I was sitting in an aisle seat, nearly home on a night flight to New York, when we started shaking. Then the rattling became more of a swoopy bounce. A flight attendant, who had been speed-walking toward her seat at the front of the plane knelt down beside me, bracing herself between my armrest and the one across the aisle. It looked like she could have been praying. I have since learned this is not protocol. On my other side, my almost four-year-old daughter. “It feels like we’re going down and not up!” she shouted, in a silly voice she might use to point out that her shoes are on the wrong feet. I had to laugh. Both because I needed her to know everything was fine, and because it was hilarious to me how not-fine it seemed to be.
We were on our way back from the Bahamas, where I’d been invited to experience a family vacation at the SLS Baha Mar — a resort with a reputation as something of a bachelorette destination, but that’s also decked out with amenities for kids and the parents who travel with them. For three days and two nights, I would take us into a whole new environment, and try to answer a question I’d been turning over in my head since my first beach-with-a-baby experience three years prior: Is it even possible to relax on vacation with kids?
A few weeks after the plane landed (safely, I should add), I posed that question to psychologist and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids (and InStyle contributor) Dr. Jenn Mann, who answered emphatically and with a laugh. “No!” Several more laughs followed.
“Will you relax on a trip with your kids? No, absolutely not. Especially if you’re traveling alone. Can you have an amazing family experience traveling with the child? Yes. Can you expose them to new and wonderful things? Yes. It will be bonding, it will be exciting to see new sights and sounds and tastes and smells with your child — but it will not be relaxing.”
In the Bahamas, it’s in the high-80s and sunny every day, the sky and sea in constant competition over which can be the brightest blue. Though more than 700 islands make up the commonwealth (including private ones owned by celebrities and the one where Fyre Fest didn’t happen), the main tourist destination is Nassau, its capital, 21 miles end-to-end and a straight shot from the manageably sized airport to the resort of your choosing. Baha Mar is a grouping of three: a Rosewood property for the ultimate in luxury, the SLS (which was plenty luxurious for the kid and me), and a Grand Hyatt rounding out the more affordable end (right now on Hotels.com, rooms start at $220 a night). Branded rubber bracelets let you move between the three, pool-hopping or trying any restaurant you choose.
The SLS Baha Mar first greets your nose with a signature scent, and then the sight of a grand lobby that opens to a bar serving coffee by day and drinks at all times; decorative marble tables overflow with orchids in glass vases that feel a mile high. “It’s BEAUTIFUL,” my child shouted through the otherwise serene scene. Being in a place like that with her felt incongruous, and then super stressful. Oh god, what if she touches something.
Baha Mar includes three restaurants, a casino (I overheard a guest saying he saw Matt Damon there), a rooftop bar, a wildlife preserve, and the Explorer’s Club, the resort’s childcare-meets-camp environment where kids can be dropped off. That day, they were visiting the onsite Flamingo Cay, where dozens of birds live year-round, managed by, I kid you not, a Chief Flamingo Officer.
We checked into our room, a residence-like suite complete with a full kitchen and washer-dryer, and two balconies overlooking the swimming pool and out to the ocean. The king bedroom closed off from a living room with an optional pull-out (plus a second bathroom) — promising the ability to sleep, or at least hang out, separate from your kid. I let her decide how we filled the two hours before dinner, while I tried not to imagine the many ways we could mess up the all-white space.
At her behest we slipped into swimsuits, sunscreened up, and went straight to the pool that was closest to the hotel entrance. As we splashed around, I saw a cluster of women I thought might be our group, looking very hot and sweaty, in the middle of a tour. It was the first and not only time on this trip that I asked myself, Gladiator-style, Are you not relaxed?!
In comparison to being on the subway, rushing to get to or from daycare or work, yes, of course I was. In comparison to being on my honeymoon, pre-kid, in Tulum, where my husband and I watched from a bed on the beach as a fisherman pulled a squid out of the ocean and walked it into our hotel’s restaurant (at which point we ordered calamari to said bed) — well, vacation changes when you have kids. But there is one thing that stays the same.