Turks and Caicos has been the go to destination for the rich, famous and want to be famous for many years. Until recently, mainstream tourism was lacking due to scarcity of direct flights and competitively priced hotels. Good news for traveling families, this string of white sand islands surrounded by stunningly turquoise waters is easy to get to, and more importantly, affordable.
Here’s how we rated the experience:
Like most properties on the island, The Somerset is all personally owned condominiums, a portion of them are rented to guests. This means each unit is individually decorated, thanks to someone else’s old money, you can feel like you not only have your own island get away, but it’s ridiculously nice. Our 3 bedroom waterfront unit may have been the swankiest place I’ve ever stayed, anywhere, anytime.
To whomever owns these condos and is actually comfortable letting my rugrats sit on your gorgeous furniture in their wet swimsuits and sandy feet, thank you. The only downside to staying in a place so glam is there tends to be a lot of “don’t sit there, throw that pillow, swing from that curtain” yelling. To me, it’s worth it. I love the luxury (surprised?), for some, it may be too much to worry about other people’s silk linens on your beach vacation.
While many guests might enjoy The Somerset for the tranquil setting, the infinity pool or the world class dining; my children beg to go back because the staff can catch lizards on pieces of palm frond which then become “lizard leashes”. They must have given them a dozen “lizard pets” to play with, which, much to their loud dismay, could not be brought home with us.
The beauty of The Somerset is that it’s like going to Grandma’s (if Grandma is loaded). When my son asked what a coconut tastes like, they cut 4 down and set the kids up with fresh coconuts to drink (they were all surprised to find out it was water inside, not milk). We had several offers for babysitting and they actually thought my kid’s wild antics were adorable, who doesn’t love a staff like that?
A little known secret about Beaches is that you don’t have to stay there to enjoy the pools, free food and alcohol for the day. We were hosted there as press, however you can go to their website and buy day passes, they aren’t cheap, but I’d rather spend the money to give the kids their one day fix than stay there.
Some people love the big all-inclusive hotels, I’m not one of those people. I had only been on property for two hours when I began looking for alcohol, it wasn’t even noon yet. Since my children had never been to an all-inclusive they were stunned to realize they could order ANYTHING and it was all FREE.
Beaches boasts several large pools, all heated to bath water temperatures and sporting swim up bars. It would seem a parent’s dream come true, until you try to keep an eye on all four of your children in this crazy aqua paradise. The kids’ camps are free, but my children refused to go and I didn’t blame them. Thankfully the management gave me a Sesame Street wagon so I was able to contain a small part of the chaos.
By the end of the day, I wasn’t the only one crying. My four year old was begging to go back to his “small pool” at The Somerset. I can’t imagine any circumstance, even free rooms, that would entice me to stay at Beaches, but I’m glad we spent the day there so I can check it off the “good mommy” list. And I can vouch for the fact that the pool bars pour top shelf vodka.
The second property we stayed at was The Seven Stars, a relatively new luxury property. The Seven Stars is also all individually owned condominiums, however each unit has been furnished uniformly and with brilliantly waterproof fabrics in the living room. We stayed in a 3 bedroom unit with a sweeping water view and all brand new amenities.
While it lacked the old money glamour of The Somerset, it made up for it with ease and convenience. I was sent a grocery list prior to my stay and upon arrival our gourmet kitchen was stocked with kid necessities; peanut butter, jelly and cheerios. The Seven Stars is a fabulous set up for families. They have a kids’ camp complete with Wii (hello), their own playground on property and they are steps away from the best supermarket on the island.
The Seven Stars has a dedicated activities director who’s job it is to make your stay fun. They will arrange anything from an afternoon trip to a grand excursion for you. I had always want to learn to dive and since Turks and Caicos is home to the world’s third largest coral reef system I decided to face my fear of death by shark and give it a go.
Take your time
The greatest thing you can take – whether at the airport, sightseeing or getting from A to B – is extra time. Toddlers love to explore and don’t care for the time pressures of travel, so you’re more likely to all retain your cool if you factor the faffing, gawping, stalling, toilet stops and tantrums into your timeframe.
Whether you’re camping or staying in hotels, it pays to book ahead. Trying to retain the spontaneity of travel BC (Before Children) doesn’t pay off if you arrive at your destination to find you can’t bag a bed or pitch and have to hit the road again with tired, hungry toddlers melting down in the backseat.
Give them a camera
Giving toddlers their own (robust, child-friendly) camera encourages them to observe their surroundings and focus on what interests them. You might be surprised at the results from their knee-high view. Amongst pictures of feet and wheels, my three-year-old has shot flowers, animals, helicopters, boats, rocks and rabbit poo.
Be prepared for the climate
It’s simple advice, but children dressed comfortably for the weather and terrain will be happier in a new environment. With all the gear available, there’s no excuse for dressing toddlers in ski-suits four sizes too big, forgetting their gloves, or leaving them barefoot on a beach where sea urchins lurk.
Pack Pull-Ups for potty training
Planes and public transport during the potty training days can be a nightmare. As if you didn’t have enough in your hand luggage, now you’re expected to add a potty, three changes of clothes and bags of wet, stinky pants. Potty-training gurus may disagree, but if toddlers are still having lots of little accidents then I’m all for putting them back into Pull-Ups on the plane.
Thanks to toddler-friendly apps, there’s no need to cram a toy box into your hand luggage when travelling by plane. By all means take a book and a magic scribbler (crayons just get lost down the side of seats), but the most compact form of entertainment is a device loaded with apps and games.
Use public transport
Most toddlers love the novelty of travelling by train, bus and boat, so ditch the hire car and use public transport where possible. In Switzerland, my two-year-old would repeat the names of the metro stops as they were announced – provoking ripples of laughter and making him even more excited about boarding the train each day.
Invest in a child locator
In my experience, toddlers aren’t fans of reins, backpacks with a leash, or any infringement on their freedom. Keep tabs on them at airports, train stations and crowded attractions with a child locator. The child wears a small unit (strapped to a belt or shoe) and you keep the transmitter. If you lose your child set off the alarm and follow the sound to find them.
Keep bugs at bay
Whether you’re travelling to Paignton or Peru, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer are handbag essentials. A wipe of the cutlery in restaurants where you’re unsure of hygiene, or a squirt of hand sanitizer when there’s no washing facilities, can zap a few germs and prevent toddlers catching some common bugs.
Don’t forget the medicine
Whether they’re out of routine, jet-lagged, or eating less healthily, kids always seem to get ill on holiday. Dampen the impact of broken nights, frayed temperaments and fevers by packing an easy-to-swallow medicine such as Calpol in the UK. Other basic ingredients in your first aid kit should include antiseptic wipes, plasters, sting treatment, and a thermometer.
We once went on a trip with our eight-year-old, who complained incessantly that her backpack was too heavy. The reason why? She’d brought along her entire collection of fossils “just in case”. Do let the children have input but remember to edit this heavily before departure.
Keep the activities coming
If you’re heading out on a long journey have a collection of toys to be handed out once an hour. Handheld puzzles, tiny colouring books, stickers, wordsearches and even tiny packs of Plasticine will pass the time on a long flight or car journey.
Have a number of family games ready in case of delay.
Punch-buggy and padiddle are popular, if violent, favourites for car journeys, whereas more cerebral ones like the Alphabet game are safer for air travel.
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