by Terry Ward
Situated on three acres fronting a small private beach on Runaway Bay in Jamaica’s north coast — about 20 minutes west of Ocho Rios and an hour east of Montego Bay — Franklyn D. Resort (or FDR, as it’s called) pretty much epitomizes family-friendly, no-fuss vacationing. So focused on families is FDR, that it’s almost impossible to believe that anyone without kids would come here. However, empty-nesters who’ve been visiting since their college-aged kids were in diapers still do.
The property originally belonged to an architect, who designed the buildings and grounds with a Mediterranean and Tuscan feel. In 1990, Jamaican hotelier Frank Rance took over and turned the property into Jamaica’s first all-suite, all-inclusive resort targeted specifically at families. The owner implemented the concept of personal vacation nannies into the hotel’s offerings as a way to set FDR apart.
All-inclusive rates include three meals daily and all snacks, your vacation nanny between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:40 p.m., kids camp, shopping tours to Ocho Rios, use of land and water sports (including bikes and tennis and kayaking instruction). Special tours such as glass bottom boat outings, snorkeling and booze cruises are also provided free of charge. The spa and scuba diving are excluded from the all-inclusive rate. However, the first thing to know is that this is not a grand, ritzy chain resort kind of place.
Compared to other all-inclusive resorts up and down the coast, FDR has an intimate (they say “boutique,” we say more like vintage-charm) feel. You’re not going to find the huge poured concrete spaces and vast grassy lawns of a Beaches resort here. Protected by jetties and roped off for safety, FDR’s beach (really two small coves) is a small but suitable place for families to swim in safe, sheltered surrounds. Despite its size, most things you find at larger properties — from a comprehensive kids camp, good water sports and multi-cuisine dining options — are available here.
There’s not a whole lot to do in FDR’s immediate surrounds, other than hop on a bicycle for one of the guided tours offered every morning. Ocho Rios — with attractions like Dunn’s River Falls, Mystic Mountains and shopping — is only 20 minutes away by taxi.
The lush property is thick with pretty flora with paths winding from building to building and past the pool area to the beach. The 78 suites all have an airiness about them that’s typical of the tropics. All rooms have full or partial ocean views and separate living areas and kitchenettes. All of the wood furnishings in the rooms were refinished in 2010, the pool was re-tiled in 2010. All in the all, the resort is in quite good shape for the years under its belt.
Our Editor Loves
- Kids' club
- Personal vacation nanny included
- All-suite accommodations with kitchenettes
- All Inclusive Rates
- Horse Back Riding
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
All 78 suites at FDR have balconies or patios with full or partial ocean views and family-friendly amenities such as separate living areas, a dining table, refrigerator and full kitchenette with a stove, microwave and pots and pans. Suites all have tiled floors with throw rugs in the living area, dark wood furniture, Jamaican artwork and bathrooms with tub-in-shower configurations. There's also satellite TV and a complimentary Wi-Fi. Your refrigerator and pantry comes stocked with crackers and cheese, sodas and juices, fruits, yogurts, cereals and more that you can have replenished at no cost throughout your stay. These are great for between meal snacks before naptime and hors d'oeuvres on your balcony.
You can opt for one-, two- or three-bedroom suites, and while connecting suites aren't available the resort makes an effort to arrange adjacent rooms if you're traveling with friends or family. One-bedroom suites can accommodate two adults and three children. Two-bedroom suites have room for four adults and three children. And three-bedroom suites can host six adults and three children. Rollaway beds, cribs, bed rails, child gates (for split-level suites) and DVD players with kids' movies are all provided upon requested at no extra charge.
Vacation Nanny and Housekeeping
Your nanny can take care of household chores such as laundry (for a small per-load fee) and washing dishes, and she's also the one cleaning your suite on a daily basis. She'll have an hour lunch break each day, at which time you can take your child to the kid's camp. Children under 6 years old stay for free at the resort.
To keep this thing short and to the point:
- Amazing property: everything is close so you don't have to spend all your time in an elevator or walking down halls or through the resort to get places. You will certainly find more luxurious properties elsewhere in Jamaica, but FDR is nothing to overlook. Staff (all staff) constantly take care of the property.
- Food: amazing. Eating at the main restaurant (Honeycomb) is a great option no matter what. Everything is prepared as you order, so expect a little wait time. Pro tip: get there right at 7:30 for breakfast and you have no problem. Make sure you spend every lunch at the Overproof Jamaican restaurant for the best Jamaican food I have ever had on a resort (this was my 7th time to Jamaica). Ice cream for the kids is popular. Best fresh jamaican patties at the snack bar.
- Activities: your kids will always have something to do (fishing, glass bottom boat, face painting, crafts, tennis, soccer, goat races etc.). There is yoga classes for adults. We did the daily bike ride a few times, very challenging and great way to get off the resort and see Runaway Bay. There is an adults activity board, but quite honestly the freedom just to walk about the beach (you have access to the Jewel beach next door), or take a bike ride, play pool, sit in hot tub....that is all you need.
-Staff: all incredible, from maintenance staff, bellhops, entertainment, bartenders, restaurant staff. Special shout out to the lifeguards, who are amazing with kids. Our son specifically made reference to them as people he was going to miss.
You will leave feeling relaxed and not needing another vacation.
For travelers who are used to staying at world class properties, this isn't one. The grounds look like a summer camp from the 1980's. The rooms are large (we had a 3-bedroom suite), but dark; the food is okay, not great; the service is surprisingly lackluster. It would often take 10-15 minutes at a table before anyone would ask for our food orders, and another 30 minutes before any food arrived. It's as if no one at the restaurant has ever studied how service is done at good restaurants and then set up training to do that.
The most surprising part was that for all the marketing noise about the Jamaican people being friendly and warm, the nannies and the staff at FDR don't seem it. Only two people — a woman at the front desk and the young man who sat at the beach entrance and worked as a lifeguard — seemed genuinely happy to be there. I suspect that management here doesn't spend much time thinking about how to create a culture of service and hospitality.
That said, we had fun. My kids are 2 (almost 3) and 5, and even though my wife and I were disappointed with the property, the food, the gym (mostly broken equipment), and the service, from a kid's point of view, this place is great. My daughter (the 5-year-old) spent hours going up and down the big water slide. My son loved the little protected beach area. They ate french fries and ice cream all day long. The scale of the place is perfect for children, and no one cares if your kids run around, play, and act like kids.
We also saw a lot of families who have children with special needs, and multiples. That makes sense — the included nanny must be a godsend for families who are overwhelmed, and if that's you, that makes this place worth considering. But my wife and I both work a lot, ours kids are easy, and we look forward to spending quality time with them on vacation. So the nanny wasn't as big a plus for us. We probably made the wrong choice for us as a family, but we made the best of it.
If we were to do this again, we would look at properties that have more upscale rooms and grounds, and better service and food, and we would just pay out of pocket for a babysitter for the 3-hours a day we want to go to the gym or have a meal alone. We would also focus on Montego Bay instead of Runaway Bay, which is an extra 70 minutes from the airport. It would cost more, but we learned on this trip that it would be worth it. Still we had a great time, and the pictures and memories of our kids laughing and playing are priceless. It would just be nice if we had memories like that of all four of us.
For most guests, the biggest perk offered by the resort is the inclusion of a "vacation nanny" within the rate. The nanny is there to escort your children to kids' camp, play with them on the beach, accompany them for naptime, tidy up your suite and babysit afterhours (after 4:40 p.m.).
Yellow Bird Kids' Club
The resort's Yellow Bird Kids Club (open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.) is a fully supervised indoor and outdoor facility that caters to kids up to 12 years old, and there are no regulations for potty training. Outside of official nanny hours you can only leave your child at the children's camp for one hour. The day's activities are announced on a chalkboard inside the facility, with things like beach picnics, rabbit time with the resort's pets, cooking classes and Save the Flag games on the agenda. Nannies bring a list to the parents ahead of time to discuss before the day starts which activities the children are permitted to take part in.
The indoor portion of the kids' camp is nothing glitzy (rooms look like the elementary school from your own childhood, most likely), but has all kinds of games and soft toys, as well as a computer station and a Jamaica corner where kids can learn more about the country they're visiting. Outside, there's a full playground with slides and swings and a mini petting farm with bunnies in cages. An area with shaded picnic benches is the spot where arts and crafts activities take place and kids learn techniques like leather and wood burning or mobile making.
The separate Teen Center, also open-air but covered with a roof, is accessed by a flight of stairs by the pool and looks fairly Spartan at first. On closer inspection, you'll find there's table tennis, foosball, billiards, a cyber center, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii stations and board games galore. Beach activities for teens include beach volleyball and a water trampoline, in addition to boat rentals. There's a disco, too, tucked into the side of a building. With painted murals and a bit of a musty smell, it's not the hippest ambiance -- age appropriate music plays at different times nightly for different age groups (6 to 7:30 p.m. is kids time, 8 to 9:30 p.m. is for teens and at 10 p.m. the disco is open to adults only, though most prefer to enjoy their beverages outside).
The property has three pools, all of which are open to all guests (there are no children's-only or adults-only pools) and have lifeguard supervision. The main pool in the center of the resort is shallow on the edges and bottoms out at six-feet. There's also a small kiddie pool that's two feet deep, with some splashing water features. Fronting the ocean is the kids' favorite -- the slide pool -- where a 100-foot-long water slide spirals into a shallow swimming area. While there's no zero entry pool, all pools have lifeguards on duty. Pool hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The resort's Verandah restaurant is the main area for kiddie dining, and there are separate menus for children here with both a la carte and buffet options. Since the Kids' Camp, included in your rate, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the staff can bring your child to dinner at the Verandah grill between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., during which there's entertainment for the kids like pin the tail on the donkey or balloon animal-making. Kids who eat all their food are rewarded with gift bags. Here's the catch: if you leave your child at the kid's camp after 4:40 p.m., you can only leave them there for an hour (during which time you can enjoy an adults-only dinner or whatever else you have planned). For this reason, most guests keep their nannies on after hours at the rate of $6 per hour, and it's usually the nannies that end up bringing the kids to dinner if you're not planning to dine as a family at Verandah.
Parents can also choose to dine together with their children at the Verandah, where adult menu items include pan-fried snapper and New York Strip. Buffet items for kids are of the standard chicken and fish fingers, spaghetti and meatballs and mashed potatoes and vegetables variety. If your child has a particular dietary constraint, work with the resort in advance of your visit so the chef can be made aware. Truly healthy options for kids are limited to fruits and salads. Good luck getting them to eat the latter when there are French fries around! Three daily meals and all snacks and beverages for kids are included in the all-inclusive rates.
The adult-only Overproof restaurant does Jamaican cuisine, with some tasty seafood and jerked options as well as curried chicken or goat with rice and peas and local fish with plantains. Open Tuesdays and Thursdays for dinner between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
The Pier -- an Italian and Indian restaurant set on a covered dock that extends into the water -- has candlelit dining and specialties like salmon with garlic bok choi, chicken parmesan and Italian seafood stew. This venue is for adults only and is only open for dinner on Sundays between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.
The Sea Cotton Tree Grill
There's a casual grill, next to the Verandah restaurant, where you'll find a piano bar, good tropical smoothies and quick eats like paninis, tuna melts, burgers and hot dogs. This venue is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Open daily from 5:30 to 7 p.m., this buffet offers a well-balanced selection of both healthy and kid-friendly foods, such as spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly and more. After you're done eating, enjoy Ping-Pong, foosball and other activities and entertainment until the Kiddies Disco opens at 7:30 p.m.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Repeat guests to FDR receive a special welcome package with local treats like Blue Mountain coffee and hot sauce. Even if it's your first time, you can count on your refrigerator and pantry being stocked upon arrival with all sorts of snacks and drinks -- a nice perk, especially if you arrive late and need to get something in the kids' bellies before tucking them in for the night. Repeat visitors to FDR consistently say it's the kindness of the staff that brings them back year after year. And a request that might seem off the wall at a large hotel chain has a good chance of being granted here. Private birthday celebrations can also be arranged, so feel free to call ahead of time to coordinate the specifics of your family's stay.
While your nanny's services are only included in the rate between 9 a.m. and 4:40 p.m., you can keep your nanny on longer for just $6 per hour, and nannies will happily head out with your family on daytrips around Jamaica, too, as well as stay overnight in your suite. The resort can provide extra nannies for your family at a rate of $20 per day.
If your kids want to take part in making tie dye T-shirts at the crafts center, pack a few old white shirts. Beach toys, snorkeling equipment and life jackets are provided for you. It might be worth bringing your own mask and fins if you really like to snorkel, however, as the equipment is sometimes in short supply.
A barebones gym, near the Teen Center, has a few cardio machines and weight lifting equipment. A daily bicycling tour is also included in your package rate.
There's a small gift shop on site that sells essentials like diapers, sunscreen and basic medications. But prices are likely to be more than they are wherever you've come from, so you're best off making sure you have all your kiddie and beach staples in ample supply before you get here.
The Art of Smart Timing
Before planning your trip, check the resort's website, as specials (up to 20 percent off your stay) are regularly offered, as well as deals that allow grandparents to stay for free. The summer months, by far Jamaica's sultriest, are when you'll get particularly enticing deals. February to April is very busy at FDR, with Canadian and American school holidays (spring break) providing a steady stream of guests. Things ramp up again around Thanksgiving time and peak around the Christmas holiday season. All of FDR's facilities and activities are offered year round. Although summer is hot, the ocean sea breezes keep things pretty pleasant most of the year. The winter months offer particularly beautiful weather, with the cool nights. Keep in mind that June 1 through November is hurricane season in the Caribbean.
Since opening in 1990, the resort has never closed for renovations. Instead, maintenance is done on an ongoing basis. With that in mind, you might want to ask in advance if any parts of the resort will be closed for upkeep.
If you're visiting for a holiday, you can be sure there will be a slew of themed events, related character appearances and crafts activities. The resort's Easter carnival features an egg hunt and appearances by the Easter bunny, for example. For Halloween, candy is provided in all of the suites so that children can do traditional door-to-door trick or treating. In addition to the holidays, there are several themed events weekly, including a family beach barbecue every Wednesday night with tables set up on the sandy beach, Jamaican night on Saturdays with music and activities staged on the resort's boardwalk and kiddie dress up parades every evening (costumes provided).
Sangster International Airport is approximately one-hour east of the resort, in Montego Bay, and air-conditioned transfers in a bus or shuttle are included. The shuttle company that FDR uses delivers guests to other area resorts, too, so you may not be the first ones dropped off. Also you may have to wait for other guests to arrive before it leaves. Consider booking your own transport via taxi or rental car if you feel this might be a problem.
The guestrooms are spread throughout the property in different buildings. There are no elevators, so if you are traveling with small children or need stroller or wheelchair access, be sure to book a ground floor suite.
For Mom and Dad
Adults can enjoy kid-free dining at two adults only restaurants on site -- Overproof and the Pier Italian restaurant -- both of which are positioned on the opposite end of the beach from the family-friendly Verandah restaurant (yes, out of earshot). Private, candle-lit dinners for two can also be arranged on the resort's pier.
Spa and Salon
FDR's spa, the Sea Grape Spa, is a pared down affair -- little more than a breezy, open-air, one-room building at the end of a small dock a few paces away from the beach. Here, guests can receive couples massages, facials and other treatments. Just don't expect any additional amenities like a steam room and sauna. Additionally, there is a salon near the gift shop where you can have your hair braided or get manicures and pedicures.
FDR has an agreement with Breezes, the resort next door, whereby adult guests can use the larger beach here during their stay. It's a fine place for a run or quiet stroll, and while you're not allowed to use the Breezes lounge chairs and towels you can bring your own towel and lay out in the sand.
Booze cruises, offered nightly, are another chance for adults-only fun, and it departs from the resort dock. Activities like adult cricket games are often staged on the beach.