By the beginning of fall many families begin thinking about their next getaway, and invariably they want to go somewhere to escape the impending cold weather. Despite the fact that the Caribbean is high season for most of the winter, a family vacation at a family-friendly resort is an attractive option -- I say family-friendly rather than child-friendly because we parents need to relax and have a break too.
Not all family resorts are huge complexes situated in major tourist hubs; sometime you can find affordable family fun in smaller properties in quieter locales. So here are a few ideas of destinations that will provide you and your children with some respite from rain and snow and give you an opportunity to squeeze back into that bathing suit.
Although not beachfront, Comfort Suites Paradise Island (tel. 877/424-6423; www.comfortsuites.com) in the Bahamas is an affordable option located adjacent to the massive Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and perhaps its best perk is that you can pay a low daily rate and get to use all of Atlantis' facilities. Even larger families can be accommodated in rooms with two double beds and a living room area with an additional double sofa bed with prices from $150 per night in early December including free deluxe continental breakfast. Atlantis is a treasure trove of activity for kids and adults alike with a kids' camp, numerous pools, water slides, a lazy river, private beach, and spa services. Guests at Comfort Suites Paradise Island also have full signing privileges at Atlantis Paradise Island restaurants and bars.
Anguilla is home to some of the Caribbean's finest beaches and five-star resorts but is not as touristy or as crowded as many of its neighboring islands. Carimar Beach Club (tel. 800/235-8667; www.carimar.com) is a small-scale property located on the beach in Mead's Bay on a stunning one-and-a-half mile stretch of white sand beach. It offers 24 beachfront and beach-view one- and two-bedroom villas set in low-rise two-story buildings with terraces and balconies. Each villa has a full kitchen -- which comes in handy for those with babies and food-fussy toddlers. Keep in mind that there are no televisions in the villas (just in the resort's recreation room), so if you have children that need electronic devices to keep them entertained, bring your own portable DVD player (although wouldn't a week without any television be just wonderful?).
There are laundry facilities which can also be very handy if you have particularly messy children like mine and don't want to pack everything and the kitchen sink when you travel. For $25 per day, children aged two to 12 can use the facilities of the Children's Place at the more luxurious (and much pricier) Malliouhana Hotel & Spa located just next door. This supervised outdoor play area on the beach features a 26-foot pirate ship, several pools and a 60-foot water slide to keep kids of all ages entertained. They can also arrange baby-sitting. The resort is closed during the months of September and October but reopens November 1 with two-bedroom villas priced from $295 per night plus taxes.
The beachfront Tamarijn Aruba (tel. 800/554-2008; www.tamarijnaruba.com) is an all-inclusive resort that is geared towards families. All guests here have full use of the facilities of the adjacent Divi Aruba All Inclusive Resort, so in total you have the choice of dining at ten restaurants, swimming in three freshwater pools, plus a sports center, bicycles, rock climbing wall, fitness center, and non-motorized water sports. Families can also choose the Tamarijn Aruba's Mega family room option to add on a second separate room for a maximum of four children up to age 18 at special rates. There's a free children's camp (Monday through Friday for children ages five to 12) with plenty of entertaining activities like Papiamento lessons, soccer tournaments, bingo, arts and crafts, t-shirt and face painting, pool and beach games, scavenger hunts, snorkeling and tennis clinics, basketball, movies and snacks. They currently have a fall sale for stays before December 15, 2008. Get 15% off regular rates and if you book by September 30, you'll receive a $50 per room per stay resort credit (use reference code AUA50). Kids up to 18 stay, play and eat free when sharing a room with two paying adults, with a maximum of two children per room. Rates for families of four (two adults and two children) start at $288 per night.
The Dominican Republic remains among the most affordable and easily accessible islands for families, especially with its large number of all-inclusives. Although there are many budget properties located around the Punta Cana beach area, there are also some more luxurious alternatives. The four-star all-inclusive Barceló Premium Punta Cana Resort (tel. 800/227-2356; www.barcelo.com) is located on Playa Arena Gorda less than half an hour's drive from the Punta Cana airport. The expansive white sand beach makes a perfect backdrop for this large resort with numerous pools, a huge tropical garden, a casino, ten dining options and a spa. Kid-friendly amenities include a Kid's Club, mini disco, playground and children's pool area. Almost all rooms in this Spanish style resort offer beach views and balconies. A family of two adults and two children can stay here in early December for seven nights with all meals, snacks and non-motorized water sports included from $1,176 including 26% taxes. If you book 30 days in advance of travel, you will currently receive a 10% discount on regular rates.