Spring has sprung all over North America … and morphed back into winter or straight into summer depending on where you live, so for this week’s Destination of the Week, we thought we’d take you along to a sunny little island where the Caribbean breezes blow, the surf’s up, and the rum is strong: Barbados.
Barbados is a bit of an anomaly for the Caribbean because, as the Caribbean’s easternmost island, it’s actually quite far from many of the other, and a good five-hour flight from much of the east coast (about 3.5 hours from Miami), though there are plenty of good flight options where you can use your miles. The island does have an independent streak when it comes to tourism development, so you won’t find many chain hotels here, but there are still some good options for earning and using points, as well as many distinct hotel properties here.
As landmasses go, Barbados is relatively young, at just under a million years old, and was created when two tectonic plates collided, causing a volcano to erupt and pushing up an ancient coral reef that dried out and started vegetating, eventually becoming the island it is today.
Native Amerindians settled on the island thousands of years ago, and in more recent history, it was conquered first by the Spanish, then colonized by the British in the 1600’s, who enslaved the local population and establishing the sugarcane industry. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and the local population became British citizens, resulting in a large, thriving middle class and an excellent educational system. Today, the literacy rate is nearly 100%, and crime on the island is minimal, making it a great destination for families.
THINGS TO DO
That’s enough of a history lesson, though. Most people come for the surf, sun and sand. Of course, you can always just kick back by the pool or the beach, but there is plenty more to see and do in Barbados that just soaking in the sun.
Thanks to a centuries-old sugarcane industry Barbados produces some of the world’s most famous rums. best-known distillery here is Mount Gay, which has which has been producing the spirit for over 300 years and offers tours most days of the week. For a more authentic experience, take a field trip to St. Peter Parish, about 45 minutes north of the capital of Bridgetown to visit St. Nicholas Abbey a beautifully restored Dutch-style landowner’s house that originally dates to the 17th century, where visitors can learn about the history of Barbados and about rum distillation while sampling some of the premium liquors they sell here.
Twenty minutes away is Harrison’s Cave, an extraordinary complex of underground pools and rock formations with educational installations and displays, as well as a 45-minute electric cart tour through the caverns’ twisting turns on which you will learn all about just what makes this island’s geology so distinct from the rest of the Caribbean.
Much of the development and tourism activity on Barbados takes place on the western and southern sides of the island where the surf is more moderate, the beaches are sandier, and many of the towns and hotels are located. The remote eastern side of the island, however, has spectacular beaches and rock formations, as well as little hamlets and inns where you can get a feel for the “real” Barbados, especially around Bathsheba in St. Joseph Parish. Just beware the beaches because there are no lifeguards on duty and the tides are extremely powerful and unpredictable.
If you do want to try your hand at surfing, spend a morning catching waves with championship surfer and instructor Melanie Pitcher, who runs Barbados Surf Trips, while landlubbers can explore the island’s lush interior and dramatic gullies on a ziplining trek with companies like Aerial Trek Zipline Adventures.
Though there are plenty of fine-dining restaurants, cafes and fun bars in St. James Parish, be sure to spend an evening at Oistin’s, a fishing village that transforms each evening into a bustling market filled with food stalls and live music performances. Yes, it’s touristy, but kick back with a fry-up or a mixed grill of that day’s fresh catch and a cold Banks Beer, and make some new friends.
The annual Food, Wine & Rum Festival, which has become a fixture on the foodie circuit, will also be taking place from November 16-19, 2012, with celebrity chefs like Ming Tsai, Tom Colicchio and Marcus Samuelsson giving cooking demos, and wine talks by oeno-guru Anthony Giglio.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations, and in the case of Barbados, we would love to hear about any hotels you’ve enjoyed since there are so many independent inns on the island.
Barbados’s airport is known as Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI). American Airlines offers non-stop service from Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, New York-JFK. U.S. Airways flies nonstop from Charlotte and seasonally from Philadelphia in winter. JetBlue offers non-stop New York JFK service, which could help bring ticket prices down since they are a low-cost carrier.
American Airlines offers their MileSAAver Off-Peak award for 12,500 miles each way as well as their MileSAAver Peak Awards for 17,500 miles each way. U.S. Airways starts at 25,000 miles for an Off Peak Award or 35,000 miles for a standard economy low-level award roundtrip.
Another way to get to Barbados is to use British Airways Avios miles, which are distance based. 10,000 Avios miles would get you a one-way ticket from Miami on oneworld partner American. With the current American Express Transfer Bonus you could transfer 7,000 American Express points for 10,500 Avios miles, so for a roundtrip ticket requiring 21,000 Avios, you would only need 14,000 Membership Rewards points.
Another option is to use Air Canada Aeroplan miles, which would require 40,000 Aeroplan miles from the U.S. or Canada to the Caribbean. They offer direct flights from Toronto and seasonally from Montreal, or you could book using Aeroplan miles on Star Alliance partner U.S. Airways since United doesn’t serve Barbados.
Though there are a lot of hotels on the island, there are not many chain properties where you can earn and burn points. However, there are a few, including a Hilton, a Courtyard Marriott and a soon-to-open Holiday Inn, as well as plenty of other gorgeous resorts where you can put Amex Platinum cardholder benefits to use.
Hilton Barbados Resort: This hotel is located on the peninsula of Needham’s Point, which is near Bridgetown. The hotel has 350 guestrooms including 77 Executive Floor rooms and 33 suites. The executive lounge has complimentary continental breakfast, hors d’oeuvres and an honor bar. Guests have access to Barbados Blue water activity center where they can rent kayaks, jet-skis or learn how to scuba dive. There is a small Precor Fitness Center, three tennis courts, a kids club and large pool complex. This hotel also has the largest hotel meeting space on the island and is popular for events and weddings. Rates in April begin at $229 a night. This is a Category 7 Property meaning 50,000 Hilton HHonors points a night.
Courtyard Bridgetown: Located across from Coconut Court Beach, this hotel has 118 guestrooms located on four floors. Rooms have flatscreen LCD TV’s, Marriott Revive bedding, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. The lobby was recently renovated and features the new Courtyard look including lobby media pods, a GoBoard which is a touch screen display panel with information, as well as computers. The hotel serves food in the Centro Dining Area, which is also located in the lobby. There is also an outdoor pool, beach access and a fitness center. Rates in April start at $209 a night. This is a Marriott Category 5 property, and requires 25,000 Marriott Rewards Points (20,000 with PointSavers) for a free night redemption.
Holiday Inn Resort Bridgetown Formerly known as the Grand Barbados Beach Resort, this hotel is the midst of a transition into a Holiday Inn. Located on Carlisle Bay, this hotel will have 124 newly refurbished guestrooms and suites. Rooms feature standard amenities including small refrigerators; in room-safes 42” flat-panel TV’s as well as complimentary wireless internet access. There is also an outdoor pool, fitness center and full service spa. The hotel’s main restaurant is Pier 1 serving all meals. There are also kids suites and a kids club available. They are currently accepting reservations after July 9th and Holiday Inns typically require 10,000-25,000 Priority Club points per night.
Fairmont Royal Pavilion: Situated on 11 acres, this resort has 72 rooms starting at 500 square feet for an oceanfront deluxe. Rooms feature Caribbean décor and have standard amenities such as pillow=top beds, flatscreen TV’s, WiFi, DVD/CD players and private balconies. There is a freshwater swimming pool, Jacuzzi, fitness room and spa. Guests have complimentary access to kayaks, snorkeling gear, paddle boats, and sail boats. There are a few dining outlets including their fine-dining Palm Restaurant serving fresh seafood. It is important to note that November through April the resort is an adults-only property. Only Fairmont President’s Club Platinum members qualify for free nights (and only one per 10 paid nights). However Fairmont President’s Club members receive complimentary in-room internet and local calls, use of Fairmont Fit workout gear and airline mile bonuses. This hotel is also part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card holders, where you can get a room upgrade, daily breakfast, 4pm late check out and a complimentary dinner for two. Rates start at $480 in April for an oceanfront deluxe room.
Sandy Lane: Perhaps the island’s most exclusive resort, this hotel has 112 rooms ranging from Orchid Rooms starting at over 700 square feet and featuring marble bathrooms, to five bedroom private villas. The hotel’s main restaurants include L’Acajou and Bajan Blue, and afternoon tea on Bajan Blue’s lower terrace is an island institution. One of Sandy Lane’s main draws, however, is access to The Old Nine, The Country Club and The Green Monkey golf courses, which are exclusive to Sandy Lane guests. Maybe that’s why Tiger Woods got married here back in 2004. There is also the Spa at Sandy Lane as well a 2,500-square-foot fitness center offering complimentary yoga and pilates classes. For children, the hotel also hosts The Treehouse Club kids club.
Rates start at $1040 in April for a superior garden view room however that does include breakfast. While there are no point-earning options here, this hotel is part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card holders, where you can get a room upgrade, daily breakfast, 4pm late check out and a complimentary round of golf for two.
The Crane Resort: First opened way back in 1887, and now fully restored and expanded into a residential resort property with guest buildings and villas sprinkled throughout the 40-acre property. The Crane’s claim to fame is being the Caribbean’s first resort hotel, and Crane Beach is consistently ranked among the world’s best beaches. Accommodations here include standard hotel rooms and one- and two-bedroom suites, as well as residential villas on the grounds and by the sea that come in four categories: Junior, One Bedroom, Two Bedroom and Three Bedroom. The resort has direct beach access, as well as six outdoor pools including the cliffside lagoon pool and Jacuzzi. Many of the residences and suites feature their own private plunge or lap pools as well. Guest rooms come with free WiFi and long-distance calls to many international destinations. Among the resort’s restaurants are Zen for Japanese and Thai cuisine, L’Azure for fine seafood, D’Onofrio’s Pizzeria for casual family meals, the poolside Carriage House bar and grill, and cocktails at Bar 1887.
The property has a small “Village” complex of luxury shops, an Serenity Spa with just four treatment rooms, and the concierge staff can arrange a variety of cruises. Rates in April start at $246 for a Junior Garden View Suite and range up to $701 for a Three Bedroom Ocean View Penthouse.
Or if you want to rent a house, there are a ton of options. TPG and his family have vacationed on Barbados several times and always had good luck using VRBO.com. April-October is the slow season so be sure to negotiate good rates. Since Barbados is so far east, they rarely get hit by hurricanes, so if you want a warm fall vacation, it’s something to consider.