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Even with the recent Omicron-fueled surge of coronavirus cases, family travel is rebounding in a big way in the U.S. Kids five and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, easing parental anxiety, and after many homebound months there’s a pent-up desire to get out and see the world. In fact, 2022 may bring a return to pre-pandemic levels of travel, especially in family vacation spots where social distancing and fresh-air activities remain options.
Keeping health and safety at the forefront, the best places to go with kids in 2022 include all-inclusive resorts, family beach destinations, national parks and – as always – the country’s top theme parks. So, dust off your suitcases and get ready: Here’s where to go with the kids in 2022.
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1. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
The brand-new Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen is the all-inclusive beach resort of your kids’ dreams. Just a 30-minute drive from Cancun’s international airport, the oceanfront resort has its own private beach, interactive entertainment themed around Nickelodeon characters and a giant six-acre outdoor water park with plenty of room for social distancing. Oh, and every room has its own swim-up infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean Sea, too.
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Enhanced cleaning protocols and social distancing measures will give you confidence that health and safety are taken seriously, and because you’ll stay predominately onsite in the spacious bubble of the resort, you’ll be limiting your risk of exposure to COVID-19. (You can arrange for day trips outside the resort to popular tourist spots like Chichen Itza or Tulum right from the hotel lobby.) With meals, activities and accommodations included, it’s a hassle-free holiday with no sticker-shock when it’s time to settle the bill.
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With COVID-19 travel rules constantly in flux, you may not be comfortable jetting off to see Europe’s top tourist attractions just yet. But the Caribbean island of Aruba offers a bit of that Continental flair without crossing the Atlantic – and the beaches aren’t too shabby either. (Think turquoise water and sand that’s soft as flour.)
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An independent country since 1986, Aruba continues to maintain strong ties to the Netherlands. Locals speak to each other in Papiamento, a lyrical blend of Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and English. Even the island’s cuisine is a delectable mishmash of tropical produce and traditional Dutch flavors such as Gouda cheese. When your family has had enough beach time, the kids will have a blast venturing inland to explore the stark desert terrain of the island’s Arikok National Park.
3. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
A national park getaway is an immersion in pristine beauty for everyone in the family. However, the recent surge in people seeking solace in Mother Nature means many of the most popular parks in the U.S. are experiencing higher visitation levels than normal.
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What makes New River Gorge in West Virginia one of the top places to go with kids this year is that it only became a national park in December 2020, so it’s still under the radar for most vacationers. The flowing water that continues to sculpt one of the longest and deepest gorges in the Appalachian Mountains is excellent for fishing and a variety of colorful birds and amphibians make it a paradise for animal lovers. Whitewater rafting, a treetop obstacle course and the precarious Bridge Walk across the New River Gorge Bridge are particular highlights for families with big kids and tweens.
Ten miles from the park, Tru by Hilton Beckley offers free breakfast and a lively lobby with a game zone that are welcome perks for families. For something even closer, stay inside the park at Adventures on the Gorge, an outdoor outfitter with a resort right on the rim.
4. Orlando, Florida
With its many famous theme parks and equally spectacular water parks, it’s no wonder Orlando routinely tops the list of places to go with kids for a special vacation. And with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration continuing into 2022, the new year is a fine time to plan a visit.
Even if Disney’s Star Wars Land or Universal’s Harry Potter theme park areas aren’t your cup of tea, Orlando isn’t just a one-trick-pony. Among the other great things to do in Orlando are outdoor activities like zip lining and kayaking and even golf vacations. Kid-friendly attractions such as Madame Tussauds, SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium and Andretti Indoor Karting and Games pretty much guarantee fun for everyone in the family.
When it’s time to put your feet up at the end of the day, stay at one of the many Disney World hotels in Orlando or head further afield to neighboring Kissimmee, where Reunion Resort’s water park will keep kids entertained and refreshed during the vacation down time.
5. Santa Monica, California
You’re never too young to start thinking about sustainability. Visiting a city where you don’t need a car is environmentally conscious – and with car rental prices sky-high these days, it’s financially sensible for a family trip, too.
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Thanks to a robust cycling community, pedestrian-only shopping streets and the Expo Line Light Rail connecting the community with greater Los Angeles, Santa Monica defies the image of Los Angeles as a car-crazed metropolis. Visit with the kids and you can all splash in Pacific waves, pedal the beachside bike path and enjoy amusement rides (including a solar-powered Ferris wheel) at the Santa Monica Pier, all without a vehicle.
Compact and walkable Boston provides an entertaining backdrop for an American history lesson that’s way more immersive than any text book. Bring the kids and stroll the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that takes in 16 historically significant sites, including the Paul Revere House, then visit the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museums for an interactive way to understand a seminal event in our nation’s history.
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There’s ample urban green space in the Massachusetts capital, too, including the always-enjoyable Boston Public Garden. Ride a swan boat and view the Make Way for Ducklings statue, a must for fans of this children’s literary classic.
Stay at Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport for sweeping views of Boston Harbor. It has one of the only rooftop swimming pools in the city and is a delight for families.
7. New Orleans
It may have a reputation as an adult playground, but New Orleans boasts some surprisingly kid-friendly outdoor attractions that make it a perfect place to go with kids in 2022. At Besthoff Sculpture Garden, children can skip along shady footpaths lined with live oaks as they soak in whimsical three-dimensional shapes. Leafy City Park, with boating, mini-golf, tennis and a carousel, is a magnolia-scented dream.
With comfy rooms, free breakfast and all-day nibbles like popcorn, Drury Plaza is a good choice for family accommodations in New Orleans.
8. Denali National Park, Alaska
With starry skies, abundant wildlife and endless wilderness, Alaska’s beauty is both transformational and far from the beaten trail. In Denali National Park, the 6 million acres of taiga forest and tundra are home to America’s tallest mountain peak, Denali itself.
Though Denali is hundreds of miles from the nearest port, fewer cruise ships to Alaska in 2022 will mean fewer tourists in general, making this year a winning time to visit.
Stay close to the national park at Denali Park Hotel, whose comfy motel-style units are 10 miles from Denali’s entrance.
9. San Juan, Puerto Rico
With no passport requirement for U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is always one of the best places to go with kids. That’s never been more true than in 2022, though, when Old San Juan will celebrate its 500th anniversary with special art exhibits, parades and concerts.
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Families will enjoy strolling the distinctive blue-hued cobblestone streets and visiting the city’s famed fort, El Morro, before building sandcastles on San Juan’s fabulous beaches.
Puerto Rico has instituted stringent COVID-19 measures to keep travelers and residents safe. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company maintains an up-to-date page of travel guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.
Stay at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, where your family can blend city pleasures with a relaxing beachside vacation.
10. Boise, Idaho
Friendly Boise is a modest-size city with plenty of elbow room and access to nature. A series of artfully designed parks and the Boise River Greenbelt present space for families to raft, run, cycle and rollerblade in the center of town. A blossoming food truck scene offers inexpensive dining options for al fresco meals surrounded by towering mountains.
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The Residence Inn Boise Downtown City Center has roomy guest suites with full kitchens that are perfect for families of varying sizes and age ranges.
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