It seems like forever ago now, but just before returning to work full-time we spent a week in Cuba, where I lived out the kind of vacation I have always loathed and scorned: the all-inclusive resort.
Verdict: it wasn’t so bad!
Now that our tans have faded and I’ve had time to reflect (and then some), I begrudgingly admit, although it will never be my preferred vacation plan, when it comes to travel with kids and actually relaxing in the sun (as much as you can, with kids), the tropical all-inclusive really fits the bill.
A lot of people have asked about traveling with the little, and in this case I think the key was combining the best hotel we could afford, and low expectations. A five-star resort in Cuba is not going to be the same as a five-star resort somewhere like New York or Paris or even elsewhere in the Caribbean. What you will get is a clean, safe property that is on the beach and well-maintained with enough food & beverage options and activities to keep you happy and entertained.
If you’re considering a trip of your own, here’s what I learned along the way:
- Book the best resort you can afford and one that advertises itself as family friendly. Normally I am all about finding a great deal on a place to rest my head, but when the accommodation is the destination, you’ll appreciate doing your research and splurging a little.
- Book the most sane flights you can afford. We realized quickly that the super-cheap all-inclusive package deals are super-cheap because they turn what can be a 6 hour daytime flight into a 15 hour red-eye adventure.
- Book a ground-floor room. You miss out on a view, but end up not killing yourself hauling your kid and all his/her stuff up and down stairs, or waiting for elevators.
- Plan to bring all the diapers (including swim-diapers), wipes, sunscreen and baby food (if your baby still only eats purees) you’ll need for the amount of time you’re gone. Our resort did end up having a small convenience shop with food and diapers for sale, but they were at a huge premium.
- Bring a floatation device of some sort for your kiddo. Trying to hold them in the pool is exhausting, and the kiddy-pool does not have a swim-up bar.
- Pack bottles/sippy-cups and any kid-sized utensils you might need. The resort had a ton of high-chairs, but we’d have been totally hooped without Isaac’s usual drinking cup.
- Try everything at the buffet the first day. It doesn’t change much, and your palate will be bored stiff by day 4. The food is mass-made and seasoned for the lowest-common-denominator. It’s not bad, just boring. Plan accordingly.
- Drive yourself crazy trying to keep your kid on a balanced diet. It’s vacation and time to let loose. Isaac was just shy of 1-year-old when we went, and though he loves veggies and generally eats a varied diet, he decided on this trip he would like nothing but bread and applesauce. In the interest of not being those people with the shrieking baby, we just went with it. I don’t think he’s any worse for wear. He went right back to eating normally at home.
- Feel bad if you are “missing out” on all the activities on offer at the resort. We did exactly one of the non-motorized watersports (a catamaran ride), I participated in one aqua fit class, and we saw part of one of the evening cabaret shows. We also took the bus into Varadero for an unremarkable hour to see the small town and buy some souvenirs. It wasn’t exactly a “Cuban Cultural Extravaganza.” But we did spend the week swimming and napping and eating and drinking and relaxing. Which was the entire point.
Overall, if you are usually an “adventurous” traveler and enjoy immersing yourself in culture and experience, the All-Inclusive is really not for you.
But if you find yourself avec les enfants, want to sit for a week and turn your brain off in the sunshine, book the best all-inclusive you can afford and enjoy. I won’t judge.
p.s. Isaac was too young for the kid’s club, and we never felt so burdened by him that we wanted to take advantage of the available babysitting, but I can see kids and teens clubs being a huge draw as Isaac gets older.