Caribbean isn't only for couples Family values: More parents are bringing their children along, and resorts are adapting.


November 26, 1995|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

The luxe Caribbean resort couldn't be more suited to vacationing couples, from the spectacular multicourse dinners to the seamless service from wake-up till evening turndown. All these amenities, of course, are wasted on children.

Yet Curtain Bluff, on the island of Antigua, is -- like most other Caribbean resorts these days -- catering to more children than ever. The same is true in Mexico, Hawaii and Florida, hoteliers there report -- and this whether they like it or not, and despite their hefty tariffs. Curtain Bluff's 63 rooms, for example, go for more than $600 a night in high season (all-inclusive), and no children under 12 are permitted from mid-January through mid-March.

But Curtain Bluff has responded to the needs of its new guests by building a children's video center, serving early children's dinners and having plenty of evening baby-sitting help available.

Other resorts are going even further, touting elaborate children's programs in sailing or nature lessons or native crafts. "It seems as if I hear about a new one every week," says Laura Sutherland, who toured the Caribbean with her two children researching her new book, "Great Caribbean Family Vacations" (St. Martin's Press, $12.95).

Ms. Sutherland's 230-plus page book, in fact, underscores the trend: It is the first devoted to family Caribbean destinations.

Ms. Sutherland is convinced the Caribbean offers the requisites for the ideal family getaway: sun, sand and plenty of water. Even better, it's not necessary to really dress up anywhere.

It's even possible to take the children to the Caribbean without flattening the savings account, by scheduling a trip in the spring or early in December. For example, in summer, sailors could head to the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda, where the children get daily sailing classes and you get two rooms but pay for one. Call (800) 872-2392.

It's also possible to save money -- and savor a little adventure, too -- by opting for smaller, out-of-the-way hotels. One of Ms. Sutherland's favorites: the Golden Rock Hotel on Nevis, where green monkeys play in the gardens. Families can stay in a restored two-story sugar mill overlooking the Caribbean Sea and hike into the rain forest behind the hotel. Rates for a family of four in low season start at under $200 a night.

Of course, green monkeys aren't for everyone. B. J. Adler, for one, reports that her family was delighted to vacation at a Club Med. "Even though the kids didn't like the children's programs, there were so many different things for everyone to do," explained Ms. Adler, an arts administrator from New York City.

Families with young children might consider kids-stay-free weeks. For East Coast families not limited to holiday weeks, look into a Club Med Family Escape. A family of four (with kids under 11) can travel for the entire week for $3,199, all-inclusive. The catch: You don't choose which Family Club you'll visit, Club Med does. Call (800) Club-Med.

Wherever or whenever you go, it's important to consider what it would take to make the trip a real vacation for your family. Water sports? Fine dining? Good baby-sitters? For example, it's no vacation for me to stay in the same room with my three children for a week. I'd opt for some sort of condo or villa accommodations.

For Ray and Wendy Carmichael, Chicago parents of a 4-year-old, children's activities were crucial. But so were the adult amenities. They found what they wanted and then some at Jamaica's Franklyn D. Resort, where a Girl Friday is assigned to the visiting family for the entire stay. Call (800) 654-1FDR and ask about promotions available this January and February.

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