Paradise, for toddlers and their exhausted parents
Family vacations can be tests of endurance, especially with very young children, but these tropical destinations provide the resources and amenities – from petting zoos to complimentary childcare with certified nannies – to let everyone have a holiday to remember. Andrea Miller reports from her own piece of parent paradise in St. Lucia.
When I was the mother of two young children and everything that comes with it – endless diapers, erratic sleep schedules, relentless loads of laundry – going to an all-inclusive resort for your family vacation suddenly seemed like a wise choice.
As we waited for our couples massage at Coconut Bay Beach Resort and Spa in warm, gorgeous Saint Lucia, the biggest responsibility my husband and I faced was deciding whether to cool off with the watermelon or cucumber water. (We both chose watermelon.) Then, we followed our masseuses through a tropical garden and into a private seaside cabana. Post-massage and thoroughly relaxed, we nipped over to the toy-filled kids club where I nursed Antonio, our four-month-old son, as Alexandra, our toddler, put the finishing touches on a craft.
Travelling with babies and toddlers can be rewarding for the whole family, I learned. There's nothing like taking your baby on her first swim in a turquoise sea – but it can also be wildly unpredictable: Will it be a dinner where they sleep from appetizer to dessert, or one that ends in tears and uneaten chicken fingers?
So it's best to keep things simple and, unless you're travelling with others who can lend a hand, an all-inclusive resort is often the easiest option. If you're looking for adventure, you can find it. If you just want to relax, you can do that, too.
The catch is that while many resorts cater to families, only a small number go out of their way to please parents with babies and tots. The Holy Grail is a getaway like Coconut Bay where there are so many small children that no one gives you the stink eye when your little one throws a tantrum.
Coconut Bay (prices for two adults and two young children start from $5355 Canadian per week, plus airfare) is unusual in that its kids club has no minimum-age requirement. Before our trip, I expected we'd only leave Antonio at the club once or twice for an hour maximum. But as we became familiar with its staff – and learned that the club supplies parents with a cellphone so they can check in any time – we felt confident about regularly leaving Antonio in their care. We actually left him there more than Alexandra. After all, she was big enough to enjoy some of the resort's facilities, including the huge family pool, the lazy river and the petting zoo.
Plus, as is almost universally true of children, Alexandra loved going to the beach. While the water was too rough for her to swim, the idyllic seclusion made up for that shortcoming. (Coconut Bay – being the only resort as far as the eye can see – is flanked by green.)
Getting off the resort was also a breeze: For around $200, the four of us took a highly flexible tour called the "Soufriere Experience." We had our own air-conditioned car with car seats and a private driver and we went wherever we wanted at our own pace for seven hours. Highlights included the dramatic Diamond Falls, and Jalousie Beach, which arcs between the iconic Pitons, two craggy green mountains. The view was unforgettable – as was the entire trip.
Convinced an all-inclusive is the way to go? Here are four more baby- and toddler-friendly resorts in the Caribbean.
Beaches, Turks & Caicos
Besides having a pool especially for tots and a colourful little train that winds its way around the resort, Beaches Turks & Caicos has Sesame Street character parades and stage shows and, for an extra fee, a Sesame Street character can come to your room and tuck your little one into bed. Complimentary childcare with certified nannies is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., plus there's no minimum-age requirement for children to use this service. For families with children with special needs, Beaches offers specialized services, activities and custom dining options. Bigger kids and adults will enjoy the 45,000-square-foot water park, boasting, among other things, the Caribbean's only surf simulator. (Prices for two adults and two young kids start from $7752 per week, plus airfare)
Franklyn D. Resort and Spa, Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Franklyn D. Resort and Spa sets itself apart by providing all guests with their very own vacation nanny. As soon as you arrive, your family will be assigned a dedicated nanny who, for the duration of your vacation, will tidy your suite, help arrange any special events, and attend to your children from 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. Your vacation nanny can accompany your family and lend a hand as you enjoy excursions, activities, and meals. Then, when you want to enjoy some adult-only time, she can look after the kids by herself, either in your room or at the playground. (Prices for two adults and two young kids start from $6346 per week, plus airfare)
Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay, Jamaica
With the Holiday Inn Montego Bay being a mere 10-minute drive from the airport, your little ones won't have time to get fussy en route. The resort's location will also give you easy access to the sights in and around Montego Bay, including Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, where you can thrill your toddler by hand feeding hummingbirds. Among the Holiday Inn's 518 rooms, there are a collection of "Kids Suites" that have separate living areas for adults and children. In order to leave your children at the complimentary kids club, they must be at least six months old. (Prices for two adults and two young kids start from $267 per day, plus airfare)
Tamarind, Saint James, Barbados
The suites at Tamarind include such amenities as baby tubs, blankets, mobiles, nightlights and bottle brushes, and for an extra fee you can preorder diapers, wipes, and formula. For children age three to 12, there's a year-round complimentary kids club, while for infants the complimentary crèche (nursery) service is seasonal and must be booked in advance. Babysitting is available for a charge. (Prices for two adults and two young kids start from $1311 per day, plus airfare).
What's the age range for kids clubs?
As new moms and dads, we want the adult luxuries and pleasures that we enjoyed before having kids, but in order to take advantage of them, we need childcare. At virtually all resorts there's a minimum-age requirement for leaving children at the kids club, and in most cases that minimum is two years old or four. Sometimes the minimum age is 2, but the child needs to be toilet trained. The clubs mentioned in this article are unusual because they have low age requirements or none.
How flexible is the kids club?
Before you choose a resort, it's important to know if the kids club is included in your package and if you have to book the service in advance. Also, check out the club's hours of operation and the availability and rates for after-hours babysitting.
How accessible is the resort?
After a long plane ride, any resort that's relatively close to the airport deserves bonus points. If you require a car seat, don't forget to request one in advance. And while you're at it, ask if there's a nurse on staff and a nearby hospital.
Does the resort have all the kiddie necessities?
Of course you're going to want fun stuff – such as an awesome splash pool with fabulous water features – but there are also practical concerns. High chairs tend to be a given amenity, but does the resort have kid-friendly food available in the restaurants? And if you want to sterilize bottles, will there be a microwave that you can use? Be aware that there are often a limited number of cribs available, so it's recommended to book one in advance. Also, check whether mini-fridges and baby-proofing are available in the rooms and if you can purchase diapers and formula on-site.