How to Choose a Family Resort
Top 20 things to look for
Let’s face it, traveling with children can be stressful. Trying to keep all ages well fed, rested and entertained on a trip is a tall order whether you’re dealing with toddlers or teens. And, despite best intentions, rest and relaxation are rarely part of the equation for parents.
Family resorts are purpose-built to minimize this stress and maximize the potential that everyone, including mom and dad, has a good time. More than just a place to stay, a good resort is a destination in its own right – the fact that it may be set in an exotic, foreign or historically significant locale is only a minor attraction.
Newly built or renovated resorts around the world are all trying to outdo each other with the latest amenities and kid-pleasing pizzazz. But you need to look beyond a cool water slide when deciding which resort is right for you and your kids.
Here are 20 factors to consider when checking out family resort options:
- The resort should provide a clean, comfortable, spacious room that includes a sitting area so you can set up a play zone for the little ones (and hopefully discourage the incessant bed-hopping that most kids are compelled to do). Make sure there’s room enough for a stroller, portable crib and other paraphernalia you may need – those bulky items can eat up a lot of precious floor space. There should be a place for suitcases to be stored out of the way and plenty of cupboards and drawers so you can unpack, organize and settle in efficiently – clutter is the enemy when you’re all living in close quarters. Ideally there is ample counter space and shelving in the bathroom so you don’t have to resort to using the top of the toilet tank to store your toothpaste et al.
- Four-to-a-room seems to be the standard policy of most resorts. If you happen to have more than two offspring, you’ll have to book an additional room (adjoining, if possible). A growing number of resorts have a limited number of family suites, cottages or rooms that can accommodate five, but you have to dig around for them and book well ahead. Grab a family suite if you can – these often have a separate room or annex for the children, so when it’s lights out for them the adults still have a space of their own.
- Ideally the resort should be located relatively close to the airport and/or nearby attractions so you won’t have to spend hours in a car/taxi/van transporting around. Having airport transfers included in your package saves the headache and expense of renting a car or hiring a taxi.
- It’s convenient to have an ATM on site or money changing capabilities at the front desk. Even if you’re at an all-inclusive resort you may need some cash/local currency for incidentals or exploring off the resort. Note, many countries have an airport departure tax that is payable in local cash, so sock this amount away so you won’t be caught short at the airport (it’s no fun having to extract excess money just as you’re about to leave the country).
- If there’s an in-room mini-bar and you’re worried about Junior’s sneaky (and pricey) macadamia nut habit, keep it locked or ask to have the contents removed. Use the refrigerator space for your own milk, fruit and snacks.
- Be forewarned, some resorts have a shower stall rather than a bathtub in the room. Depending on the age of your kid(s) and their comfort level with showers this might pose a problem (some kids don’t tolerate water in their eyes). One solution for small children is to bring a small inflatable pool that you can put on the shower floor to use as a makeshift bath.
- Family-friendly resorts usually have cribs you can borrow so you don’t have to cart them from home. Some resorts even have strollers on hand. Call ahead and find out what paraphernalia you can leave off your packing list.
- Find out if the resort has buckets, spades and inflatable pool toys for guest use – it’ll save you carting your own arsenal of beach distractions with you (but beware of sharing issues, as young children can get pretty possessive about the communal booty).
- Look for a resort that has a variety of family-friendly restaurants and kid-approved food choices (hopefully not just deep-fried junk). Catering to allergies and special diets is a plus. There should be something open at odd hours as you never know when the munchies will hit someone in your party. Often there’s a main dining hall where a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet is served, a poolside snack bar where light meals are offered and a couple of finer dining establishments that have “family” and “adults only” sittings. Room service with a kids’ menu is a nice to have for the occasional night in (let’s face it, after an active day in the sun they’re not always fit for public dining).
- Think about your family’s eating and drinking tendencies before committing to an all-inclusive or semi-inclusive meal/beverage plan. If you like to indulge, these can be great value for money and a liberating way to avoid a nickel-and-diming mindset while you’re on vacation. However, if you’re not big consumers or if you consider exploring the local establishments part of the fun of traveling, a la carte is the better way to go.
- Pools are often a main attraction in a family resort. If you have younger kids, a shallow wading pool or a sloped zero entry pool is ideal. Some resorts have slides, fountains, islands, waterfalls, bridges, lazy rivers and full-fledged water parks in and around their pools. Look for a resort with a variety of different pool areas appropriate for your relevant age groups – including an adults-only pool for when you steal an hour or two of solitary R&R.
- If you’re beach bound, make sure the resort is flanked by a child-friendly beach – some resorts are located in areas with rough surf and not appropriate for younger children. You’ll want a clean patch of sand with plenty of shade (either via trees or umbrellas) for all that sandcastle building and kid burying adventures.
- Resorts geared to families tend to offer a variety of activity and entertainment options tailored to all age groups (including adults!). If you have a baby, look for a resort with paved paths suitable for stroller walks. If you have a toddler, a playground or green space to run around can help channel the abundant energy. If you’ve got older kids, extra-curricular distractions like ping pong, foosball, basketball and video games are in order. It’s best if there are some indoor amenities on hand in case of rainy days (such as an in-room DVD player). Most resorts have a daily roster of organized activities, including live music, cultural classes and shows, talent and karaoke contests, movie nights and sports tournaments – it’s up to you whether to get involved or not.
- One of the greatest attractions of family resorts is their children’s programming, including childcare, kid’s clubs and teen centers. These are designed to supervise, stimulate and socialize youngsters plus give parents a few hours to themselves. Check that the resort you are considering has a curriculum for your kids’ ages (activity camps usually start at age three or four and not all places cater to well to the tween and teen set). Click here for more information on what to look for in a resort children’s program.
- On-site laundry facilities (either coin-operated or an in-house service) are handy for traveling families – you might think you’ve packed enough to get you through the vacation but you’re always one spilled Shirley Temple away from wardrobe peril.
- Make sure there’s a doctor or nurse on staff or on call should the need arise. Kids pumped up with vacation excitement tend to be accident prone and susceptible to illness.
- Ask if there’s a late check-out option or a courtesy room for families to use between the usual check in/check out times. If you have an early arrival or a late night departure, it’s nice to have a place to go for a shower, a change or a rest.
- Make sure there are smoke alarms, sprinklers and other standard safety features at the resort.
- Friendly, courteous, helpful front desk personnel, concierges, housekeepers, waiters and activities directors can make or break a trip for you. The better family resorts know that customer service leads to good word of mouth recommendations, so their staff go the extra mile.
- Family resorts have to compete with each other to earn your business, so it’s not that hard to find one offering cheap family holidays. Oftentimes children stay free or at a deep discount. Dig around and find a good deal.