Ahhh. The blessed sunshine, the white sand beach that stretches for 12 miles, the happy parents and giggling kids building sand castles and playing.
That’s right. It may be mid-January, but Turks and Caicos’ famous Grace Bay Beach is packed with families, most with younger children, including many toddlers, babies and preschoolers, who especially enjoy the calm waters.
“When we were in Hawaii, the water was too rough for them to go in,” said Shelly Chrenik, as she watched her two young kids and niece and nephew, all 6 and younger, happily play in the clear, blue water protected by the reef that surrounds the island. They were all glad to be out of the cold winter, at least for a few days.
Some families were staying at condo resorts that line the beach, like the 53-unit Somerset (www.thesomerset.com) we’d chosen for a girlfriends’ getaway. Come in February and get 25 percent off a five-night stay. A tip: Book the one-bedroom Garden View Villa that has a “bonus” room, ideal for a kids’ bedroom.
Most hotels here are condo-style and kid-friendly. The Somerset boasts oversized units, offers complimentary Wi-Fi, continental breakfast and kids’ activities led by a certified teacher, even if there is only one child present, free sand toys and non-motorized water sports. At the Sands (www.thesandstc.com) nearby kids love the lazy river, and we loved the beach-front Hemingway’s restaurant (their conch fritters, chowder and empanadas are famous here). Most visiting families, however, opt for the gargantuan, all-inclusive Beaches resort (www.beaches.com), one of Sandals’ family resorts in the Caribbean.
During the post-holiday week I recently spent on the island, the 700-plus room Beaches resort was sold out, with more than 840 kids in house – nearly a third of the resort’s guests. They were flying down the waterslides at the Pirate’s Island, doing crafts with recycled plastic bottles in the garden, floating in the resort’s 10 pools, grabbing a hot dog from one of the roaming carts or a burger from Bobby D’s diner, one of 19 restaurants.
“I’m not an all-inclusive kind of girl,” said Kendra Schick, here from Canada with her husband, two young kids and his brother’s family, as the four kids played on the beach. Nor was she planning to take advantage of the morning-till-night kids’ activities, though Beaches is known for their first-rate facilities and programming starting with infant and toddler day care. That programming includes a 10-year partnership with “Sesame Street,” which means daily “Sesame” parades, breakfast with Elmo and other Caribbean Adventures with “Sesame Street.”
In fact, many parents I met who were paying a premium for those amenities said they didn’t expect to use the organized programs at all – this when a vacation for a family of four starts at nearly $6,000 a week and can easily cost considerably more: The resort’s four-bedroom villas, complete with butler service and popular with multi-gen groups, start at nearly $27,000 a week for four adults and two kids.
The Vogels, from Baltimore, said they considered a condo, as they were traveling with extended family and didn’t plan to use the activities, but in the end they opted for Beaches because they didn’t want to think about organizing meals or activities. The butler did all that!
The food may not be five-star, Greg Vogel said, but by opting for a villa with butler service, “it is completely stress-free.” And there are all the activities to choose from, from the nine waterslides to scuba to nightly entertainment.
Turks and Caicos is famous for its reef – the third largest in the world – diving, snorkeling, fishing (try bonefishing, www.bonefishunlimitedturksandcaicos.com) and a growing kite-boarding scene (www.kiteprovo.com). Walk up the beach to a protected marine sanctuary to snorkel, or just try a new restaurant. (We especially enjoyed the festive beach barbecue at the Somerset one night and Caribbean lobster at the year-old Beach House Turks & Caicos (www.beachhousetci.com.) Head out on a snorkeling trip or a sunset sail like we did with Ocean Vibes (www.oceanvibes.com).
Adventurous families may find their way to the new Blue Haven Resort and Marina (www.bluehaventci.com) on the leeward side of Providenciales for the weekly pig roast, the chance to kayak in the Mangroves (check out the turtles!) or to explore neighboring North and Middle Caicos.
That’s if you can get the kids off the beach. Good luck!