Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Good things come in small islands
Catamaran tour, conch fritters, white beaches -- Turks and Caicos all you expect in a Caribbean getaway
Little Water Cay is so spectacular, tourists have to be forewarned of its beauty.
"We like to get people ready, build the anticipation," says tour guide Gregory Robinson, flashing a big white smile.
"It really is the highlight of this trip. People are blown away."
And blown away we are.
My wife, daughter and I are on the three-hour Kitty Katt Catamaran Tour offered by Beaches Resort in the Caribbean paradise of Turks and Caicos.
First, there was a stop at a coral reef in the Princess Alexandra Marine Park to snorkel and spot parrot fish, lobster, conch, doctor fish, grouper, snapper and lion fish.
Very enjoyable, but truth be told, pretty standard Caribbean stuff.
Back on the catamaran, we head to Little Water Cay, which has been nicknamed Iguana Island for its healthy population of the reptile.
When the one-kilometre-by-200 metre island appears on the horizon, the fawning begins.
The island is as simple in its geography as it is in its beauty.
The west side is one glorious stretch of white-sand beach, the middle a grass-and-iguana-infused dune and the east side more beach, with its own Half Moon Bay.
The west-side beach that the Kitty Katt glides up on is pristine and achieves that status without a small army of resort workers continually raking it.
Usually, I roll my eyes when people start to wax poetic about the colour of the ocean.
Yet, here I am about to wax poetic.
The water as it hits the beach is a frothy white, a few metres out gin-clear, then a melted gemstone green and finally, shades of blue and even purple.
After the initial admiration, we snap photos, stroll the beach, stalk iguanas and finally swim and thank our lucky stars our travels have brought us here.
Not that we're roughing it at Beaches Resort a couple of kilometres away on the main island of Providenciales (nicknamed Prov, for those in the know).
By the way, Turks and Caicos, the smattering of islands located where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, is referred to as the TCIs by locals and lingo-savvy tourists.
Beaches Resorts is the family-friendly, luxury, all-inclusive brand of Sandals Resorts, the company that has couples-only luxury all-inclusives throughout the Caribbean.
"Just because you're travelling with your kids doesn't mean you have to compromise on quality and that extra glam," public relations manager Elanor Krazanowski tells me during a tour of the property.
To prove her point, while I'm checking out the infrastructure, my girls are at Red Lane Spa getting mother-daughter tropical bliss massages.
Most of the 615 rooms are suites that sleep at least four, feature tropical colonial decor and have a big balcony or patio.
Bathrooms have double vanity sinks, Jacuzzi tubs, rain shower and separate toilet room.
The 65-acre grounds are lush, the beach second-to-none, the pools and restaurants plentiful, the activities constant and the service impeccable.
Our favourite restaurants tended to be ones within sight and sound of the ocean -- Schooners for exceptional seafood and Barefoot by the Sea, where the evening service is all white tablecloths and candlelight, but you can kick your shoes off and dig them into the sand floor.
As a family-oriented resort, Beaches has ratcheted kids' clubs up a notch.
The clubs are divided by age -- baby, toddler, kids, tweens and teens -- and youth can pick and choose tailored activities from waterslides, surf simulators, lazy river and their own nightclub and catamaran cruise, pool and beach volleyball, special seating in restaurants and programs built around Beaches' partnership with Sesame Street.
One of our off-resort forays was to Da Conch Shack in nearby Northside.
Everyone we asked said it was the most authentic place on the islands for conch, the big, beautiful-shelled snail that is the national dish and finds its way into virtually every recipe, from fritters, salad and chowder to pasta and as a steak.
Located oceanside, Da Conch Shack is a collection of weather-beaten clapboard shacks and picnic tables in the sand.
It's definitely the place to have waitress Karene Brown bring you conch fritters and a Turk's Head beer while the palm trees sway, the ocean laps at the beach mere metres away and the DJ spins reggae tunes even in the mid-afternoon.
It's also where we met Roger, the stray dog, who lives on a steady diet of scrap conch, and resident fisherman Gaan Geahheah, who collects conch from the ocean floor using a kayak and pulls meat from the shell in a beachside performance that tourists consider a ceremony and he considers a workaday job.
IF YOU GO...
WestJet and Air Canada fly to Turks and Caicos from Toronto and Montreal.
The two airlines also package all-inclusive stays at Beaches Resort with flights.
Check out WestJet.com, AirCanada.com and Beaches.com.
-- The three-hour Beaches Kitty Katt Catamaran Tour is $98 for adults, $55 for children.
-- General information at TurksAndCaicosTourism.com.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 A1
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