ST. LAWRENCE GAP, Barbados -- I sat at a table on Dover Beach under a palm tree, garbed in a yellow artist's apron, paint brush in one hand, a palette of Caribbean-bright acrylic colors in the other and a blank canvas on an easel in front of me.
Venezuelan-born artist Yasmin Vizcarrondo, a resident of Barbados since 1998, was explaining how to draw and paint a chattel house, an iconic symbol of the island's history. The houses, originally the homes of plantation workers, were modest, wooden buildings set on limestone blocks so they could be easily moved from one location to another. A steep, pitched roof helped to cool the house and louvered shutters kept the rain out.
A short afternoon rain shower interrupted my art class, one of several Learn To experiences offered at the O2 Beach Club and Spa, the newest entry in the luxury boutique sector on Barbados.
Vizcarrondo told me not to brush the raindrops off. "Drips add character to a painting. You can blend in the drips when they dry," she said.
My finished "masterpiece" now ranks as one of my best souvenirs from my travels and from experience I thoroughly enjoyed.
The all-inclusive luxury O2 Beach Club and Spa, a transformation and expansion of the former Ocean Two Resort & Residences, offers multiple, complimentary How To experiences. Among them: How to make cupcakes, body scrubs, Bajan bakes (a fried batter somewhere between a pancake and fritters), Bajan lemonade (fresh-squeezed with a dash of bitters), blow a conch shell and play dominoes.
Beach activities include beach cricket, beach football, sandman building and games of tug-of-war in addition to a full range of water sports.
"Our plan was to reimagine O2 to see it move from an excellent, four-and-a-half-star, boutique, European-plan resort to an exceptional, five-star, all-inclusive resort," said Patricia Alfonso-Dass, group general manager of the Ocean Hotels Group, a collection of three properties on the island's south coast that encompasses O2 Beach Club and Spa, Sea Breeze Beach House and South Beach Hotel.
Design elements, such as the bright pink and orange umbrellas that offer shade on chaise lounges on the wide, long beach and by the pools and local artwork throughout the public spaces contributed to a resort with a beach vibe and feel and, as Alfonso-Dass put it, "lots of attention without pretension, in a fun area of Barbados."
The new O2 -- the name is a nod to the symbol of oxygen, to breathe new life into vacations -- has 130 rooms and suites in three collections: Club, Luxury and Concierge.
The Club collection offers modern rooms with king or twin beds with large bathrooms and rainfall showers. The Luxury collection features adults-only suites with contemporary design, private balconies and Caribbean views, as well as swim-up rooms with direct access to the adults-only river pool.
My room was in the Concierge Collection, which offers one- and two-bedroom suites with a designer kitchen, large seating area and balcony. Guests staying in this section receive a complimentary Learn To lesson, such as my art class, or a surfing lesson or a round of golf at the nearby Barbados Golf Club.
There are six restaurants, including the rooftop, tapas-style Brisa restaurant and its adjacent lounge area (great for sunset viewing with cocktails), shady pergolas and a pool.
I dined at Brisa, as well as Elements, the culinary heart of O2, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in an open-air space with a crescent-shaped bar overlooking the beach, and at the Bluefin beach grill.
Oro, the resort's fine dining restaurant, opens Jan. 15 atop the new nine-story building housing 42 of the rooms and suites. The Acqua Spa, one floor below, debuts on the same date and will feature the only Hammam treatment room on the island and personalized wellness treatments.
One of my favorite spots was the Oasis Lounge in the lobby, where I grabbed cappuccinos and lattes during the day. O2 has seven bars, so a Banks beer or a tropical drink was never far away.
The staff at O2 is fully masked at all times, as are guests when inside. Gone are room keys, replaced by a bracelet that opens the door when held up to the exterior doorknob.
To meet the 24-hour Covid testing requirement for guests returning to or entering the U.S., O2 offers on-site testing, priced at $145 for a PCR test and $60 for a rapid test.
O2 pays 12% commission and offers My Booking Rewards program where travel advisors receive online training and points for bookings, which can be redeemed for free nights and upgrades.
More than 1,000 travel advisors are enrolled in the rewards program, according to Jacqui McDermott, sales and marketing manager of Ocean Hotels Group.
All-inclusive rates in January start at $1,500 per room, per night, double.
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