Can somebody tell me what “family vacation” really means? Is it a getaway during which adults savor some downtime while the kids acquire new friends and skills in a childcare facility, or is it a week of nonstop togetherness? Thanks to developments in the Caribbean that range from child-friendly eco-activities to entire new resorts, a “family vacation” now is whatever your clients want it to be. These new and/or imminent developments will enhance family time in the islands.
kids stay free
Five Iberostar resorts in the Dominican Republic and Iberostar Rose Hall in Jamaica are offering a Kids Stay Free deal through Dec. 23. Two children 12 and under sharing a room with two adults can stay free at Iberostars in Punta Cana, Dominicana, and Costa Dorada and Jamaica’s Rose Hall Beach; one stays free at Iberostars Bavaro, Hacienda Dominicus, and Rose Hall Suites. As always, tykes under 3 stay free. The only notable blackout period is Thanksgiving—and only in Punta Cana and Rose Hall. “These are great resorts for children,” says Niki Rakowitz, certified travel counselor at CARE Travel. “For example, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites has a good waterpark for the kids. Just bear in mind that guests booked at Iberostar Beach do not have access to this perk.”
Ah, but will parents pull kids out of school for a fall bargain? “A majority of our clients are flexible about taking their younger kids out of school for a vacation, but it’s harder to have older kids missing school,” says Rakowitz. Other factors: “The value they place on the family trip and the budget they are working with.”
action travel breakthrough
In 2016 Camp Woodward, the award-winning sports program founded 40 years ago in Pennsylvania, will set up shop at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana (the Hard Rock Riviera Maya, too). A new 20,000-sq.-ft. facility will offer instruction for all ages and all skill levels in activities such as skateboarding, gymnastics, and BMX, Parkour, cheer, and hip hop dancing.
Even more remarkably, Camp Woodward will create a snowboarding and snow-skiing facility, the only one in the Caribbean.
Even without Camp Woodward, this resort is “great for kids of all ages,” notes Rakowitz. “There are so many structured activities, from Bob the Builder to kids rock bands, and there are teen programs as well, making this one of my favorite family options.” Most of Camp Woodward’s activities cost extra, but the facility will accept resort credits.
There’s no denying turtles fascinate kids who love baby turtles’ sheer cuteness and adults who want the Caribbean’s giant sea turtles and large land tortoises to overcome threats to their survival.
Responding to this fascination, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa has added nesting tours March to November. In the spring families can watch hawksbill, leatherback, and green sea turtles lay their eggs; several months later, they can see the babies emerge from eggs and hurry down the beach in a race to reach the sea before the seabirds reach them.
Meanwhile, the Oil Nut Bay villa community in Virgin Gorda has created a refuge for red-footed tortoises rescued from Tortola. The refuge sits next to the Nut House and Nature Center, an interactive facility for children. Eager to keep the rescues as happy as its biped guests, Oil Nut Bay has also changed its outdoor lighting system to one that doesn’t disturb the tortoises.
The immersive arts program at Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort that launched in May fits in with the trend toward experiential travel—the realization that there’s actually life beyond the resort gates—and it keeps on expanding. Not only does Windjammer Landing have an art concierge who arranges visits by small groups (e.g. families) to artists’ studios, but now Windjammer Landing can arrange lessons in local arts and crafts such as steel pans and mask- or kite-making, priced upon request. “I also like Windjammer Landing’s theme nights for teens and the ‘pretty princess package’ for girls, which includes mani/pedis, tropical kids drinks, and mini-massages,” adds Rakowitz.
hands up holidays
This new family package combines volunteering, soft adventure, and posh digs at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion in Barbados. The 9-night customizable program features such amenities as transfers, two jr. suites, a welcome dinner, all breakfasts, a catamaran snorkeling day, volunteering at an animal shelter or a sea turtle facility, a jeep safari, an Atlantis submarine ride, a car hire, and air from New York, Atlanta, or Miami. It isn’t cheap—$13,525 per adult, $9,100 per child age 12 or under—so this is for upmarket, inquisitive clients seeking a real experiential vacation.
new family resorts
The just-opened Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort & Spa won attention for its delayed debut and its adult amenities (the entertainment, the Francois Frossard-designed interiors), but don’t ignore its family-friendly features. Not only does it have a kids club for children 2 through 12, but there’s a child-friendly water park, a teen lounge, and a FlowRider Double wave simulator.
At press time, the Dec. 23-30 rack rate for a Partial Ocean View room for two adults with two children is $2,652 per adult and $455 per child for a total of $6,214, or $888 per night, and Palace throws in a $1,500 resort credit. Children’s rates are for ages 3 through 17, and taxes and gratuities are included. For Presidents Week (Feb. 13-20), that room costs $2,289 per adult and $455 per child for a total of $5,488, or $784 per night with a $1,500 resort credit.
The 198-room Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan will open in late 2015 as Grand Lucayan’s all-inclusive sister. It will have a kids club for 12 and under featuring Bahamian arts and crafts, a playground, and the latest gaming equipment. There’ll be a teen club, too, and family-friendly activities such as a beach barbecue. Calls to the U.S. are free, so the kids can confide in Grandma if the grandparents aren’t already staying in a connecting room or suite. For parents there’s the beach, pools, watersports, tennis, seven restaurants, a nightclub, and complimentary golf at a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course; they need only rent a golf cart.
This first Christmas, Lighthouse Pointe would only charge our hypothetical family of four, sharing one room, about $225 pp per night for Island View, $245 pp per night for Ocean View. Children infant through 4 stay free, and kids 5-12 pay half the adult rate.
No, that is not a typo. The nonprofit Sandals Foundation and Beaches Resorts have teamed up to create Island Impact, a program through which teenage guests help local communities in Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos by reading with local children, tutoring in computer skills, helping to clean up beaches, or participating in Packing for a Purpose. This volunteering program earns them up to 10 hours of community service credits at high schools back home, and for a bonus, it’s fun.
What travel professionals are saying…
“Beaches Turks & Caicos is one of the best family resorts that my family has ever been to. As a matter of fact, I have been to over 200 resorts and Beaches Turks & Caicos is the only one we have been to more than once—we just returned for our fourth trip. Here are a few reasons we go:
- At most resorts, kids programs start at age 4; at Beaches, it starts at 6 months. At most resorts, the kids program may go from ages 4-12; at Beaches, they really try to structure the program in 2-year increments because they know that the abilities and interests of 4- to 5-year-olds are different than for 8- and 9-year-olds. Here, kids clubs go from morning until 10 p.m.
- The watersports are one of the BEST in an all-inclusive resort. For example, if you are scuba certified, you can go diving every day for free, even the equipment is included.
- Ridiculous amount of F&B options, including three adults-only restaurants for when you want to drop off the kids at the kids club.”
—Tom Varghese, Owner, Travel Tom
Grand Lucayan: grandlucayan.com
Hands Up Holidays: handsupholidays.com
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana: hardrock.com
Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort & Spa: palaceresorts.com/moonpalacejamaicagrande/en/home
Oil Nut Bay: oilnutbay.com
Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort: windjammer-landing.com
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa: wyndhamriomar.com