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I took my teens to an all-inclusive resort. It was a better family experience than the Disney Cruise we are used to.

Jill Robbins   

I took my teens to an all-inclusive resort. It was a better family experience than the Disney Cruise we are used to.
  • Our family of four — me, my husband, and two teens — usually vacation aboard cruise ships.
  • We recently switched things up and decided to try an all-inclusive resort.

I have two teen sons — 13 and 14 — and my husband and I have always prioritized travel and experiences over material possessions. This means we drive an older, mediocre car but spend money on nice vacations. Traveling allows us to connect outside our daily lives, and I also believe it reinforces cooperation and teamwork.

For the past five years or so, we've been taking our kids on cruises, usually to the Caribbean and usually on Disney Cruise Line. We typically don't see a lot of our teens on a cruise, which we've never seen as a negative. Don't get me wrong, we enjoy hanging out with our kids, probably more than they enjoy hanging out with us, but Disney Cruises has excellent teen programming, and my kids stay busy.

My husband and I appreciate the opportunity to have a little time together on a family vacation. I always thought we had a good balance of family time until we decided to switch things up and go to an all-inclusive resort on dry land.

A change of venue gave us unexpected togetherness

We decided to go to Beaches Turks & Caicos, which caters to families. The price tag was comparable to a cruise, and the ease and time of getting there was about the same as getting from home to a Florida cruise port.

Besides the fact that there was more space and we weren't on a moving vessel, the vibe was the same. We looked at the resort's many pools and checked out the kid and teen areas. I expected my kids to ask to go off on their own and to give them a meeting time and place to reconnect with the family, as we would typically do on a cruise.

And then that didn't happen.

We were at Beaches for five days, and while our two teens weren't attached to our hips the entire time, I noticed they sought us out more. They actually talked to us. Our family makes a habit of checking in via text no matter where we are, but this time, the "Hey, where are you at?" messages were more often initiated by my kids instead of the other way around.

A more relaxed pace and less interest in screens

Things at the resort moved at a more relaxed pace than on a cruise. In the mornings, we could sleep late and let the day unfold, versus having to be up early so we could get off the ship and squeeze every drop out of the experience of being in a new port. The slower pace was more conducive to enjoying each other's company without having to check vacation boxes.

Beaches was also way less video game-focused than Disney Cruise Line. My teens love video games, and while Beaches did have a video game lounge, my kids were, almost unexplainably, disinterested in it, choosing to hang with us or play air hockey or shoot pool in the arcade not dedicated to video games.

Whatever the reason, I'll take it.

We gave them the autonomy to explore alone

While we enjoyed more togetherness than is typical of us on this vacation, we did allow our teens the autonomy to explore on their own, too, which we are comfortable with based on our kids' ages and maturity levels.

Rachel Goldberg, founder of Therapy in Los Angeles, offered some expert opinions on how to view parent-child communication on vacation. "One common hurdle is the presence of mismatched expectations, where parents and children have differing visions for the trip. For example, children may anticipate independent exploration, while parents may not intend to separate," Goldberg told BI.

Goldberg recommends having a daily chat about everyone's desires and finding necessary compromises. She also advises establishing clear guidelines on when and in what circumstances screens will be allowed on vacation.

I've always been happy with the teen and tween clubs on our cruises. I saw them as a way for my kids to gain independence and meet peers. I don't have a problem with them playing video games on vacation as long as they're balancing it with other activities, but this vacation caused me to refocus on how I look at our leisure time.

No matter what we do on a family vacation, the goal is for everyone to come away from the experience and be glad they went.

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