The story of a surprisingly successful attempt at two week's relaxation with two small children...
The look on my exhausted four year old's face was a mixture of ecstasy and utter confusion. Had her mother gone crazy? A huge splash later and I'd hurled myself naked into our private plunge pool. Cool soothing immersion, and, at last, relief - after a fraught day's travel, and a year to forget. My daughter beamed, and cuddled her father as I floated on my back looking first at them, and then into the heavens at the Caribbean stars.
We'd arrived. Finally. And maybe, just maybe, this was going to be the truly relaxing family holiday that had been evading me for years.
Let me lay out the irreconcilable differences I had begun to accept would remain un-reconciled forever.
The conflicting needs of a family of four: a tired mum who wants to lie in the sun and NOT do the dishes. A one year old who hates sand and the heat. A four year old who needs other kids to play with. And a beach snob dad who wants a self-catering mansion in a beautiful remote spot, miles away from other tourists.
There was a brief moment just as we arrived when I thought we'd blown it. We'd always rented our own villa - had never risked staying in a resort before. So I didn't really know what to expect at www.cottonbayvillage.com in St Lucia. Turning up just past dusk, we drove through what appeared to be serried ranks of identikit townhouses. I caught a glimpse of my husband's face. If I hadn't been so tired, my heart would have sunk.
But there are advantages to luxury accommodation that even he soon appreciated. The house was spacious, spotlessly clean, and really rather comfortable. We found three good sized, air-conditioned bedrooms, each with its own lovely bathroom. A well appointed modern kitchen with a giant American style fridge-freezer. And in the back yard, a spacious, shaded dining area... with that irresistible plunge pool.
The water massaged my shoulders and then lapped over my brow. I dunked my aching head and came up into the cool night air. I smiled. My family smiled back. This was going to be good.
Our eldest bounded into Kids Club the next morning and was immediately hooked. The Manager Juan is warm, energetic and creative. She exudes confidence and trust, not ot mention fun and games. Endless activities, indoors and out, every single day for the two weeks of our stay. Kite-flying. Mouse-making. Face painting. They also welcomed our baby, gave her lots of cuddles, and got her to sleep in a peaceful air conditioned baby room, while mum and dad worshipped the sun for an hour or two every morning.
And those early fears we'd be encamped in a Caribbean suburbia for a fortnight washed away with the first swim at the beach, which was amazingly empty. Although it was Easter and peak season, the resort didn't feel busy - they told us they keep it a quarter empty because it's better for everyone to have a little space.
The tranquil beach, caressed by a constant Atlantic breeze, was only ever scattered with people, and the waterside restaurant was rarely full. The pool was a revelation - much more beautiful than the website photos, and surprisingly quiet.
So, husband was once again happy. And several activities to stop him from complaining of boredom (horse-riding, kite-surfing, and hiking around the peninsula to nearby remote beaches), equalled bliss for me!
Now - the one year old. She took a few days to get used to the heat and all the other changes. But she soon settled into a very happy new world of water play in the lovely calf deep baby pool, and crawling around a reasonably baby-friendly villa.
Our four year old had a riot. She became instantly attached to the other girls she met her age, and often had be persuaded away from Kids Club. She loved the friendliness and warmth of St Lucia. All the resort staff were wonderful with the girls and took time to say hello and chit chat. The hours she spent every day in the pool transformed her into a human fish. She went from disliking getting her face wet to somersaulting in at the deep end, and quite happily swimming underwater... within a few days. And when she developed an ear infection a couple before we were due to go home, we had a doctor in our house less than an hour after mentioning it to the concierge.
And did the exhausted mother get to relax? Oh yes. I have never had such a self indulgently lazy and rejuvenating holiday. There were no dishes to wash and put away. Lovely, hard-working house-keepers arrived every day to make the place perfect. Self catering without the cleaning up - the best of many worlds.
A typical day started with freshly based croissants from the on-site deli, before dropping the little ones off at kids club for a couple of hours of blissfully serene adult time. I managed to read three books in two weeks... amazing. Afternoons consisted of playing in the pools or on the beach, then fixing the kids' evening meal back in our house and getting them to bed conveniently early.
We then had the choice of cooking for ourselves, ordering room service, or hiring a baby sitter and getting out for the evening. Nearby Rodney Bay has excellent night life, we were told - but we were feeling far too lazy to get much further than the resort. For what's the incentive to move when you can lounging on comfortable beach sofas sipping cocktails, enveloped by the sound of crashing waves, knowing your kids are only a five minute walk away... and fast, fast asleep.
Thank you Cotton Bay Village. We are coming back next year - with our friends.