It’s easy when everything’s included
Kid-tested travel - December 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
We were headed for The Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa on this group of Caribbean islands just south of the Bahamas. With a direct flight—we Chicagoans are spoiled by the possibility of getting a direct flight to just about anywhere—it would have taken about four hours. With two stops and layovers, it took nine.
I endured, knowing that gentle ocean breezes, white sand beaches and Caribbean beauty awaited me. However, my son, Evan, 11, barely hung in there. I can’t imagine having done it with a toddler.
But if you have a toddler who can travel for nine hours, this is definitely worth it.
The Beaches Family Resorts, operated by the company that runs the adults-only Sandals resorts, is all about families and kids. And it’s all-inclusive. That means everything—from the rum punch to the decadent desserts to the tips for staff—is part of the per-person, per-day charge. We stayed as guests of the resort, but our roomy, one-bedroom suite would have cost $630 for our three-night stay—$159 per adult per day and $51 per child per day.
We had a great time. My pool-raised boy was initially drawn to the resort’s five swimming pools and their waterfalls, water slides and floats. (My favorite pool amenity was the swim-up bars.) So, it took a day to lure him into the ocean, but once he dipped into the aqua blue waters, he was hooked.
"This is way better than the wave pool at Great America," Evan said, sounding surprised to discover Mother Nature’s design was better than a water park.
While Evan loved playing in the waves, he was decidedly less thrilled to don a mask and snorkel. This is supposed to be one of the best dive spots in the world. And I enjoyed it, but it was not great. We did see some fish I had previously seen only at the Shedd Aquarium, and the reef was a bright chartreuse in some spots, but it wasn’t what I had hoped.
But when we visited in October, Hurricane Wilma was brewing to the south, churning up the waters and making the good dives unsuitable for us rookies, according to the guides.
While the snorkeling was not great, a stop at Iguana Island, a five-minute boat ride from the resort, was interesting. This is the only place in the world to see the Turks & Caicos rock iguana. We enjoyed seeing these creatures running (relatively) free but the iguanas were not enticing enough to justify the $68 for adults and $47 for kids for the half-day "Beach Cruise: Snorkel and Explore" tour. (Perhaps, if the tour guide spent time talking about something other than the lizards’ sex habits, it would have worked.)
Instead, borrow the free masks, fins and breathing tubes from the resort and walk 10 minutes for a free snorkel along a roped-off reef.
The coral and fish there were at least as interesting as those I saw on the organized trip and I had the reef to myself.
This Sesame Street-themed resort offers nightly live shows that are terrific for little ones, as well as character parades and breakfasts with Elmo and friends—$12 adults, $8 ages 2-15. (This is one of the few things that costs extra.)
And, while this place is all about family togetherness, there are nice options for spending time apart. There are five age-specific kids club options—from babysitting for children 23 months and younger to special events for teens ages 13 and older—so it’s possible to bring kids of varying ages and find things that work for all of them.
I spent a blissful hour at the beautiful spa while my son played video games in the Xbox room. We both were happy.
I never before had considered an all-inclusive resort. I generally choose to experience more of the native culture "off property." But this is really a great way to go when you’re traveling with kids. I could say to my picky eater, "It’s not a problem if you don’t like that. You can get something else." And it was a relief for me not to have to keep a running calculation of our expenses while we were there, knowing there would be no big, unpredictable bill awaiting us at check out.
All we had to fear was the prospect of another long day of traveling to get home.
Cindy Richards is the mom of two and Chicago Parent senior editor and travel editor.
New anti-terrorism laws mean more stringent passport requirements for American citizens. The changes, originally scheduled to take effect Dec. 31, 2005, have been postponed. But, by the end of 2006, all Americans, including kids, will need passports to travel by air or sea to and from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. By the end of 2007, you’ll even need a passport to walk across the border to view Niagara Falls from the Canadian perspective or for a day of shopping in a Mexican border town.
For information on getting a passport for you or your child, visit www.travel.state.gov.
Remember, you’ll need an original notarized birth certificate (no copies, please). Children must appear in person and present proof of citizenship and proof of the relationship to the adult with them (adoption papers, court order establishing custody or birth certificate listing the parents’ names). If only one parent is present while applying, that parent must submit proof he or she has sole authority to apply for a passport or submit a notarized statement from the other parent granting approval for the child’s passport.
Passports take about six weeks to arrive and cost $97, $82 for ages 15 and under. Adult passports are good for 10 years, children’s for five.