Sometimes on vacation expectations and reality don’t align. That’s certainly the case if, say, your top family vacation ideas involve your kids’ willingness to spend a few hours a day at your resort’s kids’ club so you can enjoy some well-earned vacation time on your vacation.
That was the case for me on a recent family to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. This isn’t my first rodeo, so I set the stage carefully, showing my kids the kids’ club schedule of all the fun stuff they could do while quietly planning my own parallel schedule of undisturbed beach time, yoga classes, and cocktails on the beach. Let’s just say it didn’t go according to plan.
When the Plan Doesn’t Go According to Plan
On the first day of our family beach vacation, I sent them off to their respective kids’ clubs and got down to what I thought would be the first family vacation on which the parents weren’t in charge of kids 24/7.
When the kids resurfaced at lunch and said they were done with the kids’ club for the day, I thought, sure, it’s hot and the activities are all back-to-back so it makes sense they’d only want to do half days. But when they opted out the next morning too, saying they’d rather just hang out at the pool (they’re young enough that “hanging out at the pool” still requires parental supervision), I could already see my week of plans shifting unexpectedly.
Initially, I thought it was just my kids who preferred to skip the kids’ club. But after chatting with other parents at the resort, I realized it’s not unusual for children to decide they don’t want to spend their vacation in a kids’ club, even at some of the best all-inclusive family resorts in the world. While this certainly isn’t the case for all kids (every day, I saw dozens of kids joyfully participating in the fun roster of organized kids’ club activities), I realized I wasn’t alone in needing to adjust my vision—and game plan.
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At first I was a little peeved. The activities were clearly fun, the staff professional, and honestly I wanted some time to be able to do my own set of activities without also supervising kids. I wanted a vacation on my vacation. But then I stopped spiraling, took a deep breath, and listened to what they were saying. They spend their non-vacation time at school, moving from supervised activity to supervised activity. It made sense that they wanted their vacation to feel a little more freeform and independent. Not to mention we were at the resort during spring break, a time when kids’ clubs are packed to the gills.
Making a New Plan
So, we pivoted. My husband and I sat down and talked about what level of independence we were willing to give the kids. The resort felt safe and like a supportive environment for roaming kids, but the water factor freaked me out… and my kids love to swim.
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The pool had a lifeguard, and we told them our kids they needed to stick together if they were swimming. (I think my exact words were: “You’re both in charge of not drowning.”) My husband and I took turns hanging out close enough to the pool to make sure everything was OK, but far enough away that they got to practice keeping themselves safe.
The Surprise Joys
I also started inviting the kids along to the things that I wanted to do. Both kids opted into ocean water aerobics with me, which was silly and fun and included people ages nine to 90. We all went to a sunset party together and danced in the sand with cocktails and mocktails. The resort had plenty of family activities as well, things like kayaking and art making, that we could do together.
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Since we were all hanging out together anyway, we decided to do a day trip to a nearby island, where we spotted wildlife, ate tacos, and went swimming. And because my kids didn’t need to get up at a certain time for the kids’ club, their bedtimes shifted to accommodate late dinners and evening entertainment, which gave us all a taste of what life would be like when they were teens and adults.
The experience pushed me to evolve how I thought about traveling with my kids. They were no longer little ones who needed constant care and supervision; they were old enough to have a say in what they wanted their vacations to be. And I just needed to catch up.
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Do I wish my kids were the kids’ club type? Yes. Will I encourage them to try again next time? For sure. But discovering that the kids’ club wasn’t a good fit, at least this time, turned out to have its own magic. It helped us figure out as a family how to consciously craft a trip where everyone—adults and kids—got to have fun. In order for that to work, we all had to be flexible and adaptable, a vacation lesson we brought home with us. Which, in my book, is better than any souvenir.