The Caribbean is often considered as a one-stop destination, Oliver Evans, our Product and Commercial Director, debunks this common misconception on a family vacation to this tropical paradise. Combining two fantastic resorts in Antigua, with a stopover in Tobago proved to be the ultimate Caribbean vacation he and his family had been looking for.
You may not know this but January is to travel companies what December is to retail and I had never understood why everyone waits until after Christmas to book their next vacation. Incidentally my top travel tip is to go vacation-shopping in December when travel consultants are just back from “fam trips” all over the world and have time to spare to spend on crafting your perfect itinerary.
This year, on returning home from spending Christmas with the family in Val d’Isère, deflated by the prospect of another three months of the UK winter’s finest, it dawned on me why this is the moment when we desperately need something to sustain us until the clocks go forward and the mercury might even hit double digits.
We returned from Barbados last Easter with mixed feelings. As fanatical skiers, this was our first experiment of swapping powder for winter sun. The blast of warmth and turquoise water was a blissful revelation, but the island didn’t quite deliver the barefoot, rum and reggae infused, Caribbean vibe we were seeking. The glitzy West Coast wasn’t our scene, and while the South Coast had character, it wasn’t quite a tropical paradise.
This time we opted for Antigua in the hope that this would be our Caribbean. Because I work in travel and have a short concentration span, my long suffering wife has to put up with my theory of “why settle for one vacation when you can have two (or three for that matter)”? So not only did we do both sides of Antigua, but we combined it with Tobago because kitesurfing and/or surfing are essential checkboxes on any warm vacation for me – but more on Tobago later.
Our first port of call was Carlisle Bay. Having worked with this perennial Caribbean favorite for years, arriving for the first time felt eerily familiar. The best brains of hospitality and hotel design can brainstorm how to entertain children for hours in board meetings, but children delight in confounding them and the first hit for my daughters was not the postcard-perfect beach nor the kids club, but the bridge over the pond of Koi carp, before we had even reached check-in.
In recent years it has been overtaken by other properties in the Caribbean, complete with newer bathrooms, more butlers and bigger rooms, and for sheer luxury and impeccable service the Indian Ocean can rest on its laurels for a bit longer. The main restaurant (we missed out on the grown-up restaurant as we chose to eat with the kids) probably won’t be bothering the Michelin guide any time soon, but for wonderful simplicity, Carlisle Bay is almost impossible to beat. The direct UK flight and short transfer, tasteful ground floor rooms right on a white sandy beach paired with friendly service and endless fresh fish and fruit, cold Caribs and rum punches make it a force to be reckoned with when it comes to meeting most people’s ideal vacation briefs. The kids club is better than most, Kirsty loved the free early pilates sessions on the jetty and reading a book on our terrace overlooking the girls paddling in front- a true luxury only a parent will appreciate.
From Carlisle Bay we headed to the windward side of Antigua to Nonsuch Bay. Nonsuch Bay is more of a condo resort than a hotel. There is a wealth of accommodation options but the proportions are positively American in all of them. At the top of the hill, the sublime Villa Turquoise has outdoor spaces and views to rival the most high-end offerings anywhere. Rates are all-inclusive but I would suggest using the fridge pre-stocking service as the small restaurant is more functional than fine-dining and three meals a day here would soon become repetitive. In any case, with such great kitchens and terraces, “in-room” dining can be a real pleasure especially for those with children with early bedtimes.
This resort is all about getting on and in the water though. I didn’t have the highest expectations of the beach, being on the “wrong side” of the island, but was pleasantly surprised and my daughters never tired of pushing me in the sandy shallows. However, the sailing is the real hit and the center is incredibly well-equipped with the full range of RS boats. Taking my four-year old for her first sailing experience in a Tera was a moment to savour. Even better, the kids club staff were impressively proactive and engaging, getting children involved in both the club and water sports. The only thing you have to pay extra for is kitesurfing, which goes on at Green Island, a mile or two upwind of the resort. They offer tuition, but in truth this isn’t the best destination for beginner kitesurfers as the water gets deep pretty quickly. Intermediates will love the uncrowded, warm and benign conditions though.
I never understand why twin-center beach vacations aren’t more popular, particularly in the Caribbean where most hotels only have two or three restaurants – nothing takes the gloss off dining like eating in the same place again and again. The drive across Antigua allowed us to enjoy the scenery without the jet lag and experiencing two properties helped perpetuate the exciting novelty of being on vacation.
From Antigua we traveled on to Tobago for another week. Whilst Tobago lacks quality accommodation, for those prepared to compromise, it makes up for it with unbeatable authenticity. However, there are other islands (such as St Kitts & Nevis, Turks & Caicos and Grenada) with better accommodation than Tobago that you can reach using a “through fare”. Through fares are great for a number of reasons – they are usually no more expensive than going to the hubs (like Antigua) and sometimes they are actually cheaper! By using a through fare you get to fly between islands on a long-haul aircraft with British Airways or Virgin rather than a smaller Liat aircraft and sticking with the same carrier simplifies check-in, immigration and luggage. For anyone with younger children, I would suggest getting off on the first touchdown on the way out (everyone needs a break after the daytime Atlantic flight) but staying on for the touchdown on the way home. This has the advantage of making checking in to come home a breeze and a short flight before the longer flight home is no big deal because kids tend to sleep well on the overnight leg.