“I don’t care what they do; just keep my kids busy,” said no parent—ever. The following, therefore, are resorts whose camps and other programs don’t just keep children out of their parents’ hair, but actually impart knowledge and/or skills. All rates below are for a family of four, summer of 2018.
Bahamas Buddies Cultural Exchange
There’s nothing like this in the Caribbean. Instead of having counselors teach kids local words or dances, Abaco Beach Resort on Great Abaco, The Bahamas, can pair a guest’s child (age 3-12) with a local “child ambassador” so they can have fun and learn from each other. Led by the resort’s activities team, Bahamas Buddies engage in nature- and culture-based activities such as fishing, conch diving, arts and crafts, and exploring the island by bicycle. Sessions include lunch and cost $30 per child. Rooms for a family of four start at $300; $2,600 per week with taxes.
Engaging Children with Special Needs
Counselors at Beaches resorts aren’t just advertised as well trained; they’ve completed IBCCES certification so they can help children with autism and other conditions affecting motor skills, socializing, communicating, etc. Not only are Beaches’ camps Certified Autism Centers, but this fall Julia, a Sesame Street character with autism, will join the program, which includes dining options. Julia will teach “Amazing Art with Julia,” but perhaps it’s her interactions with the children that will have the most profound effect. About $600 per night at Beaches Ocho Rios; 4,220/week with taxes and fees.
The BEYC kids camp at the British Virgin Islands’ Bitter End Yacht Club, on Virgin Gorda, includes land-based sports, hiking, fun in the water, and cultural activities. However, this resort’s raison d’etre has always been watersports, so it’s a great place for kids to learn sailing, a skill they can enjoy well into their AARP years. The Junior Summer Sailing course ($50) teaches kids enough skills so they can comfortably handle their own sailing dinghy by the end of their stay. This “summer” course is also available at other school break/holiday times. From $1,378, or $11,672 per week, for connecting rooms, with meals, transfers, boats and other watersports equipment, etc., included.
Golf, Shooting, and Tennis
The Dominican Republic’s Casa de Campo Resort & Villas offers focused programs for kids in three sports. The Junior Golf Academy accommodates children as young as 4 and costs just $15 per 1-hour session through age 8 and $25 per 2-hour sesssion for older students. And yes, the kids get to play on a Pete Dye course. The Junior Tennis Academy costs $100 per month, worth the money even for short-stay guests. The summers-only Junior Shooting Academy ($70 per month; ages 7-17) teaches safe handling and marksmanship in trap, skeet and sporting clays. Like the Bitter End’s sailing classes, all three of these options help young people learn sports that they can enjoy for decades. From $255 per night; about $2,300 per week with taxes and fees.
The aim of the circus-skills lessons at Club Med Punta Cana is not to introduce children to their life’s work, but to engage them in activities that, while being fun, also impart strength, balance, self-discipline, and confidence. Thanks to Club Med’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil, it has “Creactive” facilities where children in the Mini Club (ages 4-10) and Club Passworld (11-17) can use a trampoline, swing on a trapeze, juggle, and more. In addition, classes organized by age group and scheduled throughout the day cover the aforementioned skills as well as tightrope, dance, juggling, percussion, make-up, Diablo devil sticks…. On family days, parents and their kids can participate together. Now, that’s team-building. From approximately $415 per night, or $2,890 per week including $180 club fee.
Sea Turtle Conservation
The protection of these gentle giants is a popular cause these days, so the kids program at Jumby Bay on a private island off Antigua, involves even little children. Led by researchers, campers observe hawksbill turtles nesting on Pasture Bay Beach (shhh!), release hatchlings, and “adopt” a turtle whose progress they can track via Facebook. Kids in the program also enjoy turtle presentations, arts, crafts, and games. For entire families, the Hawksbill Turtle Experience, a 5-night package offered four times per summer, includes guests in sea turtle patrol and data collection training, excursions to see hawksbills laying eggs, a guided snorkeling trip, outdoor presentations about habitat, a white night beach BBQ, and six hours of community service credit for school students. Rates weren’t firm at press time, but 2017 rates at a Pool Suite were about $3,220 with taxes and fees, all inclusive, or $16,000 for five nights.
Focus on Nature
Kids and teens have better things to do at Oil Nut Bay on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, than fixate on Xbox games. Accessible only by boat or helicopter, this secluded resort has a Nut House Kid’s Club and Nature Center, a learn-through-play facility with activities for little ones, tweens, and teens. These activities include snorkeling tours, star-gazing, presentations at a touch-and-feel aquarium, and learning about the BVI’s history, coral reefs, and migratory humpback whales. Coming soon: Oil Nut Bay will have an onsite marine biologist to help guests understand the surrounding sea and ecosystems. Rates for 2017 started at about $960 with taxes and fees, or $6,720.
Ambassadors of the Environment, Cousteau-Style
The Ritz Kids camp is highly regarded for its mix of fun and environmental learning, but the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, offers an Ambassadors of the Environment program that goes even further, featuring environmental and cultural activities for families and just for kids. For example, counselors take children (ages 4-12) hiking, coach them on taking nature photographs, teach “snorkel 101 and 102,” and give cooking lessons. July through the third week of August, 2018, is the best time for this, when the weekday Ambassadors Summer Eco Camp is in full swing ($40 per child per day year-round). Cousteau’s program also includes activities for both parents and children age 9 and up, such as sunset kayaking, daytime snorkeling tours, and night snorkeling for insights into both the beauty and the importance of reefs. From $780, or $5,465 per week with taxes and fees.
Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour Marina: abacobeachresort.com
Beaches Resorts: beaches.com
Bitter End Yacht Club: beyc.com
Casa de Campo Resort & Villas: casadecampo.com.do
Club Med Punta Cana: clubmed.us
Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort: rosewoodhotels.com/en/jumby-bay-antigua
Melia Nassau Beach: melia.com
Oil Nut Bay: oilnutbay.com
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas: ritzcarlton.com
Touching All Bases
What with Melia Nassau Beach’s recent $19 million renovation and the long-awaited debut of Baha Mar, people have been asking me about this Cable Beach all-inclusive. Its Kids Club, for children between ages 5 and 12, does not put a lot of emphasis on any single activity or skill, although parents do have the option of signing their kids up for scuba lessons. On the whole, though, this is a strong general interest program, one that includes games, water and land sports, Bahamian arts and crafts, movies, and even a pajama party. “The staff are specially trained to provide an educational and fun experience in the Bahamas,” says Fabrizio Pierro, director of guest experience. “The Kids Club is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., which includes dinner hours so parents can have a meal together while their children play.” From $512, with taxes; $3,583 per week.