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12 Best Islands for Families

  • It's easy to pick the island with the biggest water slide and just take the kids there. Harder -- but worth it -- is finding the place where the entire family can bond while spying giant sea turtles, searching for hidden beaches and sharing more island experiences. Easy accessibility, fun amenities and big accommodations are important too for any family getaway, and islands' experts considered those factors as well. Whether for a young family's first island trip or an extended family's best reunion ever, these 12 destinations can spark lifetime memories and a lifelong love of travel.

    Best for family reunions
    Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

    A big reunion does not have to be a big amount of work. In a quiet nook of Virgin Gorda, book all three 8,000-square-foot villas at Aquamare, which opened just last year. Then let the staff cater to your group of 36. If you'd like to join your private chef at the local dock to pick the freshest lobsters for dinner, you can, of course. If you'd like to take the 62-foot yacht out, climb aboard. But if you just want to lie in the suspended 'Dream Bed' floating over the sand at the private beach park while your extended family frolicks in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, by all means do. After all, your work is done. Weekly rates per villa from $13,750 (easily split among family members). villaaquamare.com

    Photo courtesy of Aquamare

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  • Best easy exotic
    Castaway Island, Fiji

    There's a long list of reasons why any island traveler will love Fiji. Thankfully, there's also a long list for why any parent will love Castaway Island, including fashion shows with make-your-own Fijian costumes, legends of Fiji told around the bonfire and crab hunting by torch light. In fact, the staff can keep kids and teens entertained for most of the waking hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. And of the 66 bures on the western tip of this otherwise naturally green private island, many sleep up to five people. Bigger families will want to reserve the one 10-person bure on the beach. After the activities and amenities, the sunset over the South Pacific is at the top of any list about why to come to Fiji. Rates from $325. castawayisland.com

    Photo courtesy of Castaway Island

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  • Best quick weekend trip
    Catalina Island, California

    Many visitors to Catalina hop off the ferry, tool around Avalon, then head back. Stay and feel like your family summers here at the Banning House Lodge in the much smaller town of Two Harbors. You can enjoy the Cliff House East or West -- king bed, queen pullout bungalows detached from the main house with harbor views. Lounge in the main lodge under an enormous buffalo head, or see the buffalo still roam in the island's interior. Take the free shuttle down to the village of Two Harbors. You'll feel at home in no time. Rates from $95. visitcatalinaisland.com

    Photo courtesy of Catalina Island CVB

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  • Best back-to-nature trip
    Heron Island, Australia

    Focus entirely on Australia's nature at Heron Island. This mango-shaped droplet of fauna-filled national parkland, 44 acres in size, is planted off the Great Barrier Reef's southern tip. The 109-room eco-friendly resort, sheltered by pandanus trees and ringed by white-sand beaches, encourages every family to explore. Kids can enroll in the Junior Rangers Program, complete with Ranger hat and workbook. They can then earn badges as they wander the forest paths filled with thousands of squawking seabirds, discover coral at low tide with naturalists or venture out at night to spy the giant sea turtles nesting on the beach. To see the fish, sharks and rays of the reef only a five-minute boat ride from the resort, children at least 8 years old can snorkel and certified divers at least 10 years old can go deeper with a parent. Just 500 yards offshore lies "the Bommie," an underwater pillar of coral-encrusted rock that Jacques Cousteau declared one of his favorite dive sites. Jump in. Rates from $160. heronisland.com

    Photo courtesy of Heron Island

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  • Best for learning
    Barbados

    Marvel at the green monkeys of the Barbados Wildlife Reserve and the green pools of Harrison's Cave. But marvel too at the Barbados school system, which has led to one of the world's highest literacy rates at 99.7 percent. Let that be an example to the kids as you explore Barbados. Then relax at the luxurious, 112-room Sandy Lane resort, where the likes of Tiger Woods have stayed. There through the complimentary Treehouse Club for children ages 3 to 16, you can all try a game of cricket, practice how to dive, and get a chance to swim and snorkel with turtles alongside a "turtle tutor." You can't help but learn something new. Rates from $1,000. sandylane.com

    Photo courtesy of Sandy Lane

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  • Best family compound
    Jumby Bay, Antigua

    The family compound is a great idea. If you can't collect all the generations under one roof, use multiple roofs. In Antigua, a 300-acre private island is the setting for Jumby Bay, a Rosewood Resort, which re-opened December 1, 2009 after a multimillion-dollar, resort-wide renovation. The luxurious hideaway features 40 suites (including 28 new ones steps from Jumby Bay Beach), 16 villas with private pools and six estate homes. La Casa, for example, has a three-bedroom main house, plus three guest cottages. And on the grounds of this compound are a croquet lawn, lighted tennis court, pool with Jacuzzi and gym. To get around the island, every family member gets a bike on arrival -- except for babies, who get Silver Cross prams. Children can enroll in the new Camp Jumby to see the natural side of this island, and camp staffers can help the whole family on reservations, outing ideas and the ever-important babysitters. Rates from $950. jumbybayresort.com

    Photo courtesy of Jumby Bay, a Rosewood Resort

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  • Best swimming pool
    Bora Bora, Islands of Tahiti

    "How big is the pool?" Kids often zero in on that one amenity to pick a vacation destination. So consider the magnificent lagoon surrounding Bora Bora the world's biggest, best, bluest swimming pool. For even more aquatic delight, the new Four Seasons Bora Bora has an infinity pool (with attendants bearing chilled towels). Next door is the Tamari'i Club for 5- to 12-year-olds, with a splash pad, turtle visits, snorkel sessions and French-food tastings. Teenagers get their own isle, Chill Island, with a private beach, hands-on reef research and stand-up paddleboarding. Everyone can go into the inner lagoon with the Four Seasons' marine biologist. The only downside to this vacation: No other pool may ever compare. Rates from $1,000. fourseasons.com

    Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Bora Bora

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  • Best unplugged experience
    Kauai, Hawaii

    The spirit of Old Hawaii remains vibrant on the north shore of Kauai. Here, you'll find the makings of a hiking and snorkeling adventure from the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast to the beach-rimmed waters of Hanalei Bay. The very laid-back Hanalei Colony Resort is as much known for its proximity to those wonders as it is for its "no phones, no TVs, no stereos" room policy. Family reunions can take up as many as needed of the 48 two-bedroom condos, each with full kitchens. Not that you'll be in them much. Instead, have breakfast together on the beachfront lanai; then enjoy a morning of ecological "voluntourism" for ages 14 and up, tending to plants in the nursery at nearby Limahuli Garden. At the resort's intimate restaurant, a new weekly luau fires up kalua pork, fresh fish and more, capped with a family of fire-knife dancers. Learning how to dance like that can be your next adventure. Rates from $240. hcr.com

    Photo courtesy of Hanalei Colony Resort

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  • Best off-road fun
    Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

    Even for theme-park-savvy kids, the Unstoppable Golf Cart is an unbeatable ride. Rent a rugged, knobby-tire golf cart on-site at the sunny 32-room Green Turtle Club here on Green Turtle Cay, just 180 miles east of Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- and hold on. The only real paved road is to the old English town of New Plymouth, which is like an outdoor museum in miniature complete with a graveyard and jail. Veer off onto the seemingly secret dirt roads to find your own beach on the east side and claim it as your own. Or if you're very brave, head up a rocky bluff for a world-conquering view of the Green Turtle harbor and beyond. Unwind back at one of two new three-bedroom luxury town homes, available starting this November, and plan the next day's secret mission. Rates from $90. greenturtleclub.com

    Photo courtesy of Green Turtle Club

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  • Best for eco exploration
    Maui, Hawaii

    If the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, only offered it's lomi-lomi massage and access to D.T. Fleming's Beach, it would be a dream vacation. But the new Ambassadors of the Environment Program, in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau, makes this family trip a meaningful one too. Interactive adventures let kids explore a coral reef like a marine biologist, discover the "fires of Pele" in a lava-flow hike and follow the stars as if they were early Polynesian navigators. In one of the 107 roomy residential suites, families can gather around the Calabash table to share the day's stories -- and memories. Rates from $299. ritzcarlton.com

    Photo courtesy of Ritz Kapalua

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  • Best quaint island
    Anna Maria Island, Florida

    Big resorts? No. Chain restaurants? No. Miles--long beach? Oh yes. All that makes for beautifully charming days on Anna Maria Island, just a drawbridge removed from the Florida mainland. Start by watching the kids engulf slabs of crème brûlée French toast at Ginny and Jane E's at the Old IGA -- part bakery, part country store, part flower shop in an old corner grocery. At the beach, let the kids run free. Have lunch at the Sandbar, where the dining patio spills onto the sand. Swim in the warm Gulf of Mexico water. Take out jerk grouper sandwiches from the Banana Cabana for a sunset picnic at Coquina Beach. Retire to one of the Bay Front villas at the Tortuga Inn Beach Resort and schedule one of the new in-room massages from Acqua Aveda Salon & Spa while the kids swim in the pool. Sleep and repeat. Rates from $120. tortugainn.com

    Photo courtesy of Bradenton Area CVB

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  • Best all-American escape
    Duck Key, Florida

    Imagine a Norman Rockwell version of the Florida Keys. Duck Key is a place where families can enjoy the island chain's isolated, timeless beauty minus a big leap offshore. Within a sprawling 60 acres of landscaped waterways, the resort of Hawks Cay has more than 100 suites and villas, five pools and five restaurants genteelly placed on tree-lined lanes. Stay in a two-, three- or four-bedroom villa with a full kitchen, and leisurely stroll along boardwalks as sailboats drift past and fathers fish with sons. A serene oceanside enclosure has marine biologists on hand for small-group encounters with bottlenose dolphins. The AquaJam program sets up teenagers for three days of snorkeling, diving, sailing and fishing. At dusk, families gravitate toward the open fires magically lit around the main pool, snuggling in towels. There you can still enjoy the most delicious mojitos north of Havana. Rates from $149.

    Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay

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