Jamaica offers many attractions for kids to enjoy. However, it is not the safest place to be, so you'll want to keep a hawk eye on your brood at every moment. Road travel is filled with some hazards, and casual walking can also be a bit hazardous because of reckless traffic. But, with proper precautions in place, you should have an enjoyable — and safe — experience discovering the island en famille.
In a capsule version, you can take in the highlights — just skimming the surface, of course — of Jamaica in just 1 week, with stopovers at the most popular resorts, including Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, and Port Antonio.
Day 1: The Fun Begins at Montego Bay
After your arrival in Montego Bay, check into a hotel for the night and try to arrange a return booking for Day 4.
There's one attraction in Montego Bay for the entire family: the multi-million-dollar Aquasol Theme Park, with its array of watersports activities, including a giant water slide. After you've checked out the attractions of this waterworld, you can order lunch at an outdoor restaurant and get in some beach time on the sands of Walter Fletcher Beach, which is part of the theme park. All this fun is right in the heart of Montego Bay.
As the day wanes, book a cruise on the Calico, a gaff-rigged wooden ketch sailing from the Montego Bay waterfront. Overnight in Montego Bay.
Day 2: Southwest to Negril
Ever since the hippie invasion of the late 1960s, the resort of Negril has been associated with more adult pleasures. But in the past decade or so, it has broadened its appeal and now embraces families. Plan an overnight stopover here on your whirlwind tour of Jamaica. Heading east along the A2, stop at Mayfield Falls & Mineral Springs, which lies 6km (3 3/4 miles) east of the town of Lucea on Bamboo Bay. At this working farm, the entire family can swim in an underwater cave and stand in awe at all the waterfalls.
After continuing east, perhaps stopping for a picnic lunch at Hurricane Park, drive into Negril for the night. If you arrive in the afternoon, you can still get in some beach time along the fabled Seven Mile Beach. Avoid the nude section if you have small children unless your family is nudist-oriented.
Day 3: The South Coast
Leave Negril on the morning of Day 3, continuing east along the A2 and passing through the low-lying Negril Hills, going all the way to the major port city of Savanna-la-Mar, which has known greater glory. En route to Treasure Beach, the best place to break up your day is at Paradise Park, a 405-hectare (1,000-acre) working cattle ranch, lying 1.5km (1 mile) west of the little town of Ferris Cross. The family can swim in the Sweet River here, take hikes, and even go horseback riding.
After a visit and perhaps a picnic lunch, continue on the A2 through the twin towns of Belmont and Bluefields until you reach Whitehouse, 8km (5 miles) along the coast from Bluefields.
Here you can take a "safari," exploring Black River, the second-longest river in Jamaica, and a vast marshland called the Great Morass.
As the afternoon fades, continue southeast along the A2 until you reach Treasure Beach. This little resort makes the best stopover along the coast because it has the most diversified accommodations.
Day 4: Return to Montego Bay
On the morning of Day 4, drive west along the A2, following the same route you took to get here. Your goal for your final days in Jamaica is the North Coast. However, because of poor road conditions, reaching Ocho Rios by an inland route is a journey into hell. Therefore, it's necessary to do all this backtracking along the A2 to the final two destinations discussed here.
When you reach Montego Bay, check into a hotel (perhaps the same one where you booked before) and plan a day of R&R with your entire family. Most kids at this point want more hours on the beach. However, if your family wants to continue sightseeing, make it the old town of Falmouth. After a good night's sleep, you'll be ready to set out the following morning to enjoy the major highlights of Jamaica's North Coast, which is far more touristy than the South Coast you've just visited.
Days 5 & 6: Exploring East & West of Ocho Rios
Follow the A1 east to Ocho Rios. You'll spend a good part of the day on bad roads on the way to Ocho Rios from Montego Bay. This is the most family-friendly resort in Jamaica, and you'll want to spend at least 2 nights here, preferably at a resort such as Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club or FDR (Franklyn D. Resort), which targets the family trade.
On your first day, after driving along Jamaica's notoriously bad roads, your family may want to dispense with driving for the rest of the day and head for the beach. Mallards Beach in the center of Ocho Rios is the most convenient.
On the morning of Day 6 you can set out to do some touring. The major attraction at Ocho Rios, the 546m (600-feet) Dunn's River Falls, is not suitable for small children. More appropriate family-friendly fun includes such active attractions as rafting on the White River or swimming with dolphins.
If you'd like to go for a short but scenic drive, the lush gorge Fern Gully is one of the beauty spots of the North Coast. If time remains in the day, a final attraction of interest to families is Coyaba Gardens and Museum and Mahoe Falls.
Day 7: East to Port Antonio
The family fun continues as you set out on the morning of Day 7 to visit historic Port Antonio in the east.
Along the way, stop off at Harmony Hall, 6km (3 3/4 miles) east of Ocho Rios. This art gallery, crafts store, and restaurant is more of interest to adults than children (but you deserve some sightseeing too). The hall makes the best stopover after some potentially hazardous driving out of Ocho Rios. At least the whole family can enjoy some cold drinks before continuing with the tour.
Alternatively you can take in the 90-minute jitney tour of Prospect Plantation, a working plantation — featuring pimentos, allspice, and limes — spread over 405 hectares (1,000 acres).
After arriving in Port Antonio, check into a hotel for the night. You can either head for the beach if you're tired of touring or take the entire family rafting on the Rio Grande, a tradition started by film actor Errol Flynn, who once lived in the area.
For your final night in Jamaica, we suggest you take the entire family for dinner at Norma's at the Marina. Not only is this the finest restaurant in the area but it will also give you a chance to see Port Antonio's newest attraction, its marina.
After a night's rest, head out in the morning for your return home.