by Diana Ballon
RUNAWAY BAY, JAMAICA—A friend describes vacationing with her family as housekeeping in a different environment. She’s constantly chasing after the kids with a bottle of sunscreen, picking up after them, and worrying about snacks and the next meal.
But I’m sitting on the circular balcony of my split-level, two-bedroom, Mediterranean-style suite, listening to the waves and the happy chatter of my two kids as they build a sandcastle below me. My husband has taken off birding.
So who’s watching my kids? Not me. Not him. Our resort nanny, Shawn, is. Right now, she’s showing the kids how to decorate their sand creation with stray bougainvillea.
We’re quickly becoming accustomed to having an extra pair of hands around. Our nanny is part of the all-inclusive package at the Franklyn D. Resort & Spa in Runaway Bay on the north coast of Jamaica. For a mere $20 a day, you can even get a second nanny, which is certainly beyond what our family needs, but a godsend for those with many children or a child with special needs.
When owner Frank D. Rance first purchased the land in the 1980s, his intention was to build condos. But then the former VP, director and co-owner of Super Club decided to merge the idea of all-inclusive holidays with his condo vision and opened a family resort, with vacation assistants or nannies to enhance the experience.
Families are accommodated in suites rather than hotel-type rooms, and each family is assigned a nanny for the duration of their stay. The goal is to make it more of a “Jamaican holiday family experience,” says Rance.
Despite such a seemingly genius formula — dare I call it a magic potion — it’s not a model being emulated by other resorts, likely because it is so labour-intensive. When the FDR is full, there are about 85 nannies caring for families in 78 suites, Rance says.
Even the resort’s prices reflect a compassion for parents who need a holiday the most. Kids under 6 stay free (over 6 is $50 per day). If you travel with a baby under 3 months old, the resort is free for mom, baby and two other kids under 16, while dad pays the full fare. Kids with special needs pay half price, and one grandparent stays free with each adult booking.
Patricia Penticost, an Ottawa mother with kids aged 3, 6 and 8, says Rance has always welcomed her entire family, including one child who has Down’s syndrome.
She had called around to other family resorts, but found they would have had to pay a heavy price for a full-time caregiver.
At FDR, they don’t just accommodate families with special needs, they want you, she says.
“You feel like they love your children. They’re constantly giving them hugs, laughing with them,” says Penticost, now on her third visit. “If we didn’t have the nannies, the children would rebel.”
My husband and I also take advantage of the resort’s $6-per-hour evening babysitting service to have dinner dates at the two specialty restaurants — one Italian, the other Jamaican.
During the day, Shawn’s presence allows us one-on-one time with each child, and breaks to take a horseback tour, play tennis, or go for a swim or stroll along the beach. She shepherds the kids to their 9 a.m. tennis lessons, the 10 a.m. arts and crafts classes and the 2:30 p.m. tie-dying class (all part of the Yellow Bird Kids’ Club activities) — as well as joining us for the afternoon bingo games, goat races, and the ever-popular corn toss in front of the open-air dining area.
“F-I-R-E-B-A-L-L; Team Fireball,” the five of us chant, as we move into the heavy competition in the latest round of corn toss, an FDR cosmo in hand to take the edge off the stress of competition. When Shawn gets the bean bag into the hole, we’re high-fiving all-around.
For the evenings’ shows, Shawn readies our daughter Antonia for the fashion show, and our son Felix for the Super Boy show. “The boys flex their muscles and do a talent,” says Shawn, by way of explanation. In Felix’s case, talent means a knock-knock joke. Did you hear the one about the interrupting cow?
Admittedly, my daughter in a bathing suit contest and falling asleep next to a pink crown isn’t part of my girl-power politic, nor do I love the gender-based arm flexing for my son. But the kids are happy, and my husband and I are uncharacteristically relaxed.
When it’s time to leave, we make the rounds, saying bye and thanks to Craig and Kemron at the bar, Ken the 19-year-old tennis pro, Asha the aerobics instructor and, of course, Shawn.
But like most families at FDR, this isn’t really good-bye. We’ll be back next year.
Diana Ballon is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her trip was partly subsidized by the Franklyn D. Resort.
JUST THE FACTS
ARRIVING West Jet, Air Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing all offer charter flights from Toronto to Montego Bay.
PAYING The resort is all-inclusive: this includes transfers to and from the Montego Bay airport, premium drinks, all food, entertainment, the kids’ program, one nanny per family, water sports. Until April 12, prices start at $3,185 per week for a family of four with two kids under 6 to share a one-bedroom ocean-view suite. (What they call ocean view is actually a view of the garden or pool).
NANNIES The nanny service is free for children 5 and under. For children 6 to 15, it costs $50 per day (based on the 35-per-cent-off promotion until April 12). For kids 16 to 18, the service is $80 per day. Supervision for an adult costs $228 per day.
DOING Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours offers two horseback riding trips that both include galloping through the water. On our Heritage Horseback Beach Ride, we rode through the largest plantation in Jamaica, learning about Jamaican history from our knowledgeable guide, and travelling through terrain once traversed by Christopher Columbus. Other adventure tours through Island Routes include ziplining at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios, a visit to Dunn River Falls, and catamaran tours along the coast. Visit Island Routes Tours at www.islandroutes.com.