Anguilla Perks Up at Carnival Time

Travel Weekly editorial assistant Kimberly Scholz visited Anguilla during Carnival celebrations last August. She danced a little, ate a lot and experienced some of what the island has to offer. Her report follows:

THE VALLEY, Anguilla -- This island is not the place to go for wild nightlife or incredible shopping. In fact, Anguilla has only a handful of stores and a market or two. Many restaurants -- and there are lots of good ones -- close during the summer, and the bars and clubs that remain do so sporadically.

However, all that changes during Carnival. In the first week of August, the island bursts with returning Anguillians and repeat visitors who come to party, celebrate and jam.

Festivities hinge on independence and emancipation celebrations of three national holidays in one week: August Monday, August Thursday and August Friday.

On August Monday, the official start of Carnival and my first day on Anguilla, people rose at dawn to follow bands blasting music from mobile stages on trucks. J'Ouvert, as the opening is called, seemed to involve most of the island's 11,000 people.

I joined the moving masses around 8:30 a.m., when the celebrations already were in full swing. People stood in the shade of trees, watching and singing. A few onlookers squirted water on the throngs of dancers to cool them off.

Vendors sold cold drinks and local snacks like johnny cakes, which tasted sort of like a Caribbean bagel, and children sold fruit and seafood. The dancing and the noise were centered in the Valley, far removed from the resorts, so that guests were not disturbed.

No holiday on Anguilla is complete without boat racing, the island's national sport. The first official race of Carnival was set for August Monday in the waters off Sandy Ground, one of Anguilla's prettiest beaches. Groups of 10 or 15 boats, each with a maximum of 13 sailors, competed in a frenzy of colorful sails and enthusiastic racers. The August Monday race had a $600 jackpot and offered the chance to compete in the Champion of Champions race five days later.

The most exciting time in the race was the start, when the boats sailed off toward the horizon, getting smaller and smaller with each passing minute. Races generally last about three hours, so the landlubbers and I waited -- and partied -- on the shore. Spectators cheered their favorite teams and bet with one another.

The beaches were mobbed, and as soon as the boats were beyond the horizon, the action started. Meet, greet, talk, walk, eat, dance, sing, sunbathe, swim -- not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Local restaurants set up makeshift kitchens on the beach. The aromas of fried chicken, beans, goat steaks, rice and grilled seafood of every variety wafted through the air. Bands and live radio broadcasts provided entertainment and dancing on the beach.

When the boats were spotted hours later, the tension began to mount. People jostled for front-row positions along the shore to see which boat was in the lead. The finish was hectic and fast-paced as the boats neared the finish line. The winning boat was named De Chan.

"Culture, Glamour & Plenty Jammin" was this year's Carnival theme. Next year's theme hasn't been announced yet, but it doesn't matter to me. My dancing shoes are ready and my party clothes are packed.


Covecastles, where I stayed, is situated on a secluded beach. Amenities include a gourmet restaurant; concierge services; cable television, a VCR and a CD player in each guest unit; hammocks, beach chairs and umbrellas; champagne, hors d'oeuvres and a fruit basket on arrival.

The property comprises eight beach houses, four villas and two grand villas.

The beach houses and villas each contain a living room, a dining area, a full kitchen and a private veranda. A curved staircase leads to the master bedroom, which features a king-size bed and a private bath; a second bedroom has twin beds and a bathroom.

Three-bedroom villas offer a master bedroom with a large dressing area and bath as well as two guest rooms with twin beds and a shared bath.

The grand villas, accommodating up to eight guests, have an entrance parlor, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and four bedrooms with private baths. Master suites open onto a sundeck overlooking the sea. One grand villa features a private pool.

Daily rates from Jan. 5 through April 15 start at $695 for a one-bedroom beach house and $895 for a two-bedroom house. Daily villa rates range from $995 for one-bedroom accommodations to $1,195 for two- and three-bedroom units. The grand villas are priced from $2,495 to $2,995, depending on the category.

To make reservations, call (800) 223-1108.

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