Sandy Beaches and Historic Forts: 5 Things Families Should Do in St. Kitts
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I was looking for a new spot for our family's summer vacation. When we lived in California, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was our go-to tropical destination. Now that we're in Nashville, Tennessee, we focus on shorter flights to the Caribbean. We chose St. Kitts, one of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, because of the many family-friendly attractions my research unearthed and a good selection of hotels.
St. Kitts and neighbor Nevis are small islands with a lot to discover. We had planned on lounging on the beach and splashing in the water but there was a lot more to do than that.
How Much Did It Cost to Fly to St. Kitts?
Airplane tickets from Nashville in June would have been expensive for our family if we paid cash for them. Tickets were priced at $916 per person.
However, we used the 120,000 American Airlines miles that we received from a Marriott Hotel and Air Package to book our flights. Standard round-trip pricing in economy was 30,000 American Airlines miles and $56.31 in taxes per person. If you fly off-peak, tickets are as low as 12,500 miles each way to the Caribbean from the continental US.
What to See and Do in St. Kitts
Here's what our family did on the island and why your crew might want to give St. Kitts a try:
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park
This 17th-century fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by British military engineers and built by African slaves, it took more than 100 years for construction to be completed.
The fortress is a complex maze of ramps and stairs connecting the different sections, which our 8-year-old boy explored with boundless energy. He thought it was fun to run the steps through the fortress and climb on the cannon. Our 4-year-old daughter couldn't keep up with her brother, so she stayed with us as we checked out the exhibits and vantage points throughout the fortress. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
St. Kitts Scenic Railway
This historic train dates back to 1912. It takes passengers along a 30-mile path previously used for sugar cane production. You'll travel in double-decker cars that offer a 360-degree view from the top deck. Ride along the coast through small villages and farms and across tall steel bridges on the three-hour journey.
Along the way, you'll hear interesting tales of St Kitts' history and songs from its culture. One of our favorite stories was about the “Last Railway in the West Indies,” a train that carried sugar cane from the plantations to the sugar factory in Basseterre.
When the train stops, you'll take a sightseeing bus for the final 12 miles along Island Main Road back to Basseterre. Tickets are $89 per adult and children are half-price. Tours start at 8:30am and a second tour is offered only when there's enough demand.
Wingfield Estate Sugar Plantation Ruins
Step back in time to learn about the sugar cane plantation and rum distillery. The ruins are mostly intact and give visitors a good understanding of the size and scope of the plantation. This is an opportunity for families to learn about the history and talk about the past.
There is nothing else on site, so the ruins will take less than 30 minutes to explore. We visited the ruins on an island tour, but you can visit at no charge if you have a car or hire a taxi. Island tours can be purchased starting at $45 per person.
Fairview Great House and Botanical Gardens
Once the residence of a French officer, the Great House was built in 1701 and features a volcanic stone and brick oven, an original bathing area and a stone bridge leading to the gardens. The 2.5-acre Botanical Gardens are filled with exotic plant species and an apiary where visitors learn about beekeeping and extracting honey.
My daughter loved seeing and smelling all the flowers, while my boy loved running around. Anna and I strolled behind the kids holding hands for a mini-date while the kids were focused on their fun. Admission is $10 per person. For an extra fee, guests can purchase a day pass to swim at the pool or sign up for cooking classes. If our hotel didn't have such a great pool, we would have jumped in this one.
Snorkeling and Swimming
The beach outside our hotel faced the Atlantic Ocean and had too much seaweed. From what we understand, the seaweed has been a problem because of the powerful hurricanes that hit the islands in last couple of years.
We followed recommendations to visit other beaches, like South Friar's Bay, on the Caribbean side. We took a taxi to Shipwreck Beach Bar where we enjoyed great food, swam and snorkeled, and then watched an island resident feed fresh fruit to monkeys in the trees.
Shipwreck rents snorkeling gear for $15 per day. Our children are too young and inexperienced at swimming, but I went out for an hour to explore the underwater habitat.
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There is a small floating dock about 50 yards from the beach. We walked out about three-quarters of the way and swam the last few yards. Our kids thought the "island" was fun climbing and enjoyed jumping into the warm water.
Where to Stay in St. Kitts
In St. Kitts, there are limited choices for using hotel points.
St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino: This is the hotel we picked and, thanks to my Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elite status, we were initially upgraded to a room on the top floor overlooking the pool and ocean.
When I asked the front desk manager if there were any options for more space, he upgraded us even further to a one-bedroom villa that also had a kitchen and dining room. It didn't have a great view, but it was close to one of the pools and allowed us to save money by cooking some of our meals.
The resort had three pools, a swim-up bar and multiple restaurants. As Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elites, we received complimentary continental breakfast each morning. We upgraded to the full buffet with local delicacies, pancakes, waffles and omelets for about $10 per person.
I redeemed 330,000 Marriott points for 120,000 American Airlines miles and a one-week stay via a Marriott travel package. The Hotel and Air Package redemption rates changed shortly after I traded in my points. Currently, packages start at 255,000 points for 50,000 miles and a one-week stay in a Category 1–4 property.
If you'd like to stay here next summer, rates start at 35,000 points (a good place to use a Marriott up to 35k free-night certificate like the one you'll receive on the card anniversary of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card) or $266 per night. Remember that Marriott Bonvoy members get a fifth night free for every four that are booked on points.
Marriott St. Kitts Beach Club: This Marriott Bonvoy Category 6 resort shares the property with the Marriott where we stayed. These two- and three-bedroom villas are Marriott Vacation Club timeshare units that are also for rent with points or cash. Rooms are available starting at $310 per night. Availability is limited when using Marriott points.
You can earn Marriott points with a variety of cobranded credit cards. My favorite is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card because it comes with an annual up to $300 Marriott statement credit on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program and a free night each year at hotels up to 50,000 points per night.
Additionally, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer on a 1:1 basis to Marriott Bonvoy. I was recently approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve and have had the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card for years. Combined, these credit cards earn me a lot of Ultimate Rewards points on the categories I spend on the most -- travel, dining, internet, cable and telephone.
Park Hyatt St. Kitts Christophe Harbour: This World of Hyatt Category 7 property is a five-star resort. The hotel has direct beach access and every room faces Banana Bay. There are also two pools (one adults-only) and the Island Fort kids club for guests to enjoy. Rooms are available starting at 30,000 points or $268 per night for dates in June 2020.
Four Seasons Resort - Nevis: Nevis Island is a short ferry from St Kitts. This luxury hotel caters to their guests like few others. The Four Seasons offers many kid-oriented activities through their Kids For All Seasons program, which is a great offering. Rooms are available starting at $625 per night.
For hotels like this, consider booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal where your points are worth as much as 1.5 cents each toward the price of your room.
If you're looking for an affordable, yet amazing Caribbean adventure for your family, consider St. Kitts. We splashed in the pool, explored the beaches and visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marriott points enabled my family of four to enjoy a weeklong Caribbean vacation for only 330,000 points and $225 versus almost $7,000 if we had paid cash. Have you visited St. Kitts? Which hotel did you pick and why?
Here's some more advice for Caribbean vacations on miles and points: