Thoughts of a Caribbean holiday conjure up images of swaying palm trees, powder white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and steel drum music. Whilst these images are perfectly accurate and indeed the main draw of the region, each of the 700 islands that make up the Caribbean also have a unique appeal, character and charm. Some of the islands are also better suited to families than others.
So how do you choose which island is best for your family holiday? I hope to be able to assist you…
I spent three seasons cruising around the Caribbean as Shore Excursions Assistant and then Manager onboard family cruise ships. After settling down to a life on land, I worked for a luxury tour operator as the Caribbean Travel Specialist. The role involved frequent visits to the Caribbean to develop my knowledge of the region and familiarise myself with the best hotels and attractions (it was a tough job!) I will now share my top five family-friendly Caribbean islands…
There are said to be 365 beaches in Antigua, one for every day of the year. Although I visited many beaches during my time in Antigua I cannot vouch for all 365! Away from the picture perfect beaches, the small capital of St John’s, home to the cruise ship terminal, has some lovely boutique shops which sell unique clothes and local arts and crafts. There are also several independent quirky bars if shopping is not of interest!
Steady trade winds have made Antigua one of the most popular sailing destinations in the world with many major sailing events taking place annually. If you are not a sailing enthusiast it is worth avoiding travelling during the sailing regattas as hotels and flights can be pricey due to the spectators who travel to the island. (The main sailing event takes place during the last week April).
During a family holiday we enjoyed a historical trip to Nelson’s Dockyard National Park in English Harbour and a visit up to Shirley Heights to view the breathtaking views of the island from above (unfortunately it was a rather gloomy day so my image above does not do it justice!)
In addition to sightseeing, the island offers many fabulous excursions. A thrilling rib ride around the entire island stopping in English Harbour was my particular favourite as Shore Excursions Manager. I can also thoroughly recommend booking a helicopter flight over Monserrat. The small island just off the Antigua coast was devastated by eruptions of the Soufrière Hills Volcano in 1995. I vividly remember everyone onboard our helicopter being chatty and excitable as our helicopter flew over Antigua and then we all went silent as we saw the devastation on Monserrat below. Today a new capital is slowly being rebuilt in the safe zone north of the island.
Other excursions I enjoyed during frequent calls into Antigua include a mangrove kayaking tour, snorkeling with stingrays, a deep-sea fishing excursion, a jeep safari and quad biking tour.
Top tips for a family holiday in Antigua
*** If budget permits, treat your family to a stay on the exclusive island of Jumby Bay, I can guarantee no resort will ever come close to the level of customer service you will receive from this Rosewood Resort. We were most impressed that from the moment we arrived on the island all members of staff referred to us by our first names and no request was ever too much trouble. Our son even had his freshly squeezed fruit juice chilling on ice alongside our bottle of champagne when we arrived at our villa:)
*** Do not miss the weekly BBQ party at Shirley Heights Lookout on Sunday evening. The food is delicious (particularly the jerk chicken!), the steel drum music is contagious and the sun setting over the English Harbour from a view-point of 490ft above sea level is truly spectacular!
*** Visit Stingray City to snorkel with stingrays (and learn how to do the stingray shuffle!) This was always our most popular excursion in Antigua, particularly with families as the water is fairly shallow and so even young children can enjoy the experience.
St Lucia is a lush rainforest island which has beautiful beaches, idyllic bays, stunning waterfalls and something to entertain every member of a family. Just a handful of the activities I can personally recommend include – whale and dolphin safari boat trips, creating chocolate at the Rabot Estate (the cocoa plantation of Hotel Chocolat), visiting the Caribbean’s only ‘drive-in’ volcano in La Soufrière (I warm you it is rather smelly from the sulphur but well worth a visit!), ziplining through the rainforest, climbing the Gros Piton, sipping cocktails overlooking the mighty Piton Mountains, exploring Pigeon Point National Park and soaking up the rich culture and heritage.
Top tips for a family holiday in St Lucia
*** Families with older children will enjoy the Gros Islet street party which takes place every Friday night. The live music, Creole and Caribbean street food and party atmosphere are unmissable experiences! (Young local children were present at the party I attended however I would suggest it is an experience to best share with older kids)
*** St Lucia is a large island, approximately 14 miles wide by 27 miles long. The main lesson I learnt from my familiarisation tour with the St Lucia Tourist Board is the island is best experienced with a twin stop holiday. I recommend therefore to spend some time in the north of the island near the vibrant Rodney Bay with its many restaurants and bars and some time relaxing in the south of the island near the majestic Piton mountains which have UNESCO World Heritage status.
*** If you enjoy music, do not miss the family-friendly annual Jazz & Arts Festival. I was fortunate to attend on my fam trip. It was an incredible event enjoyed by local families and visitors alike. Believe me, the St Lucian’s know how to party!
*** If you have a head for heights I recommend zip lining through the lush green rainforest. Soaring 150 feet off the forest floor on 12 different zip lines some with 800 feet between platforms will be an unforgettable moment of your holiday.
Barbados is one of the most popular and established islands and the most easterly of the Caribbean. It is a food lovers paradise and a perfect choice for families too. Visitors can expect turquoise blue Caribbean sea on the west coast and Atlantic surf on the east coast (which is worth bearing in mind for families who desire calmer waters for their little ones to frolic in!)
The island is home to many incredible resorts, restaurants and bars. For families with teenagers I would recommend visiting the bustling St Lawrence Gap in Christ Church. Barbados hosts a full calendar of sports and music events throughout the year and also offers a range of attractions and excursions.
My favourite excursion in Barbados was snorkelling in the crystal clear waters with the green sea turtles. If you have children who are not confident swimmers you can experience the marine life without getting wet with a trip on an Atlantis submarine. I would also recommend exploring the brightly coloured villages by bike, there are several bike rental companies to choose from. A visit to Harrison’s Cave is also a memorable day out, as is a tour around a rum distillery.
Top tips for a family holiday in Barbados
*** Book a catamaran sailing cruise to ensure you have the best chance possible for swimming with green sea turtles. Experienced crew help with novice snorkelers, equipment is provided and depending on the tour you book you may also get the opportunity to snorkel over a shipwreck. (You will be amazed by the marine life, the fish will literally eat out of your hands!)
*** No holiday is complete without trying flying fish, the national dish of Barbados! I can also recommend trying plantain chips and bean dip.
*** Teenagers will enjoy the water sports on offer at The Boatyard, a popular beach bar and restaurant located near the capital, Bridgetown. (Expect to see cruise ship crew/officers here too, as it is a renowned meeting spot!)
This friendly, laid back island is affectionately known as the ‘Spice Island’. The lush green mountain slopes are volcanic in origin and covered in nutmeg, cinnamon, all-spice and ginger plantations. The combined smell as you drive through the spice plantations is incredible. Grenada is not as well-known as the popular islands above however is a great choice for families and nature lovers.
The must see attractions are the century old spice plantations and the Grand Etang Lake. I can also thoroughly recommend spending time relaxing on the gorgeous two-mile white sandy Grand Anse Beach, going on a guided trek through the national parks and swimming in the many waterfalls.
Top tips for a family holiday in Grenada
*** Book a scuba diving or snorkeling trip and explore the world’s first underwater sculpture gallery made of 65 unique sculptures displayed on the sea bed! I have also been on the glass bottom boat excursion which allows you to view the sculptures without the need to get wet (not as much fun in my opinion but ideal for novice swimmers and kids).
*** Another unmissable excursion is the Rhum Runner, (always a talking point onboard the ships I worked on, passengers absolutely loved it!) This party cruise has run for 25 years + so they are clearly doing something right! It consists of a narrated sightseeing tour along the coastline of Grenada before the music gets cranked up and guests are encouraged to enjoy some rum punches (fruit punches for kiddies!), dancing and a limbo competition. (I have had to carry several passengers back onboard to sleep off the effects of over indulging on the Rhum Runner!)
British Virgin Islands
Lastly, but certainly not least, as the British Virgin Islands are my favourite group of islands in the Caribbean. The BVI are a collection of 64 stunning islands, islets and cays located between Anguilla and Puerto Rico. (Only 19 of the 64 islands are inhabited). For families who love the water and wish to visit an unspoilt, sophisticated destination which is slightly off the beaten path, the BVI is a perfect choice.
If you have visited Tortola whilst on a cruise do not make the same mistake that I did, in thinking that you have ‘done’ the BVI… I had visited Tortola every fortnight for three cruise seasons however, during a familiarisation trip with the BVI tourist board, I quickly realised that I had barely scratched the surface of the beautiful BVI during my time at sea.
Main islands in the BVI
Tortola is the largest and most developed of the islands in the BVI. Virgin Gorda is slower paced and has the famous and very popular Baths. These consist of huge granite boulders which form pools and offer great snorkelling opportunities. Jost Van Dyke, is the party island, and has a huge choice of quirky bars and restaurants (I was reliably informed during my time in the BVI that they are often frequented by celebs and royalty!) Anegada is surrounded by reefs and is famous for its diving and snorkelling.
The region boasts of world-class sailing and every water sport you can possibly imagine including some of the best ship wreck scuba diving in the Caribbean. Visitors can discover the uniqueness of each island by jumping onboard the efficient and regular inter-island ferries.
Top tips for a family holiday in the BVI
*** Having visited Virgin Gorda Baths frequently with groups of my cruise ship passengers I can hand on heart recommend visiting when a cruise ship is not in port. Exploring the Baths is so much more fun without hundreds of tourists. The same goes for visiting Cane Garden Bay, a stunning beach located on the north shore of Tortola. These photos were taken when there was no cruise ship in port! (Top image – Cane Garden Bay, two images below Virgin Gorda Baths).
*** Keep an eye out for Sir Richard Branson! My group and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him whilst he was waiting for his boat ride over to his home on Necker Island.
*** For families with teenagers do not miss the Full Moon Party at Trellis Bay, Beef Island. Local vendors sell their arts and crafts, whilst tourists and locals party together to the live calypso music and poi shows. The highlight of the party was watching a giant fireball being set alight in the bay.
Flights and transfers to our top five family-friendly Caribbean islands
Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbados are incredibly family-friendly islands not only due to the attractions and accommodation on offer but also the convenience of travelling to the islands. There are frequent direct flights with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways from the UK. (Mainly departing from London Gatwick although Virgin also operate a direct flight from Manchester to Barbados). Charter airlines also fly to some of the islands and sometimes from regional airports too including – Thomas Cook, Monarch and Thomson.
The flight time from the UK to the three islands above is approximately 8.5 – 9 hours. The transfer time from the airport to the majority of the resorts is between 20 – 45 minutes (and therefore feasible with even the most energetic of toddlers!) The resorts in the north of Saint Lucia have the longest transfer time from Hewanorra airport (approx. 1 hour 30 minutes).
There are several flights a week from the UK to Grenada which make short touchdowns in Saint Lucia before continuing on to Grenada (with therefore no need to disembark the plane and unsettle your children!)
A new charter flight now connects the British Virgin Islands with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways flights into Antigua on Fridays and Saturdays. These VI flights have made the BVI more accessible than ever before. I thoroughly enjoyed the short one hour flight as the views of the islands below are absolutely breathtaking. Although I would normally recommend direct flights when travelling with kids, I sincerely believe this charter flight adds another adventurous element to a BVI family holiday. The the timings are family-friendly too, as they get you to your resort just in time for dinner:)
Have you visited the Caribbean? Do you agree with our chosen Top Five Family-Friendly Caribbean Islands?
Grenada image copyright Flickr. All other images copyright Travel Loving Family.