Spring break. It means different things to different people. In your early twenties, it was all about a sunny beach, strong drinks, and one wild college party. But you’ve left those days behind you. Now, you’re all grown up, and you’ve got kids of your own. You still want to go somewhere warm, but you definitely want to stay away from that crowded party scene. You need something family-friendly. These four Caribbean destinations will make for an adventurous, refreshing, and relatively calm spring break for the whole family.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
There is so much to do for the family in Ocho Rios, where do we start?! First, a history lesson. Ocho Rios translates to “Eight Rivers,” but that is known to be wrong; Ocho Rios doesn’t have eight rivers. The name actually originated from Christopher Columbus, who was the first to arrive here; you can visit Columbus Park to learn more. The region’s original Spanish name was “Las Chorreras” – meaning The Waterfalls – in reference to Dunn’s River Falls, the first must-visit on your family vacation activities list. A Jamaican national treasure, the falls are one of the world’s more unique sights because the rocks form what look like stairs, allowing tourists to follow guides and walk all the way up, normally while holding hands. Just by looking at it, you’ll be as amazed as the kids will be.
Nearby to Dunn’s River is Mystic Mountain, a 700 ft. peak that offers a unique view of Ocho Rios from the top. You’ll want to read up on the 1988 Winter Olympic Games before you visit. Wait… what does this have to do with a Jamaican mountain? The park’s signature attraction is Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica, where you’ll evoke the legendary ‘88 Jamaican Bobsled team that took Calgary by storm. (A family viewing of Cool Runnings is a must!) The ride will have you strapped into a kart shaped like a bobsled and painted in Jamaican black, green, and gold that whisks you along a 1,000 meter track built through the tropical rainforest on the side of the mountain. Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up! It’s bobsled time!
Another fun family outing is to Dolphin Cove where you can swim with the dolphins. Fans of The Bachelor will want to drive by (and snap some pics of) Rio Chico, the private villa that hosted the ABC hit reality series’ 20th season. Nine Mile is Bob Marley’s hometown, and a visit to his home includes a tour of the property with music and memorabilia, and the Marley mausoleum, his final resting place.
Where to stay in Ocho Rios
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Playa del Carmen may get less hype than neighboring Cancun, but for our money, it’s every bit as sweet a destination. Just 40 minutes south of the Cancun airport, Playa is by far the more authentic Mexican beach town experience. While it is quickly increasing in popularity, it is still a break from Cancun’s crowded, rowdy beaches full of college partiers, making Playa a more family-friendly spring break option. Another advantage Playa has is that it is completely walkable. Including pedestrian-only 5th Avenue, the city’s main hub is only about 10 blocks long, so it’s easy to navigate the town without a cab or a car.
If the kids get tired of all the walking, there are plenty of activities for them within range, though you’d be best to rent a car a day or two. Less than a 20-minute drive to the south is Xcaret Park, a beautiful, colorful park honoring Mexico’s culture, nature, and history. The kids will enjoy looking at and learning about butterflies, jaguars, pumas, stingrays, and more. Along the same lines, Garrafon Reef Park has wonderful snorkeling, a freshwater infinity swimming pool with views of Cancun Bay, and swimming with the dolphins.
For older kids, Xel-Há Waterpark is another 30 minutes south of Xcaret and makes for a thrilling day. Xel-Há translates to Mayan languages as “where the water is born,” so you know it has what you’re looking for! Spend the day swimming and snorkeling with tropical fish, walking or biking the jungle trails, or slipping down the water slides. Back in Playa del Carmen, dining options are aplenty. La Casa del Agua features bistro-style eats in a casual fine dining setting that offers five different atmospheres to choose from – including a roof garden and a terrace – and despite its name has an extensive wine list for the adults. Yaxche serves Mayan cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere in the heart of 5th Avenue. La Cuevo del Chango is the place to go for fresh Mexican cuisine in a natural setting surrounded by abundant vegetation.
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen
Nassau and Paradise Island, Bahamas
They say it’s better in the Bahamas. And it’s true – Nassau and Paradise Island are great destinations for the young and the young-at-heart. You can start getting the whole family excited by reading up on Nassau’s notable pop culture appearances: as an important location in the Beatles’ film Help!; in several Bond movies, including Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, and Casino Royale; and as the primary setting for the video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. With a little research, you can find the exact locations and make a day trip out of it!
The islands’ hilly landscape makes for great hikes and its gorgeous beaches mean diving and snorkeling. For the kids, you should definitely try the Jeep Island Safari. A guide will lead you to the Bahamas’ most scenic spots in an open-top Jeep 4×4 for optimal views. You’ll also get a history lesson and a culinary demonstration of fresh conch, local pastries, and an ice-cold drink. Sounds delicious! A fun day of family and sun (or shade) is well-spent by boarding a catamaran. The 42-ft vessel includes a lounge and deck area, and will take you to where you can swim with sea turtles and tropical fish. An on-board lunch and rum punch sweetens the deal!
Paradise Island, formerly known as Hog Island, is a small extension of Nassau, just north of downtown. It is a 10-minute ferry ride away, and for just $8 round-trip you can visit the island once owned by former talk show host Merv Griffin. While there, be sure to visit the beautiful Marine Habitat at Atlantis, Predator Lagoon, and Dolphin Cay.
Where to stay in Nassau and Paradise Island
Tortuga Bay, Dominican Republic
A classic spring break destination: the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana may be the country’s most popular tourist destination, and just a 20-minute drive south of the city center, Tortuga Bay is a prime option for you and your family this year. Removed from the bustle of more crowded resorts and beaches, Tortuga Bay has some of the most luxurious villas on the island.
Enjoy all the staples of spring break all for yourself in a gated community: a private home with a pool, hot tub, and alfresco dining, all with included chef, butler, and housekeeping services. Located only yards from the fairway at Corales Golf Course, the Tortuga Bay estates have everything you need to create your best family vacation yet.
Away from your villa, there is of course plenty to do. As part of the private community of Punta Cana Resort & Club, you have access to tennis courts, the beach, golf, and Six Senses Spa. Off the resort, Punta Cana’s white sand beaches are a great place for sport fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, surfing, and sailing. Punta Cana Ecotours is a great way to spend a few hours, and the kids will get a kick out of riding segways through the Ecological Reserve.
Where to stay in Tortuga Bay