And a quick shout out to our wonderful travel agent Dina, that helped us book this trip very last minute and took care of all of our travel needs. Call her when you decide to book- DinaSilvestriTravel@gmail.com. Thank you, Dina!!
(Long post, but lots of good info if you are considering a trip)
It is expensive! Even at half the price it is expensive. But it is truly an all inclusive. We did not pay a dime for anything once we got there. All drinks, all levels of alcohol, water activities, kids camps... everything. Even tipping is not allowed (if the staff is tipped, they need to turn it into the management to be donated to their charity), so it is not like other all-inclusives where you need to tip to ensure good service and good drinks.
When it comes to price I have two thoughts.
1. Even though they are rare, you can get a discount, especially in the off season, so just keep shopping or have a travel agent keep an eye out for promotions.
2. I think it is worth the money. After experiencing the resort and all it has to offer, I do not think we overpaid. IT IS WORTH IT!
We choose to stay in the Caribbean section. It is the cheapest and the most simply done. I believe it has also been around the longest, so it's a bit dated. We personally didn't need the room to be anything special, so it wasn't worth the extra money to upgrade to the Italian, French, or Key West sections. But if you are particular about your hotel room, need more space for more kids, or really want to stay in a "nicer" room, I would select a different section, there are plenty of options to fit your needs.
I would describe our actual building as OK. The rooms were standard, two full beds, and a pull out chair. It was definitely dated, nothing special. They were clean, and the staff took good care of the buildings, but they were just very basic. Our room was well located, we had a nice view and could see the ocean in the distance. And we loved being so close to the kids clubs, water park, and beach.
To be honest, our first impression the first 30 minutes at the resort was "oh no, maybe it's not going to be as great as we thought." The shuttle brings you right into the Caribbean lobby, which is small and dark and dated. And then we went straight to check into our room (no wait at all, we got right into our room). So the blah lobby and the basic room did not impress us. Luckily, that feeling of oh no didn't last for long. As soon as we got our bathing suits on and explored the property, we were thoroughly impressed.
Bottom line- Caribbean has a great location, and plenty of options, but the rooms are fairly basic and a bit outdated. We would stay in them again if we got the package discount we got.
(View from our balcony when Cookie Monster visited)
The beach was AMAZING! Most beautiful beach I have ever been to and I am blessed to have been all over the world at various beaches (Hawaii, Cabo, Riviera Maya, St. Lucia, cruises, Bahamas, Italy, California, Dominican Republic). This was my favorite. We were there the last week of September, so thankfully the place was very quiet. We never had to fight for a spot on the beach, a turn on the floating rafts, a cabana... We had our pick of whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it. I can not wait to be back on that beach.
(A few different days on the Beach)
The Resort overall-
The place is huge, so many different areas to wander. The Italian section was the main area- biggest pool, zero entry pool, kids area, hot tubs, nicest swim up bar, the main buffet restaurant, and right off the beach. Key West was towards the end of the resort, but had two very nice upscale restaurants and felt very cozy and quiet. The French section was new and updated, close to the water park area, great little coffee shop open all day and late at night, near the main stage for entertainment and some great restaurants. Each section had its own personality and some nice attributes. Again because we traveled in the off season, we never had to fight for a spot at the pool, we could go anywhere.
I am not sure how many pools there are, but we spent time at 4 of them! It was fun going to different areas each day because each pool had something different about it. All had a swim up bar, that of course Mike and I loved, but the kids loved just as much. The bar tenders would happily make the kids strawberry smoothies or apple juice. They loved it.
They had about 19 different restaurants! 19!! That is so great when you are traveling for a week. They had a few basic buffets for breakfast and several more options for sit down dining in the morning. They had family friendly restaurants and then they had fine dining for adults only, and everything in between. At the time we traveled a few of the restaurants were closed, and they all opened on a rotating schedule. So we had a calendar with all the options and when they were open. At first this kind of annoyed me, but in the end it worked great, we always had plenty of great options.
We ate breakfast at Mario's and Guiseppis two times each, these were buffets, it was the easiest option with the kids and to start our day. Then one morning we ate at Barefoots, a restaurant in the sand, which the kids loved because they could play as we waited for our food. Then the last morning we had breakfast at Schooners which had unique food and ocean front, nice way to end the trip.
For lunch, my favorite option was Dino's pizza. We could come right out of the water park or off the beach and sit in the "Town Center" for pizza, salads, or sandwiches. We always had a good lunch there. Then we also tried Bobby Dee's which is in the water park for days where we were right out of the pool, super casual, burger and fries kind of lunch. Bobby Dee's also has an ice cream and milk shake bar open all day. Lastly we tried Arizona's for a lunch buffet with a Mexican twist. All the food was good and we loved the variety.
For dinner, Mike and I ended up spending a lot of time on our own (see kids camp section). Our first night we ate as a family at Neptunes which is a bit fancier but kids are allowed. The fish was delicious and the wine was good (they refill your glass every time they walk by, your wine glass never gets empty!). After that the kids wanted nothing to do with us, so we got a lot of date nights. Sky was a romantic ocean front dinner with a great menu and champagne, and Arizonas for dinner offered a delicious steak. Soy was a casual Japanese style restaurant and the sushi was soooo good! I don't think we had a bad meal!
In addition to the dining, we loved stopping in the coffee shop for an afternoon cappuccino and warm chocolate chip cookie, or grabbing ice cream to go from the ice cream shop. We definitely ate and drank our moneys worth.
Kids Camp and Activities-
The reason we picked this resort is because we were hoping for a mix of family time and adult time. And that is exactly what we got. We were able to spend a lot of time as a family doing things we love, AND we were able to comfortably bring the kids to camp and spend some time as a couple relaxing and enjoying the beautiful island. It was truly a perfect happy medium.
I wasn't sure how much we would actually use the camp, we travel as a family because we want to spend time together. But the camp was so awesome, that the kids wanted to go frequently and we were comfortable sending them. The camp is broken down into many groups- under 1, 1-2 yr old, 3-4 yr old, 5-7 year old, 8-10, year old, teens, etc. At first I was a bit bummed Patrick and Ryan wouldn't be in the same group, but as the week went on it really didn't matter. Patrick's group did so much age appropriate activities, and Ryan's group did more big kid adventures, they were both so happy. It was nice to have them broken into an appropriate age group so that they aren't mixed into one big group.
Examples of some of the scheduled activities for the 3-4 yr olds: Cookies with Cookies Monster, Art and Crafts with Abby, swim time in their private kids pool, Letter or the Day, movie night PJ party, Beach Party with Big bird, Face painting, Duck hunt, playground adventure, Story time with Elmo, and Dress up costume parties. Every day was different, every hour was different. So much fun.
Examples of the schedule for 5-7yr old "little Pirates": puppet making, beach olympics, pool games, beach science experiments, snorkeling lessons, treasure hunt, sand castle making, Kids Mini Dance party, Bonfire with marshmallows, Boat Cruise, and talent show. This was a great age where the kids became friends and looked forward to seeing each other each day.
By the end of the week, Ryan knew all the kids. He was famous, he was the social director letting everyone know when he would be in camp so that they could plan to be there too. He even signed himself up and participated in the talent show (without me having any idea, I missed it)! The teens where doing it and his group went to watch, and he asked to enter and participate. He did the Robot dance across the stage for 2 minutes and was from then on known as Robot Ryan by all the other guests.
The camp counselors were wonderful, they knew the kids by name and greeted them with big smiles and hugs every time we dropped them off. It was really a great experience.
(hard to see but this was the science experiment on the beach)
They also had parades, character shows, bonfires on the beach, Character parties, and an xbox lounge and game room. We were not bored for one moment. You could do as much or as little as you wanted. That is one reason we loved the camp so much. The kids had the opportunity to go go go and do everything they wanted to do, and Mommy and Daddy could check out for a couple hours each day to chill and do nothing.
We also took advantage of the free snorkeling, and brought Ryan along with us both times. One time we took the short boat ride off shore and snorkeled on a local reef, and then the next time we got a tip from the hotel and just walked down to the end of the property and snorkeled right off the beach. Ryan loved it! Such a cool way to introduce him to the activity and not spend extra money.
I would say this resort is set up to accommodate families with kids of any age. They have something to offer everyone.
kids only swim up bar
little kids area
medium slides in the back ground
one of Ryan's many camp friends
examples of that weeks schedule
One of the best parts about the trip, especially if you are use to Disney, is the character availability. We saw them and interacted with them so much. Just hanging by the pool, they would come by and say hi. While sitting at lunch. They participated in the kids camp activities, they just walked around the resort. Even if you aren't a character fan, it just brings some extra fun for the kids to always see them around. Some of the girls from kids camp even arranged a surprise (not paid for) visit from Cookie Monster to our room for pictures and he brought a small gift for the kids. It was really special to not have to fight for time with them.
Examples of how we spent our days-
1st Full day-
Breakfast at Mario's
Water park as a family
Lunch at Dino's
Quick little nap for the kids, cocktails on the balcony for the parents
Kids went to camp to try it out from 3:30-5pm
Mommy and Daddy went to the beach and had a drink at the pool bar
Live character show at 6:30
Family dinner at Neptunes
Kids to bed, relaxed on the balcony
Breakfast at Guiseppe's
Kids to camp 9-11:30am
Mom and Dad went to the beach, had drinks delivered to our chair, and were buzzed by lunch- oops
Lunch at Dino's again, we loved the pizza
Italian pool as a family
rest time for the kids
Cookies monster to our room
6-8pm kids to camp for the kids talent show and party
We went to dinner at Sky and sat by the fire after until pick up
And then the days continued like that- a combination of family time, camp time, pool time, water park time, beach time, etc.
Last but not least, Food Allergies-
Traveling with food allergies is not easy, especially when its several allergies. But I would say Beaches is very good at dealing with it. They are not Disney, Disney is in a league of its own with allergies, but they were good, thorough and I felt safe with Ryan eating. The way it works is you have to go to the food concierge at the main lobby, and put in food requests ahead of time. This overwhelmed me at first, because I didn't know where we were going to eat and when. But after the first day I saw that it was worth it to take the time, plan out our dinners, and put in a food request in advance so that we could get Ryan a good meal. This even worked on the nights he went to kids camp for dinner. As long as the chef had a meal request, he would personally deliver Ryan is dinner whether he was with us or with the camp.
Breakfast we just did the buffet and I would get Ryan yogurt, fruit, cereal, and bacon because I knew they were safe options. Only one day I put in a food request for special pancakes on the day we went to the sit down restaurant for breakfast. Lunch we knew the pizza at Dino's was safe, so that was a good option. And Bobby Dee's I just spoke to the manager on site if we went and confirmed a safe meal for lunch, so I didn't have to put it special requests in advance. So really only dinner needed to be pre-planned.
They also had the chef make him gluten free, egg free, nut free cupcakes and cookies that I picked up from the front desk that he was able to bring for desserts.
Bottom line- there was always a safe meal for him, it just took a little pre-planning and organizing. I consider this a success for our first time traveling out of the country with a food allergy kid.
If you are looking for a family vacation, a beautiful location, a chance to relax or to fill your day with activities, kids to be entertained, good food and wine, and a break from reality... then this should be your next vacation. Start saving now, its not a cheap get away, but its worth it. The Taynors will be back!