Believe it or not, the school year is fast coming to a close, and I don’t know about you, but after about 10 months of homework, science projects, soccer tournaments and everything in between, we’re all ready for a break. I really don’t care where—I just need to get outta here!
Luckily, the folks at Parents magazine have given me some food for thought with their “10 Best Caribbean Destinations for Families in 2014,” based upon affordability, safety, availability of flights, weather and activity options.
Family-centered culture, kid-friendly resorts and nonstop flights from many U.S. cities helped propel Jamaica to the No. 2 spot. For side trips, they recommended Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios for its “collection of cascading waterfalls and small lagoons that most kids ages 8 and over should be able to climb with you.” They also note that kids between 5 and 8 can use a staircase that runs parallel to the falls.
Jamaica Tourist Board, www.visitjamaica.com
Who can resist a trip to the only drive-in volcano in the world? Located not far from Castries, the capital and largest city of Saint Lucia, it is St. Lucia Volcano (also called St. Lucia Sulphur Springs), which experienced its last minor eruption (can any eruption be called minor?) in the late 1700s. Parents also recommends lodging at two all-inclusive resorts: the St. James’s Club Morgan Bay Resort & Spa, with its secluded hilltop for adults, plus kids club with four pools and babysitting services, and the Windjammer Landing Resort, noted for its very calm waters.
St. Lucia Tourism, http://stlucianow.com
Located approximately three hours from New York City, the Dominican Republic is one of two nations occupying the island of Hispaniola. Of accommodations in Punta Cana, Parents says, “The newly renovated, all-inclusive Grand Palladium Bavaro Suites Resort and Spa … has the largest club in the Caribbean for kids ages 1 to 12, babysitting, meet-and-greets from ‘Raggs’ (of PBS fame) and plenty for you to do such as beach volleyball, sailing or water aerobics.”
They also note a worthwhile trip to Los Tres Ojos (Three Eyes) National Park, featuring three limestone caves, numerous stalactites and stalagmites and a wealth of beautiful grottoes and springs.
Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, 809-221-4660, www.godominicanrepublic.com
For Puerto Rico, the smallest of the Greater Antilles also encompassing the islands of Culebra, Vieques and Mona, the magazine points to El Yunque National Forest for its picturesque walking trails accessible to visitors of all ages (even those in or on wheels), as well as lodging in the town of Fajardo at the Las Casitas Village. Despite being part of the pricey Waldorf-Astoria Resort portfolio, the magazine thinks the resort’s Coqui Water Park, a supervised camp for children ages 4 to 12, and other amenities make it worth it.
Puerto Rico Tourism Company, 800-866-7827, www.seepuertorico.com
Hands-on adventures at Cayman Turtle Farm, the largest land-based attraction in the Cayman Islands, propelled this Caribbean destination to No. 6 on the list. Modern roads, a low crime rate, primarily condo accommodations, pristine beaches and Rum Point, featuring shallow water out to about 25 feet, which is fun and safe for kids, were other notable attributes for a vacation here.
Cayman Islands Tourism, 212-889-9009, 345-949-0623, www.caymanislands.ky
Coming in at lucky No. 7 is the Bahamas. Traveling only about 50-some miles off the coast of Florida to an island playground comprised of 700 islands dotted over 100,000 square miles of ocean makes it a very desirable, easy and cost-effective trip for many families. Although the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in Nassau is one of the most popular and well-known accommodations, Parents also recommends the Grand Lucayan in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island and the Graycliff Chocolatier Factory Tour for those with a sweet tooth or chocolate fancy.
Bahamas Tourism, 242-302-2000, www.bahamas.com
Encompassing only 166 square miles and divided into 11 parishes, Barbados features an extensive network of paved roads navigated on the left-hand side, taking visitors to a number of tourist spots such as Farley Hill National Park, featuring the majestic ruins of Farley Hill Great House, lush vegetation, a newly renovated play park and popular picnic spots. Parents’ lodging suggestions include the Bougainvillea Beach Resort and the Hilton Barbados Resort.
Barbados Tourism, 800-221-9831, www.visitbarbados.org
Although Mexico is technically not part of the Caribbean, Parents points out that the allure, beauty and family-friendly environment of the Riviera Maya, flanking the Caribbean Sea, was enough for them to add it to their top 10. In addition to noting all-inclusive resorts like the Azul Beach Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, the magazine says local cultural enrichment like those found at Xcaret, “a Disney-esque water-themed eco park,” are worthy additions to your vacation.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Last but certainly not least, they named the U.S. Virgin Islands, where families can choose from the more bustling and touristy island of St. Thomas, to the more laid-back and culturally rich islands of St. Croix (the capital) and St. John. In the latter, Parents recommends the newly renovated Westin St. John Resort & Villas, as well as the also recently renovated Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas.
U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism, 800-372-USVI, www.visitusvi.com
So grab the passports, sunscreen, swimsuits and sense of adventure, and let’s enjoy the best of the best in the Caribbean!
“10 Best Caribbean Destinations for Families in 2014”
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.