Highlights of the Caribbean
A host of hot hotels and refurbished resorts are blooming across the Atlantic islands. Here are seven selections for your next retreat to the deep blue sea
Gansevoort, Turks and Caicos
You only get one chance at a first impression, and Gansevoort Turks and Caicos gets that. When my shared taxi van drove up to the hotel, there was a noticeable silence. Then, the six-year-old across from me said to her mommy, "Can we stay here, please?" and her mom smiled, sighed and replied, "Maybe next time."
The entrance is a drop-dead spectacular introduction to the property. White steps lead up to an open-air lobby that flows through to the infinity pool, with its lounge pods and cool white curtains. Then, beyond that, is the beach and the turquoise waters of Grace Bay.
Pow. Unforgettable impression made.
I'm whisked through to a sofa – close enough to the pool to observe the bodies soaking up sun on loungers – handed a frosty fruit drink and a cool, damp washcloth. It's a gentle welcome, but already I'm thinking I should have packed the smaller bikini and lost 10 pounds before I came.
This is the sexy cousin to the three other properties in the collection, two in New York and one in Dominican Republic. The Turks and Caicos version, located on the northern shore of Providenciales, continues the reputation for clean contemporary style, with white decor everywhere punctuated by colourful art in the rooms and floral punch in the hotel gardens. The 7,000-square-foot infinity pool at the heart of the hotel may well be the most gorgeous in the Caribbean.
There are 91 guestrooms, including 32 suites and four penthouses. My suite has a full kitchen, a massive bath and, as do all the rooms, a perfect view of Grace Bay from the terrace.
Dinner in Stelle, manned by executive chef Joel Vallar, is a fusion of Asian flavours and fresh, regionally inspired dishes. A weekly Asian barbecue at the beachfront grill features Thai, Indonesian and Balinese specialties. The only culinary letdown is breakfast – adequate but unexciting – though just sitting beside that pool in the morning sun elevates everything.
Exhale Spa is small but offers a full range of treatments.
The vibe is relaxed and cool, with an emphasis on water sports, beach life and uninterrupted downtime. Nightlife is minimal – live music in Stelle in the evenings is about it for partying. But there are party places within an easy walk along the beach, such as the always quirky Somewhere Café and Lounge.
New this year are the Gansevoort Villas at Turtle Tail: six four- and five-bedroom oceanfront units that are beyond beautiful, combining the sleek design of the hotel with a private hillside location. Guests at the villas can use all the facilities of the mother resort. Each villa has two pools, a large fire pit overlooking the ocean and full dining facilities. A private chef can be arranged through the hotel.
Both the resort and the villas effortlessly combine island cool with urban chic – it's the perfect bolthole for the stressed-out urbanite who wants peace and quiet, but wants it wrapped in a contemporary, high-design aesthetic.
Knockout feature: an elevated swimming platform attached to each villa, with a suspended sun bed, white lounge beds and the waves just a short step below. Plus, a resident cat named Gansie – who wouldn't love a resort that has its own cat?
Oceanfront rooms from $589 (U.S.), includes a $100 resort credit; gansevoorthotelgroup.com
- Barbara Ramsay Orr
Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa, Dominican Republic
Located in the upscale gated community of Cap Cana, this latest installation of the upscale, all-inclusive, adults-only Secrets collection religiously follows the brand blueprint, which includes its signature Unlimited Luxury program and Unlimited Connectivity amenity. There's also a higher-end premium experience called the Preferred Club, with additional VIP benefits.
The sprawling complex, which celebrated its grand opening in March, 2017, encircles a broad swath of Juanillo Beach with 457 rooms and suites covering a wide range of accommodation styles, including swim-out casita-style bungalows and oceanfront studios with whirlpool tubs or private plunge pools. Decor throughout is elegant and understated in earth tones and marble, allowing the splendour of the tropical setting to remain the star.
Dining options include seven à la carte restaurants and an international buffet with no reservations required. An in-room mini-fridge refreshed daily, pool and beach service and 24/7 room service are also included. Guests are also invited to dine out at the surrounding AMResorts escapes such as Dreams and Breathless without charge through their Sip, Savor & See program, although transportation is not included.
It's a good thing there's a world-class spa by Pevonia and a state-of-the-art gym on site because overindulging in the good life is simply unavoidable at this resort.
Knockout feature: If you're a beach snob and a water baby, this is your preferred playground. Liquid luxury abounds at every turn – from the pampering array of whirlpools, serpentine water circuits and infinity pools to Juanillo Beach, a pristine expanse of white sand on warm, mirror-calm waters. This setting delivers tropical paradise rejuvenation to the max.
Junior Suite Tropical view starting at $210.50 (U.S.) a night; secretsresorts.com/cap-cana
- Sue Campbell
Kimpton Seafire, Grand Cayman
Kimpton Seafire is arguably the most stylish bolthole on Grand Cayman for the Instagram set. Situated on the golden sweep of Seven Mile Beach, it's a perfect location to catch the nightly sea fire – island speak for sunset.
Here, the ocean is never out of sight – not with an entrance seven metres above sea level, nor from any of the spacious 266 guestrooms sporting floor-to-ceiling windows. With a design scheme accented by a bright botanical colour palette layered upon sandy weathered woods and stone, it's beachy without being too tropical. Turtle-friendly lighting and a clever use of recycled materials has the property on track to achieve LEED Silver certification.
Guestrooms ending in even numbers sport the best views, while odd-numbered ones offer side views of the sea.
Touted as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, there are more than 150 restaurants on Grand Cayman. Seafire's beachfront restaurant, Coccolaba, ought to be on your hit list if you're a fish-taco fanatic or want to throw back quite possibly the best pina colada on the island.
A haven for water-sport lovers, the resort offers a protected swimming area, kayaking, sailing and jet skis. Cayman reefs are renowned for snorkelling, and one of the best spots, Cemetery Beach, is but a five-minute drive away.
Families are welcomed with a nanny service and kids' club for the four- to 12-year-old set. But it's unlikely the little ones will bother you as much as the early morning wake-up call from feral roosters roaming the island. Best retreat to the 8,500-square-foot spa to recover.
Knockout feature: Each guestroom boasts a private balcony with sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea, allowing you to soak up the sea fire privately – and ideally with the complimentary glass of wine offered nightly from 5 to 6 p.m.
Rooms starting from $499 in season and $399 off season; kimptonhotels.com
- Jody Robbins
Taking up almost an entire block of tiny downtown Kralendijk, Bonaire's main "city," this new three-storey complex of luxury-apartment rentals includes a museum and upscale shops on the ground level, as well as a gourmet ice-cream shop and café. At first blush, it appears out of place among the colourful little Dutch colonial-style buildings. On Bonaire, most resorts are geared toward divers, not luxury. But it works; once inside the spacious, beautifully appointed rooms, you see that a killer view of the sea is the highlight of each space.
The complex offers 12 luxurious apartments and one luxury penthouse, all oceanfront with spacious outdoor decks and a choice of two, three or four bedrooms. Each unit includes everything one could need to entertain and make meals, a washing machine, dishwasher, smart TV and free WiFi. Available for short- and long-term rentals, these apartments are economical choices for the level of luxury and space provided.
The location is ideal for exploring the entire downtown area on foot and the museum is a welcome addition to the island's cultural scene. Private parking is also included.
Knockout feature: The Grand Terramar penthouse suite balcony is massive and gives you the illusion of living on the deck of a luxury cruise ship. The view from above is directly over the seaside downtown boardwalk, where you can easily spot tons of colourful tropical fish – sometimes sea turtles – right below you in the crystal-clear waters. The spectacular sunsets over the sea each evening are the icing on the cake.
$150 (U.S.) a night for Junior Suite; terramarbonaire.com
- Sue Campbell
Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
Marriott recently completed a $16-million (U.S.) renovation and rebranding to up its game on stunning Seven Mile Beach, home to all of Grand Cayman's luxury hotels, and the result is a winning formula.
Central to the renovation is a new lobby, restaurant and bar that seamlessly blend into a single open space. The point is to capture the cool and relaxed vibe of island living in a chic village square that Marriott calls Anchor & Den.
In terms of design, it means light and neutral tones such as white, beige and grey are incorporated into carpets, pillows and beams. Accents of light and dark wood play off one another in rustic coffee tables and bar stools. Ambient spot lighting is everywhere, and individual seating areas allow for privacy and people watching at the same time. The 273 rooms are spacious and modern with an emphasis on dark woods.
At night, the Anchor & Den is a magnet of social activity – the place to gather for rum punches and caipirinha. On any given night, you might get a DJ spinning tunes or a special event such as Barcelona-trained flamenco dancers.
The outdoor Veranda restaurant serves up unforgettable ocean vistas and a respectable if not overly creative menu. Grilled snapper and grouper are popular here, as are rib-eye steak and lobster tail.
The express breakfast counter at the Anchor & Den has a killer crêperie and juice bar. My go-to every morning was a smoked salmon crêpe with crème fraîche and, for hydration, a watermelon-cucumber juice.
Knockout feature: Wreck diving or snorkelling at Stingray City with a free GoPro rental.
Rooms from $313 (U.S.); marriott.com
- Erik Heinrich
The Crane, Barbados
Barbados's top resorts line its idyllic west coast like a string of five-star Christmas lights, but since the late 1990s, there has been one notable exception. To realize his version of the island experience, Canadian Paul Doyle looked instead to a remote wind- and sea-battered clifftop on the east coast. Today, the Crane Resort – his stylish holiday village overlooking the pounding Atlantic and a hidden expanse of pink-sand beach – is nothing short of spectacular.
This year marks an anniversary for the iconic property: 130 years since the site has been in operation, originally as a cargo port. With the milestone come big changes. The resort opened 16 new residential units, the first roll out in a multiphase, multiyear expansion. Called the Crane Private Residences, their coral stone walls, all-white fittings and shimmering walk-out infinity pools provide a fresh design contrast to the original mahogany-suffused suites.
Coming next winter, a collection of luxury beach houses set to open at nearby Skeete's Bay will take the stay up a roomier notch. Located on the 1 per cent of Atlantic coastline that falls outside a national park, the two- and three-bedroom bungalows promise a "no tan line" level of privacy with all the services of the main resort. Those include a colonial-style cobblestone town square whose shops and bars cater to their captive audience with every temptation, from artisanal gelato to snifters of single malt.
Among the Crane's seven restaurants, find catch-of-the-day sushi at Zen; Caribbean fine dining at L'Azure, whose sunset views provide competition to romantic eye gazing (not to mention cellphones); and Friday night fish frys at the Carriage House, a hopping stone pub where even the most reluctant dancers can be coaxed into action with a combination of overproof rum punches and Top 40 hits reinterpreted for live steel drums.
Knockout feature: The Crane's focal point is its sprawling pool complex, which fuses architectural features from the historic site (Roman-style colonnades, the ruins of a former stable) with its sculpted lagoon-like lidos, making poolside selfies practically mandatory.
From $280 (U.S.) a night; thecrane.com
- Natasha Mekhail
Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa, Grenada
With its volcanic peaks, profusion of spice plantations and swimmable beaches, Grenada and its sister islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique are best known for their natural attractions. But this lush island located in the eastern Caribbean is fast developing a reputation for its growing crop of luxury resorts, a hotel scene that's boutique-sized, chic and environmentally sustainable.
Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa, tucked amid the palms of L'Anse aux Epines, is at the forefront of this posh group. Family-owned since 1987, the hotel recently unveiled a multimillion-dollar renovation of its spa and pool zone and vaulted into the elite Relais & Châteaux collection. The beach is one of Grenada's nicest and features calm waters, soft white sand and several photogenic palm trees.
Highlights of a stay in one of the 30 suites include a contemporary decor, stocked mini bar and Elemis bath amenities. Guests who opt for a pool suite score an outdoor shower and soaking tub as well as the opportunity to dip their toes in a private plunge pool and bask beneath the stars to a chorus of peeping tree frogs.
The esteemed Rhodes restaurant, helmed by celebrity British chef Gary Rhodes, showcases local ingredients such as rich Grenadian chocolate and fragrant nutmeg in inventive dishes. At the Beach Club, guests enjoy tapas-sized traditional Grenadian dishes such as callaloo fritters as well as upscale beach fare. An elegant afternoon tea is served on the orchid-draped terrace amid flitting hummingbirds.
You can feel good about a stay here. The Calabash is Green Globe-certified and is committed to sustainable tourism practices along with its five-star luxury.
Knockout feature: Start the morning in style with a full English breakfast served on the terrace of your guest cottage (or beach) by your personal maid.
Rooms from $500 a night; calabashhotel.com
- Michele Peterson
Writers were guests of the hotels, which did not review or approve this article.