As the cold winds come down from the north, out come the wistful screensavers depicting golden sunsets, limpid waters, swaying hammocks and sweet drinks with little pink umbrellas. But when you get tired of holding your mouse really still to get a glimpse of digital paradise, think about cashing in those unused vacation days and heading down to Barbados. The warm Caribbean waters caress its western shores, the wild Atlantic is to the east, and rum takes care of everything in between.
Once a British colony and still part of the Commonwealth, English-speaking Barbados has long been a favorite retreat for the kind of people who like baked beans for breakfast. American tourists are a bit of a novelty on this unspoiled coral island, and you’re unlikely to get stuck with a raucous party of spring breakers in the room above you. There’s a thriving nightlife, but the island’s true siren song is one of tranquility and family-friendliness.
All-inclusive is the way to go for a stress-free vacation in the sun. Mango Bay resort (www.mango baybarbados.com) offers everything you could ask for: Rooms with a fantastic view, helpful staff, a good bar, breakfast (there will be beans), lunch and semiformal dinner, a Caribbean beach with watersports and a sigh-inducing sunset. The resort is literally just steps from a street bustling with nightlife and a European-style mall with high-end retailers.
The resort also offers wedding packages, nightly live entertainment and plenty for the kids to do.
There might be a secret competition on Barbados as to who can serve the best —and the most— rum punch. It’s all pretty delicious, so don’t pass up a taste. If you want a bit more history and a little less punch, visit Mount Gay distillery (mountgayrum.com). They’ve got lunch, a museum, an informative (and musically dramatic) film and a tasting. Rumor has it that Mount Gay was George Washington’s favorite rum.
- PHOTOS: Frida Kahlo at the Brooklyn Museum doesn't hold back23 Pictures
- A sneak peek at the Bronx stars of Animal Planet's The Zoo Season 321 Pictures
Tip: If rum isn’t your thing, the resort’s bartenders do sweet, smooth justice to a mango martini.
If you’re the kind of person whose tan more closely resembles Santa’s rosy cheeks than the electric orange of Jersey Shore beach bums, don’t despair. Here’s a sample of activities that don’t require your own weight in SPF 9000:
- Take a submarine ride: Unlike most of its volcanic neighbors, Barbados is a coral reef topped with clay and dirt. Its spectacular origins are visible 140 feet below the azure waves. Get down with the periscope crowd at Atlantis submarine tours (www.barbados.
atlantissubmarines .com) and view the best in teeming sea life. If you’ve ever wanted to see an actual shipwreck, complete with Titanic-style eeriness and barnacles, this is your chance.
- Cave in and take a cavern tour: Barbados has become a little easier on the casual, less adventurous traveler in recent years, and Harrison’s Cave is a good example (harrisons cave.com). The series of caverns, among the largest and best on the island, offer a sit-back-and-relax trolley tour for families and those who packed nothing but beer cozies and flip-flops in their luggage. It also offers a more hands-on and strenuous set of adventure tours for the more daring tourist. Also, mind the iPhones — the caves are alive, and thus very drippy.
- There’s something fishy in the state of Barbados: riday nights at Oistin’s Fish Fry are a crowded affair — just about everyone, their mother and their children, comes out for an evening of food, song and drink. It’s the perfect place for out-of-towners to mix with Bajans and try local fare.