Christmas in the Caribbean

Island Hopping for the Holidays
Tracey Teo

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas - white sand, that is. In the Caribbean, the weather outside is delightful, not frightful, and that’s the way I like it.  Better to have a red nose caused by the tropical sun than Jack Frost’s tiresome nipping, and I’ll take a fruity cocktail by the pool over a glass of eggnog by the fire any day.  

For those who share this sentiment, give yourself the gift of a memorable Caribbean getaway this holiday season. Whether you are looking for adventure, a romantic retreat or family fun, your sun-kissed, palm-studded paradise awaits.  

Aruba – Beyond the Beach 

Forget dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh. How about trekking through the sand on a horse named Jesse James?  

 A creamy Paso Fino from Aruba’s Rancho Notorious, he navigates through a tight tunnel of towering cacti causing me to squirm in my saddle. Easy does it, Jess. Steer clear of those pricklies.  

I needn’t have worried. My equine companion’s namesake may be a rebellious outlaw, but Ole Jess is a good-natured, if high-spirited rescue horse, and he’s never allowed a wannabe cowboy (or cowgirl) to return to the ranch looking like a voodoo doll.  

He obediently follows our young guide Max out of the cactus forest and into the open “cunucu,” or Aruban countryside.  

This distinctive island-nation is known for its postcard-perfect beaches and aquatic pursuits like snorkeling, and while those colorful marine creatures are enchanting, there’s an abundance of terrestrial wildlife worth seeing, too. 

Max points out a twitchy cottontail rabbit that, to my surprise, doesn’t bolt at our approach. 

Ranch owner Barbara Bok, a Dutch expat and Max’s mother, says that’s exactly why many nature lovers choose to observe island wildlife on horseback.  

“Horses are part of nature, so they don’t scare away birds and the crawling animals,” Bok explains. “Even though there’s a person sitting on his back, what the animals hear is the footsteps of the horse, which is natural.”  

That’s good to know, because I’m hoping to photograph an elusive prikichi, Aruba’s national bird that flaunts brilliant plumage, or a shoko, an endangered burrowing owl.  

We ride past eerily still iguanas, stegosaurus-like reptiles that I find slightly creepy, and in the distance, wild donkeys roam lazily across the desert scrub.  

The sandy, windswept terrain seems to stretch on endlessly, but then I hear the roar of the Caribbean Sea, and frothy, luminous blue waves pop up on the horizon. We’ve arrived at Urirama Cove on the northeast coast. 

I’m so hot and dusty, it’s tempting to jump in, but being pummeled against the rocks by crashing waves isn’t on my itinerary, so I make the sound decision to postpone my swim until I return to calm Eagle Beach near my hotel, Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort.  

Back at the stables, Jesse gives me a little nudge with his muzzle, his way of saying, “Nice to meet you. Let’s do it again someday.” 

You got it, Partner. As soon as my backside recovers. 

Jamaica – All is Calm 

This time of the year, we are reminded it’s better to give than receive. Those who repeat that platitude have clearly never been on the receiving end of a treatment at the award-winning Oasis Spa, a palace of pampering at the adults-only Couples Tower Isle in Jamaica. 

The 220-room beach resort features eight spa villas with special perks that include a private plunge pool, expansive sun deck and your own spa concierge. Best of all, spa services are unlimited at this all-inclusive tropical retreat. 

That’s right. Say you got a hot stone massage because that’s what you always get, but your special someone was so blissed out with the bamboo fusion massage, you’re convinced you made the wrong choice. Nuh worries, mon. Get the coveted treatment tomorrow at no extra charge.   

Also indulge in favorites like the seaweed-rich signature four layer facial and the couples body scrub and polish that leaves skin cuddle soft.  

If you can’t tear yourself away from your comfy villa, spa staff will come to you. 

But you really should venture out of your luxurious cocoon because this sprawling property has four pools, tennis, golf and more. Best of all, there are almost endless ways to enjoy the aquamarine water. 

Set sail on a catamaran cruise or take a snorkeling excursion that introduces swimmers to an array of flamboyant marine life on the reefs.  

Bahamas-Christmas in Paradise 

At Dolphin Cay, a 14-acre manmade marine habitat at Atlantis Paradise Island, a 10-year-old girl almost loses her balance on her paddleboard when an impish bottlenose dolphin surprises her with a graceful, acrobatic jump.  

She waves down her mom balancing precariously on her own paddleboard. “Did you see that?”  

Mom gives her a thumbs up, and they paddle off together to see if the other dolphins, which are easily spotted in the clear water, will be as gregarious.  

Known as the “Katrina dolphins” because they were rescued after the notorious 2005 hurricane destroyed their Mississippi habitat, they have become celebrities of sorts, but Dolphin Cay is not an entertainment facility. It exists as an oasis for the once-stranded creatures, and focuses on education and conservation, but the capricious marine mammals love company, and resort guests are delighted to visit. 

Aquaventure, the resort’s water park, offers a wilder kind of fun. Kids scream all the way down the Leap of Faith, an insane waterslide with a stomach-churning, 60-foot drop from the top of a Mayan temple replica that ends in shark-infested waters. Well, the live sharks are on the other side a clear tunnel, but it’s thrilling all the same.  

That’s only one of 18 waterslides at the park, so everybody in the family is sure to find a level of excitement that’s right for them. 

The resort offers a variety of accommodations, but the Coral beachfront hotel is designed with families in mind. Frozen pops at the pool’s swim-up bar are a kid favorite.  

If a day of watersports leaves you feeling like that grandma that got run over by a reindeer, head to the resort’s Mandara Spa. A massage therapist will set you right in no time.