Recommended destinations for parents whose teens would rather be grounded than go on a vacation with the family.

Parents of hard-to-please, moody teens take heart. There really are family-friendly resorts and cruises where mom and dad can co-exist with their independence-craving, alternative-minded, sports-crazed kids. As the mother of a teenage boy, I have crash-tested several of these spots.

Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.

Last summer I took my 16-year-old Alex and his friend to Smugglers’ Notch Resort, about an hour from Burlington. They seemed to enjoy their summer stay: from 10 a.m. to midnight, I never saw the boys, except the time—all right, times—when I spied from behind trees. (Since this was Vermont, there were plenty of tree-hiding opportunities!)

During the day, the teens were engaged in outdoor pursuits like rock climbing, hiking, dodge ball, swimming, golf and kayaking. They’d then hit the condo for a quick shower and “hello” and run off to meet their new friends for dinner before heading to the Outer Limits Teen Center, Smuggs’ no-parents-allowed club for teens 16 and older.

The beauty of Outer Limits is that it is flexible with just enough unstructured activities. Alex and his friends enjoyed playing video games on the Xbox 360, surfing the Web (there are several computers in the club) and watching peers perform Karaoke while hanging out on the couch. The free popcorn machine was a hit, too. Tweens and younger teens hang at Teen Alley, a similar club setting geared for kids 13- to 15-years old, although 11- and 12-year-olds are welcome from 5-8 p.m. daily.

Even fate loves Smuggs. While packing up the car to leave on our last morning, Alex came running up the mountain, begging me to stay another five or so hours while he and his friend took one last kayaking trip (violins, please). “Absolutely not,” I said, noting that we had an eight-hour drive home to Long Island, N.Y. While Alex presented his case, I noticed that the car’s front passenger tire was completely flat. You guessed it, the boys got to kayak, and we got home at midnight.

If you purchase a vacation package, plenty of activities to fill your days are included in the base price. However, sports clinics and special outdoor excursions (of which there are plenty) will incur extra charges. And rest assured that all excursions and activities, including “hanging” at the Outer Limits Club, are supervised by “cool” counselors. Still, it was comforting to know that the boys were always reachable by cell phone.

Smugglers’ Notch Resort, 4323 Vermont Route 108 South, Smugglers’ Notch, VT 05464, tel. 800-419-4615, Vacation packages start at $732 for three nights in June for a family of three, and increase with each passing month. Winter packages start at $1,565 and include lift tickets and free ski or snowboard lessons.

Cape Cod, Mass.

My son and I spend part of every summer on Cape Cod. Many people think of the Cape and sandy strands immediately come to mind. We do love the beaches and dunes, but when we visit the Cape, we do so for baseball.

Cape Cod is home to the Cape Cod Baseball League, made up of the country’s best college players during the summer. The games are at night, and during the day these players work at the League’s baseball camps. Practically every town on the Cape sponsors a camp, and my son has participated for several summers. He has made life-long friends at the camps and has fun cheering-on many of the players who go on to the Majors (and most do).

My son and I have stayed at many resorts and hotels on the Cape. We’ve checked into the Ocean Edge Resort & Club in Brewster several times, including last summer. The Ocean EdgeVenture children’s program is geared for kids 5 to 12, but there’s plenty for teens to do at this sprawling resort. Alex’s favorite activities here include:

  • hitting the gym,
  • swimming in all of the pools (there are six, two are indoor, and they’re great places for teens to meet other teens),
  • hanging out at the private beach (a boardwalk leads down to the beach and it’s especially popular for teens at night),
  • hitting the driving range,
  • playing pool in the pub,
  • and walking to the ice cream shop located next door to the resort, teen central once the sun sets.

The resort also sponsors a teen night every week during the summer, which usually involves an outdoor movie by the pool, and there are tons of family activities to participate in, such as whiffle-ball tournaments, ultimate Frisbee games and bike tours.

Ocean Edge Resort & Club on Cape Cod, 2907 Main Street, Route 6A, Brewster, Massachusetts 02631, 508-896-9000, Rooms start at $195/night in June for a family of three.

We also spent a night at the family-and-budget-friendly Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis. Teen girls will especially appreciate the Beach Plum Spa which offers a Kids’ Spa and Teen’s Corner. Kids can indulge in the chocolate milkshake pedicure (sip cocoa while feet are exfoliated with a chocolate scrub, $45), teen facials and teen makeup application lessons. A parent and child massage is also available (kids 16 and under must have an adult present during the massage).

Alex, of course, opted instead to sink his toes into the 8,200-square-foot indoor water complex, which features a fountain, several water slides and a wave pool. At night he met and hung out with other teens in the hotel’s courtyard where a bonfire is stoked each evening (S’mores included) and an outdoor movie is shown; there’s also an outdoor volleyball court.

Cape Codder Resort & Spa, 1225 Iyanough Rd., Route 132 & Bearse’s Way, Hyannis, Mass. 02601, tel. 888-297-2200, Rooms start at $199/night in June.

Cruise Ships

Cruises have always been popular getaways for families. Walt Disney World has always been an expert source when it comes to pleasing kids and parents. But once these kids hit their teens, there’s the potential for frowns, despite Mickey Mouse’s best attempts to be cool. What can Disney do on its cruises to ensure smiles from this chillin’ age group?

Enter Teen Beach. “We have an area on Castaway Cay, our private island [in the Bahamas], that is reserved exclusively for teenagers,” says Lisa Broschart, Disney Cruise Line’s Manager of Youth Activities. “Teens can participate in activities such as raft building, sand football, volleyball, water games and hang out with each other.” Broschart says there are also ‘teen only’ excursions off Castaway Cay like kayaking, biking and snorkeling.

Independence is also key in pleasing teenagers, says Broschart. Disney allows teenagers to come and go as they please while onboard, while parents must sign kids ages 12 and under in and out of the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab.

Disney Cruise Line, tel. 800-951-3532,

The Westin St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

The teen market is also big business at the Westin St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The resort’s Teen Center features air hockey, foosball, video games, surround sound and more. There are also various teens-only activities offered, including parasailing adventures 200 feet above the island, kayak trips to beaches where teens can snorkel and explore, tennis clinics on six lighted courts and salsa lessons. A captain will take teens anywhere they want to go around the island on Teens-Only powerboat excursions. Water skiing is included at no extra cost, and teens can cruise out to a deserted island with a boom box and Frisbee.

For more materialistic youth, Shelly Blyth, the resort’s personal shopper for teens, will tell your kids where to find the coolest reggae CD’s, ear cuffs and toe rings in nearby laid-back and funky Cruz Bay. She will also advise older teens on shopping opportunities in St. Thomas, which they can visit on the resort’s boat, and (for a fee) take teens on shopping excursions sans-parents.

The Westin St. John Resort & Villas, USVI, tel. 340-693-8000, Rooms start at $444/night in June.

About a week after we’d returned home from our successful week vacation at Smuggs, Alex began to plan our next vacation. “It must have a teen club,” he said. “And no trees!” Wink.

Additional reporting provided by Aaron Butzen.


Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cape Cod, Smugglers’ Notch

Family Travel, Cruises

Hiking, Canoeing, Golf, Kayaking

Article by Laurie Bain Wilson, originally written for TravelMuse