We went to the Bougainvillea Beach Resort, Barbados in December 2012 for a week of winter sun, arriving the day after Boxing Day. As ever, I spent a long time (probably too long) choosing where to stay. However, in this instance, the research really paid off: we found the Bougainvillea ticked most of our boxes and made for a relaxing and very successful holiday in the sun with our son Leo (aged 4) and daughter Genevieve (aged 2).
What was good?
1. The set-up. What you get at the Bougainvillea is the utility and space of an apartment with all the services of a hotel. We booked a one-bedroom suite, which comes with a well-equipped kitchen, large lounge area (with sofa bed), good-sized bathroom and a huge balcony with dining table and chairs and sun loungers. As I mention in my guide to Barbados, having facilities to do a bit of self-catering is invaluable when travelling with young kids, so this arrangement is hugely advantageous – and quite hard to find elsewhere on the island. Best of all, the bedroom was so big that, even with a super-king bed in it, we could fit Genevieve’s cot AND a camp bed for Leo, meaning we had the rest of the suite to ourselves in the evening – no hushed conversations or waiting in silence on the balcony. Many of the rooms at the Bougainvillea are sea-facing and we had a lovely vista of swaying palms and the unbelievably blue sea beyond.
2. The restaurant. The food was surprisingly good. We had lunch at ‘Legends’ most days, on the deck overlooking the beach, and found the food to be tasty – their BBQ ribs with sweet potato chips were sensational and the kids loved their pizzas. Kids under 4 eat free as well which helps keep costs to a sensible level – around £30 for the four of us for lunch. We hired a babysitter for a couple of evenings (the hotel charges USD 15 per hour for two kids) and went to Legends for dinner. We had planned to do it once but had such a good meal that we had to go again. The flying fish with blue cheese polenta is a must, and you should save room for the bread pudding. Dinner for two with a starters, mains, a shared dessert and a bottle of wine came in at £70 – not bad for Barbados. As for breakfast – we did it once, but I’d give it a miss. The buffet costs £15 per person and isn’t exciting enough to warrant the cost. There is another restaurant on site called Water’s Edge which we didn’t use, so I can’t vouch for the food there. It did seem to be shut a fair bit and used more for events (there are quite a few weddings at the hotel).
3. The environment. Unlike other mid-priced accommodation in the Caribbean (which can be a bit shabby round the edges), we found the Bougainvillea to be well maintained. The grounds were immaculately tended and full of shrubs and flowers. The landscaping and meandering pools create interest and a sense of space and generally make it a pleasing space to wander around and enjoy (the lawns strewn with hammocks and paths are particularly good for kids). Best of all, at Christmas they decorate everything beautifully and at night, a real show of lights is put on (including a big illuminated snowman – completely inappropriate but loved by Genevieve), making the whole place quite magical.
4. The location. The Bougainvillea has a prime spot and, having explored the environs of Dover and St Lawrence Gap, I am convinced it has one of the best spots on the South Coast. It’s on a headland between two beaches – a small sandy cove and the larger Maxwell Beach – and affords nice views in both directions. Both beaches are everything you want from the Caribbean – blinding white sand backed by palms with the most incredible blue waters. The South Coast is breezy and the seas are far from still – on some days the waves were pretty powerful, so this is something to bear in mind with small children. However, our kids loved playing in the waves – in particular, our four-year-old spent hours splashing around in them. What it means is you have to be vigilant and in the water with them at all times.
Another advantage of the Bougainvillea’s location is that it is very close to the airport – just a 15 minute, USD 20 taxi ride – so no lengthy transfer after a long-enough flight.
5. The kids facilities. The Bougainvillea attracts families with children of all ages and somehow it manages to serve all of them. For younger children there’s a nice paddling pool; a playground with rabbits and tortoises to pet; and a kids club (you pay by the day if you want to leave your children in this. We didn’t leave our kids so can’t vouch for the club, but you can just go in and use the facilities too if you stay with them which we did. They take kids from age 3, provided they are potty-trained). There’s a games room with pool etc. for older kids. Plus there’s shuffleboard and a big chessboard located on a beautiful spot on the headland. One of my memories of our holiday will be teaching Leo to play chess as the sun set one evening – magic.
What was less good
1. The plumbing. As far as I’m concerned, an essential requirement on a beach holiday is a powerful shower that can blast sand out of all cracks and crevices quickly – especially if you have kids who would rather be watching the Octonauts Christmas Special and certainly don’t want the grains of sand removed one-by-one from their hair. Unfortunately, our shower was a dribble and completely ineffective. Talking to another mum on the beach who experienced no such problems suggests that ours could be an isolated problem as opposed to the norm, so hopefully we were just unlucky. It’s worth noting that there are no baths in the standard one-bed suites.
2. The speed of service. This is not unique to the Bougainvillea – a leisurely approach to service is endemic in the Caribbean. You can’t fight it but with toddlers that won’t wait, you have to prepare for it. Lunch at Legends restaurant was terribly slow – on one occasion we abandoned it altogether as Genevieve’s need for a nap took priority. My advice is to get there on the dot of noon when lunch service opens and get your order in – then at least you are first in the queue.
There’s a little convenience store just down the road that stocks milk, cereals, bread, beer, snacks and other essentials (including copies of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph!) – in fact, pretty much all you need to do some basic self-catering. It’s expensive but avoids multiple trips to the supermarket (which wasn’t much cheaper). My kids enjoyed our regular outings there to get an ice cream – it’s a nice change of scene. If you do want a bigger shop, the nearest supermarket is in Oistins, about a 5 minute taxi ride away. We went once but probably could have got by without.
For a quicker and more ‘authentic’ lunch than the hotel restaurants, try the food vans than park up opposite the hotel. They serve Caribbean favourites like macaroni pie, rice and peas, curry chicken, flying fish and lamb stew, plus ice cold bottles of pineapple juice, all ready to go so no hanging about. We found the food to be delicious, as did the kids (nothing spicy, unless you add the ‘hot sauce’). Lunch boxes cost about £7 each.
The Bougainvillea isn’t a luxury hotel. There’s no evening turndown or bathrobes. The interiors are nicely done but not amazing. The service is a bit slow and they forget the odd thing. But it’s well maintained, full of charm and ticks the boxes that matter when travelling with young kids: clean, good facilities, easy-going atmosphere and a great beach. We had a fantastic time and would not hesitate to go back. Roll on next winter!