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Sep 23, 2019

Family Island Travel Vacation - Turks & Caicos


Turks & Caicos: Family Beach Travel Vacation


This post may contain affiliate links; please read my disclosure here





On our latest vacation travel, we chose the islands of Turks and Caicos. This was our second visit to Turks, with the first one being to Grand Turks while we were on a cruise about 10 years ago. A lot of things have changed on the islands since with new constructions, new hotels, and lodging. One thing did not change was the crystal clear gorgeous water.

Airport

There a few airports that are currently working on renovations to not only their facilities but also tarmac as well. This is resulting in additional time outside of the terminal as well as inside. While the standard recommendation is to get to their airport a couple of hours before your flight, due to these ongoing upgrades it is a good idea to add on a half-hour to an hour. That is just what we did to make sure that we got to our terminal in time for our morning flight with the rush hour traffic started.
When we got to the airport, there were a lot of people, but the lines were moving quickly. We checked in quickly via automated kiosk and printed out our luggage tag for one bag to check-in.
Travel Tip: We checked our bag for free since we booked the flight with JetBlue using their JetBlue Plus credit card. It has a benefit of one free checked bag per passenger as long as the ticket was purchased with their card. Additionally, you get 50% on any purchase on the plane and cashback for many things you spend a while on the ground.
At the checkpoint, we didn’t need to take off shoes. Which is a rarity as it becomes a staple of just about every security screening. I guess they are trying to keep you on your toes and expect the unexpected. And the security now specifically asks you to put your phone into your bag instead of in the bin.

"As if New York-based JetBlue’s flagship Terminal 5 wasn’t hip enough, the carrier opened a rooftop deck in 2015. The 4,046 square-foot post-security rooftop includes landscaped green spaces, seating for 50 people, a 400-square-foot children’s play area and a 400-square-foot dog-walk area." Even though this area has been opened for a while, we had no idea. While at the gate we were playing around and noticed people and coming out through a glass door. They were not employees, but rather also travelers, so we decided to check it out as well. It was a very nice area and we got some "fresh" air and views.


Ready for the flight


For our first stay at Turks and Caicos, we chose Alexandra Resort. It is an all-inclusive resort that is part of a three-hotel property. And because it has two sister hotels. we were able to visit them via a free shuttle. Well actually one of them, the Beach House, is an adults-only resort and we were not allowed inside with our kiddo. We did enjoy a couple of dinners at Blue Heaven, which is a pretty resort with very few guests. It is a bit smaller than Alexandra and the beach is smaller as well.

Alexandra Resort

Alexandra Resort Beach

Alexandra Resort walkway
On the first day of our arrival, we were famished, and so we went to find some food. While the restaurants were closed, there was a pizza and burger shack open. It is all-inclusive after all. This place has some of the best pizza. And that is coming from a New Yorker that has sampled quite a bit. It was so good, we had it for lunch several times during our stay.

After, we got back to our room. It was a suite. And we were quite impressed with the accommodations. It is a sprawling suite with 2 bathrooms, a large bedroom, an outdoor area, a full kitchen, and a large pullout couch in the main room. It even had a washer and dryer on-premises.





Energized, we quickly changed into our swimwear and went to check out the ocean and the beach. The water was very warm from the day's sun and very clear. The water in the ocean was so clear that you can easily see to the bottom and make out sand and other things on the ground. Even when swimming away from the coast, the water continued to be very clear. It was so clear actually that we did an experiment where we got a water bottle and kiddo filled it up with ocean water and we compared it to a closed water bottle. The ocean water was so clear, we had to mark up the bottle containing it so that we do not mistake it and start drinking the saltwater when thirsty.

The following day we got to try the breakfast. The spread was ok and it would be the same, plus or minus a couple of things, every day of the week. One of the best parts was the custom made omelets and fruit choices. We had a lot of honeydew melon, apples, and bananas.




We spent a lot of time in the water. Probably 70% of our vacation was spent in the ocean. The rest of the time we were either on the beach, eating at a restaurant, or sleeping. On this day we had to leave the beach a bit earlier as we found out there is a weekly event that happens in Turks & Caicos called Fish Fry. It is kind of a street fair with a bunch of vendors selling souvenir type merchandise and quite a few restaurants selling locally sourced and prepared on the spot food. It is located about a 5-minute walk from Beach House resort.


We took a free shuttle to the resort and then walked over to the open-air area for the fair. It starts around 5pm and runs until 10pm or so. We were recommended to get their earlier as it is not as crowded. So we did just that. It was not crowded at the time we arrived and we got to see the vendors and food choice unobtrusively. We also found out why there are not that many people there at the start, it is very hot still with the sun beating down and not much shade around.

One of the first vendors we saw was the truck for Turks Head beer. I have heard about them through some online recommendations and videos as they were preferred over some well-known beer brands. So I had to try it out for myself. Since there was no one there, the guy let me try a flight of various flavors that they make. It was a very good beer and I got a pint to go. By the way, the resort also stocks their light version throughout the hotel as well as within the rooms.

There was quite a selection of food vendors at the Fry. For the most part, their menus were similar, so it was not as easy to choose. We ended up getting some fried conch at one of the vendors that were cutting it upright in front of you and making if fresh. They also gave us samples to try out of different varieties of cooked conch. Fried fritters were the best tasting. I got a full fish, head and all, plus corn at a place we walked by earlier that I saw the guy grilling it and lobster on the grill just a few minutes earlier. The fish was delicious and corn was real grilled corn. I could not believe I ordered and ate a fish with the head instead of the fillet. Me a few years back would not have done it. The kiddo also likes the fish a lot. The food definitely did not disappoint.






Also, while I got to enjoy a cold beer, the ladies got to enjoy a treat of their own. The little one got a cup of chocolate ice cream from the local shop and my wife got freshly cut coconut with the juice inside.


While we were eating the food, we saw the sunset. Hung around a bit more and got some souvenirs. A T-shirt for the kiddo and a necklace that she bought with her own money. She has a piggy bank that she fills up before a trip. And when it is almost time to travel then we convert the change into dollars and that’s what she gets to spend on vacation. We were too tired to wait for a short parade, which as we found out would only happen 15 minutes before close so we headed back to Blue Heaven to catch the shuttle.

There was a bit of mis-scheduling with shuttles as one left way before its scheduled time and one that came after it didn't want to pick up passengers saying that the next one would be in an hour. We were having none of that and yelled at the driver to get us back as there were a lot of people waiting. Once back at our hotel, we had dessert and played foosball and air hockey before going back to the room.

Activities

While we didn't venture as far on this beach vacation as we did on a previous one (Family Beach Vacation - CuraƧao), we were still active. I tried out stand up paddle boating for the first time. It went much better than my wife expected. I was able to get on the board and then fully stand up and start paddling. I did fall off a couple of times. And both of these times were far away from the beach at pretty much the same spot. In this area, the waves were going at diagonal and really rocking the board at each paddle. Initially, I was thinking how am I going to get back on in the middle of the ocean. But I realized that the board is pretty steady in the water and I can pull myself upon it. I did just that, then climb onto my knees, paddled a bit to get better balance, and then stood up. These maneuvers worked both times, though this took quite a bit of energy and after the second one, I was all ready to head back in.


Another on the water activity we did was kayaking. I and kiddo took out a kayak for the first time as well. I have been in a kayak type of boat before, but this was definitely a new venture for both of us as we have not done actual kayaking before. It was a lot of fun. We were able to go pretty fast and covered a lot of areas. Kiddo was in the front and got to enjoy looking around and had fun putting her hand in the water while we were swimming.


On the beach, we built a sand kingdom with several buildings as well as a moat system similar to earlier civilizations to keep out little town safe from ocean waves. It worked well for the most part. Several attempts by the water to engulf the kingdom were diverted by out trenches.
And, of course, we also did

Swimming & Snorkeling










We have snorkeling masks and tubes for all of us. We take the sets with us whenever we do snorkeling. On a snorkeling excursion at Turks, we also had the gear with us so we did not need to borrow. However, they also provide fins for us. Previously, I have never really thought much of them as they tend to be uncomfortable to wear and get into the water. However, on this swim, I saw a huge difference in swimming without and with the fins. I was able to move a lot quicker through the water just using my legs and using my hand to hold the camera or Kiddo. The speed was significantly different and we will be looking to invest in some snorkeling fins for the entire family.

Restaurants

Alexandria is an all-inclusive resort and as such it has buffet-style meals most of the time. Breakfast was buffet style every day with the usual staples such as eggs, bacon, some variation of fried bread, and more importantly freshly prepared omelets. We opted for the omelets probably 90% of the time.

Fried conch for lunch with a view
For lunch, we went to the outdoor restaurant as we were coming straight from the beach. There they had a pre-set menu or you can order stuff from the grill. For a few days, my go-to was the fish tacos. They were very good, filled with veggies, fish, and sauce. The other lunch go-to was the pizza. As I mentioned before, they made really good pizza here. I would not recommend burgers, though, as there were not the same taste as you would expect. I tried them once, and that was enough for the trip.

For dinner, you have a lot more choices. You can stay at the resort and enjoy a theme sit down dinner at the main restaurant. Or you can go to the second restaurant on-premise, the Fish Deck. We had dinner there a couple of times and the food selection was very good. The service is on a slow side even when compared to other restaurants on the island time.
Besides these two restaurants, you can also take a shuttle to the Beach House for dinner if you eating or traveling without kids or the Blue Haven. We went to the Blue Haven a couple of times. The first time we opted for one of their specialties which is the all you can eat meat that you cook yourself right at the table. They have pieces of steak, chicken, and pork that you can grill, plus mushrooms and roasted vegetables. To finish off that dinner, and as you already have the fire pit in front of you, you can make your own s'mores with marshmallows, gram crackers, and chocolate. The second time there they had an outdoor buffet setup with a very good selection of food that was different from what we had at Alexandra.

Gadgets

Travel staples:

Phones
* Smartphones are essential gadgets for travel. We had two of them with us.

Private Internet Access (PIA)
* PIA is the VPN service that we use to access public Wi-Fi at the resort. At most resorts worth their salt these days there is free and open, i.e. public, Wi-Fi available. While it is great for access to email, websites, and being social, it also comes with security concerns. Public internet can be accessed by anyone within the range. And plenty of unscrupulous people know that vacationers are likely to login into various platforms, hopefully not banking or similar, and might relax and throw some caution to the warm beach wind. Stay safe on public WiFi, even more so while traveling.

Water camera
* We had a blue Olympus Tough waterproof camera that served us well for many years. It has been with us through many trips (Second Go Family Travel to Aruba, We Took A Trip To Bermuda And Came Back To Tell About It - Part 2, Cruise Travel: Digital Cameras and Photo Accessories). Though on our last trip to Curacao, it was on its last legs and a portion of the casing actually came off. While it was still usable and continued to take pictures, we did not feel it would be as reliable on this trip. In our search for a new camera and going through many offerings available online and in stores, we ended up upgrading to the latest version of the Olympus camera. While, strangely, in this iteration, Olympus decided to lower optical zoom and MPs, there were many more features that they added and upgraded in this camera that made it a standout choice. There are a lot more photo filters and settings available. And we can confirm from using it in Turks & Caicos that the resolution is a lot better and the camera can take very good pictures above and below the water and even in dim light. The previous version did not do well with low light. We also got some pretty good videos with this camera when we didn't have the Go Pro around or when its battery died on us.

Water wallet
* This particular waterproof wallet has been through many hours of swimming at this point. It has been in the oceans and pools. It has been with me during swims in the ocean, playing in the surf, races in the pool, and many snorkeling excursions. Throughout all that water submersion it has kept room keys, cash, and credit card dry. That is if I properly close it. The only couple of times that the stuff inside got wet was with user error. In addition to the plastic wallet, I also put all of the contents in a small ziplock bag. A couple of times I was not careful with closing the lead so the seal was not as watertight. At all other times, 98%, it was great.

Belt/wallet under the clothes
* This travel wallet with a belt is great for keeping your documents and money safe and very close to you while traveling. The belt goes around your waist and under the clothing. It is so thin that even with money and papers in it you can have it underpants on the waist and not feel it. It is an airport screening friendly as it has no metal parts at all. All of the closures and zippers are made of plastic. I do not use throughout the vacation but mostly during the large legs of the trip.

GoPro
* For snorkeling and underwater video, Go Pro cameras are best. It is easy to operate, captures video with great resolution, and you don't need to worry about swimming with it and submerging as the casing is waterproof. We have Hero 3, so we need to have a case for it to be waterproof. The newer version, GoPro HERO 7, is waterproof without a housing to 33 feet.
* During this trip, we also took the selfie stick for the Go Pro with us and got some great videos of all of us floating on mattresses in the ocean. And we were very glad to also have extra batteries with us as the battery that was inside the camera when we first arrived decided to crap out on our first snorkeling trip. I was able to get a few minutes of video, the rest was taken by the Olympus. (LINK back to above)

Sunset
On several occasions, we caught some great sunsets in Turks and Caicos. One of these was while we were enjoying some food at Fish Fry. The rest were while we were enjoying the beach later in the days.




Travel Tip/hack: use an elastic bungee cord to tie two carry-ons or luggage together for easier maneuvering.



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