Parents with toddlers can be reluctant to embark on long-haul winter sun trips. But here’s the spoiler: this is the best time in your parenting life to board a plane. If your child is under two, you’ll save on the tickets; there’s no school schedule to contend with, so here’s a chance to save again; and they’re in a regular napping schedule anyhow, so what’s a time zone or two? And finally, everyone - whether 2 or 22 or 42 - is scientifically proven to be more relaxed by the beach.
In order to relax properly, of course, you will need to feel confident that your child is playing in a safe environment. So proximity to a gently shelving beach, with amenities and good hospitals close by, is required. You want to be in a zika-free zone if you’re thinking about another child but if you’re not, then the Caribbean and lots of other places are tempting (for the latest zika advice, see here).
Some destinations are better than others for families with pre-school children. For example, I wouldn’t go to some of the less developed Thai beaches in case of a medical emergency, or to some of the busiest ones for fear of jet skis and loud music.
The best family destinations offer something extra, combining sunshine and splashing with entertaining cultural activities that will create a more memorable trip for the adults, too. I’ve picked my 10 favourite winter sun destinations for toddlers and young children below.
All you need to do is pack a bucket and spade. While they have a good dig about, you can grab some time to yourself and pick up a book or chat over a cocktail.
Just follow this advice for keeping them entertained in-flight and pack a few good novels.
Good for: pampering, swimming, dining
Bad for: direct flights (you will need to change in Bangkok)
Who goes: parents wanting to relive their youth, Russian couples, first-timers to Asia
Samui may be one of Thailand’s more developed islands but when bringing little ones, this is reassuring. The island remains peaceful with plenty of shallow, golden beaches.
For the perfect balance between safe sand, facilities and chillout beach restaurants, head for either the quiet end of popular Chaweng beach or Mae Nam, which is narrow, so good for keeping an eye on tykes. Mae Nam has some laidback restaurants itself and it is a quick taxi ride to Bophut fisherman’s village for some more. Wat Phra Yai, or, Big Buddha temple is close also.
Stay: Santiburi Beach Resort & Spa on Mae Nam has traditional architecture, a kids club and some fantastic pools for kids of all ages. Doubles from £210 a night.
Good for: doing nothing, rainforests, stopping over in Singapore and being wowed by the excellent, interactive Art Science museum
Bad for: buzz-seekers
Who goes: upmarket families, nature-lovers, honeymooners
Langkawi is a verdant island with a striking peak, so a ride on the island cable car is an easy win to catch the panoramic views. Children who enjoy looking at photos of themselves (yep, that’s all of them) will great fun at the 3D art museum, which encourages the setting up of humorous perspective shots in front of colourful, imaginary backdrops. There are also waterfalls, bat caves and monkeys to find, while slightly older children might like an easy family jet ski tour around nearby karst islands.
Stay: Colonial-style The Danna has great views, a kids club, spa and is close to the cable car. Doubles from £187 a night.
Good for: facilities, variety of beaches, variety of resorts
Bad for: tackiness
Who goes: backpackers, clubbers, spa lovers
On the Andaman Sea side of Thailand, Phuket’s beaches range from the loud, with thronging beach clubs to the quiet and protected, like Mai Khao, which is long and dreamy and the best suited to small children who might need to sleep at strange hours. Away from the sand, Dino Park Mini Golf is a sure fire hit with children too young to have watched Jurassic Park. Phuket has dozens of temples and most are easy to stroll around. Phuket Old Town is worth a look too. Be careful of ethically-dubious animal attractions around here.
Stay: Anantara’s Mai Khao Phuket Villas (anantara.com/en) sit around a lagoon garden on Mai Khao and offer spacious pool villas, from £230 a night, with beachside yoga, sailing, cookery, batik painting and windsurfing.
Good for: cityscapes, sightseeing, lively beaches
Bad for: tranquility
Who goes: architecture buffs, night owls, first-time parents
Miami may be a bling playground for adults but its colourful, art deco buildings and awesome beaches make it a good destination for kids too. Try dining in informal beachside restaurants, stopping at playgrounds on the promenade, cycling around Little Havana, visiting the interactive children’s museum and crocodile-spotting, both from a tram and from a buggy-friendly boardwalk in the Everglades. Family-friendly hotels are hard to come by, so choose carefully.
Stay: Stylish Loews Miami Beach wows both adult and child with its superior position, large guest rooms, seafood restaurants, children’s menus, many pools and “float concierge” Doubles from £152 a night.
Garden Route, South Africa
Good for: wildlife, wine-tasting, world-class dining
Bad for: fly-and-flops
Who goes: oenophiles, the grandchildren of ex-pats, foodies
Families wanting to tour the Cape and the eastern coast at their own pace can design themselves a varied self-drive holiday, staying in great-value beachfront apartments. The empty, semi-wild beaches along the Garden Route are better for walks and sandcastles than they are for swimming but children will be delighted with animal sightings along the way: howlers and capuchins at Monkeyland, penguins at Boulders Beach and elephants at Knysna Elephant Park.
Stay: Arch Rock (archrock.co.za/) offers stylish, affordable apartments in view of dolphins-inhabited seas on Keurboomstrand, Plettenberg Bay, from £47 a night.
Good for: barefoot luxury, doing very little, marine life
Bad for: active types
Who goes: hedge-funders, honeymooners, routine-maintainers
If watching your kids sift through pristine sand while you savour a cocktail mere metres away appeals (and if you think you can keep said scenario going for a week), the Maldives is for you. Sleeping and eating routines may have driven you crazy at home but here, on a single island resort, they become blissfully simple. And once the children are tucked up in bed (some easy snorkelling off the beach should do it), the mini-bar and the sea views from your stilted villa come calling.
Stay: Constance Halaveli has a kids club with its own doctor on hand and doubles from £524 a night.
Good for: Hopping between white sand beaches, cheap eats from Indian snack stalls, lush vegetation
Bad for: cultural sightseeing
Who goes: French families, honeymooners, budget travellers
Mauritius is an island of two sides. While it is best known for its romantic, luxury resorts, outside of these families can enjoy the publicly-accessible Indian Ocean beaches as locals do - without pretension or cost. Hire a private apartment with a pool (try booking.com) and go exploring, perhaps also driving to see the Chamarel waterfall in the volcanic interior. Bring children who enjoy people-watching and might get bored in the Maldives.
Stay:LUX Belle Mare is a stylish, fun five-star, with kids’ activities and doubles from £223 a night
Good for: Water park thrills, wannabe pirates, underwater life.
Bad for: Overpricing in resorts, being OTT
Who goes: American families, fans of all-inclusives, water babies
The Bahamas lays on a lot for families, with huge resorts in towers and buildings shaped like cruise ships that provide babysitting, kids clubs and endless entertainment options. Get out and about on the main island, Nassau, to explore its fort, visit the pirate museum and - if you can bear it - ride the flumes together at the massive Aquaventure water park at Atlantis. You can find calm too though, especially on the Out Islands, where children can learn to snorkel safely at one of many gentle, white sand beaches.
Stay: An alternative to big, brash Atlantis is the family-run Andros Beach Club (androsbeachclub.com), on quiet South Andros. Its kids activities are nature-orientated and staff can arrange babysitting. Doubles from £450 a night.
Turks and Caicos
Good for: immaculate beaches, a laid-back vibe, water sports
Bad for: activities
Who goes: divers, fly-and-flops, beach lovers
If your priority is a patch of white sand that your family can have all to itself, try Providenciales’ Grace Bay, recently voted one of the world’s best beaches. There’s not much to do but go shell hunting or strap on a mask and look at the tropical fish, so be sure to check into a resort that offers childrens’ pools and beach toys. Parents can then nip off for a dive or try windsurfing or paddleboarding.
Stay: Beaches Turks & Caicos (beachesresorts.co.uk) is an elegant, though lively, all-inclusive resort with a water park and paddling pool for toddlers. Family rooms from £1,679 per person.
Good for: wildlife, seclusion, an unspoilt coast
Bad for: direct flights (try British Airways, which flies to St Kitts)
Who goes: old-fashioned romantics, slow travellers, wholesome families
Underneath velvety Nevis Peak, this small, green island cultivates a slow pace of life and is devoid of tourist traps, so you won’t find fast-food chain restaurants or even traffic lights. Instead, families can learn about the sea turtles that nest on one of the golden sand beaches and spot troops of vervet monkeys. Hotels tend to offer the best kids activities. On neighbouring St Kitts, reached by ferry, Brimstone Hill Fortress is worth a visit.
Stay: The Four Seasons offers kite-making classes, scavenger hunts and babysitting. Doubles from £228 per night.