My first holiday as a single parent: Carlisle Bay, Antigua

This holiday was the catalyst for Magnus & Me, it was a milestone on my journey as a widow and parent.

Written in April, 2011

“Is someone joining you?” said the chirpy bartender as he thrust two expertly shaken cocktails into the paws of the couple sitting next to me. They stared lovingly at one another before clinking their rose hued flutes together, as did all the other twosomes littering the bar area. “No, just me,” I mumbled whilst turning the colour of a cosmopolitan and staring intently at the cocktail menu.

Those are the words I dread most when propping up the bar solo. My husband died eight months ago and this was to be my maiden voyage as a single parent. Don’t feel sorry for me though, back in my hotel room I have the most adorable holiday companion I could wish for, unfortunately being just shy of two years, he hasn’t quite developed a taste for cocktails yet and I resign myself to the fact that tonight my drink will be my significant other.

Perfect spot for a cocktail

As this was to be my ‘coming out’ holiday, hours of precision planning and research led me to the Carlisle Bay Hotel in Antigua; the deciding factor being a crèche that catered for the under-2’s market, something that is surprisingly difficult to find. Fortunately for me, it just so happens to be one of the best hotels on the island.

As I opened the door to my extravagant but very much worth it two-bedroomed suite, the first thing I noticed was the view; our terrace literally was the beach. Money might not buy you happiness but it certainly gets you seven days of utopia. Opening the French windows every morning to the sun’s welcoming rays and the sea’s gentle swell really was good for the soul; I knew instantly that I would be happy here.

View from the bedroom

Each morning my son Magnus trotted happily along the landscaped paths to the Kid’s Club where an army of matronly nannies were ready to entertain and adore him. Without my mini shield I felt a little naked, but the hotel provided many options to fill the void and keep me amused too.

With precious child-free hours to fill, I headed to the library, the cool white walls and the inviting sofas provided a welcome sanctuary from the activity at the swimming pool, and there was a good selection of books on offer. I was inexplicably drawn to the title One Day, little did I know that a few hours later it would leave me sobbing on my sun lounger, but if you’ve read it, you’ll understand why.

The library

After a few days of mindless over-eating, I needed a hit of endorphins and some serious calorie zapping, so I booked myself a tennis lesson. Fatefully the assailing rain washed away any impure thoughts I might have had about a fling with the handsome tennis coach, so with the lesson cancelled I booked myself a massage.

If I was hoping for 60 minutes of unadulterated relaxation then I would have been disappointed; but a thorough back-clicking, muscle-prodding sports massage is what I asked for and that’s exactly what I got. The fact that my calf muscles felt like they had undergone an attack by enemy fire just encouraged me to believe that I really did deserve my spot at the bar that night.

The spa

Unsurprisingly the hotel was predominantly stuffed full of families, there was the odd offspring-free couple but it wouldn’t have taken them long to realise their oversight; I’m not sure they enjoyed the cheerio-fuelled early morning breakfast bedlam as much as I did. They also wouldn’t have had the pleasure of feeding the hotel’s pet fish with the remains of a two-year old’s breakfast, which was to become our daily ritual.

Children are made to feel very welcome at the Carlisle Bay; a big hit was the complimentary early evening ‘high-tea’, which allowed parents to feed their charges in an informal buffet style setting by the pool. It certainly makes life easier not having to endure painful force-feeding in a stuffy dining room, where children are expected to be seen but not heard, which I have experienced in other hotels.

It was probably on day two of the holiday when I realised that if I couldn’t drag my son to the bar with me every evening then the next best thing was a book; it was to become my armour. It screamed out: “Yes I’m alone, but I’m totally comfortable with that”. The truth of the matter is I never read the book; instead I hid behind it and listened to the conversations going on around me, which were far more scintillating.

Listening to the harassed husband next to me, who was getting a flea in his ear because he hadn’t informed his wife he was spending the following day at the golf course, and observing the stony-faced pair opposite me, who looked as though they would really like to gouge each other’s eyes out, reminded me that the grass isn’t always greener.

One of the restaurants

Even though the other hotel guests were clearly fascinated by the absence of a man in my life, they never once deigned to ask me what my relationship status was. It was only at the Kid’s Club when a very well-meaning member of staff innocently asked: “Why is it always mummy, mummy, mummy, doesn’t he have a daddy?” Even in paradise you can’t escape reality forever and somehow I managed to get those brutal words out: “No, his father died”.

It was then one of those strange moments when she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said that whatever happens in life I was blessed to have Magnus. And she was right; I felt like the luckiest person in Antigua. It suddenly dawned on me that this was just the beginning of a new kind of adventure and the next time someone asks if anyone is joining me I shall proudly say: “No, my favourite travel buddy is tucked up in bed fast asleep.”

Best time to go: September – April