A family vacation can be a household’s most-anticipated event of the year. But it’s easy to make planning mistakes. The key is finding a place with flexibility. The right resort for your family changes with your children’s ages and your budget. Self-catering condos and villas will give you a kitchen, making it easy to warm up baby food and keep hungry teens fed, cutting down on restaurant bills. But all-inclusive resorts have their appeal, too, charging simple prices for plentiful no-extra-fee activities, meals, and kids’ programs. If grandparents join, you might need to ensure the vacation isn’t a sacrifice for them by picking a place with a beautiful beach, abundant snorkeling, a casino, or an adults-only spa. Frommer’s knows the range of options and destinations in the Caribbean and the Bahamas—here are our picks for some of the best resorts, no matter what you need.
Club Med, Yucatan, Mexico
Vacations are for Instagram moments, too. Picture your 8-year-old flying on a trapeze or your 13-year-old mastering windsurfing. Those and other sports are part of the complimentary children’s and teen’s clubs at Club Med. In Cancun, an enviable location and recent updates make the resort noteworthy. Because it was one of the first resorts to be built in Cancun, Club Med Cancun Yucatan was able to snag a prime 22-acre property with great beaches at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. The tranquil grounds are about 30 minutes from the building-after-building bustle of the Hotel Zone, which is near enough to visit for souvenir shopping but far enough to feel like a world away. In recent years, the resort has added 60 more oceanfront family accommodations, a new family pool, and enhancements to Jade, its luxury lodging suitable for families traveling with college-age and adult children. Club Med’s activities also divide kids into age-appropriate groups. Mini Club members are 4–5, 6–7, and 8–10 while Club Med Passworld caters to those aged 11–13 and 14–17. Led by gregarious counselors (called GOs for gentil organisateur), vacationers play sports, try their hand at the flying trapeze, sail, kayak, and windsurf. Its Petit Club Med cares for 2– to 3-year-olds (unlike the rest of the amenities, it has an extra fee).
The Reef, Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas
To make the most of a secluded mega-resort that traps tourists with pricey restaurants, look for a condo-like unit that allows you to save money by cooking. Among the 3,700-plus accommodations at the giant Atlantis Paradise Island, outside Nassau in the Bahamas, The Reef’s units, which range from studio to 3 bedrooms, are the property’s only non-timeshare lodging with kitchenettes. Atlantis is bustling, noisy, and exciting for water and marine animal lovers. Multiple pools (small children may find them disorienting), a river float with rapids, and 18 water slides lace Aquaventure, a 141-acre waterscape that’s free for guests. You can walk for free through an acrylic tunnel through a shark tank, stroll by stingray and sea lion lagoons, and peer at the jellyfish, piranhas, moray eels, hundred-pound groupers—some 50,000 aquatic animals live at Atlantis. For a fee, you can get nose-to-bottlenose with dolphins, hang with trainers, touch stingrays, and get cozy with the sharks by wearing Snuba gear. At the Atlantis Kids Adventures club for ages 3 to 12, young ones build with Legos, play games, bake cupcakes, and more. In the evening, teens meet and mingle at CRUSH, a lounge with a DJ and gaming consoles.
Half Moon Resort, Jamaica
Half Moon Resort is a rarity: a storied Jamaica property sprawling on a huge plot (400 acres) that has fewer than 190 accommodations in low-rise buildings. Here, you’ll get breathing room. A mega-million-dollar renovation in 2018 created new restaurants and refreshed accommodations. The 4- to 7-bedroom units appeal to large families who don’t want to lift many fingers, especially since each unit comes with a cook, a butler, and a housekeeper. Palm and sea grape trees line the beach, a two-mile strip that’s narrow but wide enough for sunning. Half Moon unfolds along its length in a series of settings, including an 18-hole golf course, a tennis center, the largest spa in Jamaica, and an equestrian center where you can book beach rides. The Anancy Children’s Village provides supervised play in two groups, ages 3–6 and 7–12. Kids as young as five can learn golf and tennis at kid-oriented clinics.
Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire
For family snorkeling and diving, Bonaire has healthy reefs, clear visibility, calm waters, and some 80 viable sites within a short swim or a 15-minute boat ride of shore. Buddy Dive Resort, which has a professional-level PADI accreditation, hosts a range of activities and classes. At Buddy Kids Club, children 5 to 10 learn to snorkel by using a SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) flotation vest and regulator that keeps them afloat on the surface but connects them to compressed air like a diver. With PADI Seal Team, ages 8 through 10 learn basic diving skills using real scuba gear. Those aged 10 to 15 who complete their Junior Open Water Course can earn their diving certification. Other courses target older teens and adults who seek to learn diving, perfect skills, or become professional instructors. It’s smart to come prepared if you book a vacation here. Everyone should already know how to swim and to maximize water time, certification seekers should have completed theory courses at home; one option is Buddy Dive’s own online program. The resort’s 73 basic-but-comfortable units, ranging from studio to three bedrooms, come with kitchens. Vacation packages often include truck rentals, too, so you and your family can drive around the island to swim among the blue tangs, parrotfish, angelfish, and turtles. One more bonus: Because of its location, Bonaire is pretty much always spared by hurricanes.
Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, St. Lucia
Coconut Bay Resort and Spa has room to breathe on 85 acres along St. Lucia’s south coast, five minutes from the airport—your kids can go from runway touchdown to pool splashdown in record time. A mid-price all-inclusive resort, Coconut Bay is a good-value vacation, especially for families with tots through tweens. A teen program operates only during summer, at Christmas, and over Easter. The resort divides its 250 rooms between the adults-only Harmony and the family-oriented Splash, a separation that provides options for extended families. After all, grandparents may want a Harmony room so they can relax with a quiet afternoon snooze. Because the resort fronts the Atlantic, the ocean can be choppy. Kids don’t seem to mind since they congregate at CocoLand Waterpark, giggling down water slides and floating along its lazy river. The extensive, 50,000-square-foot Kidz Klub features its own water playscape, a mini-zipline, and a climbing wall. Unlike at other resorts, nursery services don’t cost extra. Outdoor movies and a hayride to a beach party are among the weekly evening events.
Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Punta Cana
The mood is set at check-in: kids are served “Slime Smoothies” and adults get champagne. For beach-loving youngsters enamored of the Nick characters, Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Punta Cana is the place to be. SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, and other network stars regularly appear at Character Central, while the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hang out at Aqua Nick (pictured), a water playground with slides, cannons, splash areas, and Nick’s distinctive “slime” bucket. Show up in the afternoon for a mass slimming with other guests or pay extra for a private dousing. At Just Kidding, ages 4-6 and 7-12 create art and (of course) make slime. The lack of the program’s outdoor activities limits its appeal to an hour or so for most children, but that’s when Aqua Nick takes over, and the beach appeals to adults at all hours. The resort, which opened in June 2016, offers a variety of accommodations, including suites with plunge pools, standard two-bedroom villas, and the pièce de résistance: the Pineapple, a two-bedroom villa inspired by SpongeBob’s undersea abode. You can also pay extra for a character breakfast where kids meet costumed Nick characters.
Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa, Grand Cayman
This is not your parents’ Caribbean resort. Opened in November 2016, the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa melds tropical colors with contemporary design that emphasizes gathering spaces and décor that’s sophisticated, not cheesy. This is the kind of stylish property where your finicky teen won’t have to worry about being cornered by a fuzzy mascot. That said, he’ll have to find his own fun by kayaking and paddle boarding (included in the resort fee) or diving and snorkeling with a tour operator. Although the property, located on Seven Mile Beach, attracts a lot of honeymooners and couples, Seafire doesn’t forget young kids. At Camp Seafire, youngsters ages 4 to 8 and 9 to 12 do crafts, play beach games, snorkel, and go on outings to the Cayman Turtle Centre. Seafire has hotel rooms plus 1- and 2-bedroom suites as well as a dedicated family pool. At the complimentary evening wine hour, a Kimpton signature, kids are served milk and cookies.
Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, Aruba
Size matters in Aruba (another island where hurricanes hardly happen). The bigger the beach, the more space for palapas, those thatched, umbrella-like stands that provide shade and lounge chairs. Twelve of Hilton Aruba’s 15 acres face what’s arguably the largest sandy stretch on popular Palm Beach, and that leaves ample space for rows of sun-screening palapas—a prime consideration if your entourage needs a home base or includes little kids who sunburn easily. In contrast to Aruba’s arid, desert-like landscape, the beach area is lushly landscaped with palm trees and features an aviary home to macaws and cockatoos. At ShocoLand Adventures and Games Kids’ Club, those aged 4 to 12 make crafts and compete in water balloon races. Teens stroll see-and-be-seen Palm Beach or can sign-up for free bike tours and stand-up paddling. Free family evening activities include s’more making, dive-in movies in the pool, and stargazing sessions. Purely for the grown ups, there’s a spa and a casino. This is Aruba, after all.
Shoal Bay Villas, Anguilla
Sometimes you just want a simple beach getaway like the ones your parents took you to—a rental with a living area, kitchen, bedroom, pool, and beach chairs. Shoal Bay Villas catapults that vacation into one of the Caribbean’s lushest playgrounds. Anguilla’s Shoal Bay East is a two-mile stretch of silky-soft sands and calm turquoise waters that’s rated among the Caribbean’s top strands. Snorkel its reef, which is safely close to shore, and walk along looking for tiny silvery fish caught in the tide pools. Uncle Ernie’s, a longtime Shoal Bay East favorite, serves heaping plates of barbecued chicken and ribs for lunch and dinner. Shoal Bay Villas’ 23 units, which go from studio to 2-bedroom, have comfortable (if plain) wicker furniture and kitchens stocked with pots, pans, and utensils. This is an an affordable oceanfront home base on an island known for spectacular beaches—and for luxury resorts that you probably couldn’t afford to book with the whole family.
Four Seasons Resort Nevis, Nevis
Lush, green, and dominated by Nevis Peak, a dormant volcanic cone, charming Nevis is a blend of rainforest and beach, with no traffic lights and a population of just 11,000. The casually upscale 196-room, 50-villa Four Seasons Resort Nevis, the island’s largest hotel, delivers good food, villas with kitchens, an excellent spa, and award-winning rum cocktails. A stay here isn’t a parental sacrifice, although some teens might lament the lack of continuous energy. At Kids For All Seasons—free with your room—3- to 9-year-olds do crafts, play games, and go on scavenger hunts. Older children and interested parents can sign up for a large slate of activities, including stargazing, jumbi (ghost) stories, tennis, golf, and paddle boarding. The resort is not all-inclusive, so you will contend with little charges all day long, but its quality service is well-known, and that free kids’ club is a boon.