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Three-generations delight in Caribbean vacation, despite the rain.

Web Posted: 10/19/2007 10:31 AM CDT

Roberta Sotonoff
Special to the Express-News

Raindrops roll down the windows of our villa. Not quite what one envisions for a Caribbean vacation. My son-in-law, David, decides to perk up everyone's sad faces and grabs his guitar for a spontaneous dance-along and singalong. Even JJ, my 19-month-old grandson, is jiving. I sing but I cannot carry a tune. I dance, but have two left feet. Everyone laughs. It doesn't matter. I am with family.

Roberta Sotonoff/Special to the Express-News

The mountains of St. Maarten/St. Martin loom in the background in the view from Sheriva, the family's villa on Anguilla.


Roberta Sotonoff/Special to the Express-News

Island retainer walls are made of conch shells.

Being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and relaxing with the people who are most important to you is the stuff that makes lasting memories. While many families like cruises, glitzy hotels or all-inclusive resorts with "kids clubs," we prefer something more low key: basically, just a house and a beach. We just want to spend quality time together.

Our family, eight people total, including our two adult kids, their husbands and two grandchildren, goes to the Caribbean for two days in French St. Martin and five in the neighboring island of Anguilla.

Traveling day is grueling an early morning flight, laboring through a small airport where three large flights land almost simultaneously, and stacking 15 pieces of luggage, homemade cookies, homemade snack mix, diapers, toys and eight exhausted people into two small cars. Whew!

"Oh, you can't get lost on the island," says the Avis rep as we pull away.

Of course, we do get lost, and when we finally arrive, all everyone wants to do is sleep (or, in the case of the grandchildren, jump on the bed). We manage a pleasant dinner alongside the pool. Everyone cannot help but smile as the kids enjoy the resident cat.

After a night of much-needed sleep, we eat breakfast together and then break up into two groups. Newlyweds Caryn and David opt for sun and sand on Orient Beach. Dave finds difficulty in concentrating on his book when the nude bathers constantly stray from their end of the beach.

Everyone else visits the Butterfly Farm. Little eyes get as big as saucers as 19-month-old JJ and 3-year-old Annie are surrounded by hundreds of fluttering creatures. Annie could not stop giggling about the caterpillar with a camouflage cocoon that resembles guano. As we head for nearby Gallion Beach for kiddy activities getting our feet wet, sand-castle building and shelling we can't believe how much more we have learned about these flying beauties.

The family dinner reunites us at a favorite eatery, Los Gauchos Argentine, where the steaks and sunset are always delicious. The day is topped off with the family gathering in Mom and Dad's room where we do silly things like passing straws with our feet and making bad jokes.

Next morning, the clan packs its 15 bags and departs for Anguilla. This flat, eel-shape piece of land, about a 30-minute ferry ride from St. Martin, is tiny about half the size of Washington, D.C. Traffic is controlled by the island's two stoplights. On our way to our lodgings, we pass the island capital, the Valley. This commercial hub contains a few banks, some shops, a courthouse, a jail and the University of the West Indies, which has one teacher who teaches one class. No one can tell us exactly what the class is. We spend the next 20 minutes of the ride cracking each other up with guesses. Suntanning 101? A master's degree in beachcombing? A seminar in chilling out?

Except for a splash in its crystalline waters or a stroll on the sand so white and soft that it feels like you are walking on powder there isn't a lot to do. That is the charm of this tony playground. Brad Pitt found it to be the perfect setting to tell Jennifer Aniston that he had decided to go traipsing around the world with Angelina Jolie instead of being married to her.

Our digs? Sheriva at Sheriton Estates. The villa is equipped with all the necessities that Brad, Jennifer or anyone else would require, including a staff of five and Santiago, our chef. To find your way around the seven bedrooms, small gym, office, kitchens and other rooms takes some time. I never did figure out how many bathrooms we had.

What a life this is. Breakfast is a buffet with fresh fruit, juice, cereal and pancakes. One day the pineapple is carved to look like a bird. Santiago is quick to supplement the menu with omelets, eggs or whatever. The result? Some of us head for the treadmill in an attempt to burn off breakfast.

Climbing into our chariot an eight-passenger golf cart we head for the beach at Cap Juluca, the posh Moroccan-looking hotel down the road. Sand-castle building, a dip in the water and shelling are on the program. David did some waterskiing at no charge a perk of Sheriva. The water is warm and so transparent; you can see lots of fish just by wading into the water. Not far away, in a little cove, there is good snorkeling.

Back at the villa, it is difficult to get anyone to move off the lounges. Some adults laze around the pool reading books, while a few join the kids in the water and goof off together. They make pretend ice cream. JJ's little body jams to some tunes playing on the sound system. Tough life.

Daughter Jamie, who declared herself social director, fills our evenings with activities, including poker, silly games and movie night. One night she leads a book discussion on the book she assigned before the trip. Usually, these evening activities end up being a laugh fest.

Mornings become routine. The smell of Santiago's sumptuous breakfast preparations or the sound of his fruit chopping is my wake-up call. The bad part? We have three days of rain, which puts a crimp on our plans to go snorkeling, beaching and glass-bottom boating. Some of us have spa treatments at Cap Juluca. Others just hang out, watch movies or play games in the entertainment area. Everyone has his or her space, but still enjoys each other's company.

One rainy day, I decide I need a bubble bath. The bath foam is flat. I pour in some more then turn on the jets. The suds start to build and build. They are almost 3 feet above the tub. There is so much white I feel like I am lost in the snows of the Himalayas. The bubbles keep rising. Soon only the top of my head is visible. I call for help. My family laughs and grabs their cameras. I throw them out. Looking like the abominable snowman, I head for the shower.

Finally the sun comes out and we head for Scilly Cay. The little island a three-minute ride from shore is nothing more than a grass shack protected by conch shell retaining walls. Food is cooked from scratch, so the average wait time for sumptuous lobster, chicken or crayfish is about 11/2 hours, Guests order their food, then swim, snorkel or chat with owner Eudoxie Wallace. He will tell you his nickname is Gorgeous because he looked in the mirror and decided he was.

Our last dinner is a gala. I hear the sound of steel drums and realize that we will have local musician Dumpa's steel drums and keyboards to entertain us. Everyone sings and jives to the beat. Dumpa even tries to teach me to play his steel drums. A waste! I am musically challenged.

Santiago has prepared a candlelit feast chicken, lobster and steak topped off with a Winnie the Pooh birthday cake for me. Everyone cannot believe how lucky we are. Memories of the flittering butterflies, mountainous bubble baths, the powdery sands and transparent waters of Anguilla and the incredible Sheriva will always have a special place in all our hearts.