When it comes to beating the winter blues, a family vacation to the Caribbean is a no brainer. For one thing, island resorts offer some of the best supervised children’s programs in the industry, entertaining kids with age-appropriate activities that mix plenty of indoor and outdoor fun. For another, Caribbean destinations offer entire menus of activities that families can do together, from kayaking and snorkeling to even smooching a dolphin or two. The best news is that family travel deals abound in a range of price points, from budget to downright posh.
The trick, however, is deciding which island is the best match for you and your family. Each has its own personality and devotees, but we have come up with a list of some of our favorites.
Atlantis, Paradise Island
If dizzying water slides (the Leap of Faith is a favorite with my crew) and eerie aquascapes filled with marine predators are the stuff junior’s dreams are made of, it’s hard to top the razzle-dazzle of Atlantis, Paradise Island. The resort has always been great for older kids, thanks to the high-adrenaline Aquaventures slides and river rides, but ever since Lego partnered with the resort to create Atlantis Kids Adventure (AKA), for ages 3 to 12, even tiny kids can be included in the fun. Young guests can get up close and personal with dolphins – under the supervision of trainers, of course – at Dolphin Cay; get soaked in the Splashers water play area, created for kids under 54 inches tall; learn to make chocolate in the AKA Culinary program, or design their own stuffed animals at The Bear Factory Atlantis Pals.
Holding a giant stingray the size of a truck tire is not for everyone. On our first visit to Grand Cayman’s Stingray City, which is essentially a sandbar in the middle of the ocean swarming with stingrays, our younger son began the day refusing to get out of the boat. An hour later, there he was, being held aloft by a guide in waist-deep water feeding one of the sea creatures by hand. Many local hotels offer packages that include a Stingray City outing, although be aware that the spot is a favorite among cruise passengers and can get crowded.
Grand Bahama Island
The Radisson Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort on Grand Bahama Island is another family favorite, partly because of the miles-long white, sandy beach and partly because our kids like the shops and activities at the bustling Port Lucaya across the street. Kid-friendly activities – Junkanoo parades, anyone? – are on tap at Camp Lucaya, for ages 3 to 11, and the UNEXSO Close Encounter dolphin encounter at nearby Sanctuary Bay is a hands-down favorite. Check out air-inclusive packages at OurLucaya.com.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
If the last time you thought about Club Med was when you were a swinging single, it’s time to give the company – especially the family villages – a second look. Our favorite is Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, where our kids loved snorkeling in the clear turquoise water, playing tennis with the friendly GOs (the Club Med terminology for the staff) and, most of all, swinging from the flying trapeze at the circus school. The resort is baby-friendly, taking infants as young at four months old into the Baby Club, while teens are not forgotten at hip Passworld, for the 11 to 18 set.
Because my husband and I are foodies, we appreciate the cuisine at the resort – an aspect of all-inclusive properties that can often be disappointing.
St. Thomas, USVI
Maybe because St. John was the first U.S. Virgin Islands we ever visited years ago, it is still one of our favorites. Yes, Trunk Bay has become crowded with cruise passengers and the marketplace at Cruz Bay has become more trendy, but the island still retains a rustic charm, thanks to the designation of much of it as a national park. We like the water sports, including scuba and sailing, at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, while the kids enjoyed the activities at the Westin Kids Club. There are pools sprinkled among the acreage, and we could hop on a private ferry back and forth to the more bustling St. Thomas.
St. John, USVI
Parents who like not having to reach for their wallets on vacation can stay on St. Thomas proper, thanks to the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, which became the island’s only all-inclusive resort on July 1, 2010. Family fun includes snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, scuba instruction, miniature golf and family movie nights. Check out the winter deals at SugarBayWyndham.com.
Photos courtesy of Nancy Solomon
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Best places for kids in the Caribbean on Ciao Bambino