I Have Finally Gotten Over My Loathing of Big Resorts
With two kids, who are just shy of 2 and 4, we have become those people we swore we wouldn’t become.
On our second date, to Coney Island, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I bonded over something seemingly trivial that felt so fundamental to me that I knew we were compatible on a much deeper level. Passing the Ferris wheel, we talked about how we both detested amusement parks. They were, we both agreed, forced fun. And forced fun is no fun at all—there’s too much pressure and artificiality. That was back in 2008 when we were childless 20-somethings with no idea that so-called “manufactured fun” is a big part of parenting. Fast forward a decade and two kids, who are just shy of 2 and 4, and we have become those people we swore we wouldn’t become.
The evidence? Behold: over winter break we took our kids to one of those big resort complexes complete with a water park and multiple animal experiences that involved touching sting rays and feeding birds. In other words, a very far cry from my previous travel life stretching across the seven seas and off the beaten path. My husband and I hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province of China, took a three-week road trip all over New Zealand, visited rural Northern India (twice), and gallivanted extensively across Europe every year.
We have taken our kids to a lot of places, including where they probably don’t belong, but for winter break I wanted some place easy. The criteria: brimming with child-friendly activities that I could do outdoors and wouldn’t make me want to poke my eyeballs out—check. That was an under three-hour non-stop flight from New York—check. And that wasn’t Florida—check. The other requirement: a place where I wouldn’t have to lose all dignity as a previously interesting, worldly traveler by being completely sucked into a soul-crushing kiddie land.
If you are squeamish about big hotels that feel like a cross between summer camp and Chuck E. Cheese, the conundrum of how to travel with young children is real. The paradox: you need to be part of a larger resort to have sufficient amenities to keep your kids from strangling each other but feel that mega-resorts’ constant assault on the senses kills the vacation vibe. You give in to the big resort. But does that devil’s bargain consign parents to a fate of all joy and no fun? Will you forever watch your kids zip down the water slide as you grit your teeth sipping a too-sweet pina colada at the swim-up bar wondering what happened to your life as a once-interesting traveler?
I’m here to report some good news: such a destination—one that straddles that fine adult/kid line—does exist.
I set out for the Bahamas attempting to find that holy grail, though I admit I was somewhat skeptical of success. Before I became a parent, the Baha Mar complex, my destination resort located a 10-minute drive from the Nassau airport, might have set off all my red flags. First, there’s a casino, the largest in the Bahamas. For some this might be an attraction, but hardly for me: I disliked Vegas so much, I went to the airport early to leave town ASAP. Second, there’s a water park, another travel trigger for me (complete with crowds—an agoraphobe’s nightmare even without the COVID risk overlay). And yet, inside Baha Mar, the massive and varied resort agglomeration of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, there’s an upscale family haven: The Rosewood Baha Mar. It’s pricey but for a reason. They get multigenerational really right. (Rooms start at $900 plus tax and resort fee. But there are more affordable options. Next door at the Grand Hyatt rooms start at $269 plus tax and resort fees.)
The Hong Kong-based luxury hotel chain is undoubtedly one of the leading brands appealing to millennial parents. In fact, it’s led by one of them. Sonia Cheng is the 41-year-old CEO of Rosewood and has four school-age children. Cheng understands what a certain demographic of parents wants: to feel like they are in an authentic destination (not just a hotel that could be anywhere) while catering to kids but without resembling Disney on any level.
And Baha Mar, the larger resort complex that Rosewood shares with Grand Hyatt and SLS properties, has done the seemingly impossible: they have put the “chic” in water park. Right outside the gates of the Rosewood is Baha Bay Water Park. The sprawling water complex was unveiled this past summer in response to feedback from guests, particularly families, that they wanted more to do while they were staying at Baha Mar. Baha Bay is unusual, perhaps singular, in the fact that you can reserve a gleaming, elegant cabana and order truffle fries from Umami Burger while your children play in the wave pool. It’s a far cry from Six Flags. In the hot tub at Rosewood, I overheard parents with children of all ages—people I would not have pegged as water-park types—rave about Baha Bay and how they had such a good time. Maybe we all just haven’t gotten out enough these last months of the pandemic, but if you can dip in at a water park for a couple of hours (rather than a full day, requiring commute and parking) and then come back to the lush gardens of the Rosewood and, say, drop by the Senses Spa for a Gullah Geechee Tea Tox treatment (a massage followed by a body wrap in warm oil), suddenly the prospect of an amusement park visit sheds its dual auras of dread and banality.
Big resorts used to give me the heebie-jeebies. I still have PTSD from one experience in Mexico. But COVID and kids have made me see them through a very different lens. Our trip, at the end of December, coincided with the onset of the highly contagious Omicron variant. Normally I would find it practically a crime against humanity not to leave the hotel and see anything beyond the resort, but given that we were with two toddlers and a set of grandparents, not going anywhere and eating exclusively outdoors was a huge luxury. We ate at a different Baha Mar restaurant every night. The food scene here is serious and no one is phoning it in even though they have a captive audience. There’s a reason Marcus Samuelson and Daniel Boulud have outposts at Baha Mar. They do a lot of cuisines—Japanese, Italian, Chinese, and Mediterranean—and they do them well. (Cinko, a new Kosher Latin/Peruvian restaurant, just opened in the Grand Hyatt.)
These are fine-dining establishments but also very family friendly. In New York City, where we live, I would never dream of taking a toddler to a Daniel Boulud restaurant. But at the Baha Mar outpost of Boulud, the restaurant looked like a stroller parking lot, all while managing to pull off a truly civilized, elegant, and refined dining experience. Our server at Marcus Chop House, Marcus Samuelson’s first location outside of the U.S., picked up my son and put him in his highchair. One night at Katsuya, the buzzing sushi restaurant, the hostess brought my son a flashlight and spinning straw when she saw he was getting antsy sitting in his stroller and on the verge of a meltdown. This, more than anything, is a testament to the warm, family-oriented Bahamian culture of hospitality.
These might seem like inconsequential things, but for a parent grasping at any opportunity to take the edge off the high-wire act of toddler-wrangling in public, they are huge. I have found that there are so many places and situations–including hospitality destinations ostensibly catering to guests of all ages–that are hostile to families and children, leaving me and my ilk teetering on the brink of parental purgatory. It was profound, in its way, to be in a place that wasn’t just tolerating young children. There was a genuine sense that kids were welcome–even wanted–in “adult” spaces.
Speaking of going out for dinner, parental heaven is kids club at night. Starting at 6pm, we could drop my daughter at the Rosewood Explorers club for a themed activity lasting until 10pm ranging from disco night to gingerbread house decorating. The facility looks like a high-end preschool classroom. My 22-month-old son, who often screams when I leave the room, didn’t even notice when I left him there because the toys there were that good. My daughter asked me: “Can we stay in the Bahamas forever?”
My thoughts exactly.