Beach resorts make for fabulous, one-stop family vacations. The all-inclusive version, which serves all meals, comes with set costs and tends to keep everyone on property for most of the vacation. And at à la carte resorts, you and your kids are more likely to go off property to try local food and explore the region. Lots of both types are within easy reach of the United States in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Costa Rica, so to figure out which specific property would be the best for your family’s needs, look closely at the features beyond the meals. Maybe you’d like elaborate waterparks, appearances by characters for kids, eco-adventures, activity programs for all ages, and perhaps a spa and a casino, too. These choices—all of them with a kid’s club or plenty of activities to occupy your offspring—are pretty good, and we say they’re worth a look.
Beaches Turks & Caicos, Turks and Caicos
Beaches Turks & Caicos works especially well for families who want the convenience of an all-inclusive price. With 758 rooms in five clusters (“villages”), the 75-acre Turks & Caicos property can be busy. There are so many guests to satisfy that the hotel got Elmo, Oscar, Big Bird, and other Sesame Street characters to stroll the grounds as if it’s a theme park, delighting the kindergarten-and-younger set. Even though the resort fronts the white sands of Grace Bay, which is the island’s best beach, most parents and children hang out inland at its pools or at its 45,000-square-foot waterpark. That’s packed with features to please kids of any age: a kiddie pool, pint-size geysers for tots, plus water slides, a lazy river, and a wave simulator for older kids to practice surfing. If you can lure your brood away from that, there’s a Kids Camp. In the nursery, nannies rock and play with infants to 3-year-olds while those aged 4 and 5 splash in a wading pool, collect shells, and make puppets. Older campers play tennis, go snorkeling, sailing, and make crafts. Teens challenge each other with beach volleyball and, in the evening, mingle at Liquid, the hotel’s under-21 nightclub. Breakfasts, tuck-ins, and special photo shoots with the Sesame Street gang can be purchased.
The Buccaneer, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
European Plan (a la carte)
Sprawled on 340 acres, The Buccaneer satisfies families seeking the serenity of a resort with spacious grounds (which is an increasing rarity in the much-developed Caribbean), while still providing good food and activities to distract kids. Operated by the Armstrong family since 1947, The Buccaneer caters to parents and kids with such thoughtful touches as a no-fee, daily supervised children’s day camp for ages 4 to 12; free pails, shovels, life vests, and snorkel gear for the beach (lightens your luggage load); and for all guests, free breakfast (meals otherwise cost extra). Young Buccaneers go on nature walks and scavenger hunts, play beach and pool games, and create arts and crafts. The tennis facility hosts drills for players ages 12 and older and, in summer, budding duffers from 6 to 18 learn golf basics at twice-weekly group sessions at the on-site golf course. The 138 rooms in scattered buildings stretch from the beach up a slope to near a hilltop main restaurant. Every day, you’ll soak up sweeping sea views from meals there, but snorkelers really should descend the hill to jump in the Caribbean: The hotel is relatively near Buck Island Reef National Monument, a preserve with an underwater “trail” that leads swimmers through coral gardens populated by turtles and schools of tropical fish.
Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda
European Plan (a la carte)
Among Bermuda’s largest resorts, the 593-room, luxury-priced Fairmont Southampton is also one of a handful of island properties to have its own good-sized beach. That’s in addition to a children’s program, a sizable spa with treatments for older teens and adults, and an indoor pool that’s available to non-spa guests starting at 6:30 p.m. (That pool is a nice bonus for families who want to take advantage of Bermuda’s lower rates in the off-season, when the weather is cooler.) When not playing on Bermuda’s famous pink sand or splashing in the Atlantic, kids 6–13 make friends in the Explorers Club’s cooking classes, fishing sessions, croquet games, and island outings. At the Toddler Room, stocked with toys, games, and slides, parents can enjoy some out-of-the-sun fun with their little ones. The 100-acre resort’s 18-hole executive course provides relatively easy challenges for beginners while those who like a faster game can try soccer ball golf—especially popular with grade-schoolers—on the course’s back nine.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, Grand Cayman
Another luxury property, the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman holds a special appeal for families with children who are interested in ocean ecology. Through its Ambassadors of the Environment program, kids and parents discover the islands’ natural environment in three-hour workshops. Each module has a separate fee and combines hands-on activities and outings. Ages 4 to 9 might explore the shallows by pontoon boat, examine coral under a microscope, or track the movements of loggerhead turtles using computers. Those 8 and up can opt for night snorkels, learning underwater photography, and paddling through mangroves. In addition, teens mingle at the Wave Game Room and Starfish Cay’s slides, and nearby pool sprinklers divert young kids for hours a day. This Ritz-Carlton splits into two defined areas: one is the beachfront and the other is the “resort” side, an inland zone where you find the water park. Room sizes begin at a spacious 480 square feet, so they easily accommodate a family of four.
Turtle Beach, Barbados
In often-expensive Barbados, Turtle Beach Resort provides families with a moderately priced all-inclusive with a free children’s program for those aged 3 to 12. With 161 rooms, the resort is large enough to support two pools with a kids’ wading area and a water sports center—but it’s not large enough to feel like a mini-city on the sand. The resort lends free kayaks, Hobie Cat sailing boats, and boogie boards to catch waves; on the resort’s south coast beach, the ocean tends to be rougher than on the west coast. The designers maximized the property’s 1,500 feet of waterfront by carving out a second sandy spot behind the shore that’s shaded by palm trees and lined with closely packed chaise lounges. At the Flying Fish Kids Club, children play Nintendo, team up for foosball, learn some local Bajan words, make island pastries, and play beach cricket. Counselors won’t take kids swimming—that’s left to parents. At night, the resort rolls out the steel pan music, limbo dancing, and even fire eaters.
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, Aruba
European Plan (a la carte)
As the largest property on the island, with 411 rooms, the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino hosts a lot of conventions and business meetings, but families with older teens and twentysomethings will still find much to like. The resort fronts the island’s see-and-be-seen Palm Beach and is stocked with multiple restaurants and a spa that’s used to catering to mercurial millennials. This being Aruba, there’s also a casino. Swim with your progeny at the subdued adult pool or head to the main pool for rowdier pursuits such as volleyball. Like all big Aruban resorts, chaise lounges and palapas with shade exceed demand, especially during high season, so it’s wise to book those ahead. If you do nab a lounger, you can summon drinks and snacks via a “iPalapa” button. All in all, the place just a bit more modern, buzzy, and teen-skewing than many of its rivals.
Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo,
European Plan (a la carte)
Peninsula Papagayo, a lesser-known jewel in Costa Rica’s tourism crown, shines as a showcase for sustainable luxury tourism. The Hyatt-owned Andaz Costa Rica makes it easy for families to explore the rainforests, reefs, and fauna of the peninsula’s 1,400 acres through eco-adventures guided by the Papagayo Explorers Club, a nearby activities center that serves the area’s hotels and residential community. You and your kids can hike and mountain bike forest trails, raft rivers, snorkel through schools of rainbow-colored fish, try outrigger canoeing, and experience bioluminescence by paddling the bay at night when the disturbed plankton lights up like sparklers. The Explorers Club also hosts Andaz’s Camp Jaguar for ages 12 to 16 over the summer and school holidays, when teens learn fun things like how to survive on medicinal plants and how to improve their wildlife photography. Andaz’s Cambi Kids Club, a year-round, free program for kids 4–12 during the day, mixes face painting, beach games, and storytelling with local cultural tasks such as making flat tortillas and fashioning bracelets out of recycled materials. Allow some time to relax in a beach side hammock and watch the monkeys scamper through the branches; at the nearby Andaz Beach House, venture into the water with the no-fee paddleboards, kayaks, and water bikes.
Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, Jamaica
Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall best fits families with children aged 4 to 12 who want to split their time between splashing at the beach with their parents and playing with newfound friends at the complimentary Kidz Club. Opened in December 2014, the resort renovated the former Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall into the all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva for families plus the adjacent Hyatt Zilara for couples. In places, you can still see the Ritz’s origins through its oversized accommodations and large bathrooms, which gives room quality a boost. Hyatt widened the beach and although it feels unnaturally firm, the expansion created plenty of space for palapas and chaise lounges. A rock jetty arcs offshore, sheltering a calm cove that’s relatively shallow. Although that might frustrate adult swimmers, the cove makes ocean wading fun for young kids, and the large pool entices families. In addition to a few buffet restaurants and table-service steak-and-seafood places, beachfront Barefoot JerkZ makes it easy to share a plate of Jamaican chicken wings with your kids without straying too far from the water.
Carlisle Bay Resort, Antigua
European Plan (a la carte)
On an island known for its hundreds of beaches, Carlisle Bay fronts a white sand crescent lapped by easy seas. A rainforest rises behind the lushly landscaped property. Carlisle Bay matches the needs of families in search of a moderately sized but low-key luxury property, especially in summer and during school holidays when the resort amplifies its offerings with children’s programs. During those times, ages 2–6 can practice tennis on a mini-court and go on lizard hunts at the Cool Kids Club. At Crew Blue, kids 7–13 tackle watersports, go ziplining, and play video games. In season, the resort screens classic movies and Disney flicks at the property’s 45-seat cinema. Year-round, tweens and teens and parents can keep happily engaged with complimentary sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, and paddle boarding or, at a nearby cove and for additional fees, wakeboarding and water skiing. The resort’s 87 all-suite accommodations, some for families and some for couples, provide ample room. Room rates include complimentary breakfast—nice to enjoy on your balcony—and free afternoon tea.
Dreams Playa Mujeres Golf & Spa Resort, Mexico
Dreams Playa Mujeres Golf & Spa Resort, one of the Dreams chain’s many all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, opened in 2016 in a gated area 10 miles north of Cancun. That puts you and your family outside of Cancun’s tourist zone, but near enough to go into town for shopping and strolling. Families that like big, bustling, beachfront affairs with supervised kids’ programs at an all-inclusive price will find what they need. Golfers can introduce their kids to the game at the adjacent golf club, where transportation and greens fees are free. On site, there are the requisite pools plus a lazy river (available to guests who book Preferred Club villas), plus a small waterpark at the lip of the ocean. At the day-long Explorer’s Club, children 3–12 go on treasure hunts, build sandcastles, and play video games, and once a week, the older kids camp on the beach. Ages 13 to 17 mingle at the Core Zone Teen’s Club, where they find Xbox games, a climbing wall, standup paddle boarding, and kayak tours. This place too, is big enough (more than 500 units) that snagging a chaise lounge after mid-morning can be problematic.