The New Family Vacation

From glamping in Montana to easy mansion living in Jamaica, today's first-rate family vacation destinations are like your easy, relaxing summers at the Shore, but with way more amenities—and much bluer water. Here, some spots worth exploring together.

At first I suspect the sunglasses are someone’s idea of a Caribbean joke. The statue at Mustique’s one-landing-strip airport of Colin Tennant—the English noble who bought the island in 1958 and cultivated it into a private retreat for the wellborn—is wearing a pair of sunglasses around his neck. But no, the shades are actually part of the bronze likeness of Tennant, who once said, “In an age when everything about well-known people is public, Mustique is a place where they can behave naturally.”

The ability to “behave naturally” is still a draw for such island visitors as William and Kate, Beyoncé, Carla Bruni and Kate Moss. For those of us who aren’t hiding from the paparazzi, the exclusivity, casual elegance and clubbiness make this unlike any other Caribbean destination.

The Mustique Company operates the 74 for-rent villas on the island like mini-hotels, meaning the cleaning and activity-arranging is taken care of. The fridge is stocked by your butler prior to arrival, and the always-on-call chef will whip up your meals when and how you like them, even if all the kids want is another turkey sandwich. Each villa is different (although most have pools), and the website and staff can help you sleuth out the ideal one: Teenagers will flip over the plush home theater in Coccoloba; Dad will read the morning paper in the swinging hammock at Moana (which also has a sun deck with a million-dollar view); everyone will post photos of the Italianate hillside, five-bedroom Hibiscus manse, which was Will and Kate’s choice. All are spacious, for together-with-breathing-room quality time.

Tearing the family away from “home” isn’t easy. Pools feel like they’re floating above the Earth, green-covered hills slope down to white sand coves, and outdoor rooms seem to harness the tropical breeze. But try to rally the crew. Tricked-out golf-cart “mules” come with every villa, to scoot you around. The Mustique Company has turned the island into one big resort, with bike rentals, yoga classes, kids’ camps, boating, diving and a full-service spa. In the dot of an island village is Basil’s Bar, a.k.a. the Parc of Mustique, which serves fruity cocktails and ginger-flecked tuna tartare while you take in glamorous guests and just-for-you sunsets.

The Cotton House (the one full-service hotel) has a weekly cocktail party to which all island-dwellers are cordially invited. I met four Brits, and within an hour was invited to their villa for lunch the next day. Maybe there’s just something born of putting all those villas on an island that’s barely three miles long and a half-mile wide that makes people want to gather and enjoy the company of those around them. (I didn’t see one single cell phone during the cocktail party.) Two Canadian honeymooners went so far as to invite their family to join them on the island after a week of alone-time.

True, with two layovers and a flight on a puddle jumper, Mustique is about as hard to reach from Philadelphia as your house in Avalon is easy. But then, you don’t have to carry beach tags to prove you belong. If you’re on Mustique, you’re in.

Mustique at a Glance:

Ages: Everyone from newborns to Grandma. Stellar service staff makes dealing with large groups especially easy.
Kid stuff: Equestrian center, tennis clubs (for ages three and up), soccer camp, kids’ club and a pretty playground.
Grown-up stuff: Scuba-diving and the small but excellent Cotton House spa.
Together time: Enjoy the pool, ocean and house amenities, charter a sailboat, participate in group activities like the “Night Snorkel Pizza Party” and family movie nights at the Cotton House.
Eats: The real celebs on the island are the villa chefs, who turn out delicious meals to your tastes at a table or on the beach. Villa owners like Le Bernardin’s Maguy Le Coze mean standards are high. Don’t miss Basil’s on Wednesday nights for the weekly BBQ “Jump Up” with live music and strong drinks.
Quiet time: Book a babysitter for the evening, or a nanny for the week, in advance of your stay. There’s also a day camp for kids.
So you know: There are no ATMs or banks on Mustique.
Getting there: Get to St. Lucia or Barbados, and hop a quick flight to the island.
Stay details: Villas range from two to nine bedrooms, with weekly rates from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on season and size.

Take your family to:

>>A Ranch in Montana: Paws Up
>>A Villa in California: Pelican Hill
>>A Cottage in Upstate New York: Mohonk Mountain House
>>A Village in Tuscany: Monteverdi
>>A Manor in Jamaica: Moon Dance Cliffs