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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts in Punta Cana

When it comes to family vacations, the bar is always being raised. Let’s face it: families want something that’s quite a step above camping in the backyard for their getaways. This time of year, most of us are craving warm temps, sunny skies, and lots of opportunities for a swim. Exotic and different are icing on the cake. That’s why Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) is sure to inspire memories that last forever. I was happy to be hosted to experience it.

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The resort’s luxurious accommodation includes the Swank Swim-Up Suite. Imagine a private, VIP-style wrap-around terrace that’s adjacent to the pool, along with sunbathing beds. You’ll feel like the resort’s all your own. There are other configurations and sizes of swim-up rooms as well, to suit different needs and family sizes.

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You’ll find the décor bright and cheery, but with simple, modern lines to feel more relaxed – rather than formal and uptight. Kid friendly, but still chic.

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The ultimate in luxe accommodations, and still able to fit a larger family is The Pineapple, inspired by SpongeBob Square Pants’ home under the sea. Two bedrooms and three bedrooms in a loft configuration are looked after by your own personal butler. Special activities can be booked for guests staying here, such as a moonlight beach dinner prepared by a world-class chef, wine tasting, an in-suite afternoon tea party, pizza party, or pajama party.

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So, if you crave more water than swimming in the pool, they have the beautiful Uvero Alto Beach available and just steps away. There are plenty of lounge chairs and even beach beds available for guests to use, you won’t need to scramble for them or search around in vain. The beach is lovely, quiet, and very clean. You will want to spend quite a lot of time there, if you are like me. You can order drinks while on the beach as well, which makes staying longer even more appealing. Other outdoor games and activities, such as tennis, are found at the resort, along with playrooms for the kids and the opportunity to run into – and take photos with – your favorite Nickelodeon characters, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Indoor activities include the fitness and dance studio.
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The Condado Plaza Hilton in Puerto Rico

Visiting the capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan, is a must.  There are many things to see and it has many things to offer any tourist. In the heart of it all is the Condado strip. It is a short walk to beaches, shopping and nightlife or to the colonial charms of Old San Juan. It is also where the Condado Plaza Hilton is located.

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Condado Plaza Hilton has the distinct privilege of being the only hotel to overlook the Atlantic Ocean and the tranquil Candado Lagoon. Constructed in 1963, Condado Plaza Hilton is a landmark hotel that features 571 Leo-Daly designed deluxe guest rooms and suites. Each room has a sleek contemporary design and many feature private balconies and gorgeous water views.
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While visiting Condado Plaza Hilton, there is dining for every taste and preference. With 8 restaurants, bars and lounges (including an award winning fine dining restaurant, Pikayo) you will want to try them all, and I can personally tell you the food is fantastic.

Besides the amazing food choices, there is plenty to do while visiting the resort. Enjoy the protected cove-like beach, perfect for kayacking in the Condado Lagoon, or enjoy snorkeling at the underwater artificial, indigenous-themed reef trail. There are plenty of watersports available in the  Condado Lagoon. Besides kayaks and snorkeling, there are also stand up paddle boards, boats and floats available- some in the lagoon, some in the cove. With a reservation, you can get lessons for wind surfing and kayaking. 
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The El Conquistador Resort- A Waldorf Astoria Resort in Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico is known for its beautiful landscapes and gorgeous views. When visiting, you will want to find a resort that can offer an amazing experience as well as luxury. El Conquistador is just one of those resorts. Set at the top of a 300-foot bluff on the eastern tip of Puerto Rico, El Conquistador, a AAA Four Diamond resort, spreads across 500 acres. It overlooks the waters where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

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El Conquistador is divided into 5 villages that offer guestrooms and suites and a separate luxury resort that has villas in 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms and 24-hour butler services. On site in the resort are 23 restaurants, bars and lounges that fit all styles and desires from gourmet to casual, including some with ocean views. (The views can’t be undersold- they are amazing. You will lose time gazing at them, and when you return home they will be one of the things you miss most.) Waking up to the sounds of the ocean lapping and a gentle breeze, then opening the curtains to see the magnificent coast below you is something you will carry with you long after your return to the daily grind.

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While staying at the family friendly resort, there is plenty to do. Spend time at Coqui Water Park, a 2.4 acres water park that has exhilarating slides and rapids. Everyone can splash in the mail pool, covering 8,500 sq. ft or swim in the 9,000 sq ft infinity edge pool. If you start feeling a little water logged, relax in the sun on the 25,554 sq ft bathing deck. Make sure you try the piragua (pi·ra·gua), a Puerto Rican shaved ice dessert. They have stands and push carts around the island, and also offer it at the water park. You can’t go wrong with any of the flavors- yes, we tried them all (and I’m not ashamed to admit it!)

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Take one of the resort’s boats to visit the Palomino Island, a private 100-acre island that has white sand beaches with recreational activities and water sports. There is a schedule to get you to and from the island, and it’s not hard to figure out. Bring your sand toys or buy them there- there are plenty of shops on the island. It is the perfect place to explore the coral reefs or take a shallow dive or o head out further with a boat dive. You can also sign up for a snorkeling tour to get a different look. If you are looking for a different way to explore the island, try horseback riding. The expert guides can lead you through the wilderness trails and natural beauty of Palomino Island, no matter if you are a beginner or seasoned rider. You could also just relax on one of the sun chairs, play with the kids in the ocean, go shopping, or take the scavenger hunt around the island.
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6 Stunning Spots in Jamaica Every Traveler Should See

The shores of Jamaica attract millions of visitors every year. With plenty of budget holidays and low cost accommodation, there’s never been a better time for a Caribbean holiday. If you’re planning to explore this tropical island, be sure to visit some of these jaw-dropping natural wonders.

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Mystic Mountain

The famed Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios is home to one of the most popular, most exhilarating attractions in Jamaica. Starting your adventure into the heart of this rainforest, walking routes or a chairlift will take to you to the summit of the 700 foot mountain. Admire the spectacular ocean views before hopping aboard a bobsled. Set on a 1,000 meter metal track, you’ll whizz down the mountain and take in the vibrant eco system along the way.

Doctor’s Cave Beach

No trip to Jamaica would be complete without sampling one of its beaches. Doctor’s Cove in Montego Bay is one of the best — a sweeping strip of palm fringed white sands. It’s long been attracting visitors from around the world with many believing the crystal waters have rejuvenating and curative properties. Even the cynics can agree, this is one of the most relaxing spots on the island.
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The Buccaneer Resort in St. Croix

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Modern hotels that have a historical background are always a treat to visit. The Buccaneer St. Croix  is an amazing hotel in a beautiful, perfect paradise. From sugar, to cotton and cattle, the Buccaneer has pretty much seen it all. It officially opened for business in 1947 and had only eleven guest rooms at that time.  It was the first hotel in St. Croix and was a major achievement for the family who founded it.

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The guests were known as “continentals” and would enjoy their stay with drinks, visits to the beach, painting furniture, and of course with great meals. Nightly cocktails were a must. Things have not changed all that much, and you can now enjoy music and great food along with the cocktails. There are several restaurants to choose from, and some must try cocktails  include the Cruzan Confusion, Raising Cane, Caribbean Sunset, and Jump-Up-and-Kiss-Me.  The food is amazing, and no matter if you choose to eat in the restaurant or beach-side.

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It’s amazing to think that the Buccaneer has been around for 70 years and three generations that have made the St. Croix community that much more lively and enriching. The Buccaneer is proud to be a supporter of the National Park service with the three month turtle watch program. They are also very committed to community services around the area and to funding scholarships for students to attend college.

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There are lots of fun things to do while you stay at the Buccaneer, and you can be sure that you are being environmentally friendly while you stay. The hotel has tons of environmental practices in place to make sure that they are not creating excess waste, are conserving energy, and also that the wildlife is able to live around the hotel freely as it should on the 340 acres.  You will see iguanas roaming about fairly regularly, for instance.
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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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