Planning an escape to somewhere hot this winter? Check out these vacation ideas. And if you can get away in January there are great deals to be had!
If you love the ocean and would like to see multiple destinations in a short period of time, cruise ships may be a good option for you.
Look for the right cruise line and you will be able to enjoy both time spent with and without your children, from baby to teen. Many of the larger ships have so many amenities for both young and old that they have much more than a typical resort will offer!
*Note: On most cruise ships, and at most resorts for that matter, you will need to pay an additional fee for kids’ clubs for children under 3/ 4 years.
If you’ve got kids then you’ve probably already heard of Disney Cruises.
They have on-board live Disney shows and character meet and greets, nurseries for young children aged 3 months to 3 years, arcades, princess and pirate makeovers, adventure games, television-studio theme family entertainment center where you can sing, dance and play games together, sports deck including mini golf and virtual sports simulators, and tweens and teens exclusive spaces. A vacation to a hot destination wouldn’t be complete without water fun! The Disney Cruise line has plenty of options for you including water slides, spray pads, and wading pools.
For adults there’s the spa and fitness centers, an adults-only pool, night clubs and lounges, and a movie (3-D too!) theatre.
There are four different ships so be sure that your choice has the amenities you desire. Do check out their Special Offers page which currently has a 25% discount for Canadian residents sailing between Jan 5, 2013 and February 2, 2013 departing from Miami, Florida.
Out of curiosity, I priced out two adults and two children aged 4 and 2 years and it came to $1540 for a 4-night Bahamian cruise aboard the Disney Wonder.
Royal Caribbean Cruise
Royal Caribbean is another popular cruise line with lots of amenities for children.
Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Class boasts FlowRider, ice skating, rock climbing, mini golf, water park, whirlpools extending 12 feet beyond the sides of the ship. The Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas includes outdoor movie screens and a 3D theatre. Royal Caribbean includes the DreamWorks experience which may include Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar’s Alex and the Penguins.
There’s also a nursery for 6-36 months for babies and tots in the daytime and evening ($8/ hour), programming for babies and tots with parents, youth, tween and teen programming. Check out Aquanauts (ages 3-5 years), a program where children will have fun conducting cool experiments and becoming Certified Jr. Adventure Scientists!
If you have a wee one, there’s also a Fisher-Price toy lending program for 6- 36 months, and a Babies 2 Go service which lets you pre-order diapers and Gerber organic baby food delivered to your room.
If your child likes Nickelodeon (think Dora and Spongebob), you might want to consider Norwegian Cruises.
Sing and dance at Dora’s Dance Party, have breakfast with Spongebob, enjoy interactive story time with friends from Nickleodeon, play interactive games by the pool with Team Nick, create arts and crafts, and participate in spontaneous messy games featuring pies, slime or even “jellyfish” with Team Nick during impromptu Splash Mobs. Sounds like my kind of fun 🙂
There’s also a kids’ club called Splash Academy for 6 months to 12 years where they can learn to juggle at circus school, work on arts and crafts projects or play the Wii (children under 3 yrs must be accompanied by an adult). For teens, check out the Entourage club.
Do check that the specific ship you choose has your desired activities and amenities.
Carnival Cruises doesn’t seem like they have much for the baby and younger toddler age group, but if you have a 2 – 11 year old, you can take advantage of Camp Carnival, a kid’s club full of activities to keep your child entertained.
They also offer a water park with water slides (configuration varies by ship), mini golf, Skycourse (suspended ropes), foosball, ping pong and more. There’s an outdoor movie theatre playing movies, sporting events and cartoons all day and night, a 3D theatre, karaoke, and stage shows.
Do check that the specific ship you choose has your desired activities and amenities.
The downside of cruises:
- There can be surprise extras that you hadn’t anticipated. Such as alcoholic drinks, babysitting/ kids’ club services and excursions offered at the ports of call. Be sure to know ahead of time what’s not included so you can budget appropriately and not feel guilty about spending more than you anticipated!
- Make sure you check out your accommodation options. They will be much more cramped than a typical resort (unless you have the money to upgrade!).
- The possibility of sea sickness although this is rare on larger boats since they don’t move around as much as the smaller ships. You may also want to avoid crossing the Atlantic or Pacific oceans as they tend to be choppier. And do ask around about the time of year you are going. At the end of a season the ocean may also be choppier due to cold fronts moving in. Don’t forget to bring anti-nausea pills just in case!
- While many cruise ships have sophisticated medical centres, if you get severely ill you may need to disembark at the next port and check into the hospital. Some ships do have helicopter pads but make sure that your insurance covers medical evacuation (many don’t) as it can be very expensive if paying out-of-pocket ($10K-25K). From the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, Although no official agency regulates medical practice aboard cruise ships, consensus-based guidelines have been published, which cruise lines are encouraged to adopt. So in other words, medical care could be extremely poor. Be aware of the risk.
2. Family-Friendly All-Inclusive Beach Resorts
Ahhh sunshine, beach, ocean, unlimited drinks, and no cooking or having to clean up!
Below are a few family-friendly resorts I have experienced, all with kids’ clubs I’d recommend for the preschooler and under age group. I will be adding to this section in the near future.
Club Med resorts have a great reputation for catering to families.
They also tend to be on the expensive side, but they have sales on all the time (sign up for their e-newsletter). And if you see a better sale after you book, simply call and get even more of a discount!
Ixtapa Pacific in Mexico, Punta Cana in Dominican Republic and Sandpiper Bay in Florida are among the destinations that have kids’ clubs for children 4 mos and up. If you’re willing to go a bit further, check out La Pointe aux Canonniers in Mauritius, Phuket in Thailand and Cherating Beach in Malaysia.
Club Med has family-oriented suites, complimentary baby-care equipment including strollers, baby bathtub, crib, a Baby Care room which has baby food, a bottle-warmer, microwave, sterilizer, and mixer so you can make baby’s meals 24 hours a day. The kids’ club for under 4 years old is at an extra cost.
Check out my in-depth review of Club Med’s Sandpiper Bay in Florida here.
Azul Hotels are also known for their family-friendly appeal.
They have family-oriented suites, kids’ clubs, infant equipment, toys and 24 hour room service. When I went to Azul Sensatori a few years ago, they gave us a complimentary crib, baby bathtub, high chair in the room, and we signed out toys to bring up to the room.
We were able to use the kid’s club facilities at Sensatori Azul which had infant toys, gym equipment, and an area for older children to watch movies and play video games. For an additional fee we left our then 16 month old daughter at the kids’ club for a few hours and .. relaxed 🙂
If you are willing to undertake a long road trip, have points for airfare or can find a good deal (remember that children can sit on your lap and are free if under 2 years), consider renting a vacation home.
Pick a destination you’re sure you and your children will enjoy. Perhaps near the beach in the Mayan Riviera, Disney World in Florida, or the sparkling waters of Turks and Caicos. Then use one of many, many websites dedicated to vacation home rentals and start emailing the owners to find out details.
Do look into your transportation options and possibly renting a car so you can explore and not have to depend on taxis and buses.If your destination is outside of Canada or the U.S., you may want to bring your own car seat. When we rented a car in Mexico, the car seat that came with it was not secured tight by any means and we didn’t end up renting the car because of it.
The upside is vacation homes are much more spacious than a hotel room, you have the flexibility to cook your own meals, and there’s usually laundry facilities (handy if you have a baby). They can also be much cheaper than being at an all-inclusive resort. The downsides.. you will need to figure out transportation from the airport to the home, you need to go grocery shopping and cook your own meals, or eat out, and you need to clean up after yourself!