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.

When I was a child, my parents would talk wistfully about taking a family trip to Hudson Valley’s Mohonk Mountain House. Friends of theirs had spent time at the grand resort, and my parents had this image of it being the ideal place for family bonding. The main house is like a castle out of Game of Thrones, regally beetling on a cliff above crisp Mohonk Lake, and appealing to anyone who is looking for a change of pace.

It’s taken me a few decades, but I finally made it to Mohonk, with my own wife and children, and I can report that the family-bonding aspect is alive and well. Mohonk is a pretty easy three-hour drive, and I allowed the kids (six and seven years old) to flip on a DVD in the backseat, in what I hoped would be their last glimpse of technology for a few days. Unplugging is easy once you’re at the resort, with its slew of outdoor activities, and TVs are sparse.

There are two options for accommodations at Mohonk. You can stay in the historic main building, which has a cavernous old-school dining room, along with two smaller dining venues, a luxe spa, and comfortable rooms with incredible views of the nearby tree-topped mountains or the lake. Despite the vast footprint, the B&B-ish decor and lodge vibe make the individual rooms feel like part of one big house. (Those with balconies are ideal for watching the sunrise and sunset.) Or you can opt for one of the just-renovated cottages, a series of five cabins dotted around Mohonk’s many acres. They sleep anywhere from four to six people and vary in style and layout; the cabins are mostly open year-round. They have small kitchens, cricket-chirping quietness, and enough woodsy charm to make you forget about wherever it is you came from. But know that they’re on the rustic end of things. Think nice upstate cabin, not trendy eco-resort digs.

Six miles away is the town of New Paltz, where you can stock up on groceries or order stuff to pick up from the Mountain House, which has prepared foods (hummus platters) as well as meats (steak, burgers, chicken) that are ready to sizzle away on your cottage grill. Still, you’ll probably wind up spending some time in the main house’s dining room. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style, which is a blessing when you’re feeding a gang. Normally I loathe buffets, but the ones here are better than most. Anyway, eating is just the thing you need to do to refuel for your next adventure, since the real appeal of Mohonk is the 40,000 acres of surrounding wilderness and plentiful outdoor activities.

There are miles of hiking paths for all ­abilities—including tour-led hikes—boats for fishing or paddling along the lovely lake (which you can also swim in, if you want a more natural experience than the resort’s indoor heated pool), horse rides (pulled behind in a carriage or perched atop on a saddle), golf, tennis, lawn games, and the plush Mohonk gardens, which are worthy of a stroll.

There’s also a kids’ camp, which means the grown-ups can hit up the spa, just named by Condé Nast Traveler’s readers as the best resort spa in the country. I was the thankful recipient of a terrific Swedish massage, but the soak in the heated outdoor mineral pool was where I really found my sense of unplugged calm. (My first-ever yoga class, inside the resort’s studio, was more excruciating than relaxing.)

We regrouped as a family for a glide around the incredible covered ice rink—one of the most picturesque in the country. (It opens for the season in November.) In retrospect, I should have taken a lesson, since I had never before strapped on a pair of ice skates. I somehow managed to dance around on the ice for an hour or so. And if being the stereotypical clumsy dad for my kids, who laughed till they snorted, isn’t the measure of a good vacation, I don’t know what is.

Mohonk Mountain House at a Glance:

Ages: Given Mohonk’s decidedly rustic feel, this trip is best suited to flexible kids.
Kid stuff: Get Junior moving—up on a horse, out on a bike, or hitting tennis or golf balls.
Grown-up stuff: There’s rock climbing and mountain biking. Tennis buffs will love the century-old red clay courts. The spa, with its heated mineral pool, is fantastic.
Together time: Take a visit off-property to nearby West Point.
Eats: The three on-site dining rooms have surprisingly tasty, varied eats. Off-property, there’s high tea at the Village TeaRoom and great Italian at A Tavola.
quiet time: The kids’ camp is action-packed; the game room is blessedly screen-free, with activities like air hockey and ping-pong.
So you know: Cottages are rustic—which isn’t always a bad thing. There’s a grocery store nearby for stocking the fridge.
Getting there: Three-hour drive from Philly.
Stay details: Cottages start at $525 a night, with a discount for longer stays.

Take your family to:

>>A Ranch in Montana: Paws Up
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>>A Villa in California: Pelican Hill
>>A Village in Tuscany: Monteverdi
>>A Manor in Jamaica: Moon Dance Cliffs