By Alexa Joy Sherman
Anyone who’s ever attempted to go on a trip with a child knows it requires careful planning (especially around the all-important naptime), overzealous packing (snacks, juice boxes, wipes, changes of clothes) and extreme patience (“I don’t liiiiiike it here!”)—even when you’re only going as far away as the grocery store. No wonder so many parents cringe at the thought of taking a “family vacation.”
After all, most people equate such expeditions with rest and relaxation—two things that tend to be in short supply whenever there’s a toddler in tow. But that’s one of the many reasons why all-inclusive resorts have become so popular with families. The fact is, these types of travel destinations have come a long way in recent years, catering as much to parents as they do to kids—so everybody actually gets what they came for: good times, just enough togetherness and, yes, even some time to truly unwind.
The package deal
There may be a bit of sticker shock when you first see the nightly per-person rates of some resorts, but part of the appeal of all-inclusive vacation options is their affordability. (Go to the next page to see The Top 4 Family Resorts)
“All-inclusive resorts offer plenty of activities for the entire family without the worry about how much you’re spending on food, recreation and all the extras,” says Lauren Goldenberg, a certified family travel specialist and owner of The Family Traveler (thefamilytraveler.com). In other words, once you’ve paid for the package, you’re pretty much done—and that’s a big relief when you consider how many surprise expenses seem to pop up on more conventional trips (like no family-friendly restaurants in sight, or attempting overpriced activities that are anything but appropriate for all ages). So what’s really included in an all-inclusive?
That obviously varies slightly from one location to the next, but typically you can count on the rate covering group airport transfers, accommodations, food and drinks (including alcoholic beverages), taxes and tips. And that’s not all! There are always plenty of recreational activities to explore, from water sports (sailing and windsurfing) to land sports (tennis, archery, volleyball) to age-appropriate games, contests, language lessons and dance or fitness classes.
There’s usually evening entertainment like shows and discos (which younger guests generally enjoy a bit more than the parents, Goldenberg points out). What’s not included also varies—but typically you’ll need to pay a separate fee for airfare (unless you book that as part of the package through the resort or a travel agent), childcare (depending on where and when it’s needed), spa treatments, some activities and off-site excursions. “Travel insurance is generally not included, except with Club Med, where all or part may be covered by membership dues,” Goldenberg adds.
Beyond the basics
While all-inclusive resorts boast many of the same types of services from place to place, you’ll want to carefully consider which ones cater most to your specific family vacation preferences. For instance, are you the kind of parent who won’t get a bit of sleep unless your child is snoring away in another room, or is the family bed more your speed? “Most families with toddlers want a separate sleeping area for their children,” notes Goldenberg, adding that Club Med tends to offer the best value for this scenario, with connecting rooms that don’t add much more to the total bill. Larger families, as well as those seeking more luxurious accommodations, will probably prefer something more like Beaches—although the nicer the facility, the more you can expect to pay.
Keep in mind that while some resorts offer all sorts of activities for one set price, others will exact additional costs. “Beaches includes most motorized water sports like banana boats and jet skis, while most other resorts charge extra for that,” Goldenberg explains. Meanwhile, Club Med has some of the most unique recreational options— including a circus workshop where guests as young as age 4 can learn to juggle, walk a tightrope and even try the flying trapeze. Most resorts now offer spa services from facials to massages for a fee, so stressed-out parents will certainly want to find out the facts and fi gures associated with those. If golf is your game, be prepared to go off-site and spend a bit more for that, too.
The family factor
If you’re more concerned about your child’s entertainment and activity options, wait until you get a load of some of the opportunities offered at places like Beaches: Kids can participate in Crayola Art Camps or even rub elbows with Elmo, dance with Zoe, bake with Cookie Monster and more, thanks to the resort’s exclusive deal with Sesame Street. If aquatic adventures are more your little one’s speed, most resorts have activity pools and even water slides and parks to keep them splash-happy for hours. And let’s not forget the food. Of course, the gourmet restaurants—some with buffets and others with table service— are designed to please the more sophisticated palates of grown-up guests. You’ll also find that most places have highchairs and special dedicated areas and menu options for the under-5 set. All-day grills and buffets are generally abundant as well, with plenty of kid-friendly fare to keep little tummies full round the clock.
Most destinations also distinguish themselves with the kinds of childcare options they offer. Although some supervised kids’ clubs let you drop off your little ones for as long as you like, others consider that an add-on expense. Nannies and babysitters tend to cost extra as well, but not always. For instance, at Franklyn D. Resort & Spa in Jamaica, a nanny is assigned to each family upon arrival and will spend all day, every day, shuttling your toddler from one activity to the next— and even making sure there’s a nap in there somewhere. Of course, your little ones may take some time adjusting to their new caretakers, but in general they’re excited to explore their new surroundings and meet new people, Goldenberg notes. So take some time to explore the all-inclusive family resorts out there.
Considering the great food and drinks, incredible activities appropriate for all ages, stunning beaches and cultural experiences, chances are everybody will return home feeling rested and rejuvenated, and all for a reasonable rate.
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