) a baby+kids+teens club, and just enough peace and quiet to recharge your batteries, families could easily spend their time in Cabo without ever leaving the resort.
3). KOLOA LANDING: Koloa- Kauai, Hawaii
Crystal-clear waters on the island of Kauai
For no reason in particular- other than perhaps being from the East Coast, Hawaii was never a top-of-mind vacation destination for our family. Fortunately, when the hype of Hawaiian Airlines launching their nonstop flights from Boston to Honolulu made headlines (well, that and our kids’ love for the character Maui in Disney’s ‘Moana…’), it sparked enough in us to book a trip. And boy, are we glad that we did! We stayed at Koloa Landing, an Autograph Collection property near Poipu Beach, on the magical island of Kauai, “The Garden Isle.” Lush with vegetation and striking tropical landscape, Kauai has been home to the filming of various motion pictures, including ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ (Location tours are offered and are a big hit with both kids and their parents!) The iconic, jagged Nā Pali coastline is an incredible sight and can be best experienced from the ocean (we loved our Sunset Dinner Cruise by Captain Andy’s Kauai Boat Tours), or- if you’re really adventurous- a helicopter tour of the island. Such aerial tours can also be taken to explore the visually impressive Waimea Canyon- otherwise known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” which we opted to explore by foot.
There is so much to see and do on the island of Kauai, but when you want to just chill out poolside with a Mai Tai, Koloa Landing is the best place to do it. Not only does the southern point of the island experience the least amount of rainfall, so good weather is almost always guaranteed, but the beautifully-designed 350,000 gallon pool features waterslides + waterfalls to keep everyone- the young and young at heart- busy for hours. And in addition to Holoholo Grill, the on-site restaurant, The Shops at Kukui’ula and Poipu Shopping Village are both within walking distance, presenting endless options for wining and dining. Our first trip to Hawaii was flawless, and Koloa Landing played a big part in making it that way. We’ll be back.
4). BORGO EGNAZIA: Savelletri di Fasano -Puglia, Italy
The historic “borgo” where we spent our week
If you’ve been to Italy, there’s a good chance that the majority of your travel itineraries included the usual favorites: Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, perhaps Milan… But the Puglia region, located in Southern Italy- at the “heel of the boot” – is a burgeoning destination for tourism, while still maintaining its wild, native charm. With some of Italy’s best beaches and turquoise, crystal waters, Puglia’s high tourist season, like much of the country, is late spring into early fall. That being said, there’s never a wrong time of year to visit this sensational place. We discovered Borgo Egnazia, a five-star hotel and Leading Hotels of the World property, when searching for a family-friendly, large, resort-style accommodation. What’s particularly special about Borgo Egnazia is that the buildings, made of local limestone, were designed in the typical Apuglian style, creating a “historic” borgo (village), making it hard to believe it was only built in 2010. With piazzas, four main pools, 6 fabulous restaurants (one of them being just for kids- oh how I love Italy!), outdoor markets and shops, a world-class spa, a truly amazing kids club, luxury gym and even a golf course, guests are given the gift of time travel, as well as some of the highest-end amenities of present day. For the youngins, the kids club was outstanding and only in Italy have our children come back to us after an afternoon of guided play, bearing cookies, cakes and biscuits that they made from scratch that day.
5). NEWPORT COAST VILLAS- Newport Beach, CA
Newport Coast Villas, from above
For those looking for a getaway but also wanting to stay stateside, we found Newport Coast Villas, a Marriott property in Newport Beach, California, to be… how do I put this? …breathtakingly gorgeous. With rolling hills and a Southern California climate, it’s hard not to liken the scenic location to somewhere in Tuscany. While I would have been happy simply spending the week looking out toward the Pacific from the balcony of our 2-bedroom suite, there is much to see and do in coastal Orange County. Newport Beach itself is a lovely city with great restaurants, places to hike and swim, and Laguna Beach, just down the road, is also incredibly charming with more great restaurants, lots of art galleries and artisan shops. And of course, Disneyland in Anaheim is only thirty minutes from the Villas for those who can only handle so much “downtime.” The setup of the hotel’s rooms is apartment-style with full kitchens, so it really feels like a home away from home. We enjoyed this aspect of it and took full advantage of the Trader Joe’s nearby…that is, when we weren’t indulging in the area’s Mexican restaurants- some of the best that the U.S. of A (I’m talking to you, Carmelitas! ), has been graced with.
Our kids love to swim, so any hotel with a nice pool automatically jumps up in the rankings, as far as they’re concerned, and Newport Coastal Villas scored a ton of points in this category. We were there in January and the weather, though comfortable, was -at best- low 70s, but that didn’t stop our two little fish from splashing the days away. They were also thrilled to enjoy the occasional frozen treat from La Vista Pool Bar & Grill, the property’s surf shack-style snack bar. At night, staff from the Villas provided to guests the ingredients needed to make s’mores on the fire pits, and also hosted movie nights, showing films for the whole family.
Newport Coast Villas is an easy-to-get-to, centralized California Coast resort, and no matter what kind of travelers you and your family are, it’s a versatile enough ambiance and location to keep anyone happy.
We all need a break- a break from the news, the phone, the iPad, the TV… the burdensome stress of work, school, and the day-to-day tasks of keeping a household afloat. While I realize that the concept of a “relaxing vacation with kids” may sound like an oxymoron (the cynical side of me still wanting to laugh, sadistically, when I say it aloud), we- adults and children both- can always benefit from some time off with our loved ones. Because that’s the best kind of time. And when you’re staying at any of the above hotels and resorts, that’s exactly the kind of time you’re bound to have. It's never too early to start planning, and in fact, the planning process alone can have an overall calming effect on your mood. With flexible cancellation policies, hotels and airlines realize that the world is taking things one step at a time, but for now, you'll have something else wonderful to look forward to.