“Mom, there’s nothing to do! I’m bored.”
Two months into a winter that was due to last longer than any of us wanted, regardless of what the groundhog had to say, we were all longing to throw open the front door and play outside. Outfitting three little ones for the harsh reality of -20 weather had already worn thin. We all wanted a holiday.
But, as a stay-at-home Mom, a holiday can be a bit of an oxymoron. As a professional, a holiday was an opportunity to leave the work at the office and escape the daily routine. But now my work has become raising my three children, from which as all parents know there is no break — nor would I want there to be. I didn’t want to leave my kids behind, I wanted them to vacation and adventure with us. But with kids, that means a vacation is no longer always a break, but in fact more work.
Gone are the days of bareboat sailing in the Caribbean or wandering the cobblestoned streets of Europe, at least for now. With a 5-year-old and two nearly-3-year-olds, we wanted the opportunity to relax, not worry about preparing meals, in a place that was self-contained, comfortable and warm. The more we thought about it, an all-inclusive vacation ticked all those boxes.
Although the idea of a tropical vacation would take us away from a frigid winter, there is inevitably always more work involved in flying with three young children, and putting them down to sleep in different beds, with all of us in the same room. So we knew it had to be easy. The next step was to find the right one for our needs. Not to mention, within some semblance of a budget (which, by the sheer reality of the type of vacation we’d chosen, had already been blown). We knew we wanted to stay under $5,000, and we needed a resort that would accommodate a family of five. Those two things alone greatly restricted our choices.
I remember the days, in the not too distant past, when we raised our eyebrows at people who chose their all-inclusive resort or cruise ship based on whether or not it had a kids club, thinking they were just looking for a place to dump their kids. It was always our opinion that a family vacation was about spending time together as a family. But as our travel agent presented us different ideas, she was clearly marketing the presence of a kids club as a top tier benefit.
“But we’re not going on vacation so we can put our kids in daycare,” we explained. She said that she didn’t see it as that, but rather as a vacation within a vacation for the kids. So we went with her recommendation and booked a week long stay at the Melia in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
We arrived at the resort at one o’clock in the afternoon, after nothing more than a 10-minute bus ride from the airport. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and shorts, and headed towards the nearest restaurant. We were all starving, and felt so relieved that all we had to do was walk up to the buffet where we were presented with a myriad of choices, sure to find something everyone would be happy to eat. The Mexican corner was fantastic, authentic Mexican food, and through the buffet were several kid-friendly dishes.
Then, it was over to the pool where the kids played and splashed in the shallow beach-like entry.
“I love Mexico!” my daughter shrieked. Clearly they were all thrilled to be outside and warm. In that moment I let go of the angst over having spent the money to get there, and reveled in the joy on their faces, and mine.
Next on our list was to check out the kids clubs. As it is a relatively small resort, and well laid out, the kids club was just directly behind where we had secured deck chairs by the pool. Posted outside the gate was the club’s daily activities. We were taken by the variety — crafts, swimming, play time in the playground.
As we scanned the board, the kids peeked through the gate and spotted the playground, begging to go inside. We were already thinking perhaps our travel agent knew what she was talking about.
So we ventured in, and while the kids climbed on the six-foot Dino character from the Flintstones, we checked out the ‘club’. We were immediately impressed by the warmth of the girls charged with entertaining the children. They explained that there are three clubs, one for kids 4 months to four years old, one for 5-8-year-olds, and a teen club. Being our eldest was already five she got to be part of the ‘big kid club’ but the twins would have to be in the baby club, so we checked that out too.
Both clubs said that if we were to leave our kids, they would want to know where we were so they could come and find us in the first instant the kids felt they were done. That was comforting. But we wanted to leave it up to the kids.
“The next activity is making seashell necklaces. Would you like to stay and do that, or do you want to come with us?” we asked our eldest. “I wanna stay,” she announced, already having made fast friends with a kids club veteran.
“Are you sure?” I asked, sounding hesitant.
“Don’t worry, go sit by the pool, we’ll come get you when she’s done,” chimed in one of the kids club social directors. The twins, however, weren’t so sure they wanted to stay in the baby club, which was quite a bit less structured due to the age group, so they came with us while our daughter tried her hand at jewelry design. An hour later we went back to check on her, where she presented me with her masterpiece and begged to go with the other kids to the pool. My husband and I looked at each other rather surprised and amused. She was clearly settling into ‘vacation mode’.
“Tonight is our Fred Flintstone party,” said one of the social directors. “Be sure to join us, the kids will love it!”
We wound down the rest of the afternoon at the pool’s edge, the kids eating french fries and ice cream from the grill only a few feet away, and for the first time in months I truly felt relaxed.
When we got to the Fred Flintstone party for 6:00 the social directors greeted us in their caveman-style frocks, calling the kids by name. I was already impressed. Then the entertainment started.
“Yabba Dabba Doooooooooo,” blared from the speakers. “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones…” And out walked Fred himself. They had the kids all get up on stage where they each got a caveman frock complete with leopard spots and blue ties. They taught them a couple songs with actions, which even my timid little boy performed enthusiastically. Then they fed them all hamburgers and hot dogs while we sat by, relaxed and smiling. We walked back to the room, all singing the songs they had learned, our hearts light.
And so went the rest of our vacation. When the kids wanted to go to the kids clubs we allowed them, and had rare moments where we were able to have a conversation without interruption. The kids made jewelry, colored T-shirts, had their faces painted, swung with vigor at a pinata, dressed as pirates and went on a treasure hunt, and made memories that will last them a very long time.
If you’re unsure about all those offers for all-inclusive Caribbean holidays, consider our experience. This skeptic has been converted. For now, while our children are young, an all inclusive stay at Melia resorts will be our first choice because it truly is a vacation.
Melanie Gaboriault is a stay-at-home mom to two 4-year-olds and a 6-year-old in White Rock, B.C. She is a former reporter, forever journalist for whom both travel and writing are a few of her many passions. Melanie, along with her husband, will continue to do both with their children in tow, to inspire in them the importance to live life passionately.
We’ve been hemming and hawing about this for years, but I’m now convinced that this would be a great option for our 8 year old!