Have you been thinking about getting away to a tropical location only to find yourself wondering if it is the best idea because your children are still young? Our daughters are four and a half years, and 20 months old and we just arrived back from a wonderful week away in beautiful Varadero, Cuba. Our trip consisted of a lot of laughs and some lessons learned, but in the end, if you are able to go, I recommend you do.
I have listed some tips along with suggestions of what to pack to help make your trip a memorable one — in a good way!
Spread Your Stuff Around and Carry Your Important Items With You
My sister and brother-in-law joined us a couple of days after we arrived (they flew in from a different city). On their arrival, my sister’s luggage was lost and was not recovered for a few days. When packing, make sure you place an outfit or two in a different suitcase so if one is lost, everyone in the family can at least grab some clothes to wear from the luggage that shows up.
We were told that delayed and lost luggage is not uncommon, so plan ahead in case it happens to you.
If you are traveling with something that you definitely need on your arrival, such as medications, diapers, camera, etc, pack it in your carry-on so that you know it will get there when you do.
Stick With What Your Kids Are Used To
I learned this lesson the hard way. Our youngest has a certain type of cup that she drinks out of at home. I thought that I would replace it with a nice thermal cup for the trip to keep her drinks cold, longer. Awesome idea, right?
Our youngest almost refused to drink from it which really limited her intake of liquids. It wasn’t until she showed an interest in my husband’s Gatorade bottle that we were saved. From then on, all of her drinks were transferred to our used Gatorade bottle so she would drink them.
Lesson learned. If your kids are partial to a cup, toy, bowl, etc. Try to make room for it. They are going to be experiencing a lot of change during the week as it is. Let them keep what they know and love.
Pack light, for you
Restrictions on the weight that you can fly with vary between airlines and are often less when you head down south, so know what you are allowed before you pack. If you can pack on the light side for yourself, you leave more space and weight to bring down some items that your kids may appreciate and need.
I ended up combining a face moisturizer, face SPF and foundation in to one little bottle when I visited London Drugs and found out about Marcelle BB Cream Anti-Aging with SPF20. I didn’t end up packing any makeup, and for us, most nights we turned in early without regret as we were so tired from the day’s activities. Although I wasn’t very tanned, I chose the medium-dark tinted cream as I tanned in a couple of days and the foundation was perfect for my skin tone.
Pack Extra Clothes for Kids
Kids will go through clothes quickly on vacation. Between the possibility of getting sick, which happened to us, playing in the sand and water, and running around exploring, you will either need to pack extra or do laundry.
You can also pack some clothes that your children may be close to growing out of to give away. Our daughter is 20 months old and she is ‘just’ fitting in to her 18 month-old clothes. We took some of her 18 month-old (last) summer clothes down and ended up giving some away to locals who were really thankful for them. As a matter of fact, when we were approached on the beach and offered items like big shells, hats, etc, they asked for kids clothes first before money.
Keeping Your Kids Occupied
We packed extremely light in the toy and book area and, if we went back, I would probably limit it to less books and colouring books because the girls were so tired at the end of the day that they just fell asleep.
When we woke up in the mornings, the first thing our girls would do is walk out on our balcony to see what kind of day it was going to be. Then, our youngest ran back in to the room, promptly picked up our shoes and pointed at the door. Our resort had so many activities that we were rarely in the room. If you are planning on doing a lot with your kids, then toys may not be necessary, as they weren’t for us.
Our daughter’s two favorite items were a digital underwater camera we picked up at London Drugs and plastic baggies (Ziploc, etc). With the Olypmus TG-320 Digital Camera, we spent our days taking fun pictures in the water and our daughter loved that it was sturdy enough for her to use it as well. We also bought a float-able strap to attach to the camera in case it was lost in the pool or the ocean. The camera did end up getting moisture inside of the screen, flash and main window after about five days of use. Thanks to London Drugs’ great return and exchange policy, I will be going back to exchange the camera shortly. I will say that it took great photos and some of my favorite shots were taken in the water.
Here is my favorite photo as well as some close seconds we took with the camera. These photos are completely unedited. You can click on the smaller images to see a larger view.
As for the bags, they used them to collect ‘treasures’ including shells, sand, seaweed, coconut seeds,and flower petals that had fallen off the bushes. They brought their collections back and looked at their collection and when the trip was over, we returned everything to their spots. They never tired of them and our oldest always said “Remember the bags.” when we headed out anywhere.
Other than this, we brought some stack-able cups that were great for both playing in the room, and making sand castles. We also brought along AquaDoodle which makes designs with a pen that uses water.
Pack a Medicine Cabinet
We packed anything we would possibly need for health issues that would arise while in Cuba as access to some items will be difficult, if not, impossible to get on short notice. In the pack we included Infants, Children’s and Adult Tylenol, prescribed medications, Tums, Lactaid, bandages, gauze, small scissors, tweezers, diaper rash cream, small instant ice pack, vitamins, thermometer and some other items.
At the local store in our resort, they had an okay selection of food items, but nothing to do with health issues or relief at all so make sure you bring it with you.
Also note, one bottle of sunscreen for your family for the week is not enough. Pack extras as you will be reapplying every few hours. Our daughters have skin sensitivities so we brought them a great-quality, kids sunscreen (Vichy, Capital Soleil SPF 50 for Children, London Drugs), then we brought 4 bottles of Neutrogena sunscreen for us.
Trial Sizes Travel Well
To lighten our load, we brought trial sizes of many items. This way, you are not using up your suitcase space on something you will just be bringing home. We used the items we went with and came back a lot lighter. You can collect trial sizes of many products through various offers, mail outs, or by signing up for them in Canada at P&G Brand Sampler when they become available.
We packed trial sizes of toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, tide laundry detergent (sink use), tums, Q-Tips, wipes, etc. I was able to split my trial-sized shampoo up and give some bottles to my sister who was staying near by but in a different building than we were.
I would recommend taking along the trial sizes of Tide detergent for sink use if you can find it. It came in a pack of three small packets and worked well for my sister’s use. Clothes get sweaty and moist fast because of the humidity. We ended up sending out our family’s clothes to get them laundered because our youngest was sick for a day and I honestly didn’t want to deal with the cleaning and the smell, plus we put all of our laundry together so it all smelled. The bill for 50 items came to $70 CUC, which is about $70 CAD and the items were returned the next day.
Take a Stroller if You Can
This was one of my favorite items to take along. We ended up taking the Joovy Ultralight Stand-on Double Stroller that I reviewed on this site in 2011 along with the Caboose Too Seat attachment. Granted, you can’t take a stroller on the beach, but our resort had many pools to swim in, paths to walk and activities to do and this really helped us get around, especially when both girls became tired. We also took it with us in to Varadero when we went shopping and it came in handy as, with the attachment, both seats reclined and both of our girls were able to sleep either at the same time, or on their own.
Lastly, our flight home left at 3:00am and we flew overnight. Our girls fell asleep in my sister and brother-in-law’s room, then when it came time to go, we carried them down the stairs, plunked them in their reclined seats in the stroller and pushed them up to the front as they slept to wait for our bus to pick us up and take us to the airport.
Pack Some Snacks, But Know This…*
With young kids, you tend to turn in earlier. Some resorts will have very little or ‘treat snack’ options like potato chips, etc. So if you are planning a night out on the balcony, you may want to pack something for yourself. To avoid the explosion of potato chips when the plane pressurized, we chose Pringles because of how they are packaged. We aren’t chip eaters at home, but were thankful we had them.
Other food items that we packed were granola bars (high in fibre), Banana Nut Cheerios, Skim Milk Powder, Gatorade powder.
*Warning: Cuba is very humid. make sure you seal up anything that you open. The top layers of Cheerios in the box became pretty moist when it was left open over night. You can fix this by packing plastic bags to seal up anything you need.
We loved our time in Varadero and at the resort and we are glad we went. Five out of six of us fell sick during the trip from various things and not at the same time (reaction to medication, too much sun, etc), but we weren’t sick for more than a day and for some of us, it was fairly mild.
We would go again in a heartbeat if we could make it work and are already planning where to go next with our girls.
Cuba is gorgeous and the people are so friendly. The Cuban people love kids and our kids loved the attention they received. At the end of the trip, no one wanted to get back on the plane to fly home.
That could have something to do with the -24°C weather in Edmonton though.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2013 and has been updated for accuracy.
Disclosure: In facilitating this post, I received some items from London Drugs, and Procter & Gamble. In addition, although we paid for our own flight and resort stay, I received an upgrade to The Diamond Club membership and an Oceanfront room to facilitate a future post for Memories Resort, Varadero, Cuba. I received the stroller from Joovy for a previous review, but received no additional compensation for this post. All opinions are my own and this post was written and published without prior approval from anyone.