Holly Cave details some leisurely group activities suitable for business parties or smaller groups visiting the tantalising tropics.
The Caribbean is closer than you think. An eight or nine hour flight will take you to the glittering white shores of some of its closest islands, such as Barbados. And with hundreds of islands to choose from, you can expect a trip here to become the holiday of a lifetime, whether you’re travelling as an extended family, social club, school, or business group.
With amazing food, buzzing nightlife, luxury resorts, inspiring ocean vistas and tons of activities on offer, this really is the destination that’s got everything. The weather isn’t always as perfect as you might imagine. While things stay dry and warm from December to April, at other points in the year it can get rather rainy, with the islands prone to hurricanes in the autumn months. May is a top time to travel to the Caribbean, as the prices of accommodation fall, but the weather remains fairly reliable. This will also be a good time of year to negotiate some decent discounts for your group.
GORGEOUS GROUP ACTIVITIES
Sports teams, wine guilds and knitting clubs; you name the social group, and the Caribbean will always provide an excuse for an exotic holiday. The Caribbean is infused with a party spirit, making it a fantastic long-haul destination for this kind of getaway. Depending on what it is you’re looking for, there are quite a few Caribbean travel specialists catering to group travel. Long running travel agency Club Caribbee, for example, will help with everything from flight-only deals to all inclusive holidays for family, weddings and social groups. Cruises are a great option for large families and social groups if the main aim is to relax, spend time together and see some sights, rather than to take part in any specific activities. Royal Caribbean offers a range of benefits to groups wanting to book eight or more staterooms, which varies depending on the ship and time of year.
Cruise credit in the form of a discounted rate can be applied to one individual or across all fares in the group. Pay together or as individuals, and benefit from a group specialist who will be able to accommodate certain requests, or book your group onto private tours and events. Social groups with a scuba diving obsession might like to take advantage of unlimited diving throughout Jamaica, Antigua, St Lucia and the Bahamas, at Sandals. Beginners are well catered for, with PADI, DAN and National Geographic courses offered. Groups booking five or more rooms could acquire lots of extra benefits, such as private boat hire and discounts off night dives and certifications.
Group health retreats are big business in the Caribbean too, perhaps thanks to its laidback vibe, sporty outdoor lifestyle and fresh sea air. Fitness fanatics might appreciate the all-inclusive and pre-organised offer available at St Lucia’s BodyHoliday resort, where guests can take part in a packed calendar of heart pumping classes, covering almost everything from scuba diving to tennis, archery, golf and pilates. Dance clubs would love Jive June – a month of activities dedicated to mastering such Latin American moves as the Caribbean Merengue.
Throughout the crystal clear, azure waters of the Caribbean, sailing is a popular pastime, with many social and family groups heading out for that very experience. Forget about a villa holiday and take your troops onto the ocean waves instead. The British Virgin Islands are one of the best sailing destinations thanks to its line of sight navigation, consistent trade winds, shallow seas, and 60 tiny islands and cays dotted around – which offer plenty of harbouring points. Snorkel in the coral reefs, sip on the local rum, and enjoy the onshore delights of boutique shops and smart waterfront resorts.
Yacht charters are great for groups. While less expert sailors aiming to give their sea legs a go could think about joining a flotilla, in both cases, at least one member of the party will usually have to show a certificate of sailing competence, unless you choose to hire a skipper or crewed charter boat. Keen sailors will want to get a glimpse of the action at the various regattas around the islands, especially during Antigua Sailing Week and the St Maarten Heineken Regatta, which makes for a lively nightlife, too. The “all hands on deck” activity makes for excellent team and relationship building for corporate groups as well.
TAKING BUSINESS TO THE BEACH
Conferences and corporate retreats seem to be making a post-recession comeback. It might be hard for employers to get their staff motivated about guest speakers, off-site training, team building activities, and continuing professional development courses, but the promise of a morale-boosting trip to the Caribbean might just turn the tables. There are nine Hilton hotels scattered throughout the Caribbean, all of which are incredibly well set up for large groups and businesses. A dedicated online booking service called e-Events, allows the group travel organiser to arrange meeting rooms, audio-visual equipment and refreshments remotely, in advance. The chain can also arrange themed parties, with options varying between resorts. The five-star Barbados resort offers private carnival-style celebrations and island beach parties among others, to get your team talking.
The Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre boasts 73,000 square feet of event space, accompanied by a beautiful outdoor function area. Over in Puerto Rico, the Waldorf Astoria’s El Conquistador Resort is home to the largest, most comprehensive meeting space in the Caribbean. When it comes to staging serious events, this resort has it covered, with over 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including two adjacent conference centres, 16 breakout rooms and its own private island. On the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean and with a golf course, huge spa and water park on site, there’s plenty of space for fun, in addition to more business-like affairs.
GETTING HITCHED IN PARADISE
More and more couples are opting to roll their wedding and honeymoon into one extended break, flying away from “wedmin” stress and the risks of the British weather to warmer climates. By the time friends and family are signed up, couples may as well go the whole hog and jet to the romantic white sands of St Lucia or Antigua. Luxury, all-inclusive Sandals Resorts are a popular choice for romantic, adult-only escapes, offering ideal venues for weddings – or as it’s better known – “weddingmoons.” Sandals Resorts offer group travel discounts to their 15 resorts, which are spread across the six Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Bahamas, Grenada and Barbados. They also have offers which change on a regular basis, and at the time GTW went to press, Sandals Resorts were offering free rooms with every group booking, along with complimentary upgrades to Butler Level Suites.
It’s added benefits like these that continue to make Sandals Resorts so renowned. Their destination wedding and honeymoon packages include the essentials such as free event planners, as well as additional extras like pre-wedding massages, manicures and breakfast in bed for the bride and groom. If couples book 10 or more rooms, they could earn free extra honeymoon nights to make their holiday last that little bit longer. Book 35 rooms or more, and the resort will send you and your wedding party sailing off into the sunset on a private catamaran cruise. Some individual hotels have competitive offers for wedding parties. Resorts such as Windjammer Landing in St Lucia specialise in weddings, with ceremonies taking place barefoot on the beach in a seaside gazebo, either at a local chapel or in the resort’s hillside villa. Wedding groups booking 10 rooms or more can receive 10% off room rates, with increasing discounts for larger parties. Book an all-inclusive villa for 10 nights and you could get your wedding thrown in for free.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Organising international travel for large groups (or even small ones) isn’t the easiest thing to do, so it might be best to ask for help. Travel brokers such as Flight Centre and Trailfinders both have dedicated teams who’ll be able to smooth the process and help you get the best price on your flights by negotiating preferential rates on extras such as insurance, tours and visas. British Airways – considered one of the major airlines offering flights to the Caribbean – allow increased flexibility on group bookings, such as small upfront deposits to secure seats, advance seating assignment, a dedicated airport group check-in, and the ability to finalise passenger names just two weeks before departure. Planning to fly between islands? Caribbean Airlines offers discounts for groups of more than 10 people booking flights together.