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All-Inclusive Family Vacations? Yes! Hire a nanny, save your sanity

It’s late afternoon poolside and the MC takes the microphone, cueing a little pop music to start the fashion show. We perk up from our lounge chairs and wave to the cocktail waitress for a round of fresh banana daiquiris. Here come the girls – two belong to us, two are our friends’ from Boston – and we are all beaming and laughing as the little ones walk our way, hands on hips like little models but with smiles only toddlers can create. Nearby their nannies are beaming and laughing too, ready to whisk them off for a wardrobe change while we sit, wait, and smile. It’s just another late afternoon in our newfound paradise.

Since we traveled to Jamaica, our definition of “family vacation” will never again be complete without a nanny in tow.

Discovering the magic secret came about somewhat haphazardly; we had booked a week at the FDR resort, an hour outside of Montego Bay, with trepidation, knowing we’d sacrifice fine food and impeccable accommodations for help, help, and more help. The hook: their all-inclusive rate includes a personal “vacation nanny,” a business model that I’m surprised isn’t copied at more family destinations. And as an added bonus: for an extra $140 we could have a second nanny for the week, which at first seemed outlandish but ended up brilliant, since we had a baby on a drastically different schedule than our three-year-old.

These nannies are some form of saints. They walk the property smiling, playing with the children, waving to the parents, inventing games, and constantly slathering the kids with sunscreen – nary a child was burned. Many of the nannies have been there for over a decade, and guests come back to them again and again (you can tell from the heart-shaped signs and balloons on their doors).

The children cotton to the nannies immediately, but for parents, adjusting to suddenly having so much assistance can be another story. Fortunately we traveled with veterans who’d been through it the year before and showed us the ropes. It cut down on the adjustment period, and they encouraged us to be helpful and directive yet not bossy or bitchy. Whatever the request, our nannies would simply smile and say, “Ya, mon!,” expressing an attitude to be both easygoing and accommodating yet highly functioning and capable. I wished daily to be more like them.

Quickly we got into a rhythm. On a typical morning we’d be up by 6 a.m., play in the room (where our fridge was stocked and the local coffee was addictive), wander down for a proper breakfast in the open-air restaurant, feed the fish, and check out the daily activity board. Eventually 9 a.m. would roll around, when normally I’d be in panic mode – how in the hell will we ever get to nap time! – but on island time that’s when my blissful vacation nannies would show up and take over, be it minding the baby or heading to off to play on the beach. And depending on our mood, my husband and I would grab our books and retire to lounge chairs, venture out in a kayak, or take a yoga class.

Once the habit wore off of not checking in every ten minutes (reminding myself, they have the sun hats, a full bottle, and the paci is in the stroller), a strange sense took over. It was almost unrecognizable; wait, is this really: relaxation? Once I let go, it was completely liberating. I did aerobics, I took a cooking class, I read a couple books and I (gasp) fell asleep in a hammock. There is an almost naughty-like bliss to drinking daiquiris by the pool while someone else is feeding your kids lunch and doing naps. When you get past that initial guilt and find that relaxation (which for some of us is badly needed), the change can really put the joy and fun back into parenting.

My husband and I loved to stand on the pool deck and peer out at our oldest daughter playing with her friend and nannies on the beach. While often wild and unruly at home, here she was calm and confident, smiling while carrying buckets of saltwater to build something spectacular. We’d peek at the baby who’d show up still sleepy in her stroller and then delight in the sand hitting her toes, taking some of her first few shaky steps. Quite often we’d quickly interrupt their morning routine with a few hugs, kisses, and dips in the ocean and then let everyone happily return to their posts.

We discovered, between the sand castle competitions, tug-of-war races, and tie-dying parties, that the kids were more than alright. Did we miss what flavor ice cream they ordered at lunch? Yes. And the look on their face when they first went down the little water slide? Yep. But we heard all about it and we found the break we’d desperately needed. It was the first time we left our travels not feeling totally exhausted and ironically in need of a restful vacation. We had happy, tired kids and happy, rejuvenated parents. And we’re ready to do it all over again next year.

TIPS FOR HIRING OUT:

  • Go all-inclusive. We loved the FDR resort, but you can find similar arrangements by researching “all-inclusive family vacations” – just make sure they offer nanny service.
  • Take Full Advantage. If you are paying the money, go all in and book the extra hours in the late afternoon or evening so you can play beach volleyball or grab a romantic dinner.
  • Ditch the Schedules. Mealtime and naps won’t go exactly as they do at home, but shake it off. Everyone’s on vacation and you’ll all be back on track when you return.
  • Be Selfish. This is your time. You deserve it – period. Exercise when you want to, play games, and have that drink by the pool.
  • Focus on the Fun. When you are with your kids, really be with your kids. Show them your wild side. Repeat the waterslide 20 times. Be silly in the pool. Have an impromptu dance party. Do all the things you feel you don’t have time or energy for at home when you’re in charge.
  • Watch and Learn. Sneak a few peeks at your kiddos from afar and watch them play, eat, talk, and interact. We found this to be invaluable and insightful.
  • Sneak Some Alone Time. Whether you’ve traveled just with your S.O. or with a group of friends, grab a few solitary moments alone to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate. If you haven’t done this in a long time, your entire self will thank you.
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