I watched a little blond girl playing in the saltwater shallows, alternately filling and pouring sand and sea water from a toy bucket. She was four years old and the daughter of a young Chicago doctor and his wife, who were celebrating their tenth anniversary. They had brought their daughter and fourteen month old son along on their first trip to Jamaica.
The little girl was a suitable symbol for the resort – she was obviously thoroughly enjoying a sun filled Caribbean holiday at this truly "family friendly" tropical vacation destination. And, it was her parent's first good getaway since the father's medical school graduation. I could see that both of the children were having the time of their lives – and so were the parents – with the unique offering by the resort of a dedicated child care provider assigned to their family.
I was at Franklyn D. Resort, the creation of – and named for – Frank Rance, a truly enterprising Jamaican hotelier. Frank was an innovator back in the 1970’s when he was the first General Manager at the original Negril Beach Village. That was the first resort to incorporate what was to become known as “the Caribbean all inclusive concept.” And, it was Frank who subsequently came up with the idea of a resort for “couples only.” Frank managed the conversion of Tower Isle Hotel Ocho Rios into Couples – the world's first couples only resort – as well as becoming its first General Manager. He also spearheaded the creation of Boscobel Beach Resort, which saw the original Jamaica Playboy Hotel converted into the first all inclusive, family resort.
Over the years, I have received countless e-mails asking for me for my recommendations and suggestions on where a couple could take their children in the Caribbean. Now, there are some resorts in the Caribbean, and in Jamaica, which accept and / or welcome children. But FDR – as it's known to most people – (along with it's new sibling resort, FDR Pebbles, near Falmouth on Jamaica's north coast) is Jamaica's first all suite, all inclusive, totally dedicated family resort.
FDR’s uniqueness is mainly due to the fact that it provides parents with their very own "Vacation Nanny" to care for the children while the grownups do grownup things! Plus, while other resorts charge for both parents and children, at FDR up to two children under the age of sixteen sharing a suite with two paying parents stay, play and eat free!
I had planned to be in Runaway Bay on a vacation and I made a point of asking if I could visit FDR (and FDR Pebbles), to better enable me to provide e-mail advice to people looking for “kid friendly” places to stay. Frank and his sales manager, Marjorie Cunningham, extended an invitation to me to spend two nights at FDR, so that I could see for myself what the property had to offer. And, I'm glad I went – since I feel I can now recommend the resort to others without one moment's hesitation.
Upon arrival, I was most impressed – the staff was obviously well trained in their daily activities and it showed. Check-in was quick and efficient, as one expects at a top quality resort, which FDR most assuredly is. Following registration, a young man, acting as guide and bellman, loaded our luggage on a cart. We were expeditiously shown to a delightful two bedroom suite, occupying two floors in a building near the center of the resort.
The resort has a Guest Orientation each day at 10:30 AM and again at 4:00 PM. While we didn't take advantage of it, I would heartily recommend that all guests make a point of attending one of these sessions. Otherwise, they might miss something, by simply not being aware of it, since the resort has so much to offer.
Opened in February 1990, FDR consists of seventy-six suites configured as 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units. But, rather than projecting a “condo” like atmosphere, FDR has a special small, elegant hotel atmosphere. Private individuals own some of the existing suites. (We were told that the suite we had actually belongs to a Canadian lady and she has furnished it to her particular taste.) However, all units are beautifully furnished and all of them are well maintained. The resort owns all of the currently remaining units – there are none available for purchase.
The buildings are faintly Moorish in style, and though the buildings are situated in such a way as to occupy most of the available space on the site, there is no feeling of being cramped. Quite the contrary – I was impressed with how the buildings are situated on the property in such a way that there are plenty of pathways to get from place to place. And, the tropical trees and bushes have all been planted to provide nice shady nooks and yet still give a feeling of openness.
Our assigned suite was less like a hotel room and more like an elegant private home – a home away from home. (As an aside, Frank told me that we were staying in the “Prime Minister's Suite” – not bad for a country boy from South Carolina!) On the main level was the living room/dining area/kitchen, which had a small half bath adjacent to the front door. The kitchen area contained full facilities for cooking including a large refrigerator (which was stocked with cold drinks and a platter of fruit and cheeses) and a bar to use for serving snacks. There was also a full dining room table and chairs.
In the living area was a satellite television set and white wicker furniture (including a day bed that would allow for an additional person). Off the living room was a gorgeous balcony overlooking the central pool. Both of the upstairs bedrooms were fully air-conditioned and each had it's own private bath. There was an abundance of storage, both upstairs in the bedrooms and downstairs in the living area and kitchen.
If somebody is looking for a long, extended strand of beach, I would suggest that FDR isn't his or her best choice as a resort. But, the beach is really just right for the small fry and provides an excellent venue for them to play in the sand. And at the waterline, FDR doesn't offer broad bays that extend far out from the beach. But, what it does offer – three small areas protected from waves by jetties that curve out – are just right for the children. There are ropes across the openings between the jetties, so the youngsters are able to freely play, swim and kayak without either the parents or the Nanny worrying about them getting into deep water.
There are multiple dining areas available to guests – some for the young guests and others solely for their parents. The Verandah Restaurant provides continental cuisine daily at breakfast and lunch, buffet style. In addition, it offers evening buffet, as well as a la carte dinners three evening each week. On Wednesday evening, there is a Beach Barbecue and a Jamaican Buffet on Saturday.
For a change of pace, the Beach Side Grill has Jamaican specials such as jerk pork, jerk chicken, beef patties and other local delectable dishes during the afternoons from noon until 5:00 PM. The grill also serves kid's fare favorites such as pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.
And, there is the intimate Pier Restaurant located on the western pier for a nightly dining experience a la carte, with a distinctive Italian flare. This is for adults only and the soft sound of the lapping waves provides that special something for the parent guests.
And, the children aren't forgotten when it's time for nightly meals. There is a special Kiddies Buffet Diner in the area beside the children's games area – Teetos – above the Verandah Restaurant, where the tables and chairs are even kid-sized. This affords the young guests with their very own dinning area, where they can have dinner with their peers – and the Vacation Nannies see that everything is as the parents would want it to be.
Well balanced meals are served buffet style, on tables just the right height, from 5:30 PM until 7:00 PM daily. Meals made specially to suit little palates are served; spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, fish fingers, soups, a selection of healthy salads, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers are some of the specialties. Fruits, juices, milk, popular non-alcoholic drinks, chocolate milk, self serve, soft ice cream and after dinner dessert treats are also available. After dinner there is Ping-Pong, Pool, Air Hockey and Football to keep the kids entertained until the Kiddies Disco opens at 7:30 PM.
Land sports include a lighted hard surface tennis court – balls and rackets are available for guests at the front desk. A tennis pro is available for lessons and there is a weekly tennis tournament. For guests 16 years and older the Gym / Fitness Center has Stair- Climbers, stationery bicycles, treadmills, weights, etc. There are daily aerobics classes available, too.
Water sports offer guests of all ages the ability to enjoy activities that aren't be available at home, including snorkeling, scuba diving (for certified divers – resort courses are available for guests twelve years and older), sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and glass bottom boat rides. Beach and pool activities include beach volleyball, kayak racing, pool Olympics, pool volleyball and more.
Located on lower level in one of the beachfront buildings adjacent to the Piano Bar, the Disco is available to young children from 7:30 PM until 9:00 PM nightly. Pre-teens have access from 9:00 PM until 10:30 PM nightly and teens and adults have the disco from 10:30 PM until the last guest leaves. The disco is also the venue for Special Karaoke Nights.
The Piano Bar, located on the lower level of one of the buildings overlooks the beach. It opens at 9:30 PM and stays open until the last guest leaves. There, guests can listen to live relaxing piano music or, if they wish, they can sing along with Winston, the resort's resident pianist.
While a majority of the supervised activities are slanted toward the younger children, FDR doesn't forget that they grow up. So the resort has provided a full slate of supervised activities geared specifically toward teenagers.
Teen activities include:
There are also shopping tours and a trip to Dunn's River Falls. And, with the explosion of the Internet, there is a Cyber Cafe located in the Computer Center where teens – and their parents, too – can surf the net and check their e-mail. (There is a minimum charge to access the Internet.)
THE CHILDREN'S PROGRAM
While many of the offered activities and programs at FDR are available at some other Caribbean resorts, it is the dedicated children's program that sets FDR apart from all the rest.
On arrival, as a part of the included package, each family is assigned a skilled Vacation Nanny – a local woman who is a qualified member of the resort staff, always available to care for her guests’ every need. (I was told that the resort maintains a constant cadre of approximately one hundred trained Nannies for assignment to its guest families. And many of the women have been with FDR since it originally opened.)
Each Vacation Nanny is highly trained and is on hand to totally take the worry out of the Jamaican holiday for the guests. Warm, attentive and most of all friendly, she also respects guests’ privacy and will be there only when needed. Should parents need time alone to go shopping, scuba diving or participate in other activities, the Vacation Nanny will care for the children by taking them to the playground, by the pool to play games, or for a stroll around the property.
Each of FDR's Nannies has extensive experience taking care of children. However each Nanny does far more than just look after the children – she takes care of your family as if it was her family. Arriving at 9:00 o'clock each morning, she works until 4:40 PM each day (with only an hour off for lunch), so each family has her services most of each day. She looks after the accommodations, too, cleaning the family's suite each day. The Vacation Nanny will wash and rinse that salty swimsuit, make peanut butter sandwiches for the youngsters and see that naps are taken on time.
The parents can also arrange, for a small fee (US$3.00 an hour), for the same Nanny to stay with the children at night, thus providing expert babysitting for the children while their parents do adult things. And since the Nanny is someone that the children already know well, they don't have any problem staying with her while their parents are away.
The Vacation Nannies also provide additional assistance to parents by bathing, dressing and feeding infants at meal times. Family reunions are also a special time for the Vacation Nannies who are often called on to organize dinners, birthday parties and anniversaries for guests.
As an aside, some returning guests told me that they always ask for the same Nanny each trip. They consider “their” Nanny as an integral part of their family each vacation. And, they keep in touch with their Nanny from trip to trip. Personally, that says a lot to me about the level of love and confidence that the Nannies instill on their vacation families.
There are also staff Coordinators available to plan and coordinate all the fun and games in and around the resort, for the children, as well as the pre-teens and teens.
The Kiddies Center – the main area of all activity for children of different ages and is open daily from 7:30 AM until 10:00 PM. The Kiddies Center is for kids four years and under and Vacation Nanny must accompany a them. Children over 4 years must be signed in and out unless accompanied by an adult. Parents must advise the Kiddies Center Coordinators whether the child is permitted to join in outside activities or should remain inside.
There is a toddlers’ playroom with numerous toys and learning aids. There is a movie room and it and the arts and craft room offers children a new world of creativity. There is an Activities Board showing the daily kids activities.
For the children, the Kiddies
Center provides Super Nintendo 64 games, a play area, a video room, toys
and lots of other facilities. In addition, there are other daily
activities such as:
The pool area features a shallow wading pool for toddlers and small children, as well as a separate "slide" pool, which is a real hit with the youngsters. I watched from our balcony while a group of small children – all wearing proper sized life preservers – frolicked there, under the watchful eye of their Nanny.
Each Vacation Nanny keeps a close watch on the little ones so the parents can also relax while the kids splash and have fun safely. Kids can also enjoy sports facilities offered by FDR. There are soccer lessons and snorkeling lessons, glass-bottom boat rides and kayaks, tennis and basketball and bicycle rides. It's a given that they won't forget this vacation any time soon.
I had occasion to watch from our balcony while a staff “clown / magician” kept a large group of children enthralled while he performed his act beside the main pool. He was wonderful – he not only performed, but he went to extraordinary lengths to involve the children in the audience in “helping” him. I dare say that some of the youngsters had never stood up in front of a group before, but the clown was so effective that children were jumping up and offering their help to him.
Specific programs are carefully designed to include activities that infants, children and teens will love. Vacation Nannies are always there to accompany the children as they make their way through all the programs, activities and games the resort has in store for them. There is even a Mini-Club, which offers a host of supervised activities for children from two to eleven years old.
I also had an opportunity to visit FDR's new sister resort. FDR Pebbles was a dream for Frank Rance for a long time – he just needed to find the right location for the property. And, I assure you he did just that.
FDR Pebbles is an all suite, all inclusive family resort with 96 deluxe air-conditioned cedar wood suites which are distinctly Caribbean in flavor, design and color. Closer to the international arrival gateway of Montego Bay, FDR Pebbles offers most all of the same amenities and services as FDR. But its location near the town of Falmouth, its new facilities, and the charming cedar sided buildings contrast with FDR's slightly more traditional vacation style property.
However, the contrast of the two properties makes for a compatibility that few other resort chains can offer. Both properties serve the same general target market, though I was told that in creating Pebbles, Frank addressed the fact that the children, who are the traditional young guests at FDR, do grow up. Thus, Pebbles is geared more toward those youngsters as they get too old for FDR. In other words, the families start at FDR and go to Pebbles after the kids get older. And, at Pebbles, just as at it's older sister resort, up to two children under sixteen sharing a suite with two paying parents stay, play and eat free!
While most of the same amenities available at FDR are offered at FDR Pebbles, it is advertised as a “soft adventure” resort, where the emphasis is on learning as well as fun for the young folks. There they can learn first hand about the history of the island of Jamaica, as well as experiencing the ecology of the nearby coral reefs and the area surrounding the resort, including a luminous lagoon. Children learn where bananas come from and what causes the Caribbean to be so blue. They tour a working sugar plantation and historical sites and go on ecological trips in the parish of Trelawny.
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would definitely approve of Pebbles’ Teen Programs. The resort has set aside its own supervised tropical "campsite" for outdoor camping under so many stars, that the teens won't believe they're real. They will be taken hiking, on beach party outings, for cycling trips on alteration bicycles and on field trips up the nearby Martha Brae River. They'll receive instruction on how to sail or wind surf. They'll learn about the flora and the fauna indigenous to the “Land of Wood and Water.” And then they'll come back with stories about how fascinating the island of Jamaica really is.
Located on the oceanfront, the cedar wood junior suites are decorated in tropical colors in order to achieve a Jamaican style ambiance and they are nestled among palm trees. Most suites have ocean views. The suites, stretching along the six hundred foot white sand beach front, feature spacious living and bedroom areas and generous balconies. Ideal for families with up to two children, the junior suites are complete with satellite TV, mini refrigerator, full bathrooms, king size beds and day beds in the living area. Attractive wicker decor in tropical colors makes the suite pleasing to the eye.
Adjoining suites for families with up to three children, are available. Larger families mean more traffic and more stuff, and a real need for extra living space that allows for both family time and private time as well.
At FDR Pebbles, families are provided with the exquisite, friendly services of a wonderful Vacation Nanny. These experienced ladies clean the suite and stock the refrigerator daily upon request. She plans, coordinates and participates in the fun filled activities for the children throughout the day. At the end of your stay you will feel like the Nanny is a member of your family.
Cuisine is exceptional. The main dining area is on an open terrace with stunning views, offering all day buffet dining. There is also a Jamaican restaurant which features specialties like Jamaican jerk pork, jerk chicken and beef patties.
Family dining features Continental cuisine at the Verandah Restaurant overlooking the blue Caribbean Sea. And, the parents can have a romantic dinner at the adults only Sabbia Restaurant, serving exquisite Italian cuisine.
Activities such as fishing in the fishponds, swimming in a nearby river or hiking on nature trails, await the children. They can play in the children's wading pool, learn how to sail a sunfish and then collect shells on the one-mile long beach, with a quick stop at the fruit and juice bar. Activity coordinators are there all the time, having fun too, but most of all ensuring that the youngsters receive the care and attention their parents expect.
Pebbles' Small World Children's Center opens daily and it contains the latest in state-of-the-art educational and computer games in addition to untold hours of super supervised fun. Bicycles, donkey rides, goat races, picnics, shell collecting, arts and crafts, video games and disco are just some of the activities they will enjoy.
For the young children (three to five years), Pebbles has its Explorers Program. Activities include the following: glass bottom boat rides, story time, movies, pizza party, disco dancing, shell hunt, shell painting, paper craft and snorkeling lessons.
The Adventurers Program (six to ten years) offers activities including T-shirt painting and tie dying, arts and crafts, photography, pool volleyball, tennis, pool Olympics, reggae dance classes, map reading and soccer clinics.
The staff at Pebbles recognizes that the teen years can be tricky years too, so they have developed a Teens Program that affords a little extra independence, but that doesn't forego attention and supervision.
Teens have access to the Tropical Campsite for supervised camping under the Caribbean stars and the sports program, which emphasizes instruction and group participation in addition to healthy fun.
Internet training is offered in the state-of-the-art Cyber Cafe, or they can hang out in their own Teens Club. Later, teens can compete in reggae dance classes, or participate in theme nights in their own teen disco.
At Pebbles, teens will become better basketball, soccer, tennis and volleyball players. They'll catch windsurfing fever, learn about coral reefs, map reading, how to sail a sunfish, snorkel, scuba dive and play tennis, all with excellent instruction by the staff.
FDR Pebbles hasn't forgotten about parents in developing its vision for family vacations. Parents can relax in hammocks dotted around the property, play tennis, basketball, enjoy a game of competitive beach volleyball, use the pool or the fitness room which offers the latest in equipment and instruction. At nights parents can relax in the Piano Bar and sing along with new friends.
And, while the children are bragging about what they've learned about Jamaica, parents too can learn about Jamaican cuisine, art, history and music or just relax and rediscover each other. They also have use of the resort's fitness center as much as they want, or they can play billiards or Ping-Pong in the game room. A full range of water sports and leisure activities are available for parents too, from windsurfing and kayaking to sunfish sailing, scuba diving, tennis and beach volleyball.
Leaving the property on optional tours could mean a round of golf at nearby Montego Bay, touring a sugar plantation, learning about Annie's husbands at the Rose Hall Great House or rafting on the Martha Brae -- or just doing nothing at all!
First, let me here express my thanks to Frank, Marjorie, Freddie DePass and Hilma Williams at FDR for everything – y'all were wonderful. To Louis Prince and Ricardo Hewitt at FDR Pebbles, I appreciate the grand tour of the great new resort.
Second, I would say that FDR and Pebbles have certain aspects that aren't necessary things that I would want in a resort I was visiting on my vacation. I'm not an aficionado of Jamaica's north coast – and both properties are located smack dab in the middle there. I'm also older and I prefer to stay at resorts where the other guests are my peers, rather than peers of my grandchildren. And, at my age, I am not looking for somebody to care for my children, though as I get older -- I may need a dedicated Nanny for myself!
And, third, FDR and Pebbles certainly aren't for everybody. Obviously, singles and couples without children would probably find that these aren't their cup of tea. And, the resorts are not necessarily resorts that would fit for every family traveling to Jamaica or the Caribbean. There are just too many variables that need be taken into consideration, such as the temperament of individual children, their experience interacting with other children, etc.
However, as a parent and a grandparent, my review of these two properties places them squarely as the best overall option I know of, for couples desiring to have their children accompany them on vacation to the Caribbean. And I will be posting that to any parents who send me e-mails in the future, asking me for my recommendations for a “kid friendly” resort.
Jamaica Jim JordanJune, 2001
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