7 Hot Winter Weekend Getaways

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Cold winter temperatures have settled in across the country and the endless parade of gray days can be mind-numbing. If your crew is in need of a family vacation to cure your winter blues, travel to the sun for a long winter weekend family getaway. Short warm weather family vacations can be fun and inexpensive this winter, particularly this year when a number of great resorts and destinations are offering family travel deals.

According to many travel agents, the most important factors right now in selecting a warm winter vacation break are affordable prices, "sun and reliably warm weather," and convenience. With that in mind, we 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, Mexico
  • Oahu, Hawaii
  • Short Cruises from U.S. Ports

Cancun, Mexico

What's Special: For families seeking an inexpensive 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 newly remodeled airport and large number of direct flights make winter 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, while those seeking more value-oriented lodging will enjoy properties such as the CasaMagna Marriott. All-inclusive resorts are very popular with families and the newly renovated Azul Beach Hotel by Karisma, Club Med Cancun Yucatan, the Cancun Palace, and the AAA Four Diamond Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancún 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 and manatees at Dolphin Discovery Island, 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 winter weekend beach vacation. 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.

Punta Cana is a popular destination for families seeking long sugar white sand beaches, warm temperatures, clear aqua seas and a great value for their vacation dollars. Punta Cana's airport is easy to navigate and flights are plentiful. This vacation destination is also home to a wide variety of family friendly all-inclusive resorts featuring numerous restaurants, elaborate waterscapes and pools, children's programs, spas, an extensive array of watersports, loads of tour options and nearby golf courses. The beach landscape here has a wide open feel, as only low-rise buildings no taller than a palm tree are permitted along the shore.

Club Med Punta Cana is a superb choice for family Caribbean vacations. Club Med Punta Cana is located just 10 minutes from the airport, making arrivals and departures a breeze. The children's programs and counselors at this property are outstanding. The resort offers four 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). Club Med's Baby Welcome service is a wonderful amenity for parents of little ones, supplying a variety of baby foods, highchairs/booster seats, and in-room childcare equipment. 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. Make sure to check the Club Med website for special deals that help make Club Med Punta Cana particularly affordable this winter.

The Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort is another excellent option for families coming to Punta Cana. Located just 20 minutes away from the airport, the Resort consists a wide variety of superior rooms in three different all-inclusive hotels - including the new Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe. The Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe is outstanding for families, featuring deluxe rooms and junior suites specifically designed for family needs. Guests can enjoy ten different restaurants, four pools, the Barcy Kids Club for children ages 4-12, a Barcy WaterPark for the little ones, the resort's U SPA with a wide range of treatments, 7 tennis courts, a complete gym, and much more. The Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort's Aquatic Center is the most complete in the Punta Cana area and the resort's 18-hole golf course is available to all guests.

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 Resort & Spa Trelawny appeals to families with kids of all ages. All land and water sports activities with equipment and instruction (except scuba diving) and recreational activities are included in the resort's all-inclusive price. The resort's nursery staffed with professional nannies is available 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. Families with teens will also enjoy the newly renovated Breezes Runaway Bay, a resort for active families with children ages 14 and older.

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. Families with young children should make sure to check out FDR Resorts' two properties, the Franklyn D Resort and FDR Pebbles. The all-inclusive packages at these two resorts include 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 Resort offers families a spectacular mile-long stretch of white sand beach, children's programs for ages 3-6 and 7-12, and on-property dolphin encounters. The 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 at the recently renovated property can also enjoy the resort's Kids Klub, a full watersports center, a full spa and fitness center, 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 and bamboo rafting excursions on the Martha Brae River are other fun family treats. At Starfish Trelawny, one of the most popular excursions is their evening tour to the nearby bioluminescent bay. Families rate it as a "don't miss" experience, so make sure to sign up early.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

What's Special: No passport requirements and over 420 weekly direct flights from 21 U.S. cities help make Puerto Rico one of the most convenient Caribbean winter weekend beach getaways for many Americans. 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 maybe a little 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, try a lemon ice on Luquillo Beach, sample the restaurants and shops of Old San Juan, or tour a coffee plantation. 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 beachfront resort conveniently located near the airport will find that the San Juan Marriott & Stellaris Casino meets their needs. From the white sand beach and two-tiered pool to the tennis courts and a seasonal Kids Club, this resort will keep families entertained. Restaurants feature kids menus and the resort's spacious rooms allow families to spread out. In addition, the many attractions of Old San Juan are located close by the resort's location in Condado Beach.

For families seeking a luxurious setting for their winter weekend escape, particularly those with 'tweens and teens, the El San Juan Hotel & Casino may be the perfect destination. The recently renovated property has a new South Beach vibe, and the beach and pools are particularly lovely. In addition, the hotel's location close the airport makes it a great choice for a short weekend getaway.

Luxury-oriented families who don't mind a drive should head for the newly renovated El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa. Situated in the northeastern section of Puerto Rico on a magnificent bluff overlooking the sea, the El Conquistador is visually stunning. More than 900 guest rooms and villas are available in distinctive enclaves around the resort. Families will enjoy Palomino Island, the resort's 100-acre private island, featuring white sand beaches, horseback riding and a wide variety of watersports. Golf enthusiasts can play on the resort's championship course while guests who want to be pampered can head to the resort's Golden Door Spa, where an extensive array of treatments awaits to soothe the senses. The resort's new 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. Admission to the waterpark is available exclusively to resort guests with tickets.

A myriad of adventures are available for families on the island of Puerto Rico. Two of my favorite excursions are kayaking and swimming in the unique Bioluminescent Bay near Fajardo and taking a hike along the trails in El Yunque, Puerto Rico's lush tropical rainforest. Families can enjoy Coca Falls with its natural pool and view wild orchids, waterfalls, giant ferns, and perhaps even parrots. Other tours include the Rio Camuy Cave Park, horseback riding, catamaran cruises, snorkeling, and sightseeing visits to El Morro and Fort San Cristobal, the largest Spanish fort in the New World.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

What's Special: Situated on Mexico's Pacific coast where the jungle meets the sea, Puerto Vallarta is easily one of the most picturesque choices for a winter family beach escape. The town's beautiful seaside malecón and old world colonial architecture give the destination a charming, romantic appeal. Although room-only resort options can easily be found here, all-inclusive lovers will also find a wide variety of resorts from which to choose. Puerto Vallarta appeals to families looking for eco-adventures, golf, sport fishing, shopping, culture and fine cuisine. Spanish is the primary language here and a passport is required.

Puerto Vallarta offers an easy long weekend getaway for families, especially for those living on the West Coast or in the Southwest. 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." Puerto Vallarta is an excellent choice for families seeking a vacation destination with warm temperatures, quaint charm, plentiful restaurants, family-friendly resorts, and a wide variety of activities including golf, watersports, eco-adventures, shopping and sport fishing.

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. For those seeking more luxurious accommodations, the Garza Blanca Preseve Resort & Spa is an excellent choice. This new hotel with 50 expansive rooms, suites and penthouses has been named as a "Most Excellent Resort" in Mexico and Central America by Condé Nast Johansens.

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. Puerto Vallarta's seaside malecón is filled with bronze sculptures and artists. On Sundays, you'll find lots of local families here enjoying the antics of the street mimes and clowns. It's a great place to relax, look out at the beautiful Bay of Banderas, and enjoy the sunset.

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 the best of Hawaii including gorgeous beaches and nature - plus so much more. You just have to know where to look. Vacations here are also often cheaper than those available on the other islands.

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. A new $56 million visitors' center and museum opened recently featuring 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. Fresh from a $110 million total renovation, 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. The resort's luau is also 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 School 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 winter escape plans, don't despair. A wide variety of weekend cruise options are available to rescue you from the winter blues. These 3- to 5-day cruises depart from a number of ports throughout the U.S., eliminating expensive airfares and making these family vacation options both economical and convenient.

This winter, families can take a short cruise vacation departing from cities in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and California. These cruises visit a wide variety of ports in exciting 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 cruises. Disney Cruise Line's new Disney Dream is definitely the top ship for families in this category. 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.

Short sailing itineraries are available on a variety of cruise lines including Disney Cruise Line, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and others. Prices on some ships can start as low as $199 per person for a 4-day cruise on selected dates, providing a particularly affordable family vacation option for those who can drive to the ship's home port. For more information on short family cruise getaways, take a look at this article on The Family Travel Network.

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