Here is the plan: to spend my three-day vacation in Barbados doing things to my body that will make it feel better by the time I leave, rather than things that feel great in the moment. This means swimming laps in the pool, instead of lounging beside it; doing sit-ups in the gym, instead of sitting at the bar; eating chicken and veggies and drinking club soda with lime, instead of feasting on chocolate cake and bottomless rum punch.
Here is what I normally do: the exact opposite of all of that.
The phrase “all-inclusive” conjures images of sloth and indulgence, but Waves Hotel & Spa, which opened in the summer of 2016, specifically focuses on mind and body wellness. So I’m taking this opportunity to make my vacation into something that helps me recover from the stresses and excesses of my daily life, rather than—as usual—letting it be another thing I need to recover from.
I start with baby steps on the first day, opting for the nonalcoholic version of Waves’ signature grapefruit welcome drink, and then joining a gaggle of Brits for a light—and confusing—game of beach cricket. I dig my feet into the pillow-soft sand in anticipation of pop flies that never come, and when it’s my turn at bat, I’m immediately “bowled” (the cricket equivalent of striking out, except that it can be conveniently done in one pitch!). I eat dinner at Shiso, Waves’ Asian fusion restaurant, where I order a California roll and red curry shrimp. In addition to being healthy, the food is more delicious than it has any right to be. Given that the menu includes dishes as diverse as chow mein and chicken tikka masala, I’d tempered my expectations, but everything is incredibly fresh and flavorful. Before heading to bed, I allow myself a small slice of green tea layer cake.
In the morning, I fuel for a day of activity at Seascape, the resort’s other main restaurant. I skip the hash browns and danishes, instead getting an egg white and veggie omelet and piling my plate high with fresh fruit. Sipping my coffee and gazing out at the water, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by skipping a few carbs.
Waves offers several complimentary water sports, including kayaking, snorkeling, and water skiing, and I start the day off with some stand-up paddleboarding. I’ve only done it once before, and I remember it being deceptively difficult, requiring constant effort from quads and core to maintain balance. But today, my paddle strokes take me farther and faster than it seems they should, and it feels great to zip along the coastline under the sun. The occasional breeze and boat wake threaten to send me into the sparkling turquoise of the sea, but each time, I swiftly regain my balance. This is easy!
Then I turn around. As it happens, I’ve been traveling with the wind, and I nearly exhaust myself fighting it on the way back.
I spend the middle of the day poking around the property: swimming in the sea, as well as in the larger of the hotel’s two pools; doing some curls and chest presses in the gym; and grabbing a goat cheese and vegetable wrap from K´yma, the resort’s grab-and-go coffee bar, which serves salads, wraps, and sandwiches (along with cupcakes and ice cream, which I pretend not to see).
I also attend to my mental health by spending time doing something I rarely have the opportunity to do at home: nothing. My oceanfront junior suite is so close to the sea that I can’t even spot the beach below from my room. It’s just palm trees and water, and the view is calming, whether I take it in from the balmy balcony or from the air-conditioned comfort of my plush king bed.
In the evening, I join a local hiking group for a moonlight hike. As I wait for it to start, Bajan teenagers kick soccer balls in the sand and body slam each other in the waves at Brandons Beach while an orange sun slowly drops to meet its reflection in the sea. It’s an urban hike, all on streets, but we cover seven and a half miles in three hours (a good chunk of the island, which measures 21 miles from tip to tip), padding past marshy fields, filing through back alleys, and earning the ire of guard dogs in a series of moneyed and not-so-moneyed neighborhoods.
Back at Seascape, I wolf down a kale salad and a plate of fish curry with rice and plantains. And then a pecan-crusted chicken breast. And a panna cotta. (I just hiked nearly eight miles—don’t judge!)
In the morning, I’m secretly relieved that a scheduling mix-up has torpedoed my yoga session (I’m bad enough at yoga when I haven’t exercised for five hours the day before), and I lounge around until it’s time for my mid-morning massage.
My masseuse, Anita, is firm but gentle, and she starts off rubbing big circles into my muscles with her palms. When she gets to my right leg, though, she spots a problem. “This side is tight,” she tells me. “Brace yourself. This is going to be a little painful.”
She’s not lying. It feels like she’s performing surgery on me with her thumbs. I squirm and writhe as she keeps working, making her way from my hamstring up to my lower back. When she’s done with that, she has me turn over, and she works on every part of my head, including my eyelids and cheekbones. She even massages my nostrils shut, so that I have to breathe through my mouth. Then she massages my scalp, and I can feel myself beginning to drift off.
I still have 24 hours left on the island to do the things I’ve been ignoring while working up a sweat: exploring Bridgetown, checking out the big beaches to the south, and taking in the views on the island’s rugged east coast. But for now, it’s time to relax, and to know for certain that I’ve gotten what I came here for: I’m going to feel better when I step back onto the plane than I did when I stepped off.
Elegance Around the Island
Waves Hotel & Spa
One of six luxury properties in Barbados operated by Elegant Hotels, eleganthotels.com. Guests at four of the hotels can take a complimentary water taxi to enjoy the other properties’ facilities.
With 96 guest rooms and suites, this resort is popular for its four lagoon-style swimming pools and beachside dining.
This all-inclusive resort features a “Kids Club” with activities, games, and unique experiences for children, along with three pools and two on-site restaurants and bars.
Features here include a 750-foot stretch of beach, open-air dining, and a beach ambassador service that provides guests with cool scented towels.
Named for the sea turtles that return annually to lay eggs on the property’s beach, this all-inclusive resort caters to families.
This small adults-only hotel bills itself as “a chic, tranquil retreat where adults can unwind and reconnect in a setting of understated elegance.”
The Best of Barbados
Best Rum Punch
With a doctored campaign sign reading “RUM Make America Great Again,” Cutters Deli, an unassuming sandwich shop at Crane Beach, pokes a bit of fun at the recent election. Try the flying fish sandwich and a rum punch, truly one of the best on the island.
Best Cave Walking
Located in the Central Uplands of Barbados, Harrison’s Cave is an underground stream system with caverns and geological formations. This is a must-visit when staying on the island.
Best Body Surfing Beach
With soft sand, Crane Beach, which was originally a harbor, offers waves perfect for the beginner surfer or for body surfing. Its coastal coves offer close-to-shore swimming. The Crane Resort is the oldest and one of the most luxurious.
Barbados considers itself the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean. The Annual Food and Rum Festival has become an international hit among visitors—the weekend-long event celebrates all the cuisine the island nation has to offer. For more information: visitbarbados.org/food-and-rum-festival.
Waves Hotel & Spa