Zach Stovall
By
updated 9/28/2005 7:45:37 PM ET 2005-09-28T23:45:37

Family travel strengthens bonds, renews relationships and only sometimes tests patience. The Caribbean offers a whole host of destinations ideal for traditional mom-dad-and-the-kids trips and multigeneration reunions, as well as getaways where adult children can connect with their parents on a grown-up level.

LIFE LESSONS

Dear Mrs. Carneiro,

Please excuse Alex from school for four days. He is accompanying us on a business trip to Aruba where he will spend his time playing on sugary beaches, swimming,

snorkeling, eating out every night and having ice cream twice a day.

Thanks for your understanding.

-Alex’s mom

Taking the kids out of school for something as indulgent as a family vacation makes me uneasy. But my husband, Gary, and I realize that Alex and Marlie, ages 10 and 6, won’t be kids forever, and when the opportunity for some Caribbean quality time presents itself, we go for it. I scrapped that first note and instead sent one that extolled the trip’s educational aspects — exploring the island’s cultural and natural attractions. Alex’s teacher wrote back her consent, provided he makes a presentation on Aruba when he returns. With the guilt lifted from my shoulders and Alex stoically accepting of his homework, we head off.

After settling into a spacious suite at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino on Palm Beach, the boys beeline it to the pool. Gary and I stake out lounge chairs amid the Edenic landscape of waterfalls, swaying palms, and exotic flowers and birds to soak up some late-afternoon sun as Alex heads for the water slide. Marlie calls for us to watch and strokes confidently across the pool. I have one of those transcendental parenting “ahhhh” moments as three summers of swim lessons suddenly pay off here in paradise. As the sun slips toward the horizon, the boys move to the beach just steps away, allowing us to relocate to a seaside palapa and cozy up to watch the sun set and their sand castle rise.

The next day, we start our exploration of Aruba early. First stop is the Butterfly Farm where Alex finds himself nose to proboscis with a tipsy technicolored bug. Our guide explains that feeding on fermented fruit intoxicates the elegant but normally skittish creatures, and apparently they’re happy drunks, becoming more agreeable to close encounters with people. Marlie is spellbound as we’re shown the entire life cycle, from egg to caterpillar to cocoon to glorious winged insect. “I think I’ll do my report on butterflies,” Alex announces as a flurry of shapes and colors flutters around him.

Slideshow: Caribbean way of life On the rocky and rugged north coast, we visit the California Lighthouse, which stands guard over the northwest corner of the island and its distinctive desert-meets-the-sea terrain populated primarily by cactus and goats. Farther along the north coast, we walk over the Natural Bridge, a 100-foot-long stretch of ancient reef that’s been carved into an arch by the surf’s ceaseless pounding. Big waves roll underneath and rush into a small cove surrounded by a semicircle of beach. “Mom, can I put on my swimsuit?” Marlie asks, and is soon cavorting in the shallow water, entertaining a group of elderly tourists.

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We end our busy day with dinner at the Buccaneer, a seafood spot decorated to look like a sunken ship complete with underwater views through a 7,500-gallon, fish-filled saltwater tank and a dozen smaller aquariums. The boys are fascinated by a sinuous moray eel and a trio of dancing lobsters. Marlie turns to us and declares that there’s no way he’s going to order lobster, “because these guys might get mad.”

The following morning, Alex and Marlie clamor to go to Camp Hyatt Wantapana, the resort’s kids’ club for ages 3 to 12 that offers everything from pool games and a playroom crammed with toys, videos and craft supplies, to lessons in basic Papiamento — the local Creole. The boys barely look back as they head directly to the basketball hoop. Gary and I take advantage of the alone time to slip off to the Stillwater Spa and then linger over a beachside lunch at The Palms.

On our last morning, Marlie’s thrilled to spend more time at the kids’ club while we take his older brother on his first offshore snorkeling trip, to the wreck of the Antilla, a 400-foot-long German freighter. Alex sits wide-eyed as the Red Sail Sports guide recounts the ship’s story, how its crew scuttled it instead of letting it fall to the Dutch after the Nazis invaded Holland. But that’s nothing compared to his reaction when we hold hands and glide above the huge wreck, which teems with countless colorful reef fish.

As we pack up to head home, I realize that besides creating some fantastic family memories, our time in Aruba actually taught the boys a lot about history, geology, biology and culture. Of course, they just think they’ve been on the vacation of a lifetime. 

— Santa Choplin Bogdon

Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino: 011-297-586-1234; www.aruba.hyatt.com. The Buccaneer: 011-297-586-6172. Red Sail Sports: 011-297-586-1603; www.redsailaruba.com.

MOTHER OF ALL GETAWAYS

“You killjoy!” I heard someone shout as Captain Terry sounded the conch, signaling that it was time to reboard the Lady Lynsey and head back to the resort. The heckler, sporting a bright green mask and snorkel, was obviously not ready to leave the parrotfish, wrasse and yellowtail snapper behind, and quickly disappeared underwater. I finned my way over, and after a few moments she popped to the surface.

“Mom, we have to go now.”

“But this is so amazing,” she gasped. “I don’t want it to end.”

That phrase had become my mother’s mantra since our arrival at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas two days earlier. We’d come for a good dose of no-holds-barred indulgence and some serious — and not-so-serious —mother-daughter bonding. Having both recently moved away from our native New York — she to the West, me to the South — to begin new chapters in our lives, we don’t get to see each other often enough. I was a teenager the last time we’d taken a vacation together, so I decided it was time we treated ourselves to a girls’ getaway; our men could manage on their own for a few days.

Since she now lives in arid, landlocked New Mexico, I wanted to spirit Santa Fe Sue to a place where she’d be surrounded by water. Upon first glimpsing the blues and greens of Great Bay from our ocean-view suite and feeling the cool sea breeze, she grabbed my arm and let loose a string of “wows” and “oh-my-gods.”

And it was in — and over, and on, and beside — that warm Caribbean water that we indulged ourselves. We basked in its early-morning brilliance during leisurely breakfasts on the Club Level lounge terrace. Its gentle swells rocked us into oblivion as we floated beneath an absurdly blue sky. We strolled along the shore, letting its tiny ripples tickle our toes. At night we listened to its sounds mingling with the bubbling of whirlpool jets while we soaked under the stars in a Jacuzzi near the beach, reminiscing about trips taken when I was little.

My mom was so enraptured with the beauty of the sea that she even kept in check her fear of heights to get a bird’s-eye view of it from a tandem parasail, which lifted us hundreds of feet above the waves, her hand grasping mine in a white-knuckle grip as we marveled at the varying hues below. After taking an afternoon watercolor class with local artist Lucinda Schutt, we boarded the Lady Lynsey again, this time for a sunset sail, and headed for the horizon we’d just painted.

We bonded over meals complemented by views across the water to the lights of neighboring St. John. One night, we dined alfresco at The Palm Garden, passing forkfuls back and forth, unable to decide which was more wonderful, the pan-fried wahoo or the lobster mashed potatoes accompanying it. A live band provided the tropical soundtrack, and with the sweet tang of rum punch still on our lips, we left the table and took a detour along the water’s edge, literally dancing our way back to the suite.

Only two things could take us away from the sea — sleep and the Ritz-Carlton’s spectacular new boutique spa. We’d pass up yoga and pilates classes, tennis and Charlotte Amalie’s shopping for more time on the water, but the warm-stone massage was just too tempting. And on our final morning, a few hours before our flight, we couldn’t resist stopping by the spa for a little last-minute pampering.

As I lay there utterly at peace amid soft music, candles and fresh flowers, a soothing clay mask drying on my face, I could almost hear my mother in the next treatment room sighing, “I never want this to end.” Suddenly a picture popped into my mind, and it was all I could do to keep from cracking a smile — and my mask. I imagined her just after takeoff, gazing wistfully at the blue water below ... then marching up to the cockpit, calling the pilot a killjoy, and asking him to kindly turn the plane around.

—    Julie Feiner

Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas: 800-241-3333; www.ritzcarlton.com. Caribbean Water Sports 340-775-9360.

Caribbean Travel & Life is the magazine for anyone in search of the perfect tropical getaway. Each issue presents expert insider’s advice on where to find the Caribbean’s best beaches and attractions, its finest resorts and spas, liveliest beach bars and activities, and its friendliest people.

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