1. Go your own way.
It’s been said that the family that plays together stays together, but when you have a large group with diverse interests and skill sets, it really makes more sense to split up. So each day, while dad woke up early to play tennis before the Cancún heat took hold, the little ones splashed in the Caribbean Sea, my 14-year-old niece sat poolside with her new paperback in hand and my brother went windsurfing. That’s not to say we didn’t play together. I did yoga on the beach with my brother and snorkelled with my sister-in-law Deborah, where we saw manta rays and colourful schools of fish hiding amidst the coral. I joined my 8-year-old niece in a belly-dancing class and did aqua fit with my mom, Marsha. Everyone took turns amusing wee baby Lily and we all went sailing on the resort’s catamarans. Plus, a decades-long bocce ball competition once again reared its ugly head.
2. Gather round the table.
This is family time, so while everyone may run in different directions during the day, the evening is the time to check in and discuss the excitement of the day’s events over a shared meal. In our case, we’d all meet for pre-dinner cocktails (Sidecars for the adults and Shirley Temples for the kiddies) before snagging a table and hitting the buffet, pointing out particularly tasty nightly specials, such as tender beef tacos and fresh-from-the-water sashimi, to each other. This is also the time to plan future activities – and to marvel at how my mother had just gone water-skiing in the lagoon for the first time in 40 years!
3. Take a break from your break.
Yes, all-inclusive resorts are great, but there's a whole world beyond those palm-flanked walls. Get out of the compound for a bit of adventure. A handful of us went on two different outings arranged by the resort. The first was parasailing off the main strip of hotel beaches in Cancún – basically, flying through the air on a hammock with a parachute, attached to a speedboat. The second and the more memorable was a two-hour horseback-riding excursion through neighbourhood streets flanked by colourful haciendas and lush jungle-like forests, followed by lunch at a rustic cantina.
4. Top things off with a nightcap.
After-hours adult time is crucial to the success of any vacation. Sometimes this involves dancing and disco balls. Other times it means multiple rounds of caipirinhas. You can take in the resort’s nightly entertainment (we were treated to a Cirque du Soleil-calibre acrobatics show), go for a walk on the beach and gaze at the stars, or indulge in a little romance while the kids snooze away in the adjoining room. (Most all-inclusive resorts offer a babysitting service if kids aren’t old enough to be left on their own.) Just remember that this is your vacation too.
5. Take a picture – it lasts longer.
When you’re in the midst of an incredible week full of lasting memories, you don’t ever want it to end. Well, who says that it has to? Many resorts have on-site photographers, and with the entire family assembled, happy and tanned, there’s never been a better time to snap a winning group portrait. Best of all, these photo sessions are usually free; you just pay for the price of the disk or prints. And with that sunny photo safely in hand, you’ll have proof of the best family vacation ever.