The best resorts for children

Family-friendly: Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort.
Family-friendly: Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort.  Photo: Chris McLennan

Once upon a time parents could take their children away and provided there was a pool and a mini bar, everyone was pretty much accommodated.  In my family, trips were designed around golf courses, and I spent more than my fair share of holidays caddying and playing in sand bunkers while my father worked on lowering his handicap.

My brothers and I were more than content as long as we had a pool to splash in and old-school breakfasts that arrived on trays through a slot in our motel room.  But with generation X and Y marrying and having children much later, parents today are not changing their lifestyle just because they've had kids. If they're accustomed to travelling in a certain way before they had children, they're less likely to find the traditional family holiday appealing. 

And forget sticking their precious offspring in a four-walled room with a few toys and games. This is not only changing the way families holiday, but the way hotels and resorts cater to the luxe family market, too. The time parents  spend with their children is valuable, says Starwood's global brand leader for the Luxury Collection, W and St Regis Paul James.

The Hideout - Buttermilk - Aspen Colorado.
The Hideout - Buttermilk - Aspen Colorado.  Photo: Supplied

"This has changed the way we design our children's clubs, our programming, the hours we operate children's facilities and more because we have an affluent vein of customers who really want the best and want their kids to have their best, too."

The Starwood Group is not alone. Resorts such as Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort made a decision long ago to actively target the five-star family market and its Bula Club is considered the leading kids club in the South Pacific.

A fulltime marine biologist is onsite to teach children about the ocean, while buddies are on hand for  adventures including spearfishing, bonfire building  or crafting rafts. Elsewhere resorts offer surf schools, cooking lessons, yabby hunts, outdoor movies under the stars and pyjama parties. Some properties even offer bespoke kid's activities, including the chance to play farmer or lessons from a local artist. 

Here we highlight the properties around the world leading the charge when it comes to kids' clubs, engaging children's programs and bespoke activities for young guests.

FOR LOW-KEY FAMILY FUN

QUEENSLAND

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LADY ELLIOT ISLAND

THE CLUB: This eco resort's Junior Reef Ranger programme  gets kids two to five off the iPads and outside learning about one of Australia's greatest assets, the Great Barrier Reef. Not only do Reef Rangers enjoy fun, educational activities during the two-hour guided session, they also meet and share their holiday with other youngsters.

ESSENTIALS: Reef Rangers Kids Club runs twice daily during Queensland and NSW school holidays at a cost of $5 a child for a session.  Accommodation is in 41 unpretentious suites, units and cabins. It costs from $165 a night twin share in an eco cabin a person, plus $69 a child.

Scrubby Bay, Annandale, Banks Peninsula, NZ.
Scrubby Bay, Annandale, Banks Peninsula, NZ. Photo: Supplied

 See ladyelliot.com.au/content/kids-activities

BIG4ADVENTURE WHITSUNDAY RESORT, AIRLIE BEACH, WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS

THE CLUB:  This award-winning 10 hectare tropical resort located just outside Airlie Beach is a caravan park (voted Australia's best in the 2012 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards), but not as you know it. During school holidays, the resort operates a Kids Club and offers old-school family activities including mini golf tournaments under the sprinklers, outdoor movies, family spit roast by the pool, and pancakes on the barbecue. Kids can learn to make paper planes, join a mini Olympics where families bob for apples and compete in sack races, and tear around the resort on fun pedalkarts.

Lady Eliott Island, Queensland - Junior Reef Ranger Programme. Snorkelling with turtles.
Lady Eliott Island, Queensland - Junior Reef Ranger Programme. Snorkelling with turtles.  Photo: Chris McLennan

ESSENTIALS: From $175 a  night for a family of four in a deluxe studio. See adventurewhitsunday.com.au

BALI, INDONESIA

CUBBY HOUSE KIDZ CLUB, SEMARA RESORT AND SPA

Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort.
Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort.  Photo: Chris McLennan

THE CLUB: Gold Coast entrepreneurs Tony Smith and his wife Simone have hit on a point of difference at their Seminyak resort with a world-class, pay-as-you-go kid's club. The Cubby House Kidz Club was designed by the Smiths, drawing on their experience in the travel industry running Australia's Stella Group (formerly Breakfree Resorts). One of the things they looked for when travelling was a safe, fun place to leave their children so that the parents they could enjoy a quiet dinner or shopping on their own - a place where you didn't have to be staying at the resort to access the kids club. Voila! 

ESSENTIALS:  All families can access the sparkling and spacious 364 square metre  air-conditioned kids club, which has movie theatres, an incredible craft room, toddler's space, dress ups, library and wall-to-wall internet stations and Playstations for two to 12-year-olds. The accompanying 58-room boutique Semara Resort and Spa offers an excellent spa, great cuisine and a prime Seminyak location. A two-hour casual pass costs from IDR120,000 ($A12) while a five-visit holiday pass costs from IDR 600,000 ($A60) including a healthy snack and a drink. See cubbyhousekidsclub.com.

FOR MID-RANGE FUN

The Rubens at the Palace,  London.
The Rubens at the Palace, London.  Photo: Supplied

BALI

ALILA VILLAS SOORI

THE CLUB: Lying between verdant rice terraces and beautiful volcanic-sand beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean, Alila Villas Soori offers family size residences (up to 10 bedrooms), with landscaped gardens and infinity pools. The resort offers "Journeys for the Little Ones"  from IDR 165,000 ($A16) integrating indigenous nature and traditional Balinese culture. The 'Journey of a Little Soori Chef' sees kids make sweet delights with the resort's pastry chef, while nature walks get children out into the rice paddy fields for old fashioned fun in the mud. 

Big 4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands.
Big 4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands.  Photo: Supplied

ESSENTIALS: Traditional kite making and flying on the beach is also offered while budding painters can learn from a local painter. One-bedroom villas cost from $803 a night. See alilahotels.com/soori

LONDON

THE RUBENS AT THE PALACE

THE CLUB: Kids are given their own check-in and greeted by a member of a dedicated children's guest services team (headed by the "Director of Fun") at this very special hotel opposite Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews. Staff discuss  individual preferences with young guests, such as their favorite colour, drink, food and animal. A glass of milk, kid's treat, bathrobe and slippers are left at evening turndown service, while stickers, colouring books, kids movies, Nintendo games and an interactive child's map of London (where they can tick off places they've seen) are all on offer. As well as a dedicated kid's menu, Princes and Princesses afternoon tea selection, small guests love the Rubens Pastry Experience where, dressed in full chef's whites, they get to watch chefs in action and then decorate their own cupcake, which is boxed to take home. 

ESSENTIALS: Every possible amenity is available for young ones,  including babies. From £230.00 ($A455) a night  including English breakfast. See rubenshotel.com.

FIJI

MALOLO ISLAND RESORT

THE CLUB: This boutique family property oozes South Pacific charm. Set on a former copra estate, Malolo offers family and adults-only dining, two pools and 46 free-standing, air-conditioned bures (including a family bure) newly refurbished by Australian designers Vanessa and Peter Wood. Malolo's complimentary Tia's Treehouse is one of the best designed and run kid's clubs in Fiji for kids four-12 with a a spacious, open-style bure set into the hillside under a huge, shady flame tree tended by friendly Fijian staff. An old yacht in the sandy grounds helps kids to bring out their inner pirate, while everything from dance classes to boat making is offered.

ESSENTIALS: Family excursions can be had at  Mondriki Island where the movie Castaway was filmed, and to the uninhabited Honeymoon Island, where you can snorkel a pristine reef teeming with tropical fish. From $FJ821 ($A514) in an oceanview bure. See maloloisland.com

ASPEN COLORADO

THE HIDEOUT, BUTTERMILK

THE CLUB: Aspen Snowmass' has opened a new "kids only" Hideout at the base of family-friendly ski terrain Buttermilk. The 696 square metre, $6.4 million facility offers a central drop-off for ski lessons and rentals for children two-12. Susan Cross, Buttermilk Mountain manager, says  the Hideout fosters children's imagination and blends Buttermilk's kid-friendly terrain with a variety of fun, indoor programs centred on mountain adventure. The building is designed with nooks and crannies for kids to "hide out", including a lookout tower and playroom. 

ESSENTIALS: A full day costs from $US199 ($A255) including lesson, rental equipment, lift ticket and lunch. Rooms at the family friendly Westin Snowmass cost  from $US479 ($A614) in peak season. See aspensnowmass.com and westinsnowmass.com.

 BLOW THE BUDGET

THAILAND

SONEVA KIRI, KOH KOOD

THE CLUB: At this sublime resort the bamboo-built Den, a dramatic structure floating in the jungle treetops, stars.  Designed in consultation with children, it has a drawbridge entrance, whimsical slide exit and rooms dedicated to art, music and fashion – all flooded with natural light. Children five-12 can learn to play Thai instruments, painting and the visual arts. Younger children five and under have their own adventures (at an additional cost) in the fantastic Eco Den. With a "no news, no shoes" policy, decadent spa, fantastic dining, outdoor cinema and 24-hour butlers to boot, every member of the family will be happy at this all-ages tropical playground. 

ESSENTIALS: Rooms  start from $2321 a  night for two adults and one crib in a Bayview Pool Villa Suite. Extra beds for children up to 16 are  $177 a  night. See soneva.com/soneva-kiri; smithandfamily.com.

NEW ZEALAND 

SCRUBBY BAY, ANNANDALE, BANKS PENINSULA

THE CLUB: Kids can round up sheep, see rare Hector dolphins and take a private art lesson on one of New Zealand's most prestigious working farms, offering 10 kilometres of dramatic coastline. Annandale has  four high-end villas including the new, mind-blowing family getaway Scrubby Bay which combines dramatic design  by renowned New Zealand architect Andrew Patterson with ocean vistas, seclusion, fabulous food and bespoke activities such as  4WD farm tours, hiking, biking and fun aquatic adventures in Pigeon Bay where inquisitive dolphins come to play. 

ESSENTIALS: Children can take personal art lessons with well known  local artist Anna Dalziel who guides young guests to create a keepsake of their stay ($395 for four hours). Even the 40-minute drive by 4WD to Scrubby Bay is an adventure passing through farm gates and paddocks of Angus cows and sheep. Priced from $NZ3600 per night for up to six people. See annandale.com

BLUE MOUNTAINS, NSW

EMIRATES WOLGAN VALLEY RESORT AND SPA 

THE CLUB: With 1620 jaw-dropping hectares  of pristine natural wilderness (with a world-class spa and restaurant) as your backyard, families at Wolgan Valley are in for the eco adventure of a lifetime. A junior (under eight years) and senior (eight-plus) ranger programme in NSW school holidays gets kids into the great outdoors learning about bush survival, native animals and birds, fossil hunting, bugs and insects, yabbying, orienteering, archery, indoor art and craft, bush art and craft. Outside of school holidays, field guides are available to take kids for a (safe) but adrenalin-boosting spin in Polaris all-terrain vehicles while a complimentary (unsupervised) creche is offered in the main homestead. 

ESSENTIALS: Luxurious suites with unbeatable views complete the picture. All-inclusive rates start from $1490 a  night for two adults and one child in a cot. See  wolganvalley.com; smithandfamily.com

MALDIVES

ONE&ONLY REETHI RAI

THE CLUB: The six-star One&Only Reethi Rai offers 12 perfect white sandy beaches; a lap pool voted the world's sexiest and unprecedented privacy with 20 metres between each super luxurious villa. Much thought has gone into the resort's complimentary OneTribe teen club and KidsOnly clubhouse, which comes with its own dining area, KidsOnly menu, swimming pool shaded by coconut trees, computer stations, baby room, arts and crafts and sporting facilities. Young guests have the chance to learn about everything from hermit crabs, geckos and the underwater world, through to Maldivian culture. 

ESSENTIALS: Cookery classes, drama workshops and fun activities for kids to share with their parents, such as family fitness challenges, mother-daughter yoga and family line fishing, are also organised at Reethi Rai. Whatever is offered to adult guests is likewise offered to kids right down to luxurious changing facilities and miniature sun lounges. From $US2160 ($A2773) a night. See reethirah.oneandonlyresorts.com.

FOR PURE LUXURY

FIJI

JEAN MICHEL COUSTEAU RESORT 

THE CLUB: There's no better place on Earth to introduce kids to the life aquatic than this South Pacific resort, founded by the son of legendary diver Jacques Cousteau. The world-class Bula Club, dawn-to-dusk nannies and caring, attentive staff draws Australian families back again and again to this island paradise, where cultural immersion, eco friendliness and romantic lantern-lit dining by the pool go hand in hand.

ESSENTIALS: This multi award-winning resort on Fiji's second biggest island Vanua Levu, has opened a fabulous new Treehouse adventure playground built around a huge Raintree and introduced a new teenager's program which includes an assistant chef's programme, and teaches kids bili bili raft making. All-inclusive rates for a family of four cost from $1170. See fijiresort.com.

SOUTH AFRICA

ANDBEYOND PHINDA MOUNTAIN LODGE

THE CLUB: The focus at andBeyond Phinda Mountain Lodge is on natural luxury. The company has recently launched a new bush-focused children's program, the WILDchild, available at all andBeyond lodges in Africa, which specialises in putting together specially tailored itineraries for families. "Something special happens when the innocence of childhood encounters the wonder of nature and a child realises they are part of something beautiful and much larger than them," says Jacky Humphries of andBeyond. AndBeyond Phinda Mountain Lodge has spacious and comfortable family suites, as well as specially-trained staff to keep children occupied on fishing trips and  scavenger hunts, while adults enjoy twice-daily game drives, nature walks and special surprises including picnic breakfasts in the middle of nowhere, sunset drinks, bush banquets and candlelit baths.

ESSENTIALS: A three-night safari including complimentary flights and road transfers from Johannesburg costs from $5292 for a family of four. See andbeyond.com/phinda-mountain-lodge.

FIJI

VOMO ISLAND RESORT

THE CLUB: Vomo is one of the closest of the Mamanuca Islands to the mainland and all of its 28 villas and two, three and four-bedroom private residences are mere steps from the white sand beach. There's a gym, hiking, jogging tracks, luxurious Senikai Spa and new PADI dive centre. Young guests will love the complimentary (for children four and over), Vomo Kids Village accessed via a fun suspension bridge, snorkelling expeditions and turtle sanctuary.

ESSENTIALS: Parents can enjoy world-class dining under the stars, hammocks swung between palm trees and how Vomo throws out the welcome mat for families in a chic tropical setting. All-inclusive rates from $1100 a night. See vomofiji.com.

MEMBERS ONLY: KIDS' PICK OF THE BUNCH

HARRY LAWSON, 7, KURRAJONG, NSW

"When Mum told me the kids' club at Castaway [Fiji] didn't have Nintendo or even a TV, I thought it was going to be super boring, but it was the best place on the island. My sister and I won the sandcastle building competition because we made the Death Star." See castawayfiji.com

GRACE LAWSON, THREE, KURRAJONG, NSW

"I liked the ice cream eating competition the best [Castaway Island, Fiji]. They let me have as much as I wanted – mum never does that."

RAFFERTY LAIGHT, 6, KIRRIBILI, NSW

"I love Adventure Ocean [at Royal Caribbean's kids club]. There are lots of fun things to do and I made loads of friends who I played with later in the pool. We put on a talent show and performed it for the other people on the ship. I loved that." See royalcaribbean.com.au

ELLA SZECSODI, 6, NEWCASTLE, NSW

"At the Bula Club [Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort] I collect crabs, swim in the pool, go for boat rides and play with my nanny Joana. One time I was allowed to help in the Bula Club kitchen and serve dinner to all the kids." See fijiresort.com

FREYA MCLOUGHLIN, 7, VAUCLUSE, NSW

One & Only Reethi Rah [Maldives] have the best water slide ever. I also love playing tug of war with Rapunzels hair at the LUX* Maldives kids club. See reethirah.oneandonlyresorts.com; luxresorts.com/

XAVIER MCLOUGLIN, 10, VAUCLUSE, NSW

"At Amilla Fushi's Fun House [in the Maldives] kids get to experience things that island kids do, like climbing a coconut tree, and making yummy Maldivian bread "roshi" which I love eating for breakfast. Sand soccer with the locals is awesome fun too." See amilla.mv

FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A KIDS' CLUB

1. Ask to see the child protection policy when leaving your child at a hotel/resort kid's club, crèche, nanny or with an activities guide.

2. Have a good look around. Is it clean, hygienic, are staff engaged with their charges or are kids sitting watching television? 

3. Check whether children are safely contained. Could they get out, or run off, if someone wasn't watching?

4. What are the procedures for pick up? Be sure only yourself and other authorised family members or friends can collect your child and be sure to leave details of where you can be contacted.

5. Ensure any pools have fences.