Jamaica: Runaway Bay, FDR Resorts – All Inclusive Family Fun.
What could possibly make an all-inclusive Caribbean family vacation better? A nanny, of course! It may sound preposterous, but that’s exactly what FDR resorts offer traveling families. And who couldn’t use an extra set of hands?
Part of the beauty of the FDR Resorts— two family vacation spots in Jamaica where my family and I spent March break this year— is that tailoring the fun for both children and their parents is part of the all-inclusive package. Two blackboards post the day’s hourly activities, one for kids and one for adults. You can engage in parallel play, or enjoy time together.
What attracted us to the FDR resorts was the promise of a “vacation nanny,” who greets you when you arrive, and is available to you and your kids from 9 am to 4:30 pm each day. While there is still a kids’ club with scheduled activities, we had the comfort of knowing our kids were together, and that they were being watched and cared for by one person. (We would soon learn that this same nanny would stock our fridge every evening with beer, water, cereal or whatever else we would need, and would clean and tidy our rooms daily.) This was certainly nothing like home….
Admittedly, I had to get over some middle class guilt. I wasn’t used to someone else taking my child by the hand to go to the washroom when I could perfectly well do it myself. But I sure did appreciate it. And having the option of watching my children have a good time, disappearing altogether, or playing with my kids when I felt like it was pretty luxurious.
Owner Franklyn David Rance describes the evolution of the vacation nanny. Inspired by his indispensable “helper” Grace, or “Amazing Grace,” as he and his wife affectionately called her, Rance saw how she could plan and execute a dinner for 20 with only a few hours notice. With a long career in the hotel business, he had observed and spoken to many parents with young kids. “What they were telling me, was, ‘Frank, we want to party, but there’s no one to stay with the kids.’” Wouldn’t these exhausted parents benefit from the same kind of personalized attentiveness and care?
Once the concept of the vacation nanny was conceived, the resorts then had to select the individuals best suited for the job. “We hire attitude and personality,” says Rance. Loving kids is a must. Skills in CPR and child care can be learnt. (The resorts arrange for training in both.)
We were very well taken care of both by our nanny Tamara at the Franklyn D. Resort & Spa where we first landed, and then by Marsha Lee at FDR Pebbles later in the week. The nannies were attentive and warm, competent with our kids, and trustworthy. (And by the time we arrived in Jamaica, we needed some TLC!)
The 5:20 am flight from Toronto meant that the kids were put to bed early in their clothes, and then woken up at 2:30 am for the cab ride to the airport. We flew in a fog – amidst the clouds, over and under the clouds, and in an internal haze. Then from the Montego Bay airport, it was a 1 ¼-hour drive to the resort. When the driver had to ask me to sit in between my children in the back, I knew that none of us were on our best behavior.
But then, life changed. Set on a two-and-a-half acre property, the Franklyn D. Resort & Spa is like a miniature village for families: winding walkways lead you to and from Tuscany-style buildings in pale pink and white. Each of the 77 suites (one, two or three bedrooms) overlook the ocean, and are within a few minutes walk to any other facilities your kids will need: the Yellow Birds’ Kids Club with its three “boat beds” (for infant naps), its ball pit and TV screen for after-dinner movies; the outdoor arts and crafts area – where tie-dye T-shirts and mini skirts hang to dry in the sun; the playground; pools; restaurants; and Sea Grape Spa.
Our days there merged together. We started in a frenzy of activities, with hour-long private tennis sessions with the pro in the mornings on the resort’s one tennis court. We played surrounded by two beautiful guango trees, almond trees casting their shadows for shade, and the delicate petals from the purple and white bougainvillea and red ixoria breaking up the luscious green. On less windy afternoons, we went out in the glass bottom boat to snorkel amidst hundreds of yellow sergeant majors. The days were broken up with reading and swimming, both in the pool and along the neighboring beach. (The only drawback to the resort is that, if you want to swim in the ocean, you have to walk to the neighboring Breezes resort, where you have permission to lie on the sand and swim, but not use the lounge chairs. Even if the chairs are almost all empty, security guards will tell you to sit on the sand, and close enough to the water that you can be watched,)
While we played, the kids played too. After their chocolate, banana, papaya smoothies and breakfast of pancakes or French toast, they started each morning with a 9 am tennis lesson. Then they did arts and crafts, making everything from bead necklaces to pencil dolls. If it got too hot, they’d jump in the pool, with Tamara patiently catching my 4-year-old son Felix as he took his 125th slide of the day, and encouraging our 6-year-old daughter Antonia as she sped across the pool in her water wings. Then there was lunch at the grill next to the pool, with exotic kid items such as marshmallow and cheese pockets for the first course and ice cream cones with sprinkles for dessert. (My husband and I preferred the jerk pork or paninis from the grill or would order from the à la carte menu in the main dining room, where a typical meal includes a soup, perhaps a chicken consommé or classic pepper pot, followed by fish and meat entrées – the curried mutton and coconut snapper were two highlights.)
Recognizing that lining up at buffets can be stressful for parents with young kids, à la carte options are available at every meal, unless it’s really busy. While the food isn’t high-end cuisine, it’s varied, copious and usually delicious. And the steady steam of drinks – the classic Jamaican ones such as Bahama Mamas – or the standard G and T’s and Campari and sodas – could be made with premium liquors.
Afternoons were as leisurely or busy as we wanted them to be. The kids’ soccer on the beach was a highlight, as was the crab race next to the pool. (When I first heard crab race, I pictured walking backwards on our hands and feet, but it’s actually the crabs that get the exercise.) Their shells are painted different colours, you bet on which colour you think will win, and then you count one, two, three GO, they’re released from under a plastic bread basket, and it’s a race to see which one can leave the perimeters of the dart-board shaped circles, drawn with chalk on the deck of the pool, first. It may not sound exciting, but with reggae tunes blaring, and the sun shining, the competition is exciting.
In the evenings, you can hire your nanny for $6 an hour to take care of your kids while you eat at one of the two adult-only restaurants (one Jamaican, one Italian). The kids eat the children’s buffet, go to the resort’s “disco” or join in one of the shows. My daughter was delighted with the fashion show. Admittedly, I wasn’t so keen on her strutting around in a bikini (she wore a one-piece UV suit), wasn’t sure exactly about the, er, talent or sport segments (she waved around a tennis racquet) and hadn’t packed a fancy party frock (she wore a sun dress). But the event boosted her confidence, and brought her out of shyness.
After five days at the FDR, we packed our bags, and got in the bus for the 40 minutes it would take to get to Pebbles, the company’s other resort, which is halfway between FDR and the airport.
We had heard mixed reviews of Pebbles. While they also provide a vacation nanny, and the activities are similar, it’s definitely the lower budget option (it costs about two-thirds of the price): some activities, such as snorkeling, that are free at FDR cost a nominal fee here, and the food and service aren’t as good.
But there is also a sense of freedom and adventure at Pebbles that makes it the preferred choice for many - not just the budget-conscious, but people who are more laid back, the kind who want to escape loud music, and simply meditate or stroll along its long stretch of beach. While I had been keyed up with excitement at FDR, I settled down to really relax at Pebbles. The resort is set on four acres, with 96 small suites in 12 log cabins overlooking the ocean. Ours was right on the beach. I would lie in bed at night and listen to the waves crash against the shore, and the palm fronds crackle in the wind.
Admittedly, things at Pebbles don’t always work run like clockwork. My daughter ended up being served a rum drink instead of an apple juice at the swim-up bar, the boat for snorkeling wouldn’t start, and the time for the cooking class had been written down wrong, so I missed the class altogether. But these things hardly seemed to matter. Time had slowed down. Overall, we had a great family escape at FDR’s two resorts and would certainly return. Make it Happen.
To book flights or get more information, call FDR Resorts toll-free at 1 800 654-1337 or visit www.fdrfamily.com
. Some tour operators provide packages that include both land and air. Ask about upcoming promotions. Feature provided by Diana Ballon, a writer and editor based in Toronto. She specializes in family travel, parenting and mental health issues. Her four and six-year-old children inspire her to see the world through other eyes. Images courtesy of Diana Ballon. Copyright 2010. Updated 2013.