The traveling world can be divided in many ways — people who cruise, people who backpack; people who stay in hostels, people who stay in five-stars; people who consider themselves travelers, people who consider themselves tourists. But perhaps the most obvious division is people who travel with kids and people who don’t. And it’s also one of the most common sources of conflict and general bad feelings among travelers.
Now, I like kids. I actually spend a good part of my life with them, between students and nieces and nephews. As an aunt who takes kids places, I’m all too familiar with the half-sympathetic half-head-shaking looks when the kids I’m with punch each other in church, or spill their drinks all over the restaurant. Hey, I’m trying my best here! So I know first-hand that traveling parents do not want dirty looks every time their one-year old needs a diaper changed. On vacation, they want their kids to be able to shout in their biggest outside voices or kick a ball at a beach as far as they can. They want activities that will stave off the dreaded “I’m bored,” whine, and they want menus with cheeseburgers and chicken fingers and pizza with cheese only, delivered by smiling waitresses who LIKE kids. When I’m out and about with my nieces and nephews, I certainly don’t want to annoy my fellow adults, and I think the kids do a damn good job — for the most part, anyway. Of course I think that: I’m their aunt. But some childless adults are going to be annoyed by a whole range of things, from sand kicked in the face to water splashed on their books to the boisterous noise of…. well, fun.
Yes, as a non-parent, I can occasionally be one of those grumps. As kid friendly as I think I am in my real life, on vacation, the one thing I want to avoid at all costs is — no offense — other people’s children. I do not want to hear arguments over who gets to use the beach toys, or high-pitched pleading for ice cream at the snack stand. I do not want to hear parents yelling, I do not want to be splashed with cannonball jumps when I am floating meditatively in a corner of a swimming pool — indeed, I don’t even really want to be IN the same swimming pool that babies in pool diapers are in. I don’t want to hear TV cartoon voices bleeding through the hotel room doors and I most certainly do not want to hear crying.
Travelers with and without kids exist is a state of armed detente, each side just waiting for the other to step out of line with an errant whine or a snide complaint.
St. Lucia’s Coconut Bay has the answer, and so far as I could tell during a several-day sojourn there, it works like a charm: Two resorts in one. The two wings of the V-shaped beach-front property are divided into two mini-resorts, respectively named “Harmony” and “Splash.” Guess which one is which? One has a spa and quiet shaded cabanas and hammocks for reading books while gazing out to sea. The other has a waterpark with a “lazy river” and a water slide, a paint-ball court, and activities — lots of activities, including a fully staffed kids center. There are separate pool areas, separate hanging out areas, and adult-only zones and times in some of the restaurants.
It’s not complete separation, of course: The buffet and central parts of the grounds are open to all. You could easily travel as an extended family here, with grandparents or childless relatives staying in Harmony and families with kids around the corner at Splash. Or you could all get adjoining rooms (in Splash). The important part is this: A wedding party doesn’t have to step over step over kid toys on the way to the ceremony. And families with young children can park themselves at the resort and don’t have to shield their kids’ eyes from the smooching and cuddling that go along with a honeymoon or romantic getaway — or feel that they need to constantly shush their kids for fear of upsetting the grumps next door.
Not to mention that parents who want to sneak over to the Harmony side for a quiet bit of reconnecting can leave their kids in the supervised activities program. After all, as parents, THEY are on vacation, too and might appreciate an uninterrupted massage or an hour with a book.
You have to wonder why more resorts haven’t picked up on the idea.
For both adults and kids, the resort has a schedule of fairly typical onsite activities included in the rate: fitness classes, water polo, tennis, and the like. The kids’ supervision program, called Cocoland, is billed as “educational, interactive and fun” and offers a range of supervised care and activities (waterpark, video games, paintball, crafts) for kids from tykes to teens. More specialized onsite activities like horseback riding and kitesurfing come at an additional charge. Offsite activities — ziplining, shopping tours, volcano tours, sunset sails, four-wheel driving, scuba diving, and more — take place all around the island and can be booked at the resort for an extra charge.
Coconut Bay is an all-inclusive in the upper-moderate price range (the converted Club Med property is not a luxury resort, but it IS well-maintained with all the standard amenities and a couple of truly fine restaurants and a buffet that has plenty of choices for kid palates). A location just minutes away from the Hewanorra international Airport in Vieux Fort makes it convenient for all international travelers. (Note: Try to fly into that airport, and not the inter-island George F.L. Charles Airport in Castrries on the north side of the island; there’s a big difference between a several-minute drive and a two-hour drive).
Traveling families and travelers without kids have to exist in states of mutual toleration on airplanes and during shared activities. But we all deserve our hard-earned vacations to be what WE want them to be. At Coconut Bay when you return to the resort after a day exploring the island, families head to the bright colors and happy noises of Splash! and adults without kids return to the peace and quiet of Harmony.