Ho-hum kids clubs are being left behind as savvy resorts come up with experiences so compelling that kids can’t help but look up from their screens and join in the fun. And the kids aren’t the only ones being surprised and delighted by novel holiday experiences; parents signing up for bonding family activities are finding them just as engaging for grown-ups as they are for their tots, tweens and teens.
“Because parents are so busy these days, they are wanting to spend quality time with their kids when they’re away, and they’re getting more adventurous,” says Mary Rossi Travel manager Michael Schischka. Adventure doesn’t necessarily mean climbing a mountain, but Schischka says it does mean parents want to embrace and experience different cultures when they travel – and they want the same for their children. Families don’t have to spend every second together to have a memorable holiday – children still love kids’ clubs and parents still relish spa time and relaxing by the pool.
Now, though, luxury hotels and resorts are responding to the call from parents (and children) that kids’ clubs offer more than just a babysitting service. “Hotels are realising children want to be not just minded, but entertained and challenged,” Schischka says. “It’s not just plasticine and colouring-in anymore, it’s cultural and high-tech – you’ve got to have all that for children these days, otherwise it’s just boring.” Fiji and Bali are ideal for first-class kids’ clubs, he says, naming Jean-Michel
Fiji and Bali are ideal for first-class kids’ clubs, he says, naming Jean-Michel Cousteau, Castaway Island and VOMO in Fiji as the real standouts. Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort may be luxurious, but vacationing kids are also revered here as future custodians of the earth. “We have a full-time biologist on staff,” says Jean-Michel’s Christine McCann. “It’s not a babysitting club – it’s very interactive, engaging and a great learning experience. That’s what discerning parents are looking for.” Many of the resort’s activities engage children in the environment and local culture, ranging from visiting a market and cooking up the produce to carving a sword or racing hermit crabs. Teenage activities are more adventurous (“they’re a little harder to get unplugged”), be it building a raft, kayaking down a river or playing volleyball with locals in their Fijian buddy’s village.“The emotional connection the kids have with their nannies and buddies is just extraordinary,” McCann says.
Schischka also rates the top-tier Club Med resorts around the world. “Club Med has come up a notch and is becoming more luxury. They’re all-inclusive and so child-friendly.” Club Med has evolved its family offerings in recent years to stay ahead of the game. Club Med’s Madeleine Clow recommends Kani resort in the Maldives (don’t miss the family surfing lessons), Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic (the Cirque du Soleil circus school is fun for all ages) and Valmorel Chalets in France – who can resist the convenience of a private villa host who prepares breakfast every morning, organises ski lessons and greets the family after a day on the slopes with warm Nutella crepes? La Plantation d’Albion in Mauritius is also a drawcard for families wanting a comprehensive kids’ club, with activities tailored to ages two to 17 years.
Creating life-long memories is key for families when they travel, and parents want to broaden their children’s horizons, Clow says. Club Med is meeting this demand with cultural experiences: cooking and language classes, wildlife tours and eco-adventures such as treetop obstacle courses. “In the luxury holiday sector, it’s about providing a life experience for children, educating children on the world’s cultures, developing their creativity and curiosity, and providing them opportunities to discover and have fun.”
Travel Specialists Mosman managing director Sharyn Kitchener places Club Med up with many Four Seasons resorts, along with Fiji family favourites Castaway, Jean-Michel Cousteau and VOMO Island – which has a Kids’ Village with a kids’ restaurant and dedicated chef. But not all kids’ clubs are impressive in the five-star market, she warns. “The majority offer little more than glorified babysitting and few cater to kids older than 12.” Kitchener is often asked to tailor family trips to expose kids to a different way of life – helping to build a house or visiting a local school, for example. Volunteer activities such as these are not only bonding, but also give kids a new perspective on their own lives. “A lot of parents try to reconnect with their kids on holidays. They want to get away from WiFi and communicate,” she says.
Biking, Vespa and walking tours are good bonding activities, but Kitchener suggests a private family tour so children really engage with the experience. “If you’re on a tour with 30 other people, the kids get lost.” Tours catering to kids’ interests can be just as exciting for adults – a treasure hunt at the Louvre or a Harry Potter tour of London, for example. Parents wanting to escape city life can find wildlife experiences with wow factor, too.
On Abercrombie & Kent’s eight-day family safari through Tanzania, a Young Explorers Guide coordinates activities to enliven the experience. Kids might spend the day in a Maasai village, cook up some bush cuisine or enjoy a children-only game drive through the Serengeti. A&K managing director Sujata Raman says the focus among luxury operators is now firmly on “hands-on experiences that introduce the country’s culture to children and their families in an exciting and engaging manner.” No-one in the family is likely to forget engaging in hand-to-hand combat at a Roman gladiator school, making dumplings and learning kung-fu in China, or going on horseback safari in Africa.
Kids’ clubs and family activities are set to advance even further in the near future. Soneva Fushi in the Maldives is building a playground of the imagination set to open later this year, with a pirate ship, music studio, teen zipline and secret flower garden decked out with treetop nests and swings. Along with a slew of child-centric activities, parents and kids can come together with father-and-son picnics, mother-and-daughter spa treatments and family cooking classes.
Blowing bubbles at Club Med