(Bloomberg) -- Tourism is roaring back to the Caribbean islands in a big way: A handful of destinations, such as the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, rank among the most visited countries in the world so far this year.
This region’s beach destinations are now anticipating their busiest winter season yet as they head into the holidays and 2023. “Next year’s Caribbean bookings are more than three times the amount of 2019 and are up 43% relative to last year,” says Misty Belles, vice president of global public relations at Virtuoso, with regard to hotel bookings for 2023 made from August through October across the Virtuoso network.
There’s a lot to look forward to this season. Caribbean hotels and resorts have used the pandemic downtime to improve their products and services, including staff training, says Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. The region’s most iconic properties, such as Frenchman’s Reef and Bitter End Yacht Club, are also making a comeback via remarkable rebuilds after Category 5 hurricanes in 2017 destroyed them.
Marriott and Hilton are expanding their presence as well to meet the demand for upscale family vacations. Then you have a crop of boutique resorts emerging, catering to vacationers who increasingly bring family and work on the road while seeking modern conveniences. These home-like seafront villas and suites with self-catering amenities provide respite from tourist crowds but close access to cultural and outdoor activities. Last, but not least, many of the Caribbean’s traditional carnivals and events have returned for the holiday season and new year, including Junkanoo festivals in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Many properties may impose minimum stay requirements through February, and here are some other items to keep in mind as you plan your trip. “One thing I have found is that flights are a bit harder to find: There are fewer schedules, and airfare space is booking up quickly,” says Margie Hand, travel advisor at Andavo Travel, a Virtuoso agency. Adding that fares are higher than in recent years, she says, “My advice is to book early. The sooner that you can make your arrangements, the better.”
Here are the nine resort openings in the Caribbean that we’re most excited about this winter.
The Ocean Club, Four Seasons, the BahamasWalking in the steps of James Bond, a cocktail in hand, surrounded by the 35-acre, Versailles-like terraced gardens, has always been the Ocean Club’s main draw. Starting in mid-December, you can be among the first to return to Paradise Island to experience the major overhaul of this classic Bahamian resort’s 10-suite Crescent Wing. Newly tiled floors and balconies outfitted with big daybeds to relax on with your family are among the new perks. DUNE, the Asian-French restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Jean-George, has acquired a roof to become an all-weather dining spot. The hotel is celebrating its 60-year anniversary since it served as a location for the Bond Casino Royale remake, which means such guest perks as a fourth night gratis and free airport transfers through 2022, subject to availability. An additional bonus: Expect smoother travels if you’ve signed up for TSA PreCheck: Nassau’s airport is home to the first such service outside the US. Rooms from $1,900.
Waldorf Astoria, Cancun, Mexico’s Yucatan PeninsulaThis luxurious, 173-room, newly branded property offers local immersive touches while you indulge in Cancun’s white sand beach. A fresh-catch restaurant and a beachside Mexican grill highlight local cuisine, while the glamorous 21-room spa facility features locally sourced oils and herbs and Mayan-inspired healing stone treatments. All rooms and suites have private balconies with direct ocean views and plunge pools for days you’d rather stay cooped up. A host of activities for kids will keep the little ones busy, from crafts to storytelling, in addition to off-resort family adventures. An underrated perk: It’s a 15-minute ride from the airport. Rooms from $681.
The Ocean Club, Marriott Luxury Collection, Costa Norte, Dominican RepublicThe first Marriott Luxury Collection brand in the tourist beach town of Sosua, in the northern Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic, first opened in late December 2021, on the cusp of a new year. A secluded beachfront brings a residential feel to the spacious one to three bedroom suites and multi-room penthouses with light beach shades of turquoise, navy and white. The five-bedroom presidential suite stretches close to 10,000-square feet, and two pools are adults-only. Drop in at the on site Caribbean speakeasy where the Dominican cigars and spirits flow. Outdoor activities abound nearby beyond beach days, including surfing and kitesurfing in nearby Cabarete, or waterfall hiking at the 27 Falls of Damajagua. Arrive by helipad or sail in with your boat to the hotel’s dedicated marina. Rooms from $988.
The Village Estate, Moskito Island, British Virgin IslandsImagine your own cliffside Caribbean village with breathtaking panoramic sea views, and you’ll be seeing this addition tucked into the western edge of Richard Branson’s Moskito Island. Just opened in October, the estate offers seven stand-alone guest houses staggered along the hills with sea views as far as you can see from lounge terraces, kitchenettes and en suite bathrooms with outdoor terraces. The master suite’s 360-degree veranda overlooking the estate offers its own escape, but there’s an office space with killer views if you insist on getting work done. Step out of your guest house to live all the perks of a mansion a-la-Branson: A multilevel infinity pool teeters over views of the British Virgin Islands archipelago and a staircase lights up to music when you step onto it, plus a DJ booth and a cinema room. For outdoor fun, a hiking trail leads to the other parts of the island and many water sports await, including a kayak or a swim to the caves underneath the estate. If you head there in 2023, ask about the cantilevered glass-bottomed hot tub currently in the works for suspension over cliff edge. An online reservation search turned up bookings starting on January 23. Rooms from $34,000.
The Cove Eleuthera, the BahamasIf you’re looking for a place to hole up, follow in the steps of Lenny Kravitz and head 50 miles east from tourist-buzzy Nassau for Eleuthera’s rustic Atlantic-Caribbean beach escape. The latest upgrades at the Cove Eleuthera—a boutique resort on the island’s north end, facing a tranquil beach and backed by a forest of palm trees and pineapple-growing hills—make it an easy choice. Reopened in early November, all 27 premium villas were given a makeover courtesy of California-based BAR Architects & Interiors: ivory and indigo interior colors, wooden furnishing, 500-thread count linen, and private plunge pools in three-bedroom, oceanfront homes. The on site, Asian-inspired Freedom Restaurant was also revamped to include a sushi bar, a cocktail bar that towers over pool views, and floor-to-ceiling windows for diners to enjoy panoramic views of the sea. When exploring the island, don’t miss the seven-minute drive, or bike ride north to witness the spot where the Atlantic’s crashing, dark-blue waves crash encounter the turquoise Caribbean Sea by the “glass window bridge.” Rooms from $635.
Rock House, Turks and Caicos IslandsOpened in May, Rock House resort isn’t your usual Turks and Caicos beachfront resort. Couples will love this Mediterranean-style hotel perched on limestone cliffs along the northern coast of Providenciales, away from the main tourist drag. You can expect stunning ocean-facing views and amenities with enhanced privacy, including a small white sand beach at the foot of the cliffs and one or two-bedroom oceanfront homes with individual infinity pools, living spaces and kitchens. Mingle with other guests at the Cave Bar, sign up for watersports on site, or hop in a 15-minute cab ride east to Grace Bay Beach for more action. Rooms from $800.
Coulibri Ridge, DominicaPerched on a ridge at the southernmost end of Dominica and surrounded by dramatic green bluffs, this fully off-grid, luxurious eco-resort—operating on solar energy for its main power source, with wind turbines for backup for evenings—is a welcome reminder that the Caribbean isn’t just about sea and sand. The brainchild of Daniel Langlois, a Quebecois entrepreneur who first visited the island in 1997, Coulibri Ridge took 14 years to complete. Opened in October, the resort is a showcase of sustainable island luxury with rainwater collected for use on the farm, hurricane-resistant buildings, and renewable or recyclable products used wherever possible. This doesn’t mean a lack of comfort: All of Coulibri Ridge’s 14 colorful studios, loft and sky-penthouse suites come with kitchens and air conditioning. Some have private pools and sea views to Martinique while others open to Sulphur Spring Valley to the north. When you tire of the stunning infinity pool views, the spa, or 400 acres of tropical gardens and forests, the “Nature island” of Dominica is anything but short on outdoor adventures. Suites from $850.
Worth the Wait
Bitter End Yacht Club, British Virgin Islands The original Bitter End Yacht Club—its marina, shops, dining and hotel on the easternmost edge of the archipelago—was one of the region’s most popular outposts for Caribbean yacht lovers. After Hurricane Irma, a global pandemic and several other disruptions, this sailor favorite reopened in October. The newly redesigned nautical village now offers 12 hardwood bungalows, or “marina lofts,” built at the water’s edge. Hop off your bed, take a few steps to your private deck and down the ladder you go into the Caribbean Sea. All the restaurants, sailor watering holes, games and shops are back, including a slew of water sports, complete with lessons. Loft availability is very limited for the months ahead, so book fast. Current reservations are taken only via email or phone. Rooms from $775.
Frenchman's Reef, St. Thomas, US Virgin IslandsThis rocky, southern, landmark edge of St. Thomas was home to the island’s most popular accommodations before they were decimated by Hurricane Irma. Starting in May, you’ll be able to stay at one of two newly rebuilt Marriott hotels connected by a white sand beach while enjoying all the facilities at both. The $425 million, five-year rebuild includes Westin Beach Resort & Spa, featuring a buzzy atmosphere and a host of amenities including five restaurants, three ocean-view pools, a stunning infinity Edge Bar, a spa and health club, activities for kids, and shopping. For seclusion, the adjacent 94-room Autograph Collection will be ideal for couples. A private catamaran for snorkeling trips and sunset sailing is just one of the perks here. The 15-minute ride from the airport, with no passport required because it’s a US territory, makes this a mindless escape choice. Reservations are now open for stays beginning on May 15; earlier dates might open up, so keep your eyes on the property’s website. Rooms from $534.
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