Beach vacations, if planned well, can be a wonderful escape especially during the winter months.
To date, our best beach vacations have been to:
St. John (US Virgin Islands)
Our beach vacation goals:
These are just our particular goals—as always it is important to set vacation goals noted in our Trip Planning section.
St. John US Virgin Islands
St. John is the smallest of the Virgin Islands with 2/3 of it designated as a national park. We have found the most direct route is to find a non stop flight into St. Thomas and then take the ferry to St. John. Yes, St. John is only accessible by boat, which is why it has retained so much natural beauty. Even if you are not a boat lover, the ferry is a relatively short ride across fairly calm water.
In addition to the public ferry, private ferry service may also be booked. We have used a private ferry service that included pick up at the airport in St. John and a cab ride to the ferry dock. For our family, this was the route that we found to be the most relaxing with our autistic child. For more information regarding the public and private ferry options:
The national park aspect of St. John is wonderful. If you enjoy hiking and camping there are a number of non beach activities available. If relaxing on the beach is your thing there are a number of beaches all around the island –you can drive to a different one each day. You will need a car while on the island and booking the car early is suggested.
Most accommodations are perched up high with views of neighboring islands; although there are two beach front resorts on the island we chose instead to rent condos and private homes.
For information regarding rentals try
Finding a restaurant is easy in St. John; there are a variety of restaurants that will suite different tastes and budgets. Most are in Cruz Bay, but there are also others scattered around the island in more remote locations and on the opposite end of the island in Coral Bay.
Here is a map of the island
to familiarize yourself with the various locations I am referring to.
In general we found the restaurants just along the water in Cruz Bay near the public ferry to all be reliable, casual and have a menu with something for everyone. There are restaurants that are more formal and specialized however we stayed away from them since we like to keep it casual on a beach vacation!
Our in town, Cruz Bay favorites include: High Tide Bar & Seafood Grill (on the beach);Banana Deck; Waterfront Bistro and Rhumb Lines Restaurant. High Tide has a kids menu–the others have an easy menu that can easily accommodate a variety of tastes.
In Coral Bay (opposite side of island from Cruz Bay) we had a fun lunch at Island Blues Seaside Bar & Grill, right on the water.
If you prefer to stay in and do most of the cooking yourself, there are good “super markets” in St. John–not like the huge markets we have on the mainland, but much larger and easier to manoeuvrer than those typically found on a small island. The prices are higher than you might find off island but not so high that you won’t be able to prepare meals for the family.
On our first trip to the island we booked last minute over a busy holiday weekend and had limited options for places to stay. We ended up renting a condo in Cruz Bay. While this is a convenient option (walk into town and restaurants) it is a busy spot and can sometimes be noisy at night. You will still need to rent a car to head to the various beaches on the island. Each of the beaches are a little different and fun to explore. Most of the condo and home rentals provide beach chairs for you to pack and bring to the beach so you can pack a picnic and stay as long as you like.
We have also rented a private home on the island which is our favorite type of rental on St. John. We found this web site to be helpful for villa rentals and the local agents to be reliable www.caribbeanvilla.com.
There are numerous hiking trails that lead to beautiful beaches which can only be reached on foot or by boat. The trail levels vary and you can pick up trail maps at the National Parks Office in Cruz Bay or online.
For a fairly easy hike to an amazing beach called Honeymoon Beach, take the Caneel Bay Trail Head just outside of Cruz Bay. The trail is a little steep at times but not difficult. We carried our things in a backpack and while you could bring backpack style beach chairs, you might want to try the hike first before carrying too many things. At the end of the trail the reward is worth the walk. Honeymoon Beach is a great place to relax and also has good snorkeling not far off the beach in fairly shallow water. Our son doesn’t use a snorkel yet, however he was able to see schools of colorful fish using only swim goggles. Arrive at this beach early since by 10:00am. large catamaran style boats do arrive with snorkeling groups/tours. The same trail that takes you to this beach has a branch that will take you to Solomon Beach–another beautiful spot.
Another fun beach which is a short walk off the road is Jumbie Beach (about 320ft off the road). There are only 4 parking spots on the road at the trail head for this beach so get there early to get one of the spots.
Most of the beaches can be reached by car (or jeep which is preferred given the steep terrain of the island). These beaches are identified on the St. John map and on maps that you receive from the rental car agencies on the island.
Our other favorite beaches include, Maho Bay, Trunk Bay, Francis Bay and Hawks Nest Beach. These are all accessible by car and each offers a different view of the local terrain and each has it’s own local fish and wildlife.
Located in the British West Indies, Anguilla is a tiny, relatively flat island with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We started going to Anguilla more than a decade ago before it became a spot for celebrities to vacation. Getting there requires either two flights or a short ferry from St. Martin/St. Maarten. Either way it does take the better part of a day to get there and you should make sure that your child has already been either on a boat (for the ferry experience) or a small plane (for the flight from San Juan or other neighboring islands). It is well worth the trip!
Here is a map for reference as we discuss some of the beaches and places to stay www.mapsofworld.com/anguila
On Anguilla you are signing up for a completely relaxing beach vacation with little else to do other than water sports and hanging out on any one of the beautiful beaches. We like it because it is so quiet and not crowded. Even in high season the beaches are not crowded.
When our kids were small we stayed at Shoal Bay Villas (www.sbvillas.ai) located on Shoal Bay. The beach is long and the water very calm, almost like a swimming pool, which is perfect for small children. Along the beach there are small restaurants where you can have lunch and in some cases dinner. It is especially nice to stroll along the beach, pick up shells and even snorkel if your kids are up for it. There is a reef not far off the beach.
At the western most end of Shoal Bay is Tropical Sunset a very casual beach side restaurant serving basic fare for a fairly reasonable price. If you aren’t staying on this beach you should make it one of your day visits. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas from Tropical Sunset as well as most of the other beach side establishments.
There are two other small resorts on the beach that also have beach side dining. If you continue walking east along the beach you will see Elodias and Gwens Reggae Grill–both serving casual meals and often have live music on Sundays.
Even further around the bend the beach continues East and you will come to Serenity Cottages. Serenity Cottages (www.serenity.ai) has a beach side bar and cottages perched up on the hill. There is also a restaurant that we dine at each time we visit the island since the staff is so accommodating (basically they will make something to order for your child if needed). The restaurant is a little pricey but basically on Anguilla most of the restaurants are expensive because they import most of the produce and meats.
When our kids became older we needed larger accommodations and started staying on Meads Bay which is West of Shoal Bay. Our kids like waves and on this beach you will sometimes have waves for the kids to body surf on. At Meads Bay there are several places to stay. We initially stayed at Frangipani Beach Resort (www.frangipaniresort.com). While staying there we watched Turtles Nest Resort being built. This is a condo complex which offered larger accommodations for us and is directly on the beach. We have stayed several times and will continue to stay at Turtles Nest (www.turtlesnestbeachresort.com). It is nice to find a place and make repeat visits. Our autistic child has found it comforting to know the place and the routine.
Meads Bay Beach is beautiful. On Anguilla the sand is bright white and the water crystal clear turquoise. Along Meads Bay there are also several dining places. We like Jacala which is right on the beach for lunch or dinner. It is next door to Blanchards which has been around for a long time and is very popular but very expensive. At Frangiapani Resort the main restaurant is Straw Hat (www.strawhat.com) which used to be a stand alone restaurant on the other side of the island. We were happy to see that they offered a children’s menu but also their regular menu has several dishes that would appeal to a variety of tastes.
You might have guessed from our accounts of Anguilla that it is really all about the beach, dining and relaxing. There are several other places on Anguilla for dining and here are just a few more to add to your list if you decide to try this tiny island:
If you decide to fly into St. Martin/St. Martaan and take the ferry here is the ferry information: www.gov.ai/blowingpoint.htm
Riviera Maya Mexico
Our first trip to Mexico we flew into Cancun, stayed on Cancun and took a long day trip to see Chichen Itza. While worth the trip (almost 3 hours each way from Cancun), Chichen Itza is a difficult trip to manage with an autistic child. There is little to no shade, the ride is long and you most likely will hire a driver to take you there since a long hot bus trip was the last thing we wanted to do with our child. Cancun, while very nice, is crowded so on our next trip we decided to travel to the Riviera Maya (south of Cancun) and stay near Tulum (another incredible Mayan ruin) at the Akumal Beach Resort (www.akumalbeachresort.com)
Staying at the Akumal Beach Resort was relaxing and fun. It is located close to Tulum, which is worth the trip and not as difficult to see as other Mayan ruins. It is also close to Xel Ha which is a water park but one that is totally natural. That is, you will be able to float on large tubes down a long, natural river with beautiful fish and unusual foliage all around you–it is so unusual it is really hard to describe. Xel Ha is one of those places you have to see to believe.
It is the world’s largest natural aquarium with more than 100 species of birds, 350 species of plants and 99 marine species. For more information on Xel Ha go to www.xelha.com
Mexico is a little challenging because of the water and it is important to also watch what you eat. For this reason, you should stay at hotels that purify their water and always try to eat in restaurants at the hotel (most resorts offer an all inclusive meal option also). So perhaps not a great place to start your travels because of this challenge but definitely worth trying if you are ready.