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As I interviewed new and prospective parents for my book Travels with Baby, it became clear that one of the top trips many parents hoped to make with their child in the first few years would be to a relaxing all-inclusive resort, especially one where they might get a little help with childcare so they can truly relax and enjoy their vacation. Yet as I set out to find the best recommendations for my readers, I found that few all-inclusive family resorts were prepared to provide care for children under 3 years old or in diapers.
Franklyn D. Resort, however, on the north coast of Jamaica, has a team of Vacation Nannies that not only provides care for young infants on up, but one nanny will do so exclusively for your family each day of your stay. When you consider that your personal Vacation Nanny is included in the cost of your all-inclusive package, and that children under 6 years old always stay free, it’s clear that Franklyn D. Resort presents a significant vacation value for families with babies and young children. It’s also no wonder that the resort received a 2009 Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice Award.
Needless to say, I have been mentioning the Franklyn D. Resort to parents on many occasions, and I was delighted to try it out firsthand with my own family on our trip to Jamaica. Here’s what I found:
Overview of Franklyn D. Resort & Spa
Franklyn D. Resort & Spa, often simply called “FDR,” is situated on a small private beach on Runaway Bay on the north coast of Jamaica. The resort is just over 1 hour west of the Montego Bay airport, and transfers are provided by the resort on minibuses. The all-inclusive resort boasts a guest-to-staff ration of 1:1, something that only an intimately sized property such as it is could claim, and a benefit you grow to appreciate daily as you and many of the staff—along with other families—come to recognize each other on a first-name basis.
While most guests come to stay with their families and extended families, FDR also sees its share of adult couples, honeymooners, and babymooners as well. When you see the Oceanview suite I toured in the video, you’ll see why. In fact, wedding packages are available and a beachfront honeymoon suite will be opening soon. Yet the spaciousness of all the suites makes FDR an attractive option for families, even those with three (or four) children can be easily accommodated here.
With toddler and big kid play structures, a dedicated collection of sand toys stored on the beach, high chairs at the ready wherever kids may dine, and smiling nannies pushing strollers around the grounds day and evening, you can tell right away that children are expected and welcome here. We even watched as good-humored waiters made way for a 5-year-old boy who put on his bow tie and wanted to help them serving in the restaurants a couple of evenings. And so he did.
Yet for all of the small children you’ll see, you’ll be surprised how few you hear—a testament to the great care and support children and their families receive at this resort.
Franklyn D. Resort is comprised entirely of suites, including 1-bedroom/1 bath suites, 2-bedroom/2-bath suites on one level, 2-bedroom/2.5-bath on two levels. The resort also offers two 3-bedroom suites, which are made by combining a 2-bedroom suite with an adjoining 1-bedroom suite, through a connecting door—a great option for vacations with extended family, especially with the additional 3rd bathroom for the extra family and space for visiting. You can take a walk through two examples of suites in the video.
All of these suites are significantly larger than the usual hotel variety, and even 1-bedroom/1-bathroom suites are large enough to fit a rollaway bed in the living room without interfering with the regular seating area. The 2-bedroom/2-bathroom suites feature a king bed in the master and two twin beds in the second with room for a rollaway (usually placed in between in 3-bears style).
Each suite is equipped with a full kitchen (including full-size refrigerator, stove, microwave, coffee pot, and electric kettle), dining table, living room area with TV / DVD, iPod docking stations, WiFi Internet access, and an outdoor seating space. For our family, the 2-bedroom ground level beachfront suite was perfect, with easy access for the stroller once the baby had been strolled to sleep, plus we had the playground just out the front doors and beach hammocks out the back. The back porch, with two sets of French doors opening onto it and chairs looking out at the sea, were a favorite spot for morning coffee (and an afternoon Red Stripe). With a larger group, the adjoining 1-bedroom suite would make a fantastic addition.
Breakfasts include choices ranging from Eggs Benedict and pancakes to fruit smoothies and delicious plantain porridge (a favorite of Jamaican babies, I’ve been told), and are served in the open-air Verandah dining room. Hot sandwiches, hot dogs, French fries, ice cream cones, and the daily lunch menu are served at the neighboring beachside grill, which is where you’ll also find the nightly Kiddie Buffet that begins at 5:30 p.m.—an hour before regular dinner service begins at the restaurants.
Family dinners most often take place on the boardwalk beside the sea, where you’ll catch good sunsets when you time your dinners right. Both adults-only restaurants are located at the opposite end of the beach, one serving Jamaican fare such as fried bammy and jerk chicken in an intimate and festive setting, while the other dishes out Italian by candlelight on the pier. Certain nights, you may also enjoy a barbecue buffet and entertainment right on the beach.
TIP: Per our nannies’ suggestion, we found it helpful to walk our girls through the Kiddie Buffet en route to our family dinners on the boardwalk. Their full plates were graciously welcomed at the table and they could begin eating right away as we contemplated our evening feast and settled on our orders. Though they finished eating before us, we had the pleasure of watching them dance and leap about to the live music with a team of new friends as we enjoyed our food. For an additional $6 per hour, you can hire your nanny through dinner and evening hours and enjoy the adults-only restaurants and a relaxing date (more details in Vacation Nanny 411).
You can also make special requests through your nanny for foods and drinks in your room, including milk, sodas, beer, cereals, cheese and crackers, and fruit plates. Though it may hardly seem necessary in most cases, those families making significant time zone changes may appreciate a midnight snack or early bowl of cereal as they adjust.
All-inclusive water sports include sea kayaking, scuba, snorkeling, with guided dives and snorkel trips, or check out your own snorkel and fins at your leisure and simply drop in on your own from the beach and neighboring beach accessed from a gate by the spa. There are some terrific reefs just along the beaches.
Some of the stand-out activities at FDR include the “Big Blue” water slide with its separate pool, regional dance and fire show, my children’s favorite performer: “Rubber Man,” and glass bottom boat rides that depart multiple times per day from the resort. Twice weekly, there is a group shopping trip to Ocho Rios, where you can hunt for more souvenirs and treasures or stock up on more Pampers and baby food. All are included in your stay.
For children, there is a specialty craft project each morning at the Yellow Bird Kids’ Club (which nannies can modify to suit toddlers). Every afternoon of the week, the bright bowls of dye come out and the very popular “Tye & Dye” party begins—parents and grandparents are welcome to join the fun, but beware: it is addicting. After one round, you may find yourself searching your suitcases for all sorts of other possibilities to tye and dye. Fortunately, the gift shop keeps a supply of plain white T-shirts in child and adult sizes.
For teens and tweens, there are also rafting and tubing excursions (additional fee), computer and video games that include Xbox and Nintendo WII, basketball and beach volleyball games, a traditional game room with pool tables and billiards, theme parties and other organized activities.
Excursions from the resort are also easily arranged for additional fees, including horseback riding on the beach, tours of the nearby Green Grotto Caves, trips to Dolphin Cove (hold an iguana, ride a dolphin, snorkel with stingrays), and trips to the 600-foot landmark Dunn’s River Falls (read my tips for your visit in this blog post). As you can imagine, your Vacation Nannies may come in particularly handy if you’d like to do some of these trips, and as it happens, you can even bring them along on some if you like, as we did (more in Vacation Nanny 411).
It's hard to top having your family's own Vacation Nanny, particularly while staying at a tropical, all-inclusive resort. One couple I met from New Jersey that was visiting FDR for the first time with children ages 11, 7, and 4 years, told me they'd originally planned to spend the first part of the week at FDR, then travel to another part of the island where they had a reservation at a different resort. After two days, they decided to extend their stay at Franklyn D. Resort and actually canceled the other reservation because, as they told me, they knew there would be no vacation nannies--and they weren't giving theirs up until they had to.
The Vacation Nannies are professionally trained and certified in CPR, and are on duty 9:00 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. daily, with a 1-hour lunch break. You can use her to help make your family time together more relaxing at the pool or on the beach (where you can actually close your eyes while your toddler plays), or even join you in the restaurant to help feed your children. Of course, she will also care for your children while you enjoy "grown up time" at an adults-only restaurant, at the spa, in the adults-only Jacuzzi perched by the sea, or out on the reef with your snorkel.
You can hire your Vacation Nanny for additional hours for $6 per hour. Families with multiple children, especially with an infant and an older more active child, may also choose to hire a second Vacation Nanny for $20 per day. While I first thought having two nannies was incredibly decadent, it quickly became clear that it was quite sensible, given the difference in ages and schedules of the children--and seeing how busy a professional can be with just one, let alone two of my three children at a time, gave me new respect for my job here at home. To say the least, I've been missing our nannies, Coretta and Jasmine, since our return.
Meet some of the Vacation Nannies in this video and read Vacation Nanny 411 for more information.
Here are a few helpful tips for those of you planning travel to Jamaica with a baby or young child, and preparing for stays at FDR. Be sure to see links below for more information as well.
Car seats are required in private vehicles per Jamaican law, though they are not easy to come by for visitors. If you will be renting a car, or even traveling by taxi, it’s recommended that you bring your child’s car seat from home. Even the minibuses providing transfers from the airport to the resort are equipped with seat belts, and the drivers are quite accustomed to seeing child safety seats onboard.
Brand name baby foods and diapers are available at most markets in the larger towns, but it’s a good idea to bring enough supplies to get yourselves settled in at least. If you aren’t planning to venture out on your own, you can ask your Vacation Nanny to help get additional baby food during your stay or join one of the twice-weekly free shopping excursions to Ocho Rios, where you can pick up baby essentials, including formula, at General Food Supermarket.
The water at the resort is purified and safe for drinking, and we all found it to taste quite pleasant (no need for the bottled stuff). This isn’t the case everywhere in Jamaica, so remember that when you venture off site.
Gratuities are included in your package price and are not expected by staff, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to “gift” your housekeepers and some of the staff a little extra, most especially your Vacation Nanny. These people clearly go above and beyond, and additional gratuities are permitted at the resort—and are very much appreciated.
“Naming names” of helpful staff on your comment card before departure is also an important way that employees are recognized for their good work and contributions to the resort.
Check for deals on the Franklyn D. Resort website--and when getting an online quote, be sure to scroll down to see all of the varying rates you can get through the different promotions. They have some creative offers that definitely speak to families, including the current “Bring Your Own Grandparent” (BYOG) offer, which allows up to two grandparents to stay free with your family with a free upgrade for your shared suite.
Did we enjoy our stay at FDR? Yes. Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes (and I have, and I have...). Would we stay there again? In a heartbeat.