Are you ready to vacation like a movie star?
First, you are whisked to your own private Bahamian island enclave in a five-seater plane.
After a short boat ride with a stop to feed the swimming pigs on a neighboring cay, a smiling staff shows you to an airy villa with gorgeous views of the water. Lunch and drinks are waiting. The fridge and pantry are stocked with everything you could possibly want, or need, (including all varieties of alcohol) and if there is something the staff has forgotten, just ask.
Welcome to Fowl Cay Resort (www.fowlcay.com) in the Bahamian Exumas (www.bahamas.com), with more than 300 tiny islands. This all-inclusive island resort – the maximum number of guests is 30 – is owned by Sandals (www.sandals.com), which also owns private villas in Jamaica (uniquevillasofjamaica.com/). The founder of Sandals, Jamaican Gordon “Butch” Stewart, used to anchor his yacht here in the idyllic cove. When the American family who owned this island put it up for sale five years ago, he bought it to run a different kind of all-inclusive resort than Sandals or Beaches.
Different is an understatement.
On another island, we meet the biggest iguanas I’ve ever seen and when we go over to Compass Cay, we swim with docile nurse sharks. This is no organized tour. Owner Tucker Rolle explains he rescued two little ones from a grouper trap and now there are more than a dozen. He charges visitors $10 to get in the water with them and is famous for his burgers.
Our hardest decision is to decide what to do – explore in our boat, go fishing, kayak, paddleboard or relax on the private beach, before joining the other guests for cocktails and a three-course dinner at the Hill House. Our only decision there: meat or fish.
“My kids felt like they were in an unexplored tropical paradise...,” said Brad Fau, a Columbus, Ohio, pediatrician who recently vacationed here with his wife and five children to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
Who needs kids’ programs when there’s tubing around a private cove, tennis, fishing off the dock and all the tropical virgin drinks that parents will allow whipped up by the bartender?
“We enjoyed not having scheduled kids’ programs ... with the uniqueness of having your own boat to explore a new adventure every day,” said Fau.
We found this suited the grown kids we took along too – my son Matt and his girlfriend Emmie.
Of course, this doesn’t come cheap. All-inclusive rates are typically about $1,700 a night for a four-person villa that includes the boat and even the gas. But anyone who has vacationed with kids at a luxury Caribbean or Hawaiian resort knows they could easily spend that much or more and not have this kind of experience. Just renting a boat could cost $400 a day.
There is an opportunity for adventure without the heavy lifting. I loved not having to stock the villa, pack a picnic, wonder what we would cook for dinner or gas up or clean the boat. They gave us snorkeling and fishing gear for our stay – no need to rent each time we wanted some. The staff even did our laundry.
“My wife and I felt – even with the five kids – that we could relax because they were catered to so well,” said Fau. “We have never had such personal attention and likely never will again at any other resort.”
Did I mention that each morning, freshly baked muffins and tropical fruits are brought to our villa where my husband, Andy, obligingly cooked up some eggs and bacon? (We didn’t even have to do the dishes!)
The best part: Wherever we go, we have the place virtually to ourselves; whether we’re snorkeling, fishing or just hanging out on a tiny speck of an island. I’ve never experienced that – not even when we were sailing ourselves around the British Virgin Islands.
On the other side of Compass Cay, we hiked down a lagoon to Rachel’s Bubble Bath – so named because the waves crash into the rock and pour into this little inlet, covering the water with bubbles. We picnic under a gazebo looking out at the clear warm water.
Earlier, we tried one of the most idyllic snorkeling spots I’ve ever seen – the Sea Aquarium in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park – a national marine preserve created in 1958 that stretches for 176 square miles.
We swim with schools of sergeant major, grouper, parrot fish and yellow-tailed snapper – fish that are yellow and silver, purple and blue.
It was fantastic.
For more, visit www.takingthekids.com.
Wherever we go, we have the place virtually to ourselves; whether we’re snorkeling, fishing or just hanging out.