By Rory Winston
Shortly upon returning from an expedition whose reputed intent was finding the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de Léon learned that his children had nearly been wiped out by a Carib tribe that raided his wife’s encampment during his absence. Chalk it up to the fact that “carefree family travel” was an oxymoron even back then, but it was clear that one should think twice about seeking rejuvenation in the company of one’s own children. Then again, perhaps, the great Spanish explorer had simply overshot the mark. Instead of leaving his family behind and sailing off to Florida, he could have opted for the islands that first caught his fancy, the islands that today constitute the British West Indies territory of Turks and Caicos.
With alabaster sands frosting the edges of this veritable tableau, Grace Bay is home to a vast coral reef with a plethora of caves. Stippled in tropical fish, her sea is a transparent turquoise chalice spilling upwards into a porcelain blue sky. Overlooking this blue world stands the azure roofed enclave known as the Veranda Resort and Residences (www.verandatci.com). Snuggly planted between hills stubbled with prickly pear cacti, Veranda is less a beachfront hotel than a high end estate the architectural likes of which are found in Nantucket and Key West. With its spacious three to four bedroom suites – complete with separate living rooms, picturesque terraces and full kitchens – the accommodations are nothing short of spectacular.
Still, despite the splendid setting, the ceiling fan, and a play station 3 with LCD player, my own absolute monarchs were not amused. My six year old daughter was no slouch when it came to usurping power, nor was her baby sister any the weaker in exacting devotion. Poor Ponce de León, he never knew how easy he had it under Ferdinand and Isabel. Though utopian amenities abounded at Veranda, neither spa, nor pool, nor lush landscape undermined my older daughter’s need to be entertained.
The Kids Club – centrally located on the property - is a crèche for children between the ages of 3 to 12. Interactive, educational, eco-friendly, the club’s list of activities included excursions from kite boarding, to scuba diving to parasailing. Parents could, in theory, leave their children there, secure in the fact that they would be well tended to while they themselves could abscond and partake in horseback riding, world-class scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, windsurfing or jet skiing. Still, I was here to enjoy the milieu in the company of my family rather than to escape its members.
It did not take long before her highness and I were honing in on large seashells, and plucking conches from the water. Fraternizing with her subjects - otherwise known as local attendants – my daughter inveighed upon them to join our rescue and recover mission for cockles. They beamed courteously at my daughter as she presented them with bounty from the sea. One attendant offered to take her majesty’s catch and have the chef cook up a meal. She, for her part, had no time to formally acknowledge this troublesome footman’s existence since by then she was busy dispatching me on an errand of great importance to the empire. “Why were the sandcastles still in a state of disrepair? How could construction of the fortress begin without the proper embankments and towers?” She relinquished her grasp of the burdensome marine snail and set to the task of orchestrating. Not ten minutes had passed since I began humming “let my people go” before our conch returned au ceviche. Delectable. My princess’s entourage – each an heir of a proper celebrity in his/her own right – applauded her crowning achievement, the ability of turning a mere shell into a meal while erecting a castle. Water into wine was petty ante stuff compared to this tour de force. Even the celebrities themselves gathered round to pay their respects to her kingdom’s makeshift marvels.
Joined by my wife and our more somber little ruler, we made our way to a remote region where wildlife can more readily be discerned. Though the Humpback whales that frequented the area were nowhere to be seen, we did catch a glimpse of an Osprey and a most singular rock iguana. After a short stint on a Kayak, and a quick plunge into our very own pool, we were famished. Making a stopover at the state of the art spa and fitness center, we took a quick sauna and Jacuzzi, and headed straight for Marin, the restaurant overlooking Grace Bay Beach.
With sumptuous fusion dishes replete in regional ingredients, it did not take long for even the royals amongst us to discard protocol and unconditionally enjoy themselves. “Noblesse oblige be damned”, my daughters must have thought, “we’re having way too good a time to whine”. The waves rolled onto the sand as a silent harmony of stars flickered across my daughter’s chocolaty desert. She laughed at the moon and I chuckled at her ability to find mirth in a setting. Paradise seemed to be that insouciant state wherein even the very young give up all attempts at passing for adults, while those who are adults manage to feel whimsical even in the presence of their children.
It was then I realized that Ponce de Léon had forgotten the most essential thing about any real fountain of youth. Drinking from its waters was bound to leave one feeling the same since no truly young person ever feels young. What they do feel is a growing sense of urgency as regards the future, and a few inspired moments when everything feels perpetually safe and right. Standing on my very own veranda that night, swigging on nothing but the air, I looked out over the expansive beach property and thought there was just so much out there that I still wanted to do and just so many things that feel just right.