One mom shares her family travel adventures.
Valerie Frankel: The phrase "family travel" makes me picture a tropical resort wading pool full of screaming babies in swim diapers and floaties being bobbed aggressively by frustrated parents. Once upon a time, I was one of those parents. I killed myself trying to show my daughters a good time, spending thousands on the promise of FUN! for the whole family -- without having much of it. Then I wised up, and waited for Maggie and Lucy, now 13 and 10, to grow up a bit before taking them back to the Caribbean.
Which I longed to do. I loved the beach, snorkeling, and rum drinks. Only problem: most resorts were either adults-only or family-friendly. Forgive me for saying, I am not a fan of other people's babies -- especially those in swimmies and floaties in the same pool where I'm trying to enjoy a piña colada.
A middle ground presented itself. The all-inclusive Beaches resort in Turks and Caicos is a family resort (shudder), but promised, along with FUN!, diversions specifically aimed at tweens and teens. A brand-new water park with ballsy slides. A surf simulator ride. A teens-only nightclub. A no-adults-allowed pool/fuseball lounge. Teen spa services. An Xbox 360 "garage" with scores of monitors and games. Beaches catered to preschoolers, too, with a Sesame Street camp/babysitting service, character breakfasts with Elmo, etc. The older kid activities, when I showed Maggie and Lucy the website pictures, excited them -- and my husband, Steve, who'd never tried a surf simulator. We booked for four nights.
And we're just back. I'll say right off the bat that the place was crawling with babies. But the resort is so huge, the critters were well dispersed, and (this means a lot coming from me) not at all annoying. At full capacity, the resort never seemed crowded. No lines at the water slides, surf simulator, or for Xbox stations. No waiting for tables at any of the sixteen restaurants (re: the food, good variety of cuisine, from Japanese to Italian to French to island fare, but of average quality, at least compared to New York standards). We hopped onto a snorkeling tour boat at the last minute, no problem. Easily scored primo beach chaises mid-morning. Never waited more than a minute for a bartender to blend up a Coconut Cooler -- three kinds of rum in one glass, a.k.a., a beautiful thing.
Our hotel room was located in the recently opened Italian Villages section. The whole wing was built in just the last year, and it still had that "new resort" smell. The room was a marvel, I must say, even rambling, with bunk beds for the girls, a Jacuzzi, king-size bed for Steve and me, and a balcony with pool and ocean views. But now, the pain: for four nights in our room, expect to pay around $5,000. Seems like a lot, but remember, all drinks, food, water sports, amenities, everything, is included. The only extra charges we made were at the Red Lane spa (more on that in a sec) and the gift shop. Believe me, you can spend a hell of a lot more for five days in paradise. You could spend a lot more at the same resort, like some piggy people who paid for "butler service," which bought them a personal servant to attend to their every need, fetching drinks, food, etc. I'm sure the butler would go to the bathroom for them, too, if that were possible.
A few firsts: Steve and I had our first couples massage at the spa. We were in the same oasis-like space, naked on the table, slathered with oil by two wonderfully talented women, and stroked in sync. When I glanced over at his table, his masseuse was working on the same body part on him as mine was on me. It was an extra pleasure, to imagine Steve feeling what I was feeling. Maggie and Lucy had their first rubdowns, too, the modified teen massage, which they loved (who wouldn't?). Another first for us was the surf simulator.
We all successfully rode the machine-generated wave on boogie boards. It was impossible not to laugh while doing it. Grown men were giggling like little girls. And, I suppose, little girls were giggling like grown men. One more first: while snorkeling right off shore, Lucy spotted a stingray! We followed it for a ways as it swam parallel to the beach before we left it alone. Our reef snorkeling excursion had us invade the privacy of hundreds, if not thousands of colorful tropical fish, a sight worth flying thousands of miles for.
Maggie checked out Club Liquid, the teens-only disco, but she was too shy to mingle. She and Lucy spent a lot of time in the Xbox game garage, which gave Steve and me some much-needed alone time to sip our umbrella drinks on the beach in the moonlight. Cliché romance? It still works. We very much appreciated the sliding door that divided the kids' sleeping area from ours.
On our last afternoon, sleepy from so much sun, sand, and swimming, we crashed in our suite. I napped for two hours. I never nap. Waking up to the pink sunset visible from our window, all four of us regaining consciousness on the king-size bed, I felt that magic moment I'd always hoped for on a Caribbean vacation: shared, wrung-out happiness with the people I love best.
After all my disappointments at family resorts, at Beaches Turks and Caicos, I finally found my bliss.