These all-inclusive getaways make your vacation even more relaxing.
One of the best features of family travel at an all-inclusive resort is that it’s easy to plan. Lodging, meals and entertainment are all in one place. And with many options for all ages and varying interests, family members can either do their own thing or play together.
“All-inclusive resorts give us freedom from thinking about planning meals, activities, excursions and nightly entertainment with kids from toddlers to teens. Plus parents have access to the spa, the beach, exercise or the bar,” says Julia Diamond, a mother of two in Woodland Hills.
Whether for a few days or a week, an all-inclusive family vacation to the Caribbean or Mexico may be your ticket to paradise this spring break.
A Surf-and-Turf Adventure
Royal Caribbean Family Cruises (www.royalcaribbean.com) and the Universal Orlando Resort (www.universalorlando.com) have teamed up to offer land-and-sea packages, saving you hours and dollars by letting you book a vacation that includes both a visit to Universal Orlando Resort and a cruise featuring the DreamWorks Experience. Sail to the Bahamas or the Caribbean with characters from Shrek, Madagascar and other DreamWorks films.
The fun begins at Universal Orlando Resort, where you choose from four onsite hotels (with a fifth, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, debuting this summer). Staying onsite gives you access to early park hours, free transportation to parks and CityWalk and other perks.
From your hotel, walk or take a water taxi to Universal Studios Florida, where attractions are based on pop-culture icons, blockbuster films and hit television shows. The adjacent Islands of Adventure features Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent and Seuss Landing. The new Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction will open this summer. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter straddles both parks, with Diagon Alley in Universal Studios, Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and the Hogwarts Express traveling between them.
The adventure continues as you sail on the 3,782-passenger Freedom of the Seas from Florida to tropical ports in the western and eastern Caribbean. Onboard festivities begin with a buffet lunch and a sail-away party with DreamWorks characters beside the family pool, where many cruise events take place. Throughout the cruise, be sure to check the Cruise Compass program, which lists daily activities and shore excursion news.
Stateroom options include interior, exterior with private balconies (imagine room service here!) and family ocean-view rooms that sleep six people. Disabled-accessible rooms have wider doorways and lower vanities.
The complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program provides supervised games, talent shows, pirate night, karaoke and other activities for Aquanauts ages 3-5, Explorers ages 6-8 and Voyagers ages 9-11. Staff-assisted sports tournaments, pool parties and themed dance parties are options for ages 12-17.
Meanwhile, the adults-only Solarium is a haven for parents, offering cascading pools, cozy hammocks (nab one in the morning), a Vitality Spa and fitness center. A favorite feature is the cantilevered whirlpools that extend 12 feet beyond the sides of the ship and offer amazing ocean views.
The hub for family fun with young kids is the H2O Zone kids water park. Kids and adults who like a challenge can Hang Ten on the FlowRider Surf Simulator and soar for one minute in the Ripcord by iFly skydiving simulator. There’s also a rock-climbing wall, nine-hole mini golf course, full-size basketball court and ice skating rink. In the evenings, families can enjoy movies under the stars on the water park’s oversize LED movie screen, or a Broadway-style show in the ship’s theater.
Meals at most of the ship’s nine restaurants are included in your fare. (On galley tours, see how chefs prepare 20,000 meals a day and 7,662 lobster tails nightly.) But the specialty restaurants on board are worth sampling. At Sabor Modern Mexican ($35 per person), servers prepare fresh guacamole to your taste at your table. Dance and eat with Shrek and pals during the popular DreamWorks Character Breakfast ($10 ages 6 and older).
On excursions in the western Caribbean, families can enjoy zip lining over RC’s private Labadee beach in Haiti, a jerk chicken lunch and rafting down the Martha Brae River in Jamaica, laser tag in mock Mayan ruins in Cozumel, and swimming with stingrays in Stingray City plus lunch on stunning Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. Additional fees apply for these activities, and you can book in advance or as soon as you board the ship.
Choose two to four nights in Orlando and three or four nights in the Bahamas or four, five or seven nights in the Eastern or Western Caribbean, with fees from about $723 per person. Accommodations, most food, entertainment and children’s programs are included.
Family Cruising Values
Carnival Cruise Line (www.carnival.com) sails from Long Beach to the Mexican Riviera, offering terrific value for extended weekend and seven-night cruises aboard the mid-sized, 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle. Weekend cruises sail to Baja, while week-long voyages visit Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan.
The complimentary Camp Ocean program entertains Penguins ages 2-5, Stingrays ages 6-8 and Sharks ages 9-11 with pirate games, crafts and other ocean-themed activities. Seuss at Sea brings the classic children’s books to life with Seuss-a-palooza parades, story time and Dr. Seuss Bookville, a cozy space filled with the author’s literature. Families can even mingle and dine with Seuss characters at the whimsical Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast ($5 per person).
Outdoor family fun includes four pools, a Twister Waterslide and mini golf. Grown-ups can snooze in a swaying hammock, swim and enjoy a drink in the Serenity adults-only area of the ship. Check the daily Fun Times activities program for Spa Carnival specials and drink tastings.
The Bacchus Dining Room is the ship’s main dinner restaurant, and Horatio’s serves an extensive international buffet. A deli, poolside grill and yummy 24-hour pizzeria offer more good bites. It’s worth splurging one night at Nick & Nora’s Steakhouse ($35 per person). Situated under a skylight in Carnival’s signature red funnel, the romantic restaurant serves prime cuts of meat, salads and sumptuous chocolate desserts. The service is impeccable.
In port, explore the Mexican Riviera with snorkeling, zip lining and parasailing. See Cabo’s famous Los Arcos arches close up and stroll along Puerto Vallarta’s charming Malecon waterfront.
Three-day cruises start at $189 per person, seven-night cruises from $519 per person. Accommodations, food, entertainment and children’s programs are included.
A Caribbean Dream
The Grand Palladium Punta Cana Resort and Spa is located on a pristine beach along the east coast of the Dominican Republic, and the five-star Grand Palladium Bávaro Suites Resort & Spa is among four resorts in the massive Punta Cana complex.
Upon check-in, you get a welcome drink and wristband that gives you access to pools and facilities throughout the three family resorts (the fourth is for adults only). With the vast array of activities for kids and adults, the laid-back luxury resort feels like a sprawling family camp.
To get around, you walk along a maze of paths through tropical gardens or hitch a ride on one of the many golf carts making the rounds. There’s also a train that circles the property’s perimeter to give guests a lift to restaurants, venues and shops.
A bevy of spacious suites pamper families of all sizes. Some have private Jacuzzis and lofts, while others boast a private pool entrance. The family master junior suites include a Family Kit containing diapers, wipes, formula and cribs for babies and backpacks, T-shirts and snacks for kids.
The Baby Club for ages 1-3 and activity-rich Fiesta Fort Mini Club for ages 4-12 operate from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. The Black and White Junior Club treats teens to their own space. Raggs characters, from a preschool TV series starring five colorful canines, interact with kids throughout the resort at shows, meals and pool parties.
The long hours at the children’s programs (gracias, Palladium!) give parents plenty of time to indulge in massages at Zentropia Palladium Spa & Wellness or try their luck in the casino. The swim-up bars are fun, too!
Looking for beach bliss? Pose for that classic Caribbean shot, drink in hand, lounging on a chair under a thatched umbrella or coconut tree. Silky white sand and warm ocean water complete the picture. For more action, head to the pools for games and a slippery obstacle course.
The sports center offers sailing, kayaking, mini golf, archery, beach volleyball and tennis. Staff members also lead group games including treasure hunts and water polo.
Palladium’s five buffet and eight à la carte specialty restaurants serve a variety of cuisine, including Brazilian, Spanish, Japanese and Mediterranean. A beach hut whips up burgers, chicken and pizza. Guests with allergies or gluten-free needs are issued a Palladium Dietary Card so chefs can accommodate them.
It’s fun to wind down the day with family shows and games at the open-air theater, or just to kick back with live music in the lobby. Guests ages 18 and older can dance and party until 3 a.m. at the Sunset Boulevard Nightclub.
Rates fluctuate seasonally, but starting rates for a standard junior suite are generally $200-350 per night. Accommodations, activities, dining, entertainment, children’s programs, drinks and alcohol are included.
Mimi Slawoff is a travel writer and mom of three who frequently contributes to L.A. Parent.