Family travel has arrived. The days when families were pushed aside by an industry hungry for bigger fish (business and honeymoon travelers, for example) are over. Today, traveling families are seen by destinations around the globe as the gateway to a multi-million-dollar industry.
We’ve scoured the globe in search of the best family travel destinations for 2018, comparing key attributes across the world’s top destinations. These 10 picks—including a top spot and two finalists—offer just the inspiration you need to make 2018 your best family travel year ever.
Best Family Destinations 2018: The Methodology
Choosing ten spots out of the thousands of possibilities is no easy task. To narrow it down, we looked for the kinds of things that can make or break any family vacation.
Safety: It’s not just whether the news deems a place safe, it’s also about how safe families feel when they’re there. We wanted to choose spaces that families have consistently been able to relax in.
Stuff to do: Gone are the days when offering up a playroom will be enough to keep families entertained. These spots needed to have plenty of reasons for families to enjoy themselves.
Good food: Let’s face it kids and parents aren’t always looking for the same things when it comes to mealtime. Our spots needed to offer food kids would eat and options parents would feel good about.
Affordability: What you want to spend on a vacation can vary from trip to trip. You might splurge on a dream trip and then want to keep funds tighter on something close to home. We wanted options that could be tailored to a variety of price ranges.
Quality Time: The whole point of a vacation is to spend some time with the kids and get some relaxation of your own. We wanted spots that encouraged both.
Editors’ Choice Winner: South Africa
With celebrations well underway for what would’ve been former President (and international icon) Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday firmly in place, 2018 was supposed to be South Africa’s best tourism year yet.
That threatened to be derailed when a water crisis loomed and Capetown, the cosmopolitan favorite, made front page news for all the wrong reasons.
With the threats now firmly behind them, the country is resuming its celebrations with art, culture, history, and food offerings that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. Seeing the country now, with all the pomp, circumstance, and festivities that this year will bring shouldn’t be missed.
Editors’ Choice Finalist: Singapore
Southeast Asia has received a lot of attention from families (thanks to its luxury-for-a-bargain reputation) but Singapore seems to have escaped the buzz. But the city most known for its ban on chewing gum (littering can bring hefty fines) has created a world-class tourism destination with offerings that are both environmentally friendly and exhilarating. The easy-to-navigate metro rail system, incredible natural and architectural eye candy, walkable waterfront, and interactive educational options mean families will run out of time before tiring of exploring.
Granted, it’s more expensive than its Asian sister cities, but at a time when much of the world can feel daunting and difficult, Singapore feels safe and offers a pristine almost-Jetson like vision of the future. Go for the incredible food and innovative architecture. Make the most of a city that has invested in making sure you feel absolutely at home when you do.
Editors’ Choice Finalist: The Mediterranean via MSC Cruises
When families are matched with the right cruise ship, magic happens. While most cruise lines offer something for kids, MSC has made families a part of its core philosophy. The latest ship MSC Seaview comes to life this summer with the longest zip line on a cruise ship, an interactive aquapark with four waterslides and nine dining options. This summer she’ll explore the Mediterranean and, thanks to the standard Kids Sail Free deals, plenty of families can join the ride.
A variety of vacation lengths, a focus on family entertainment and a new ship to explore this year make it the perfect pick for a family looking to sample the Mediterranean.
Semi-Finalist: San Antonio
300 years ago, the forming of a mission led to the birth of San Antonio. This year San Antonio celebrates all that the city has become. While most families—history buffs and not—will want to at least peek at the Alamo (the site of a pivotal battle in the Texas Revolution), the riverfront cafes and boat tours, incredible Mexican markets, and special anniversary celebrations make it worthy of exploration far beyond the spot that put the city the map.
Semi-Finalist: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Take note, families: Saskatchewan is the Canadian province to watch. For the last two years, the sleepy spot in the middle of the country has been quietly climbing the ladder of international praise. Most recent accolades include The New York Times List of Places to See in 2018, which specifically notes the new Remai Modern museum as a reason to visit. Easygoing, friendly locals are as proud of their rural roots as they are their contemporary artists—and they’re happy to share the best of both with guests.
For family travelers, the Emerald Isle has a lot to offer—including fascinating history, a unique culture, and natural bounty. But its most valuable asset has to be the friendly locals. Knowing you’re sure to find a warm welcome wherever you explore makes road tripping around the country—whether in your own rental car or with a company like Vagabond tours (where your driver/guide handles the driving so you and the fam can focus on fun)—an easy decision.
Semi-Finalist: The Civil Rights Trail
The civil rights movements of the 60s are having a resurgence. Suddenly, the marches, lessons and leaders of that time are being looked at with fresh eyes as a new generation looks to review and reclaim what it means to be equal in America. In places like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, museums and monuments from the era are being looked at with fresh eyes. On the Civil Rights Trail, your family gets a chance to learn more about the people and the places that were at the center of the movement. A visit guarantees interesting discussions about how to take the lessons forward while also exploring the parklands, communities and restaurants that continue to make the Southern United States a unique destination.
The Japanese are young at heart. How else do you explain the place anime, Hello Kitty, cosplay, and sushi all call home? Families looking to mix culture, technology, and history on a trip that every member of the family will love would do well to visit. In choosing where to go, don’t miss Tokyo, but then do as the Japanese do when the searing summer heat becomes too much—head for Hokkaido where the temperatures are cooler, the hot springs beckon, and Japan’s first peoples (The Ainu) can be discovered through interactive museums and exhibits.
Semi-Finalist: The Caribbean
This last year has been a tough one in the sunny Caribbean spots that are long-time family favorites. From Anguilla and St. Maarten to Barbuda and Puerto Rico, islands were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. And while a few of the islands remain in dire straits, most are back in business. Visiting with your family this year has a double effect—you get the vacations you’ve always loved filled with sand, sun, music, and delicious cuisine, and they get the much-needed tourist dollars that allow them to rebuild, thrive, and continue to deliver the stellar experiences families have long loved.
Semi-Finalist: Club Med Destinations Worldwide
Destination: World. There are few places on the planet where good times are guaranteed whether your kids are two or 26—but the 65 Club Meds around the globe deliver just that. Here, you’ll find everything from programs that will scoop infants out of your arms for a few hours to teen options that don’t make adolescents feel like kids. The idea of parallel-track vacations, in which everyone gets a full Club Med experience designed for their age group, transforms the average kids’ club concept into an inspired vacation for the whole family. Club Meds in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Cancun, Mexico; and Sandpiper Bay in Florida stand out for their remarkably family friendly offerings. Club Med has successfully transitioned from the place your parents went to escape you to the place you can bring your entire family for an escape.
— Original research and reporting by Heather Greenwood-Davis