Dream Destinations: The six best destinations for family holidays

The Cook Islands

The locals from this quiet achiever of the South Pacific embrace tourists warmly, and everything is close by for a no-hassle holiday.

THE EXPERIENCE This island of volcanic jungle and blue lagoons packs a punch. Wander the waterfront Punanga Nui markets where vendors sell local black pearls and whole tuna; join a mountain biking tour on easy back roads past turmeric and pineapple plantations; get muddy driving off-road mountain buggies. Further afield, the island of Aitutaki and its fascinating history is a scenic 45-minute flight away. For accommodation, both the family-owned Muri Lagoon Villa and larger Nautilus Resort are in prime position fronting Muri Lagoon.

IDEAL FOR Families of tweens and teens in need of a screen-free holiday.

PRICE Muri Lagoon Villa from $NZ650 ($624) a night for up to four people; Nautilus Resort from $NZ680 ($653) a night; cookislandsholidayvillas.com; cookislands.travel; nautilusresortrarotonga.com. Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours from $NZ75 ($72); storytellers.co.ck; Raro Buggy Tours from $NZ150 ($144); rarobuggytours.com; flight and day trip to Aitutaki, $NZ495 ($475) an adult; aitutakidaytour.com.

– Jane Reddy

LIKE THIS? Try Sri Lanka, where you can get your fill of family-friendly experiences staying at either The Last House, Tangalle, or Wallawwa, Colombo; thelasthouse.com; teardrop-hotels.com; srilanka.travel.

Wonderland, Shanghai, China

A space-age hotel built down the side of a quarry; why wouldn't you?

THE EXPERIENCE Sometimes there's just no good reason for something other than someone saying, "Let's give it a go." Which is pretty much the raison d'etre of this 18-storey hotel cascading 88 metres down the side of an abandoned quarry. There's nothing else around it and it's too far from Shanghai proper to be a base to visit China's largest city, which means the Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland is essentially its own reason for existing.

It is an architectural marvel; an ambitious project more than a decade in the making, which ended up looking like a cross between a James Bond villain's lair and the Thunderbirds' International Rescue HQ. Entering reception at ground level, you reach your room by taking the elevator down to, say, level nine, or to the bar by the artificial lake or, even, further down to Mr Fisher, the underwater restaurant, on level 16. Head to the viewing platform for a breathtaking view of its insane majesty.


IDEAL FOR Architecture enthusiasts, lovers of quirk and Thunderbirds fans.

PRICE From 3771 yuan ($778) a night; ihg.com; cnto.org.au.

– Keith Austin

LIKE THIS? Try the glass igloos of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland. Go for the Northern Lights season, from around August 24 until the end of April;.kakslauttanen.fi; visitfinland.com.

Hakuba, Japan

Guaranteed powder is one of many reasons why Australian skiers are flocking to this resort.

THE EXPERIENCE If a family skiing pilgrimage was being made these past school holidays, the most likely spot would have been the north-western Japanese town of Hakuba, dubbed "Mount Kuta". One of the 11 ski resorts that make up the area, it's easier to get to than Niseko, the other snowy Japanese hot-spot: a two-hour train trip out of Tokyo to Nagano, then one hour by car.

There is guaranteed powder (the later you can go in January, the better) and the temperature tends to be in the relatively balmier range of -1°C to -10°C compared with Niseko's -20°C to -40°C, so it's easier to avoid the possibility of frost-bitten offspring. There's an army of English-speaking ski instructors at the main resort, Happo-one, which is the best place to stay, especially if you can find accommodation near one of the two lift bases.

 IDEAL FOR Ski-crazy tribes.

PRICE Self-contained three- or four-bedroom Happo Apartments from ¥72,000 ($925) a night; hakuba.com.

Ardyn Bernoth

​LIKE THIS? Another resort town nearby is Nozawa Onsen, which features more traditional lodgings, a beautiful onsen and a fire festival in January; nozawaski.com

The ski fields at Hakuba, Japan have become the place for a family skiing pilgrimage.

The ski fields at Hakuba, Japan have become the place for a family skiing pilgrimage. Photo: Alamy

Bukit Peninsula, Bali, Indonesia

Day club hopping is a valid holiday activity in southern Bali.

THE EXPERIENCE Bali's day club scene is booming, particularly on its Bukit Peninsula. South of the airport, its coastline was once the sole preserve of surfers, but now there's pool and beach clubs hidden down sandy lanes, by the Indian Ocean. Many clubs force sun worshippers to choose between a strip of sand or a pool overlooking a beach. Some, like Ulu Cliffhouse and Sundays Beach Club, manage to offer both, albeit with steep stairs or travelator from the cliff tops to beach level.

The newest addition is the most family-friendly. Manarai Beach House opened in October on the grounds of the Sofitel Nusa Dua. Its umbrella-lined, private beachfront flows inland to a garden landscape of pools and loungers, bars and restaurants, without the queue for the travelator. 

IDEAL FOR People who love to dance in their swimmers (on weekends), frolicking families and sunlounge lizards (midweek).

PRICE Most day clubs have either an entrance fee or a minimum spend for use of their daybeds – from 200,000 rupiah ($20) to 1 million rupiah ($100), except Manarai Beach House, which is free of charge; accorhotels.com; balitourismboard.org.

Belinda Jackson

LIKE THIS? Thailand's Phuket yields plenty of beach club action, led by international brand Cafe Del Mar; cafedelmarphuket.com; tourismthailand.org.

Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka

This is the Byron Bay of Sri Lanka, with sweet surf and relaxed travellers ranging from backpackers to families.

THE EXPERIENCE In case you missed it, Sri Lanka – with its stunning landscapes, fiery cuisine and reasonable prices – has rocketed to the top of the list for many Australian travellers. Three hours' drive south of Colombo is the idyllic Weligama Bay, with party-vibed Mirissa Beach on one side and chilled-out Weligama on the other. The top of the tree for accommodation is the luxurious Cape Weligama, boasting a fine infinity pool hugging the peninsula.

Terracotta-roofed suites and villas – many with their own private pools and enormous bathrooms – are dotted throughout the tropical landscape, which is modelled on a typical Sri Lankan village. Kids are well looked after, too, with mountain bike tours, surfing lessons, snorkelling and access to a private beach. And as if there weren't already enough swimming pools to go around, there's also a dedicated one for the little guests.

IDEAL FOR Well-heeled families looking for an exotically upscale break.

PRICE From $US507 ($715) a night including breakfast; resplendentceylon.com; srilanka.travel.

– Michael Harry

LIKE THIS? Experience the ultimate colonial blow-out at the stunning Amangalla, owned by the mega-luxe Aman group, in nearby Galle; aman.com.

Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka, provides an upscale break.

Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka, provides an upscale break. Photo: Sebastian Posingis

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Hot deserts and cool pools make this a surprisingly family-friendly Middle Eastern stopover.

THE EXPERIENCE With summer temperatures way above 40°C from June to September, Abu Dhabi isn't an obvious first choice for a summer sojourn. But as a key stopover point for Europe-bound Australians, the Emirati state is pitching itself as a family fun park, with indoor theme parks and outdoor waterplay to burn off the energy levels of travelling families, including teenagers. The selection of fun parks includes the new Warner Bros Movie World, which joins indoor Ferrari World and waterpark Yas Waterworld, all conveniently clustered on Yas Island.

Not that you'll cover all three in one day: Warner Bros is at least a whole day in itself (more, if your kids haven't got the signature of every cartoon character), and it's advisable to leave a few hours between the water park's stomach-lurching Bandit Bomber and the world's fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, at Ferrari World.

IDEAL FOR Europe-bound families needing a mid-journey breather.

PRICE Entrance to Yas Waterworld costs 250 dirhams ($95), while Warner Bros Movie World and Ferrari World cost from 295 dirhams ($112) each, with discounted two-park, two-day tickets available on each attraction's website; yaswaterworld.com; ferrariworldabudhabi.com; wbworldabudhabi.com; visitabudhabi.ae.

– Belinda Jackson

LIKE THIS? For a spot of early-morning dune-bashing, sand-boarding or camel-riding, head out into Abu Dhabi's Razeen Desert to the Arabian Nights Village. Finish with a swim and hennaed hands; arabiannightsvillage.com.

Marah Fortress at Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi.

Marah Fortress at Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Supplied

To read more from Good Weekend 52 Dream Destinations visit The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.