the allure of barbados
“We don’t do beach vacations”, we announced proudly to friends as we set off for our family vacation to Barbados, which we had arranged to fit in with my son’s school cricket tour (we are more likely to be found skiing, sailing or sightseeing on a road trip). Well, it turns out that actually we do beach vacations really, really well when we are in the right place. The right place for us turned out to be the Coral Reef Club in Barbados. I’d always wanted to stay here as I have a love for luxurious family-run hotels with a touch of old-school glamour. We honestly intended to try out all the activities on offer in Barbados but struggled to make it very far from the beach.
The eponymous coral in front of the hotel is home to a fantastic array of fish so snorkeling every day became a necessity. Non-motorized watersports are free and there’s just a small charge for motorized ones. Our 12 and 14-year-old children sailed, water-skied and squealed joyously on the ringos pulled behind the boat every day. The spa is stunning, and I had some of the best massages ever there, followed by wandering in a post-massage haze through the gorgeous gardens. The bar and restaurant are beautifully decorated in a colonial style – the kind of place where you expect Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant to be chatting to the barman over a Dark and Stormy, or Grace Kelly to saunter in for a martini before dinner.
which hotel is best for me?
Although you can take children of any age to Coral Reef and they will be welcomed, I felt it suited older kids particularly well. I spent time prior to this trip visiting lots of other hotels in Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia and my other top tips for hotels for families with older kids were Curtain Bluff, Cap Maison and the Bodyvacation (for 16 years and over, or 12 and over at certain times) if you want tons of activities on an all-inclusive basis. For younger families, my favorites were Sandy Lane in Barbados (yes, it’s as good as you have heard), Sugar Beach in St Lucia, Carlisle Bay and Blue Waters in Antigua.
What to do
If you are like us, you will be so busy snorkeling and enjoying the water sports at your hotel you might not get around to doing a great deal more, but each island has its own personality and appeal.
St Lucia has stunning topography and a climb up the Pitons early one morning will reward you with incredible views. You can do chocolate tasting and making or enjoy basking in the sulphur springs, which are in the south of the island. Visit the north for a busier atmosphere and to check out the superyachts in Rodney Bay.
Antigua has a real charm and if you hire a car you will inevitably get lost but be guided by the friendly locals to the right place eventually. Visit Nelson’s dockyard for some fascinating history and to try out some local bars or little relaxed restaurants, but do be sure to go to the lush, green rainforest in the south too. If the kids need more than the beach, take them to swim with the stingrays, do some zip-lining or maybe to a cricket match at the fantastic new Sir Vivian Richards stadium.
Barbados is more developed than the other islands and has a real buzz to it. Some prefer the charm of other, less developed islands, while others really appreciate the vast choice of restaurants and great shopping on Barbados. In fact, I had a real culture shock on my first night, after the rustic charms of the other islands, to be eating sushi in a glamorous rooftop restaurant listening to Ibiza-style lounge music.
There’s a lot to explore and friends who were visiting to watch their boys on the cricket tour enjoyed visiting the polo, deep sea fishing, catamaran cruising, hiking from Bathsheba to Bath and looking round St Nicholas Abbey as well as eating freshly caught fish and listening to steel bands at the popular Friday night Oistins fish fry. Whereas, us – we swam a lot, ate a lot of deliciously spiced blackened fish, drank quite a few rum punches and, it turns out, are really rather keen on beach vacations.