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Multi-family holiday? How to make yours a dream trip

By Anne Mansfield

One family is plenty. Imagine planning a holiday with five other families? We did, and had the dream family vacation at Four Seasons in Costa Rica. You can, too.

Anne Mansfield, the New York City-based Senior Regional Director of Sales for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, took a vacation with five other families to Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo this past summer. We asked her how to make the most of a multi-family holiday.

Q: Is this your thing, vacationing with other families?
A: No, we’d never taken a trip like this before. We usually go with just our family.

Q: Why take a trip with a bunch of other families?
A: The net-net is: we got more couple’s time, and even more Me time. That will be hard next time we go away with just us—because the kids rely on you to be their whole entertainment. Really, children are much more engaged and need you less when they are happy with their friends.

One night, we adults had an incredibly memorable garden dinner, near Caracol on the golf course. Staff had lined a pathway of candles in paper bags around a putting hole leading to a gazebo. They had couches out and served us wonderful cocktails under the stars. It was so intimate. There was this gorgeous round table in the middle of a fragrant herb garden. We’re all cooks and appreciate the farm-to-table experience. This was a meal truly curated for us. We got to this place and never wanted to leave!

Q: How did the idea come about?
A: Originally, it was us and another family; then it started to take wind. Before I knew it, we were, indeed, five families, as well as a single friend of ours, all embarking on this adventure together.

Q: Who went?
A: We have twin boys, 10 years old—Amir and Reza—plus my husband Ali Homayounfar. It was our friends and our kids’ friends from school: boys and girls, ages two to 12; in total, 13 children.

Q: Any advice on choosing the ideal location?
A: You really do need a variety of activities for all age levels. That’s critical. You need a great concierge at the hotel to help you: experts in the area. And it has to be an organized concierge who’s not overwhelmed by all the families’ requests and changes.

Q: What was the appeal of Four Seasons in Costa Rica?
A: That it is sophisticated for adults, but magical for children. It’s got to be interesting. And the kids feeling safe and secure: that was really something we noticed once we were there. It’s a gated community with staff everywhere. The kids knew the logistics very quickly, so they would roam. A 12 year old would take the four year olds. It’s a contained environment with great babysitting facilities onsite.

And the wildlife: whales, dolphins, sea turtles. Opening our shutters one morning and literally seeing howler monkeys in trees outside. My husband said, Who gets this?

All that and the (early) sunsets—some of the most stunning we’ve seen in world. The kids would be in swimsuits paddleboarding with this backdrop; we’d spot a whale; the bar on the beach would be open with music. We adults would be sitting with our glass of wine, watching the kids laugh and play in ocean…

Q: The top activities at the resort?
A: In addition to all the pools, kayaks and paddleboards. The older girls loved making their own scrub in the spa, plus the cooking class. The resort has a Kids For All Seasons* kids’ club and a teen center, so there was so much for everyone to engage in. Touring the golf course and its lush natural habitat. Never mind the other things you could do off site!

Q: …and off site?
A: Ziplining was really fun. The special catamaran and father-son fishing trip: they caught 10 mahi mahi and brought them back with such excitement. Then the resort chef cooked them up for us: fish tacos for lunch. That was pretty special for kids from New York City.

Q: Did you all meet in advance to plan?
A: We did a lot over e-mail, but ended up getting together for a barbecue at one person’s house. We talked it out; went day by day. That doesn’t mean there weren’t changes, but we established what everyone was hoping for. We asked, what is your end game for this trip? For example, some only wanted a four-hour fishing trip; we had an eight-hour Dad-son fishing trip. We also talked about what we wanted to do as couples.

Q: What surprised you?
A: That the resort had an onsite medical facility open 24/7. That turned out to be a real convenience for us.

Q: Any advice?
A: You want something special, but accessible. With younger kids, we would not have wanted layovers or connecting flights. There are direct flights to Costa Rica from the New York area, and many other cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Chicago.

Similar ages: Everyone needs somebody they connect with: at least one person within a year age difference.

Stagger arrivals: Because we had different arrival and departure dates, it was a success.

Do things on your own. We wanted to have lunches on our own most days, so we carved out that family time. That was our time of day to come together the four of us, sit down and talk without the influence of other children.

Establish some privacy, if that’s what you want. My husband and I both work full-time, and family time is sacred. We had to balance that so that we’d leave feeling we’d connected with our children.

Find a place that accepts large groups for meals! That many adults and kids in one place is a challenge. Four Seasons had board games to keep the kids busy during meal times, and they can handle it.

Think about meals, and how everyone is different. Some like a free-for-all with kids running around; others like civilized, sit-down meals. Some kids eat early. That’s an important conversation to have with the group.

Q: The trip highlight?
A: The wish lantern with our family was a special moment: you go out on the beach at night; families make a wish then release a mini hot air balloon, one by one, and the “wishes” start to go up into the starry sky.

But the real highlight was the evening we took the paddleboards out and congregated in the middle of the gorgeous bay at sunset. We all floated out there for a while. Just the experience of doing that with a group of people, and knowing all the kids so well—there was a sense of wonder and delight in seeing it more through the kids’ eyes.

Q: How do you go home after a trip like that?
A: We were so sad to leave! We all kept saying, “This is so hard!” So one of the families hosted a backyard barbecue reunion the first weekend back. They put on a Costa Rican cocktail mixing class and created signature drinks, then gave out little recipe cards. We women all wore our Costa Rican jewelry. We shared our stories and looked at our photos. I’m sure that will be a lot of the families’ Christmas card pictures this year…

Read more on Costa Rica in Four Seasons Magazine.

Read our Concierge Recommendations for Costa Rica in Four Seasons Magazine.

 
*Kids For All Seasons (KFAS) is a Four Seasons complimentary recreational and educational program for children of resort guests. Most KFAS clubs are designed for youth four to 12 years old, and open daily from 9 to 5. (Younger children can often join KFAS with a nanny or parent, or resorts can arrange for babysitting.) But details vary from property to property, so check the resort’s website for more information.

Kids can go all day or just for an hour or two. Activities inside and out include games, sports, music, treasure hunts, swimming, arts and crafts, cultural education, environmental preservation work and yoga.

Not your average camp, the VIP offerings are pretty extraordinary—for example, at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Texas, Kids Night In means parents’ night out! Children get to burn off energy on the playground and get creative with weekly themed crafts and activities, such as Saturday Zumba and Fit for Kids classes. Las Colinas’ kids’ club is fully equipped with a Game Cube, Skee Ball, air hockey, board games, an indoor half-court basketball gym, sports and indoor/outdoor pools.