Drawing from their trip to the Atlantic islands of Turks & Caicos, the authors offer tips on some of the best family accommodations and dining venues.
Provo’s Family Resorts and Condominiums
Most families will arrive in the Turks & Caicos in Providenciales (also known as Provo), and most will choose one of its deluxe beachfront hotels or condominiums. Most are comfortable and full service, with pleasant landscaping and large pool areas, and most bear a striking resemblance to large parts of southern and central Florida. It is worth noting that many hotels in the TCI, still an Overseas British Territory, bear an old-fashioned British attitude about children; thus some do not welcome them. With some looking, we found several — other than the deluxe all-inclusive Beaches Turks & Caicos (888/BEACHES)– that were very family-friendly.
Our first stay at the Ocean Club West (800/457-8787, 649/946-5880), a four-story condominium with 40 homes, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. Ours, angled to face the beach, was very scenic: a large one-bedroom apartment whose off-white living room swept away from an island kitchen and out to a tiled, screened-in porch with sea views. Inside — several phones, large TV, plush marble bathroom, washer/dryer, microwave and full kitchen; in short, all the modcons of home. The recently built complex also has tennis courts, a fitness center and a cafe.
Ocean Club West has an elder sister resort, The Ocean Club about a mile down the beach, with reciprocal meal privileges. It differs in that all 86 units are suites, but not necessarily with the “comforts of home” one would find in a condominium (rates are less, too.) The OC has undergone constant renovation to keep the units fresh, and has added a spa, dive shop, restaurant and a playroom. Both are good choices for the self-sufficient family who doesn’t want non-stop organized activities. Though the resorts run a half-day supervised program at the Kids Club for ages 4 through the tween years, in general, family guests are content to hang out at the beach, the pools, and do some sightseeing.
Our next stay on Provo at the Royal West Indies (800/332-4203, 649/946-5004) was more pleasing, because our unit, though smaller, had a cozier feel and less soil-able decor. Attractively furnished in rattan with hunting plaids and dark woods, the Royal West Indies condo faced their landscaped gardens and narrow beachfront parcel of land. But that gave the pool an opportunity to wind through the property, creating nooks and crannies for children to hang out, and some shady areas under the footbridges. Service was top notch and the poolside cafe/bar was crowded each evening with guests awaiting the sunset.
The Palms (888/201-1806) is one of Grace Bay Beach’s newer luxe condo complexes, with its own posh spa, boutiques, Parallel 23 Restaurant, poolside bar and restaurant, an infinity pool and 12 acres of landscaped grounds. Within this compound are 72 one, two and three bedroom suites with balconies facing the grounds and sea, luxurious marble flooring, mahogany furniture, full kitchens, fine bed linens, and entertainment systems. The watersports crew takes care of Hobie Cats, snorkel gear, kayaks, windsurfers and rafts for the kids. For Spring Break 2006, the Palms began its Conch Kritters Club for ages 4-12 years. During the full-day ($75) program children are provided with lunch or dinner from the club’s menu and a snack, while those participating in the evening ($50) program receive dinner and are entertained with an after dinner movie. In addition to the stocked games room, children may participate in staff-led yoga, pilates and aquarobics classes.
Other facilities we reviewed were located across the highway from the beach. It’s hardly a dangerous choice because of the light traffic flow, but we think the only reason to stay away from the beach is budget. These modern but style-less lodgings included the attractive Comfort Suites (888/678-DIVE, 649/946-8888), which was, like most, a comfortable concrete condo with air-conditioning, a smallish swimming pool and workout room. It’s worth noting that this property has been one of Choice Hotels Gold Award winners for the past several years. Special discounts are available from April 9-December 23, 2007 and April 6-December 20, 2008. Pay for 6 nights and spend the 7th night free. This offer applies to the aforementioned periods.
Families may be interested to know that construction of all-inclusive resorts on Provo has been limited by the government, so that local hoteliers and ancillary businesses like restaurants will benefit from tourist revenues. Expect to see even more condo units opening each year as many other coastal development projects are under review.
[Note: In September 2008, Hurricane Ike passed over the Turks & Caicos Islands. The resorts escaped unharmed; pictures can be found here.]
Provos’s Seaside Dining
One of the most interesting dining excursions is to Bugalloos, where an enthusiastic culinary showman from the Bahamas cooks up conch in dozens of ways. His ceviche, conch chowder, fresh conch, beaten conch, fried conch and other treats are delicious. Bu’s facilities have recently been upgraded to a cottage with shaded porches on Blue Hill Road, perfect for eating the freshly caught mollusk.
Another waterfront dining adventure is the Tiki Hut Grill (649/941-5341), at the small but colorful Turtle Cove Marina (649-941-3781), site of Provo’s first hotel in the 1960s. We lunched to the funky tunes of ripsaw music, while scarfing up family-style baskets of friend chicken, ribs and several sides such as cole slaw, mashers and biscuits. They have delicious and affordable conch fritters and other international fare, and every Wednesday is the chicken n’ ribs special. It seems like a pretty popular bar scene come nightfall, with lots of party yachts pulling in for a rum punch, and locals descending for a cool breeze.
The Sharkbite Bar and Grill (649/941-5090) is a newer place at Turtle Cove Marina that’s built out over the water. Grouper, cracked conch and conch chowder are dining specialties while the restaurant shows off with fish feedings and a gift shop. Baci Ristorante (649/941-3044) is a bit fancier, a new Italian fine dining restaurant located at Harbour Town, right by the pier, that’s popular for its homemade pastas. Another restaurant favored by locals is Hey Joses (649/946-4812), a Tex-Mex style cantina in Central Square on the Leeward Highway. Joses boasts the island’s largest selection of tequilas, a 10-foot video screen, pool table and some electronic slot machines, a fun atmosphere that’s family friendly as well.
Salt Cay Lodging & Dining
Situated on Salt Cay on what must be one of the Atlantic’s best beaches, and close to what is considered some of TCI’s best diving, is Windmills Plantation (649/946-6962). It is more an eclectic collection of large, attached studios and cottages painted in parrot hues, decorated with Mexican, Caribbean and other island memorabilia, than our Southern belle notion of a plantation. Windmills has a terrific restaurant supervised by Dominican Chef Milady, who serves banana curry soup and conch lasagna. Most importantly, it has a gorgeous location. While kids would be welcome there, it is very isolated and perhaps more suitable to a honeymooner’s temperament than to active kids. But if you want to spend a few days nowhere, this is a wonderful choice.
Grand Turk Lodging & Dining
Our home on Grand Turk was the charming, eight-unit Island House (649/946-1519/1388) run by former U.K. resident Colin Brooker as his “retirement project”. On a hill about five minutes by golf cart from the town, this collection of small apartment flats is a getaway for fishermen, divers and families. Each is air-conditioned with its own fully equipped kitchen, comfortable bedroom, small living area (with another daybed) and verandah. The grounds are the most distinctive feature of Island House, with old flowering trees, a common laundry facility, well-kept pool and coral-paved walkways. In such an intimate setting it was impossible not to meet other families.
At breakfast, we encountered the Zachary’s, whose 13- and 14-year-old boys had done a snorkeling daytrip with Oasis Divers (800/892-3995, 649/946-1128). They went to everyone’s first choice, Gibbs Cay, home of stingrays that have been trained to eat from human hands. This was followed by a beach barbecue, and they thought the excursion was very well run. On other days, the Zachary’s snorkeled off the pretty, pine-tree-lined Governor’s Beach, and dined almost everywhere.
Said Jim Zachary, “Everyone is so helpful and friendly. I’ve traveled a lot and never been greeted like this.” The Zachary’s recommend Sarah’s Market for produce, which arrives fresh each Wednesday. Their suggestions for great local eateries (“It can be expensive to eat out,” warns Jim, who enjoyed cooking in the condo) include the Regal Begal (649/946-2274) for its grouper, French fries, and rice ‘n’peas dish, and Mookie Pookie Pizza (649/946-1538) where hearty breakfasts and grilled sandwiches are as popular as the pizza.
Another real perk of this lodging choice, besides its reasonable prices (Grand Turk is generally less expensive than the other TCI) is the use of a vehicle included with every unit! A family of three warrants a golf cart. In such a brief visit, we never cooked breakfast, but could easily imagine doing so, dining on the breezy verandah, then sightseeing in the mornings and napping each afternoon.
Parrot Cay Lodging & Dining
The chicest resort in the country is definitely Parrot Cay (877/754-0726, 649/946-7788), a 1,000-acre private island just 30 minutes by fast boat from Provo. Featured in Wallpaper and W, the tony, high-style, 60-room “hotel” is a Balinese-style resort where celebrities, glitterati and the discreetly wealthy pay up to $865/N for an elegant seaview room. (One child under 12 stays free in parents’ room; three to five-night minimum stay year-round.) The Asian-inspired spa is a picture of tranquility and its treatments are reputed to be worthy of its decor.
FYI, the verdant island is also dotted with several private homes in a development backed by some of Planet Hollywood’s investors. Today, the island boasts Bruce Willis and designer Donna Karan as homeowners.
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