When you touch down in Barbados after a long haul flight from Gatwick to be greeted by people playing steel pans in the airport and an electric vibe in the air, you know right there and then that this trip is going to be special.
After collecting our bags we were welcomed by staff from our hotel who had rum, sugar cake and cold towels on hand to get us freshened up and in the mood to party, party, party! It’s instantly evident that the locals have only one agenda and that’s to make sure you have the time of your life. Happy days!
A short ride later we were checking in to our first hotel, Turtle Beach Resort. The rum was flowing upon arrival (are you spotting a recurring theme?) and freshly prepared Caribbean nibbles were laid out for us. You leave your worries at the door the minute you check in to this resort.
An all inclusive, all-suite resort on the south coast, Turtle Beach sits along a stunning 1,500 foot stretch of white sand beach, where sea turtles return to lay their eggs year after year. The view from my suite was heaven on earth, with the sea going on for miles.
After exploring the hotel, dancing to their fun entertainment and enjoying some time to relax by the choice of pools, it was time to get on with doing what I came here to do. Crop Over!
Crop Over is the sweetest summer festival in Barbados, and this year it was the biggest, brightest and boldest event ever to mark 50 years of independence for Barbados, and boy was I lucky to be there. I never knew that I could enjoy ‘wukking it up’ at 9am on a hangover in the blistering heat but when that Barbados vibe hits your body you will be able to party all day and night.
An incredible festival, Crop Over sees the whole island taken over with the party spirit and is awash with sequins, feathers, body paint and plenty of rum (standard). Dating back to the 1780s when Barbados was one of the biggest sugar producers in the world, Crop Over would mark the end of the sugar cane harvest and was always celebrated with great gusto. This tradition continues today and it was clear from the first day that the extravagance and flamboyance lives on.
The full force and energy of the festival culminates on Kadooment Day with a fest of feathers — better known as Mega Monday — where masqueraders parade the streets in skimpy costumes dancing to soca music, revelling in freedom and unadulterated joy. The running theme on the day is ‘drink alcohol, save water’. The best thing about it is there is no judgement; it’s all about having fun. You see people of all shapes and sizes coming together to have the time of their lives. To get the full experience of this day, ‘jump’ with a masquerade band. When you join a band, you buy a costume, get together a like-minded crew and indulge in the bottomless beverages often included with your participation package. You might end up ‘jumping’ in the same band as Rihanna. Or, if like us, getting to party on down alongside Lewis Hamilton.
Expect a mix of live music, Soca and Calypso challenges, carnivals, markets and cultural presentations. There are endless events going on during Crop Over and it’s impossible to attend all of them.
From Foreday Morning, which lures late-night revellers into the streets to dance and get dirty as they slather each other in mud, paint and powder marching behind music trucks blaring soca. Paint is pelted, spirits are freed and wildness is welcomed.
If you were to only go to one of them it has to be the Lush Cooler Party. The Ultimate Cooler Party Experience is a unique blend of festive partying and great liming in scenic surroundings. We witnessed some of the most seductive dancing ever, with one particular duo getting so down and dirty with their dancing I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was giving birth nine months later. But, this is just ‘wukking up’. It’s typical Caribbean dancing, intimate, grimy, hot, sexy and, as the song lyrics played that night explained, it ‘don’t mean a thing, it ain’t cheating’. So, get down and dirty and move on to the next one.
Crop Over 2017 will, as usual, begin in late May and run until August. Witness Barbadian culture coming alive for eight weeks. Turtle Beach is an Elegant Hotels all-inclusive property perfect for families on the lively south coast.
Other things to do in Barbados:
In addition to the Crop Over festivities, we enjoyed other parts of the Caribbean island including rum tasting at Mount Gay Rum Visitor Centre, learning about the island’s heritage and culture, experiencing the rugged Atlantic side on an island safari. However, for me the pièce de resistance had to be the day we sailed along the picturesque southern coast on an island catamaran cruise, Jammin Cats. I would go as far as saying this was the best day of my life. It was a feeling I can’t even put in to words and one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments. Cliché I know, but never a truer word spoken. It might have been the fact that the tunes were everything I have grown up with given that my dad’s family are from the Caribbean, it could have been the golden sun beaming down on us, the perfect company, the swimming with turtles, drinking rum in the middle of the ocean and laughing so hard we cried, or the fact that the staff were pretty damn sexy. Whatever it was, it’s a day that will stay in my mind for the rest of my life.
Where to stay
Sandals Barbados: Just one big happy family.
I have grown up watching Sandals advertising campaigns on TV and their iconic logo at the bottom of their pools has always stuck in my mind. But if I had to guess what their resorts were like I would probably assume it was full of 50+ couples that have given up on life. However, how wrong I was!
We had a few days staying at the Sandals Barbados resort and my life will never be the same again, nothing will ever compare. This is an all inclusive resort but not like your ‘watered down free booze, lame entertainment and repetitive buffet’ type of all inclusive. This is luxury as standard with premium brands on tap to make sure you’re spoilt for choice.
When you arrive the staff sing the ‘Sandals song’ and tell you that you’re part of the family now whilst offering cookies and champagne. I was shown to my room by Brian, my Butler who was soon to become my favorite person on the resort. He was so thoughtful, each night when I returned to my suite he had hand delivered little treats for me to nibble on and his knowledge of the island was unrivaled.
Then there was Rodney, the bartender from the swim up pool bar who would always know how to get the party started. Yes, party, at Sandals, where people of all ages were having the time of their lives. From couples in their early twenties to some triple that age, but it didn’t matter because at Sandals; we are all one big family. There is no judgement, you don’t come to pose you come to party. Or you come to relax, to wind down, to getaway from reality, whatever it is you want then Sandals has the answer.
The resort is huge it would definitely span over multiple postcodes if it were in the UK. There are eleven restaurants on the resort, so we didn’t have time to sample every single one and, to be fair, we loved the pool bar so much we spent most of the time just having burgers whilst sipping rum punch with Rodney. I really did leave a piece of my heart at Sandals and I can’t wait to go back to pick it up.
Seven nights staying in a Caribbean Deluxe Room at Sandals Barbados costs from $221 per person. Price includes Luxury Included (all inclusive) accommodation. Return resort transfers.
The Crane Resort Hotel: Palace rooms with private pools
The Crane Resort Hotel is the place to go to getaway from Crop Over due to its remote location. It’s the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Caribbean and there is no surprise why, they have honed the hospitality expected by today’s most discerning traveller for more than a century.
The hotel sets the ultimate standard in luxury oceanfront accommodation, featuring ultra-spacious suites designed to rival the majestic views – often referred to as ‘the most beautiful on earth’.
My suite was in a grand colonial-style and the views were heavenly with the beaches going on for miles in the distance. I even had my own private pool which was the ultimate surprise, no detail has been spared here. The resort feels like you are in a village with a convenience store onsite offering booze, snacks and everything you might have forgotten to pack. There is a pool complex with waterfalls and a whirlpool, tennis courts, a gym, five restaurants, café, art gallery, spa. Heck, it’s more than a village its a little city!
I dined at Zen restaurant during my stay which offers authentic Japanese and Thai delicacies in a magnificent setting. It’s dark, dramatic and atmospheric. The staff are wearing traditional Thai clothing to really set the scene. The all-glass frontage offers sweeping, spectacular views of Crane Beach, and it was such a romantic evening. Private booths, designed in traditional Japanese style, and a large Tatami room with a recessed floor made me forget that I was in Barbados and for that night only I was transported to the Far East.
Rates start from $180 per night based on two people sharing a room.
Words by Laura Bartlett, Photos by Jake Thomas