There are many ways to blow a four-year-old’s mind. But looking down at her pink flip-flops and suddenly noticing they’ve turned purple, is a pretty big wow moment for my daughter. We’re 45 metres below sea level, experiencing ‘colour change’ on board our Atlantis Submarine.
I had only just recovered from the little prank the crew played on our way out to the dive site. Being the gullible, panicky holiday mum I am, my eyes widened as I heard the words ‘get changed into your wet gear and swim across to the submarine’ towards the end of the safety preamble. We were on a boat – me, my four-year-old and my beloved camera. We had no swim gear, my daughter can’t yet doggy paddle and my camera’s not waterproof. As I looked around at the other passengers, desperately eyeing up belongings for signs of towels and swimsuits, I noticed a few smirks. Our instructor was joking, of course. They like to do that a lot here.
As we take our seats, there’s a feeling of claustrophobia and excitement when the captain yells, “Dive! Dive! Dive!” and we plunge into the depths of the ocean. We swirl past a shipwreck and bob around coral, while yellow goatfish, blue tangs and trumpetfish swim busily past our porthole. Children taller than 90cm are all welcome on board and will delight in seeing what really is at the bottom of the deep blue sea. When deciding where to go for a family holiday with guaranteed sunshine, the obvious list isn’t very long. Camping in the south of France? A hotel in Spain? Maybe a villa in Greece? Let me throw in another option that might excite the grown-ups just as much as the little ones. How about Barbados? With year-round average temperatures of 28°C, beautiful beaches, friendly people and fabulous family accommodation, there are few reasons not to visit.
Having said that, distance and cost are hurdles. A long flight is never something to look forward to, particularly when you’re travelling with small children. Other mums will readily offer advice about keeping them entertained. “I went to a shop, bought lots of tiny toys, wrapped them up, then brought them out one-by-one, over the course of the flight,” one parent told me. I nodded suspiciously, wondering how anyone finds the time. I’m fully stretched ensuring all the passports are in date, the washing is done, holiday clothes are bought, the suncream, mosquito spray and medicines are packed.
But there’s no need to stress about a plane ride – just take a deep breath and the sand will be seeping through your toes in no time.
The plush Royal Villas at the Royal Westmoreland resort make a great base on the Platinum coast – so called because this is where all the rich people own property. Wayne Rooney has a villa here, and oodles of sportsmen and celebrities have homes in the area, Simon Cowell is a regular visitor and there’s no escaping the fact pop super star Rihanna grew up on these shores.
Despite it being a supposedly busy time for Barbados, the resort’s 750 acres, gorgeous greenery and vast facilities mean you barely see a soul. We share an entire pool area with about half a dozen other people. You can smugly turn up at any time of day and have an array of sunbeds to choose from – a welcome change from the European resorts where you’re lucky to find one after 9am, let alone four of them together.
Other nice touches include a fired-up barbecue on your arrival, complete with a cheery chef to cook fresh meat or seafood for you. So once you’ve tucked the tots into bed, you can put up your frazzled feet and be waited on hand and foot – they even wash up afterwards and leave you with the leftovers!
The rather stunning 7,045-yard championship golf course is worth a visit and lessons can be organised with Roger Beale, who represented Barbados in the 2006 World Cup of Golf. Our little ones are too small for the family lesson, but my husband improved his (albeit awful) technique no end and apparently has great potential…
And, of course, you can hop on the shuttle and head down to Mullins Beach and Spa. The sparkling turquoise sea is tepid enough, even for teeny toes, all year round. Grab some sunbeds, wedge your yellow flag in the sand to order your choice of refreshment, and it will appear in a matter of moments.
For older kids, the floating inflatable swing/slide/climbing wall set-up looks immense fun and days can easily be spent building sand castles and soaking up vitamin D.
For a day with a difference, though, try a trip to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. Turtles hide away in their shells or pant in the heat, while deer and agouti are everywhere – all within touching distance. The friendliest peacocks I’ve ever met share space with pelicans, chickens and other birds.
Much to the relief of my four-year-old, the only snakes we see are in cages, but it’s only at the very end of our visit when we finally sniff out the monkeys. Big families of them play at our feet, scarpering up on rooftops and into trees, generally behaving a lot better than my own little monkeys!
Grown-ups in need of time out can book a babysitter and pretend to be young and rich in Rihanna’s homeland. We play Spot The Celebrity while indulging in dinner at the renowned (and hugely expensive) The Cliff. Businessmen fly their private jets in for a meal at this restaurant, overlooking the ocean. If you’re lucky enough to book a table on the deck, you can listen to the waves crash against the side, while tarpon, stingray and a plethora of tiddlers swim right beneath you.
But if spending $125 (Dh460) on a couple of courses of food doesn’t float your boat, you can always opt for a Tiami Catamaran cruise to take in the sites of Barbados, have fun with the crew and snorkel for turtles.
Barbados is full of colour. There are vibrant flowers, wonderful wooden shack houses, and shops proudly presenting their pristinely painted fronts, looking like glorified beach huts. Driving past a local school, even the colour of the uniform is bright orange.
It might just be the ultimate family holiday destination. And it’s certainly a great place to blow the mind of a four-year-old little girl.