It was only six or seven years ago, when our skies were awash with low-cost carriers, that many of us thought the future of all-inclusive holidays was taking its last rum punch-laced breath. That was when numerous travel agencies were being shuttered and everyone began booking flights and hotels on the web. The smart money was on the speculation that the number of independent travellers would skyrocket, causing the plummet of all-inclusive packaged trips that traditionally had only been bookable by agents.
But we were wrong, especially in the Canadian market that has always favoured all-inclusives. Yep, pass the rum punch—the packaged holiday, replete with free and frilly parasolled drinks, is very much alive and well, especially in Jamaica.
It’s been a decade since my family stayed at an all-inclusive, but those that have survived seem to be working harder for our money. The number of “toys” and excursions has grown—kayaks, Hobie Cats, banana boat rides, snorkelling, even 90-minute party boat tours for teens, cost not a cent at this resort on Jamaica’s north shore. The professionalism of tour guides is higher and the staff now seem to know as much about the fish underwater as the ones on your plate.
Which brings me back to the Scratch DJ lesson I am taking with my son at Beaches Boscobel, (the family leg of the adults-only Sandals brand), taught by a whiz that darts between soundboards calling out, “try a baby scratch,” “a cut,” “now a stab, another tear.” This is the first family holiday where we’ve left our daughter behind at university, so our teenage son has had to assume the role of only child. With no sister to hammer him at pool volleyball or bug him to sign up for every imaginable excursion, he’s rereading The Hunger Games and being a sloth.
“So many teens say they want to do nothing when they arrive,” says Danielle Grant Buchanan, a 10-year vet with this Beaches resort where she and a staff of 18 certified nannies supervise up to 400 children a month at Kids Camp. “Then they discover the Party Boat [a teen and tween-only boat ride to nearby James Bond Beach] or the 14 Xboxes, and we don’t see them for the rest of the week.”
It hasn’t been exactly like that, but an all-inclusive holiday with a teenage boy does give you time to sort out new parenting moves. With no decisions about what and where to eat (there are five restaurants here) or what to do (from 11 waterslides to kid-focused golf clinics), you quickly realize that, on a packaged holiday, no one in the family is in the driver’s seat. We’re all backseat drivers—in it together.
On holidays that offer so many options, a 15-year-old is with you only by choice. As most of us don’t want to lose touch with our kids just when they become truly interesting people, we have to figure out how to navigate that perilous, adolescent territory. A vacation spot that harnesses all that hormone-driven energy and applies it to something they want to learn—DJ skills, sailing, tennis, windsurfing—and lets you do it with them, is ideal.
Teens aren’t the only ones with an enormous appetite for change. “With a 40-per cent return rate, we can’t afford to keep offering the same goods, so upgrades are ongoing,” says general manager Howard Spittle, pointing out what a recent US$14-million renovation has done to upgrade this 223-room property, a former Playboy Club where Hugh Hefner and his bunnies had the run of the place for several years. Besides room upgrades, the scenic wedding area (yep, despite its family-friendly status, this resort hosts about 300 weddings a year) has been expanded, and a new pizzeria is in the works.
In the decade Grant Buchanan has worked here, she has witnessed the growth of key partnerships. From Sesame Street and Xbox to Scratch DJ Academy and Red Lane Spas, “they’ve all added quality and higher standards to the overall experience.
“But the biggest change has been the role of parents. Ten years ago, parents would drop off their kids at camp, check that everyone knew their passwords and disappear for most of the day. Now parents want to learn with the kids and share more of the activities.”
Which is precisely why I grin every time I listen to the screechy, wobbly CD I cut with my boy at the Scratch clinic. By the way, Grant Buchanan is right—he never does finish The Hunger Games. And I never unwrap the deck of cards I brought along. All of us are too busy doing stuff, grown-up stuff—together.
Umpteen multigenerational craft sessions, campfires, Cookie Monster parties, character breakfasts and boat trips are now designed with entire families in mind. Nevertheless, at Beaches Boscobel, there are still the must-do, kids-only all-stars within each age group:
Camp Pirates and Mermaids
(newborns to 2-year-olds)
- Story time with Elmo
- Tropical face-painting
- Nature walks
(3- to 4-year-olds)
- Beach Science volcano building and rocket launch
- Sesame Street Stage Show
- Pinata Party
(5- to 7-year-olds)
- Tropical Bingo Party
- Beach science
- Pirates Friday
- Creative pizza-making
(8- to 10-year-olds)
- Tropical Bingo
- Scavenger hunt
- Parade costume making
(11- to 14-year-olds)
- Wet and wild games
- Soca chairs
- Banana boat ride
- Jamaican idol
- Silver Bird Steel Band
(15- to 17-year-olds)
- Mocktails mixology session
- Movie Mania
- Disco Hour
- Party Boat
- Ultimate DJ
- Xbox Kinect Challenge
Three Places to Go if You Really Love Books
In honour of National Novel Writing Month this November, an annual event where participants attempt to write a manuscript in 30 days, consider taking a literary-inspired vacation to Jamaica, England or Cuba to learn about Ian Fleming, Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway.
Why You Should Visit Kingston, Jamaica, in 2018
Kingston is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. Snap photos at the vibrant murals on 41 Fleet Street, eat at an urban farm and Rastafarian restaurant, and learn why Kingston is a UNESCO Creative City of Music by visiting The Bob Marley Museum or Trench Town Culture Yard.