At the Ritz-Carlton Kids Camp ages 4 to 12 play bingo, go on scavenger hunts, search the property for iguanas, bake cookies, learn Spanish, make Pinatas and splash in the kiddie pool. The colorful children's room comes equipped with board games and art supplies. The relatively small room is brightened by a jungle mural adorned with the resort's mascot Balam, a friendly jaguar.
Because children cannot sign themselves in and out of the program, most older children ages 10 through 12 are likely to think the program too babyish, especially when younger kids sign up. The program works best for younger children. Kids younger than four are welcome if accompanied by an adult. The program operates daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Half days cost $45; full-days cost $65. Kids' night out is $55. By the hour, the camp costs $15. Register your children the day before by 7 p.m.
For beach loving families, the resort's Beach Club, a deep rectangle of sand that starts at the Caribbean shore and stretches back along the side of the hotel, adds 7,000-square feet of valued play space. In addition to the "beach club" alongside the building, the Ritz, as a result of the December 2009 beach reclamation project, has added a wide stretch of sand between the resort and the ocean. At the Beach Club, cabanas, which rent for $95 US per day, consist of raised, wooden platforms covered for shade, two lounge chairs and a hammock. Palapas are available too. You can always ask a beach attendant to bring over lounge chairs. Umbrellas rent for about $11 per day. We wish resorts, especially luxury ones, would offer beach umbrellas on a complimentary basis.
Also, we're an ocean loving family of strong swimmers, but the surf in February was too rough for comfortable swimming. Teens seemed to like the body surfing; however, we don't advise it. In many places, rocks and sand bags protrude near the shore. Locals tell us that from December through February, the waves typically crest at 1 to 3+ feet high, breaking in quick succession. March through June, locals say, remain the best months for Caribbean swimming as sea is relatively calm. A lifeguard presides over the beach.
The main pool -- two connected loops with a small waterfall -- always draws guests. Although there's no kiddie pool, one loop's depth is 3.5-feet, good for gradeschoolers. Toddlers, sitting along the shallow area's wide ledge, splash under the watchful eyes of their parents.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m., ages 6 to 9 and ages 10 to 14 can improve their swings at the resort's Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center.
The Ritz's $500,000 Culinary Center is a big plus for families who want to get hands-on in the kitchen. Each week at the state-of-the-art facility with its four cooking stations, Chef Rory Dunaway teaches a variety of two-hour cooking classes, most of which are open to families. At the Grilling with Mexican Flair class, we go back to basics, learning the correct way to cut vegetables (who knew there was a technique?) and discover an easy recipe for pico de gallo. We progress to peeling and pitting avocados for guacamole, follow the steps to making a great Margarita and find the secrets to a successful marinade for the cumin dusted chicken. Then, we eat what we cooked on the terrace facing the sea.
"More and more families are interested in cooking together," says Chef Rory. Is there a chocoholic in your family? Then, sign up for Chocolatier and learn how to create tuxedo strawberries, chocolate truffles and sauces. During Christmas and at other times, the center offers kids-only classes. Kids learn how to fashion gingerbread houses and bake chocolate cakes, and cookies. At other sessions, children , working in teams of three , learn how to make pizza dough, cook pancakes and French toast for breakfast and how to create enchiladas.
On the weekend closest to the full moon celebrate with a beach bonfire, music and marshmallow roast at the Moonlight festival held beachfront.
La Isla Shopping Village, an open-air facility bordering the lagoon, is a pleasant place to shop. The complex features Johnny Rockets, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and many familiar chain clothing stores. At Ah Cacao Chocolate Cafe, sample the rich Mayan hot chocolate made with 72 percent cacao.
Nearby Ah Cacao, is the Interactive Aquarium. Tanks feature jellyfish, piranha and other critters. You can swim with dolphins as well as be surrounded by sharks. You enter an acrylic cage and are lowered into the toothy critters' tank for eyeball to eyeball encounters with bull, black tip and other sharks.