In a family vacation rut? Juice up your adrenaline—and the kids’ too—by hitting one of these way-cool destinations for a summer family vacation

Spring Creek Ranch
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
One week here and your PlayStation addict will morph into a naturalist. This upscale resort is bordered by cattle ranches, the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, so you’re smack in the middle of nature. Take a wildlife safari with an in-house naturalist to spot bison, elk and moose then grab your brood for owl hooting and elk bugling sessions, teepee-and-fire pit storytelling and rodeo riding lessons. Got teens? Go whitewater rafting down the Snake River or hit the skies in a hot air balloon. Worry not, traditionalists: the ranch is also equipped with summer musts like spa and swimming.

Park Hotel Weggis
Switzerland
With temps ranging from the mid-60s to the mid-80s, summer’s a great time to tour this famously wintry locale. The Park Hotel Weggis has a special bundled package for summer that includes kid-friendly activities (gondola rides up the 6,000-foot Mt. Rigi, pizza dinner parties and sparkling bubble baths) and adult-friendly luxuries (Tibetan wellness treatments and an on-site, Michelin-starred restaurant). For about $7,000, a family of four gets five nights in a luxury suite, hearty breakfasts and dinners, a day trip to Mt. Rigi or Lake Lucerne, three hours of private spa use, babysitting and full use of mountain bikes, canoes, kickboards, billiards and ping pong.

Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort, Casino & Spa
Puerto Rico
Craving an all-out luxury beach vacation? Skip the standard resorts and make it a vacation that dubs as a science lesson. This Wyndham Grand Resort sits on a 500-acre hideaway on the Atlantic and has everything you crave—a secluded mile-long beach, full-service spa, two championship golf courses, multiple pools—but it’s also teeming with natural experiences like the nearby El Yunque Rainforest, Camuy Cave excursions, daily iguana feedings and bioluminescent nighttime kayaking. They also have fun extras like Latin dance lessons, lawn croquet, dive-in movies and kids’ camp. Definitely a family vacation experience that’ll relax your soul and feed your kids’ imaginations.

REI Adventures
Multiple locations
Ready for adventure? Families with kids ages 5 and up can join an organized trip with REI. Your small group is led by a local guide for adventure activities such as bike tours, paddling, hiking, rafting, climbing and wildlife viewing. It’s a totally cool way to show kids that the world outside is way more interesting than the one indoors and it’ll bump up the exercise quotient for the whole family during your vacation. The trek to the Galapagos Islands is definitely the coolest option—think volcanoes and exotic animal species like giant tortoises, flamingos and marine iguanas—but it doesn’t come cheap (from $2,450 per person for an eight-day trip). An affordable alternative is four days in Tahoe ($430 per person), based around hidden hiking trails of the Tahoe National Forest.

Villa Rentals
Europe
The thought of renting a European villa thrills me, but it’s admittedly overwhelming. Enter HomesAway, a villa travel specialty company that advises you on finding the right villas for your family based on ages and interests. The company also offers a service to pair you up with a local host who’ll act as a guide, itinerary planner, translator and troubleshooter. With a little inside help, immersing your family in, say, the Italian or French culture, is a snap. Think private pizza-making classes with a personal chef, local boat rides, soccer games and catching a leg of the Tour de France as bikers speed through Provence. C’est magnifique!

Frugal Family Vacation Alternatives…

  • Rent an RV and explore a few states on the mainland for about $1,000 (plus gas).
  • Recruit your extended family to share the expense of a big beachfront rental with a pool.
  • Procrastinate. There’s no time like the end of August to score deep discounts on last-minute bookings.
  • Ditch the ocean and swim upstream. Lakeside cottages and log cabins are almost always less expensive than their oceanside counterparts.

Regent Seven Seas Cruise
Multiple locations
I don’t know about you, but my little environmentalists are natural tree huggers who can’t get enough of planet-saving efforts.  If yours are similar, they’ll really dig the concept of cruising with Cousteau. Quite the opposite from character-heavy, culture-light family cruises, these “Ambassador of the Environment” ships are partners with ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques Cousteau) and his nonprofit conservation organization, Ocean Futures Society. This means that while you enjoy the comforts of a top-rated luxury cruise, your kids will be introduced to the natural beauty of local ecosystems on a handful of shore excursions and hands-on activities. The boats set sail in a host of exotic global destinations like Tahiti and South America.

Oahu, Hawaii
Sure, plenty of families head to Hawaii for a family vacation during the summer, but they usually (a) choose a remote island and (b) burn through a small fortune doing so. Choose Oahu for a Hawaiian vacation that’s reasonably priced and loaded with kid-friendly activities like these:

  • Catch a free sunset movie on a 30-foot screen on Waikiki Beach while noshing on local cuisine from food vendors.
  • Hike up the moderately-graded volcanic crater (1.6 miles roundtrip) of Mt. Le‘ahi (Diamond Head) for $5 a car.
  • Polish your ukulele and hula skills with free lessons at the Royal Hawaiian Center
  • When in Rome…Learn to surf www.hhsurf.com with family lessons off the North Shore and Waikiki.
  • Take an eco-tour of archeological and cultural sites brimming with ancient Hawaiian culture and natural life.
  • Catch a canoe pageant and authentic luau, complete with a hula performance
  • Swim with stingrays and dolphins at Sea Life Park Hawaii.
  • Run through the world’s largest maze and chow down on pineapple-themed food at the Dole Pineapple Plantation.