It sounds like a game of “Would you rather.” As in, would you rather … go to a gorgeous island in the Caribbean if it meant no Internet, no text messaging, and no locks on the door? Or would you rather stay home?
First, we’ll set the stage. The island in question is Petit St. Vincent, home to a luxury resort that’s been called one of the world’s most enchanting hideaways. Lapped by the aqua waters of the Caribbean Sea on one side, and the wild Atlantic on the other side, the humpy green island of Petit St. Vincent sits between St. Lucia and Grenada. The 115-acre volcano-borne island and the resort are one in the same — this private island is owned by the resort, and it’s part of the island country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
And what a resort it is. Twenty-two cottages peek out of the foliage, perched on hillsides and along a two-mile stretch of pearlescent beach. The design style is best described as Flintstones-Gone-Fabulous. The cottages are built from stone that was hand-quarried on the island. Each is free standing, with a vaulted hardwood ceiling and an open floor plan. Inside are driftwood-inspired teak furnishings, colorful artwork, and a wood-paddled ceiling fan. Outside, you’ve got the requisite hammock, tied between two palms, and your own little thatched palapa, plus unlimited blue-on-blue views of sea and sky. Here, a nearby islet; there, a yacht swaying on its mooring.
Rustic, it’s not. Beds are king-size, linens come from Italy, toiletries are by Bulgari, and each cottage has a Nespresso coffee machine and a Bose iPod dock. So far, so good, right? Until you try to send an “I made it!” message to a loved one at home. Nothing. Nada. The only spots with connectivity are at the resort’s main pavilion and its restaurants, a long walk or bike ride from our cottage. (Guest rooms have intercoms in case of emergency, but no Internet.)
“At first, some guests panic a little,” says general manager Matt Semark, who lives on site with his wife, Anie, and two young sons. “But the following day, they appreciate [the lack of Wi-Fi]. You can see the weight shift off their shoulders when they are unplugged from their devices.”
OK, we thought. Unplugged it is! We limited ourselves to one quickie e-mail session per day. None of the frivolous stuff: No Sox, CNN, or Serial. There was just one problem: Come nightfall, without a dose of HGTV house porn to lull us to sleep (there are no TVs in the rooms, and we hadn’t downloaded anything), we were stone cold awake, conjuring monsters in the dark. Why? There were no locks on the doors.
Lock us up! Lock us up!
For city folks in particular, the notion of no locks is unsettling. Rationally, we knew we were quite safe on this lightly populated island — probably the biggest personal safety risk here is getting conked on the head by a falling coconut. Plus, we’re campers, and there are no deadbolts on an L.L. Bean tent.
But who’s rational at 2 a.m.? We confess, dear reader, that on our first night we blocked our front door with a teak settee and booby-trapped the patio door with a yoga strap. (Take that, boogieman!) Not a restful night. That Nespresso machine was put to good use the next morning.
We had to ask Semark: Why no locks? “It’s been like this since the resort opened in 1968,” he said. “There’s no other resort on the island — we’re it. There’s no crime. And everyone’s an ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle.’ ”
But it wasn’t the employees we were worried about. What if a random (drunken) guest wandered into the wrong cottage (they do look alike) and scared the bejeezus out of us? Then there’s the personal property issue. We’ve all been trained not to leave our valuables unattended anywhere, so it’s a leap of faith to leave your laptop and iPhone X in your unlocked cottage while you go for a swim.
Ultimately, our concerns melted away like lip balm in a beach bag. Maybe we were simply too exhausted after a day of splashing in the surf to lie awake listening for intruders. Or maybe common sense took over. In any case, we slipped into the rhythm of island life. And we got acquainted with our room butler, who brought us breakfast each day and (we imagined) would magically appear if anything bad happened.
The days drifted by in a happy haze of eating and water sports. The resort offers an array of kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, Sunfish sailboats, and snorkeling gear for guests’ use. You can snorkel right off the beach. When we discovered that the famed Tobago Cays (one of the “1000 Places to See Before You Die”) was thisclose to the island, we had to sign up for a sail-and-snorkel trip to the Cays aboard the 49-foot sloop Beauty.
What to do when you’re not checking your phone
In digital detox mode, you discover chunks of free time each day (hours, for most of us) that you normally spend diddling with your phone. We filled the day with low-tech, low-key pleasures like bicycling around the island, hiking up Marni Hill, the island’s highest point, and indulging in a Balinese massage at PSV’s treetop spa. We took a morning yoga class overlooking the bay. We met the island goats. And, wonder of wonders (since we’re frosty Bostonians), we chatted with other guests. “Getting your face out of your phone means tuning in to the people around you, and tuning into the charms of this lovely island,” said Dani from the UK, who was visiting with two teenagers in tow. (The teens were Fortnite-deprived, but still cheery, we noted.)
Remarkably, everyone we met seemed relaxed — and even grateful to be off-line. “Petit St. Vincent provides a welcome rest from our usual, hyperactive life style,” said Bruce Sykes of Burlington, Ontario (west of Toronto), visiting the resort with his wife, Nancy. The Sykes have been coming to the island since the 1980s, and have returned at least 20 times. “When we first visited, we were surprised by the unplugged environment, but we adapted to it,” he says. Now, “we actually prefer this resort over other places that we’ve traveled.” The Sykes didn’t care a whit that their cottage was lock-less, by the way.
Instead of looking forward to an episode of “Fleabag,” we planned our activities around mealtimes, a testament to the quality of the food. Much of it is sourced from the island or the waters that surround it, so it couldn’t be fresher. A walk past the resort’s gardens reveals a bounty of kale, lettuces, and herbs. The resort relies on local farmers and fishermen, with sustainable practices a priority. You see it in small ways, like refill stations for water bottles, instead of one-use plastic. The casual Beach Restaurant offers toes-in-the-sand dining, featuring Caribbean tapas and pizza from a clay oven, along with live music some nights. For a more formal, three-course dining experience, there’s the Main Pavilion Restaurant. The fresh seafood and aged rums are exquisite, but the real joy here is the setting, on a hilltop overlooking the harbor with a curtain of frangipani and hibiscus.
Our takeaway: Unplugged island life is delightful. No Twitter rants! No Cardi B, no Kanye, no Kardashians. Life moves at a slower pace, and frees up time to chat with random strangers and commune with goats. Life without HGTV is just fine, as long as the reading material doesn’t run out.
But next time we’ll bring one of those electronic alarms to shove under the door. Haven’t these people ever watched “Death in Paradise”?
If You Go: Most people fly to Barbados, and then take a short flight to Union Island, followed by a ferry to Petit St. Vincent. Rates from $1,260 per night for a one-bedroom cottage. Rate includes three meals daily, all non-alcoholic beverages, and use of non-motorized water sports equipment and bicycles. 800-654-9326; www.petitstvincent.com.