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Island Hopping in The Caribbean

Island Hopping in The Caribbean

The Caribbean was traditionally considered a romantic escape destination for couples only. Recent years, however, have seen both the quantity and quality of family friendly options fly off the scale. It’s no longer an adult-only domain. The islands offering the best facilities tend to be those with direct air access, namely Barbados and Antigua, but if you’re happy to take a secondary flight the rewards can be great. What’s interesting about the Caribbean is that each island has its own distinct footprint; different terrain, crops, language, food, even architecture varies from island to island. Once hooked you’ll be torn between revisiting what you know and love and exploring new options. Whatever the case, the Caribbean offers a giant playground for kids of all ages.


The most developed of all the islands, Barbados has a good variety of beaches, with a string of excellent hotels along the fashionable west coast and is the most popular choice for first-time visits to the Caribbean. Indeed many love it so much they never ‘risk’ trying anywhere else. The south coast has a younger more active stance, while the east remains rugged and wild.

Top of the list and by far the most chi-chi of the west coast’s great institutions is the legendary Sandy Lane. Once a house party hideaway, it has had the mother of all makeovers and taken a metamorphic leap to become a super-resort, pretty much in a league of its own. Undoubtedly the most successful hotel in the Caribbean, it pampers its little guests in the knowledge that they are tomorrow’s big guests. The Disneyesque Treehouse Club offers an array of supervised activities for pre-teens including arts and crafts and swimming games. Ritzy glitzy gismos and cool decor attract teenagers to the Den, a hangout zone for kids too blasé to hit a ball round the three championship golf courses with their dads while yummy mummies are mollycoddled in the spa.

No less popular and a little further up the coast, traditional style and loyal guests give the family-run Coral Reef a sort of sophisticated clubby feeling (that, some argue, has been forgone by its uptown neighbour). The white wooden cottage suites are particularly well suited to families – scattered around the twelve acres of grounds overlooking lawns and tropical gardens, most with private plunge pools and verandas. Complimentary entertainment for children includes water sports, a tennis pro-clinic, playground, crèche facilities and two swimming pools. Children tend to wander around in little groups choosing whether to swim, play or just chill out under one of the giant palm trees with the O’Hara grandchildren.


Antigua’s glut of beaches and low humidity make it an ideal location for family based holidays, and many of the bays and coves have particularly calm and shallow waters perfect for paddling and snorkelling. The south is unspoilt and peaceful – a pastoral scene of goats being herded by a solitary figure strolling towards the ruined sugar mill on a hilly promontory or a man straddling a tame donkey – still a regular sight and popular mode of transport. For those with vivid imaginations, the Pirates of the Caribbean can be re-lived at Nelson’s Dockyard where you can wander around the fortifications next to the marina. Our children enjoyed some interactive knot tying, rope climbing and model making in the museum before sailing out on a tropical kayak adventure to swim with the rays at Stingray City.

Carlisle Bay is the hotel that put the Caribbean back on the map after a downturn in the 1990s. Set in its own natural bay on Antigua’s southern coast it is in the vanguard of contemporary stylishness. It’s a tribute to owner Gordon Campbell Gray that the mucky-mits brigade is allowed anywhere near this metro meets minors haven. Movies are shown everyday in the I’m-a-famous-Hollywood-director-style cinema, which can comfortably seat forty-five children while parents eat their dinner in peace. In fact it’s been such a hit with families that Powder Byrne are now running the year-round kids’ club.

Just around the bay is the forty-year-old Curtain Bluff – Antigua’s veteran when it comes to family fun. A spontaneous programme of ‘whatever the kids want to do’ is laid on in an apparently seamless fashion. At one point, we had daughters one, two and three, learning to dive for sea biscuits and conch shells, race a catamaran and crab race simultaneously, thanks to the very accommodating and undaunted staff. We lay on the beach exhausted at the thought, overlooking Montserrat’s (nicknamed Monster Rat by the kids) smouldering volcanic mass towards the distant silhouettes of Guadalupe and St Kitts. Curtain Bluff may still have swirly-print bedspreads and Florida-cum-Eastbourne decor but its two strikingly different beaches, consummate local staff and relaxed atmosphere make it a winner for families.

All in all the Caribbean is on the up and once you’ve got your toes in the water, go on and take that extra flight. Try the unhurried pace of Nevis with its old West Indian airs and graces and stay in one of the exemplary Four Seasons villas. Or pop up to the sophisticated British Virgin Islands and marvel at the sweeping crescent of white sand and commendable kids’ club at Little Dix on Virgin Gorda. Once you start you won’t stop hopping.