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Caribbean Getaway

Meet the Scotts, a Houston family who visits Turks & Caicos year after year

by Kathryn Streeter

 

QUICK FACTS
to help you plan your first trip to Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI): 

Getting There: United Airlines offers seasonal, direct flights from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Turks & Caicos’ Providenciales International Airport (PLS). Board your flight and less than 4 hours later, ta-da, you’ll be in sunny paradise. 

Double-check: Are your passports up-to-date? 

Arrival: The airport is a short distance from Grace Bay where resorts, restaurants and shops are concentrated. And, bonus: since Turks & Caicos is a mere hour later than Houston, there’s no chance of jet-lag, allowing you to swap travel-clothes for bathing suits and head to the beach.

 

Things to Know

  • As a British Territory, one drives on the left-hand side of the street but since the island is sparsely populated, the streets are manageable with a rental car. Uber is not an option but taxis are available. 
  • Currency is the American dollar (USD), a breeze!
  • English is the official language, though you’ll hear many others as residents and guests come from all over the world.
  • Tap water is potable, but if preferred, it’s easy to buy water.
  • Bring not only your highest performing 100% Biodegradable Sunscreen, but protective rash guard shirts as well to shield you from the brilliant sun and reflecting waters.

 

 

When Amy and Matt Scott were married in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) in 2011, they were already hooked and knew it was the perfect place for their wedding. Since then, they’ve added daughters Henley, now 5 and Sadie, 4 to their family, but that hasn’t slowed them down. They’ve continuedgoing back to Turks and Caicos, their hands-down favorite beach holiday. Though the Houston family has visited many other famous Caribbean destinations, Matt told me, “We’ve never found anywhere better than Turks & Caicos.”

I met the Scott family on board the Sun Charter’s Sail and Snorkel Tour after everyone had returned to the boat from exploring the breathtaking Pelican Reef, part of the world’s 3rd largest Barrier Reef. It was impossible to miss the vivacious Scott girls, who had briefly snorkeled and were now wrapped in towels, chilling in the sun. With Captain Matt at the helm, our 70-foot gaff-rigged schooner was an easy ride, with staff passing around a pitcher of rum punch. We sailed along Caicos Cay until anchoring to do some first-rate beachcombing for sand-dollars at Ft. George Cay. While the girls made sand-castles, Matt accepted the task of finding sand-dollars for his daughters and returned with about a dozen, causing the girls to erupt with oohs and aahs. 

Amy said that this excursion is their most favorite thing to do with the girls, topping the many other “favorite things” they love on the island. One thing that she helps people understand about TCI is that it’s very laid back and forces you to slow down. It’s all about the exceptional hues of the crystal-clear blue-green water, a picture inadequate for words. The sugar-like sand makes strolling the beach barefoot dreamy and the stunning well-documented sunsets, which sometimes give off the “Green Flash” caused by the fading sun refracting off the water, make for an artful spectacle for the lucky who catch a glimpse. Given the positioning of the reef, the opportunities to snorkel are everywhere. With TCI’s signature stillness combined with the active reef, snorkeling is at its finest. Even the shoreline right off the main 12-mile stretch of the pristine Grace Bay where resorts dot the shore allows for spontaneous exploration for snorkelers because of absolute water clarity. 

For snorkeling without the aid of tour reservations, Amy suggests hopping into your rental car and heading to Coral Gardens to explore the reef just off the beach, where rays, turtles, exotic fish and myriads of other sea life thrive. Bustling with ultimate island vibe and relaxation, the nearby Somewhere Café & Lounge delivers strong with bar food and drinks, so it’s worth a stop, Matt said. For something more remote, head west toward Turtle’s Cove to snorkel Smith’s Reef, probably best found with directions from a local. For a simply luxurious afternoon on the beach, drive over to Sapodilla Bay, where you can walk 75-100 yards into the water, the incline truly being that gradual. 

Kayaking through the mangroves is another activity you’ll not want to miss, sure to be a hit with kids. The mangroves, a deeply rooted system of small trees with narrow waterways winding through them, offer glimpses of laughing gulls, baby lemon sharks, turtles, barracuda, sea urchins, jellyfish, exotic fish and more. Many tour companies offer this excursion, including Big Blue Watersports and Jill Swann’s Adventure Sports, Co. The Scotts also enjoy conch diving and sunset tours, and they said it’s worth scheduling “Pop’s boat” through the fun and energetic Caicos Dream Tours. 

When they need a break from the water and the sun, the Scotts head to The Salt Mills for some shopping, good cigars and restaurants, specifically the “always amazing” Yoshis Sushi. Matt said one important reason they love the island is that it has resisted commercialization. This means you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for Chipotle or Starbucks on the island. Instead, the cafes, restaurants and bars are local creations, adding enormously to the charm of the place. Among others, Matt and Amy recommend Hemingway’s, Mango Reef and the upscale Coco Bistro for a special night out. Da Conch Shack is a favorite, offering a perfect spot for kids and parents. Matt said they love the place because of the amazing sunsets, food and rum punch. “All of the conch served are caught right out in the water. Most of the tables are in the sand…just a great place.” 

Enjoying island life as a family with all TCI has to offer, is just as much about maximizing organic family moments for the Scotts. To this end, pool time at whichever resort they’re at is always a win, allowing for family play. They love meeting other travelers and encourage their girls to play with other kids also at the resort. All things considering, though, they advise sticking with the nap/meals home routine as much as possible, planning for natural down-times each afternoon. Because Matt and Amy work demanding jobs, on vacation, they stay away from phones and computers as much as possible to give their kids loads of memories to take home. Matt said it best: “I think it feeds directly to the kids that we really are ‘on vacation’”. Truly, to a child, more than exotic excursions, time with mommy and daddy, fully-present, with zero distractions to compete with will leave a lasting impression just as much –or more—as a beautiful sunset.


 

Ocean Club Resorts

 

What to See & Do

  • Your most consequential decision will be lodging. As a mother and frequent traveler, I found where I stayed, Ocean Club Resorts (comprised of Ocean Club & Ocean Club West, separated by a mile), to be a smart choice for families. This is why:
  • The Caribbean-styled, ocean-facing sister resorts offer generous condo layouts perfect for families (1-3 bedroom suites). Complimentary wifi is available throughout the property. Best of all, a cheerful, responsive staff is available to help answer all your questions. 
  • The roomy screened-in porches are wonderful when quiet downtime out of the sun is needed but the desire to see and smell the ocean remains— a perfect compromise!
  • Depending on the layout that’s right for your family, you’ll find the island-themed décor, fully outfitted kitchens, washer/dryer, eclectic assembly of books and movies encasing your cable TV, all to your liking. Daily,  dependable housekeeping will refresh your beach towel supply and tidy up. 
  • Ocean Club Resorts touts, “Stay At One, Play At Both,” meaning that you can freely indulge in the sister resort’s amenities. A free shuttle connects the resorts, or perhaps you’ll want to stroll the beach from one resort to the other, stopping to cool off in the water along the way.
  • Proximity to the local IGA grocery and the resorts’ convenience store “Sand Castles”, means you’ll be able to enjoy eating in. Plus, pool-side grills for barbequing stand ready if burgers are on the menu. 
  • Complimentary amenities for children include: cribs/highchairs, baby monitors, strollers and beach toys. For a fee, babysitting is available.
  • The lending library for guests in the lobby includes a variety of DVD titles, perfect for easy after-dinner movie entertainment before tucking tired kids (and yourselves) in bed to be ready for another brilliant day on the beach.  

 

Free activities, courtesy of Ocean Club Resorts

  • As a family, the resorts’ complimentary paddle-boards, kayaks, bikes and tennis courts are no small considerations. It greatly eases the pocketbook and allows you to respond to the whims of kids. 
  • With the water’s transparency and stillness, snorkeling is at your fingertips, offering fun, free adventure right off the beach, perfect for beginner snorkelers.
  • With their littlest guests in mind, the resort creatively conceived “Seafari”, a free exploration game to help kids connect with the island environment. 

 

Dining at Ocean Club Resorts and beyond

  • Ocean Club’s casual open-air Cabana Bar & Restaurant is especially lively on Monday evenings when live music fills the air. Let the kids loose to dance as day turns to night, a great way to release any remaining energy!
  • For fine dining, reserve a breezy garden table at Opus Restaurant or the ocean-facing Solana Restaurant (west location), the latter allowing you to indulge in fine Japanese cuisine (amazing sashimi and sushi await!). *Kiddie menus are available at all resort restaurants. 
  • Get out and join the island community at the Fish Fry on Thursdays, 5-9:30p, for street market festivities, packed with local food and craft vendors. Live music begins at 7p. 
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