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Caribbean: Dive into the Bounty of Barbados

We hadn't been on the road long when our Bajan driver suddenly stopped the minibus, got out and clambered up the grassy incline. Stooping to examine a piece of vegetation, he waved for the kids to join him. Was it a piece of fruit I wondered, or crop damage from monkeys or mongoose, both native to Barbados? Neither. What Ivor wanted to show them was something so unbelievably soft and silky that the kids immediately asked if they could bring some home. It was raw cotton, a tuft of white threads prodded from a green pod. It was also the beginning of a mini history lesson about the island's involvement with the slave trade.

One of the beauties of visiting this easterly Caribbean island is that there is so much to do.We saw underground caves, visited plantations, watched divers feed hot dogs to the fish through the windows of a semi-submersible and examined sea anenomes opening and closing in their fingers. Here, according to the kids, are the must-sees for families really wanting to explore the island:


"You've got to write about this," said the kids as they sidled up to the long bar for their umpteenth virgin Pina Colada and watched their calypso dancing on the top deck. I agree. If you only have pennies for one outing, let this be the one. The ship departs at 11 a.m. every Tuesday for a four-hour cruise that's part snorkelling expedition, part arts and crafts fair and part Caribbean feast. A semi-submersible attached to the belly of the boat takes cruisers down into the deep for an extra fee. Captain Dennis Roach knows that kids are along for the vacation ride. He and his brother stock all sizes of masks, fins and snorkels so that even Junior can be outfitted when the boat docks at a calm beach. Swim with the fishies, swing Tarzan-style from a rope into the sea and then dance all the way back to port. It's a blast.

HARRISON'S CAVE: Kids will enjoy donning hard hats over Kleenex to descend into the unique underground cave system aboard an electric train. The mile-long ride takes you past bubbling subterranean streams, under huge dripping stalactites and up to a large limestone cavern with a 40-foot waterfall. The dark and echoes may scare some little ones although this number one tourist attraction on the island is lit along the way.

BARBADOS WILDLIFE RESERVE: Hundreds of the native green monkeys of Barbados call this primate research centre home. This natural habitat in the middle of a mahogany forest also conatins parrots, tortoise, deer, otters and native birds. Though the monkeys are irrisistible, especially the babies, don't let the kids handle them. They do bite and though the primates at the reserve are tested regularly, some of the island's monkey population do carry a contagious virus. The creatures are free to come and go as they wish and it was amazing to find faces peeping out from behind leaves or mothers grooming babies undisturbed in a shady grove.

ST. JOHN'S CHURCH: From this picturesque spot 825 feet above sea level, you get a spectacular view of the wild Atlantic east coast. The 1836 church is interesting but it was the graveyard of tombs and headstones that fascinated the kids. A descendant of Emperor Constantine the Great is buried here but more interesting was the plaque my son found on the outside of the church honoring a dead person from Scarborough! (That's why I love travelling with kids).

RUM REFINERY AND HERITAGE PARK: This may not sound like an outing for children but this newest Bajan attraction about the history and making of one of the island's best known exports is geared for kids too. Our guide held an unmarked bottle under Natalie's nose and had her guess the substance (molasses), explained why the white rum was used to cure sickness and showed old photos of sugarcane being harvested by hand. The reward? A thimble full of the real stuff. My daughter was so intrigued that she asked to bring a walking stick's worth of sugarcane back to Canada.

ACCOMMODATION: In Barbados, there's a room for every budget. The all-inclusive Almond Beach Club, a former sugar plantation with swimming pools, eateries and a par-three nine-hole golf course is known for its extensive kids programs including pool games, golf clinics and hair braiding. We stayed at the Casuarina Beach Club in a wonderful two-storey, family suite. Owner Sonia Cole "Bonnie" Wilson, a former nursery-school teacher who manages the resort, offers such family-friendly touches as cribs ringing the kid's pool and arts and crafts with her trained schoolteachers (246-428-3600; www.casuarina.com). Activities include cycling with Bonnie to watch the sunrise, learning Caribbean dance steps and watching hawksbill turtles nest on the beach. Recommended by other families is the Sandy Beach resort with its informal suites and Club Rockley with its pools, tennis courts and shuttle bus to the beach.

FOOD: Yes, a meal on Barbados can be expensive, the price, say, of a starter set of braces. By cooking some meals and by eating at such local hangouts as Kentucky Fried Chicken (a native-style buffet lunch for less than $10 U.S. with a shuttle bus service), Chefette (great fast-food fried chicken and ice cream) and the Waterfront Café in Georgetown (sandwiches at outside tables) we kept prices under control. For a splurge, we ate at the Canadian-owned Masquerade in St. Lawrence Gap, wonderful food and service, and enjoyed an island lunch buffet at the famous Atlantis Hotel where owner chef Enid Maxwell serves up pumpkin fritters and pepper pot stew along with the view.

For more information, contact the Barbados Tourism Authority at www.barbados.org





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