Virtuoso Traveler 2018 February Caribbean Comeback: Why Now is a Great Time to Visit

Caribbean Comeback: Why Now is a Great Time to Visit

Saint Lucia/Getty Images
Saint Lucia/Getty Images
After a challenging 2017, the region looks forward to recovery and rebirth.

This winter’s bone-chilling temperatures have many eager to escape to the tropics. For Virtuoso travel advisor Linda Allen, the go-to destination is still the Caribbean, where “the allure of the area’s warm waters, beautiful beaches, and gentle people continues to entice those seeking relief from the cold.”

It’s welcome news, of course, considering that only a few months ago a string of record-shattering hurricanes made landfall in the area. While many islands suffered widespread devastation, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association reports that nearly three-quarters of the diverse region – which spans more than a million square miles – was completely unaffected, and many destinations that sustained mild damage were back to business soon thereafter.

More than 40 of the 70 Caribbean hotels and resorts in the Virtuoso portfolio are once again welcoming guests, and even more are planning to reopen later this year. Many popular cruise ports are fully operational as well. Allen, who’s based in Harrison, Arkansas, notes that none of her clients who had planned Caribbean vacations over the recent holidays canceled due to storm concerns, and upon returning home, all relayed positive experiences. Best of all, she adds, traveling to the Caribbean is an important way to support ongoing relief efforts. Here, an update on select islands – some unscathed, and some damaged but undeterred.

Turks and Caicos 
Of those Caribbean destinations that recovered quickly and didn’t sustain lasting damage to their major tourist areas, New York City-based Virtuoso advisor Judy Stein raves about Turks and Caicos.

“The archipelago appeals to many travelers looking to escape the winter doldrums,” says Stein. “It has magnificent beaches, an array of luxurious hotels [all six Virtuoso-affiliated properties on the isle of Providenciales are open], and a low-key vibe for those seeking quiet and privacy – yet it still offers a plethora of restaurants and plenty of action for those who want to party.” With numerous nonstop flights from the U.S. East Coast, sunseekers can quickly be basking on famous Grace Bay Beach and dining at off-the-beaten-path Bugaloos Conch Crawl: “The restaurant is located right on the beach and serves conch in every way imaginable,” says Stein.

Coconut-marinated conch ceviche is among the popular menu items at The Palms’ signature Parallel23 restaurant; a variety of residential-style accommodations, steps from Grace Bay Beach, make the 72-room hotel a top spot for families.

New private oceanfront villas and fresh Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine now greet guests at the 148-room Shore Club, the first and only hotel on Providenciales’ secluded Long Bay Beach. 

Holland America Line’s 1,350-passenger Veendam calls in Grand Turk during a seven-day eastern Caribbean voyage this spring. Departure: April 11, 2018. The line is supporting regional relief efforts by doubling donations made through its charitable foundation.
Things are going swimmingly at Long Bay Beach’s Shore Club.
Things are going swimmingly at Long Bay Beach’s Shore Club.
Photo by Shore Club
Fortunate to be out of the storms’ paths, Jamaica welcomed a number of cruises that were diverted to its ports, which remained open throughout the hurricane season. (In fact, a record number of cruise passengers came ashore in 2017, to scale the 180-foot-high Dunn’s River Falls and go bobsledding à la Cool Runnings at Mystic Mountain, among other activities.) The same is true for the country’s airports and hotels, including all five in the Virtuoso network. Birmingham, Alabama-based Virtuoso advisor Margie Hand received only positive feedback from clients who recently visited: “The couple spent a week in Ocho Rios and said everything was great.”

Donnie Dawson, Jamaica Tourist Board’s acting director of tourism, confirms that all the island’s major events this year – including Reggae Sumfest, July 15 to 21 – will proceed as scheduled. Traveling to unaffected countries such as Jamaica, Dawson adds, will help “get the word out that the great majority of the Caribbean is open for business and remains a wonderful destination to visit.”

Turning 60 this year, the 52-room Jamaica Inn plans to celebrate with a series of parties and special events. Three new private Beach Bungalows share a tranquil cove with the hotel’s spa, which just added a saltwater sea bath to its organic offerings.

Donations from guests at the 49-room GoldenEye resort help tree planting and other sustainable development efforts in the local town of Oracabessa. Complimentary glassbottomed boat excursions reveal some of the 400-plus fish species found just offshore. 

Falmouth and Ocho Rios are featured on a variety of voyages from Norwegian Cruise Line, which is working toward its goal of raising $2.5 million to help reconstruct schools and critical infrastructure throughout the Caribbean. One cruise to consider: the six-day western Caribbean voyage aboard the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape. Departure: April 14, 2018.
Beachside refreshments at Jamaica Inn.
Beachside refreshments at Jamaica Inn.
Photo by Jamaica Inn
Dominican Republic
Magaly Toribio, a representative for the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism, notes that, despite some damage, the hurricanes had no major impact on the country’s tourist destinations. All its cruise ports – including the new $85 million facility in Puerto Plata – were operating normally within days, and Virtuoso’s five hotels there are all open.

Indeed, tourism in the country is trending this season, with an increasing number of travelers visiting, although the island still remains relatively unexplored. Beneath its azure waters lies a diver’s oasis, and Toribio says the best way to explore the capital of Santo Domingo, home to a burgeoning gastronomy scene, is “with a fork and knife.” Los Haitises National Park, accessible only by boat yet close to North Coast resorts, is one of the best spots in the world to see humpback whales during the spring. Located within the exclusive Cap Cana community, trendy Juanillo Beach is the hot spot to see and be seen.

Puntacana Resort & Club hosts the DR’s first-ever PGA Tour event, from March 19 to 25. Recent renovations at the resort’s Oscar de la Renta-designed, 30- room Tortuga Bay added a new bar, wine cellar, and kitchen in Bamboo Restaurant. 

This summer, a Michelin-starred chef pairs up with golf fans for Eden Roc at Cap Cana’s Golf & Gastronomy Weekend on the Caribbean’s top-ranked course. New beachfront suites are perfect for families with kids attending the 86-room resort’s Barcelona Football Camp in July and August. 

Samaná is a featured stop on Oceania Cruises’ ten-day southern Caribbean voyage aboard the 684-passenger Regatta. Departure: April 26, 2018. The line partnered with All Hands Volunteers, matching up to $1.25 million in guest donations for the region.
A swinging affair at Eden Roc at Cap Cana.
A swinging affair at Eden Roc at Cap Cana.
Photo by Eden Roc at Cap Cana
Saint Lucia 
Situated well to the south of the paths of both Irma and Maria, Saint Lucia made it through the 2017 hurricane season intact, and the island’s five Virtuoso-affiliated hotels remain open. Virtuoso advisor Margie Hand has been booking clients on the island with confidence: “I had a couple visit over Thanksgiving. They went sailing and snorkeling, took a volcano tour, and hiked out to a waterfall – all was perfect.”

Good thing, because Saint Lucia boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the region, from the iconic twin Piton Mountains to orchid-filled tropical gardens. Visitors can trek rain-forest trails, visit bubbling Sulphur Springs before soaking in nearby mud pools, and climb up to the eighteenth-century fort ruins on Pigeon Island for 360-degree views. On Friday nights, foodies flock to the fishing village of Anse la Raye for just-caught shrimp and samba dancing at its weekly fish fry.

Indigenous spa treatments by a cascading stream, a selection of seaside restaurants, and fresh active pursuits (think riding a bike/catamaran hybrid on the ocean) bring guests back to the 96-room Sugar Beach. Two just-opened homes with infinity edge pools in the resort’s sexy Beachfront Collection are also making a big splash. 

Couples can soak in private plunge pools at the eco-luxe 32- room Ladera, where missing fourth walls open the resort’s suites to hummingbirds and heavenly Piton views. 

Silversea entices travelers back to the region with complimentary shore excursions on select 2018 Caribbean voyages. Get a hands-on lesson in Saint Lucian cuisine when the 296-passenger Silver Wind calls in Castries during a weeklong voyage. Departure: March 23, 2018.
Seaside lounging at Sugar Beach. 
Seaside lounging at Sugar Beach. 
Photo by Sugar Beach 
While a scattering of the Bahamas’ 700 islands sustained some damage, the nation was spared the worst of 2017’s storms. Tourism resumed quickly both in the capital of Nassau (New Providence Island) and on Paradise Island; the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism reports that the commonwealth’s airports and hotels (including the seven in Virtuoso’s network) are open, as are most marinas.

The ports at Nassau and Freeport have been operating smoothly, with ship passengers heading out to kayak around Balmoral Island and taste handcrafted rums at John Watling’s Distillery in downtown Nassau. Also welcome news for cruisers: Private islands – including Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line) and Half Moon Cay (Holland America Line), along with Princess Cays, Princess Cruises’ private port on Eleuthera – are once again throwing barbecue beach parties.

The Cove rang in the new year with a revitalized pool deck and 20 private cabanas from renowned artist and textile designer Lulu DK, along with the first outpost of the popular Harbour Island restaurant Sip Sip. Look for the new Fish restaurant from chef José Andrés to open at the 600-room resort this spring. 

Four Seasons recently took the storied Ocean Club under its ultra-luxe wing; expect Balinese-inspired spa treatments and French-Asian cuisine from Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the 107-room resort.

Along with financial support for Caribbean recovery efforts, Princess Cruises is helping boost tourism by adding eight new summer voyages sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale. A seven-day eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the 3,140-passenger Caribbean Princess visits Princess Cays, Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Sint-Maarten. Departures: Multiple dates, May 26 through September 1, 2018.
The Cove’s new poolscape, designed by Lulu DK.
The Cove’s new poolscape, designed by Lulu DK.
Photo by The Cove

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