Visit Barbados. Like, Right now.

I’ve been obsessed with Barbados since I was a kid, when I read the Newbery Medal winning book “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare. For anyone who somehow managed to escape their summer reading, the book is about a fictional 17th Century young woman who, orphaned, must leave her home in Barbados and travel to New England. Now in Puritan Connecticut, she often reminisces about her home and her childhood growing up in beautiful Barbados.

Yes, as an adult, I now realize the colonizer themes that ran rampant in the book. However, the images left in my mind’s eye of the lush and balmy Barbados had impressed on me the desire to make my way over to the tiny island as soon as I was able.  No better time then the present, so we headed over to finally see the nation well known as the birthplace of rum.

Located in the lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of North America, Barbados is about a 5 hour flight from New York City.  Just 166 square miles in total, it dwarfs the smallest state in the USA by quite a bit (Rhode Island, at 1,034 square miles), it packs a lot into a small space.

Though she be but little, she is fierce. Alright, perhaps not exactly fierce, but definitely a force. On this wisp of an island, you will experience amazing food (yes, quite a lot of seafood, but vegans and  vegetarians rejoice, there are plenty of options on this very foodie-progressive island), blissful beaches, friendly people, and incredible scenery. No matter what you are interested in, you will find plenty to keep you occupied while you vacation in beautiful and diverse Barbados.

Not ones to lay about the beach and resort all day, we wanted to see as much as we were able to in our (much too short!) stay. Not that lying about has anything wrong with it- you couldn’t pick a more picturesque place to relax and take in the sun and sand. We did our share of lazing, but spent most of our time exploring the island.  The history of the island is as colorful as it’s gardens, and during our stay we enjoyed learning about the island’s first peoples through events in our current time period. Luckily for us, there are some fantastic tour guides who are gracious enough to share Barbadian culture and history with tourists, and they are very thorough. The best part is, the more you learn, the more you want to know.

The Arawaks and the Caribs were the first inhabitants of what became known as Barbados. English Captain John Powell arrived in 1625 and claimed the island for King James I of England. After returning to England and back again, the island was given the name “Los Barbados”, a variation of “Os Barbados”, used by the Portuguese sailors since 1536.  It was named after a tree that grew on the island, the “Bearded Fig Tree” aka  Shortleaf Fig (Ficus Citrifolia) that the sailors thought looked like a bushy beard. As Barbados was named for it’s magnificent foliage, you can rightly assume that the natural beauty surrounding is going to make it hard to put your camera away.

Regardless of what kind of touring or adventure you are after, you are bound to be excited by and admiring of the natural beauty that will envelop you. One of the first tours we opted to take was a walking tour of Historic Bridgetown. This 3 hour walking tour was the perfect introduction to the area, and was led by local professor and historian Morris Greenidge. Extremely passionate, knowledgeable, and just honestly impressive, Mr. Greenidge is “the” expert, called to discuss Barbados and topics that intertwine with the local history on panels and conferences worldwide.

When there was not enough history or information available, Mr. Greenidge just decided rather than lament it, he would research and write the histories himself. Almost all by himself, as well. Self taught, he has researched and written the history of the island from it’s founders to local legends and heroes as well as walking guides and more. (Side note, some of these books are hard to find outside of Barbados, so you may want to buy them while you are there if you like them. Bonus, he will be happy to sign them for you. I regretfully only bought two of his books at the time, and am having a rough time finding some of the others. Lesson learned, hopefully you can avoid my error.) There are not a ton of books out there on the history of Barbados, not many novels either, so they were a good find and give good insight from that of a lifelong inhabitant. As well, I have to admit that after having spent time with Mr. Greenidge, I hear the books in his voice and they are quite a fun and unique reminder of our time spent touring.

Meeting us in dress slacks, crisp shirt, and suspenders on a blisteringly hot day, Mr. Greenidge speaks slowly and deliberately, often pausing in thought, giving an incredibly thorough tour of a place you can see he loves dearly. We began the tour at Chamberlain Bridge in aptly named Bridgetown (the capitol and by far largest city in Barbados) under Independence Arch. The bridge connects Bridgetown over the Careenage aka Constitution River, which cuts the city in two parts. Formerly a swing bridge that was vital to the shipping industry as well as connecting one part of the city to it’s other half, it’s now rebuilt and designed for the current needs of the island- mostly pleasure boating and fishing. Not only one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean, but also a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is a lot to experience in Bridgetown.
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Coconut Bay Resort, St. Lucia

No matter what kind of vacation you are looking for- family trip, a romantic couples retreat, girlfriends getaway- you can find what you are looking for on the diverse island of St. Lucia. Coconut Bay is located near the airport (in fact, just five minutes away), so you won’t have a long trek to your room once you arrive. That’s never a welcome surprise, is it? Once there, you are greeted by friendly staff with cool towels and cold drinks of your choice- water, rum punch, or champagne.

Coconut Bay

As you refresh and cool off, you and your entourage check into your room.  You can take your bags or have them taken to your room for your, and your vacation really begins. A recently renovated resort on 85 acres, the all inclusive Coconut Bay offers plenty to see, do, (eat!) and explore.  There are nine restaurants, seven bars, five pools, a fully functional and not all all lacking fitness center (lets face it, often “gyms” while vacationing are weak sauce) the largest waterpark on the island, and more. Did I mention it was all inclusive? Because that makes things so. much. easier. Also, the beach is just past the pools- no long hike to and fro.

best family vacation

We took my daughter for a long weekend, and there was definitely not enough time to see all that we wanted to on the resort, let along the island. So it’s a great spot for a quick getaway, but for sure even better for those who like a more immersive experience. If you are traveling as an adults only getaway, you will likely prefer to stay o the “Harmony” wing of the resort, which does not allow children. When you get a moment to get away from it all- your routine, the kids, the noise-  the last thing you want to hear is someone else’s kids screaming, and that’s totally fair and understandable- and other adults get that. It can be hard to find time to reconnect as a couple, and Coconut Bay makes sure you can have those quiet moments you are looking for, complete with hammocks and lounge chairs everywhere you look.

St Lucia Resort

Brining the kids? Totally cool. I usually do as well. The “Splash” wing is for families, and where you will find the waterpark, the only resort petting zoo on the island (and the only one I can remember seeing ever in my own experience), the Kidz Club, and even a paintball course.  It is for sure the louder side of the resort, and there are plenty of family friendly activities to keep everyone busy. Also, a note for those looking to keep active while traveling- they have really good fitness classes offered. Actual quality, that are both fun and challenging. You will be working up a sweat but enjoying yourself at the same time. Again, not something I see all the time. Places might have gyms and classes, but they are not usually anywhere near this intensity, and we were super impressed.
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Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island

Nassau Paradise Island, Bahamas is home to sand, surf, and family-friendly accommodations (like the mega-resort Atlantis), but families on spring break will find that the destination also offers immersive and educational experiences fit for kids and adults alike.  Have you ever considered taking the kids to Atlantis in the Bahamas? There are so many things offered that will make this a vacation to remember, from Dolphin Cay (an experience on 14 acres and almost 7 million gallons of crystal clear water) to Aquaventure (the island’s water park on 141 acres) and more pools and slides then you will have time to visit in a long weekend. Then there is the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, where you can learn how they are working to conserve the reefs. Should you care to venture off the resort, Paradise Island has many activities that your children can enjoy at any age.

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Atlantis has a great habitat that supports marine life and animal rescue and rehabilitation facilities. You can see tanks and aquariums all over the resort, which is enormous.  You have to take buses all over in order to get from place to place- it’s as big as a town, for sure.  Walking would be nearly impossible.  You pick up the buses in the lobby of your hotel, and each of them has the names of the stops they make on the side and top of it.

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Aquaventure is of course the water park and has non-stop action. There are Atlantean-themed towers, water slides and a mile long river that has rolling rapids. This thrill of a place has over twenty million gallons of water, 20 swimming areas, a kids water play fort, and 11 swimming pools. Everything is connected together by a tropical environment and is sure to please everyone visiting from young to old. There is also a “Cartoon Lagoon” which looked very cool, but we were not able to try out.  Turns out you need to make an appointment to use it, and it often fills up months in advance for a time slot, so if you want to use it, book it when you book your stay, and don’t be late or forget to show up or you miss your chance.

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There is a fun cartoon character parade through Atlantis, check with the desk for times and locations.  You can also see Caribbean dancing, music, and more depending on the date and time. My son loved seeing his favorite TV toons in person!

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As I mentioned,  you can learn how scientists are conserving the coral reefs through the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation. You can ask about any of the Blue Adventures at the center that is operated by Stuart Cove. As you learn, you will also be donating to the foundation as a portion of the the proceeds of each adventure goes to help the foundation.
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Jewel Runaway Bay Resort in Jamaica

Jewel Runaway Bay is an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica that will give you everything that you need for a personal getaway. It doesn’t matter if you just want to lounge about or play some golf, there is something for you.  It’s also a great place for couples to say “I Do” on the beaches in Jamaica- quite lovely.

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There is always something for you to do at Jewel Runaway Bay, because this Jamaican resort has it all. They are a beachfront resort that has three different pool areas and an-on site spa. There are also Jewel exclusives that you will not be able to experience anywhere else.

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If food ranks highly on your list when you are visiting somewhere new, there are five restaurants where you can discover delicious food. There is a style of restaurant for everyone from a laid back atmosphere serving jerk chicken beachside to more gourmet dining experiences- try them all, and eat often at your favorites.

Check out their activitites schedule – there is sure to be something that you will enjoy on your stay.  It’s a great place to bring the whole family, there is quite a lot to do.

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The full-service spa has four treatment rooms; one for wet treatments, and services that range from facials to full body massages. Relaxation is top priority- you are on vacation after all.  If you love golf, Jewel Resorts has everything that a golfer will need for the Jamaican Golf Vacation of their dreams. Runaway Bay Golf Club is next door and has 18-holes on a PGA-quality course. Even if you aren’t Tiger Woods, you will still feel at home on this golf course. Guests who stay at Jewel Resorts will enjoy complimentary green fees.
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Norwegian Breakaway Cruise Day 4

Today we woke up to a beautiful, sunny day and gorgeous view. The sparkling blue waters of Nassau were right outside our door, and we could not wait to greet them in person.

family travel

After a quick breakfast, we headed into town. We walked through the shopping district a bit, but mostly were interested in some beach time. The closest one was Junkanoo Beach (also known as “The Long Warf”), about 15 minutes away. As soon as we arrived, it was time to hit the beach. We of course had to build sandcastles, then my son and I were in the water for most of the day. Daddy preferred his beach time. (Hmmmmm….ha)

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After spending most of the day, we decided to head back. We stopped in a few local stores (we were looking for something special for a friend of ours who made a request) and headed back to the ship. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we showered and headed down to the “Breakaway Pier Party”, which was so much fun. The crew was out en masse, dancing and partying the whole time.

Even SpongeBob and Patrick got in on the action, and posed for some photos with the kids as well.

SponeBob was a dancing machine, let me tell you . He really knows how to bust a spongy move.

We stayed out for nearly the whole party, and were having a great time- it really was super fun. One thing that stuck me as well was that Julie, the Cruise Director, who is Canadian but whose last name I don’t know- was out on stilts. She is the one in the pink pants. Really! That’s something. One of the kids club crew was the clown on stilts- very multi- talented. Julie also danced in the last song in “Burn the Floor”, and will soon make several more appearances today. The woman does not mess around.
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Take the Kids to the Dominican Republic? Of Course!

When you think of the Dominican Republic, you likely think of soft, sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in gentle breezes, and crystal clear ocean waters- as well you should.  What might not come to mind directly is the perfect family holiday, but it ought to.  Long thought of as a couples retreat from the world, or a delightful girlfreinds’ getaway, this island paradise is a great place to bring the whole troupe.

Beyond the beach and pool at your resort, what to do with the kids?  There are plenty of options, and mom and dad will enjoy them, too.  First up, head to Bavaro Adventure Park.

Dominican RepublicClose to both the Punta Cana and the Bavaro hotel areas (one of which is where tourists are likely to stay), this newly opened, open air park is not only fun for the whole family, but is also super safe (keeping in line with both North American and European safety standards) so you won’t need to worry about a thing.  With options ranging from zip lining, balloon rides,  paint ball, crazy ball zorbing (in which you are strapped into a ball, either solo or with another person, and rolled down a hill), Bungee Trampoline and more, you and your family can easily spend the whole day at Bavaro Adventure Park.

Did I mention there is a flight simulator?  Patented and certified in Germany, in the “SkyDiver” you can fly like an eagle.  Strapped into a safety harness and given safety and usage instructions, up to three people at a time are able to fly together to a height of up to 65 feet.

WP_20140719_11_43_11_ProSmaller kids will enjoy Dinosaur World Jurassic Adventure, where they can take a walk through a land of the dinosaurs, watch them move, and hear them roar!  These dinos are animatronic, and move when people are near them.  Learn all about these creatures, what they ate, how they lived- and even see some of their young.  There are more then forty dinosaurs on the walk, set to scale, and made to look, sound, and move how paleontologists believe they did.
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Turks and Caicos – Get Away From It All

Feeling the chill of winter?  Warm up with a trip to Turks and Caicos. Warm weather and good food await-and it’s not a long flight, either.

A great way to start our trip, The Conch Farm is both beautiful and educational. With conch being such a huge part of the island (a major food, source of many festivals, it was even on the flag) making sure that it is sustainable is vital. Located on the island’s eastern end, and first created (and still used as) a research facility, this is the only spot in the world that conch is commercially produced and grown.

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According to the farm, it “exports much of the conch you eat in the Florida Keys and Miami, (and) it’s breeding techniques could help save the conch from extinction”. With many predators (man being number one) and only a small percentage of eggs surviving to adulthood, this farm and it’s research are important to the island and to the conch in general. More then 25% of conch eggs grown to maturity at the farm, and the money made from the tours help fund research that goes into better farming, sustainability, and new techniques. Soon, completely round geodesic fish pens that will further help these and other fish from being depleted from over-fishing. This “revolutionary and state-of-the-art form of environmentally conscious commercial fish farming referred to as off-shore deep water submerged cage farming” spells good news for conch and conch lovers alike. While on the tour, you can the life cycle of the conch, shells in various parts of it’s life, breeding basins where they grow, a hatchery and laboratory, and even some fish hatcheries. You can hold tiny, growing conch, as well as meet the mascots- one male, and one female (Jerry and Sally). Yes, you can tell the difference- the male has a piston, which apparently is a delicacy.
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