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.
GO TO THE NEXT PAGE FOR THE “TOP 4 FAMILY RESORTS”
While these are some of the top all-inclusive vacation destinations, be sure to visit each resort’s web site to find out about other properties that may be closer to home (for shorter flights) or a better fit for your family. Also worth noting: The average family stays five to seven nights, and promotions and package deals are ongoing—with some resorts (including Beaches) often slashing prices by up to 60 percent.
1. CLUB MED PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
This newly renovated resort on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic offers freestanding family suites and a dedicated children’s pool with a mini water park. Childcare options (at extra cost) include Baby Club Med (for infants 4 months to 23 months old; with a 1:4 staff-to-child ratio) and Petit Club Med (for ages 2 to under-4; with a 1:6 ratio). The unique circus workshop is an option for guests as young as 4.
Call (888) CLUB-MED or visit clubmed.us. Rates start at $200 per adult, per night; kids 4 and older stay for half-price; children ages 2 to 3 stay for 30 percent of the fee.
2. BEACHES TURKS & CAICOS RESORT VILLAGES & SPA
Nestled in exotic Grace Bay in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands, this resort features 162 two-bedroom family suites and Kids Camp, included in the rate and supervised by highly trained “Ultra Nannies,” where tots enjoy pools, sandcastle building, shell collecting, face painting, magic shows, treasure hunts and more. The resort’s Pirates Island Waterpark has an expanded toddler section featuring spray aquatic animals and a zero-entry pool.
Call (888) BEACHES or visit beaches.com. Rates start at $465 per adult, per night; children ages 2 to 16 are $105 per night; kids under age 2 stay free.
3. DREAMS PUERTO AVENTURAS RESORT & SPA, MEXICO
Included in this resort’s rate is the supervised Explorer’s Club for ages 3 to 12, with a secure playground area, an ocean trampoline, sandcastle contests, arts and crafts, and even a weekly tent campout on the beach or at the club (with parents’ permission).
Call (866) 2-DREAMS or visit dreamsresorts.com. Rates start at $200 per person, per night; children stay, eat and play at Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort for free from May through December with two paying adults.
4. FRANKLYN D. RESORT & SPA, RUNAWAY BAY, JAMAICA
Enjoy an authentic Jamaican family holiday at this flagship boutique property with a staff-to-guest ratio of 1:1, where each family is assigned a dedicated Vacation Nanny, available to you and your child from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (excluding a lunch break) every day at no extra charge. (Nannies can be hired to stay after 5 p.m. for just $6/hour). The resort offers one- or two-bedroom suites; water sports; a 100-foot waterslide and an activities pool; equipment and instruction for sailing, snorkeling and kayaking; a fitness center; soccer lessons; basketball; cycling; tennis (day and night) and more.
Call (800) 654-1337 or visit fdrholidays.com. Rates start at $280 per person, per night; children under age 6 stay for free.
GO TO THE NEXT PAGE FOR “TODDLER TRAVEL TIPS”
TODDLER ON BOARD
Steps to make your trip to and from the resort the best it can be:
» Fly nonstop. Choose a resort that’s not too far from home, so nonstop flights are an option. “Charter flights can save money and are available from major cities,” says travel specialist Lauren Goldenberg. “A travel agent can determine the most cost-efficient way to put together the package.”
» Carry on some fun. Buy a few new small things to keep your tot entertained on the plane. “I used to wrap them,” says Goldenberg. “When my daughter got bored, I had a new surprise to keep her occupied—like a book or crayons and paper.”
» Pack extra essentials. “Bring lots of bathing suits—they don’t dry too fast in the humid tropics!” Goldenberg notes. Other items on her list of musts: Woolite, sunscreen, hats, bug spray, sunglasses and special medications including Pepto-Bismol if visiting Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
» Stash snacks. Pack some of your little one’s favorites for the flight, but resort staff members also recommend that you bring a supply of toddler food for the first day of your stay, especially if you have a picky eater who may need time to adjust to the new fare.
Los Angeles-based writer Alexa Joy Sherman wouldn’t even consider taking a vacation with her 3-year-old son, Jack, unless an ultra-nanny was included.
All-inclusive escapes help ensure you AND your toddlers have a blast. PLUS: The Top 4 Family Resorts