I would be lying if I told you that the only vacations we ever took when our two kids were little were a series of far-flung adrenaline fests. Sure we had those when we trekked the West Coast Trail and canoed the Bowron Lakes, but even those wilderness adventures had one thing in common. Two, actually.
Water and beaches.
Even now, with both children in university, water and beaches are what they want. They make us, unapologetically, happy. As I stand on Dominican Republic’s Bavaro Beach, do I long for those pudgy little hands that grabbed mine when we saw our first sea turtle while snorkelling off Eleuthera? You betcha. Do I remember lying in a hammock with two raptured toddlers watching pelicans stall in the sky, just before diving for supper in Mexico? Uh-huh. And the time we wrote our names in seaweed and decided we liked the way our hair felt after we’d been in and out of salt water all day — do I remember? Like yesterday.
I admit I feel broody for those moments, as I check into the new $12-million renovation of the new Family Concierge at the Paradisus Palma Real Resort. Later I would see baskets of baby amenities, special snacks, rocker chairs, baby robes and that was just in the 148 new rooms — not the Kids Zone. That massive area bragged of baby Bali day beds, miniature ping pong tables, floppy teddy bear bean baggy couches, a crafts table, special kitchen, never mind their own private pool with a hippo slide and a climbing wall. It seems to me that all those customer surveys our family filled out so long ago actually mattered — as the details in resorts like the Palma Real are so much richer today.
But this resort’s best feature for kids has got to be the beach. Located on a stretch of Playa Bavaro known for its especially gentle surf, the waves are not threatening, the water is warm and the raked sand is perfect for castle making.
You likely know all this. But what you may not realize is how Palma Real is designed to accommodate adult needs, family wants and individual desires. Herewith is a Top 10 list of activities we’ve called Together Time and Parent Time — because, as any honest parent will tell you, that’s the combination you want.
Together Time: Rent a car or join a group tour, but somehow get thee to nearby Scape Park. Besides a spiffy visitors centre and a teenie zoo where you can see several iguana and monkeys, veer down the gravelly trail to the Cenote las Ondas (a spring-fed, subterranean sinkhole) in this adventure park. Zigzag down the stairs and you’ll soon find yourself in a cool, well-lit cave of karst, staring at a pool of deliciously clean fresh water, the colour of a Bombay gin bottle. Bring your bathing suit and go for a breathtakingly cool plunge. If your kids are 11 and older, go ziplining along eight cables that take you to the top of the jungle canopy where you can see the chop of the Atlantic, raggedy cliffs pocked with cacti, and the expanse of Cap Cana community — all at your feet.
Parent Time: Between the Balinese latticework and the canals of trickling water, you’ll find statues of Buddha that could have been plucked out of Eat, Pray, Love. But no, you’re not Elizabeth Gilbert in Indonesia, you’re at Paradisus’s YHI Spa about to be cossetted in Asian wonders from a bamboo massage to an Indian scalp massage. And don’t miss the free hydrotherapy circuit that involves several pools of varying temperatures, fountains, jets, and a little reflexology-enhancing stone path.
Together Time: If you’ve got teens itching to learn to surf, arrange a pick-up with nearby Macao Surf Camp. Located on an almost-deserted Robinson Crusoe-like cove of sand, the instructors are top-notch and will have you and your brood up on your boards within an hour or two. Go for a half-day or customize a package of lessons for whatever your clan desires. Just be sure to have a lunch of coconut rice and the catch-of-the- day under the shade of a thatched palapa. The pick-up and drop-off to your hotel is part of the price.
Parent Time: One of the things I missed when our kids were tots was time to work out. I know it seems wrong to ache to do that on holiday, but I did. Still do, frankly. An 8 a.m. spin class in an open-air thatched “gym” with great bikes, Caribbean techno-beats and decent instruction revved me up for the day. If that’s too early and tennis is more your thing, there are morning and afternoon tennis lessons, as well as yoga, pilates, aerobox and aquacise classes that rotate throughout the week. All are free for hotel guests.
Together Time: Although the signature evening entertainment is often too late or inappropriate for little ones, the two that do work are Show Bounce (like Stomp, good for those 12 and older, on Mondays) and the Lion King (on Fridays). However, the Kids Zone has a healthy roster of kid-friendly things to do every night of the week — remember it’s likely you who may not wish to busta move at the Mini Disco.
Parent Time: With sweeping views of the Caribbean, emerald greens and an elegant club house, it’s no wonder the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada Golf Course has ranked No.1 in the Caribbean since 2008. Play together or apart, but do play it.
Together Time: Unless you choose never to leave the shade of your cushy Balinese daybed, you’ll see them in the sky, all the time. Parasailors, airboaters and choppers galore. If you haven’t seen an airboat be prepared for what looks like a flying raft, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-style. You must be five years old to parasail and eight to go up in an airboat? The resort’s excursions desk will book you into any of these activities.
Parent Time: No matter how exquisite and frankly, complete, a resort can be, travelling is really about exploring. Precisely why I found myself one day at Toque Holistico, a 25-minute beach walk, north of the resort. This little ocean-front yoga studio specializes in all-things aerial, whether that’s a yoga class or an aerial pilates class. With six slings facing the ocean, co-owner Maria conducts a peaceful practice that is so easy on your back, you’ll want to return for more. I did.
Together Time: You can fork out more than $100 for a full-day excursion to the Marinarium Marine Park that includes several spots to snorkel, or you can hop on a boat for free from the Water Sports Shack and be nose to nose with a school of Sergeant Majors in five minutes flat. You’ll be back in your hammock in an hour, lickety split. Don’t expect a Jacques Cousteau moment but the ease, price (remember there isn’t one!), and joy of introducing your wee ones to a non-threatening underwater world is a slam-dunk in my books.
Parent Time: Every day at 3:30 p.m., Paradisus hosts an adults-only workshop, from wine tasting and cocktail-making to cigar-rolling and sushi building. Spend an evening sampling the Tomaso, the Grilz and the Fenix at Avenue Bar and you’ll want to sign up for a mixology class. The resort’s 10 bars are known for their individual cocktails from Mediterranean influenced drinks featuring loads of fresh rosemary and cinnamon-based syrups to bars loaded with tropical cocktails, founded in mango-, watermelon- and pineapple-based syrups. Pressing all the juices and making each syrup from scratch is a full-time job for three people on staff. And their efforts will make you swoon. As will the menu at the adults-only restaurant Passion, created by Michelin starred chef, Martín Berasategui, of Spain.