The Eastern Caribbean island of Barbados was, for me, the one that got away. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit but, in the same way I generally shun a film if everyone tells me I must go to see it (such a rebel), Barbados always felt – well – a bit populist. So, I’d never been. Until now. And it’s safe to say, I’m now regretting every single wasted year of my past when I haven’t visited this incredible island. Landing with my crew in the capital, Bridgetown, after our 8 1/2-hour flight I realised that two other jumbos had landed within 10 minutes of us.
Hearing the ‘queue’ klaxon sounding alarmingly loud in my ears, and fearing the snake of a line that loomed in front of us, I anticipated a good hour of waiting. Like most kids, if there’s one thing my eight-year-old son, Akira, doesn’t love about travelling, it’s waiting in line. I’m with him – who does? As a parent who travels a lot, a customs line is one of the sights guaranteed to make my ‘Are we nearly there yet, Mum?’ heart beat that little bit faster.
Then, just as I was gearing up for a sweaty hour of I-spy and ‘Who’s rocking the best Trunki?’ (not a classic, but desperate times and all that), a knight in shining armour marched purposefully towards us with a name board – sporting our names! In that moment, I could easily have busted out some Rihanna moves (she’s local) and given this wonderful stranger all our worldly possessions. None of which was thankfully required, as it was part of the service of our luxury travel company. It was one of those ‘Oh, so this is how the other half live’ moments, and I was so glad the experience fell to us this time. Ten minutes later, we were in our air-conditioned taxi and headed for Elegant Hotels’ Crystal Cove resort, on the west coast of the island and about 25 minutes’ drive from the airport. Cocktails on arrival on the terrace, overlooking three swimming pools and a white beach with aqua-blue waves lapping beyond it meant we knew this was going to be a special stay.
Crystal Cove is one of five Elegant Hotels properties on the island, and is modelled on a seaside Caribbean village. Its cliffside setting, pastel colours and ocean views make an impact from the minute you arrive, and paths lined with frangipani trees and exotic flowers fill the air with the most phenomenal perfume as you float to your room. We stayed in a one-bedroom suite with an ocean view.
With a ground floor boasting its own bathroom, balcony and wardrobe, the kids were perfectly happy on the sofabed, while my husband, Trey, and I bagged the mezzanine above, with our own huge double bed with ceiling fan whirring overhead, ocean views through the top window, bathroom and dressing area. With enough privacy to ensure we didn’t have to go to bed when the kids did, but open plan enough to feel like we were all staying together, it was perfect. Crystal Cove is an all-inclusive.
Which means pretty much everything is paid upfront when you book – food, drinks, watersports (including motorised), kids’ club, the lot. At the cave pool swim-up bar, the kids felt beyond excited to flex their independence and order round-the-clock milkshakes, while we, for some reason, were more drawn to the rum punch and other local cocktails on offer. The quality of food and drink was outstanding, with breakfasts taken in the poolside Reflections restaurant (‘There are pancakes and waffles, Mummy!’), and lunches and evening meals with a smart à la carte vibe also offered at Reflections, or you could opt for a more casual dining experience at the Drifters restaurant.
Elegant Hotels has three sister resorts spread out along the west coast of the island – Tamarind, Colony Club and the recently refurbished all-inclusive Waves, which means you can use the resorts’ water taxi to explore the coastline and hotel-hop for a change of scene. We spent a couple of days at Waves, chilling by the pool and taking it in turns to indulge in a massage at the adult-only spa. Alternating locations made our week feel even longer, and who doesn’t love a nose around a neighbouring hotel?
One day we went out on a boat with a lovely local guy called Marvin (ask at Zaccios restaurant in Holetown – everyone knows him) for a spot of snorkelling with turtles around a shipwreck. The beaches on the west coast are coral beaches of the purest white sand, and the sea is crystal clear, making snorkelling perfect, as this side of the island is sheltered from the Atlantic breakers on the east coast. Throughout the trip, Marvin was happily pointing out west coast residences like Rihanna’s impressive £15 million beachside townhouse at One Sandy Lane and the coastal residences of various other A-listers, and was full of pride of his fellow Bajans’ achievements.
Marvin himself epitomised what’s special about this stunning island. The people. Bajans are warm and friendly, laidback and all about living the good life. Everyone we came into contact with just oozed a chilled confidence and an approach to life that left you slightly envious and keen to emulate the vibe back home. A slower, more in-the-moment existence led to deep chats with everyone from my masseur to a gorgeous soul called Azizah, who I connected with when she made me some stunning beachside jewellery at the resort.
Families are really well catered for at Crystal Cove. We loved the free watersports and indulged in the banana boat or donuts on a daily basis. One day, we went on a special catamaran cruise – all included. Which is what made the family experience so amazing. All-inclusive is a phenomenal option for families – it lets you, as parents, be complete heroes, since on holidays in Europe we generally treat watersports as a once-in-the-week treat because of the high costs involved.
Here, we were saying yes – all the time. Which felt like winning at parenting. There was so much on offer, you really didn’t need to leave your lounger if you didn’t want to. But we’re always keen to experience local life, so we regularly took the local bus to Holetown – a five-minute ride away and home to Chattels Village – a stunning purpose-built village of chattel huts, painted gorgeous colours and offering local merchandise for tourists.
Just down the road was the high-end Limegrove Shopping Centre – a total surprise with its diamond and watch shops, but a great rainy day option for families, with its impressive cinema. Our favourite moments at Crystal Cove were at both ends of the day – first thing in the morning when we’d head down to the beach early as a family, coffee in hand from the bar. And, at the end of a beachy day, when we’d sit on our loungers, salty and sandy, sipping something local and watching our carefree kids doing cartwheels and laughing that laugh reserved for chilled family moments. I can’t remember happier family moments. Ever.
How to book
The Inspiring Travel Company offers a seven-night stay at Crystal Cove by Elegant Hotels in Barbados from £6,499 per family, based on two adults and two children sharing a Junior Suite Pool/Garden View, all-inclusive, including return flights and transfers. Based on a departure date of 18 July 2018.
Best time to go
High season in the Caribbean runs from December to March with pleasantly hot and breezy days. Temperatures increase in the late spring and summer, when resort rates fall in price. Hurricane season runs from October to November.