“Some of the existing staff knew me as a 10 year old when I came here with my own parents,” said one father I spoke to by the shimmering blue pool at Fairmont Royal Pavilion. “I then brought my eldest children here when they were young and they in turn bring my grandchildren out here. The staff are all so friendly, the beach is incredible and it’s really our first and only choice in Barbados.”
Having spent 3 days immersed in this pink oasis covered in glorious flowering shrubs, I could understand why. Situated on Barbados’ Platinum Coast on the West Caribbean side of the island, the hotel has arguably the longest beach front on the island and only 72 rooms, meaning that this glorious sandy stretch never feels crowded.
Every one of those newly refurbished 72 rooms has an incredible beach view. My luxurious ground-floor Beachfront Suite was as close to the sea as any hotel room I have ever stayed in, which is a dream for any family where the cry is often “But I want to go to the beach now…” From the patio at the back of the room, it’s simply a small jump for little legs into the softest white sand and from there only a few steps to the gently lapping azure Caribbean Sea. Being this close to the sea is a privilege. Since 1960s laws dictated that hotels must be built a certain distance from the beach, The Royal Pavilion, by virtue of its age, will always be the hotel nearest to the sea.
As if being truly sea side weren’t enough, from 18 December 2018 guests staying in the Beachfront Suites and Signature Oceanfront Rooms will benefit from a butler service, starting your holiday off right by helping you unpack, and bringing you a delicious pre-dinner snack every evening at 7pm. These rooms also offer a convenient Platinum Fast Track Service, which includes an airport concierge to get you through customs quickly and guide you to your awaiting luxury airport transfer.
At the hotel
Accessed down a majestic drive lined with 100ft-high royal palm trees, my first view was of carefully tended gardens filled with frangipanis, bougainvillea and other tropical shrubs such as the Barbados cherry tree. Said to contain more vitamin C than any other fruit, it’s a favourite snack of Barbados’ green monkeys and there are many signs asking guests not to feed them. The land, like much of Barbados, used to be part of a sugar plantation and, as this part of the island is very flat, Royal Palms were planted so that workers could have an easily identifiable landmark. All of the hotel grounds are filled with spectacular shrubs including, close to North Beach, an enormous Bearded Fig Tree, one of many of these recognisable trees that gave the island the Portuguese settlers’ title of “Los Barbados” – “The Bearded Ones”.
The hotel’s family credentials are worn lightly and currently much of the kid’s activities are more covert, allowing all guests to enjoy a relaxing holiday whilst still being family-friendly. However, from December 2018 the hotel will be open to families all year round with a dedicated kids programme planned. Plus, every room can be interconnected, although my Junior beach suite was so capacious that there was plenty of room for a family of four with two children sleeping on the sofa bed.
In the water
Non-motorised water sports are complimentary for all guests and the calm sea and light winds make the beachfront perfect for paddle-boarding, kayaking and snorkelling. At 9.30 every morning the hotel takes out guests for a fairly unique activity snorkelling directly from the beach to see the turtles. Turtle nesting in Barbados peaks between May and late October but can happen all throughout the year. Every day we saw the cutest just-hatched babies struggling to find the beach and hotel guests are encouraged to help them on their way by putting them into the sea. There can be no more thrilling and more memorable activity for a family to engage in.
The hotel can also arrange for catamaran trips including excellent lunch which families will love. There are frequent stops for snorkelling including over a wreck and another snorkelling stop off point attracted 2 hawksbill turtles who swam happily around us eating bits of bread that our host dropped which kids will adore. There is also the chance to see flying fish skip over the waves – those that don’t land in chef’s ovens that is – which is one of Barbados’ culinary specialities.
Another exciting family activity is a visit to Harrison’s Cave in the North of the island, less than 30 minutes from the hotel. Opened in 1981 after formal discovery in the mid 70’s, the cave system is more than 2km long and has been excavated so that access is via a tram with expert commentary. Children will thrill to the huge stalagmites and stalactites and being so deep underground; it makes a great alternative to the beach and the facility is extremely well run and modern. Booking in advance is advisable, the tram tour takes one hour and rates are good value for families.
The caves are situated in the North of the island in the Scotland District, which is the hilliest part of the island. There are a number of interesting attractions here such as St. Nicholas Abbey, a sugar plantation and current rum distillery in existence since the 1650’s. The Great House is one of only three Jacobean style mansions in the Western Hemisphere. Older children on visiting the house will imagine a cannonball crashing the roof as it resembles a Pirates of the Caribbean set. Whilst parents might enjoy a rum tasting in the grounds, children will be fascinated by the staff privy which was a sociable toilet where four workers sat next to each other on their own “bowl.”
Whilst families could happily wile away their time just at the Royal Pavilion it would be a shame not to visit the local village of Speightstown – also in St James Parish – for some local flavour. Barbados, with its British Heritage, is divided administratively into “parishes” of roughly the same geographical area. We had a delicious casual lunch at The Orange Street Grocer facing the sea in Speightstown and, not to be missed, is the famous Friday night at Oistins Fish Fry on the South of the Island near the airport. Local steel bands play and hundreds of locals and tourists enjoy fresh BBQ fish at communal tables cooked by specialist “mom & pop” stands. Kids will love the unique atmosphere and an evening here will make an invigorating contrast.
Our last lunch was spent walking 5 minutes down to the beach to The Lone Star. Both a boutique hotel and spacious restaurant facing the glorious beach, we sat under antique ceiling fans eating fabulous garlic-y seafood pasta and I could only wish that my own children were with me, imagining them asking me “Daddy, when can we go back into the sea and swim with the turtles.” One day, I promise.
Sovereign (01293 765 003, www.sovereign.com) has a seven night holiday to the five star Fairmont Royal Pavilion on an B&B basis, from £3,011 per person.
Offer includes UK airport security fast passes and access to N°1 lounges (where available), private resort transfers and return international flights from London Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic. Based on departures 4 June 2019.
For more information about Barbados go to www.visitbarbados.org