Picture this: Fun for all in Antigua

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A resident children's book illustrator helps bring a Caribbean beach resort to life for Jane Anderson and her family.

"Can you guess what it is yet?" The children's book illustrator Adam Stower deftly draws what looks like a giant's nose but turns out to be a rabbit being fired out of a cannon into a huge wobbly jelly. Twenty or so kids squeal with delight as they shout out "nose!", "rabbit!", and "jelly!". Their excitement mounts as the turquoise Caribbean sea crashes on to Coco Beach just outside, and warm salty trade winds breeze through the open door of the Kids' Club at St James's Club in Antigua.

"It's impossible to fox you lot," says Adam in his smiley English manner to the children here on a February half-term Caribbean break. There's Paul, aged 10, from New York City; Jack, five, from Twickenham; Harrison, eight, from Canada; and Maya, seven, from Scotland. Along with my two, Scarlett, seven, and four-year-old Fin, all are revelling in the simple, therapeutic pleasure of watching someone draw.

In this age of Nintendo Wii, it's heartening to see that something as simple as a black felt-tip drawing on a large sheet of white paper can whip children from age four to 10 into such a state of euphoria. I'm transported back to my childhood, watching Rolf Harris and Tony Hart. These days, Mister Maker on CBeebies has taken up the mantle, albeit in a rather more manic way.

Adam is hosting five days of hour-long storytelling and drawing workshops, a concept that has brought together Puffin Books, Elite Island Resorts and Virgin Holidays. The idea is to offer kids something a bit different during school holidays, and it also gives Puffin the chance to get its books talked about. The publisher has a small library of children's books in the Kids' Club at St James's Club.

The whole thing panders to a parent's quest for getting something educational into their children's holiday time, and infuses it with traditional values: there isn't a computer screen in sight. For Adam, himself a dad from Brighton, the appeal is straightforward. "All parents like an hour here and there on holiday to lounge by the pool, safe in the knowledge that their kids are enjoying themselves. And I think anything that encourages children to read and draw is good. It's quite difficult for staff in kids' clubs to keep levels of enthusiasm up, so I'm here to inspire."

Adam has illustrated many successful Puffin books including Mungo And The Picture Book Pirates and its sequels, along with Bottoms Up!. He's a natural with kids and has tricks up his sleeve to keep everyone calm. "These are very special felt tips," he says. "They only work when everything is peaceful."

After the guessing game he settles the children down and reads one of his books aloud. Mungo And The Picture Book Pirates lends itself wonderfully to the Antiguan setting – and Adam lets the children in on some of the nuances of his illustrations and the liberating idea that in picture books you can create anything.

The workshop now begins in earnest as the kids get creating. Adam has prepared a huge underwater scene for the children to add their drawings to. He has drawn some fish templates for the younger ones to colour-in and encourages the older ones to create their own sea creatures. Fin comes up with a crazy idea of an underwater van and Adam draws a submersible chip van driven by a failed pirate called Dave who has been forced to find an alternative career.

Each of the five sessions follows the same pattern, but the theme and activity varies. Paper plates take centre stage as Adam demonstrates how to make jellyfish one day and masks the next, offering up insider drawing tips such as how to get great expressions with eyes and eyebrows. Maya's mum tells me her daughter doesn't usually like kids' clubs, but this has been a breakthrough.

The club itself is a fairly modest affair, just a room with a table and some chairs, a sandy play area at the back and front, and a plastic Wendy house. Of course there are palm trees all round and a stunning beach in full view. Children can come here any time from 10am to 11pm for no extra charge; dinner is served at 5pm if parents are prepared to pay US$15 (£10) per hour for a babysitter, and dine without their children later.

St James's Club is a four-star resort, though by no means the slickest family resort on Antigua. It offers an all-inclusive option – which, these days, puts it in good company. Perhaps the worldwide economic downturn has done the reputation of all-inclusives a good turn: chi-chi hotel groups that previously shunned the all-in option – Les Pavillons in Mauritius and Constance Moofushi Resort in the Maldives among them – have now embraced it.

There are four restaurants to choose from at St James's Club. We avoided Coco's as the ambience and food were below par, but the Rainbow Garden Room was reliably good, and Docksider was an above-average al fresco restaurant by the lagoon, with à la carte and buffet dining. The real culinary treat is Piccolo Mondos which charges a US$35 (£23) per-person supplement, worth it for a treat but easily avoidable if you're watching your holiday pennies. One family of seven I spoke to clearly weren't: they were heading off-campus to Catherine's Café at English Harbour, a French restaurant where a party that size could spend £500 in a night.

Some of the all-inclusive aspects were curious. You pay for drinks if they are by the bottle – but who would do that when you can order a decent sparkling wine by the glass all night?

At the tours desk, there was a healthy trade in paid excursions. Family-friendly island activities included a zip-wire experience through the rainforest, a snorkelling trip to Green Island, and what was ambitiously billed by Adventure Antigua as an "Eco Tour", even though it involved a 52ft power catamaran.

So, how much does this cost? Looking ahead to next February half term (without the Puffin offering), the week's package price for a family of four is about £5,350. But this is in the middle of the Caribbean peak season. Off-season Antigua, despite the storms that can blow in between June and November, is still delightful. And while summer prices in the Med rocket, in the Caribbean they actually fall. Flying out on 20 August, a family of four will pay £4,860 – hardly bargain basement, but excellent value compared with a European all-inclusive. With Ed Vere, the author and illustrator of Puffin's Mr Big (as you surely know, a gorilla who can play jazz piano), it could be a storybook family holiday.

Family-friendly Antigua

* Send them sailing down zip wires for a day through the Fig Tree forest. The Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour company takes children aged five and above on a 300ft-high course of nine overhead lines. The 90-minute adrenalin-raiser costs US$50 (£31) for kids; $89 (£55) for adults. It runs every hour between 9am and 11am, Mon to Sat ( antiguarainforest.com)

* A boat trip to the uninhabited Green Island takes you to deserted beaches and offshore coral reefs, teeming with tropical fish. Ferries leave at 11am and 1.30pm daily from the jetty near the Harmony Hall hotel. If you eat at the Italian restaurant there, the five-minute boat trip is discounted from $20 (£12) to $10 (£6) per person. ( harmonyhallantigua.com)

* A visit to "Stingray City" is an exhilarating excursion, bringing you up close with rays. Departing from Mercers Creek Bay, you're ferried out to Barge Reef, where you can swim with these exotic fish for an hour. Free for under-fours; otherwise $50 (£31) per person. ( stingraycityantigua.com)

* Another waterborne adventure is available through Wadadli Cats. This company offers three different catamaran cruises around the island – all of which are suitable for children over five. Trips include an al fresco lunch and a rum-stocked open bar for grown-ups. Prices start at $95 (£59) for the full day. Children under 12 go half price. ( wadadlicats.com)

* Segway tours are also available. These odd-looking devices will scoot you and your truculent teenagers around the island, making the process of instilling a sense of enthusiasm about historical and cultural sites that little bit easier. From $65 (£40) per person for a half-day. ( segwayantigua.com)

Travel essentials: Antigua

Getting there

* Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; virginholidays.co.uk) offers a Puffin Storytelling Week at the St James's Club in Antigua, departing Gatwick on 20 August, for £4,860 for a family of four. The price includes Virgin Atlantic flights (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com) from Gatwick, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation in a "standard club" room. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) competes on the Gatwick-Antigua route.

Staying there

* St James's Club, Mamora Bay, Antigua (001 954 949 2133; stjamesclubantigua.com).

* Ed Vere, creator of Puffin's 'Mr Big' and the forthcoming 'Bedtime for Monsters' has been confirmed for 20-27 August at the St James's Club.

Getting there

* Antigua Tourism: antigua-barbuda.org

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?