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Resort Spotlight: Bitter End Yacht Club

By Ellen H. Parlapiano

Families are constantly seeking unspoiled islands for family vacations and multigenerational family reunions. The Bitter End Yacht Club, a popular sailor’s hideaway in the British Virgin Islands, is one of our family travel favorites. The resort keeps families coming back year after year for its broad array of watersports and island excursions, lush tropical setting, and laid-back approach to family vacations.

Usually you don’t think of the words “kid-friendly” when considering a remote Caribbean island for a vacation. The very things that make such a getaway so appealing to adults—seclusion, quiet, and no TVs—usually don’t go over so well with antsy kids. Yet at Bitter End Yacht Club, located on the lesser-known island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, you’ll find a hidden treasure of a resort, where the focus is on water sports and keeping everyone in the family happy. Though you won’t find a single TV in the rooms, you will find a top notch sailing and windsurfing school, and an array of other wet and wild activities, like kite boarding, guaranteed to quickly make kids forget about their Gameboys and iPods.

The resort got its name because Virgin Gorda is the last island (the bitter end) before you reach the open waters of the Atlantic. Bitter End Yacht Club has an aura of adventure that quickly draws kids in. It begins when you arrive at Tortola’s Beef Island airport and board a ferry for the 30-minute ride to the resort, zipping through crystal-blue waters once explored by Columbus and patrolled by the famous pirate, Blackbeard. Bitter End Yacht Club has long attracted the sailing crowd, who moor their vessels in the marina. On our way toward the resort dock, we passed Eric Clapton’s boat and a mega-yacht with a big screen TV the size of a house. Since we arrived after nightfall, these glittering sights seemed particularly awesome. Even before you disembark the ferry, kids will know this is not going to be any ordinary vacation.

Every guest at Bitter End Yacht Club is treated like a VIP, making you feel as if you belong to some exclusive club. But the vibe is strictly casual, and bathing suits, flip flops (or even better, no shoes at all) are standard attire. You’ll stay in beautifully appointed villas—trumped-up tree houses nestled in the hills overlooking the pristine beach. We stayed on the north side of the resort, where the recently-renovated open air suites feature wrap-around decks with hammocks, bathrooms with teakwood vanities and Italian tile, ceiling fans and screen doors, so you can fall asleep to the lulling sound of the waves. Since the northern end of the resort is cooled by year-round trade winds, only 10 of the villas in that area are air-conditioned. Units on the south side of the resort do have air-conditioning, however, and are also closer to the pool. Navigating the property is especially fun at night, when you’ll use tiny penlights to illuminate the dark pathways on the way back to your room.

Both the northern and southern villas are a short stroll from the center of the resort, where all the action happens. You’ll find two restaurants (be sure to try the key lime pie), and a pub serving flying fish sandwiches and brick oven pizza said to be the best in the islands. There are also shops, a grocery store, and an open-air theater that shows movies at night and CNN during the day, in case you can’t live without your daily news fix. But you’re not likely to miss the outside world, with all there is to do on the beach and in the water. The popular, all-inclusive Admiral’s Family Package gives you 3 meals a day, plus access to the resort’s fleet of sailboats, kayaks, and windsurfers, and a Sailing 101 class for beginners. Every Sunday there’s a regatta, where guests race each other on small sailboats, then collect prizes at the awards party (Mount Gay rum for adults, rash guard shirts for the kids). Also included in the package are snorkeling excursions, poolside yoga, beach barbecues, sunset cruises, and a tween/teen program featuring tubing and Beach Olympics. For younger children, the supervised Bitter End Kids’ program offers arts and crafts, nature hikes, sand painting and movies. Babysitting can be arranged for an added fee. The resort also has a full-service spa, where you can arrange to have a massage on your deck or in a gazebo by the water.

Though there’s plenty to keep everyone busy at the resort, you’ll want to be sure to take advantage of the off-site excursions, too - especially if you’re booking one of the all-inclusive packages. Don’t miss the daylong trip to The Baths National Park, one of Virgin Gorda’s natural wonders. The Baths are made up of giant boulders that form an intricate maze along the beach. Kids will love squeezing through the narrow tunnels, sloshing through its watering holes, and climbing the wooden ladders to reach more passageways. You’ll emerge onto a stunning beach called Devil’s Bay, where there are more towering boulders to scale. Follow your kids to the top—the view is spectacular! Another great excursion is the snorkeling trip to Anegada, a coral island and reef 13 miles north of Virgin Gorda. And if your family likes to scuba, sign up for the Dog Islands Dive, where you can explore the wreckage of a sunken airplane. As you sail back to the resort from your excursions, ask your captain to point out Necker Island, owned by Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Records. With its own water park, zipline course, helicopter pad, and two Balinese-style mansions, the private island is a favorite hideaway for celebrities, who pay about $45,000 a night for the privilege. It’s pretty cool to be surrounded by such famous neighbors!

Back at Bitter End Yacht Club, you’ll be in your own private paradise. The resort has been owned by the same family for over 3 decades, who welcome you as if you’re a relative. A good percentage of the guests are repeat visitors, returning again and again with their children and grandchildren. During my stay, I met a young man who had been coming since he was a baby; he was back to celebrate his dad’s 70th birthday with mom and siblings. I guarantee you’ll be plotting a way to return. After all, it’s not often that something so secluded offers so much for kids to do.

If You Go:

  • Be aware that Bitter End Yacht Club is closed from late July through early October, when hurricane risk is greatest.
  • Besides the 7-day all-inclusive Admiral’s Package mentioned above, you can book rooms by the night in summer season (April through July) and sailing season (October through mid-November). Nightly rates include 3 meals daily, unlimited use of the Club fleet, guest cocktail party, and Introduction to Sailing Course. Children ages 5 and under stay free.
  • Resort rates are most expensive in holiday season (December 20 to January 2); and in high season (early January through early April).
  • The only way to get from Tortola Beef Island airport to Bitter End Yacht club is by ferry. Children 12 and under ride free.
  • For more information, go to www.beyc.com or call 1-800-872-2392.
  • Ellen Parlapiano is an award-winning writer who has covered family travel for magazines such as Family Circle, Parents, Child and Working Mother. She lives in Eastchester, New York with her husband and two children, and has traveled extensively with her family.

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