David Letterman had a Top 10. I won’t be so ambitious, so I’ll just go with a Top 5. Especially when it comes to honing down the list of favorite places to travel with your family. These are some of our favorite spots that have been tried and true destinations that kept our family of four royally entertained.
Sure, I have a bucket list the length of my arm of places I’d love to go to (which for teaser purposes will be part of another post). But for now, let’s just focus on my Fab 5 favorite places to travel with my family. These noteworthy locations are being assessed on the following scale: best diversity of opportunities; how much do we still talk about the trip; and which locations best allow us to leave it all behind and just focus on being US. So without further ado… (and in no particular order)
Top 5 Family Vacation Spots
(according to the Boswell Family)
1. Charleston and South Carolina coast
This locale will always have a gravitational pull on me. My family once owned one of the homes on East Bay Street (it’s the pale pink one in the photo), so I feel a connection to Charleston in a deep way. Plus, as far back as I can remember, the beaches have been my place to recharge and reconnect with what is really important. Some of my most formative memories are on Kiawah Island biking and exploring and savoring the beauty and majesty of the ocean.
Fast forward to pre-kids, and Sullivan’s Island became our go-to spot for adults and our dogs to kick back and relax! Nowadays, you can find us at Wild Dunes (on the Isle of Palms) spinning around the island on my parents’ golf cart. Between the beaches and the plethora of activities, restaurants and sights in Charleston, this region is a MUST DO for all families. Naturally, my daughter adored the horse-drawn carriage ride, while my son preferred the ferry ride to Fort Sumter. Quite the opposite, Pavilion Bar and Fleet Landing are more the grownups’ idea of a good time!
2. Disney World/Disney Cruise Line
Shocking, I know. But it’s totally true that you can have the most amazing vacations at Walt Disney World and onboard any one of the ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet. Between the endless hours of fun at one of four Disney theme parks, 2 water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), Disney Springs for shoppers and foodies alike, and Splitsville for bowling aficinados–the possibilities are endless!
For those wanting a little down time, you can book a spa treatment. Or kick it up a notch by parasailing or renting a SeaRaycer to take a spin on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Tour the globe by trekking around the 13 countries at Epcot–never a better time to do this than during the International Food and Wine Festival (just sayin). And nothing can top the decorations and yuletide cheer during the holidays–I just LOVE the Castle Dream lights!
And for those who have their sea legs, leave the landlubbers at home and take a cruise with Mickey and pals–it will be a vacation you won’t forget! My kids still talk about the amazing onboard shows, the Animator’s Palate restaurant, and Castaway Cay with a wistful tone–in hopes that we will book another cruise! Patience, children–it WILL happen! Two of our favorite activities were our stingray encounter at Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure and our onboard sleuthing as detectives solving the Midship Detective Agency. Naturally, my son will say his absolute highlight was sliding down the AquaDuck! Meanwhile, my husband and I may cite our couples massage at Serenity Bay on Castaway Cay as the ultimate decadent moment!
3. Washington, DC
A historic MUST SEE and an international mecca for cuisine, the District of Columbia is a place all kids should experience, preferably when they are old enough to absorb the information housed in one of the many Smithsonian museums. This was our first official tour of the U.S. Capitol, which can either be booked online or through the office of your Representatives or Senators. We got to travel on the Capitol subway system, which my kids thought was too cool for school.
I also highly recommend the National Archives to truly grasp the import of these multi-centuries old documents (and imagine just how impossible stealing the Declaration of Independence would be despite what the movie National Treasure would have you believe!)
The main drawback to this trip was being outside of the city at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in National Harbor, Maryland. At the time, National Harbor was a fledgling area with a few restaurants and lots of possibilities. Now that the area has been developed, it feels less isolated and more of a destination that is worth the shuttle ride into the city.
So for our last night in D.C., we moved to the Washington Marriott at Metro Center. Centrally located, it made our last full day of sightseeing much easier-not to mention our nighttime sightseeing bus dropped off right around the corner! The hotel really blew us away when they sent up warm chocolate chip cookies and milk up at bedtime–enough to earn my highest praise!
4. New York
OK, let’s just get one thing straight: New York is expensive. I mean, really this was not a cheap vacation. But it was something my kids still GUSH about. we saw 2 Broadway musicals (Phantom of the Opera and Wicked); had more delicious and varied food than you can imagine (from pre-show sushi to Indian to authentic Mexican, not to mention the food trucks and super slices of pizza); and we couldn’t resist selfies at the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall.
The highlight for me was the private photo session we had with Marc of Photo Trek Tours—the photos are priceless and it was like having our own tour guide to show us all the ins and outs. Heck, he let us in on the gem of a food court known as The Plaza Food Hall. Who knew?
My kids LOVED Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History: in fact, my son couldn’t stop taking photos and videos at the museum. (By the way, those are great for the kids to share with their classes!)
The only drawbacks were that 1) Ellis Island was still closed from damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy and 2) we totally covered too much ground one day and my kids nearly melted down because I insisted we go see the 9/11 Memorial. We crammed so much into this trip, and yet it feels as though we barely scratched the surface. Hey, makes an excellent excuse to go back, I say!
5. San Francisco
As the saying goes, “I left my heart in San Francisco”–well, not literally, but when my daughter was 3, we had an extraordinary visit here. (Incidentally, we were going to try San Francisco this summer, but a work trip that never materialized and one new puppy made us decide to put a pin in that idea-for now.) I would have to say that the afternoon tea at the Fairmont San Francisco was a highlight with our little princess. But Chinatown, riding the cable car, and meeting excellent street musicians were uber-fun, too!
Sure, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square are tourist traps, but when you are traveling with a 3 year old, sea lions, carousels, and ice cream are about as perfect a day as you can find! It helps we know a couple who live outside the city who gave us excellent pointers and where to eat and stay, and they have also hosted us on their sailboat as we spent a day in the San Francisco Bay and sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Hard to top THAT!
So, what would you add to your Top 5 list—it’s tricky to limit it to just 5, right? Share away–I need to travel more!
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