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7 Surprisingly Family-Friendly Destinations

Lindsay Tigar is an experienced, established wellness, lifestyle, travel and love writer, editor and content strategist in New York City. Her work has appeared on SELF, Prevention, AskMen, Refinery29 and dozens of other sites. When she's...

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7 kid-friendly destinations

Getty Images/Design: Michaela Early/SheKnows
#1/8:

7 kid-friendly destinations

Want to get out of town? Or more specifically out of the country?

While a decade (or even five years) ago, you might've haphazardly packed a last-minute carry-on before heading out to catch your flight, these days your cargo is more precious. As a parent, you not only have to pack for your kids (or at least supervise the process), but you have to be mindful of safety, entertainment and long flights to keep them occupied, healthy and happy.

Showing your children the world and witnessing them experience a variety of cultures can be a life-changing experience, but selecting the most family-friendly destinations can be a challenge, especially if you're headed to a foreign country that you're totally unfamiliar with.

Ahead, check out some surprising destinations around the globe that will be just as fun and exciting for you and your little ones.

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Gstaad & Zürich, Switzerland

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Gstaad & Zürich, Switzerland

As one of the safest places in the world, Switzerland offers family-friendly activities and happenings throughout its many cities, with a special emphasis on Gstaad and Zürich.

If you visit the Swiss Alps resort town of Gstaad during the summertime, stay at Gstaad Palace, where you can take advantage of its summer family package, which includes five-night luxury accommodations with interconnecting rooms. The resort offers a little bit of everything to tickle little (and big) fancies: a chocolate workshop, a tour of a local historical mountain farm and even a bouncy house where the kids can bounce out those jet-lagged jitters.

If Zürich is on your bucket list, book your getaway at the luxe Baur au Lac, which arranges local activities for families, including first-class train tickets through the picturesque Swiss countryside.

The family package also includes a four-night stay, breakfast buffet and admission for the whole family to the FIFA World Football Museum or to Charlie Chaplin’s former estate in the near-ish town of Lausanne. Your small travel buddies will also receive a welcome gift upon arrival, while you and your partner will have free access to the spa.

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Riviera Maya, Mexico

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Riviera Maya, Mexico

As much fun as you had exploring Cancun in college or at destination bachelorette parties, when you’re toting around kids, you might want to consider the tamer town of Riviera Maya.

Among a plethora of resort choices and outdoor activities, two all-stars stand out.

First up is the all-inclusive Barceló Maya Grand Resort, which is made up of five adjacent resorts — all of which share one of the longest private beaches in Riviera Maya. Here, kids ages 4 to 12 can hang out at the Barcy Kids Club, complete with supervised activities and reliable child care if you and your partner want to grab a margarita poolside. For a splish-splash family-fun affair, the whole gang can head to the property’s Pirate Island Water Park, complete with slides and other aquatic adventures.

For another option, visit Vidanta Riviera Maya, where nature- and science-loving kids will enjoy the resort’s turtle camp. Biologists will explain how turtle eggs are replanted and cared for, and if you visit at certain times of the year, your kids can be part of sea turtle releases too.

The property is also home to the only Joyà Cirque du Soleil show in Latin America. There, your kiddos will be amazed by the live music, thrilling acrobatics and colorful lights. You can also stay busy with their other low-key offerings, from guacamole-making classes and ping-pong tournaments to nature walks, karaoke and more.

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Macau, China

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Macau, China

If your or your partner’s work takes you on an adventure to Asia for a month or so and the kids are coming along (obviously), make a side trip to Macau, China, off the southern coast and across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong.

While it’s often called the "Las Vegas of Asia" — it actually has a variety of culturally immersive activities and fun for guests of all ages. Here, your kids will be introduced to a variety of interesting foods that challenge their developing palate — like pork chop buns and fish balls — all while exploring a new land.

Consider staying at the family-friendly Sheraton Macao Hotel, which offers a signature kid's program with a range of age-appropriate supervised options. Comfyland Experience is a playland for toddlers, while the Kids Club boasts Wii, computers and a Nintendo Xbox.

The hotel also organizes scavenger hunts, arts and crafts and pool games. The bookable family suites include bunk beds, a play area, craft table, game console, toys, books, games and (super-Instagrammable) children’s bathrobes and slippers.

Make sure to keep an eye out for the resident Balloon Lady, who will make balloon animals for your temperamental toddler. And if your kid happens to need a haircut, the on-site salon will even serve you Champagne while you wait.

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Cape Town, South Africa

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Cape Town, South Africa

Exposing your children to Cape Town's many beaches, wildlife, safaris and foods can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand their impressionable minds. The key is to be aware of your surroundings and to book a hotel that caters to little travelers. 

The Cape Grace Hotel has made children the forefront of its offerings, allowing families to travel with peace of mind to this sought-after hot spot. While the adults can enjoy breathtaking views of Table Mountain and the Yacht Marina, kids will be entertained by the on-site kids’ club.

And get this: If you stay three or more nights, you receive the Family Time Offer, a complimentary service that offers food and drinks for children under 3, in-room dining vouchers with popcorn and kid-friendly DVDs and babysitting up to four hours. For picky eaters, the resort chef makes a great vegetable soup with alphabet noodles and cucumber and tomato salad with feta cheese or a toasted sandwich.

When you're ready to head out and explore, the concierge can set up tours of must-see attractions like the Two Oceans Aquarium, where you’ll witness more than 3,000 sea animals, including fish and sharks, turtles, octopi and birds. After your sea-viewing adventure, take your kids aboard the Cape Wheel, which offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Cape Town.

And of course, you can’t leave without taking a ride on the Jolly Roger Pirate Boat, which sails three times a day, offering a live pirate show your tiny Jack Sparrow will go "argh!" for.

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Dubai, UAE

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Dubai, UAE

What you’ll love about traveling with your family to Dubai isn’t just the many kid-friendly attractions (more on that later), but also the process of getting there.

Thanks to the family-centric focus on Emirates Airline, making the long trek to the UAE won’t be half as bad as it would be on a traditional airline. Not only do they cater to children’s preferred meals with special kid menus, but Emirates allows families to drop off their bags up to 24 hours early and to board first, and the lounges come equipped with a mother-and-baby room for breastfeeding and changing and older kids can play video games while waiting for the flight to board. While in the air, kids receive fun play packs with activities to keep them from getting too fidgety too.

Once you land, stay at the Le Meridien Dubai, with plenty of pools and options for families that are also centric to many kid-friendly attractions. You won’t want to miss the children’s center with 80,000 feet of exploration from nature and science to space and more or the Wild Wadi Water Park, where your babes can splash until they crash.

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Tenerife, the Canary Islands, Spain

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Tenerife, the Canary Islands, Spain

For a bit of beach, a tad of history and plenty of culture, take your family to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands of Spain.

While you can stay at either Hard Rock Tenerife or The Ritz-Carlton Abama, both of which have family-friendly packages, rooms and offerings, what you’ll enjoy the most is all of the child-focused activities this seaside destination offers.

Here, you can take in the 43 miles of beaches, with one of the best called Les Teresitas, where your older kids will enjoy watersports. For a more private family affair, consider El Duque.

For that Instagram family selfie, head to the infamous Los Gigantes, where gorgeous cascading cliffs make for an epic backdrop. While you’re in this beautiful area, stop by the largest water park on the island, Siam Park, for slides, rides and more. And to see your kiddos’ eyes light up, you have to stop by Loro Parque, home to parrots, orcas, dolphins, penguins, sea lions and much, much more.

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