Big hotel chains love to tout their kids' programs, but many consist of little more than a box of Crayolas and a roomful of tiny chairs. Others simply exalt Barney and other television gods, leaving your kids oblivious to the fact that they're surrounded by the desert, the Caribbean, or the mountains. But there are notable exceptions. One quick indicator of quality is the ratio of counselors to children: One counselor to ten kids is fine, though on field trips and during water activities a one-to-six ratio is safer. Here's what a few far-sighted hotels have come up with.
When it comes to beach resorts, the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort and Towers in Miami Beach runs a program for ages 5 to 12 with nearly nonstop action: beach games, pool Olympics, sand-castle contests, relay races, and scavenger hunts. Plus, each week there are field trips to Miami's planetarium and seaquarium. There's no charge for the program but lunch is extra. Phone: 800-445-8667.
At Radisson's Arrowwood Resort on Minnesota's Lake Darling, kids can join Camp Arrowwood and saddle up a horse, paddle a canoe, or hike through the great North Woods. The program for ages 5 to 12 also takes advantage of Arrowwoods' children's library and indoor and outdoor pools. The cost is $15 per child per day (20 percent discount for two or more kids), including a picnic lunch. Phone: 800-333-3333.
What's new at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch is Family Camp (available on July 4 and Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends), which gets Mom and Dad involved as well as Hopi storytellers, Mexican vaqueros, and Native American dancers.
Start training now for water volleyball and waterslide splash competitions. On other days three- to 12-year-olds can join Camp Hyatt Kachina for nature walks, movie making, and Navajo sand painting ($54 per day, including lunch). Phone: 800-233-1234.
At the oceanfront Westin Resort on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, 4- to 12-year-olds in Camp Wackatoo aren't lolling around on the beach. Instead, they're flying kites, playing volleyball, taking Jazzercize classes, cooking, and walking the sand with a naturalist ($40 per child, including lunch; $25 for second child). Phone: 800-999-4975.
Desert Discovery Day, French lessons on a Macintosh, and a 165-foot water slide are what 5- to 12-year-olds will be up to in the Funicians Kids Club at The Phoenician, Sheraton's Scottsdale property. There's a different theme daily and a private kids' clubhouse. A full day costs $50 and includes lunch. Phone: 800-325-3535.
Kids learn trampoline tricks, try out scuba gear, and go waterskiing at Florida's Club Med Sandpiper, north of West Palm Beach. This Family Village caters to babies as young as four months, and has three age-separate programs for kids 2 to 11. There are activities from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and no extra charges. Phone: 800-258-2633.