Nestled among the dotted islands that make up the Caribbean country of Turks & Caicos lies Parrot Cay by COMO, a 1,000-acre private island resort that boasts some of the most beautiful white beaches and vibrant turquoise waters in the world.
On a sultry Saturday in July, we took a nonstop flight from Charlotte to Providenciales, the main island of Turks & Caicos and were subsequently taken to a dock where we met the boat that ferried us over to Parrot Cay. The 45-minute boat ride was pleasant as droplets of the surf occasionally sprayed up high enough for me to catch a few between my fingers. Owned by COMO Shambhala, Parrot Cay often hosts many world-renown celebrities and is therefore a “no-fly zone,” meaning that airplanes are not allowed to fly over the island below a certain altitude. Similarly, only boats that are pre-approved may approach the island within a certain radius.
Ranked in 2013 by the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Travel Awards as the number one Best Overseas Holiday Hotel in The Americas & Caribbean, the number one Best Overseas Hotel Spas and furthermore as the number one World’s Top 100, Parrot Cay has its fair share of well-deserved accolades. The name is thought to be a corruption of “Pirate Cay” as due to its elevation, the island was the favorite lair of two infamous female pirates by the names of Anne Bonnie and Mary Read who menaced the area about 280 years ago.
My excitement was at a pinnacle as we docked and were greeted by Pema Mongar, a native of Bhutan, who was to serve as our personal butler for the family vacation week. He offered us seats in a golf cart and then chauffeured us around the beautiful tropical island, pointing out the restaurants and the magnificent trees called Royal Poincianas that grow in thick abundance and were bursting with orange-red blossoms throughout the canopies. Our next delight was strolling through our villa’s front door that opened into a spacious abode with 20-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a cedar plank deck, a gorgeous infinity pool and a long, wide stretch of linen-white sand leading to the dunes of the beach. Fragrant orange flowers and greenery arrangements adorned the tables in the combined living and dining rooms.
On either side of the great room were the enormous bedrooms. The large canopied beds were draped with beautiful white folds of mosquito netting, elegantly tied back to each of the four posts. Similar floor-to-ceiling windows provided the same idyllic vista of the pool and white sand as the main room, and the glassed-in bathrooms gave the feeling of bathing in a tropical garden. Just outside the glass door was an outdoor shower, the perfect spot for using the endless supply of their COMO Shambhala body products, each infused with eucalyptus, geranium, lavender essential oil as well as a stimulating blend of peppermint oil which left my skin pleasantly tingly.
As we explored this amazing vacation home, we were incredulous at the many different lounging options — each room had lovely sofas with plush cushioning, while on the pool deck and the private beach there were multiple umbrellas with plush lounges that were covered each morning by fresh, fitted towels cushioned with pillows.
Pema quickly returned in the golf cart to whisk us away for lunch at the open-air Lotus restaurant which overlooked the large infinity pool and the beach. Pema also served as our waiter for the trip making each meal personal as he made sure to locate the best table possible … and always made great menu recommendations. I ordered the Jumbo Lump Crab Roll which turned out to be a very good decision as it became a favorite for us throughout the trip — it was a sandwich with an abundance of lump crab served in a soft roll sliced open vertically and topped with avocado and mango. It came with sweet potato crisps and a small microgreens salad on the side with the most amazingly sweet and tangy vinaigrette. Other lunchtime favorites that we discovered were the Parrot Cay burger made of Wagyu Beef and topped with Swiss cheese, tomato relish, bacon, tomato and lettuce; the spiced tuna burger with eggplant relish, red pepper vinaigrette and mint yogurt; and the grilled tiger prawns with tomato, dill, feta, sherry vinegar and dried chili.
Returning to our villa, we walked across our yard of immaculate sand — not a stick or leaf to be found — and took a plunge into the waves off of our practically private beach, which was about a 1/4 of a mile down from the area with the main pool and water sports. The sand was so incredibly soft and fine that it felt like silt. Behind the sand dunes close to the house, we had yet another private lounging deck, and once out on the beach, there were more lounge chairs and umbrellas, offering ample opportunities to read with the soothing background sound of gently crashing waves.
After a relaxing afternoon, we dressed for dinner, and Pema came early to fix us frozen fruit cocktails, which we enjoyed on the beach before climbing aboard the golf cart to head to dinner. We ate again at Lotus restaurant, and enjoyed the live music — a Saturday evening treat — played out under the stars by the pool, adding a lovely ambiance with Caribbean flair. Pema brought us out the most delicious bread, a specialty of Lotus. It was served warm, sliced, and topped with a little salt on the soft crust.
Parrot Cay offers two dining venues — Lotus and Terrace. The relaxed poolside Lotus restaurant serves light Caribbean-inspired dishes for lunch and contemporary Asian for dinner, while Terrace restaurant specializes in modern Mediterranean for a slightly more formal dinner feel and offers both indoor and outdoor dining. Terrace is also the locale for breakfast. At every meal, whether taken at Lotus or at Terrace — the extensive COMO Shambhala menu is always an additional option for ordering health-conscious cuisine that does not sacrifice flavor for calories.
This evening I ordered off of the Lotus menu, starting with a salad with grilled prawns, heart of palm, grapefruit and young coconut with a red chilli dressing, complimented by a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with a crisp finish. This was followed by a delicious plate of steamed snapper with hot and sour broth, shitake mushrooms and steamed Chinese cabbage. A few of my other favorites throughout the week were the crispy pressed duck with caramelized pineapple sauce and stir fried Bok Choy; a seared furikake crusted wild salmon with cucumber, cabbage and seaweed salad; the hot starter of tempura oysters with tomato, jalapeno and Ponzu salsa; and the fragrant chicken, galangal and coconut soup with shiitakes mushrooms. For dessert, I enjoyed the crunchy lemon tuile with ginger cream and orange sorbet. Everything was so exotic and delicious, combining flavors that I never would have thought to pair.
Breakfast the next morning at Terrace was equally delightful but quite astounding in the breadth of the buffet spread. Bowls toppling with fresh berries, large platters of sliced fruits and chilled meats — such as smoked salmon pinwheels — and more kinds of breads, pastries and cereals than one could imagine. They also had a basket each day of three different flavors of vegetable and fruit smoothies, courtesy of the COMO Shambhala menu, conveniently bottled in little jars with lids so that we could enjoy or finish them later. There was also a breakfast menu with hot foods, as well as a COMO Shambhala breakfast menu. I particularly enjoyed the Parrot Cay Egg Breakfast, which consisted of two eggs, roasted vegetables, bacon and two sausage links — one maple and one spicy. Another favorite was the small coconut waffle with chocolate syrup lightly drizzled on top as well as their delectable French toast. Off of the COMO Shambhala menu, we particularly enjoyed the frittata, corn cakes and an avocado and veggie toast.
That first morning I ordered a cappuccino and a glass of fresh grapefruit juice, and every morning thereafter I never had time to ask again as Pema always brought me both straight away. Pema also suggested that we occasionally have him serve us meals at our villa, and for lunch on several days he took our orders from us later in the morning and then set up our private outdoor table by the pool for lunch. Also, several times throughout the week we ordered breakfast the night before and then awoke to Pema’s setting up the dining room table promptly at the time we had arranged to eat. He even served us a beautiful candlelit dinner one evening in the villa.
One of our favorite things to do was to walk down the beach to the water sports center and take out a kayak, paddle board or Hobie Cat sailboat. We also enjoyed playing tennis and biking through the trails of the banana and coconut plantations.
We had tea around 4 or 5 p.m. each afternoon which was served in the game and library room off of Terrace, with outdoor seating available. Many different types of teas, cookies and other delightful small pastries made for the perfect afternoon snack following a day in the saltwater before we went back for one more swim and dressed for dinner.
We spent two mornings diving with Big Blue Unlimited who picked us up in the dive boat from the Parrot Cay dock. The coral reef of Turks & Caicos is the third largest in the world and is ranked as a top 10 dive destination internationally. Amanda and Ben were our cheerful dive masters on Monday and took us on two spectacular dives. I have never before seen water such a vibrant turquoise, exhibited in various shades depending on the ocean floor’s depth. So bright was the water color, that the few clouds drifting in the sky looked a bright aqua at their bottom due to the reflection.
We dove first at The Pinnacles and were each provided with a dive computer to wear on our wrists. Having always dived strictly by the tables before, I really enjoyed the newfound freedom offered by the computer to extend my bottom time. The dive was off of a steep wall of coral, and we saw an abundance of beautiful reef fish and even a 5-foot reef shark.
During our hour-long surface interval in between dives, Amanda and Ben pulled out a delicious spread of snacks including fresh fruit and brownies — the perfect fare to rejuvenate hungry divers! We then dove at The Cathedral where among other exotic reef life we observed a nurse shark, two sea turtles — which let us swim surprisingly close for an awed view of their graceful motions through the water — and other beautiful fish, including one of my favorites, the Queen Angelfish.
On Thursday, Ben and Tom were our dive masters and took us to two other equally fabulous dive sites with at least 100-foot visibility 70-feet below the surface. Enjoying a short look at life as if from another planet, we watched large crabs hide in coral crevices, parrot fish munch on the coral masses, trigger fish glide past with their beautiful markings, and large lobsters bravely peek out of their holes as if knowing they were not yet in season.
On Tuesday I had the pleasure of having a massage at Parrot Cay’s award winning spa. I was offered water and ginger tea upon entering and was then ushered down to the women’s locker room where I changed into a plush robe. The waiting area was outside overlooking the wild marsh on the other side of the island. I could see across the channel with its many layers of blue waves to the neighboring cay, and seagulls soared playfully between the two islands. There was a dark stone Jacuzzi down a short path of stairs surrounded by a lush water garden with lily pads and the sound of gurgling water.
Ketut Yoga, my massage therapist, summoned me up to a beautiful corner room with a glass wall of windows overlooking the beautiful view. The room even contained a full master bathroom with a large shower. Below the face cradle was a black bowl filled with water with a floating tropical flower. Ketut used lovely smelling oils and long smooth strokes that not only relaxed my muscles but also soothed some of my itchy sea stings from diving the day before.
After a week of sailing, diving, delicious food and pure relaxation, we were sufficiently rejuvenated to once again tackle the realities of life and left deeply grateful for our new friends. With the new age of technology even invading the islands, we have friended Pema on Facebook and enjoy hearing about island life. Just this past week, he was busy taking care of Christie Brinkley’s family. Just think … in one flight you can vacation with celebrities in Parrot Cay style!