Escape the Chicago chill with a family trip to sunny Antigua

If the freezing temperatures, gray skies and the amount of time you’ve already spent looking for lost mittens have you fearing winter in Chicago, it may time to  plan a warm and sunny getaway. Antigua is an island in the Caribbean that offers the perfect antidotes to Chicago winter woes: turquoise water, bright sun, verdant hillsides and beautiful beaches. In fact, there are 365 beaches on the island — one for every day of the year. 

What to do

Antigua is a land of sea and sun, and there are lots of fun ways to take full advantage of both. Spend time on the water: snorkel to see the colorful fish and inhabitants of the reefs, sail or deep sea fish. Beach time should also be high on your to-do list as it is balm for the winter-weary soul (and good for Vitamin D levels, though of course, use sunscreen!). Play in the sand, splash in the water and soak up the sunshine.

The island has a rich history and one of the highlights is the Naval Dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also known as Nelson’s Dockyard because Admiral Horatio Nelson lived there in the 1780’s. Its location in English Harbour, which has deep bays and is sheltered from hurricanes, made it a great place for building and repairing British ships. The dockyard gave the British naval forces an edge over European rivals who were angling to control the seas around the sugar-producing islands. Today, the Georgian buildings have been restored and some are still used for maritime purposes like sail making. Visitors can see those as well as modern-day yachts anchored in the harbor and the juxtaposition of past and present is striking. The tour and museum are well done, and also brief enough to keep kids interested. 

Take full advantage of nature in Antigua. Check out Indian Town National Park which features Devil’s Bridge, a limestone arch that has been created by centuries of pounding by ocean waves; and hike through the rainforest — something you definitely can’t do in Chicago. The vegetation will make you forget that it’s winter back home. 

Where to stay

Carlisle Bay Resort is located on the south side of Antiqua and surrounded by lush green hills on a picturesque bay, which feels like your own secluded corner of paradise. The view of the bay will make you forget all about snow and instead of building snowmen, hit the beach and build sandcastles. 

The resort feels like the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” version of family vacations spots in several ways. With 82 rooms, it’s neither too big nor too small. Some rooms are right on the beach, and the others are just a few steps away. There are room options for all sizes of families, including larger groups of multi-generational travelers, and some include a kitchen. If you don’t feel like cooking, there are several restaurant options, including Indigo, an open-air restaurant located on the beach where you may see a crab scurry past and into the sea. If you go for breakfast, cinnamon raisin porridge is on the menu, as there are many guests from the UK, but there are American favorites as well. 

The resort also hits the “just right” balance of having plenty of activities for families to enjoy without being overwhelming or exhausting.

Little ones will love the pristine beach and the gentle waves in the bay, as well as the pool. The Cool Kids Club for children from six months to six years old offers lots of fun activities, including a paddling pool and playground.

Tweens have the Crew Blue program that offers zip lining and starfish hunting. At the resort, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding are hits with teens, as are the tennis courts. The film screening room shows a variety of movies that are fun for all ages. Parents will love that the staff makes sure kids not only have a blast but the activities are educational, too. Kids can learn about crabs on a scavenger hunt or the local foliage on a nature walk. With kids taken care of, they can enjoy dinner at The Jetty, an adults-only restaurant on the property with beautiful views of the ocean. There’s also a yoga pavilion and Blue Spa to help grown-ups relax, though time in one of the hammocks on beach with a boat drink will also do the trick. 

What to eat 

Antigua is known for “black pineapple.” Good news — the fruit you eat is not actually black. Even better news — it’s delicious. It’s the official fruit of Antigua and is said to be the world’s sweetest pineapple. It lacks the acidity typical found in pineapple and is like a burst of the tropics in your mouth with each bite. Unsurprisingly, fresh seafood is fantastic here. You can’t go wrong. Try out a Caribbean breakfast with saltfish and plantains. Plantain chips are also a fun taste treat. Roti, a stew (typically a curry) within a wrap, is also popular. 

Open for business 

While hurricanes ravaged parts of the Caribbean this fall, other parts escaped with minimal and even no damage. On a recent visit, there was no obvious damage on Antigua, which served as a safe haven for residents of neighboring Barbuda, which sustained significant damage. It’s business as usual on Antigua, which may be just the answer to making it through a Midwestern winter.

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