Kids' clubs: what to look for

Resort kids' clubs can offer frazzled parents a break on holidays, but it’s important to do your homework before you book.

Fly and flop?

Choosing the perfect overseas holiday can be a real challenge when you have kids. They usually want plenty of activities and entertainment on their holidays, no matter what age they are. This doesn't always suit the plans of strung-out parents who are looking to relax for a week or two, but if you do find yourself in this situation, help can often be found in the form of the kids' clubs and nannies offered by the very resorts and hotels you might be looking into staying at.

Dreaming of a holiday in paradise? See our free travel guides to some of Australians' favourite overseas destinations, including Fiji, Thailand and Indonesia.

Kids' clubs usually involve supervised group activities for kids, which keeps them out of mum and dad's hair for a few hours, while a nanny service provides a similar deal where kids of all ages can be looked after for an afternoon or an evening while parents take a break. But while childcare in Australia is highly regulated, how can you ensure your child is safe in care while you're on an overseas holiday?

We spoke to those in the know about kids' clubs to find out:

and anything else you need to know before you sign up. 

Kids' clubs

Countries like Fiji, Thailand, and Bali are renowned for their affordable luxury, cuisine, beaches and hospitality. They are also well known as great destinations for travelling with children because they all have relatively short flight times and can cater to the needs of young travellers.

Many of the larger resort chains in these countries offer kids' club facilities for babies, children, and young teens where they can learn, play and engage in planned activities. So what do you need to look out for when choosing accommodation options that will keep the whole family happy?

Action-packed activities

Cathy Wagstaff, editor of family travel magazine Holidays with Kids says it's important to look for quality and age-appropriate activities, otherwise the kids will get bored within a day or two. Look for resorts that offer a range of kid-friendly activities like fishing, food parties, talent shows, and arts and craft. Some resorts will even have kids' and teen spa treatments and cooking classes. 

Clubs may also have local cultural or educational programs: "Club Med in Cherating Beach, Malaysia, offers day activities to the local turtle rehabilitation centre," points out Jodie Payne, a family travel consultant with Travel with Kidz.

Age matters

Be sure to check any age limits imposed by kids' clubs and how they manage different age groups.

Not all kids' clubs take children under certain ages, and some require toddlers to be supervised by an adult if they wish to use the play centre. Other clubs will group the kids according to different age groups, so if you have more than one child, they could find themselves in separate groups – which could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how how well they get on. Fortunately, some resorts do have clubs that cater for babies all the way through to teenagers. 

Some resorts will go as far as offering film editing, jewellery making, and fashion design (available at selected Club Med resorts, for example) to entice teenagers. Others may not be as elaborate, but still cater to older kids, with iPads and movies on hand.

Need to research which clubs offer what? Most resort websites will feature photos, times and activity programs, and some have virtual online tours where you can view the rooms and facilities. 

Staff and safety

Most parents expect quality supervision at kids' clubs and there are many reputable resorts that meet Australian safety standards. But it's up to you to do your homework beforehand.

Here's a checklist:

  • Make sure all child minders have undergone appropriate safety and background checks. Some resort websites clearly state this.
  • Check carers  have experience in childcare and are qualified in first aid and CPR.
  • Always check that children are being supervised by more than one person. "Security is a big one to be on the look out for... [check] that the children are in a safe environment and can't wander away unattended," Payne advises.
  • There should be a sign-in system where children can only be signed in and out by their parents or guardian.
  • Alert the club manager and staff if your child has any allergies or specific needs.
  • What's the ratio of kids to carers? Payne advises that people need to be aware that not all resorts have the same rules, so the ratio may differ depending on where you are staying.
  • Water safety: Ask if the children will be taken to do water activities. If you're not comfortable with that ask if there are alternative activities available for non-swimmers or kids who are not fully water confident. For kids who can swim, ask if the club has water safety policies and if lifeguards will be present.
  •  Be sun safe: If your child is going to be outside or swimming (and you're happy with that) make sure they are prepared with sunscreen, hats, and appropriate swimming attire.
  • Costs: Do you have to pay extra or is it included? Most kids' club costs are included with the resort package.  However there may be extra charges for some activities.

Nanny services

Perhaps you want an extra pair of hands to help out, or maybe you and your partner would like a night off. That's where a nanny comes in handy. So what are your options? You can book a nanny once you've arrived, or there are other services like Bali's Best Babysitting, which you'll need to book months in advance.

Cathy Wagstaff from Holidays with Kids says local nannies are popular on islands like Fiji and Vanuatu and can usually be organised through the resort.

"You can get village girls to come and look after the children all day with you. [As with] a nanny, if your kids want to play in the water, they'll play in the water," Wagstaff says. 

But you don't always need to go through a resort to find a nanny. Australian Danielle Scott has started her own nanny service in Bali. Her nannies are first aid and CPR-trained to Australian standards and hold a Surat Keterangan Kelakuan Baik (SKKB), a document that shows they have passed checks by the Indonesian police.

Again, it's important to do your homework when organising a carer for your child:

  • Check who is coming to look after your child, ask what their experience and qualifications are.
  • Can you meet them first?
  • Prepare a list of what your kids can and can't do.
  • Mention any food allergies.
  • Work out the best way for the babysitter to get in contact with you if you're offsite.
  • If you booked though the resort, is it liable if something goes wrong?
  • What can you do if something goes wrong?
  • What are the costs involved? A nanny or in-house babysitter can cost as little as 6 dollars per hour.

Are you covered by your travel insurance?

When it comes to being covered by travel insurance, do the parents have to stay in the hotel while the kids are at the club?

While some kids' clubs will allow parents or guardians to leave the resort, be sure to check your hotel's policy before leaving the kids behind. If they do have a policy that allows you to leave, be aware you also need to ensure your insurance matches up before you head off.

Good2Go travel insurers told us that parents entrusting their children to a kids' club where there is adult supervision  would be covered in most cases. But as every travel insurance policy differs between providers, it's vital to read the fine print and contact the insurer to find out exactly what you are covered for.

The best and worst of kids' clubs

CHOICE staffer Kate Browne has travelled several times to both Thailand and Fiji with her two young children and says she has seen the best and the worst of kids' clubs.

Fiji dream

"Our first experience was on an island in Fiji in a resort that was well known for having a great kids' club. My girls were aged three and six and just loved going along. They enjoyed meeting the other kids and the variety of activities that were put on by the friendly and enthusiastic staff." Browne also says that the club struck a good balance of safety in terms of set times for the club, sign-in procedures and trained staff, but was still relaxed enough to let the kids run a little bit wild and have fun doing a mix of indoor and outdoor activities.

'No-one seemed interested'

However, an experience in Thailand at a big-name resort was very different. "While the kids' club looked pretty good on the website, when we arrived we found it was a sterile-looking room out the back of the resort, the TV was on most of the time and the staff seemed to be different every day, and didn't seem to have much clue about what was going on. My kids were not that keen to visit and when they did for a few hours there was no real sign-in process and no-one seemed interested in when we would be coming back to collect them. We ended up picking them up after an hour."

While her girls suffered no more than a boring afternoon, some fellow guests who left their kids in the same club for few hours longer were in for a bit of a shock. "Their two-year-old was running around in the foyer unsupervised and their six-year-old was eating a chocolate-chip cookie with nuts in it. The six-year-old has a nut allergy and had asked if the cookies had nuts in them but the staff, who didn't have much English, said it was OK. Their parents arrived back just in time to administer an Epi-Pen!"

As a result of these very different experiences, Browne believes it's important to do a lot of research before you book a holiday that will suit the whole family. She says she relies on a mix of review sites and word of mouth to work out what kind of club and activities are on offer, and adds, "if the kids aren't happy the parents won't be happy and that's no holiday for anyone."

Have you or would you use a resort kids' club? We'd love to hear about it. Share your experience in the comments section below.