Family-Friendly Caribbean Travel

The islands of the Caribbean offer families opportunities to learn about history, gain a greater appreciation for the natural world and share some quality time away from the daily grind.

Families in the Caribbean can ride horseback through Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Rainforest, go whale watching and rainforest rivertubing in Dominica. They can snorkel with stingrays off the coast of Grand Cayman or the Turks & Caicos, surf Barbados’s foamy Soup Bowl and swim with dolphins in waters off Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Tortola.

Three of the world’s top barrier reefs – located off Belize, the British Virgin Islands and Colombia – boast a variety of corals and fish and, like “fringe” reefs accessed from shores throughout the Caribbean, are shallow enough to snorkel.

History

The Caribbean’s first colonial city, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was founded in 1498, and its cathedral, customs house, hospital and university are laid out in a grid pattern that set a precedent for other colonial towns.

Families in St. Kitts can tour a British military fort that African slaves built during the 17th and 18th century European colonial expansion. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, forts date as far back as the 15th century and were strategically important during the American colonial period.

Architecture

European countries fought for control of these islands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and architectural styles throughout the Caribbean often reflect the countries that ruled them.

The 17th century Dutch trading settlement of Willemstad, Curaçao blends architectural styles from Netherlands, Spanish and Portuguese colonial towns. Bridgetown, Barbados is pure British colonial. Cap-Haitien, Haiti – once the Caribbean’s richest city and one so beautiful it was known as the “Paris of the west” – boasts French colonial architecture.

Lodging

There are lodging facilities in the Caribbean to suit different budgets, tastes and needs – from basic, cost-efficient motel rooms to vacation villas with kitchen facilities for saving money while eating in.

Large resorts such as Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas tend to be particularly popular with families. Atlantis features water rides and underground maze simulating a prehistoric “lost continent.” A 97-acre encased waterscape housing 250 species of marinelife is on view from the property and its restaurants. Two of Atlantis’s 11 swimming areas are exclusively for children, a theater shows three movies daily and most of the property’s 35 restaurants feature children’s menus. Atlantis also offers kids fitness, family yoga and a pottery studio.

Set on a former coconut plantation and accessed via private boat, the five-star Four Seasons Resort serves milk and cookies upon arrival along with a turtle toy and a turtle dessert. The property features an infinity pool, playground with children’s general store, jungle area with tree house and a children’s program with lizard hunts, sea turtle watches, beach walks and more. The Four Seasons restaurant offers a children’s menu, and children 18 and younger stay free in their parents’ room. Rollaway cribs and babyproofing kits are available upon request, rainforest excursions can be arranged and children can participate in a sea-turtle education and adoption program.

All-inclusives for Families

For families who want to know up front what a vacation is going to cost, paying up front for the room and all meals and most activities can be appealing. That’s where all-inclusives come in – and some all-inclusives are especially family-friendly.

At Almond Beach Village in St. Peter, Barbados, children can enjoy movies from the swimming pool, participate in junior chef classes, romp a playground and embark with their parents on an island safari tour. The village-like property features children’s clubs, restaurants and activity centers and offers Hobie Cat sailing, kayaking, aqua-cycling, nature walks, Calypso dance lessons and more.

The Beaches all-inclusive brand is designed especially for families. There are Beaches properties in Providenciales, Turks, and Caicos Islands (Sesame Street characters roam the Parisian-style property, a pirate-themed waterpark features two slides, and children can participate in art and science camps and underwater SCUBA breathing “treasure” hunts and fish and reef ID programs); Negril, Jamaica (with pajama parties, sandcastle-building, live Sesame Street shows and activities, children’s camp, video game room and pirate-themed water park with splash deck, lazy river ride and spiraling slide).

Club Med’s family-friendly all-inclusive properties include Caravelle in Guadeloupe (with group babysitting, an arcade, rooms able to sleep a family of six and family catamaran snorkel excursions. Children’s programs at Caravelle include a circus school, windsurfing and petit tennis and sailing instruction). Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic offers bottle warmers, baby bathtubs, and strollers, a teenage lounge, circus school with flying trapeze lessons, playground adventure program, mini-gym, children’s dance program and snorkel excursions.

Breezes Curacao Resort in Willemstad is the largest lodging facility on the island, featuring a skating rink, beachside playground, arcade, rock climbing wall, lighted tennis courts and pro lessons and restaurants with children’s menus. Children’s activities here include treasure hunts, sandcastle-building, dance and storytelling, and nursery care is offered. Shuttle service is provided to Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and children visit the Curacao Sea Aquarium.

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About Author: Michelle Sheldone

Michelle Sheldone is an award-winning writer and the author of "Historic Walking Guides: Florida Keys." She launched her career at Family Circle magazine, where she worked as an entertainment editor. She has since contributed to newspapers, magazines and travel guides and handled marketing for government, education, travel, hospitality, fashion and conservation interests.

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