Far from your average fly-and-flop holiday, this hotel offers a chance to explore the island’s adventurous wild side – at no extra cost
A report by Jane Knight for London’s Telegraph.
It wasn’t the kind of day you’d expect at an all-inclusive hotel. Instead of lounging by the pool and eating at a buffet, my son and I were exploring a wild world of cascades and canyons after a delectable local meal of fish with beans and rice at a small café.
There were no other tourists in sight as we watched water crashing down over a rainforest-covered rockface at Trafalgar Falls, trees clinging at impossible angles in their own version of a hanging garden. Upriver from the taller of the falls, we swam through the dark cleft of rock that is Titou Gorge, warming up after our cold dip by bathing in a gushing hot spring.
It was the perfect day trip. And it didn’t cost a thing – being part of a pioneering new all-inclusive offering from Dominica’s Fort Young hotel in the capital, Roseau. “Traditional all-inclusives want you to stay in the resort,” said general manager Dinesh Kissoon. “We want you to go outside it. It’s a new era of all-inclusives.”
On the waterfront with no beach and only a small pool among its facilities, Fort Young isn’t your typical all-inclusive resort – but then Dominica is far from your average fly-and-flop island. Sandwiched between Martinique and Guadeloupe and more than 600 miles from the Dominican Republic, for which it is often mistaken, it has neither an international airport nor brochure-perfect beaches, gaining its first chain hotel only when the Kempinski opened in 2019. It is more the island that time – and tourists – forgot.
This is a place for adventure, and Fort Young has different options planned for each day, from Trafalgar Falls and Titou Gorge on a Monday to Spanny and Jacko Falls on a Friday, along with weekend jaunts in Roseau and to nearby Mero Beach. Who needs endless hotel facilities when the island is an outdoor playground – and a volcanic one, with hot air bubbling to the surface at the aptly named Boiling Lake and off the coast at Champagne Reef.
We set off to explore two of these in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park on another of the hotel’s included excursions. First, we circumnavigated Freshwater Lake, the island’s largest. Unlike most lake walks, this one is far from flat: I felt I was on nature’s version of a never-ending StairMaster. “Dominica only has two directions: up and down,” chuckled our guide. He wasn’t joking. That was just a warm-up for the 45-minute climb to the adjacent Boeri Lake, the island’s highest at 2,850ft, where clouds swirled around us at the water’s edge.
My calves were screaming by the time we returned to Fort Young; a good thing that two 60-minute massages in the new spa are included with each stay, as are a couple of yoga classes. The only excursions that will cost you extra are Champagne Reef (£85pp) and the day-long hike to the Boiling Lake (£219 for one to two people). It should not be undertaken lightly; I came a cropper in the aptly named Valley of Desolation, slipping on a rock around the steaming fumaroles and sulphur-smelling stream.
It seemed fitting to order a Mudslide (a creamy coffee-chocolate cocktail) back at base, followed by some perfectly acceptable Lindeman’s wine at dinner. And so to the food, which was good, if not great, with some decent local specialities such as coconut shrimp, dasheen fritters and salt-fish stew as well as steak and pasta dishes.
The all-inclusive programme includes snacks, too, both during the excursions – where you might sip some rum at a local shop, or try some chewy cassava bread – and back at the hotel, where mid-afternoon offerings helped to fill my son’s empty legs.
But he was left almost gnawing the table after a 50-minute wait for a pizza; the service, always smiling, was sometimes inexorably slow. And when our food did arrive, we still had to sign for it, despite the fact that on arrival we had been given a wristband to indicate our all-inclusive status.
Apart from the wristband, though, there was no evidence of the cheap plonk and never-ending buffets that characterise traditional all-inclusives. One night we ordered room service, with only the tray charge to pay. The chic contemporary rooms here are the kind you want to spend time in, with their wooden floors, huge map murals, splashes of colour, and soundtrack of the sea just outside.
While there isn’t a beach at Fort Young, it does have a dive centre, with unlimited unescorted dives available as part of the package. Or you can take a boat from the hotel’s jetty on one more included excursion: a lionfish hunt.
This colourful fish may look exotic but it is an opportunistic predator that kills off other sealife if its numbers aren’t controlled. It hides under rocks on the reef, so spearing one involves freediving plus a lot of care to avoid the fish’s fan of spines. “If you get stung by one, you are going to cry for your mother,” warned Captain Don.
This mum couldn’t wear fins after her tumble en route to the Boiling Lake, so I snorkelled lazily on the surface while the others did the work.
My son wasn’t having much luck, struggling to dive deep enough in places, his aim failing in others. Then, just as Captain Don and I were admiring a stingray rippling through the water, the jubilant cry of “I got one!” reached my ears.
It was an unusual excursion on one of the Caribbean’s more unique islands – and I didn’t have to reach for my wallet.
How to do it
Fort Young (001 767 448-5000; fortyounghotel.com) offers double rooms from £264 pp/pn, all-inclusive and based on a five-night minimum stay. British Airways (ba.com) flies to Barbados, with onward flights to Dominica on Inter-Caribbean, from £728 return. Holidayextras.com can arrange meet and greet parking at Heathrow from £84.50.