April 15, 2019 1 Comment
What an amazing time our family had on our recent trip to JAMAICA!
It's safe to say that we survived - and THRIVED - on this first major trip as a family of 6, and this blog post is dedicated to all the plans, products, people and places that made this trip so FAB, and why you may want to consider Jamaica for your next family getaway.
Back in the planning stages (as a mama of 4 I literally started planning this vacation a year in advance!), we tossed some ideas back and forth on where to travel. We actually booked and paid our deposit on a VRBO condo in Maui in March 2018 for March 2019, only to receive an email notification a few weeks later that our listing was no longer available for rent. Honestly I don't have time for this sort of thing! I never knew VRBO reserves the right to cancel your reservations basically any time leading up to your stay. With 4 kids - including one baby and a 4 year old with special needs - there was NO WAY I was rebooking using this service or accommodation without having a secure reservation to rely on. I'm thankful at least that we hadn't bought our tickets yet.
So back to the drawing board we went... and what a happy accident that turned out to be. A few years ago we had met the lovely parents of 3 boys when we were away celebrating our 10 year anniversary. They just raved about this little boutique, all-inclusive hotel in Runaway Bay, Jamaica called Franklyn D. Resort, and how the hospitality, family-focused programs, location, and included VACATION NANNIES had kept them coming back regularly for several years. It peaked our interest to hear about this place because my own mama was born in Jamaica, and her entire family lived there until immigrating to Canada in 1963! So we filed that little tidbit of info away, until last year when we started thinking of alternatives to Hawaii... After a few emails and a phone chat with the helpful reservation staff, we were all booked for Spring Break 2019 in Jamaica. We were also VERY pleasantly surprised to discover that FDR offers families travelling with special needs children a whopping 40% off their stay! Our 4 year old son Torin has Down syndrome, and this bonus for our family was truly appreciated and such a huge help financially for a family of 6.
After reserving our hotel, we headed over to the WestJet website to book our flights. We absolutely love WestJet and have always had great experiences using this homegrown airline for all our air travel. We had recently switched over to the WestJet Mastercard in hopes of using the card's benefits to help make travel for a larger family more accessible. WestJet offers a yearly companion ticket with the card, as well as WestJet Rewards Dollars back on all your purchases, plus there are ZERO blackout dates to worry about. They also give you the first checked bag FREE for the cardholder and up to 8 guests on the same reservation - this bonus alone saved our family a massive $500 off our travel expenses! I highly recommend this card if you're looking to make family travel more affordable, and if you LOVE WestJet like we do.
I decided to book an overnight layover in Calgary on both legs of our trip, as I have found over the years that it's much easier to take on a full day's travel when we're all rested. Flying to Calgary for the night also meant that we could leave Victoria in the early evening, arrive in time for dinner and bedtimes, then fly out the next day in the mid-morning; well-rested and well-fed after enjoying a good night's sleep in our roomy 2 bedroom suite, and the included FULL BREAKFAST at our fave family stop-over spot: the Homewood Suites by Hilton!
Our direct flight from Calgary to Montego Bay, Jamaica was easy-peasy and only about 5 hrs 40 minutes on the way there. Some travel tips that helped things go smoothly for us included:
When we arrived at the Montego Bay Airport, there was a van waiting to take us to FDR. Unfortunately with a driver and a family of 6 - plus all our luggage - there was no way we would fit in there! We waited about 20 minutes for a larger shuttle to arrive, and then hopped on for the hour long trip out to Runaway Bay. Walking into FDR, our two nannies, Evelyn and Charlene, were right there to greet us. They both welcomed us with warm smiles and open arms, then took us straight down to dinner when we mentioned we were all famished. What a treat it was for me to have a two week break from cooking! Being able to have the kids fed any time throughout the day whenever they were hungry was incredible to be honest. Our nannies also stocked our fridge up with anything we needed in our spacious 2 bedroom suite - so we always had food and drinks handy for bedtime snacks and early morning wake-ups before the restaurants opened, including fresh fruit, milk, juice, crackers, cheese, cereal and lots of coffee for us parents!
There are several places to eat at FDR, and all your food and drinks are included. All the restaurants are outside and open air (but covered), and located right next to the water. It was so lovely to have our meals while enjoying the soundtrack of the Caribbean Sea as it lapped the shore so close to our tables. Breakfasts were probably our favourite meal of the day, and I quickly settled into my 'usual' of a Healthy Blast Smoothie (Cashews, Banana, Coconut Milk, Nutmeg), fresh papaya, watermelon and pineapple, an omelette with the works, with a side of crispy bacon. The kids also loved the pancakes with fresh banana on top! Some of the more traditional breakfasts were total stand-outs for me, including ackee and salt fish (Jamaica's national dish), which my grandma would often make for me when I was growing up. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Miss Bronwen also has a taste for ackee - it must be in her blood! For lunch we often brought take out from the grill down to the beach and sat together listening to the waves, sipping on ice cold Ting or Red Stripe, and revelling in the amazing Jerk Chicken Poutine we were munching on! In terms of the kids, I question whether they really heard anything more when we were first telling them about FDR once we mentioned the all-you-can-eat Ice Cream Shack & Tree House that awaited them at the resort... we definitely had them at 'ice cream.'
One thing that I really wanted to mention was how happy we were to see that FDR has completely switched over to compostable paper straws. There are so many drinks served at the resort each day, and this drastically reduces the waste and negative environmental impact that the hotel has on Jamaica's sensitive ecosystem. Bravo FDR, every little bit helps; plus it gave us a great opportunity to chat with the kids about the environmental problems surrounding the use of plastic straws, and what we can do to help minimize our own impact here.
In terms of our accommodation, we couldn't have been happier with our two bedroom suite right near the ocean! We arrived at night, so it was a bit hard to tell just how close we were to those lovely waves, however we could hear them when we went to sleep and we woke up on the first morning and walked right out onto our patio bordering the shoreline to enjoy our first Jamaican coffee!
I would describe FDR Resort on the whole as 'homey,' rather than fancy. Our room wasn't new by any means, but it was spacious, well air-conditioned, clean, and comfortable. It had a full-sized microwave and a fridge that our nannies stocked up each day with essentials, a bathroom off each of the 2 bedrooms, a wrap-around sofa with a full-sized dining table off the kitchen, and came equipped with 2 double beds in the kid's room, a king bed in the master suite, a daybed in the living room that we could use for a kiddo if needed, plus they provided 2 full-sized cribs for us with bedding (one in each room). Every day one of our nannies took a turn tidying our suite - making up the beds, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping all that gorgeous Caribbean sand off the tiled floors, washing the floor, restocking our toiletries and snacks, and refreshing our towels as needed. They made sure we had everything we could possibly need, and our nannies Evelyn and Charlene even went so far as to send special requests into the kitchen for fresh veggie and fruit purees for the kids, and homemade Jamaican apple sauce for Torin when he wasn't feeling that well.
So this brings me to what is, in my opinion, the Franklyn D. Resort difference. Many of you have been asking me about how the Vacation Nanny thing works at FDR, so here are all the details!
Your FDR nanny (or nannies like we had with the 4 kids!), is basically your personal concierge and lifeline during your stay. They are the first to great you, and they are there to assist your family with childcare and anything else you may need from 8:30-4:30 daily. You have the same nanny for the duration of you stay, which means that they get to know you and your child(ren) really well, and likewise you feel like they become an honourary member of the family by the end of your vacation.
Your nanny takes care of stocking up and cleaning your room, as well as any and all childcare duties you would like, including diaper changes, taking your kids to resort activities like the goat and crab races, feeding them in one of the many restaurants on-site, taking them to tie dye shirt making classes, Kid's Club and swimming at the beach or pool, giving them naps, baths and more. Your nanny is also available outside of the 8:30-4:30 time period for evening work to allow parents to head out on their own for a date night and drinks at the bar, or to visit the adult-only Overproof restaurant to enjoy an authentic Jamaican dinner! This extra nanny work is generally paid directly to your nanny at the time of service, at a cost of $12 USD per hour. We only did this once for a couple of hours because 2 of our kids are still so young and need us for bedtimes, however we found that most other families staying at FDR took advantage of this service for most nights during their stay. Just make sure you plan to take extra cash down with you if this sounds like a good option for your family: an average evening of nanny care would likely run you around $50 USD. Just as an FYI, you also have the option to hire an additional nanny for your stay at the cost of $50 USD per day if you're so inclined.
In case you were wondering, by no means did we not spend the majority of our time with one or more of our kiddos! We didn't come to the FDR experience looking to separate from the kids on our vacation, but rather to get more actual vacation time with the kids by having the extra help with our youngest littles! Having the nanny's assistance was such an amazing experience and really did allow us some much-needed quality time with our eldest two boys. Travelling with a baby, a special needs child and two older boys usually means we would be chasing after Torin constantly while he pursued different activities, preparing snacks all day long for the big kids, and sitting in our room while Bronwen caught a nap. Instead, Torin ate all his meals with the family and usually enjoyed a morning swim in the sea with us, but he was also able to take in different Kid's Club activities, arts & crafts classes, bunny feedings, and non-stop visits to the Ice Cream Tree House when the sun became too much for him.
Our 10 month old Bronwen was still napping 3 times most days, so I would nurse her and then our nanny Evelyn would put her down and sit outside her room during her naps, freeing me up for swimming or sand castle building with Kingston and Lochlan at the beach (as an aside, the Caribbean water is warm, clean and basically shark-free in Jamaica so this mama didn't have to worry!). Dare I say it, but I also had enough time to read A WHOLE BOOK during our stay thanks to the nanny help with the kids! Basically Adam and I felt like we actually got a vacation during this trip, and I honestly couldn't imagine us having done it any other way. The big kids enjoyed a ton of time on the beach with us, fishing and glass bottom boat trips with Captain Harry, as well as different organized kid's activities around the resort with each other or with new friends they made along the way.
So I'll leave you with a few FDR-specific tips if you're considering this unique & fabulous spot for your next family vacation:
So that's it folks! We all absolutely ADORED our time at the homey and welcoming Franklyn D. Resort in Runaway Bay, St. Ann Jamaica! I would highly recommend this family-focused and all-inclusive vacay destination to anyone travelling with kids. It offers something for everyone in the family (including over-tired parents!), and is a place that you can feel comfortable and safe bringing your kids to. The location is gorgeous, with safe swimming for all, there are plenty of airy oceanside restaurants with great food and nightly entertainment, plus the staff are genuinely warm and welcoming and will treat you like an extended family member during your stay. The cherry on top? FDR Vacation Nannies are there to assist you so you can enjoy quality one-on-one time with your kids, your spouse, or just by yourself. So make that call, book those flights, grab that book and prepare for a fantastic family experience - you really won't regret it!
xoxo Lyra, Adam, Lochlan, Kingston, Torin & Bronwen
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