The most elaborate family vacations I took as kid were a spate of annual motor trips in the mid sixties. The four of us would drive down to Florida for the Christmas holidays, my sister and I killing each other in the backseat of our 1959 Chrysler, as my parents squabbled upfront over the OML’s triptych directions. It was a three-day ordeal, staying at Howard Johnson motels throughout the southern states, with the most exotic feature being the 25 cent vibrating bed experiences we’d treat ourselves to. There were other highlights—like the seemingly glamourous New York State Thruway service stations, and the mesh sacs of pecans and kumquats we’d buy as we made our way through Georgia. By the time we reached our Miami Beach destination, we’d be knackered, but thrilled by the sound of the surf and the musty smell of our decrepit art deco hotel. I was 16 by when we took our last family trip together. When I started a family of my own, I was adamant about vacationing with the kids as often as possible, but we only made it to Disney World, a Florida Club Med, and a ski trip to Whistler, BC before my husband and I split, when the girls were 8 and 10. As a single mom, I made it my mission to holiday with my growing daughters as often as possible. As a result, we’ve had some wonderful adventures. The girls (Bekky, 24 and Joey, 22) both have significant others now, but with the recent celebration of my 60th birthday, I longed for another getaway with just the two of them. We opted for a restful surf and sand sojourn in a place we’d never been before: Barbados.
Either I’m that incredibly grateful, or that incredibly exhausted, but I start weeping the moment I see our luxurious suite at The Crane Resort: Spacious white rooms with dark wood Indonesian furniture and a gigantic four-poster bed that’s the most inviting I’ve ever seen. The Jacuzzi tub in the huge bathroom looks big enough for four. Dark wood blinds and bleached wooden ceilings and spinning white ceiling fans give the place the feeling of an elegant old plantation. The piece de resistance is our very own plunging pool on our private terrace. And just beyond, a sumptuous ocean view. We take a dip in the pool before taking off for an early bite, and find just the thing to hit the spot—crab quesadillas on the deck of L’Azure, one of the resorts five restaurants overlooking the beach. We’re wiped, so we head back to our suite to rest before dinner. But in the end, we decide to stay in and order room service. The three of us hang out on my bed, watching ‘American Idol’, and savouring the coziness of just being together in Shangri-la.
It’s Sunday, and the morning starts off with a gospel breakfast at L’Azure. After a grandiose buffet, a choir serves up a tasty assortment of spiritual tunes. With a breathtaking ocean view in the background, it seems like things couldn’t get any more spiritual. After breakfast we head to the guest services desk to plan our week. There are so many options it’s dizzying. We book surf lessons, a spa visit, a catamaran cruise to snorkel and swim with turtles, and a day’s outing to Bridgetown. We shop for big floppy sunhats at the resort boutique, and spend the afternoon frolicking in the surf. The water’s a bit wild, but the girls adore it. I observe them from a distance, relaxed on my lounge chair, remembering what they used to be like as little girls, playing on the beach. I think back to every exotic vacation I ever took with them. And my only wish is that we’d taken more. Dinner’s at Zen, the resort’s lovely Japanese/Thai restaurant overlooking the beach. We order too much sushi and after a delicious feast, trundle back to the suite for more cozy TV watching, together.
Surf’s up—not for me, but the girls are eager to try the sport so we decide on a lesson at Barry’s Surf School, an operation on the southern shore of the island, run by a fellow who grew up in Barbados and has been surfing since the age of 10. We’re picked up in a Land Rover jeep early in the morning and drive out to the St. Lawrence Gap, the hot strip where the surf school’s located. The girls are taken out by an instructor while I’m left on shore to watch. Feeling very much the mum, I thrill to their victories on the boards, freaking every time they wipe out. By the end of the adventure, they’re sunburned but exhilarated.
We hire a driver to show us around the island and head towards Bridgetown, a 40 minute drive. Bekky’s been doing some research on the island and suggests we see the oldest synagogue in the Caribbean, dating back to 1654, founded by Sephardic Jews from Brazil. The tiny temple is incredibly well-kept. We snap a photo to send to my mom, knowing she’ll be impressed that we managed to squeeze a temple visit into our holiday agenda! Then it’s over to Swan St. for some Barbadian market shopping. We pick up a couple of kites and Bekky finds a cute striped dress and flowered skirt in a funky boutique chock full of trendy, inexpensive clothes. We check out the Pelican Craft Market for more treasures, where we scoop up some conch shells, a bird feeder and bracelets made of coconut shells, and a pair of vintage bookends. Lunch is at Cin Cin—the hottest new restaurant on the island—all modern and white, with a swish terrace overlooking the sea. We order fancy drinks and delicious mussels, savouring the spectacular view. On the way back to the hotel we spot an antique shop and browse for treasures.
We opt for a day-long outing on a catamaran, with about 40 other people. The trip’s called Cool Runnings and it’s a jam fest of reggae, countless rum drinks, and a first-rate crew who are affable and entertaining. The trip includes snorkeling and swimming with sea turtles. Watching these sea creatures next to you in the water is magical, but as soon as one’s spotted you’ve got about 40 pairs of legs kicking towards it, so it’s not easy getting your moment with a turtle. Still, I manage to stroke one’s shell. Then it’s back on board to sail to another location for snorkeling at a shipwreck. The current’s strong, and as I struggle to get to the others in the group, my asthma kicks in. By now the boat seems too far away to get back to. I call out for help. One of the crew members appears in a flash with a flotation device and tells me to grab onto it as he pulls me back to the boat. I start feeling a little old, and disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up. But back on board, another Malibu rum and pineapple juice later, I’m feeling a whole lot better as we sunbathe on the front deck. By the end of the trip, I’m up dancing my butt off with a dozen other lively passengers, not feeling “old” in the least.
A lazy day at the beach and too much sun. But tonight’s our big dinner reservation at 5-star restaurant, The Cliff. Some have started to say that the pricey eatery, which opened in 1985, is over-rated. But some claim a waterside table dining experience here is a must. I figure the week of my monumental birthday celebration is a reasonable time to splurge on dinner at The Cliff, and I can’t wait to see if the locale, ambience, food and service are up to snuff. We’re not disappointed. Pre-dinner, we sip on giant Mojitos on the upper deck, under a starry sky, illuminated further by fiery torches. It’s as though this restaurant is built into the side of the magnificent cliff, and the setting is romantic, dramatic, awe-inspiring. For entertainment, we need only look down and watch the giant stingrays and long, barracuda-like fish swimming in the illuminated water below. Bekky and I dine on seared tuna, au poivre, and Cajun-style, and Joey’s content with the vegetarian offerings. Our two-course meal, teamed with our cocktails, a total of 4 glasses of wine, and cappuccino (a plate of truffles were kindly brought to the table “on the house”) cost a total of 700 Barbados dollars…or $350 US Undoubtedly steep, but the fine service and unparalleled ambiance, especially for this once-in-a-lifetime special occasion, seem worth it.
It’s Friday, our last day, so we go for one final adventure and head out to Harrison’s Cave— the island’s most popular attraction. I feel like a mom on a school trip. We travel through the enormous natural wonder on a tram, the girls on either side of me. It feels like a ride at Universal Studios—except these wonders are for real. Countless stalagmites, stalactites, sparkling crystals and running streams later, we emerge into the bright sunlight with an even greater appreciated for the natural beauty of this wondrous island.
Back at the hotel, we squeeze in another couple of hours on the beach before heading out to Oistin’s Fish Fry. Located 25 minutes from The Crane, the bustling array of food stands and craft stalls provides one of the most lively and spirited gatherings imaginable. This is THE place to go on Friday nights. We luxuriate in all the lovely local crafts—the perfect opportunity for last-minute shopping—and each buy a coral necklace and a few other assorted treasures. We also manage to attract a few playful marriage proposals along the way. Nothing like the flirtatiously charming Bajan men to boost one’s ego! We dine at a picnic table with friends and devour the most scrumptious fried fish, salad, and macaroni pie—an island delicacy—for a mere 30 Barbados dollars each—or $15 US. It’s apparent the girls are enjoying this outing even more than last night’s, and lament the fact that we hadn’t dined at Oistin’s a few more times during our trip.
Time to say good-bye. I take one last dip in our plunge pool, reflecting on the splendor of the past week. This has been a true luxury vacation—but not because we stayed at a gorgeous resort, had exotic adventures or dined at wonderful restaurants. The real luxury of this sojourn was holidaying with my girls: We stopped our hectic lives long enough to embark on a journey together, remind ourselves how precious these family bonds are, and remember how fortunate we are when we can enjoy such an exotic part of the planet with some of the people we love the most.