Caribbean Guide for Families www.FamilyVacationCritic.com Family Vacation Critic @FamilyVacation @familyvacationcritic
Caribbean Islands for Families
• Less than 20 inches of rain per year • High-end shopping/port area • Desert tours & snorkeling
• Small island with 33 beaches • Low-key, relaxed atmosphere • Spelunking (cave exploration)
• Amazing beaches • Charming, quiet island • Scuba diving, snorkeling and sailing
The small island of Aruba is of Dutch heritage and features two main hotel areas situated along stretches of soft white sand. Its capital is a gorgeous shopping and dining district right on the water, and a popular port stop for cruise ships. Families can enjoy jeep tours of the rugged desert landscape, tour an aloe farm or snorkel the small island’s many coves. Most of the resorts are beachfront, with kids’ programs, pools, water sports and casinos for adults.
Anguilla may have parasailing, hang-gliding, scuba diving, horseback riding, and more, but a family vacation to this island is all about the beach. With 33 perfect white-sand beaches on an island that is only 17 miles long and 3 miles wide, lazy days in the sun and lunch and dinner at restaurants with fantastic views are common. For a native experience, try spelunking, otherwise known as cave exploration, but know that it is also natural to do nothing but relax on this island.
The little Caribbean island of Antigua is known as a celebrity hot spot (Oprah and Eric Clapton are known to vacation here), but it is also family-friendly. The 365 reef-protected stretches of soft sand also offer kidfriendly surf, with water sports like snorkeling, scuba diving and sailing aplenty. Pick your resort and start relaxing; there’s no busy nightlife here, which makes it a quiet and peaceful place for morning brunch by the sand and evening dinners along the shores with kids.
British Virgin Islands
• More than 20 inhabited islands • The renowned Atlantis Resort • Swimming with dolphins
• Sightings of humpback whales • Pristine public beaches • Friendly local islanders
• Less than two hours from New York City • Former British colony • Pink-sand beaches
• A sailor’s paradise • 60 islands to explore • Lack of mass tourism
Most think of the Bahamas as home to Atlantis Resort, which is reason enough to visit with the kids. However, each of the more than 20 islands offers a waterfront reprieve the entire family will enjoy. The most often visited are Freeport, Nassau and Paradise Island, but the Out Islands, also called the Family Islands, are sleepy and private. Just off the coast of Florida, the main islands are also easy to access, with flights often cheaper than other island counterparts.
As the most eastern of the Less Antilles in the West Indies, Barbados is technically not in the Caribbean. Visitors here will be surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, pristine beaches and friendly locals. Because of its location, humpback whales are often seen off the coast, and snorkeling may bring kids face-to-face with a varierty of turtle species. Beachfront resorts line colorful sand (white, pink and brown) that changes according to the mainly kid-friendly surf.
Situated east of North Carolina, the 21-square-mile island is a former British colony and is considered a refined, quiet destination. Less than two hours from major East Coast cities, the island is not actually located in the Caribbean and therefore experiences cold temperatures in the winter -- it’s a better island to visit in the spring through fall. More than 350 ship wrecks off its pink-sand coast make for fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving.
Anyone who loves “BVI” also happens to love the water. This collection of 60 British islands in close proximity makes it a sailor’s paradise, and families can learn to sail at many resorts scattered across the islands. Water sports, snorkeling, diving and sailing charters are a must for families wanting to get a real feel for all BVI offers. Mass tourism is lacking, as are massive resorts, providing a truer sense of life in the Caribbean in a more intimate setting.
• Three islands • Considered a top diving nation • Pirates Week Festival
• Caribbean island with European feel • Colorful and charming cities • Sea life experiences
• An outdoor-lover’s playground • Budget-friendly • 16 national parks
• Reasonable airfare • Lush landscape • Land and water adventures
Of the three islands that make up the Caymans, Grand Cayman and its Seven Mile Beach is the place most visited. The islands feature more than 200 dive sites, and families flock to the clear waters. Long a financial stronghold, the islands are a bit more luxurious than others. A fun time to visit is in November for Grand Cayman’s annual Pirates Week Festival, retelling the tale of notorious pirates like Blackbeard capturing the island.
Curaçao may be located 35 miles off the coast of Venezuela, but it has a rich European feel. It’s Dutch heritage is undeniable, but the island is also home to a population made up of more than 50 nationalities. Families should visit Willemstad for the vibrant, pastelcolored buildings, as well as the aquarium, where kids of all ages can enjoy close encounters with sea life. Accommodation options range from all-inclusive resorts to boutique hotels, and all are family-friendly.
A popular spot for both families and couples, the Dominican Republic offers outdoor adventures aplenty. This Spanish-speaking nation is friendlier on the budget than other islands and has a plethora of allinclusives from which to choose. The island is dotted with 1,000 miles of coastline, but its allure includes a lush landscape for hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding and more. Punta Cana is the most popular for visitors, while Bavaro is also filled with expansive beaches.
Jamaica has long been a destination for families, most of whom visit Montego Bay, Negril or Ocho Rios. Each area has a different feel: Negril is lush and secluded; Montego Bay is a major city and bustling port stop; and Ocho Rios is crowded with families wanting to climb Dunn’s River Falls. Jamaica’s location allows for direct and lower-priced flights and its array of allinclusive resorts makes for budget-friendly vacations. Plus, its lush landscape allows for outdoor adventures.
St. Kitts & Nevis
• Direct, budget-friendly flights • No passport required • Rich in culture and history
• French culture and cuisine • Water sports lifestyle • Beachfront resorts and hotels
• Intimate, quiet islands • Sugar Plantation history • Miles of beaches
• Rainforests and mountains • Secluded, family-friendly resorts • Water sports and eco-adventures
One of the biggest draws to Puerto Rico is that Americans can travel to the Caribbean without a passport or dealing with customs, and many flights are direct and reasonably priced. The island is rich in culture, as well as national parks and rainforests for outdoor fun, not to mention the plethora of beaches. San Juan is the island’s capital city, and Old San Juan, established nearly 500 years ago, is a popular destination with Spanish forts, cobblestone streets and World Heritage Sites.
Walking along the harbor of St. Barths, families may feel as though they’ve been transported back in time. Women weave baskets and colorful fishing boats dock after long days on the water. The island is filled with French culture and delicious cuisine, as well as current activities, such as water sports like diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking and more. A majority of the resorts and hotels have direct beach access, as well as family-friendly amenities like onsite pools, kitchens, Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast and water sports.
Relatively new to tourism, the dual islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are small, lack hordes of visitors and allow travelers to get a better sense of island life. Named for Christopher Columbus, who discovered the islands, St. Kitts and Nevis were once known for their sugar plantations and connections to U.S. presidents, like Thomas Jefferson. The islands offer brief port visits from cruise ships, but families electing to stay at beachfront resorts can enjoy sugar-like sand and explore mountainous rainforests.
When you think of the Caribbean and see blue waters surrounding a lush mountainous island, you can picture St. Lucia. The island’s iconic Pitons, lush volcanic mountains, rise up from the sea, providing a tropical backdrop for visitors, who can also explore the main island’s own dormant volcano. All-inclusive resorts and boutique hotels nestled in the landscape offer both relaxing and activity-filled vacations, with water sports and eco-adventures. Relax on beaches or try zip-lining through the island’s treetops.
More Than Just Beaches
The Caribbean offers more than miles of white-sand beaches (although we really love those!). For the more adventurous, explore the islands’ many other activities.
Turks and Caicos
U.S. Virgin Islands
• Water adventures aplenty • Lack of crowds • Intimate settings
• Passports not required • Popular cruise port • Island-hopping nature
Some of the most popular and luxurious islands to visit with kids, Turks and Caicos is made up of 40 islands, with only eight inhabited. Once a set of islands only known to true beach aficionados and divers, today the islands are a Caribbean hotspot. Turks and Caicos is a British territory with its capital, Providenciales, or “Provo,” an uncrowded city and a popular port for cruises. Grace Bay’s 12 miles of beaches are lined with resorts catering to families as well. North Caicos has Flamingos, Middle Caicos attracts eco-adventurers and Little Water Cay serves as an iguana sanctuary.
Three main islands make up the U.S. Virgin Islands from the bustling port island of St. Thomas to the rain forestcovered St. Croix to the small, but beloved, St. John, of which two-thirds is a national park. As a U.S. Territory, families do not need passports, the dollar is the local currency and direct flights are plentiful, making USVI a top destinations for visitors wanting a Caribbean vacation. Families visiting St. Croix will need to take an additional puddle-jumper plane ride, too. Cruises stop often in St. Thomas for its abundant shopping and dining in Charlotte Amalie, as well as its beaches.
Most resorts can connect families to the best snorkeling and SCUBA diving excursions to provide kids with an up-close-and-personal glimpse of tropical sea life.
Zip line and canopy tours on islands with rain forests are great for thrill-seeking kids and teens.
Sailing is popular in the Caribbean, and families can participate at sailing schools or enjoy day trips aboard sailboats and catamarans.
Off-road adventures take you through deserts and on rugged island roads, offering whiteknuckled rides past gorgeous scenery.
SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS
Getting close to nature is a great experience for kids in the Caribbean, from swimming with dolphins to watching sea turtles hatch to petting iguanas at natural preserves.
PLANTATIONS & FORTS
Many islands have a history with plantations, mills and even protective forts, many offering tours that give a glimpse into what island life was like centuries ago.
10 Best All-Inclusive Caribbean Resorts for Families 1. Franklyn D. Resort & Spa - Jamaica
The Franklyn D. Resort & Spa is a bona fide family resort, with a playground, giant waterslide, swimming pool, kids’ club, teens’ program, kids’ buffet, and a beachfront location to boot. Plus, standard guestrooms sleep up to five guests (two adults and three children under age 16). The resort, located in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, is best known for its nanny services, however, which are complimentary to all guests and especially welcomed by parents, who like to dine at The Pier Restaurant, an adults-only eatery with delicious fare.
2. Renaissance Curaçao Resort - Curaçao
Curaçao is not one of the most traveled islands from the U.S., but its small, remote location coupled with great properties like the Renaissance make it worthy of our list. The Renaissance Curaçao is located right in the international port of Willemstad, and to avoid the waves and crowded waters, the hotel created its own infinity beach on the second level — it actually has saltwater waves pumped up from the Caribbean! While the resort doesn’t offer a kids’ club, children age 12 and younger stay and play free here, and besides the beach, kids enjoy the spray-ground play area, and parents will love that they are so close to town they can explore it with the kids.
3. Jewel Runaway Bay - Jamaica
6. Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa - St. Lucia
Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa offers family and adults-only accommodations and pools, making it a viable option for multigenerational vacations. It also houses St. Lucia’s largest water park, complete with a lazy river and two giant waterslides. Better yet, Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa offers a paintball facility, kite and windsurfing center, kids’ club and seven restaurants, and is conveniently located just five minutes from the airport.
7. IBEROSTAR Bavaro - Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic offers several resorts, but IBEROSTAR Bavaro, located in Punta Cana, trumps all. It offers something for everyone in your group, from kids’ clubs to nightclubs, along with a giant swimming pool overlooking the ocean. We love the two-story bungalows, as well as the resort’s convenience (just a 20-minute ride) to the airport, but the best feature is easy accessibility to neighboring IBEROSTAR resorts, where you can enjoy shared amenities, such as onsite restaurants.
8. The Verandah Resort & Spa - Antigua
The Verandah Resort & Spa only offers 180 rooms, creating an intimate atmosphere -- you’ll quickly come to know staff members and even other guests. The resort itself, however, still manages to encompass 30 acres of Antigua, with two beaches, four pools (including one just for kids), a mini-golf course, playground, kids’ club and a teen hangout. Be sure to sneak over to Long Bay Beach, just a short walk from the lobby and a great beach for families.
Jewel Runaway Bay became an all-inclusive, family-friendly resort in 2012 following extensive renovations to what used to be an adults-only retreat. It lands itself on our list with its children’s club (open to all ages), recording studio for teens (who walk away with their own CD), and a Laser Tag Ranch for the whole family to enjoy! The resort also offers family programming, such as Mommy and Me spa days, Father/Daughter dances, and parent and child golfing lessons. In 2015, the resort opens Jewel Lagoon Water Park, which includes a lazy river, splash zone, family raft ride, zero-entry beach lagoon, restaurant and giant sun deck.
9. Dreams La Romana - Dominican Republic
4. Beaches Resort - Turks and Caicos
10. Grotto Bay Beach Resort - Bermuda
Ask any family which all-inclusive resort they’d like to visit, and they’re likely to mention Beaches Turks and Caicos. The all-inclusive resort continually reinvents itself, and kids can easily spend an entire visit at the water park, which now touts the SkySlide -- the tallest of its kind in Turks and Caicos -- as well as the hotel’s six swimming pools. There’s also a kids’ club, teen nightclub, 19 restaurants, a scuba program and a wide variety of spacious accommodations, including Family Suites and Seaside Villas. We could keep going!
Another resort on the Dominican Republic makes the list, this time on the opposite side of the island in La Romana. Dreams La Romana is the largest of the three Dreams properties located on the island, spread out across 10 buildings with more than 750 room choices. There is plenty for kids here, including an Explorer’s Club for kids, a Core Zone space for teens, and even a space for infants and toddlers. Of course, there is water fun, as well, including three swimming pools, a kiddie pool and the beach. The only all-inclusive resort offered on the island of Bermuda is Grotto Bay Beach Resort, and it happens to be an excellent resort for families. Although the kids’ camp isn’t included in the price, it’s just $5 per day for the kids to enjoy scavenger and treasure hunts and as well as excursions to the island’s zoo, aquarium and historic sites. We especially like the resort’s two underground caves for swimming, but of course there is a beach and pool as well.
5. Aruba Marriott Resort - Aruba
In the heart of Aruba’s Palm Beach, a long stretch of hotels and shoreline, you’ll find a familiar name: Marriott (and believe it or not, the hotel offers all-inclusive options). Without leaving the resort, families can enjoy seven restaurants, a long stretch of beach and an enormous pool. Teens will be happy in their own hangout space, The Den, and children of all ages can escape the sun at the resort’s arcade. There isn’t a kids’ club here, but the resort’s location is within walking distance of restaurants, shops and water sports.
© Copyright 2015. The Independent Traveler, Inc. All rights reserved. This file may be downloaded for personal use only. Other copying or reproduction is expressly prohibited.