Toddlers in Paradise

Caribbean resorts that give spouses time alone, too

Like most parents of preschoolers, I am of two minds about vacations. I love to escape everyday pressures and savor simple pleasures like splashing in a kiddie pool with my children, Danny, 2, and Clare, 5. But I miss those times when my husband Ed and I can get away from it all, just the two of us.

Happily, when I sought a Caribbean vacation last winter, I found a resort in Jamaica designed to help parents who want to be with their kids--but not all the time. The all-inclusive Franklyn D. Resort, an hour's drive from the Montego Bay airport, provides each visiting family with a "vacation nanny" for the length of their stay. The nanny, who is trained in first aid and CPR, spends as much or as little time with your children as you choose.

FDR and a sister resort, FDR Pebbles, also near Montego Bay, are unique in providing vacation nannies (888 FDR-KIDS; fdrholidays.com). But the Caribbean is filled with family resorts that vary widely in amenities as well as in cost (table). FDR's formula works best for parents of babies and toddlers since most other family resorts limit child care to camps for kids age 2 and older. Of course, parents at almost any resort can arrange for babysitters for an extra charge.

SPECIAL DEALS. Families with teens would be happier at larger, more exciting places such as Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa or the Atlantis in the Bahamas, which boast water parks. For those seeking the most upscale accommodations, Jamaica's Half Moon Golf, Tennis & Beach Club Resort, also near Montego Bay, offers a kids' camp for those 3 and older, 15 tennis courts, horseback riding, and a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones.

While most Caribbean resorts haven't exactly lowered their rates in response to the events of September 11, many are offering an extra night free or other special promotions to attract business. FDR lets grandparents come along at no cost in January and early February, then gives the family a free upgrade to a two-bedroom suite. FDR's January rates through Changes In L'attitudes (www.changes.com), a discount travel agency that specializes in the Caribbean, start at $242 daily per person for a six-night stay, and kids under 16 are free. Be aware that if you book directly through FDR and other family resorts, you might pay more than if you go through a discounter.

When we signed up last year at FDR, we initially worried that the kids wouldn't be comfortable with a stranger. But Clare and Danny instantly took to our capable nanny, Sophia McDonald, who in no time at all was tucking them in for naps and fetching them peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Sophia helped solve our problem of having one kid who wouldn't go near the water and one who wouldn't leave it. While she watched Danny in FDR's shady playground, Ed and I could play with Clare in the pool.

Nannies are on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., with an hour off for lunch. Like most guests, we hired ours to work in the evenings, paying the resort's modest $3 hourly rate. That way, we could dine at our leisure in FDR's adults-only restaurant, situated on a pier jutting into the sea. Meanwhile, Sophia took the kids to the children's dining area for hamburgers, hot dogs, and pasta. Later, Danny and Clare joined us for dessert and to listen to the reggae band that played most nights at the water's edge.

Evenings were my favorite time at FDR. Listening to vintage Bob Marley tunes by moonlight while Clare and Danny joined other small fry on the dance floor made me realize that there are moments when parents on vacation can have their cake and eat it, too.

By Susan Scherreik

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