7 Hot Winter Weekend Getaways

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

If your crew is in need of a 3-5 night family vacation to bond and recharge, travel to the sun for a long weekend family escape. The Family Travel Network staff has found the perfect spots. Warm weather family vacations can be fun and reasonably priced, particularly since a number of great resorts and destinations are offering great family travel deals.

According to many travel agents, the most important factors right now in selecting a hot family vacation beach break are affordable prices, "sun and reliably warm weather," and convenience. With that in mind, the Family Travel Network staff searched the market to find the best warm weather destinations for families based on the following criteria:

  • Average daytime temperature of 80 degrees or warmer from January through March
  • Direct flights from a large number of U.S. cities and good connections from others
  • Availability of reasonably priced airfares
  • A wide selection of value-priced resorts with family-oriented programs and amenities

According to the travel agents and family travel experts surveyed, the following seven sun-kissed resort destinations best fit these criteria and are excellent choices for a warm weather winter weekend family getaway:

  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
  • Oahu, Hawaii
  • Short Cruises from U.S. Ports

Cancun, Mexico

What's Special: For families seeking a reasonably-priced warm weekend getaway, Cancun's hotel zone is a destination that immediately comes to mind. Cancun's downtown area caters to families seeking both all-inclusives and room-only EP resorts - and some offer both options. Although Cancun is an excellent destination for families seeking an affordable holiday, luxury seekers will certainly find great properties here as well.

Cancun is perfect for families who want to soak up a bit of culture, as numerous Mayan ruins and other attractions are located nearby. High-rise resorts line Cancun's ribbon of beaches and restaurants and shopping malls cater to tourists in the downtown area. Watersports enthusiasts can snorkel and dive, swim with manatees and dolphins, and take a catamaran sail to nearby Isla Mujeres. Avid golfers have a wide variety of championship courses to choose from as well. Although English is widely spoken, Spanish is the primary language in Cancun and passports are required.

Cancun's expansive airport and large number of direct flights make winter and spring weekend getaways easy. In addition, there are many family friendly accommodations from which to choose. Families seeking a luxury escape should head for the Ritz-Carlton Cancun or the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun Resort, while those seeking more value-oriented lodging will enjoy properties such as the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort. All-inclusive resorts are very popular with families and the Dreams Cancun, Azul Beach Hotel by Karisma, Club Med Cancun Yucatan, Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun Resort and the Beach Palace are good family-friendly options in the Cancun area.

Turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and warm temperatures are certainly this destination's major draws, but Cancun offers so much more. The area is filled with Mayan archeological sites, parks for underwater and nature enthusiasts, enticing shopping opportunities, and a wide variety of family pleasing attractions. Visit the Mayan archeological sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza, swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery Island or Delphinus Dreams Cancun, snorkel the 2nd largest coral reef in the world in Puerto Morelos, and shop for treasures at La Isla Shopping Village and Market 28. Thrill-seekers will enjoy zip-lining, snorkeling and kayaking at Garrafon Park on Isla Mujeres.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

What's Special: Travel agents typically name Punta Cana as one of the top destinations for families seeking an inexpensive long weekend beach vacation for winter or spring. Punta Cana consists of approximately 25 miles of stunning white sand beaches fringed with palm trees and low-rise resorts. Because the beach is outstanding, this area is a mecca for beach-lovers seeking affordable, all-inclusive accommodations with an extensive array of mega-pools, restaurants and family-friendly amenities. Although the closest sizeable town is about an hour away, a number of interesting tours and attractions are available for families willing to tear themselves away from their resort. Take an ATV tour along the beach, cruise by catamaran to lovely palm-studded Saona Island, swim with the dolphins, or shop for jewelry and colorful artwork at artisans' plazas. Spanish is the primary language here and passports are required.

The Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe is an excellent all-inclusive option for families coming to Punta Cana. Located in the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort just 20 minutes away from the airport, the Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe features deluxe rooms and junior suites specifically designed for family needs. Guests can enjoy ten different restaurants, four pools, the Barcy Kids Club area for children ages 4-12, a Barcy WaterPark for the little ones, an all new Maxi Club teens activities complex (interactive waterpark, wave pool, mini-golf range, game room and nightclub) for guests 13-17, the resort's U SPA with a wide range of treatments, 7 tennis courts, a complete gym, and much more. The Barceló Bá varo Beach Resort's Aquatic Center is the most complete in the Punta Cana area and the resort's P.B. Dye redesigned 18-hole golf course is available to all guests. The Barceló Bávaro Beach Hotel, also located in the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort, is a good possibility for families travel with kids ages 18 and older.

Club Med Punta Cana is another popular choice for family Caribbean vacations. Club Med Punta Cana is located just 10 minutes from the airport, making arrivals and departures a breeze. The resort offers four children's programs including Baby Club Med (4-23 months); Petit Club Med (2 - under 4 years); Mini Club Med (4 to under 11 years); and Club Med Passworld (11-17 years). The Ramp, Club Med's cool Passworld teen hangout, is open during school holiday periods and at other times when there are lots of teens. Other great all-inclusive options for families include the Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana, Iberostar Grand Bavaro and the Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana.

Because there are so many activities offered at Punta Cana's all-inclusive resorts, many families spend all of their short vacation time on the beach, at the pools, or at restaurants or activities on their property. Manati Park, a nature-oriented theme park with sea lions and a dolphin swim program, is a popular excursion for families. Water lovers can snorkel with Nurse sharks and massive stingrays on half-day Marinarium cruise tours. If there are thrill-seekers in your family, make such to sign them up for the Macao Crazy Wheels tour. This ATV adventure takes riders on dirt roads through fields, plantations and tropical jungles, with swimming stops at Macao Beach and a cave. Shopping enthusiasts will enjoy browsing stores and markets for local artwork as well as jewelry made from local precious stones, including amber and larimar.

Montego Bay, Jamaica

What's Special: Jamaica has a relaxed, free-wheeling spirit and a unique Caribbean island vibe that is truly its own. Both all-inclusive and room-only family-friendly properties can easily be found here, and hotels range from value-priced to high-end luxury resorts. Parents with young children may find this to be the perfect spot for a true vacation getaway, as some resorts offer special vacation nanny and kids program services. This island is an excellent choice for families seeking familiar pleasures as well as new adventures. Several championship golf courses are located within an easy drive to the airport and tennis courts abound. Those looking for something different can swim with the dolphins, take a dogsledding tour, zipline through the trees, visit a bioluminescent bay, go horseback riding along the beach, or take a leisurely float down a river on a bamboo raft. English is the primary language here and passports are required.

Taking a short winter beach escape in Jamaica is "no problem, mon." Just take one of the many direct flights to Montego Bay available from numerous cities throughout the country. There are a number of family-friendly resorts within a short drive of the airport, and several of them are particularly well-known for their children's programs and family oriented features. Both luxury seekers and value-conscious families can find an excellent beach escape here.

Breezes Trelawny Resort & Spa appeals to families with kids of all ages. All land and water sports activities with equipment and instruction (except scuba diving) and recreational activities such as mini-golf, rock climbing, and flying trapeze are included in the resort's all-inclusive price. The resort's nursery staffed with professional nannies is available daily on a complimentary basis for kids up to two years old and there's a 12,000 square-foot kid's center for children. The resort's teens' center features a video arcade and games room.

For families who want to head straight to the beach, the all-inclusive Sunset Beach Resort located minutes from Montego Bay airport is a good choice. The resort's Pirate Paradise Waterpark is a true family pleaser. Another excellent choice near the airport is the all-inclusive Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Montego Bay. Families with young children should make sure to check out the Franklyn D. Resort & Spa. The all-inclusive package here includes the services of a personal vacation nanny for each family.

If your family is seeking a luxurious beach escape, there are also several upscale family-friendly resorts within minutes of Montego Bay that will fit your needs. The service-oriented Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall features a challenging mountainside golf course, excellent restaurants, an extensive spa menu, and the Ritz Kids program. Guests at the property can choose from either all-inclusive or room-only vacation plans. Located on 400 acres within close proximity to the airport, Half Moon, a luxurious RockResort property, offers families a spectacular mile-long stretch of white sand beach, an Equestrian Centre, an award-winning Par-72 championship golf course, world-class spa, children's programs for ages 3-12 at the Anancy Children's Village, Hype Zone for teens, and on-property dolphin encounters. The Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, also located within a short drive from the airport, wows families with its extensive Sugar Mill Falls Water Park featuring a thrill slide, natural lagoons, terraced pools, a lazy river and cascading waterfalls. Guests can also enjoy the resort's Kids Retreat and Teen Zone, a full watersports center, a full spa and fitness center, tennis, and an 18-hole championship golf course.

There's plenty to do on a Jamaica winter beach break, both on and off property. All of the above resorts have extensive tour offerings with something for every member of the family. Chukka Caribbean Adventures serves up a wide variety of unique experiences, such as river tubing, horseback rides with swims in the Caribbean Sea, canopy zipline adventures, and a Jamaican dogsled tour. Swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove, sailing adventures on Captain Hook's Pirate Ship, and bamboo rafting excursions on the Martha Brae River are other fun family treats. Find out more about what to do in Jamaica here.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

What's Special: No passport requirements and hundreds of weekly direct flights from many U.S. cities help make Puerto Rico one of the most convenient Caribbean winter weekend beach getaways. Family-friendly resorts feature sandy beaches and exciting pool features as well as other appealing amenities - but Puerto Rico offers even more. This is an excellent destination for those seeking culture, eco-adventures, shopping, history, and even vibrant nightlife as well. Hike in a tropical rainforest, kayak and swim in one of the world's only bioluminescent bays, visit the largest Spanish fort in the New World, sample the restaurants and shops of Old San Juan, or take a catamaran sail on azure waters. In Puerto Rico, the beach can be just the beginning of your vacation experience.

Hot sun, lots of fun, and no passport necessary - that's Puerto Rico. This island is rich in culture and history and it is an easy destination for a long winter weekend getaway. It's certainly the most convenient playground in the American Caribbean with direct flights from many airports throughout the United States and Canada. Families can check-in online for their flights and time spent waiting in immigration and customs lines is completely eliminated.

Families looking for a superb beachfront resort in a convenient location will find that the San Juan Marriott & Stellaris Casino meets their needs perfectly. From the white sand beach and two pools (one with an exciting waterslide!) to the resort's seasonal Kids Club and excellent tour desk, this resort will keep families entertained. Restaurants feature kids menus and the resort's spacious rooms allow families to spread out. In addition, the resort's Condado Beach address makes it an excellent home base for exploring all that San Juan has to offer.

Luxury-oriented families who want to vacation outside of San Juan should consider the El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa. Families will enjoy Palomino Island, the resort's 100-acre private island, featuring white sand beaches, and a wide variety of watersports and activities. The resort's seaside Coqui Water Park is making waves with its 8,500 square foot infinity pool, thrilling water slides, rope swing, an 8,000 foot lazy river and more.

A myriad of adventures are available for families on the island of Puerto Rico. Families can hike the trails in El Yunque, Puerto Rico's lush tropical rainforest. Other good tours include the Rio Camuy Cave Park, catamaran cruises, snorkeling, and sightseeing visits to El Morro and Fort San Cristóbal, the largest Spanish fort in the New World. For more on what to do in San Juan, check out this Family Travel Network article.

Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

What's Special: Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit are easily two of Mexico's most picturesque choices for a warm weather family beach escape. Puerto Vallarta's beautiful seaside malecón and old world colonial architecture give the destination a charming, romantic appeal. The Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta appeal to families looking for eco-adventures, golf, sport fishing, shopping, culture and fine cuisine. Although room-only resort options can easily be found in both areas, all-inclusive lovers will also find a wide variety of resorts from which to choose. Spanish is the primary language here and a passport is required.

Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit region offer easy long weekend getaways for families, especially for those living on the West Coast or in the Southwest. Flights into Puerto Vallarta's airport are plentiful and the Riviera Nayarit's Nuevo Vallarta-Flamingos corridor is less than a 15-minute drive from the airport. Puerto Vallarta's golden beaches along the Bay of Banderas are ringed by mountainous jungle and its clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and swimming. It's easy to see why National Geographic Magazine named Puerto Vallarta as one of the "Top 50 Film Locations In The World." Framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains, the nearby Riviera Nayarit is a multi-destination area that comprises 192 miles of pristine Pacific coastline. It includes many popular spots including Nuevo Vallarta, Punta Mita, Sayulita and Flamingos.

For families seeking an all-inclusive resort with plenty of room to spread out, the luxurious Velas Vallarta Suites Resort is an excellent choice. Located close to the airport on ten acres in Marina Vallarta, the beachfront Velas Vallarta Suites caters to families with a wide variety of activities and entertainment. The resort offers the Velas Kid's Club for children 4-12 years of age, three huge swimming pools, spa services, three lighted tennis courts and a fully equipped gym. In addition, guests are just steps away from one of the area's best 18-hole golf courses.

Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa offers another good all-inclusive option for families and features a lovely beach and the Explorer's Club children's program. The Marriott CasaMagna Puerto Vallarta Resort caters to families with its large pool and many family oriented amenities and the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort offers easy access to Puerto Vallarta's charming downtown area. In the Riviera Nayarit area, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Dreams Villa Magna, Vallarta Palace (a future Hard Rock Hotel), and the Marival Resorts & Suites are all popular places for families to stay.

Since long weekend getaways are short on time, many families spend their days just enjoying the sunshine and relaxing at the beach or pool. There's so much to do in Puerto Vallarta, however, that families will be tempted to get off-property and enjoy some of the sights and activities. Fly through the jungle like Tarzan with Canopy Tours De Los Veranos, go snorkeling and watch for humpback whales on a boat excursion to the Marietas Islands, take a horseback riding trip to a jungle waterfall in Yelapa, swim with the dolphins, explore the area on a Jeep or ATV safari, try your luck at sportfishing, enjoy a wide variety of watersports, or test your skills on one of the area's many championship golf courses. History buffs, art lovers and shoppers will want to set aside time to stroll through the cobblestone streets of Puerto Vallarta, filled with an enchanting array of architecturally stunning buildings, stores, galleries, and restaurants. The Riviera Nayarit offers countless activities including PGA golf courses, fabulous beaches, luxury spas, whale watching and turtle release programs, surfing, zip lining, swim with the dolphins programs, and much more.

Oahu, Hawaii

What's Special: Hula lessons, leis, luaus ... there's something magical about Hawaii. While many family vacationers think of Maui or Hawaii's other islands for a family vacation, the island of Oahu can offer some of the best of Hawaii including gorgeous beaches and nature - all in a long weekend escape. You just have to know where to look. Vacations here can often cheaper than those available on the other islands as well.

Oahu, Hawaii's most populous island, is known as "the gathering place" - and for good reason. This cosmopolitan island lures thousands of families to its shores because there's something for everyone here. Many TV shows and movies have been shot on Oahu, including Lost, 50 First Dates, Blue Crush, Jurassic Park and Pearl Harbor. Waikiki Beach, Oahu's most famous strand, features views of Diamond Head along with restaurants, family-friendly hotels and shopping centers. The island of Oahu boasts over 125 miles of beaches, historic monuments, spectacular snorkeling, world-class surfing, great hiking trails, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Climb Diamond Head early - before it gets to hot - for incredible views. Take the kids to the Dole Pineapple Plantation to explore their 1.7-mile-long garden maze. Go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, a marine sanctuary, for some of the best snorkeling Hawaii has to offer. And, of course, head out to the North Shore to watch surfers tackle huge waves.

For an important lesson in history, take the kids to Pearl Harbor to view the USS Arizona Memorial and other Pearl Harbor historic sites. The $56 million visitors' center and museum feature interactive exhibits about the World War II attack from different perspectives. The park's Junior Ranger Activity Book helps children learn about the USS Arizona Memorial and once completed, kids can earn a Junior Ranger Level II Certificate.

Oahu has a wide variety of family-friendly hotels from which to choose. Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina is the newest on the scene. This spectacular family paradise includes 359 hotel rooms, 460 villas, 4 restaurants and a world-class spa. Families will love the complimentary Aunty's Beach House Kids Club, the Waikolohe Valley Waterpark with its pools and slides, and the resort's cool Painted Sky Teen Spa.

The oceanfront Outrigger Reef on the Beach offers 42 family suites of up to four bedrooms in size. The resort features a variety of on-site cultural activities that are perfect for families as well as surf lessons, stand up paddling, outrigger canoe surfing, and children's books for their youngest guests. The hotel's Fee Free Escape program includes free high-speed Internet access, free local and long-distance domestic calls to the U.S. Mainland and Canada, free use of the fitness center and other amenities. The 22-acre Hilton Hawaiian Village, another family favorite, is situated on a stunning stretch of Waikiki Beach with beautiful views of Diamond Head. The resort is laden with pools including the 5,000-square-foot Paradise Pool with slides and waterfalls - including the longest waterslide in Waikiki. More than 90 shops and 16 restaurants, lounges and bars are available on property. The resort's luau is very popular with families and Camp Penguin entertains kids ages 5-12.

Families who prefer to vacation outside the city should check out Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's North Shore. Set on 880 oceanfront acres, Turtle Bay offers world-class golf and tennis, a full service spa, riding stables with ocean and trail riding, and the Hans Hedemann Surf Adventures where guests can learn how to surf the areas world-famous waves.

Short Cruises From U.S. Ports

What's Special: If high-priced international airfares threaten to cancel your family's warm weather beach escape plans, don't despair. A wide variety of long weekend cruise options are available to take you to warm climates and sunny shores. These 3- to 5-day cruises depart from a number of ports throughout the United States, eliminating expensive airfares and making these family vacation options both economical and convenient.

Families can take a short cruise vacation departing from cities in Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, and California. These cruises visit a wide variety of enticing ports of call in destinations such as the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Itineraries vary, but they generally include two or three ports and often a day or more at sea. Ships vary in size and amenities, with some cruise lines deploying newer ships to handle short cruise itineraries.

Short sailings are available on a variety of cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and others. Carnival has one of the widest selections of short sailings, with ten ships offering three-, four- and five-day cruise itineraries. In Florida, both Miami and Port Canaveral have two Carnival ships providing short cruises perfect for families.

If you go, look for a ship featuring some of today's more exciting amenities, such as water coasters and large pool waterscapes, expansive kids' and teens areas, luxurious spas, indoor solariums, rock climbing walls, and other features. Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream is one of the top ships for families in this category, but there are many other superb ships including Carnival's Destiny and Triumph, Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas, and the Celebrity Millenium.

Prices on some ships can start as low as $219 per adult for a 3-night cruise on selected dates, providing a particularly affordable family vacation option for those who can drive to the ship's home port. Ask about reduced rates for children sharing a stateroom with parents as well. For more information on short family cruise getaways, take a look at this article on The Family Travel Network.

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