Here’s a primer on what all-inclusive vacations mean at DR, St. Lucia and Bahamas resorts, where one price buys room, board and fun!
Recently I read a plaintive letter to a popular travel magazine asking how he or she could visit tropical beaches with two children under 5-years-old. That got me thinking. There was a time when moms and dads dropped the kids at Grandma’s and took off for that much-needed, romantic vacation by the sea… alone at last! But today, Grandma’s likely grooving with her boyfriend in Greece, so what’s a couple to do?
The travel industry, ever responsive to changing demographics and trends, has responded with a growing number of “all-inclusive” vacation options. They’ve recognized some basic travel facts: 74% of travel is “family travel.” The two-income family often doesn’t have enough quality time together at home, so they hit the road together in search of it. Travelers hate the inevitable financial surprises and hidden costs of having underestimated the price of their vacation.
Remember the adage, “Take half of the clothes and twice the money?” With an all-inclusive vacation, you know exactly how much money you need.
What’s “All” Included
Marketers have taken the next step and created outstanding activities and programs for kids and made them age-sensitive — serving 2- to 4-year-olds, pre-teens and teens. Not every all-inclusive resort has a kids’ program, but most do. The combination of an all-inclusive with a dynamic program for the kids is an apparent winner. Families get the space and the opportunity for individual activities and collective time together – as much or as little togetherness as they want, and at one price.
Unlimited meals and drinks (alcoholic and otherwise) any time of the day or night are one attractive feature, as are the supervised activities (land and water) — from golf to diving and horseback riding to crafts. Entertainment is included — Broadway shows, dance lessons (the merengue is hot these days), language lessons, video nights — teens have their own disco and excursions while the little ones also have their own programs.
Allegro Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is virtually an island of all-inclusives, and Occidental Hotels & Resorts ( 800/858-2258) is an apparent front-runner in the all-inclusive game here and elsewhere. With resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, Europe and Africa, Occidental has copped top honors from the travel industry.
In the Dominican Republic, the Allegro Punta Cana by Occidental, fresh from a multi-million dollar renovation, is located on the island’s east coast. The clientele is mostly international — lots of Germans, Brits, Italians and North Americans — and very well-behaved. U.S. families should know that many women go topless on the beach (not flagrantly, but still…) and families not accustomed to this may be surprised.
Allegro Punta Cana’s staff is exceptionally good-natured and very helpful. For one couple from New Jersey, traveling with their two daughters, 12 and 14, this was their second visit. They told me they liked the fixed costs — “no money surprises” — and the value for the dollar, as well as the family-friendly atmosphere. Their teenage girls liked the “cute guys” and the activities.
What I saw was a good-natured, multigenerational group moving comfortably (and safely) around the property, actively engaged in up-beat activities. The entertainment is first-class and the spirit infectious. This laid-back resort is unpretentious and very user-friendly. But the contrast between the poverty of the Dominican people and the affluence of the resort was unsettling. I talked with some people who had made it a point to meet the locals in the surrounding towns and villages, as did I. But most guests said that when they’re on vacation, they simply want to relax and enjoy themselves. Allegro Punta Cana has four a la carte restaurants (reservations are a must upon arrival), a huge buffet, an extensive beach front and an attractive pool. Most rooms have ocean views.
Windjammer Landing, St. Lucia
At the other end of the Caribbean is Windjammer Landing ( 800/958-7376) in St. Lucia, an accessible island with a rich Caribbean culture. Designed by Caribbean architect Ian Morrison, the property resembles a Mediterranean village. Built into the hillside and overlooking charming Labrellote Bay on the island’s north coast, villas with white-washed walls and red clay tile roofs perch among the lush vegetation and bright bougainvillea. Tropical designs — colored prints and rattan furniture — as well as balconies and fully-equipped kitchens are typical of the villas, some with their own plunge pools. Windjammer is not exclusively an all-inclusive, but it’s a very family-friendly vacation spot with an optional, all-inclusive program and activities for children.
The Jacquot Fun Club (Jacquot is Creole for the St. Lucian parrot) for the 4- to 12-year-olds received kudos from the guests we talked to, with activities such as mini-tennis, playground play, swimming, puppet and T-shirt making, nature walks — programs that combine fun and education. The Teen Program (for ages 13-18) has hiking, water-sports, basketball and more. For tykes under 4, Windjammer also has a nanny service (20 hours are included with the special Family Delight Package).
A 24-hour van service moves the guests up and down (mostly up) from the villas since the winding paths, while delightful, are pretty steep. There are also safari jeep trips to the rain forest. To its credit, Windjammer has incorporated the beauty of the island into its ambiance and activities. The casual, comfortable rhythm of the place is reassuring.
Sheraton Cable Beach, Bahamas
The Sheraton Cable Beach Resort in Nassau, The Bahamas (204/327-6000) offers an all-inclusive plan as well as a Kid’s Club. They happily accept children between ages 4 and 12 — with some 3-year-olds allowed in, provided they’re potty trained and reasonably independent.
Cable Beach, which was formally a Radission Resort and has been newly reopened and expanded, is very attractive, with freshwater pools and waterfalls set in tropical landscaping and rock formations. Overall, there are over seven acres of waterscape for families to explore and the activities on the water also seem endless. There is kayaking, swimming, sailing, snorkeling and of course, on land, there is tennis and basketball.
After a long day on the beach, eating and sleeping will not be a problem at Cable Beach. The hotel currently offers a poolside grill and access to 15 restaurants. And in every one of the 694 rooms there is a private balcony or terrace and the Sheraton Sweet Sleep Bed which will allow even the most restless children to drift away peacefully.
Club Viva Dominicus, Dominican Republic
Viva Wyndham Resorts (800/WYNDHAM) are in five different locations around the Dominican Republic; each offers a combination of ocean or garden-view bungalows, some superior beach rooms and standard rooms. Their Kids Club (4- to 12-year-olds) is a program of skillfully supervised play and activities from 9am to 6pm. They even learn, too. The older kids, for example, can improve their tennis, archery, golf, or canoeing skills. The younger kids can build sand castles, work on puzzles, do gymnastics, draw and paint, create plays and so on, while Mom and Dad relax or play tennis, water ski or sail. Like other all-inclusives, everything is part of the one price, but I especially liked this program because of its excursions into Santo Domingo (the capital) and the various islands, introducing the guests a bit more to the real world of the country.
After all, education should be part of any travel.
Checking Out the All-Inclusives
It’s your vacation and your kids. Most resorts want you to be relaxed and your kids to be comfortable, but you need to do some homework, too. Call the resort’s director of children’s activities before you book your vacation. Ask about the staff: Are they trained in first aid? CPR? How supervised are the activities, especially the water sports? Listen to the tone of the answers, as well as the answers. Ask the resort to fax you a copy of the activities schedule.
Let the staff know about your child’s preferences regarding food and activities, as well as any emotional problems, such as acute shyness. Know exactly how discipline problems will be handled and by whom. Let the staff know your value system regarding discipline. Ask about off-site activities so your family can be exposed to the culture of the destination.
Staff-to-child ratios should be one to four for infants; one to six for toddlers and one to eight for kids ages 5 to 12. Be sure there’s a doctor on call and a nurse in attendance. Ask if there’s a buffet. Kids love it. If not, be sure there’s a child’s menu.
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