7 Amazing Family-Friendly Vacation Rentals (And Why You Should Book One ASAP)
Dream about a family getaway at one of these jaw-dropping vacation rentals.
Any parent who’s shared a hotel bed with a squirmy child (or hid in a hotel bathroom while your toddler tried to nap), knows that vacation rental houses are The Way for families. For the same price as a hotel room, you get multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, maybe even a yard or a game table. And right now, vacation rentals are one of the safer travel options for families: They’re thoroughly cleaned before you arrive, and you don’t have to share space with any other people during your stay.
All this means that vacation rentals are crazy popular right now. But if you’re planning a spring or summer family getaway (or just dreaming of one), here’s exactly what to look for when choosing the perfect vacation rental for your family, plus amazing vacation rentals you won't believe are real!
1. A house with comfy sleeping arrangements
A vacation property listing may read “sleeps eight!” But when you look closer, it turns out “sleeps eight” means two people on a pullout couch, three in a single-over-full bunk bed, and one on an air mattress. Not so comfy.
Look for a sleep setup that works for your fam: twin beds or a bunkbed for the kids, a separate room for the grownups if parents and kids don’t want to share a room. Because if your family isn’t sleeping well on vacation, you’re likely to be grouchy and irritable when you’re supposed to be having fun.
Dare you not to book (or at least look): This Florida home sleeps 20 (yes, 20!) and includes a Harry Potter-themed bedroom, a Star Wars-themed bedroom, and two Disney-themed bedrooms. Oh, and another four unthemed-but-still-nice bedrooms for the boring grownups.
2. A house with great bathrooms
Take it from a person who's rented a lot of vacation houses: Be realistic about the number of bathrooms you need for a successful stay (and bathtubs too, if you have little ones who don’t shower). This year, we debated madly between the vacation rental with the Ms. Pacman machine and the property with two bathrooms. In the end, Ms. Pacman won, but I was hesitant about a family of four sharing one bathroom. If your family includes a teenager or a potty-training toddler, one bathroom may not be enough — and it’s okay to just be choosy. It’s your hard-earned vacation!
Dare you not to book (or at least look): One-and-a-half baths might not seem like enough for your family, until you check out the amazing master bath in this vacation home near Joshua Tree, California. Look at the view from that tub!
3. A house with fun extras
Some vacation homes have pool access, hot tubs, or a stash of sports equipment and beach toys. Others have pool or foosball tables, video and board games, and even movie screening rooms. You can find big yards with swingsets and fire pits, farm settings, and nearby hiking trails. These fun extras can make “a lazy day at the house” extra awesome.
Dare you not to book (or at least look): The ultimate vacation rental for on-property fun is this Scottsdale compound with indoor and outdoor game areas, a swimming pool and hot tub, playground, splash pad, mini-golf course, and play areas for basketball, volleyball, and soccer. Want something a little mellower and closer to nature? Your family can stay in your very own treehouse tent with a tube slide exit.
4. A house in an awesome location
Most vacation rental descriptions on VRBO or AirBnB will give you an approximate location if not the exact address. Before you submit your deposit, open your map app and check out exactly where the vacation home is.
Can you walk to the closest downtown strip or are you actually 30 minutes up a windy mountain road from civilization (and the kids get car sick)? How far a drive are the area attractions your family most wants to do? Is that beach house on the beach, within walking distance, or a 10-minute drive … and you’ll have to pay for parking when you get there?
Dare you not to book (or at least look): You won’t do better location-wise than this Washington home on a private pond for swimming and fishing or this California dream house where the living room walls slide open and you can walk right onto the beach.
5. A house without sneaky extra fees
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of AirBnB and VRBO rentals, it’s that each property calculates price differently. Some have cleaning fees, security deposits, service fees, and/or occupancy taxes. We’ve found houses with higher nightly rates that end up being the cheaper option because the lower-price house had more fees. If your family is on a budget, make your decision based on the total price, and not the nightly rate.
Dare you not to book (or at least look): This Illinois castle includes a private observatory, plus multiple game rooms, a fire pit, and a private lake with a cool rope bridge — which may make it worth the service and cleaning fees.
6. A house you can’t wait to stay in!
My husband and I are notorious for doing a lot of vacation rental home research, and then hemming and hawing about the decision for days. (Sound familiar?) Sadly, what this has meant for us more than once is that the house we most wanted was rented by the time we were ready to commit.
Don’t be like us! Especially if you’re looking at a popular vacation time and location (summer at the beach, spring break near a national park...) and find a house with great amenities and a decent price, lock it in as soon as you can. Otherwise, another family will snap up that great house, forcing you to settle for your second choice.
Dare you not to book (or at least look): North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a popular destination for vacation rentals. If you want a gorgeous home like this property, with a pool and hot tub, plus direct beach access and indoor entertainment (including a screening room and a rec room), you’ll need to book as early as possible.
7. A house that’s perfect for you (or at least, perfect enough)
Unless you have an unlimited budget — and maybe even then — every vacation rental will call for some compromises. The house with the awesome game room may also have over-the-top antler decor. The home with cool themed bedrooms may not have enough bathrooms. The property right on the beach might be small, look like your great-aunt Imogen’s doily-filled, floral living room, and lack a dishwasher.
Nothing’s perfect, of course — but once you’ve figured out what's reasonable to compromise on, and set off for a fun adventure in a new location, you won’t even notice what’s less-than-perfect about your vacation house!
Dare you not to book (or at least look): Compromise might mean dealing with just one bathroom and troll neighbors at a Hobbit hole house in Montana, sharing a bedroom in this wolf-themed nature home in Minneapolis, or forcing the kids to share a bed when you vacation in a lighthouse in Maryland.
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