The Caribbean: Come on in, the water's lovely!

Sandy shores and warm weather make the Caribbean the perfect family playground

What's the attraction?

How about eight to 10 hours of sunshine a day and a tourism industry that has perfected the art of the exotic bucket-and-spade family holiday over the past half-century?

 

The Caribbean often provides families with their first taste of the tropics, within the safe confines of resorts that offer all the requisite comforts (kids' clubs, watersports, a variety of cuisines to suit the fussiest of eaters).

Then there's the sheer choice of family holidays: the Caribbean is well represented by the big tour operators, including First Choice (0871 200 4455; firstchoice.co.uk), the TUI subsidiary that is now devoted to all-inclusive packages, and Thomas Cook (0871 8950055; thomascookcom), as well as luxury travel companies such as ITC Classics (01244 355550; itcclassics.co.uk), and specialists including Caribtours (020 3131 0172; caribtours.co.uk).

Plus, there are direct flights from the UK to a number of the islands. The main airlines are British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com/caribbean), Monarch (0871 225 2555; monarch.co.uk), Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com), Cubana (020-7538 5933; cubana.cu), Thomas Cook (0844 855 0515; flythomascook.com) and Thomson (0871 231 4787; thomsonfly.com).

 

Beat the budget

All-inclusive packages protect penny-watching families from costly surprises and help offset the high Air Passenger Duty levied on travel to the region. First Choice charges £4,458 for a family of four staying at the RIU Yucatá* on Mexico's Caribbean coast for a week, with flights from Gatwick on 30 July. Meanwhile, Virgin (0844 557 3859; virginholidays.co.uk) has a week at the Halcyon Cove by Rex in Antigua for £3,425 for four people, with flights on 2 June (book by 31 January).

 

Sail away

A Caribbean family holiday doesn't have to be beach-bound. Nonsuch Bay (020 8090 4978; nonsuchbayresort.com) opened on the south-east coast of Antigua a couple of years ago to offer sailing holidays that families with children aged eight and over can do together. A week for four people in a two-bedroom apartment costs £2,360 for stays taken between 28 April and 14 July this year, including unlimited sailing with group tuition. Flights extra.

 

Drops in the ocean

Unless you really head off the beaten track, you'll find most islands offer an easy experience for families. Resorts provide a generally good standard of flexible accommodation across the budget range, as well as close proximity to glorious beaches. Barbados, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Antigua are favoured by British tourists, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. Sarah Jackson, a market manager at Kuoni (0844 488 0243; kuoni.co.uk), particularly recommends Antigua, Grenada and St Lucia for their "excellent family-friendly hotels". And don't forget that the Caribbean Sea laps the shores of the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, too. Virgin Atlantic joins BA on the Gatwick-Cancun route in June.

 

Who said that?

Broad sun-stoned beaches./White heat./ A green River/A bridge,/scorched yellow palms/from the summer-sleeping house/drowsing through August.

– From "Midsummer, Tobago" by Derek Walcott, poet

The portability of children is not improved by their number, or, for that matter, by their age.

– PJ O'Rourke, author

Feeling hot, hot, hot

– Arrow, soca singer

 

Beyond the beach

Create your own mix of sun, sand and sightseeing. Ziplines and glass-bottomed boat tours, 4x4 safaris and waterparks are standard attractions and many islands have lush hinterlands, including rainforests. Step out on Dominica (discoverdominica.com), which has just opened the Waitukubuli National Trail (waitukubulitrail.dm), the first long-distance walk in the Caribbean; while on Montserrat (visitmontserrat.com), children can see an active volcano up close. There's plenty of history, too, with sights and museums charting slavery. Barbados is home to one of the oldest buildings in the Americas, St Nicholas Abbey (stnicholasabbey.com), a 17th-century plantation house.

 

Local heroes

For an insight into local culture, book lodgings with a family through a company such as Homestays Grenada (07429 540 849; homestaysgrenada.com), and join in activities including Caribbean cookery and steel-pan lessons. Ride buses with the locals – often in minibuses with times that depend on when the seats are filled. Find out if there's a fish fry, a fun event held on Friday and Saturdays where stalls sell the day's catch. Oistins in Barbados is popular with both locals and tourists. For a sensory feast, take a trip to market. Some feature arts and crafts stalls, too – these are good places to pick up CDs by local musicians.

 

Seasons in the sun

If every penny counts, try to avoid the peak December-April period (though beware of hurricane season between August and October). Claire Bentley, of British Airways Holidays, says: "My tip would be to travel during the June half term or in the summer holidays." Seven nights' room-only at the Bougainvillea Beach Resort, Barbados with BA Holidays (0844 493 0758; ba.com) costs £2,364 for two adults and one child, departing on 2 June, in time for the school half term. Book by 24 January.

 

Insider information

"A villa gives families the advantages of having their own pool, where the children can make as much noise as they want... and in the evenings a cook can come to prepare a fabulous meal. You only pay what your drinks and groceries cost from the supermarket, there are no room charges running up, and many villas have very good staffing arrangements with maids, cooks and ground staff." Philip Leighton, Caribbean CV Travel (020-7401 1050; cvtravel.co.uk)

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