When the littlest guests are happy — mum and dad can have a holiday, too. Debbie Neilson-Hunter finds the resorts with the best options for under 12s.
Lazing on my private balcony gazing at the south Pacific Ocean, book and cocktail in hand is, sadly, not my kids' idea of a holiday. Enter the kids' club. Forget colouring in and parking them in front of a movie, these days the best clubs offer their little guests an impressive array of outdoor and cultural activities. Here's the pick of what's closest to home.
My two daughters were happiest when they were in Pacific Dawn's Turtle Cove; learning about the ocean and sustainability, being entertained by magicians or rehearsing for the high-seas version of Australia's Got Talent. They played until late, which meant I could hit the show lounge after dinner.
Also available on P&O's Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl ships, Turtle Cove provides free supervised activities for children aged three to six, while the Shark Shack entertains seven- to 10-year-olds. Both are open from 9am to 10pm (beds were laid out for the little ones during the evening movie should they fall asleep, and pagers kept me constantly in touch and worry-free).
As members of the Ocean Friends Club, kids also receive a free pass to the Sydney Aquarium to use back on shore. Pacific Pearl offers the largest HQ Teen centre in the fleet - with two giant screens, 21 PlayStations, a surround-sound system and dance floor. Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl guests can also join the circus.
Deal A three-night P&O SeaBreak Quick Getaway cruise, with celebrity chef Luke Mangan on board and departing Sydney on May 24 costs from $414 a person, quad-share, including accommodation, main meals, entertainment and activities. Conditions apply. pocruises.com.au.
Club Med Bali
It's not just the affordable all-inclusive rates that attract families to Club Med resorts worldwide. Parents can check in, confident their most precious possessions (from two- to 17-year-olds) will be well supervised and entertained.
From May, Club Med Bali's four-star Trident beachfront resort in the much quieter, upmarket Nusa Dua region, will also provide specialist care for babies four months old up to two - giving sleep-deprived parents ample "me" time. As well as a range of water-based, art and cultural activities, the flying trapeze academy remains particularly popular with the resort's mid-sized guests.
Deal Children up to four years stay free. Book by March 1 and seven nights in a twin share superior room, return airport transfers, three meals a day and Club Med membership with travel insurance starts from $1187 an adult; $692 a child. Valid for travel until April 30. 1300 855 052, clubmed.com.au.
Opened in 2009, the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa on Natadola Bay sits beside one of mainland Fiji's best beaches.
Beyond the coral sands is a reef and gentle rolling surf - ideal for the beginner grommet. If your little one has grown beyond the Planet Trekkers kids' club - or simply wants to learn a new skill - you'll find Reef Safari instructors and all the necessary surf (and snorkelling) gear at the water sports bure on the beachfront. Resort accommodation ranges from Executive Club level to suites and standard rooms that face the beach, pool or the lush tropical gardens.
In the kids' club there are traditional Fijian song and dance lessons, nightly dress-ups in traditional costume with a parade and fire-lighting ceremony to meet the parents in the main bar, torchlight frog-spotting tours around the resort and the ever-popular lunchtime crab races.
Deal Children 12 years and under sharing a room with an adult stay free of charge in existing bedding and eat free for buffet breakfast at the Sanasana Restaurant when accompanied by a dining adult. Rates are from $544 Garden View Room; from $584 Pool View Room; from $625 Lagoon View Room; ; from $707 Beachfront Room. fiji.intercontinental.com.
Edgewater Resort, Rarotonga
The Cook Islands offer myriad underwater adventures to match any of its south Pacific cousins. A great place to base the family is the four-star Edgewater Resort & Spa, bordering a white-sand beach and blue lagoon, on the western side of the capital, Rarotonga. Besides snorkelling, enjoy island tours, great food and entertainment, a kids' club, health spa and a pool, which overlooks the lagoon and Pacific Ocean.
Deal Creative Holidays's Cheerful Cook Islands family package offers five nights' accommodation, continental breakfast daily, return airport transfers, and kids stay free; from $539 an adult and $22 a child. Book by February 28, valid for travel until March 31, 2013. 1300 747 400, creativeholidays.com.
Millbrook, golf course hotel, Queenstown, New Zealand
Don't let bad habits ruin the children's golf game. Get your budding Tiger Woods or Karrie Webb on the right track by booking them lessons with a pro. Juniors are welcome on Millbrook's PGA Championship golf course on New Zealand's scenic South Island.
Half-hour lessons start from $45 and junior golf clinics are held throughout the year. Millbrook's two-bedroom villas and two-, three- and four-bedroom cottages are well equipped for families. There are two tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool and ducks to feed. The five-star resort is also 15 minutes from Queenstown, where activities range from jet-boating to bungy jumping, hiking and biking; and is close to the ski fields.
Deal Rates for a two-bedroom cottage (low season) start from $555 and $645 (high season); three-bed from $655. millbrook.co.nz.
Castaway Island, Fiji
In Fiji's Mamanuca group of islands just west of Nadi, Castaway Island is due to reopen its doors from April 1 following renovations. A family favourite for more than 50 years, the resort knows what kids like - especially at the dinner table.
Castaway's buffet in the main restaurant is a hit with the fussiest little eaters. Enjoy pancakes and eggs (done just how you like) at breakfast while the kids have their own buffet at lunch and dinner, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
At the Sundowner wood-fired pizza bar, design your own to eat in or order takeaway for a beach picnic. The Nuku Marau Bar & Grill serves healthy options - including sushi and wraps - by the pool. Castaway's chefs also cater for a wide range of food allergies and can provide organic puree foods for babies.
Deal Accommodation in an Island Bure for five nights costs $2765 for up to four people of any age sharing one king bed and two singles. A meal-deal package adds even more value (such as ice-cream all day for kids). Children under five eat free. castawayfiji.com.
Air Pacific, which will soon change its name to Fiji Airways, has return fares to Fiji starting from $569 for adults, $332 for kids. Prices include all taxes, 23 kilograms of baggage, entertainment, snacks and beverages. airpacific.com.