B is for beach
When your idea of 'vacation' used to be gruelling, independent hikes through remote jungles, is a sunny, sandy 'baby-friendly' resort a sacrifice – or just a new kind of adventure?
Steve Sanacore/Beaches Resorts
Let's face it: Adventure is a relative term. When we're young, our concept of a thrilling journey usually hews to the stereotypical – a remote jungle in South America, perhaps, or a mule route through the mountains – but with age, our concept of an "authentic" undertaking can change. This is because adventure has no meaning without context, without a starting point. And as my wife and I have recently discovered, when your starting point is the first year of parenthood, simply leaving the house for a walk can make one feel like Magellan.
So there we were, at Providenciales International Airport in the Turks and Caicos islands, awaiting our transcendence. I had traded hard climbs in the Andes for the interminable switchbacks of an immigration lineup bursting with young families. Instead of blood, sweat and chicha, my clothes were spattered with strained apple, infant formula and warm Heineken. And in lieu of a dilapidated 75-litre pack, I carried my flailing 10-month-old son in a front-loading baby carrier that boasted a heavy-duty waist belt and cushioned shoulder straps to help distribute his weight evenly across my frame.
We were heading to a luxury, baby-friendly, all-inclusive resort just south of the Bahamas chain – something we travel snobs would never have considered before becoming parents. But after months of mucking in with an adorable but gastrointestinally gifted infant – perhaps the original all-inclusive experience – all we wanted was sun, sand and a bit of a break from the baby grind.
In the same way that the term "all-inclusive" has become the equivalent of an arms race in the tourism industry, "baby-friendly" has the potential, when done right, to win the hearts and minds of an underserved yet desperate segment of the travel market: those sleep-deprived zombies pushing strollers through neighbourhoods across the country.
Back when my wife was pregnant, the "babymoon" was having its moment in the sun. Kim and Kanye had been spotted gallivanting through Paris, Kim's belly out to here, and every media outlet on the planet was running stories on the brilliance of the prebaby vacation. But now that our son is here, we both agree that a babymoon would have been an egregious waste of money. Now, life before parenthood seems like one long, glorious vacation.
Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa sprawls across 26 hectares of prime oceanfront on Grace Bay, a 19-kilometre sweep of white sand and turquoise waters that is often voted one of the most beautiful beaches on Earth.
Upon arriving from the airport, and upon gathering our son from his prearranged infant car seat, we were greeted by a sweet sea breeze, cool face towels and glasses of rum punch.
As my wife and I realized we wouldn't have to cook or clean or launder or bundle our boy against the winter for the next four days, the exhaustion of the past 10 months began slowly to melt away, along with our skepticism about resort holidays.
After checking into our one-bedroom suite, we headed straight for the beach. Across a charming boardwalk and through a forest of family-sized hammocks, we plopped our son down onto the white sand and watched his face contort with confusion, then curiosity, then outright joy. It hadn't occurred to us that this would be his first experience with sand. He seemed overcome with happiness at the warm softness beneath him.
Until, that is, he tried to eat a handful.
As he flinched at the gravelly sensation on his tongue, and as the panic in his mouth spread to every inch of his little body, my wife swept him from the sand, laughing and cooing and narrowly averting a full-on meltdown.
The significance was lost on no one: Our child had just had his first real adventure on foreign soil.
Soon, it was time for adventure No. 2: dinner. We chose the closest restaurant to our suite, and as we were shown to our table, we both unconsciously calculated the top-three evacuation routes should disaster strike.
Then, after wrangling our son into his high-chair, we began a mental countdown, took turns hitting the buffet and proceeded to wolf our food.
But then, one of the waitresses took a shine to our boy, and then another did, and then we looked around and realized there were kids at almost every table in various stages of delight.
We began to relax. We began to actually taste our food, which was delicious. A pianist set up right behind our table and struck up Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy, no word of a lie. Soon, the only challenge we faced at mealtimes was extricating our son from his seat, as every restaurant visit developed into a non-stop party.
Two minutes from our suite was the all-day daycare, where nannies looked after children from newborn to the age of 2, while their frazzled parents tried, with all their might, to kick back and relax. The daycare opened at 9 and closed at 6, and they offered after-hours care (for additional cost) should said parents feel like cutting a rug at the resort nightclub.
One afternoon, as we pushed our slumbering son along the boardwalk, we happened upon a group of day-campers listening intently to a lecture about the science of rainbows – led by Sesame Street's Bert, Big Bird and Abby Cadabby. For a small fee, you can hire Elmo or Zoe to pay your child a bedtime visit.
At dinner one night, Ernie surprised our son as he sat grooving in his high chair and numming on pieces of bread. He had no idea who this gigantic, pumpkin-hued, gape-mouthed creature was, but he seemed tickled by his sudden appearance. Perhaps the toothless enjoy some kind of unspoken connection.
We only used the daycare once, so we could sneak away for a couple's massage at the spa. We felt a little nervous, and perhaps guilty, about leaving our boy with strangers for a few hours, but relaxed when we spied our nanny's name tag: Lovely was her name.
Lovely gave us a cellphone, which she would use to contact us should anything go wrong, and we gave Lovely a secret code, to be uttered upon pick-up. We left our son howling with glee, elbow deep in the ball pit.
We returned two hours later, massaged to within an inch of our lives, to find him howling in a somewhat different key.
"How was he?" I asked, nearly weeping with shame for having left him behind.
"Oh, up and down," Lovely said with a genuine smile. "The first day is always the hardest." ("For whom?" I wanted to ask.) Then Lovely told us about the woman who'd brought her three-week-old infant to the daycare every day for a week, and we felt a little better.
For four glorious days, we wiled away our time on the beach and in the sea, ate locally caught fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, joined our son for naps in the sea-breeze, and just generally unwound in the sun. With each dive into the blue waters (and yes, with each rum punch), the first year of our son's life began to resolve, the good memories winning out over the more challenging times.
Meanwhile, my wife and I learned to get over our hang-ups about all-inclusives and just enjoy ourselves. Yes, travel used to be about finding that singular experience; I will never forget the time I hallucinated a herd of wild boar stampeding my tent while suffering a particularly bad case of altitude sickness in Peru. But as a new parent, perhaps I need to reframe what it means to go on an adventure.
Perhaps travel is not about pushing my own limits any more, but about pushing the envelope for our son. Children don't care about authenticity, or what constitutes a "real" adventure, or the difference between an actual French village and a fake one in the tropics. No matter their age, children want one thing above all: new, exciting experiences.
So, on our last morning in paradise, we treated our son – and, to be honest, ourselves – to a Sesame Street character breakfast. Once we'd helped ourselves to the buffet, my wife and I sat back and watched our infant son attempt to process a roomful of children losing their collective minds.
As each character danced, cartwheeled or back-flipped into the dining room, the volume of screams grew.
And as Oscar, Cookie Monster and the Count circulated, posing for photos every few seconds, we realized this was a singular experience – something we had never seen before and something we would probably never see again.
Karisma Hotels and Resorts
If you go
Our first resort adventure with a baby taught us a few things. First, those full-body, SPF-rated baby swimsuits are excellent alternatives to slathering your child in lotion every 15 minutes. Bring your own baby food, because the restaurants rarely cater to the dentally challenged. On the beach, the crashing surf can cause baby some anxiety, but if you walk out beyond the shore, you stand a better chance of acclimatizing your child to the waves. And be prepared to bring your little one into bed with you at night, or bring your Pack 'n' Play from home, as a foreign crib can take some getting used to.
Beaches Turks & Caicos has been named the "leading all-inclusive family resort in the Caribbean" by the World Travel Awards for five years running, but there are other options.
Karisma Azul Beach, Mayan Riviera, Mexico: The "Gourmet Inclusive Experience" baby amenities include strollers, cribs, bottle sterilizers, baby monitors, baby baths and high chairs, and all restaurants (even room service) offer natural baby food upon request. And if the kids are fans of Dora or SpongeBob, book into the newNickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana run by Karisma hotels and opening May 15.
Franklyn D. Resort and Spa, Jamaica: Anxious about travelling without your trusted nanny? Every family at the all-inclusive Franklyn D. receives a Vacation Nanny for the duration of their stay. These care-giving superheroes will change diapers, babysit while you hit the spa, stay late (for a small fee) and accompany you to the beach – where an extra set of hands may stop your little one from ingesting too much of the white stuff.
The writer was a guest of the resort. It did not review or approve the article.