The art of the all-inclusive—with kids
My genius vacation plan called for keen strategy and delusional optimism
Go easy on me here, combinatorial professors — I’m an English major, not a mathematician — but hacking a kid-free vacation, with kids in tow, all seemed to boil down to basic math.
On a usual trip with my husband and our daughter, getting alone time with a book and a beer on a Caribbean beach was, theoretically, as simple as finding myself the odd mom out in one of three possible parenting arrangements (Parent 1, Parent 2, both parents — that’s it and we’re done).
In practice, however, my empty third of every day never seemed to materialize so smoothly. Any parent will tell you that time’s gone wonky since kids. They say the hours are long, the years are short, and can you even believe she’s already in kindergarten? I like to say, “Time flies when it’s not your kid.”
And so, my self-declared “genius” plan was born: For this winter trip, we’d couple with another couple (not that way, this is a family essay) and re-crunch those numbers. By doubling up on responsible adults, we’d more than quadruple our child care options — a full half of them not requiring my presence at all, which equates to 12 glorious child-free hours a day. That means dads can golf, moms might spa, and with Valentine’s Day looming on the calendar, dare I say date night?
As the old parenting wisdom goes, it takes a village to raise kids. But where’s the smug advice about what happens when the proverbial village packs their suitcases, hails a cab and collectively heads to the airport?
First, a caveat: Choose your village very, very carefully. Travel is hard enough with your own family, let alone another one, with its own collection of habits and preferences and quirks. While a spat with your spouse is par for the course, one with someone else’s could prove irreparable. Worse still, you’d spend the rest of the week surrounded by sly commentary and mounting tensions. We’ve all seen “The White Lotus.”
Far less dramatic, thankfully, our “Harper” and “Ethan” — I’m hoping they’ll love these pseudonyms — are the parents of my daughter’s best friend who live just around the corner. We’ve done easy cottage getaways before (highly recommended) and have a solid history of efficient conflict resolution, with nary a fist fight. Everyone gets along with everyone else, but nobody’s sleeping with anyone else’s husband (also highly recommended).
An excellent litmus test long before you commit to a quad is choosing a vacation locale. Our strategy granted each person a single non-negotiable: My husband “needs” a nearby golf course; Ethan wants a Marriott for points; affordability is key for my writer’s budget; Harper’s comfort rides on a personal recommendation.
Our big winner, thanks largely to a slow process of elimination, was the Royalton Bavaro in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for checking all our boxes, and for this other great big reason: having a ton of kid-friendly attractions and activities — a lazy river, a splash pad, a playground, minigolf — to entertain our offspring while we sit back with piña coladas and cheers to the child-free resort vacations of yore.
Though the Bavaro certainly has one, notice I deliberately did not say “Kids’ Club.” If my plan was to dump the kid at daycare like a puppy at a kennel, I’d have done so in Toronto and not forked out for a third ticket.
I want her to get outside in the sunshine, have new experiences, meet new people and try new foods. I also want my money’s worth at an all-inclusive resort — which was, once upon a time before baby, my go-to trip and preferred way to get away with minimal planning and maximum relaxation.
In the five and a half years since our travelling party of two became three, however, all-inclusive vacations have gone the way of long baths and loud concerts. I had convinced myself that their usual perks — open bars, seafood buffets, late nights and lazy mornings — were inherently oppositional to children. Being a responsible parent while surrounded by lucky imbibers felt like a cruel kind of torture. I’m not proud to admit it, but Disney World was starting to have a certain appeal.
But not today, Mickey. As I’d vehemently vowed before baby, I would not become a selfless mom-bot whose kid trumps all else. I will not let motherhood dominate my personality and consume my identity, which hinges hard on swanky vacation spots. These are some very loaded piña coladas, you see, and I will have them like I used to, whatever it takes.
Within reason, that is, because let me tell you a little something I learned about best-laid plans and combinatorial algorithms: A kid is an unknown variable, and all the number crunching in the world cannot prepare you for the infinite possibilities of situations that can and will unfold.
Kid 1 caught a bug on the plane (subtract 24 co-parenting hours). Kid 2 cut a new tooth and wouldn’t get out of bed (minus 12 more). A single, deceptively large wave makes Kid 2 a hard no in the ocean (bye, beach day), while Kid 1 fears sleepovers (see ya, date night).
You get the idea, and I definitely did not get 12 hacked hours a day to tan on a beach pretending to be kid-less. But in those rare and few moments that were indeed all mine, time felt different than mere measurable minutes, wonky in a whole new way.
I was somewhere along the lazy river, where I’d been floating in circles with a rum and coke in hand and no clock in sight, when I realized my hour of solitude had miraculously felt like five. And ironically enough, I missed my kid the whole time.