Fast-forward to vacations with kids. Lazy days by the beach, building sandcastles and tossing beach balls around with drink in hand, stress-free meals, everyone in the best mood 24/7, no whining about a thing…
That’s just not how it goes down. Truth be told, I find being with my kids 24/7 while on vacation slightly overwhelming and not particularly relaxing. Which is why a great kids’ club is essential to pretty much any holiday I book now.
Thing is, I haven’t had the best experience with kids' clubs. On a cruise a couple of years ago, the kids’ club employees seemed bored, distracted and hung over. Attempts at cheeriness were forced, at best. And once, at a resort vacation, I saw a kid come way closer to sneaking out of the club than I was comfortable with.
If I’m going to leave my kids in the care of the resort, I want to know they’re safe—and having as much fun as I am. Which is why I can call my recent trip to the Dominican Republic—which I took with my seven-year-old, Evan—a smashing success.
Our trip was booked through Sunwing Vacations, a tour operator that puts together vacations that include your flight (on Sunwing Airlines), your transportation from the airport (with NexusTours) and your resort (in various countries). I opted for one of the trips that was designed with kids in mind—a stay at the Royalton Punta Cana.
Although flying with kids is never particularly fun, our direct flight was easy, and I appreciated the freebies that airlines rarely provide anymore, like sparkling wine, hot towel service and kid-friendly meals (a breakfast sandwich on the way there, a pizza-style sandwich in a pastry crust on the way home). The flight attendants even gave Evan a bag of goodies, including a beach ball, which came in handy when we got to the resort. (Now if all airlines could somehow start offering free Wi-Fi on their planes, I’d be over the moon.)
Located a half-hour from the airport, the Royalton Punta Cana is one of nicer resorts I’ve been to—ultra-modern rooms, spotless beaches, plenty of shaded, pillow-topped loungers on the beach. Our room category even offered butler service! (Shout-out to our butler, Rodvel. Nicest. Guy. Ever. And yes, I'm aware that he's paid to be nice. But still.) Anyway, as I mentioned, more important to me than any of this fancy stuff was the Royalton’s kids' club.
Getting to the kids’ club is the first part of the fun. It's located at the resort next door, Memories Splash (same owner as the Royalton), so we often walked over, which took about four minutes and included getting up close and personal with some serious flora and fauna, like wild peacocks and unusual-looking ducks that we definitely don’t get in Canada. Other times, we took a hop-on, hop-off bus that transports guests around both resorts.
Meeting the staff at the kids’ club was a relief. Just like the best daycare teachers Evan has had in Canada, the club workers always seemed genuinely cheery, welcoming and truly excited about the day’s activities. I noticed they always remembered all the kids’ names, too, which is impressive given how many kids they must meet. Most of them speak three languages, too!
One of my concerns was that Evan would be bored. He’s not the best at entertaining himself—he needs structure, and he’s also not really into arts and crafts. Turns out this was not a problem. Each day was scheduled with specific activities. There’s the stuff you’d expect—face painting, games, yoga—and some unexpected awesomeness, like a chance for the kids to flip around on a trampoline wearing a harness, play soccer on the beach and go on treasure hunts. When Evan felt a bit too old for some of the activities, he’d play Wii or hang out with one of his new (albeit temporary) friends (hello to Callum from England!).
And that’s just daytime activities. The kids' club staff also run nightly kid-friendly events. Evan loved the camping-themed party on the beach (my urban boy had never roasted marshmallows before or even sat by a campfire), a dance party, karaoke and, although it skewed a little young for him, a performance by Mike the Knight. (Other TV characters that made appearances throughout our trip were Max & Ruby, Toopy & Binoo and the Berenstain bears. I felt bad for the staff inside the massive costumes—it was 30+ degrees and humid most days! But I guess they’re used to it. And the kids go crazy for it.)
When Evan was in the care of the kids' club, I hit up the lovely spa, had a drink at the swim-up bar, chatted with other vacationers and dozed on a beach-side cushioned lounger the size of a double bed. Heaven.
Evan and I left the Royalton with a few souvenirs, an iPhone full of pics and memories that should last forever. Weeks later, he’s still talking about the kids' club.
What to look for in a kids' club If you’re picking a resort partially based on its kids’ club, here are some questions to ask. (Note: You may have to call the resort and check review websites like TripAdvisor to get all the answers you need.)
The writer was a guest of Sunwing Vacations. Sunwing Vacations did not review this article prior to publication.