Cultural Family Festival in FloridaSep 21, 2014
The Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) is taking place in Sarasota, Florida October 15th through 18th.
THE BAHAMAS (Day 4 of 4) — I’m enjoying my best bubble bath ever in the biggest tub I’ve ever seen–outdoors.
We’ve hiked down a lagoon to this particular bubble bath on a speck of an island in the Bahamas’ Exumas chain of islands named Compass Key. This is named Rachel’s Bubble Bath—no one knows why—because the waves crash into the rock and pour into this little inlet, leaving foam.
“Kids love it here,” says Yves Verhoustraete, who with his wife Marta are the general managers of the six-villa Fowl Cay Resort on neighboring Fowl Cay where we are spending a long weekend.
Did I mention this resort is owned by Sandals? Yet it couldn’t be more different than Sandals expect that your stay is all inclusive. That means your villa is stocked with every food and drink you want. We fix our own breakfast and hot freshly baked muffins and fruit are delivered every morning.
Lunch is a picnic we share with Yves under a gazebo when we return from Rachel’s Bubble Bath. The resort’s pooch has come along for the fun.
Each villa comes with its own motor boat so we are able to tool around the gorgeous area on our own adventures.
Yesterday, for example, we motored over to the other side of Compass Cay to swim with the nurse sharks that Tucker Rolle feeds. “We have about 15,” he says. “It started with two I brought here who had gotten caught in grouper traps.”
Rolle inherited this Cay from an American he’d done work for as a young boy; today he has a few villas and charges passersby $10 each for a dip with the surprisingly docile nurse sharks, some of whom are seven feet long with names like Herman, Hook, Fang and Scar. He’s known to serve a mean burger and conch fritters. (The trick, he tells me, is adding beer to the batter.)
We love that every day in the Exumas we can explore a different cay. There are no crowds or big hotels. That’s the idea. Verhoustraete explains that Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the chairman and founder of Sandals Resorts, liked to anchor his yacht at Fowl Cay when the island was owned by an American family—many of these cays are privately owned. When they decided to sell, he bought it and turned it into a unique resort. No wonder half the guests return within a year.
This place is expensive—well over $1500 a night for a villa that accommodates four. But when you consider it truly is all inclusive—all the water toys, all the food, all the liquor and the boat (which could cost you $400 a day in these parts) you probably wouldn’t end up spending much more than at a swanky Caribbean resort where you wouldn’t get the service—20 to care for 30 guests—or the chance to vacation like Johnny Depp or Tyler Perry —they own nearby cays.
Verhoustraete says kids love it here because they can have the run of the island and they never get bored—not with the chance to fish, play tennis, kayak, build sand castles and try stand up paddle boarding or wind surfing. Two Hobe Cats are on order.
This is of course a place to be together—there is no children’s or teen club like Sandals Beaches resorts are famous for, no water slides like at Atlantis on Paradise Island, no celebrity chef restaurants or casino.
That all makes this one of the most unique resorts I’ve ever visited. In the morning, they ask us whether we’d like the fish (locally caught, of course) or meat for dinner. When we asked if we could our lobster grilled instead served as lobster thermidor, that was fine. Our biggest decision—beyond what kind of sandwiches we want in our picnic—is which cay to explore.
When we came back, we had our choice of two beaches as well as the deck overlooking the sea at our villa. We opted for the one with the paddle board and kayaks—no signing them out, no fee for their use—just there for our pleasure, just as if we were visiting Johnny Depp or this was our own private island
Earlier, Verhoustraete took us to one of the most idyllic snorkeling spots I’ve ever seen—named the Sea Aquarium in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park—a national marine preserve that stretches for 176 square miles and was created in 1958.
You can’t anchor a boat here, take anything or feed the fish so that is helping to project the sea life and coral, Krista Sherman told me. She is a marine scientists working on a project there.
Back to the snorkeling. The water is crystal clear. And we swim with schools of sergeant majors, groupers, parrot fish—yellow tailed snappers—fish that are yellow and silver, purple and blue.
There is only one other person snorkeling in this spot. That is what is most amazing about these Cays. “Very seldom in other parts of the Caribbean will you have the place to yourself like you do here,” says Verhoustraete. That’s true whether you are bone fishing, snorkeling, kayaking or having a picnic on a beach
That draws people like us here—that sense of adventure but being taken care of. I don’t have to shop for groceries for the villa or make our picnic lunch. I don’t have to think about what we’ll eat for dinner. My husband cooks us breakfast because he enjoys it. But he doesn’t have to do the dishes if he doesn’t want to. They even do our laundry!
Sure it’s expensive—but I’ve stayed at a lot of equally or more pricey resorts where we don’t have such an intimate unique experience. “When you leave you really feel like part of the family,” Verhoustraete says.