“ Appleby, St James, Barbados, West Indies | Tel: 1.246.432.2683 | Fax: 1.246.432.8290 „
Only 43 miles long and 16 miles wide; there is really very little of Barbados. So how come it looms so large in the imagination of we folk who live on this larger island? There are 250,000 or so of them and nearly 60 million of us, but which of us has not thought on some rainy 'summer' day of swapping places?
The combination of the sunshine and the sea, the exotic West Indies reputation, the sugar cane and the exuberant plant growth combine with the image we have of celebrities lounging around to make Barbados into a place we want to be, almost as much a state of mind as a physical location.
I had high expectations of Barbados and of the all-inclusive Crystal Cove Hotel and most of them were met
Location and how to get there
You can fly direct to Barbados non-stop with BA, Virgin and BWIA in about 8 hours. Cruise ships call at the island too, at the capital Bridgetown.
The east coast of the island is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, there being nothing between this little island and the coast of Africa. The west coast, on the other hand, is facing into the Caribbean Sea and is much calmer. This is why the majority of the tourist hotels are on the west coast, the Crystal Cover being no exception.
A short 15 minute journey from Bridgetown, a transfer of about 45 minutes from the airport, this hotel is on the beach side of the main west coast highway and is a little south of the famous Sandy Lane resort. A taxi or pre-booked transfer from the airport is best - the buses are not direct - or a hire car is a good option, but be aware, at peak season like Christmas, the hire car companies may have no vehicles left, so book ahead.
There are only 88 rooms in this all-inclusive resort, some standard or pool view, some sea view and some junior suites or suites. There is a per diem charge for all 'superior' rooms, although I don't regret the extra cost of my sea view room. It is a fantastic view to wake up to, the perfect greens and blues of the clear warm water and the sparkling pink-white sand (the sand is bits of coral, hence its amazing colour - Barbados is a coral island, unlike most of the Caribbean Islands which are volcanic). A group of giggling local women came to swim every morning in brightly coloured swimming hats and costumes and the noise of the laughter was joyful. The rooms were not large, although there was enough space. I think the size is probably driven by the size of the plot. If you look at a map of Barbados, you will see dozens of hotels packed cheek by jowl along the west coast and it looks as though most of them are on the site of just one or two original beachfront properties and they have had to pack things in pretty tight. If you walk along the beach (there are no private beaches on Barbados) you can still see some of the homes that are still homes - Sir Cliff Richard owns one, for example - and I believe that they are now pretty valuable real estate. The standard fittings were fine, the room clean and the bathroom good enough, but none of it was remarkable. There was air conditioning and double-glazed patio doors onto a balcony with a table and chairs and, bizarrely, a sort of string hammock which might have been supplied by the Anne Summers shop. One criticism would be that things left outside like glasses and plates were there all day and sometimes into the next day. The rooms open straight out to the open air, not into internal corridors. My room was fairly quiet and was peaceful.
There was no facility for internet use from the room but near reception there was a PC and printer available for use at no additional charge (this is an all-inclusive only hotel).
The grounds are well maintained and landscaped, the space cleverly used with lots of places to sit, the beach good and well looked after and the pools are lovely. The sea is warm and everything you have read, heard and dreamed about in the Caribbean. The west coast sunsets are fairly legendary and beautiful again and again and again and it was a pleasure to spend time in the flower filled and frangipani-fragranced surroundings.
This was a special occasion and so I was prepared to pay more than I normally would. The cost of my stay was £270 per night for the room (two people), which included the sea view supplement. For that, you got the room, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, all drinks (except champagne etc) and some entertainment. This looks expensive, but as you start to add us the cost of three meals a day, then the odd cups of tea or coffee, then add some wine with dinner (any maybe even with lunch) and then you throw in a cocktail or two at the swim-up Cave bar in the pool and it is actually not bad value. In my time there, I only saw one group abusing the free alcohol, a party of some younger American's, and frankly I could show you much worse on any night of the week in my home town of Bristol.
There are different rates at different times of year and you can also book this resort as a package with a flight, for example with BA and Virgin. It is nice to know that you can leave the room and wander round all day without even needing to take any money with you - however, I did miss the variety of eating in different places. Also, half the residents wanted to sit down to dinner between 8 and 8.30 pm every night, there was always a queue and the hotel staff did not cope very well with the rush - one night we were waiting 30 minutes before we could sit down and only did then because I cleared a table myself!
The hotel advertises that you can travel (by water taxi) to their sister hotel and take meals there to have a change, but it is not quite as straightforward as it sounds - either there is a charge or they tell you you should have booked yesterday or the water taxi is not running or it finished an hour earlier for the day.... This is, at least, theoretically possible.
Arrival and departure
As standard, check in is a 3pm and check out at 12 noon. Check in and out worked fine. I had booked a transfer by mini-bus with British Airways (£20) but the company sent a limo instead (which would have been £100) - I did not complain!
Activities and things to see and do around
This falls into two main categories - within the hotel complex and outside it.
Within the complex, there are three outdoor swimming pools - not large, but they never seemed to be too full. At the bottom of several flights of steps is the (very nice) beach, where it did seem that pretty much every bed was taken. On the beach and included in the AI price you could get equipment to snorkel and there was some boogie boards and kayaks and a Hobby Cat - however, these things were not unlimited - you get so many minutes per day water skiing, for example, after which there is a charge. There are a couple of tennis courts and a small gym and there is a kids club for small kids.
The beach, as I said, was very nice and the sea swimming is wonderful. There was a turtle living just by the hotel which I swam with a couple of times and that was amazing. We also took a handful of bread into the sea one day and the fish at the reef come and take it out of your hand - very special memory. Other than this, not a lot to do - but very relaxing.
The first problem with going outside the complex is you have to pay for things. AI holidays, in that way, are something of a pair of golden handcuffs: It is lovely, as I said, to walk around and just order a coffee or a drink as you want, to drift into breakfast or lunch, but you do feel it more sharply outside when you have to pay for something and you are keenly aware you have already paid for it elsewhere.
Don't miss a visit to the east coast, the wilder and windy side of the island: Spectacular beaches including Crane Bay and some smaller bays that are worth a visit. Consider a visit to the Andromeda Botanical Gardens and Bathsheba, maybe Sunday lunch at the Atlantis Hotel and Restaurant (book). There are some plantation homes you can visit and this is well worthwhile, to get a better historical perspective. You need a hire car to effectively visit the eastern side of the island. You can also go to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. On the west coast (where this hotel is) there is a main road which is right outside the hotel entrance and runs almost to the north of the island and down to Bridgetown in the south. For a little local colour, do take the local bus for which the charge is small and you can fly along with the local people, who are incredibly friendly. To the north, take a visit to Speightstown and have lunch there - a couple of great but very unpretentious places to eat. To the south, visit Bridgetown but don't expect a lot - it is not the most exciting capital. If you are a cricket fan, the newly rebuilt Oval is here where the 2007 World Cup final was played, so you might want to make a pilgrimage. One last suggestion - go to Oistins Fish Fry on a Friday night - it will make your holiday.
Remember that it really is laid back. Order local rum (with coke, or lime juice, or I like it with ginger ale). The locals say "Add ice and you're nice" and they smile when they say it. Have a drink, a little fried flying fish and some rice and peas and chill out!