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The last time I visited Barbados was in 2019, and had I known that a global pandemic was right around the corner, I would have sat to take in the sunset a little longer on Crane Beach’s powdery white sand — and ordered another glass of rum. But finally, after a long couple of years, I recently returned to the southeastern Caribbean island and checked into the south coast’s newest hotel addition, ​​O2 Beach Club & Spa.

The open-air lobby is a prelude to the bright airiness that characterizes the property. The Caribbean ocean plays peek-a-boo past one of three pools, and I’m immediately tempted to put my bags down and head straight toward the waves, but not before grabbing a rum punch first. Barbados is the birthplace of the spirit, after all. On the walk to my room, soca music filled the air, and there was no immediate sense of urgency for anything other than to revel in the cerulean ocean and light breeze. Bright fuchsia and white lounge chairs surround a pool with a swim-up bar, where guests have gathered to order colorful cocktails that range from piña coladas to mai tais. A perk of the all-inclusive property is that by the time you leave, you’ll likely have tried each one.

The Property

The property reopened in November 2021 after renovations to include 130 rooms and suites that fall into three categories: club, luxury, and concierge. The club collection has features like en-suite bathrooms with rainfall showers, while the luxury collection has adults-only suites with direct access to the adult-only river pool and bar. Stepping into my room, it’s clear that Caribbean designer Michelle Leotaud was aiming for a decor that stays true to the region’s natural elements, including wood and leaf motifs. From my balcony, I can walk right into the river pool, but it’s the ocean that’s calling me (and rum).

hotel room with beach view window

Photo By: The O2 Beach Club

What to Do

02’s all-inclusive perks include complimentary non-motorized water sports and a full activities program. “How-to” classes are offered daily, and I immediately signed up for a cooking class and a lesson on playing the steel pan drum.

I took time to unwind in the property’s 5,600-square foot spa, Acqua. With panoramic views of the ocean framed by floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s easy to be tempted to simply sit and enjoy the view without even booking a treatment – but you’d be missing out if you skipped one. Not only does Acqua have the only hammam treatment room in Barbados, it also offers a Sleepy Time treatment, exclusive to concierge collection guests. This in-room treatment begins with dimmed lights and candles that set the tone for a moonlight massage on the balcony. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve been tucked in, you’re in for a treat, because the spa technician will literally tuck you into bed with a lavender-scented pillow and an infused tea to help aid sleep.

spa room with ocean view

Photo By: The O2 Beach Club

What to Eat

For lunch, I headed to Elements, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in an open-air space with a bow-shaped bar overlooking the beach. That day the menu featured Italian food with dishes that ranged from mushroom risotto to wine-soaked mussels. There are six restaurants at O2, including more daytime dining at Bluefin Beachside, a rooftop tapas lounge called Brisa (which also has one of the island’s only rooftop pools), and Oro, a fine dining restaurant serving European and Caribbean fusion dishes like pan-seared snapper with basil, lime, and hot pepper in an intimate, low-lit room with 270-degree views of the southern coast. I settled on a forest mushroom soup with chives and a rack of lamb, both hearty and flavorful.

bar stools with a big fish decorating the wall

Photo By: The O2 Beach Club

On my last night, I checked out a recently opened food truck court called Worthing Square Food Garden. Located on the island’s south coast just a few minutes from O2, the outdoor food hall features 20 food vendors that highlight Caribbean cuisine, like fiery jerk chicken from Jamaica, chickpea-filled doubles from Trinidad, and Barbados’ very own macaroni pie. As Barbados is the birthplace of rum, it’s only right that Worthing Square includes a Mount Gay Rum bar with an impressive list of cocktails as well. My favorite? A nutmeg-infused rum punch. If your thirst lingers, try one of the 1,500 rum shops on the island, including Kermitt’s Bar in Oistins Hill, Nigel Benn’s Aunty Bar in St. Andrew, and John Moore’s Bar in St. James, where you can grab a glass and watch residents play dominoes.

Though it’s filled with tourist attractions and noisy bars that I like to avoid, I couldn’t leave out a visit to the Gap for its famous streetside burger. A perfect fix after a night out bar hopping in the area, the roadside truck serves up juicy charred burgers without the frills, but with all the flavor, with a line of residents and tourists alike lining up by its flaming grill. The taste after the first bite is just as I remembered it, and I’m so thankful to have been able to fulfill this longing to return.

How to Get There

02 is only a 15-minute drive from the island’s Grantley Adams International Airport. There are several nonstop flights from New York’s JFK and Miami’s International Airport.