It’s about this time of year, as the days begin to shorten, that many Canadians want to make like geese and head south to warmer climes. Check out these sunny, family-friendly destinations.
Family resorts offer something for everyone. There are separate activities for the kids, events and entertainment for the whole family, and adult amenities for the parents. When my husband and I first took our kids to Club Med in Ixtapa when they were eight months and two years old, the vacation was the first real break we’d had as a family. No meals to plan. Incredible beach, swimming, spa treatments and tennis. And kids programs that our children wanted to be at (they never cried at pick-up or drop-off), so we never felt as if it was, well,“a kid dump”. The family resort has the perfect formula for how to “do holiday” with young kids, and not come home exhausted. We were converts.
Since then, we’ve been to FDR in Jamaica twice, Beaches Sandy Bay in Negril, Jamaica, as well as two family resorts in Arizona – Enchantment and the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. But you can find great family resorts all over Mexico and the Caribbean where “all-inclusive” is standard practice. Prices include meals and accommodations, and sometimes kids’ programs, though certain resorts will charge an additional fee for full-day childcare for infants and toddlers, if kids’ programs are in fact available for children this young. Or, if an all-inclusive looks a little too restrictive to your family’s travel instincts, you may prefer to go for a resort with an à la carte approach.
Franklyn D. Resort & Spa, Jamaica
A boutique resort in Runaway Bay where each family gets their own nanny! It’s small, intimate, the nannies are spectacular. With their help and a kids’ program, there’s nothing left wanting.
Number of Restaurants:
Three and a half. With no lineups, no prearranged seatings, and no reservations required – including at their two specialty restaurants (one Jamaican, one Italian). With three and a half restaurants for a max of 150 adults, there’s lots of choice for a small resort. A special kids’ dinner is available from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Grill.
Free WiFi, free snorkeling lessons, they’ll arrange a birthday party on the beach for your child if the occasion falls on your visit, and will celebrate anniversaries and other special occasions at no extra cost. All 78 rooms are suites, with two thirds of them two-bedroom, two-level houses (ours had three bathrooms) with an incredible view of the ocean.
Nannies will take care of your kids from 9 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., stock your fridge and babysit after hours for the nominal price of $6/hour. (A second nanny can be arranged for an additional $20 per day.) The Yellow Bird Kids’ Club is available for kids newborn to 12, with teen and pre-teen programs also available. It offers a range of activities – from daily 9 a.m. tennis lessons with the resident pro, to swimming, crab races, goat races, tiedying, cooking classes and arts and crafts. Although most kids are young (because of the obvious allure of nannies), there is a separate coordinator who can take older kids on cycling trips, shopping excursions in town, snorkeling trips, and teen dinners each evening.
Direct flights are available from many major Canadian cities to Montego Bay. From there, ground transport is about one hour to the property.
Approximate cost for a family of four for one week with two children under six: $3,556; for two kids six to 15 years old, $4,256. Call 1-800-654-1337 or visit their web site.
Beaches has been voted the world’s leading family all-inclusive resort for 13 years. They combine luxury and family in the same breath, with three properties in Jamaica (two in Negril and one in Ocho Rios) and one in Turks and Caicos. Beaches Sandy Bay in Negril is the most low-key of their resorts: there are fewer amenities, it’s small, less expensive and the staff know you by name. The beach is stunning with shallow water, perfect for young ones.
Number of restaurants:
Three at Sandy Bay, five at Boscobel, seven at Beaches Negril and a whopping 16 at Turks and Caicos.
All of their properties have kids’ camps for newborns to 12-year-olds, and separate teen/tween activities for youth 12 to 17. Generally, these camps are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (for newborns to five-yearolds) and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for ages six to 12 years, though times may vary by resort. Incorporated into their young kids’ camps is their Sesame Street program, with shows, parades and activities with Sesame Street characters. Explore with Grover, dance with Zoe or make cookies with Cookie Monster. All properties except Sandy Bay have a Pirates Island Waterpark.
The Liquid at Beaches disco is open exclusively for teens and tweens from 10 to 11 p.m., with no alcohol. At the Scratch DJ Academy, kids can learn how to mix music and create their own CD, at an additional cost. Scuba diving lessons are also available.
Turks and Caicos is the largest and most luxurious Beaches property with incredible snorkeling and scuba diving, and three separate villages (French, Caribbean and Italian) on 65 acres of property. It has the added draw of being only a 15-minute drive from the airport. In Jamaica, Beaches Negril is the signature Jamaican property, with a fabulous 11 km beach, huge waterpark and the best Caribbean sunsets. A five-minute shuttle ride away is Beaches Sandy Bay, which is less expensive and more low-key. The two Negril properties have reciprocal privileges so, except for the kids’ programs, you can enjoy all the restaurants and amenities at both properties. Boscobel, located several hours away, is known for its great golfing, which includes lessons for kids.
In the winter, the best itinerary for all their properties is to connect through Toronto (which has the highest frequency of flights) or through Montreal for direct flights into Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (for the Jamaican properties) or to Providenciales International Airport in Turks & Caicos. (Providenciales is also only a one-hour flight from Miami.)
Average cost for a family of four for one week: ranges from $4,305 to $6,644, but watch the website for deals. Call 1 800 545-8283 or check their web site.
Club Med was the first resort to conceive of the all-inclusive vacation in 1950, and has continued to refine its approach ever since. It now has 80 resorts worldwide, many of them family-oriented with award-winning kids’ programs. There are two family resorts in Mexico with kids’ clubs – in Cancun and Ixtapa. There is one in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and one in La Caravelle, Guadeloupe. In Florida, Sandpiper Bay caters to families. There are also three in Brazil.
Number of restaurants:
These resorts have two or three restaurants open to both adults and children, except for Ixtapa, which has four restaurants (one of which is dedicated to children) and Cancun, which has five are available for most destinations.
If you book your flight with Club Med as part of your resort vacation, transfers are included.
Average cost for a family of four for one week: $8,500 to $10,000, depending on dates of travel and bookings, with Sandpiper as low as $2,515 without flight. Watch for promotions: their WOW promotion in late summer was $899 per person.
In Arizona, Enchantment Resort was, well, completely enchanting: with sedimentary red rocks as back drop, kids at Camp Coyote learn about Native American tradition, while making dream catchers or decorating rain sticks. The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess near Phoenix is equally as attractive to families, but for different reasons: the kids loved the two big slides at the Sonoran Splash pool, and the cameras they got at Bobcat Billy’s clubhouse to take pictures around the property. Number of restaurants: four at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, the most familyoriented being the LV Bistro, which includes a children’s playroom, as well as many poolside restaurants; Enchantment Resort has three: the one at Mi Amo Spa is for adults only.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess “cubs” aged five to 12 can spend the day ($60) or half day ($30, $40 with lunch) learning about the American Southwest: they have everything from scavenger hunts, to canoe rides, arts and crafts and safaris, with different themed activities each day of the week.
For instance, on Mad Scientist Mondays, kids try out various experiments; on Wednesday’s Wild Side Day, they meet different desert animals, like bearded lizards, a 40-pound desert tortoise and others from the Phoenix Zoo or other rescue habitats. On Fishing and Fun Friday, they have a fishing derby and learn how to cast and reel in a resort pond. Friday and Saturday evenings, kids’ club is free when parents eat at the resort. So kids play games, eat dinner at the LV Bistro, and watch a movie in sleeping bags, or floating in inner tubes at the pool.
At Enchantment, Camp Coyote ($70 for a full day, $40 for half day with lunch) there are morning nature walks where children aged four to 12 learn about Boynton Canyon’s plants, insects, and other inhabitants such as jackrabbits and white-tailed deer. The campers can take Southwestern-inspired cooking classes, and do arts and crafts such as sand painting and designing arrowhead necklaces.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a kid haven, with several pools, including the Sonoran Splash, the resort’s 550 square metre pool with two 60 metre slides and a zero-entry deck area for toddlers. From age four, kids can take tennis lessons at their John Austin Scottsdale Center Tennis Facility, through their Quick Start program, which uses varied low compression balls, shorter nets, different sized racquets and a half-sized court.
At Enchantment Resort, families have private access to the fabulous Boynton Canyon trail, and can order everything needed to barbeque a dinner from the casita porch. Ask about Pink Jeep Tours, which will come to the property, and are a great way to see the red rocks of Sedona.
With daily or twice daily direct flights to Phoenix from Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto, Arizona has become a much more accessible destination for Canadians. Enchantment Resort is a 90-minute drive from Phoenix (you’ll need to rent a car to get there), while the Scottsdale Princess is only about a half hour: if you have time for both destinations, ending up in Scottsdale before flying home makes the return trip that much easier.
Average cost for a family of four for one week: at Enchantment: approximately $4,242 to $5,142, which would include accommodation in a casita, breakfast, daily kids’ camp for children aged 4 to 12 and a pink jeep tour. At Fairmont, room rates are approximately $359/ night. Visit enchantmentresort.com or 1 800 826-4180; fairmont.com/scottsdale or 1 866 540-4495.
No doubt, the glamour of Rodeo Drive and celebrity spotting is part of the fun of a trip to California. But for our first trip, my husband and I took our teenage sons to Anaheim and Orange County, the centre of southern California, for a slightly more adventurous trip.
Pacific Edge Hotel
This seaside resort and artist community in southern Orange County is a one-hour drive from L.A. The boutique hotel had just been renovated in the theme and culture of the neighbourhood – beach and surf. The brightly coloured walls and furniture screamed “Surf’s Up” without being too kitschy. The beaches in this area are broad and the waves are high. We spotted dolphins swimming while we dined at The Deck restaurant at the hotel.
Check out The House of Big Fish and Cold Beer – best name ever! My son said it was the best hamburger he’d ever tasted. So much for their famous fish. Laguna Beach’s famous Art Walk takes place on the first Thursday evening of every month. Local artisans open their doors for a great evening of show and tell.
Newport Beach, Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort
Just off Pacific Coast Highway and overlooking Upper Newport Bay, this state-of-the-art 100-acre recreational resort is a great place to swim with a private waveless beach (ideal for the little ones). You can also kayak, bike and sail.
Check out the shopping. When we visited Fashion Island we thought we had died and gone to shopping heaven, with everything from specialty boutiques and great department stores to trendy boutiques for my teens. The stable, sunny weather encouraged us to stroll outside for most of the mall.
Huntington Beach, Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa
About 10 km north of Newport Beach is the surfing capital of the United States. This resort is the only one with a direct bridge linking the property to the beach. (It’s not easy getting across the Pacific Coast Highway). While the boys went to the beach, I had the best massage I have ever had at the Pacific Waters Spa. My husband and younger son learned to surf from a great instructor named Charlos Grindle from The Hyatt’s Toes On The Nose surf shop. He was cool, had a deep tan, a surfer body and sun-bleached hair. Does it get any better? They both got up twice, which gives them bragging rights.
Check out the Huntington Beach International Surfing Musuem. Gidget, Moon Doggy, Surf’s Up, there’s a million surf names and terms and we discovered them all here.
Disneyland, Anaheim Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
The hotel has a feel of a large, expansive cabin. (Note that this is a beautiful cabin. I don’t want you to think we were camping.) However you describe it, it’s a nice break from the themed hotels that tend to overpower a resort. Restaurants range from fine dining such as Napa Rose and more casual fare at the Storytellers Café where you can indulge your family with a character breakfast hosted by Chip‘n’Dale. (Make reservations to avoid disappointment.) Downtown Disney is behind the hotel for an evening of shopping. No one does theme parks like Disney, and Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park are definitely worth a visit. Disneyland is the older and smaller sister of the two and has a great nostalgic feel. It celebrates the worlds of yesterday, fantasy and tomorrow with lots of attractions. Disney California Adventure Park (our favourite for no particular reason) offered an equal amount of shows and attractions.
Check out The World of Color nighttime water spectacular at Paradise Bay in Disney Caifornia Adventure Park (it’s free). It’s a perfect event to end a busy day. The show weaves more than 1,000 jets of water to form incredible shapes in time to the music from Disney movies. Disney characters come to life from the mist.
Air Canada flies direct to Los Angeles from Toronto. WestJet also recently began nonstop service from Calgary and Vancouver to Orange County, which gives our west coast friends an alternative.
Average per night cost for a family of four at these resorts is $281. Contact hotels for specific rates and offers.
This country of 700 islands and cays (pronounced keys) is a popular port-of-call for cruise ships and families looking for some R&R. Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort This elegant hotel’s rooms are almost all ocean view with a large private balcony. But who cares about that when you’re sitting on more than 300 metres of fantastic beach, three freshwater pools, a swim-up bar and six restaurants.
The Bimini Market has a great buffet that satisfies disparate food preferences. Atlantis, Paradise Island More theme park than resort, this hotel is the lost city of Atlantis. It’s also home to the largest water park in the Caribbean. The Aquaventure water park includes 10 – yes, 10, family-friendly pools and high-speed water slides that my son could not get enough of. The River Ride was more my speed. There is an enormous aquarium where kids can get close to marine life, and a famous waterslide that runs through an underwater tube surrounded by sharks. Dolphin Cay is one of the largest marine habitats and dolphin rescue and rehabilitation facilities in the world. Swim with the dolphins, be a trainer for the day, or hang out with some friendly sea lions.
The resort’s day care, called Atlantis Kids Adventures (AKA for short), was a highlight for me because, quite frankly, I wanted to be a kid again and cook in their Culinary Room, perform in their Performance Room or grocery shop in their Grocery Room. It truly is the coolest kids club I have ever seen. AKA is for kids three to 12 and they choose their own theme or adventure. Even if you don’t use the facility, it’s worth checking out.
My 14-yearold son’s highlight was the newest amenity at Atlantis called Crush, the ultimate teen nightclub. Jason is still reeling about this paradise for teens. It’s for 13- to 17-year-old guests and no alcohol is served. (Check out the pictures on atlantis.com to get the feel of the place.) It’s 900 square metres of cutting-edge technology. Thegaming tower (or gaming tree) is a 360-degree tower with consoles of all the latest games and big relaxing chairs with built-in speakers. There are also 10 gaming cabanas if that doesn’t suffice. Crush has a sophisticated nightclub feel with a dance floor and DJ, complimentary wireless internet throughout the club, multiple video walls, an Internet Lounge with touch-screen computers for ordering food and drinks (mocktails) or playing games. The best part? No adults allowed. The cost is $25 per night. Teens can simply scan their passports or ID or their room card, which puts the charge on the room account so there is no need to carry cash. The card also serves as a report of admission and exit to the club. This is a great idea as Atlantis is large and you may want to keep track of your teens’ activities.
Air Canada flies nonstop from Toronto. East and West Coasters will have to get to Toronto first.
Approximate nightly room rate is $350, which includes access to Aquaventure, but deals are often available.