Sometimes, life throws you a huge gift and you have to take a moment to openly thank the universe.
So before I jump into my feature review of Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa, first let me tell you how I landed there. For the second year in a row, Beaches Resorts has invited a group of influencers for Social Media on the Sand — a social media conference that takes place at the beautiful Beaches Turks & Caicos property, literally on the sand.
This was my year! The conference itself took place during three of the five days during which we were hosted at a discounted rate; at our personal expense, we extended our stay and spent 12-days in Turks & Caicos so we could really sink our teeth into Providenciales. Eight of those days were at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa.
Before I get into the review, I’d like to offer you my top tips for the resort:
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
- Book your free family photo session with SnapShots: http://www.beaches.com/extras/
- Check out the Beaches Turks & Caicos restaurants and do some planning (since some are adult only, some are open only for dinner, etc.)
- Cribs and high chairs are available! Let your reservationist know to ensure they’re waiting in your room when you arrive
- Pack for a Purpose
AFTER YOU CHECK-IN
- Make a reservation at Kimono’s the day you arrive. Like, before you even go to your room!
- Grab a copy of the restaurant schedule when you check in, which shows the restaurants that are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day that week
- Take plain white T-shirts for the family tie-dye activity (we bought ours at Michael’s for about $4)
- Every Sunday night there’s a “White Party,” so bring your best beach-worthy duds in white so you blend in
- Pick up daily schedules at your village’s lobby desk after breakfast (think exercise schedules, kids’ club activities and resort-wide theme parties and shows)
- You can buy ANYTHING you need (from sunglasses, rashguards and SPF to notepads to evening wear) onsite at Beaches, so if you forget anything or prefer to buy sunscreen when you land so you don’t have to check your luggage, it’ll be there! (Just note that it doesn’t come cheap)
- See the culinary concierge to let him know that a member of your party has dietary needs (gluten-, nut-, dairy- or egg-free, etc.)
And with that? Let’s do this.
VILLAGES. There are four distinct villages at Beaches Turks & Caicos, and you’ll want to know a bit about each of them before you book your luxury vacation. Each has its own unique vibe, its own restaurants and pools and some are more upscale than others.
- Italian Village — We didn’t stay here, but we spent a LOT of time in this village. It felt like you’d been whisked away to Capri and happened upon the best private party. Every day. The pool was always hopping with music and activities, busy with people of all ages, and housed the most efficient swim-up bar in the resort. The accommodations, at least from the outside, looked ultra-luxe and the entire area just felt like a step up. It offers the most central access to the whole resort, with Pirate Island nestled between it and the French Village
- Key West Village — It’s sooooo Key West. So chill, so subtly ritzy. Although it’s just feet from the Italian Village, it feels a thousand miles away. The booming energy from the Italian drops the minute you enter the Key West Village and is instantly replaced with harmonious tranquility. This used to be an entirely separate resort until Beaches purchased it and gave it a facelift. Many of the accommodations are two-floor butler suites, and several have their own dip-pools in the front yards (um, yeah – they have actual YARDS over here!). It’s peaceful and feels the most high-end overall
- Caribbean Village — We stayed in the Salt Cay Villages in this section of the resort, which is at the opposite end from Key West and offers low-rise hotel-style accommodations as well as these adorable bungalows on the grassy areas in the middle of the village. It was the first set of accommodations the Beaches ever had, from what I understand, and they were updated last year. It’s a nice village even if it doesn’t feel particularly luxurious, and it does have a definite Caribbean flair. There’s a LOT going on in this village, with several restaurants, easy beach access and the closest proximity to the evening beach party zone
- French Village — I swear it feels like you’ve stepped into a little pocket of France when you make your way to this area of the resort. There are little wrought-iron tables for outdoor dining, a café that has that whole Parisian patisserie thing going on and a French restaurant that’s wall-to-wall bistro-kitsch. The tile maps throughout the village lend to its overall je ne c’est quoi. We spent a lot of time here because the pool was really quiet and we could let our kids comfortably play in the water at more than an arm’s-reach distance, and we frequented Café de Paris at least once a day. All of the rooms were mid-renovation during our stay, so when they open in 2016, they’ll be the most recently updated and, I suspect, spectacular. The one downside is that it’s the farthest walk to the beach — but we’re only talking five minutes or so
ACCOMMODATIONS. Our room was at the concierge level (cost-wise, it sits between “deluxe” and “butler”), and it worked really well for our needs thanks to the separate bedroom. Although I’d prefer that the kids have their own bathroom to use so they don’t need to wander into our room at 6:20 a.m. when their little bodies can no longer wait another minute to pee, I’ll take a separate bedroom any day of the week. Being able to stay up and read, watch TV or scroll Facebook using the resort’s free WiFi is only possible this way (well, unless you sit outside on your balcony should you be sharing a room…but I’d rather lie in bed, thanks — especially if you want some “special” mommy and daddy time). Your room category determines the extra levels of service available: concierge and butler. If you don’t need anything fancy and you’re OK with a basic room, then the deluxe option will work just fine for you. However, if you like a more personal (or private) check-in, then the upper two categories will suit you better. The butler suites come with an actual human butler that attends to your needs throughout your stay, and it also guarantees you one of the beautiful, shaded cabanas surrounding the four main pools. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll be booking a butler suite. You can count on it.
FOOD. With 21 restaurants throughout the resort, if you can’t find something you like to eat, then my guess is that you never do anywhere. You should really look inwards for the problem. As I mentioned in my earlier post about the best dishes at Beaches Turks & Caicos, the food was very good. Certainly in the top three for any resort we’ve ever visited (with Club Med Punta Cana taking the top spot and then a toss-up between Beaches and Sandals Ochi), and really impressive considering the sheer number of guests they’re serving every day. It’s a mix of buffet and a la carte, with the a la cartes winning in terms of food quality and variety. Although I’m not a picky eater by any stretch, I do suffer from food snobbery and if I can find 19 meals about which were worth writing an entirely separate post, you can trust that the food is great. And unlike most resorts where the food cycle is very clearly a seven-night-long rotation, because there are so many options here, you could stay longer and not feel any repetition. It’s important to mention, too, that we saw many couples sans kids at Beaches. Really! And with two adult-only restaurants (Le Petit Chateau and Sapodillas), as well as an adult-only pool, it wouldn’t be too hard to stay away from noisy families like mine.
DRINK. As it goes with all-inclusives, there’s no reason to carry around a wallet just because you need to whet your whistle. Whether you want a Heineken or a Hummingbird — or a custom blender drink for the kids — there’s a bar at every turn and in just about every pool. Brands are top-shelf and not watered down. The servers pour responsibly but aren’t averse to a double shot if you ask. In addition to being a food snob, I’m also something of a wine snob and I have a pretty big crush on California reds, so it was nice to have the option of a Robert Mondavi cab with dinner — a rare sighting at an all-inclusive. My darling husband wanted to woo me one night and procured a bottle of bubbly, just by asking.
POOLS. There are big pools, small pools, family-friendly pools, adult-only pools, loud pools, fun pools, quiet pools. There are a lot of pools and they all have their own personalities. Many of them also have poolside service, so you can refill your cocktail without ever needing to move. Find the one you like best and stake a claim on some loungers (using towels) that will be shady by the time afternoon hits. Then feel free to wander around to any of the other pools or spend hours at Pirate Island before returning. We toggled between the French and Italian pools primarily because they were polar opposites and situated perfectly on either side of Pirate Island where my kids wanted to spend the bulk of their time. More on that in a moment.
ACTIVITIES. Much like restaurants, if you can’t find sometime to occupy your time at Beaches Turks & Caicos then you might want to do some introspection. There are ENDLESS activities here! These are just a few of things you can do (for free, sometimes requiring sign-up in advance):
- SCUBA diving (certified divers can do a two-tank dive per day, while non-divers can take a resort certification and go out once a day)
- Glass-bottom boat trip
- Sailing (hobie cats and lasers)
- Stand-up paddleboarding
- Fitness classes like Zumba and yoga
- XBox Play Lounge
- Club Liquid for tweens and teens
- Special kids’ club activities
PIRATE ISLAND. If you’ve ever been to a big waterpark, picture that, improve upon it and place it in the middle of one of the most beautiful resorts in the Caribbean. OK, got that? That’s Pirate Island. Waterslides of all sizes, a lazy river, geyser play areas and a pirate ship with nooks, crannies and sprinklers. Oh, and only the coolest wave simulator where you and your kids can boogie board. The only thing missing is a wave pool. All you need to know is that Pirate Island is awesome and if your kids are anything like mine, you’ll spend 60 per cent or more of your vacation here. And with a kids’ swim-up bar and Bobby D’s restaurant serving up pizza, burgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets and fries from 11 a.m. until 6 a.m. — yes, you read correctly — there may be no reason to ever leave.
THE BEACH AND OCEAN. I can’t possibly write about Turks & Caicos without mentioning the most spectacular beach upon which I’ve ever set foot. And I’ve seen some pretty spectacular beaches between the Caribbean and South East Asia. Think white sands of Aruba but cool to the touch mixed with the calm waters of Ocho Rios — a turquoise colour the likes of which is unmatched. (Side note: I actually had to use Instagram filters as I was posting to properly match the colour of the water.) The visibility for diving and snorkelling is excellent, and there’s actually pretty great snorkelling right off the shore if you’re too nervous to jump into open water! The water temperature sat around 84 degrees, and I dove down to 80 feet in only a rashguard and bikini bottoms and never once got a chill. If you can afford a trip to Turks and Caicos, this beach and this ocean are definitely worth experiencing.
SESAME STREET. Here’s the deal: my kids haven’t grown up watching Sesame Street (sacrilege, I know; I was a HUGE Sesame Street fan growing up — now there’s just too much choice on TV). But anticipating that we would be at Beaches surrounded by all these characters, I started putting the show on Netflix a good month before we arrived. I wanted them to at least know the character’s names. And what do you know? They loved it. My next concern was that I’d gotten them all pumped up and perhaps they’d only get a glimpse of the characters once or twice the week we were there. What actually happened? I was blown away. The characters were everywhere, every day. They were in shows, they came by the pools for impromptu dance parties, they wandered through the villages and made appearances at the watersports area. Seriously – we saw them every single day and they were incredible with every child. (Even the Stage 5 Clingers.) Big B was even invited up on stage (in front of the entire resort!) during the Beach Party. My kids got more hugs than I could count from every character. If your kid is a die-hard Sesame Street fanatic, they’re going to lose their marbles at Beaches Resorts.
TIPPING. While most all-inclusives tell you in the brochure that tipping is included, at Beaches Resorts, they really mean it. In fact, you’ll make staffers feel awkward if you try to leave a tip. I love this because it means you can truly check your wallet into the safe when you arrive and not touch it until you leave. And it also means that everyone, every single guest, gets the same treatment at bars and restaurants; there’s no inching up the queue because you’ve produced a crisp $5 bill for the bartender-on-duty.
FOOD. The only real complaint I can make about the food at Beaches Turks & Caicos boils down to buffet selections; they don’t really vary from one restaurant to the next during breakfast so if you don’t want to eat oatmeal or eggs and bacon every morning, I suggest you figure out when the a la cartes are open for breakfast and be sure to put those on your agenda for the day. I would have happily avoided all of the breakfast buffets.
KIDS’ CLUB. Let me preface this by saying that we heard one account after another about how much the other kids we travelled with LOVED the kids’ club. My kids are generally hesitant to go into someone’s care they’ve never met, but are known to warm up quickly and settle in. But it wasn’t in the cards, it seems, at Beaches. One morning, we sent them off to the kids’ club (together — because thankfully they’re in the same age group) for a couple of hours while I was in a conference session and Big B went snorkelling. When I saw them later that day, they didn’t sound too excited to talk about their experience. One night we wanted to try one of the adult-only restaurants and convinced them to have dinner with the kids’ club because they take the kids to Mario’s and that was one of Miss Q and The K Man’s favourite restaurants. This didn’t go over as planned either and neither of them wanted to return to the kids’ club during the rest of our stay, which was fine with us since we were there to have a family vacation anyway.
EXCURSIONS. We went on the Kitty Kat catamaran tour through Island Routes, which took us snorkelling near the barrier reef (the third-largest in the world), over to Iguana Island and then we anchored about 200 feet away from the Beaches dock and guests could jump off the side of the catamaran into the ocean. Overall, it was a good trip — but is it worth US$360 for a family of four? I’m not sure. The snorkelling was just OK (there was more to see right off the beach) and we only spotted about four iguanas on Iguana Island — don’t get me wrong, they were BIG and it was pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat, but I was expecting to see iguanas everywhere! By far the most amazing part of the tour was when we could jump into open water, and both of my kids opted to give it a try. No lifejackets — pretty impressive for 4.5 and 7 year olds! Especially considering the drop was a good 10 or 12 feet from boat to water. Seeing them each overcome their fears in a single boat ride (they were both too scared to get out and snorkel) was a magical moment for me and I’m glad we bit the bullet and paid for this excursion just for this sliver of the tour.
It would be unfair of me to wrap up this post without talking pricing. This isn’t a gaffe, exactly, but this conversation realistically doesn’t fit any better in the “good” section either; and since this is my blog, I’ve decided that for the purposes of this review, I’m just creating a new COST section.
Before we arrived in Turks, I was really curious if the approximate $1,000 per night cost to stay at Beaches (at least in the Turks & Caicos location) would be good value. I mean, that’s a lot of dough. This is one of those vacations that many families would have to save for a year or two to afford. So to help paint a picture of why it’s so expensive, let me tell you what it’s like to stay at a regular hotel and pay for your meals, snacks, drinks and activities in Turks:
- Hotels/non-all-inclusive resorts: you’re not going to find a Motel 6 on this island. Even the two-star hotels will run you a good US$250 per night. If you want a four-star, you’re looking at more in the US$450-600+ per night range
- Food: because everything has to be imported, food is insanely expensive. Take, for example, the trip we made to the local IGA one day to grab two 6-packs of beer, one bottle of red wine, one bag of potato chips and one box of granola bars. The bill was US$97! We also drove out into the middle of nowheresville to have lunch on the beach one day before we arrived at Beaches, and lunch (LUNCH!) for four of us was US$150. Now multiply this for breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks for children who have hollow legs and you’re talking hundreds a day just to eat
- Activities: if you SCUBA dive, it’s about US$150 for a two-tank dive; if you want to go paddleboarding, you have to rent a paddleboard at your hotel for US$40 per stay. Yoga is another US$25 a pop
This is the tip of the iceberg. Cabs are astonishingly pricey, and you have to get yourself at least to and from the airport.
All this to say that once we arrived at Beaches and we could give our wallets a break, I understood why this particular Beaches Resort is the most expensive. Once I did the math, $1,000 a night made a whole lot more sense.