My husband and I love to travel – and it has gotten more difficult as we’ve added three kids to our family! No more hopping on a plane for a last minute getaway with a just a carry-on! We still love to travel, but execution can be tough. Often we come so exhausted that we need another vacation to recover from our vacation!
We said yes right away when I was asked to join a press trip to the Beaches Resort in Negril, Jamaica. The kids were jumping up and down in excitement when we told them we were going to experience a few days in paradise with gorgeous beaches, pools, and Sesame Street! This vacation was a little slice of heaven. It was a time when we could spend time together having fun – our kids kept saying how much they loved “playing with Mommy and Daddy!” My husband and I could truly relax and just enjoy each other and our kids. It was the ultimate escape for relaxing and reconnecting as a family.
Preparation/What to Pack
The planning phase was so easy. We had to get a passport for Colin, which took just a few weeks, but everything else was taken care of as part of the all-inclusive package. We only had one day where we could swim with the dolphins, so we booked that before we left. (There were plenty of slots available, if you are flexible, so you can wait until you arrive.)
We tried to pack light, since my husband and I were on separate flights with the kids. Colin and I traveled with just a backpack, his trunki and a carry-on, while my husband checked the rest of the luggage (since it was free on his airline.) We were able to pack pretty light, since I knew we’d be spending so much time on the beach and at the pool! I brought three bathing suits each… and wish I had brought one more, since that is just about all they wore and suits didn’t dry quickly in the Carribean weather. We also brought four bottles of sunscreen – which we ran out! – so bring tons and pack some bug spray as well, since nights on the beach can get a little gnatty. Resort fashion is pretty casual – even the nicer restaurants are not too dressy: think what you would wear to church or on a nice date night. My husband wore khakis and an untucked button-down to the nice restaurants and he fit in perfectly.
Travel time from Philly wasn’t too bad – it took Colin and I about 10 hours door to door. Direct flights would shave the time off a bit. The drive to the resort is around 90 minutes long and you get to see a good bit of the countryside. We arrived and were immediately offered cold drinks and snacks by the wonderful staff. We were escorted to our room and given a short tour – we loved the huge layout with a pull out coach for the kids, cable TV, a balcony overlooking the beach and a garden, private bath, a fridge stocked with drinks – even plates with fresh fruit and cheese and crackers. The resort offers around 200 friendly rooms that are all gorgeously decorated with custom-crafted furnishings and lavish baths – suites with up to three bedrooms and even Butler Service is available for the ultimate in relaxation. See a full tour of our room here.
Neither my husband or I had ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort. It made our stay stress-free and was so easy with the children. Once we convinced the kids that they were not stealing when they ordered a drink and didn’t pay for it, they had a blast. My husband and I love to go to small, local restaurants while traveling, but with the little ones, that can be risky. It was super nice to not have to worry about them!
The food itself was quite good. For breakfast, we loved the buffet breakfast at the Mill where they offer everything from made-to-order omelets to fresh fruit smoothies with local dishes mixed in for us to try. (And the Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is divine!) Stewfish also offered a sit-down breakfast on the beach that was positively picturesque. Lunchtime most often found us pool or beach side, so we often picked up lunch at Cafe Carnival, where our whole family fell in love with jerk chicken, ordered a made-to-order brick oven pizza at Dino’s, or feasted on fish tacos at Arizona’s. Dinners were fabulous – Kimonos was excellent (and so fun) but Seville was amazing. My filet was to die for, but I have to admit I was jealous of my husband’s lamb chops. If we had another night, we would have gone back here again! My kids loved the ice cream bar (you have no idea how much they loved that!) and thought having a drink at the pool’s swim-up bar was super cool! Every menu had healthy options clearly marked, which I so appreciated!
Sesame Street Characters:
The Sesame Street partnership is a huge draw for families to Beaches. It is not like certain other resorts where they have catered so much to kids that adults feel silly staying there. The resort plans special events that you can attend if you choose, like a weekly Sesame Street Character Parade that ends with characters leading the crowd to a huge beach party with yummy food, dancing and music! The children’s camp has characters visiting often to host fun activities like Cooking with Cookie Monster or Elmocising with Elmo. Several nights a week offer Sesame Street stage shows, where kids can get up close and personal with characters once again and it was not unusual to see Elmo on the beach accepting hugs and snapping pictures. Character breakfasts and Character tuck-ins are available for an additional cost.
Honestly, I though the kids would get bored of Sesame Street, but they just wanted more and more!! They had such a blast and were always excited to see a character – but all of them said that seeing the characters in the camp was the best!
The pools are amazing at Beaches. This location has 3 pools, 2 with swim-up bars and a Pirate Island Waterpark featuring two water slides, a kiddie play area and lazy river. The Pirate’s Island Waterpark is an amazing place where kids can splash around the pirate-themed, 18,000 square-foot waterpark, complete with a 204-foot long spiraling slide, an interactive splash deck, a 392-foot lazy river and an oversized Jacuzzi. Our kids had a blast – the pools were one of their favorite activites!!!
Right outside our door – about 20 steps from our room – was Jamaica’s famed Seven Mile Beach. There is a reason this has been called one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It was like a piece of heaven. The crystal clear, warm water was perfect and my kids had a wonderful time snorkeling, playing in the water and exploring. The beach has chairs for lounging, cabanas available for rent and hammocks for lazy naps in the shade.
Beaches has everything covered for everyone! Families can enjoy the 24-hour Xbox 360 Play Lounge experience (my husband was also a fan of that one), mini golf, Scratch DJ Academy where you can create jam sessions or the teen club, Trench Town, not to mention all the Sesame Street activities! Our family loved the daily snorkeling excursions and banana boat rides. My husband got certified in scuba and went on several dives.
Having a vacation to Beaches can also include a break where you and your partner can enjoy some quality time together. The resort offers a full-day Kids Club for ages 0-teens and nanny services that you can use all day, for an hour, or even a few minutes for an hour – or even all day. All of the childcare professionals certified in accordance with an accredited U.S. university. This is not some sad drop-off childcare center. The childcare workers were amazing - My kids were begging to come back every time we checked them out! Our kids went swimming in the pool and the ocean, got their faces painted, had fashion shows, pizza making, dance parties, ping-pong tournaments and treasure hunts. They also have caregivers for children with special needs. My husband and I were even able to drop the kids off one night and go out on a date! A DATE! Talk about something that usually never happens on family vacation! We were even enjoyed a relaxing couples massage at Red Lane Spa.
There is just so much to do here – one couple we met said they prefer to stay at Beaches as opposed to Sandals even though they don’t have kids, because there are so many activities!
We went swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove – which was an unbelieveable experience that I would highly recommend! Another incredible experience was taking a Catamaran Cruise along Negril where we sat back and took in the gorgeous views. We jumped off the boat and swam, while my husband went swimming in nearby cave. On our way back we were greeted by Grover who danced and played games with the kids.
The service was outstanding. OUTSTANDING. Every person we encountered was friendly, helpful and delightful. The childcare staff stood out even from this amazing group – when my son saw any of the childcare staff around the resort, he would go running up and give them a hug! They just loved on the kids, were so enthusiastic and fun – our kids were totally in love with them. Our room was spotless every day and the housekeeping staff was super nice. I was shocked when we tried to tip – everyone just said to please give a donation to the Sandals Foundation to show our appreciation.
Things do run on island time – don’t expect to get in and out of the restaurant in a whirlwind. Service is on the slower side (Well, for us New Englanders), but our food always arrived as ordered in good time. We had no place to go, so we enjoyed lingering over our meals and enjoying the atmosphere. Everyone was very sensitive to kids and families and was so kind about getting them food quickly or any special requests the kids had. The dining staff was incredibly sensitive to dietary restrictions and allergies, as well. You can tell that the staff has been trained on dealing with allergies and other dietary concerns and were extremely accommodating!
Basically — my kids are begging to go back and they have even been asking Daddy if he could get a job in Jamaica! It was one of the best vacations we have ever been on. I cannot recommend it enough for families looking to relax and reconnect!!
For more information, please visit: http://www.beaches.com/
disclosure: we visited beaches as part of a press trip. my and one child’s airfare and accommodations were paid for. some experiences were complimentary as part of our trip and some we paid for to enhance our stay. as always, all opinions are our own.