Vacation to Jamaica: What to bring, where to stay and how to plan a great vacation with the kiddos. Follow out picks to help you plan the perfect family trip with little kids.
Traveling with children is an incredible way to expose them to another culture or way of life as well as get some much-needed R & R. Vacations are rejuvenating and an necessity, but the planning and execution can be challenging, stressful and expensive. After having my baby 10 months ago my family was ready to get away, so I was thrilled when I was asked to join a press trip to the Beaches Resort in Negril, Jamaica. Held over four day (two of which were used for travel time), my children and I experienced an exciting adventure with Sesame Street characters, countless dips in the pool and a computer-free escape that was revitalizing as we reconnected a family and enjoyed the many amenities of a luxurious Caribbean escape.
The planning phase involved getting passports for my girls and renewing my husband's two-year-old passport. I found this part riducisluly easy and opted for the expedited service where we had our passports in-hand in about one week. Next was packing. Since we were only going to be there for two days, I didn't want to overpack, but I also wanted to make sure that I had enough in those "what if" situations that often come up when you are traveling with children. We opted to pack suitcase that would be checked in and two carry-ons for baby food and various activities to keep my big kid busy. I even packed my nook in hopes that I could get some reading in but this wasn't the trip for those kind of indulgences! Since we had to travel on two planes I also packed some snacks and told her we could get something special in-between our destinations.
We arrived around 12 hours later (approximate time due to two planes and a 90-minute bus ride to the resort), and although I was completely exhausted I was also revitalized when I saw a glimpse of the resort. A swimming pool and instant hospitality as the staff offered my family drinks and snacks (this is all before we even checked into our rooms!). After we were refreshed with some pineapple juice and apples, we were taken to our room and given a short tour as I located the nearby stage, Mill restaurant and the gorgeous beach. We then checked into our room and instantly loved the spacious apartment-style layout complete with a king-sized bed, a pull out coach, cable TV, a balcony overlooking the beach and a garden, private bath, and a fridge (which I loved since I was traveling with baby food). I also learned that the resort offers around 200 friendly rooms that can even include custom-crafted furnishings and lavish baths, suites and even offer Butler and Suite Concierge Service for the ultimate in relaxation.
Sesame Street Characters:
A huge draw of this resort for families is the Sesame Street themed attractions. It is not an all in your face characters are everywhere you turn, but rather the resort plans special events like a weekly Sesame Street Character Parade where children can interact with their favorite furry creature, take pictures or give them a hug.
The parade started out in the front of the resort and circled around as I checked out more of the gorgeous crowds, including two pools, a slide and more of the beach. It ended at the beach where Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Zoe, Bert and Ernie, Abby Cadabby, The Count, and Big Bird were dancing and rocking out. Another fun adventure was experiencing a character tuck-in with Elmo. My older daughter isn't a huge fan of characters - they actually scare her - so this experience was more for my baby who went wild when Elmo came to our room.
Accompanied by a story-teller and a photographer, the experience included a goodnight story, pictures and a bedtime song from Elmo and his crew. The entire time my baby was overjoyed and excited. I really loved that this was her first memory with this red furry creature. We also had the chance to throw a tea party for Abbey where the kids dressed up in princess frocks and danced with Abbey and Elmo. There was also a breakfast on the beach where the characters came to our tables and took pictures with the kids.
Another incredible experience was taking a catamaran cruise along Negril where we sat back and took in the gorgeous views. Some people even jumped off the boat and went swimming in nearby cruises. On our way back we were greeted by Grover who danced and played games like hot potato with the kids.
In addition to these amazing services, kids can also experience fun adventures like cooking with Cookie Monster, Scavenger Hunts with Grover, Letter of the Day with various characters, Exercising with Elmo, and the latest addition of Super Grover. The kids had a chance to have a science fair him as they dug up seashells and gems and other objects. He will also be the star of a new show called The Super Grover: Ready for Action Stage Show that will be launching at Beaches Resorts this September.
I have never experienced the pleasure of having an inclusive vacation before this one, and I can honestly say it might the experience carefree and so easy with the children. Of course a part of traveling is trying local fare and exploring whatever area you are in, but I also appreciated not having to worry about what to feed them and having the luxury to order literally anything. The food itself, though, was ok. It wasn't incredible, but it wasn't bad. Personally, I really loved the buffet-style breakfast offerings from the Mill where I could enjoy fresh fruits, yogurt, smoothies or bagels and my daughter could find cereal or eggs. My husband also loved the offerings where he opted for omelets, bacon and coffee. There really was something for everyone, and later in the day we all enjoyed swimming in the pool and having the option to enjoy a drink at the pool's swim-up bar, which included some refreshing and icy mocktails (my daughter's favorite was a drink called the Pretty Princess) as well as beer, wine and cocktails.
The pools are a huge attraction at Beaches. This location has 3 pools, 2 with swim-up bars and a Pirate Island Waterpark featuring a water slide, surf simulator and lazy river. The Pirate'??s Island Waterpark is an amazing place where kids can splash around the pirate-themed, 18,000 square-foot waterpark, complete with a 204-foot long spiraling slide, an interactive splash deck, a 392-foot lazy river and an oversized Jacuzzi.
My older daughter was a tad too short for the slide, but that didn't seem to bother her as we strolled along the lazy river and spent hours in both pools. Reaching about four feet, both pools were perfect for our entire family as we enjoyed the gorgeous weather and time dipping and swimming in paradise.
Even though we were on vacation my kids still woke up at 6:00am. There was something less annoying about waking up at 6:00am in Jamaica where we made a pot of coffee (included in the room) and suited up the girls in swimsuits for a morning on the beach. Located about five minutes from our room, we walked to the gorgeous white sandy beaches. The resort is situated along Jamaica's famed Seven Mile Beach that was absolutely gorgeous all day. In the morning it was relatively empty (except for other families with early risers) and we planted our stuff on the chairs or at a nearby hammock. It was amazing to look at the crystal clear and warm water that was a much-need escape for all of us.
Both of my girls loved dipping in the water that we enjoyed for much of the morning. At night we checked out Stewfish, a restaurant located right on the beach. We were able to see the sun go down while enjoying our delicious seafood dinner. One thing was that it was very buggy so we didn't end up staying for the whole meal, but being very accommodating our waiter wrapped up our dinner so that we could eat it in our room. Also, next time I will know to bring the bug spray!
As an all-inclusive resort, Beaches has to serve a tremendous amount of food. I mentioned that it wasn't stellar, but there are a few stand-out experiences and restaurants that I should mention. Kimonos was a huge hit with my family as we had the chance to watch a chef cook our dinner right before our eyes. Served on Teppanyaki tables, these energetic chefs were featuring their amazing knife skills one minute and then cooking up a delicious selection of chicken, shrimp, pork, rice and beef the next.
Everything was included in the menu, where you could opt to not have a certain item if you did not want it. We also really like Dino's Pizzeria, a walk-up eatery where you could order hand-tossed pizzas that are made in a Woodstone oven. Located right on the beach, I loved enjoying our pizza that was set against the backdrop of the scenic beach. Although I wasn't blown away by the phone it should be noted that you could literally get anything you wanted to eat, which is pretty incredible when you are traveling with kids. Oh, and I should mention there is a make your own ice cream station where kids can serve themselves a cone or cup of this sweet treat.
Beaches has everything covered for families and children of all ages with a 24-hour Xbox 360 Play Lounge experience (my husband was also a fan), mini golf, Scratch DJ Academy where you can create jam sessions or the teen club, Trench Town. There are also family-friendly night shows featuring the beloved characters from Sesame Street. There really is no way you could be bored here.
Having a vacation to Beaches can also include a break where you and your partner can enjoy some quality time together. The resort offers a full-day Kids Camp and nanny services that you can use all day, for an hour, or even a few minutes. The camp is organized by age and they accept babies right at age 0.
Simply check them in with a passport and you can pick them up later in the day. All of the childcare professionals certified in accordance with an accredited U.S. university. On a tour of the childcare facility, I loved that it was full of toys, cribs, and that the childcare professionals take the children out during the day where they get to enjoy the nearby toddler pool, get their face painted, enjoy magic shows, pizza making, and treasure hunts, and so much more. They also have after-hour babysitting services (camp is until 9pm) and caregivers for children with special needs.
Time for Both of You:
If you can manage it Beaches offers so many incredible amenities for couples. Although we didn't get to do that this time I was thinking that this would be amazing for some time at the nearby state-of-the-art fitness center including Life Fitness equipment or even better at the Red Lane Spa where you can enjoy 11 treatment rooms (spa services additional) including massage, exfoliation treatment, salon treatments like a manicure, wraps or a facial. In addition to the spa you can enjoy some time at the state-of-the art gym or experience scuba diving (both of which are part of the all-inclusive package). They also offer local tours like deep-sea fishing, dolphin encounters, canopy tours and biking through Jamaica as well.
This trip was all about relaxation (I didn't even bring my computer!). For my fashions I kept it simple with my inexpensive striped I 'Heart' Ronson Maxi Dress. Available at JCPenney.com, I love this gorgeous color blocked stripes that also includes a cami and a fun belt. For shoes I stuck with comfortable Copper sandals from ABEO. Featuring a custom 3-D fit, these sandals were the only shoes I needed as I walked around the resort or lounged by the pool.
This part of the trip was a mess (to say the least) and I learned a lot about how to be prepared the next time around. As with the first leg of the trip we also had to take a bus to the airport and then two planes before we reached NYC. Up bright and early we loaded up on breakfast at the Mill and took some fruit and cereal boxes for our long journey home. The initial bus ride was fine where both girls feel quickly asleep. We then checked in and made our way to the airport with no issues - we purchased some last-minute trinkets and made our way back to the U.S.
In about an hour and a half we were back in Miami and the girls were once again exhausted. Having not research the airport situation in Miami (or been given information about it beforehand), we had to pick up our luggage and have it checked it at customs. Then, we had to go back through security. Mind you we already did this in Jamaica and had a second flight to catch. With thousands of people waiting to through and only one (yes, one!) security line open we darted to the priority line and waited.
As our flight was approaching another line was open and we quickly ran (this was all with a baby) to the tram and darted to our line, with 10 minutes to spare. No way to get food, we checked it only to learn that our seats were taken!?! They found another three seats and we boarded for our voyage home. Although I was so happy to be on the flight we were also really hungry and only had one box of dry cereal left. When the flight attendants made their way to our section they told us that there was no more food and my daughter completely broke down in tears. Another few minutes another flight attendant found some nuts for $5,50 that we happily purchased. With a little bit in her stomach my daughter feel asleep and we were home in NYC in about three hours.
What did I learn? Well, always research flight restrictions - especially with international flights. I had no idea that we would have to go through two levels of security. I also learned to pack extra snacks. I always have snacks on me so this was really a major mistake on my part. I also learned not to rely on layovers - where I thought I had over two hours to get a snack where we actually almost missed our flight!
Although the last leg of the trip was frustrating my family and I had an amazing time at the actual resort where we savored every minute of relaxation, pool time, walks on the beach and quality time together as we enjoyed our first vacation as a family of four.
For more information, please visit: http://www.beaches.com/