From swimming with turtles or dancing to reggae on catamarans to learning to play Rihanna songs on the steel drums, Barbados is non-stop fun for all ages – and a great base from which to discover its many adventures is the all-inclusive Crystal Cove Hotel in the parish of St James on the island’s chic west coast, just a 30-minute drive from Grantley Adams International Airport.
A mere eight-hour direct flight from London (often less with tail-winds!), Barbados is one of the most accessible of the Caribbean islands for those travelling with kids. But what really makes it a great choice for a dose of winter sun is its people. They’re friendly all over, but you’ll be particularly impressed by staff at the Crystal Cove and its sister Elegant Hotels (Turtle Beach, Tamarind, Colony Club and the adults-only House), whose warmth and kindness are responsible for an unusually high level of repeat custom. I met someone who had been to the Turtle Beach 15 times in the course of seven years!
With just 88 rooms, the Crystal Cove appeals to families who don’t like gigantic resorts but need plenty of facilities. Specifically for children are a large, well-kitted-out kids’ club plus something quite unique – the Bajan Family Adventure Camp whereby ages 10–16 can enjoy off-site activities with or without parents in tow, including horse-riding through the forest with the chance to spot green monkeys and mongoose amidst the bearded fig trees that give this lush island its name (‘Bearded Ones’).
Other typically Bajan activities for all ages include steel pan drumming and road tennis classes, heritage tours of the island capital Bridgetown, community walks, and visits to Harrison’s Cave with its glistening stalagmites and stalactites. Parents, meanwhile, will enjoy the on-site beachside rum shop initiation session during which losers at dominoes matches have to down a rum shot. Indeed, you’re anything like me, rum in its many forms, from cake to cocktails, will form a large part of your stay in Barbados…
Among the hotel’s accommodation are 26 one-bedroom suites perfect for families, with a king bedroom, a living room with sofa-bed, two bathrooms and private patios or balconies where you can sit and listen to the tree frogs sing and watch the occasional monkey scuttle through the plant-filled grounds. Some suites are split-level, all are gorgeous, with boutique-style decor and free mini-bars.
There are three freshwater lagoon-style swimming pools on site, one supplied with inflatables and other kids’ toys and another with a swim-up bar. But the real hub of the hotel is the gorgeous beach with its powdery white sand and waiter service. The watersports centre here offers a host of free activities, and there are certain motorised water activities including jet-skiing at extra charge. Sunsets here will leave you breathless.
From waffles, fruit and cooked local and global dishes at breakfast to Bajan and international specialities at lunch and dinner, including local flying fish and marlin, food at the Crystal Cove is delicious and plentiful. Herbs are grown within the grounds themselves, in a pretty bed beside one of the pools and beside the pagoda where glorious outdoor massages take place to the sound of the gently breaking waves.
We all fell hopelessly in love with Barbados. Swimming with turtles and over shipwrecks in Carlisle Bay had to be the highlight, but the Friday-night fish fry at Oistins, a fishing town on south coast, was unforgettable too. Basically a huge beachside party offering tasty fish dishes from scores of vendors plus dancing to both old-time and modern hits, Oistins attracts locals and tourists alike, from the youngest kids to the oldest groovers in town. Be there or be square!
Read more about family holidays in Barbados.