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Advice: How to Choose a Great Family Resort

Summer has almost come to a close and it’s time to hit the books. Not the school books of course, but the glossy tour books on the travel agent’s shelves that are brimming with vacation ideas. After this summer’s absence of heat and sun, with no thoughts of millennium glitches on the horizon, we are readier than ever for a hot spot this winter.

But which spot to choose? And which resort? This winter’s guides are bursting with pages showing happy kids, stunning beaches, architecturally advanced pools, junior suites and a buffet table that never ends. But the reality of the scene could be quite different. We’ve booked into resorts where the complimentary breakfast was orange juice crystals and donuts, the “eco-resort” was regulary sprayed with pesticides, and the beach was a strip of sand, half of which was reserved for nude bathing. Our two and three year olds loved it but I certainly wouldn’t want my 16-year-old daughter near it now!

On the other hand, we’ve had wonderful surprises such as an unexpected thatched massage hut on a beach, amazing snorkelling just a few feet off shore so the kids could wade right in and activity programs that included such unusual treats as tasting the island jams and jellies or lying on the sand in the dark with an astronomer.

So how does one pick the perfect vacation destination? And how does one decipher the fine print and the figures in the brochures? Here are a few tips along with some suggestions of resorts your kids should love:

DO SOME HOMEWORK: It really pays off to do research, borrow some guides from the library and ask the travel agent to nail down specifics (such as how many Sony Playstations are in the Kid’s Club. Will your kid be constantly in a line-up?) Kudos to Signature Vacations for solving one of our constant dilemmas. Their winter tour book lists family-friendly accommodation for families of five. I always wondered when I saw “maximum of four” in the brochures, just what we should do with that third kid—throw her out the window? Two of these properties: the Club Maeva Manzanillo in Mexico where two-bedroom villas offer one queen, two twins, and two single day beds in the living area—and the Point Village Resort in Negril, Jamaica, with two-bedroom suites.

ALL-INCLUSIVE OR NOT? If your family usually pays for umpteen pops and your kids clamor for every water sport on the beach, or you have teens with bottomless stomachs, then an all-inclusive will probably be worth the cost. It keeps you, though, from truly discovering the island. Some hotels such as the family-friendly Turtle Beach Resort in Barbados will solve this by sending you off with a packed lunch.

READING THE FINE PRINT: We once arrived at a tennis and beach resort on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina only to discover that our five-year-old was not allowed on the tennis courts despite the fact that he loved the game. It didn’t hamper his love of the sport (he teaches it now) but we felt badly for not checking this out. Read the tiny print for child prices. If the rates includes ages two to 17 (like the Iberostar Bavaro Resort in Punta Cana), then you’ll know there’ll be other teens around. The Winjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in St. Lucia offers 35 hours of free nanny care in a three-bedroom villa. This could be the place for a romantic getaway with the kids.

BUDGET CONSIDERATIONS? Book ahead for early bird bonuses. Look for apartments to cook some meals. Often a property that’s only steps from the beach is hundreds of dollars cheaper. And if you’ve got preschoolers, take advantage of the off-season rates. Often you can book at nearby cheaper sister properties. At Beaches Inn (formerly Poinciana Beach Resort) on a seven-mile sand beach, you pay less but can use the facilities at Sandals Beaches Negril. If you’re beaching it all day, a three-star property on a beautiful beach is fine. Try the Sleep Inn (winner of a hospitality award) on Grand Cayman’s world-famous Seven Mile Beach or the friendly Negril Gardens on the beach in Negril.

KNOW YOUR KID: For teens, make sure the resort has a teen program that is structured, not just an empty room where they can hang out. If you have water babies, try Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas with its pools and saltwater lagoons. Does your kid get carsick easily? Don’t opt for a two and a half hour drive in a minibus from the airport. Book at the Cauarina Beach Club in Barbados, a ten-minute drive from the airport or the Acapulco Princess in Mexico. You can move into this little “piece of paradise” as one mom described it, within minutes of landing in the sun.





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