You don’t have to be an expert in Caribbean travel to know that the islands of Jamaica and Grand Cayman are incredibly attractive to family travelers. Jamaica’s wealth of nature-based tours and all-inclusive product has brought kids and parents together for years, while experiences like Stingray City in the Cayman Islands have become iconic examples of family-friendly fun in the islands.
Jamaica With just a couple of years under its belt, Island Routes (877-768-8370; islandroutes.com) is a very young tour operator by Caribbean standards. CEO Adam Stewart says that although the company’s approach to Caribbean experiences is innovative, it’s the island of Jamaica itself that deserves the most credit.
“I’m very passionate about Jamaica,” he says. “It has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It has some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. And it has some of the most beautiful rivers—Jamaica has rivers that are crystal clear. It’s very rare for an island to have all three.”
Today, he says, the island offers over 180 different tours and excursions. In fact, Stewart says that on its good days, Island Routes sells about 1,000 tours. And though the company initially launched exclusively within Sandals and Beaches resorts, it’s now available to travelers at any resort—and its popularity is growing.
And families are a big part of that growth. Kids today are falling in love with Jamaica in much the same way Stewart himself did during his childhood, he says. “We find that our horseback riding tours are always excellent, the ones that go in the water,” he says. “Our river tubing tour is one that families can all do together. But the most popular is swimming with the dolphins. For children in particular, it’s a huge, huge hit.”
Travel agents are also a part of Island Routes’ success. “Instead of just getting agents to see the hotels, it’s just as important to get them to see the excursions. The more they know and the more they can say to their customers.”
In the coming year, Stewart continues, agents can expect “more tours, more islands, more fun” from Island Routes. The company, which also operates in Saint Lucia, Antigua, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, has plans to expand further across the Caribbean, to Aruba, Barbados and that other family powerhouse, the Cayman Islands.
Rates for Island Routes’ Swim With The Dolphins tour start at $226 for adults and $209 for kids, and include a dolphin encounter, shark show, mini-boat rides and glass-bottom kayaking and stingray interactions for a full day.
Cayman Islands For a person so enamored with Jamaica, Stewart had plenty of nice things to say about the Cayman Islands as well. “It’s a beautiful destination, and a destination with quite a lot of things to do,” he describes. “They have great adventure tour operators down there.”
And Sallie Rawlings, senior director of corporate communications for Travel Impressions, agrees. “The Cayman Islands, specifically Grand Cayman, is well suited for the family market. The island is clean, safe, friendly and has an excellent infrastructure.” And on that foundation, she continues, the island provides “a variety of resorts, restaurants and shopping to suit all budgets.”
Stingray City is, of course, still a huge draw for families in the Cayman Islands, but Rawlings says that it pays for families to explore off the beaten path. Attractions like the Black Pearl Skate and Surf park—a large outdoor park for skateboarding that’s a Mecca for teens both local and visiting—and the Cayman Motor Museum—a large collection of vintage automobiles including one of the original Batmobiles—aren’t exactly your typical sun and sand fare, but they can prove wildly popular, especially among older children and teens.
Pair those attractions with Cayman’s wealth of family-friendly resorts, Rawlings says, and you have a recipe for success that can sell again and again. “In terms of resorts, the best family activity program is Ambassadors of the Environment, which resides at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Kids enrolling here have the chance to use a large telescope to study the stars, or to explore beneath the waves with a variety of activities designed by Jean-Michel Cousteau—and its range of activities include something for kids of all ages, she explains.