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.
This review will be a little long but let me give you the Coles Notes version. If you are thinking about going to FDR and have kids, just do it. There is a reason people keep going back. They got it all figured out. We are people who seldom go to the same country twice let alone same resort but we have already started to look at flights to go back.
Vacation Nanny: We felt a little weird getting a vacation nanny but WOW. The nannies will do as much or as little as you want. Having the extra set of hands is a game changer for families. Ty, our nanny was nothing short of amazing. My 5 year old has seizures regularly and we were unsure how comfortable we would be leaving the nanny alone with a stranger but that hesitation disappeared extremely quickly. For lot of the trip Ty was the extra set of hands when one of us was off doing something but we also felt completely comfortable with Ty taking her for swims without us. Ty handled the seizures like she does it every day and gave us some time to have a vacation as well. It was really neat to see how quickly all the kids took to the nannies which would allow the parents to go have fun. If you have kids you will love this place. If you have a child with special needs you need to go.
The Staff: I really think it would be impossible to overstate how great the all of the staff at FDR are. From the minute you check in to the minute you leave, you feel like the staff care about your stay and not just because they are paid to. We met the owner on day 1 and on every day thereafter. He would always take a moment and chat to make sure we were enjoying ourselves. His attitude/leadership are evident with all of the staff. All of the staff knew our names within a day and would go out of their way to chat with our kids and make sure we were ok. One day my older daughter wanted to see the nurse because of a sore throat, so I casually asked a staff member what the nurse’s hours were and within minutes ON THE BEACH there was a manager with the nurse to see what they could help us. I could keep going with examples like that for a pretty long time but you get the point.
I know I am forgetting a few but special mention to Omercy, Kevin and Sleepleton (aka Miguel), Captain Jack Sparrow, the Domino Queen, Lloyd and Chef. These people very quickly became friends that you looked forward to seeing them each day and missed them on their day off.
The Food: I saw a couple of negative reviews on TA regarding the food so I was ready for a typical all-inclusive resort food experience. That was not the case at all. We were there during a particularly slow period (only 7 families) so they would typically only open 2 restaurants a night. We had table service every night except for the beach buffet. The Chef came out and sat with us after our first dinner to ensure we were enjoying the food. After a conversation with him about the kitchen, the ingredients, the on-site butchering and his vision, I knew the rest of the week’s meals were going to be great. Everything is fresh and prepared on-site and food presentation is certainly not forgotten either. I had one of the best chicken cordon blue in my life there. The food variety each night is great and if you wanted to go a little off book they would happily accommodate. The Cotton Tree Grill provides daily options for the quick lunch, small dinner meals or snack. I wish I found out about the Jamaican Jerk Poutine earlier (see the picture) because I could eat that every day. One day I went to get a vegetarian Jamaican patty for my wife’s lunch but they did not have any ready, no big deal so we order the vegetarian burger instead. A couple of hours later at dinner our waiter delivered 3 veg Jamaican patties with bowl of jerk sauce on the side to take back to our room and apologized for not having them ready earlier. Kind of goes back to the first reason to go to FDR. The staff care.
The Resort: The “small beach” is sheltered and great for the kids to play on and not have to fight the waves. The “Big Beach” is wide open and joins FDR to the other resorts. FDR has lounge chairs available and a super friendly life guard, Dwayne who will assist you in any way you need. The water slide is amazing. The main bar is huge, provides great shade opportunity and is fully stocked with top shelf choices. The grounds are super lush with trees and vegetation. The staff, regardless of their job are always cleaning and sweeping. I am sure Dwayne from the beach needs a new broom each week. Scuba Jamaica is onsite (below Big Blue Slide) and David was great dive guide. The kids play area is big and well covered with trees and all of the equipment was in prefect working order. They seem to have just move the gym from above the bar (open air) to a smaller space in a building with lots of good equipment and AC. Wi-Fi is everywhere with no access issues.
The Room: I saw a couple of negative comments regarding the resort. The resort is a bit older but they just underwent a renovation, our huge 2 bedroom suite had a brand new fridge, new coffee maker, 3 new smart TV, great beds and enough room to sleep 2 families and with smart TVs in your room, Netflix for the kids at night is super easy. We stayed in Room #1. The front entry ambiance is not as appealing as other but when I opened the double back doors to a sand covered sitting area with hammocks, lounge chairs and trees on the Caribbean Sea; I knew I had exactly what I wanted. There is a little more noise during the day with this specific room because you are right beside kitchen but I was willing to make that trade off. On the plus side, I was only 25 steps to morning coffee. Realistically it is a small resort and all the rooms are great and close to everything but waking up to the ocean at your door is worth the upgrade.
Most of the reviews are quite accurate. The resort is excellent if you would like to be able to relax a bit with small children. The nannies are great, prevalent and willing to do as much or as little as you want. Most of the visitors have small children, so be prepared for that and all that it entails. If you are child free or have older kids, this may not be the place for you. Having the extra set of hands to help from the nanny is great, and many of the parents opted for extra hours at a reaonable rate.
I was actually quite surprised by the food - for an all inclusive, it was actually very good. A few really good items (Jamaican fare is always on point) and nothing really disappointing or bad. It was a little awkward that most of the restaurants were adult only at dinner - it means that if you want to handle your kids without the nanny, you’re eating at the same place most of your stay. Luckily, that place was pretty good and had a decent variety. They have plenty of accommodations for the kids, albeit quite slow with the drinks (alcohol or water).
Most of the staff is friendly, if not slightly exhausted by the children, and seem generally happy to be there. Many places will be friendly at greeting/checkin then treat you like crap - these folks were almost always friendly and ready to accommodate. They also have a number of nice touches for small children - cribs, real high chairs with trays, bedrails for toddlers, baby bathtubs, etc. It’s actually makes traveling quite convenient.
Our nanny was good, like most, but I will say having them care for your children and clean your room was a bit awkward. If you wanted to be out at the pool or on the beach, you basically have to choose between room cleaning or child care. When the rooms were actually tidied, the nanny did a great job, but she didn’t always have the opportunity if we were out of the room with both kids or if they were napping, etc.
All in all, we were happy with our stay. The rooms are underwhelming but adequate and stay cool if you’re thoughtful about closing doors. The nannies were great and really gave us an opportunity to enjoy a few moments without being constantly on duty. Plenty of alcohol, good weather and a good attitude left us with a very pleasant experience.
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.