A Dozen Distinctive Tropical Resorts
Whether you’re a diver, a foodie or a spa lover, you can indulge your interests at one of these retreats
By Jennifer Davoren
(Scroll down to see a slide show.)I had a daiquiri, a sunny seat by the pool and a beautiful spring day ahead of me. Just two hours into my Caribbean vacation, and I was already enjoying the perfect getaway.
My traveling companion and I were awed by the soothing sights and near lack of noise at our chosen resort, which had been highly praised in hotel reviews for its peaceful atmosphere and laid-back clientele. Though a friendly waiter would chat with us when fetching fresh drinks, we often were left alone to swim and enjoy the island breeze.
But just a few lounge chairs away, a fellow guest had a different view of our resort. "It's so quiet," she moaned, waving a hand toward the uncrowded pool. "Where's the activities director? Can't we play volleyball or something?" She tried to recruit me for a game on the beach, but I wasn't interested in anything more strenuous than an afternoon swim. Our bored neighbor, it seemed, was in for a long and unsatisfying stay in the tropics.
The perfect resort should offer plenty of diversions for the active guest. Couch potatoes like me, on the other hand, need nothing more than a stretch of sand and a beach towel. With a variety of tropical hotels awaiting your arrival, make sure to do your research: What do you need in a home away from home? If you're looking to indulge in a particular hobby, then choose a resort with a seaside golf green, a private snorkeling spot or an on-call tennis pro. Are you vacationing with the family, or would you like to swing solo? Resorts are ready with children's programs or adults-only environments, depending on your preference.
Below, we've profiled a dozen distinctive destinations to help you create your perfect vacation. Three are all-inclusive, meaning accommodations, many activities, meals and beverages (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) are included in one price that's paid up front.
To book a stay at any of the following resorts, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925.
All-inclusive fun and meet-and-mingle events await at Club Med Turkoise in the Turks and Caicos islands. The three-star, adults-only resort brings guests together at beachfront happy hour parties, poolside games, snorkeling excursions and group lessons in windsurfing, tennis, dance and circus acts like trapeze and trampoline tricks. After hours, five restaurants and bars will have newfound friends meeting for cocktails and dinner. The resort gives guests a break on the "single supplement," an extra charge typically imposed on solo travelers. Depending on the time of year, the property offers deep discounts or waives the supplement completely.
Pairs looking for a romantic getaway will find sanctuary at Sandals Grande Ocho Rios, an all-inclusive, couples-only resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. White-sand beaches, gourmet dining and live nightly entertainment are popular attractions, but many couples are content to retreat to one of the airy, casually elegant rooms -- especially in Sandals' Villas of Eden, a collection of hillside suites with private and semiprivate swimming pools. Most rooms in this category even include butler service, giving guests the option to plant themselves poolside for their entire stay. Those who can pull themselves away, however, will find a bevy of water sports, cocktail parties and, for an extra fee, spa treatments and golf excursions.
There's no excuse for boredom at Atlantis, the Bahamas' 3,700-room megaresort on Paradise Island. Resort-run clubs will keep kids ages 3 to 12 occupied throughout the day with beach activities, arts and crafts and free movie parties. Teens and tweens, meanwhile, have their own nightclub to while away free time. The five-star Atlantis even caters to your smallest children -- a request for an in-room crib will also net a "gentle travel" baby kit, complete with soothing diaper creams and a CD of island lullabies. The centerpiece of the resort complex is the 141-acre Aquaventure, an unparalleled water park with slides, rides and a mile-long "lazy river" system. After a long day at the park, families flock to neighboring Dolphin Cay, a 14-acre habitat that allows children to swim with the sea creatures.
The all-inclusive Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is a golfer's paradise, boasting a Jack Nicklaus signature course. Three nine-hole courses wind through native vegetation and protected wetlands, providing challenging but scenic play along the southern shore of Cancun. Guests who book three or more nights at Moon Palace are rewarded with a Palace Passport, which includes a $50 voucher toward a round of golf, a $15 discount off an on-site spa treatment and unlimited free tours of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum. Additional amenities at the five-star retreat include 13 restaurants, a popular kids' club and a miniature golf course for putting practice.
Spanning 600 lush, verdant acres on the western coast of St. Lucia, Anse Chastanet is a naturalist's dream. Ecological wonders wait just offshore, too, with an award-winning marine reserve and 150 species of sea life ready for visiting divers. Scuba enthusiasts can choose among beach, boat, day and night dives as they explore a lengthy coral reef system, with clear waters measuring up to 140 feet deep. Top-notch snorkeling opportunities are easily accessible, as the coral system starts just 10 yards from the resort's private beach. When Anse Chastanet guests aren't in the water, they're often pedaling uphill -- the four-star resort offers easy access to the Bike St. Lucia trail system, covering 12 miles of breathtaking scenery through the island's jungle interior.
For Tennis Enthusiasts
Tennis Magazine tagged The Buccaneer in the U.S. Virgin Islands as "best in the Caribbean" when ranking tropical tennis resorts. The five-star property on St. Croix boasts eight courts -- two are lighted for night games, and all have cushioned Laykold surfaces for stress-free play. Weekly round-robin tournaments, seasonal sports clinics and a tennis pro with 27 years of coaching experience help guests hone their racket skills, while a fully stocked shop and stringing service keep their equipment in tip-top shape. Though the courts are state of the art, the history of the property dates to the 17th century. Stroll the lushly landscaped acreage between tennis matches and lose yourself in the Old World charm.
The Stellaris Casino, the largest gaming center in Aruba, offers 24-hour Vegas-style gambling at the five-star Aruba Marriott Resort. Blackjack, craps, roulette, five types of poker and 500 slot machines are available here, while a race and sporting kiosk accepts bets on a number of international events. After emptying their pockets at the poker table, Marriott guests can console themselves with a number of resort amenities touched up by a recent $40 million renovation: a Balinese-inspired health spa, its neighboring water sports center and a central lagoon-style pool, complete with waterfall and swim-up bar. On-site restaurants include a Ruth's Chris Steak House, Ketsu Sushi Bar and Simply Fish, a beachfront seafood grill.
Taste the tropics at the five-star CuisinArt Resort and Spa, the premier gourmet destination on Anguilla. Guests can sample sensational fare at five restaurants on the property, including the island-influenced Santorini, recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award. The resort's private wine cellar boasts 3,600 bottles of red, white and ros?, and local sommeliers will conduct private tastings. Those looking for a hands-on experience can join cooking classes, watch professional demonstrations or venture to the on-site hydroponic farm and organic gardens for fresh Caribbean herbs, fruits and veggies.
Kinan, the ancient Mayan word for the healing energy of the sun, is harnessed at the 4.5-star Maroma Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The adjoining spa takes no chances when it comes to the ultimate pampering experience -- services employ the latest in treatment techniques, and all treatment rooms are aligned with the stars for positive energy flow. The Mayan "flower of life" symbol, which represents the interconnectedness of the universe, is intended to sanctify the healing waters of a plunge pool. Rooftop yoga classes celebrate the link between spirit and sky. Meanwhile, the resort indulges its guests with Spanish lessons, cooking classes and even a meditation room for those looking for enlightenment.
For Nature Lovers
Order room service at Hotel Parador, a boutique resort and spa along the western shore of Costa Rica, and you'd better expect a few guests for breakfast. Surrounded by 400 acres of protected rain forest, the 3.5-star property draws monkeys, lizards and tropical birds right to your patio for a morning greeting. For additional wildlife viewing, the Parador's expedition team organizes scuba diving trips, zip-line tours and shuttles to nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, a popular gathering spot for dolphins. Cliffside accommodations bring sweeping views of the forest and the Pacific Ocean, but two infinity pools may offer the best views at the resort. A short downhill hike leads to a beach where travelers are soothed by calm waves, white sand and visiting sea turtles.
For History Buffs
The tiny island of Curacao packs three centuries of Dutch colonial influence into its 170 square miles. With relics waiting around every corner, antiquarians can start their search at Hotel Kura Hulanda, a five-star spa and casino resort in central Willemstad. Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 80-room boutique property features 65 restored colonial buildings dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. An on-site museum also pays tribute to Curacao's past, and some exhibits trace the island's progress since the dawn of man. After the history lessons, head to the spa, casino or "eco pond" pool, a natural grotto fed by a gentle waterfall. The hotel also offers shuttles to a beach club for drinks and daily swimming at neighboring St. Anna Bay.
For Poolside Loungers
More than 200 swimming pools dot the 40 acres of Las Brisas Acapulco, a five-star bayside property in Acapulco on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Each of the resort's 251 guest casitas boasts a private or semiprivate pool. A more traditional setup can be found at the hotel's private beach club, where two saltwater tide pools and a resort-style pool with swim-up bar await. Guests who manage to rouse themselves from their lounge chairs will find three restaurants among dining choices, but those who can't muster the energy have 24-hour room service at their disposal. Other perks: A weekly Jeep safari to Tres Palos Lagoon for an afternoon picnic and a specialty margarita served upon check-in.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in July/August 2008. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.