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Great Family Vacations: Caribbean Adventures on St. Vincent and the Grenadines

By Candyce H. Stapen

For centuries sailors have headed toward St. Vincent and its sister islands, the Grenadines, a 45-mile archipelago lying between Grenada and St. Lucia. Legend has it that the buccaneers of long ago buried their booty in the lush hills and rock strewn caves; savvy yachtsmen still seek treasured sanctuary in these islands' sequestered coves.

Off-the-beaten path St. Vincent and the Grenadines, modestly developed, boast a diversity of Caribbean delights. Island hopping gets you misty waterfalls on St. Vincent, sun-drenched beaches on the Tobago Cays, green lawns and laid-back charm on Bequia, plus, throughout the region, reefs rich with rainbow-colored fish and coral.

St. Vincent’s Waterfalls and Movie Set: To get to the trailhead for Trinity Falls, our jeep bumps along a dirt path edged by banana plants, grapefruit trees and patches of callaloo. An occasional cow or donkey meanders by. From this spot the 1-hour, one-way hike weaves us past palm and bamboo thickets, through an overflowing creek bed, up and down "steps" formed by gnarly roots, and over slick rocks. The reward: three glistening cascades. Because of the swift current, our guide warns us just to dip our toes in the swirling water before our walk back. On another easy outing, we get to swim at the base of a 60-foot waterfall. And all we had to do was take a boat ride and walk five minutes to reach the Falls of Baleine.

Wallilabou Bay, site of scenes from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” is another must. You can see the dock from which Johnny Depp jumped into the sea as well as walk by the faux 17th century storefronts remaining from the set. While waiting for our Creole fish from the beachside restaurant made over to fit the Colonial stone arch "town”, we buy a "Pirates" T-shirt from the gift shop.

Tobago Cays - Snorkel and Dive Sites: The best sites for underwater treasure in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are the reefs surrounding the five deserted islands of the Tobago Cays. Petit Bateau with its shady sands and relatively calm waters is best for beginning snorkelers and families with young children. Those more experienced with masks and fins can take on the often choppy but rewarding waters of Horseshoe Reef. Nearby Saltwhistle Bay Club, on tiny Mayreau, has comfortable rooms, and wide, sandy beaches strung with hammocks.

Bequia: The Boulders and the Cathedral, sites rich in sponges and black coral, lure divers to Bequia, a low-key island with small town charm, and two great beaches, Princess Margaret and Lower Bay. The main harbor, Admiralty Bay, blooms with hibiscus and a handful of gingerbread trimmed shops. Best souvenir: handcrafted models of the double-enders, the island's unique boats still used in whaling. The International Whaling Commission permits the indigenous hunters to harpoon a maximum of four whales per year.

At the Old Hegg Sea Turtle Sanctuary, Orton "Brother" King, a one-man Hawksbill hero, keeps us spellbound with his tanks of turtles and tales of how he rescues hatchlings, raises them, then releases them two-years later when they can't so readily be picked off by hungry birds hovering above the shore.

Accommodations for Families

Princess Margaret favored Mustique’s exclusive cottages, whose summertime sojourners include Mick Jagger and Paul Newman. Mustique Company Villa Rentals, 784-488-8000. www.mustique-island.com.

The newest place for the glitterati: Canouan. Raffles Resort, a renovation of a former resort, opens along with a new casino and residential villas developed by Donald Trump. The Sugar Palm Kids Club operates for ages 4-14. 784-458-8000. www.raffles.com.

For stunning water views, secluded sands, and a laid-back ambiance, head to Saltwhistle Bay Club, on tiny 1 ½ square mile Mayreau, the smallest of the inhabited Grenadines. 784-458-8444. www.saltwhistlebay.com.

On Bequia, Friendship Bay Hotel’s hillside rooms offer sweeping sea views and funky rooms decorated with driftwood tables and bright green and yellow armoires. 784-458-3349.

For part of the filming of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, Johnny Depp stayed at Young Island, a 35-acre, casually elegant resort, just a 10-minute boat ride from St. Vincent. Rooms, many with sitting areas and terraces, lace the hills and the beach. 800-223-1108, www.youngisland.com

Deals

Canouan Island, St. Vincent & the Grenadines: Go upscale for a lot less with Raffles Resort Canouan Island's "Little Raffles" family package. The discount rates, good through November 12, 2004, include the children's program, a snorkeling excursion by boat, a family barbecue and a kids' movie night. Garden rooms start at $298 per night, and when available, you get upgraded for free to an ocean view room. 784-458-8000. www.raffles.com.

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