America's best family hotels

By Aarti Virani, Travel + LeisurePublished 11th November 2013
Name an activity that kids might dream up for their perfect vacation and Florida's Ponte Vedra Inn & Club probably has it. They can join lawn games and craft classes, improve a tennis or golf swing, take a horse ride along the private beach, and learn a captain's secrets for catching flounder.
It's a winning recipe that has earned Ponte Vedra the title of America's best family hotel, according to Travel + Leisure readers, who voted in the annual World's Best Awards survey. And like many of the top-ranking properties, Ponte Vedra delivers meaningful, experiential travel and the option for tailor-made experiences.
So say good-bye to one-size-fits-all travel. You won't have to choose between amusement parks and museums or French fries and fresh seafood -- 2013's batch of winners has a little something for everyone.
This historic golf-and-tennis resort also offers biking, lagoon excursions and horseback riding. For little kids, however, the tried-and-true pleasures of a playground, a pool and easy beach access may prove most popular. For a sweet pick-me-up, head to The Gourmet Shop, where an innovative chef churns out homemade ice cream in heavenly flavors like crème brûlée, chocolate-coconut and violet.
No. 2 WaterColor Inn & Resort
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
Southern grandeur meets island charm at this refurbished Gulf Coast retreat among sand dunes. Camp WaterColor caters to kids with nature walks and craft activities, while adrenaline-pumping activities include paddle-boarding and kayaking. After an action-packed day, gather together for a beachside bonfire or movie night inside a rustic boathouse.
The pretty mountain town of Stowe sets the scene for this sophisticated resort, where cabins feature woven timber, natural stone, floor-to-ceiling windows and bamboo sheets. Hit the slopes, take a family-friendly Segway tour on nearby Spruce Peak or opt for mini--spa treatments like a 25-minute Chillax Session, complete with aromatherapy and cucumber slices, aimed exclusively at kids.
This tranquil Indian River County resort makes a welcome pre- or post-Disney respite from the Orlando crowds (about two hours away). Pint-size guests will enjoy outdoor afternoon treasure hunts, alfresco oceanfront cooking classes and quality time with characters like Goofy. And accommodations that range from guest rooms to three-bedroom cottages guarantee there's room for the whole brood.
Seemingly plucked from a fairytale, this Victorian castle is, in fact, 90 miles north of New York City in the scenic Hudson Valley. Hike on Shawangunk Ridge, skate in the resort's private pavilion or hop on a carriage ride that snakes along Mohonk Mountain. Don't miss the resort's legendary Sunday brunch spread, including smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp and made-to-order omelettes.
Not far from Disney's Magic Kingdom lies this grand Victorian resort, with red turrets and gas lamps that would make Cinderella and other royalty feel at home. The 24-hour concierge can swiftly arrange for everything from Disney character visits to a private dinner in the kitchen of Victoria & Albert's, one of Florida's finest restaurants. Suites are big enough for eight, and other family-friendly amenities include a walk-in pool with a waterfall and after-dark kids' activities.
No. 7 Tides Inn
Irvington, VA
Fresh lemonade and cookies greet guests upon arrival at this luxurious waterside resort, wedged between the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay -- and with its own sailing school. You can hit the croquet lawn or the lush links at Golden Eagle Golf Club, carved around a 50-acre lake; junior tees are available. End your day with complimentary s'mores, served on silver platters.
During the three-hour signature safari experience on this wildlife preserve, expect to spy giraffes, wildebeests and zebras. At dusk, don night-vision goggles and head back out to tour the grounds by open-air truck. The Pan-African restaurant Jiko prepares inventive flatbreads like roasted chicken with spicy lime relish and Lamb Chopper cheese, grilled to perfection in the restaurant's wood-burning ovens.
Sprawled along 1,000 acres of a barrier island beach, this opulent golf resort makes it easy to set out on an adventure. Take the kids on a salt marsh fishing trip, snorkel along the South Georgian coast or board the Cloister Belle, a restored vintage yacht, for a sunset ride. The Beach Club Suites (with a kitchen, a fireplace and a balcony) are close to three pools, an ice cream parlor, a movie theater and the children's center.
A short stroll from Epcot's side entrance, this 583-room resort draws inspiration from the shingled, seaside cottages of the early 1900s. Its big attraction is a three-acre water park featuring a waterslide crafted from the mast of a life-size shipwreck and multiple pools. The occasional Disney character sighting at breakfast adds to the appeal of this convenient resort.