Bottom line up front: this an old but very clean hotel and the nannies are as fabulous as everyone says. There is a sand beach to play on, but 2 feet into the water it is rocky and full of coral. You'll be disappointed if the main thing you are looking for in a vacation is white sand beach. If you are family with young children (mine are 2.5 and 15 months) and you are looking for a vacation that will allow to have great family time as well as romantic couple time and relaxing alone time, then this is the place for you. If you want ammentities, then the FDR will not be a good match.
We just returned from our trip 11-18 December 2010. I read all the reviews and was torn between FDR and Beaches. I selected FDR because of the nannies and the cost (it was 30% - $2000 less) than Beaches. This was the right decision for our family. First, it rained a lot which made the nannies even more of a godsend. I could have been at the nicest 5 star in Jamaica and it would have been miserable in the rain with 2 toddlers. The nannies kept my kids busy (thanks Lisa and Nicola!) and even got in the pool with my son in the rain. All while my husband and I sat under a large umbrella drinking pina coladas and reading until the rain stopped. My kids are in day care everyday and I would not have been happy dropping them at a kids club on vacation. With the nannies, they could be with us, go do a craft, come back, go to the beach, come back, pet the rabbits, come back. My 2 year old loved calling the shots and we loved the options having a nanny gave us.
Rooms. The huge rooms might not have been new but the were sparkling clean. We had the least expensive room and it was giant. 2 full baths, a large living room where the kids slept, seperated from the master bedroom by a galley kitchen. That separation allowed my husband and I to have some romantic time alone that a traditional hotel would not.
We were givien 2 nannies when we arrived. I found out later that most of the families with 2 under 2 were. The nannies basically do this for free when the resort isn't full in the hopes of earning a good tip, because that is what they live off. They are also hoping you will hire them for extra hours at night. I originally was going to have the nanny stay every other night, but when I realized that was how they made their money I decided to have one stay every night for 3 hours. It was the best decision I made. For $20 a day my husband and I enjoyed more child-free dinners in one week then we had in 2 years. Even at the family beach dinner my son got to stay with us and enjoy the show while the nanny walked our fussy baby. After dinner nanny would bathe and dress our kids for bed while we went and enjoyed a couple of drinks at the bar. Doing it every night made it even more of a treat and made our vacation extra special. TIPS: I polled most of the other familes and we were tipping our nannies $20-25 per day at the end of the week. You pay for babysitting each night.
The pools are old, but very clean. The tiles are slippery (as I am sure you will read in other reviews) but the owner, Frank (who is there everyday), is replacing them with textured concrete and non-slip tiles. What Frank really needs to do, though, is a complete rebuild of the main pool, toodler pool and adult jacuzzi. It is time for these to be re-done especially since the the resort does not have a swim beach. If the swimming pools were redone I would give the hotel 4 stars, instead of 3, for facilities.
Food. We enjoyed the food 80% of the time. One night the Italian restaurant was the only one open and that was disappointing. Had the seafood pasta been as described, it wouldn't have been so bad. The Jamaican restaurant was only open one night. It was excellent and we would have liked to eaten there again. The beach grill is very good and my kids enjoyed the children's dinner buffet. Servings are small, but feel free to ask for another entree or appetizer and they will happily oblige. Personally, I liked the small servings...I only gained 5 lbs instead of 10!!!
We had no complaints about the transfers to and from the hotel. Some of the seatbelts were misssing, but the van was clean, on time, driven carefully and we were able to buckle our kids.
The kids club, playground and most activities are designed for younger children. I would not recommend the FDR for families with children over 8, however the tweens who were there were having a great times. Several had been coming for years, a couple had special needs and preferred having the nanny to play with as the went crab hunting and played. Goat racing and crab racing were big hits. The goat race had been cancelled due to rain, but my husband went and talked to the manager and said "hey they are just goats, they live outside. It has been raining for 3 days and my kid has been promised goats," 20 minutes later the goats were there and every family came out in the rain to enjoy the game. Experiences like that make the FDR special and that is where they need to continue to focus.
My husband's perspective: a great place to relax. Don't look for action and adventure in the resort, but a quiet family break with excellent opportunities for couple time. If you are a gym rat, come with modest expectations. For the hungry husband, the staff is willing to let you double up on entrees and put a double shot in your drink. Great for extended families wishings to vacation together and groups of friends with kids.
We will be going back next year and we hope to travel with one or two other families. It is such a small resort and the groups that were there were having a fabulous time.