TPR005Tamarind Hotel

Melanie Reffes

With kids in tow, the challenge of a summer vacation lies in maximizing the fun and minimizing the meltdowns. Getting away from chicken fingers on the buffet and swimming pools that look like daycare centres is the true test of a family-friendly holiday and although you can give the kids a bucket and a shovel and go back to your novel, there is a wide array of resorts that not only cater to families but make the entire brood top priority.

From splash pools to Big Bird on the beach, the Caribbean is rolling out the red carpet for Canadian families of all sizes and shapes.  

Let Good Times Roll
A few paces from Meads Bay in Anguilla, Anacaona is one of the best bets on the beach. With gratis snorkeling gear and Wi-Fi access, the 27-room hotel is owned by Robin and Sue Ricketts of Cap Juluca and Malliouhana fame and one-stop-shopping for a true island experience. “We aim to be the informal cultural centre of Anguilla,” said Robin Ricketts. “Families will be entertained by musicians, historians, artists and the local folklore troupe, Mayoumba who perform in our Firefly restaurant every Thursday evening.” Admission includes a bountiful West Indian buffet with reservations required in advance. Ask for a bottle of the local Rockfield Pepper sauce for an added zing to the Scrub Island Curry Goat. Too good to resist, the “Pay for 5 nights, Stay for 7” package is valid for travel through December 16.

In Grand Cayman, Cotton Tree impresses with a treasure chest of family fun from sand castle building and scouting for shells along Barkers Beach to bikes, hikes and plenty of perches for mom and dad to take five. “We love to pamper our guests and watch their stress melt away,” says owner Heather Lockington.

TurtleKayaking011Turtle Beach Resort
Suite ‘N the Deal
In Barbados, the all-inclusive Turtle Beach Resort, part of the Elegant Hotels Group, caters to families with a myriad of activities at The Flying Fish Kids’ Club, from calypso dancing and steel pan lessons to water sports and kayaking. Open from nine to nine, the Club entertains kids under 13 years old while their parents can enjoy more grown-up activities like rubdowns in the spa or shopping in Bridgetown. Teenagers at the Tamarind Hotel, also an EHG resort, rave about Club Tamarind where swimming with turtles and watching movies at the Olympus theatre rock the house while the uber-cool Clubhouse is a treasure chest of teen toys like Wii consoles and flat screen TVs that keep the groovy set busy till the sun sets.

Fresh off a US $48-million facelift, Frenchman’s Reef Marriott in St. Thomas, USVI is dishing up a bevy of family amenities from a new spa and gym to rollaway beds and an interactive swimming pool for the younger set. With sweeping views of Charlotte Amalie Harbour, the breakfast buffet at the Aqua Terra Oceanfront Grill is a family affair with enough choices to please even finicky appetites and with complimentary onsite parking, exploring the island in a rental car is a breeze.

Reefs at sunsetThe Reefs
Crowning a limestone cliff overlooking a pink sand beach, The Reefs in Bermuda is wooing families with spacious suites, spa and three on-site restaurants. “In the winter, The Reefs provides an exceptional value for Canadians as well as a reprieve from the cold weather with a beachfront setting and ocean views from every room,” says Nagma Walker, general manager. “Families have the option to room together either in our cottages or our new two- and three-bedroom condos.”

Island-wide, the “Compliments of Bermuda” promotion offers shopping and restaurant discounts and one free night when three are booked for travel through March 31. Hotels participating include The Reefs, Grotto Bay Beach resort and the Canadian-owned Fairmont Hamilton Princess and Fairmont Southampton.

In Jamaica, families rule at the Half Moon Resort in Montego Bay. A Rock Resort set on 100 hectares; villas are discounted by 20 per cent for travel through November 17 with add-ons including poolside barbecues and 24/7 medical centre for those pesky insect bites, sunburns and other vacation boo-boos.

uw_diverandfishTurks & Caicos Tourist Office
Sea turtles and parrotfish are the big draws for families at the pair of Ocean Club Resorts in Turks & Caicos. The on-site diving operator, Provo Turtle Divers, organizes scuba lessons for first-timers and kayaking trips to spot JoJo, the island’s dolphin mascot. Suite rates through December 15, are US $167 per night, and include bicycles for the entire family.

X-Box Or Bread Box
While resort game rooms are standard-issue these days, it’s the state-of-the-art stuff that keeps tweens and teens happy. The Xbox 360 Game Garage at Beaches Boscobel and Beaches Negril in Jamaica and Beaches Sandy Bay in Turks & Caicos features the latest and greatest ‘Kinect for Xbox 360’ with its signature voice and motion-activated system. “We are thrilled to be the first to offer the most up-to-date forms of entertainment to our guests and demonstrate that we will continue to raise the bar with the teen and tween market,” said Adam Stewart, CEO Beaches Resorts.

Ratcheting up the family appeal, Scratch DJ Academy, created by hip hop legend Run DMC; Liquid nightclub for teens; Trench Town game room where adults aren’t allowed and the Red Lane Spa Teen Spa keep families busy from sunrise to sunset. For travel through December 2012, Family Reunion package includes a concierge whose job it is to take care of the whims of each family member.

In the Bahamas, CRUSH Club at the Atlantis resort is a fan favourite with teens who keep up with their Facebook pals in the internet lounge and get down on the gigantic dance floor with its funky video walls. The resort also caters to the younger set with hosted readings by Sesame Street’s Elmo while parents soak in the adults-only hot tub. Note to travelers: book the Reef Tower with en-suite kitchens and a nearby grocery store.

A Family Six-Pack
• Y-Splitter to hook up two headphones to one jack so two kids can watch the same movie at the same time
• Lollipops to fix ear pain on airplanes
• A Nanny, if you can afford one, is the great reliever
• Waterproof camera for capturing vacation memories in the pool
• A Wikki Stix for an impromptu arts and crafts lesson
• An invisible ink pen that leaves no mess to clean up