A romantic vacation for three works just fine in Antigua

  • Article by: ALAN BEHR , McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 1:15 PM

A resort caters to both couples and families with ease and fun.

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Shopping takes on a pirate twist in this shop on Heritage Quay, in Antigua’s capital of St. John’s. Much of the life of the town seems to be waiting for the next cruise ship to arrive.

The motors of the Carlisle Bay 2 fired up, and Skipper Cleve pivoted the boat west, skimming the smooth waters that stroked the white southern beaches of Antigua. Our resort, the Carlisle Bay, had no sooner disappeared than its neighbor, Curtain Bluff, came into view. Then came one of the many disused sugar mills that dot the island, each looking like an overgrown, stone beehive, the queen bee and her swarm gone on to better things.

Crewmate Garfield poured the Champagne for my wife and me and juice for our kindergartner, Ryan, and we followed the sun, whose descent through blue water on this, our day of arrival on Antigua, was the object of waterborne pursuit. Sea air washed over us like sacred incense, and we ate hors d’oeuvres and contented ourselves with a mischievous sun that sneaked behind a low cloud, as if suddenly too modest to set in full public view.

Barely had I awoke the next morning before, as scheduled, I was lying on a mat in the open-sided yoga pavilion, holding a pose that made me look like a zombie lizard, eyeing a small bat dozing inverted above us, hoping my wife did not notice it. This was my introduction to Pilates — and my wife and I were trying to follow the instructions and imitate the moves of Karen, a graceful young woman whose every twist defied the laws of physics. “Let your legs get heavy,” she would say, and after holding them aloft for as long as we did, we needed no further encouragement. The bat slept through it all, and only after it was done did Karen and I let my wife in on the identity of our slumbering visitor.

Kids’ club a hit

Ryan was already in the inspirationally named Cool Kids Club and threatening not to leave. Each day, the club followed a careful schedule of activities that ranged from splashing in its pool, to tennis and crafts, to pizza and a movie (the latter, at dinnertime, for the purpose of affording parents a night off). Most of the families staying at the resort were from Britain, and Ryan quickly made friends with children his age from London to Aberdeen. Each afternoon, Mommy would take Ryan to the beach, which was so close, I would have landed on it if I had jumped from the terrace of our suite. They next would head together to the main pool, making a Mommy-and-me ruckus until dinnertime.

The resort caters to families and couples, and the families tended to congregate together once their kids got to know each other in the club. The couples were obviously enjoying being well-cared-for, and they looked more relaxed than the parents — which, of course, surprises no parent who has ever vacationed with children. The resort had anticipated that, and made everything easy for us, and thank goodness for that.

So the staff at the aquatics center carefully outfitted us to go kayaking as a family, which, although novices, we managed to do without ramming snorkelers (despite a close call or two).

The sea had risen the next afternoon, and this time the Carlisle Bay 2 bore through it, speeding east like a homesick torpedo. The three of us were seated at the stern, Lenny of the aquatics staff and his teammate, Marvin, checking on us now and then to see how we were doing.

We arrived at Nelson’s Dockyard, in English Harbour, in very short order. Our guide showed us through the restored Royal Navy yard where then-Captain Horatio Nelson was senior naval officer from 1784 through 1787. His thankless mission was to enforce the Navigation Acts, which forbade trade with the new United States — to the great annoyance of the many Antiguan merchants who depended on that trade for their livelihoods. When American merchants sued Nelson for illegally seizing their ships, he spent eight long months stuck aboard his command, HMS Boreas, dodging imprisonment should he lose in court. He won that round and later went on to win the Battle of Trafalgar, one of the greatest naval victories in history.

Next we walked gingerly through the cavernous barn of A & F Sails, a repair facility where sails seemed to flow from the walls and spread across the floor, to be repaired in ways that Nelson might have recognized, the sewing machines excepted. When we arrived back at the boat, the sun pierced low clouds with an intensity straight from a Jacob van Ruisdael landscape, and Lenny said it was time to take shelter because the beautiful light meant a storm was coming fast. We had just made it to the porch of the nearest building when the rain came down in a tropical sheet. It cleared enough for us to get to the boat, and it picked up again as we bounced over the sea, huddled in increasingly wet towels, the water spraying from the awning that spread over us.

Ryan, meanwhile, had fallen in love — with little Eloise from the U.K.; with our morning server, Lateifa; and most of all with our evening hostess, Tracy. Both Lateifa and Tracy worked at the seaside, open-walled Indigo on the Beach, which is both the breakfast room and the main restaurant. But we soon discovered the Asian-themed East, as did most of the others we had come to know by this time. Although it is indoors, the food is more complex and the prices about the same — and there is a kind of upside-down fun about eating sophisticated Thai and Japanese-influenced cuisine in the middle of your Caribbean vacation.

Massages for Mom and Dad

Both my wife and I got massages from the delicate hands of Vakesha, at the hotel’s Blue Spa. I next hired a taxi to take us to St. John’s, the capital of the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Our driver, Reggie, was lean, effusive and obviously both knowledgeable and known to all: We had many shout-outs and waves to and from passers-by. Reggie talked about the recent general elections, in which the Antigua Labor Party had returned to power after a decade in opposition. Under slogans such as “Vote dem out,” the ALP was able to point to troubled projects, such as the enormous hulk of an unfinished parking garage Reggie showed us in St. John’s. But Reggie was skeptical about the promises the new leadership has made.

St. John’s revealed itself as one of those colonial capitals that hangs on by its own exertions. Low and heavily populated (nearly 40 percent of the island’s approximately 81,000 inhabitants live there), the town is busy once it shakes off the midday heat, its streets loud with music and loudspeaker announcements from cluttered retail stores. The better shopping district is formed by two quays, and it seems as if, like a naval port waiting for the fleet to come in, much of the life of the town is about anticipation and preparation for when the next cruise ship arrives.

At Cafe Napoleon, a small wedding party was celebrating with sparkling wine. Seeing my photojournalist’s camera rig, a woman from the restaurant approached me to say that the owner had hosted the party gratis, as a courtesy, but the couple lacked a photographer — would I mind helping out? Just hearing about that neighborly act of altruism was reason enough for me to stop what I was doing and become a wedding photographer. Indeed, the people of St. John’s proved so inviting and gracious, I hired Reggie to bring me back for a return visit.

For our final big moment, we booked the Carlisle Bay jetty for a romantic dinner for three, and I worked that morning with Chef Sebastiaan Seegers on a customized menu. Ryan arrived for dinner carrying a representative sample of his fleet of toy service and rescue vehicles. Our server, Juma, lit torches, and as the sun set, dinner was served. Juma warned us about wind gusts, and one did take down a tray and topple some glasses, but that turned out to be the herald of a squall.

My wife, ever prudent, called out, “I’ve got Ryan — you rescue the riesling!” Ryan took hold of his miniature truck fleet; my wife took hold of Ryan, and I followed them to the protection of the aquatics area bar, bottles of wine and mineral water bouncing in the bucket in my hands, ice water bathing my legs as the rain washed down my neck and shoulders.

An unruffled Juma continued serving the meal on the terrace of our suite, as Ryan stretched out in our bedroom with one of his favorite videos. Like a honeymoon couple left to dine alone (albeit with their child in plain sight), we finished the meal and the rescued riesling to the music of chirping crickets and the rain-pelted waters of the bay below.

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