Kids and parents differ on what makes a terrific holiday. We once vacationed at an Ontario pheasant farm ? no longer in operation, thank goodness ? where the owners ferried people to their island on a sketchy barge, suggested our 6- and 8-year-old boys tear off across the fields in their all-terrain vehicles (we quickly vetoed that one) and let the guests share quarters with hunting dogs who lay panting at the ends of the beds ? all except one not-yet-housebroken hound who ran from window to window all night baying to be let in.
The kids loved it. “That was the best,” they said as we drove away. “Let’s come here every year.” My husband and I nixed that notion. Never again, we vowed, would we travel without doing some pre-trip homework and asking our travel agent to nail down specifics. Do the child minders have training in early-childhood education? What ages are allowed on the tennis courts? And will the sleeping accommodations include hunting dogs?
With a bit of planning, you, too, can find great vacation spots that let you and your spouse enjoy a good time while keeping your kids ? no matter what their ages ? active and happy. Having traveled with my own children for many years, let me suggest a few options guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s face:
Baby on board
Packing all the necessary supplies can make traveling with babies a bit like embarking on an Arctic expedition. The good news is that wee ones are so winsome they open the hearts of otherwise dour fellow travelers ? as long as you pick the right accommodations.
No destination is more baby-friendly than the Franklyn D. Resort (1-800-654-1FDR or FDRholidays.com) in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, where a trained nanny comes with your room key. Bringing a posse? You’ll get two nannies, plus help with meals, cleaning and, for a fee, nighttime babysitting. While baby naps or happily splashes in the wading pool, you can do the Bob Marley tour or catch a local polo game. If your family spans the ages, you may want to consider a sister property, Pebbles, a cottagey beachfront resort that includes baby care as well as off-site eco outings for older siblings.
Rates at these four-star all-inclusive resorts start at $1,400 (U.S.) per week for two bedrooms at FDR and $1,120 (U.S.) at Pebbles. Kids under 6 stay free, as do grandparents during certain weeks. Rates for children 6 to 15 start at $30 (U.S.) per night at FDR and $20 (U.S.) at Pebbles. Check the Web sites for conditions.
TIP: Wherever you decide to take a baby, look for a good crib set up ? that is, enough private space for mom and dad to have an hour alone without putting baby in the bathtub ? and good individual babysitting. For more ideas on traveling with babies, try these Web sites: BabyGoes2.com, BabiesTravelLite.com or VacationWithKids.com.
Vacations are tough during the toddler years, because young kids grow easily upset when their routines are disturbed. To keep them happy, look for low-stimulation, condo-style living with lots of open-ended activities such as water and sand.
You’ll find all this on Grand Cayman, home to the magnificent Seven Mile Beach. Our kids claim it’s their absolutely favorite place on earth. Wade out from the soft sand beach and you’ll be immersed in an aquarium-like ocean. Colorful parrot fish will swim around your toddler’s toes, while older siblings may enjoy the chance to snorkel with stingrays. Back on land, you can get admission to several museums and attractions by purchasing a Heritage Passport for $29 per adult and $16 per child.
The temporary drawback to this tropical paradise is that Hurricane Ivan hit this area hard, so if you’re planning to visit in the next couple of months, make sure you know the extent of the damage in the locale you’re considering. On the positive side, you may be able to pick up a bargain deal on some of the dozens of condos and villas available on Seven Mile Beach or at the Gilligan’s Island-like Rum Point. Week-long air and hotel packages start at $1,900 per adult. Kids stay free in some places. For more info, call 1-800-263-5805 or visit CaymanIslands.ky or CaymanVillas.com.
TIP: Bring some of your toddler’s familiar items from home ? a favorite blanket, cereal bowl and whatever book you have just read 10 times during the last hour. To help ease travel qualms, set up your 2-year-old with his own backpack, just big enough for a fuzzy friend, a book and change of undies. He’ll proudly show his gear to everyone on the flight.
School-age kids need a safe environment for wandering on their own and top-notch programs with good teachers. But if you plan properly, you’ll find this stage is the golden age of family travel. It’s a perfect time for both you and your kids to learn new skills, such as skiing and snowshoeing.
A great place for a family to enjoy these winter activities is Mont-Sainte-Anne near Quebec City with its annual four metres of snowfall. Here you’ll find reasonable prices for lift tickets, 63 downhill runs, the country’s largest network of cross-country trails, specific trails just for snowshoeing, an award-winning Children’s Centre, kid-friendly ski camps, and oodles of townhouse accommodation. You and your kids can ride on a horsedrawn sleigh, play with a Thermos-toting Saint Bernard, and feast on treats of boiled maple syrup thrown onto the snow. If that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, pop over to Quebec City, where the kids can participate in a French lesson between their crêpes and sugar pie.
Skican packages from $760 ($420 for kids) include flights from Toronto, four nights in a chalet, car rental and lift tickets. For other city gateways, call 1-888-4SKICAN or visit SkiCan.com. A Ski & Stay package (from Jan. 7 to 31) gets you three nights of lodging and lifts from $179. For details call 1-888-827-4579 or visit Mont-Sainte-Anne.com.
TIP: Prepare a list of possible vacation activities and let your kids check off what they would like to do. Their choices might surprise you. By giving them a voice in the planning, you’ll make them happy both before and during the trip.
Teenagers need active vacations with time away from mom and dad. At the Paradisus Playa Conchal Resort ( Playa-Conchal-Resort-Info.com) on the northwest Pacific coast of Costa Rica, you’ll find enough diversions to make even moody adolescents forget their hormonal angst. They can swim in one of the largest pools in Central America or hike along a hilly beach reminiscent of the Italian Riviera, while you golf on a course designed by Robert Trent Jones, ride horses along the beach or try a massage in the spa. Everyone can sign up for myriad eco adventures, from zipping through trees in the rain forest to watching turtles lay eggs under the moonlight at the nearby national park.
The service is outstanding. On our last visit, staff delivered lanterns to each room within minutes of a tropical storm to cast a romantic glow between high winds.
Rates at this five-star all-inclusive resort start at $1,999. Another $1,000 buys you a week of unlimited golf. Babies and toddlers stay free. Rates for 2-year-olds start at $699; rates for 3- to 11-year-olds begin at $1,329. For this Sunquest package, call your travel agent or visit Sunquest.ca.
TIP: Teens crave friends, so ask if there are opportunities for meeting other young people at any resort you’re considering. If you don’t think your kids will find a comrade on their own, consider traveling with another family with teens.