As any parent will tell you, it’s not easy to find and plan trips that satisfy the desires of both adults and kids. As a single parent, it gets that much harder. For starters, you’re the only adult around to deal with planning and on-the-ground logistics, and you’re the only one responsible if things go awry.
So after an adventure to Costa Rica last year, where I had organized everything and ended up exhausted, I craved a vacation where I could relax and have someone else take care of all the details. And, I wanted a deal. My kids, 17 and 14, wanted, in order of importance: other teenagers, WiFi, cool things to do with other teenagers.
An all-inclusive trip seemed like an obvious answer, but one I’d never seriously considered – until I discovered that a growing number of resorts and tour operators have begun catering to single parents such as me. According to 2016 census data, more than a million Canadian children live in a single-parent household. That’s a lot of families, and a big market to tap. Sunwing, Transat and Air Canada Vacations now offer single-parent packages at all-inclusive resorts across the Caribbean and Mexico. Besides waiving the usual double-occupancy fee, which previously meant single parents would be forced to pay more whether they shared a room with their kids or not, these packages also include a variety of deals on excursions and activities. Sometimes, this could mean savings of up to $1,000 on a week-long vacation.
Outside of all-inclusives, tour operators such as Intrepid Travel and Explore market more adventurous group escapes in far-flung destinations such as Morocco, India or Costa Rica specifically for parents travelling solo with kids. At no additional cost, their cultural immersion tours offer travellers a small-group experience with other solo parents and children to hang out with. About 16 per cent of Intrepid’s family bookings are from single-parent households, and the company is getting an increasing number of requests and inquiries about the trips.
“You only need to look at family holiday packages widely advertised by the travel industry to see they cater to two parents and two children,” said Dyan McKie, brand manager for family adventures at Intrepid Travel, and a single mom herself. “In many ways, this assumption is archaic and doesn’t reflect today’s families. The travel industry caters to so many niche groups, but solo parents have been ignored for too long.”
David Gallie, a Flight Centre destination manager in Canada, is also seeing this growing trend as the market catches up with the shifting concept of the family unit. “In the last few years, we have seen our suppliers and partners changing their perceptions and programs to accommodate single parent, multigenerational and larger-than-average families,” Gallie said.
Velas Resorts is one operator that has been at the forefront of the trend. The collection of luxury all-inclusive resorts in Mexico launched its first single parent promotion in 2010. “The idea is, on the one hand, to offer activities that foster quality time together and on the other hand, to have services and facilities that make it easy for single parents to have time to themselves while the kids are having fun,” said Juan Vela Ruiz, vice-president of Velas Resorts.
For my vacation, I chose the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, just outside of Playa del Carmen, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and another resort close by called Barcelo Maya Caribe; both cater to single parents, but I worried about a lot of things: my kids' safety, whether I would ever see them given the plethora of things to do with other teens, whether there would be other single parents there to connect with and whether there would be places to be out at night alone, without it being awkward and without having to talk to other adults if I didn’t want to.
Of course, like most fears, all were unfounded. Grand Velas is located off the Cancun highway, about a kilometre down a jungle road and past a tightly controlled security gate. Safety quickly dropped off the list of concerns. While the property itself is massive, the hotel area – including the walkways, pool area and teen club – is small enough that my kids could easily roam freely and yet find me easily when they wanted to.
Within half an hour of arriving, we were in the oceanfront pool, sipping margaritas (me) and virgin cocktails (my kids). My teens were both happy to sit at the pool all day, with a break for some jet skiing and kayaking. They were tended to constantly by servers bringing over a variety of food and drink. To be honest, my daughter spent most of her time taking photos for her Instagram feed, and my son was reading, napping and FaceTiming with friends back home. But still, we were together.
When they needed a break from me, they went to the new teen lounge: a large, beautifully appointed, air-conditioned room with a pool table, Ping-Pong, air hockey, video-game consoles, a drinks bar, food service, karaoke and TVs with sports programs and music videos. Nights involved getting dressed up for delicious dinners and then engaging in those long conversations – at times difficult, but also funny and entertaining – that only seem to happen when you’re away from home. We were astonished by the quality of the food – in particular at Cocina de Autor, the first restaurant at an all-inclusive in the world to be given the prestigious Five Diamond rating by the American Automobile Association (AAA) – and the novelty of not having a tab at the end of a high-end meal never got old.
Down the highway at Barcelo Maya Caribe, things felt decidedly different. The property boasts five hotels connected by a seaside boardwalk. It has its own mall, double-decker shuttle buses and a dozen restaurants. But it, too, felt completely safe for my kids to wander day and night. The suite came with 24-hour room service, a hot tub on the deck and a separate bedroom. My kids loved it: They spent their days swimming at one of the 10 pools, playing Ping-Pong and basketball or sailing, snorkelling and banana-boating. The activities were endless, and yet, I was surprised at how much time I got to spend with them. I anchored myself on the beach and they circled around me like the pelicans flying overhead.
As with Grand Velas, we were together for dinner every night. There was nighttime entertainment as well (shows, a teen club, karaoke), but my kids were usually too tired and came back to the room with me. Shocking – and not something I would have done at their age.
Their exhaustion did mean I didn’t have to go to the bar alone in a place that seemed full of extended families and couples. Instead, I was happy to sit on the deck of my room, with the warm evening air and the view of palm trees and ocean. Turns out, going on a single-parent vacation package doesn’t prevent you from facing the fact that you are an anomaly in a world of seemingly intact families and happy couples.
But what it does offer is a resort that acts almost as spouse – taking care of you, offering endless drinks, meals and entertainment. Hard to imagine a better husband.
The writer travelled as a guest of Sunwing Vacations. It did not review or approve this article.
All-inclusive resort options for single-parent families
Velas Resorts, with properties in Puerto Vallarta, Playa Del Carmen and Cabo, is waiving the single supplement fee for single parents travelling with their children. The promotion is available at the Grand Velas resorts and Velas Vallarta now through December 22. Rates start at $330 a night, with food, for adults and $72 per kid ages 4 to 12 per night.
Sunwing offers single-parent packages at hotels and resorts at properties in Aruba, the Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Jamaica. All feature supervised kids' clubs, kids' pools, special activities for teens and no single-parent supplement. Prices start at $1,055 a person, for adults and children, per week. And for some properties, kids under 12 stay and eat free.
Transat also offers solo-parent packages aimed at single parents or parents travelling alone for whatever reason with kids under 13. “This year, we’ve introduced our improved Family Collection, a series of hotels that offer extras for families including kids clubs, free meals and stays for kids and free kids excursions," said Debbie Cabana, marketing director for Transat Vacations.
Options for adventurous travellers
Intrepid Travel offers six new tours to Costa Rica, Thailand, North India, Egypt, Vietnam and Morocco aimed at single parents. None have double occupancy fees and children under 17 get a 10-per-cent discount.
Explore Worldwide is a Britain-based tour operator offering pre-arranged trips for Canadian families, including single parents. Examples include kayaking across Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, exploring the Turquoise Coast of Turkey on a traditional gulet, or camel riding across Wadi Rum in Jordan.