6:00am Saturday 29th March 2014
Bars, beaches and renditions of Bruno Mars songs are attracting a young party crowd to Barbados, says Lauren Turner.
"In Barbados, we don't say you get drunk - we say you get sweet."
Michelle, the barmaid who always seems to magically know what I want to drink, says this with a sparkle in her eye as she hands me a swizzle. The grapefruit juice, rum and angostura bitters creation slips down a treat as I sit at a beach bar overlooking the Caribbean sea, the golden colours of sunset contrasting with the turquoise glittering waters.
There could well be something in that. The prevailing mood on this tiny jewel of an island, measuring just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, is a relaxed, mellow happiness. But don't be fooled by that easy-going front; this is a place that knows how to party.
And it's the party people that Barbados now wants to attract, taking advantage of the spotlight that its most famous daughter Rihanna has shone on it.
Boutique hotels like the SoCo Hotel, where Michelle has become my new best friend, have been cropping up to cater for those in their 20s and 30s who want a slice of the action.
There are great bars and clubs a stone's throw away, and with the swizzle in my bloodstream, I want to go out and dance.
I decide to head to St Lawrence Gap, a strip of bars and clubs that's rammed with holidaymakers and locals alike every weekend, just a short cab ride away from the hotel.
If the restaurants and beaches of the platinum coast on the west of Barbados, where the likes of Simon Cowell and Gary Lineker flock for their holidays, attract the older crowd, the south is the place to be for young couples and groups of friends.
Ultra Sugar Lounge is where some of the best parties take place, under the stars in its outdoor courtyard. Rihanna herself has been spotted there. There's a glitzy Miami feel to the club, with a fantastic DJ and light show, along with leather seats in its cordoned-off private areas. It's stylish but remains unpretentious, making for a great night out.
Looking for a cab after leaving the club, I stumble upon Hal's Carpark Bar - and decide the night hasn't quite ended yet. It's a simple set-up - just a long bar and a few chairs - but it attracts the crowds. What really caps it off is the karaoke. I'm sold the moment I see a local belting out Bruno Mars, and almost in tune as well.
That's not to say that there aren't great nights out to be had elsewhere on the island.
Holetown, in particular, has some fantastic venues with a fun vibe and is another favourite haunt of Rihanna, who has been seen in the exclusive Priva bar.
It may be a Sunday evening when I head up to check out the scene in the area's First and Second Streets but with One Love Bar pumping out hits and a long list of people queuing for the karaoke (which seems to be something of a recurring theme) it's by no means a quiet night.
The bar itself is no more than a few tables, a fridge and a serving hatch offering Banks beer for the price of three for 10 dollars. And The Tiki Bar just across the road does a mean line in cocktails, for those really wanting to push the boat out.
Talking of boats, the following day I take a trip on the water to snorkel with sea turtles. I go with Tiami on a luxury catamaran, making me feel like something out of a Duran Duran video. And what really strikes me is the sheer exuberance of seeing a boat full of people gleefully shaking their bodies to soca and reggae tunes, despite the fact the sky is looking a decidedly un-Caribbean dark grey.
In fact, wherever I am in Barbados, I don't have to venture far to find a party, and on many occasions, I don't even have to leave my hotel.
With friendly bar staff on hand, views over the Caribbean guaranteed, tasty food and the beach right on my doorstep - I don't need much persuasion to stick around.
The SoCo is an all-inclusive hotel, but it's not only food and drinks that are included; you get the know-how of the staff as well. They can organise water sports for you or, for the less active, a massage. I had a sumptuous back rub in my room, hearing the waves lap against the beach outside.
The boutique 24-room hotel, which opened in 2013, is right on the beach in Hastings and perfectly placed for the nightlife of Bridgetown, where you can dance the night away at Harbour Lights, a beach-front nightclub which offers free drinks with the price of entry on certain nights.
It's also a short hop from Oistins, which is the place to go to on a Friday when the sun goes down. The fish fry at Oistins Bay Gardens is a bustling seafront venue packed with stalls selling the catch of the day, fresh from the boat. An insider recommends I look for the place with the biggest queue, so Pat's Place it is, with a cold beer to help the wait go that little bit faster.
Clutching my tray packed with flying fish and plantain, I grab a space on one of the huge communal tables - all outside, of course - with the sound of music in my ears. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is really what makes it.
Afterwards, I head to the stage to join in the dancing for the rest of the night, trying to work off some of that delicious food and enjoying the warm night air.
You can take a cab to explore the island but I highly recommend, at least once, a ride on the infamous reggae bus. Not only is the bus service regular and frequent, but you often get blasted with some great tunes as you make your way to your destination.
Whether it's on the bus, in the club - or maybe you'll be lucky enough to hear a steel band playing - music is never far away on Barbados. It's part of the rhythm of the island, which has an infectious beat that gets into your bones. When something is this sweet, you easily end up addicted.
:: Lauren Turner was a guest of the Barbados tourist board (www.visitbarbados.org).
:: Tropical Sky (www.tropicalsky.co.uk; 0843 636 4512) offers seven nights at the all inclusive SoCo hotel from £1,149 per person, based on two people sharing, including return flights from Gatwick, plus transfers. Prices based on travel from May 1-June 30, 2014 and September 1-October 31, 2014.
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