Personal Paradise: Caribbean

The Caribbean is an easy choice for romantic travelers...but selecting your own personal paradise in these islands can be tricky. A new book by husband-wife team Janet and Gordon Groene titled Personal Paradise: Caribbean (Open Road Publishing) takes a look at the region's best places to stay. Lovetripper.com interviewed Janet Groene for her recommendations for romantic travelers:

What aspects of a Caribbean resort make it a "best of the best" and how did you select your top choices?

JG: The Best of the Best chapter gives the reader a choice of islands as well as a choice of top resorts. Tortuga Bay at Punta Cana, Puerto Rico scored a perfect 10 because it's easy to get to, the airport is one of the most hassle-free in the Caribbean (especially for Tortuga Bay guests, who have VIP status when entering and leaving), and everything from service and dining to accommodations is absolutely top drawer. Most islands have at least one four- or five-star resort but Anguilla and Providenciales are two very small islands that have a lion’s share of top-drawer resorts.We wanted to provide other options.

 

Open Road Hotel LuxScores are based on (1) Value for the money, (2) Service, (3) Architecture, grounds and overall ambience, (4) On-site dining and (5) Overall experience. It was agonizing to make choices because so much depends on the time of year, individual interests, and outside factors such as what else is going on in the island or region at the time. For example, the World Cup of Cricket finals will be played in Barbados in the Spring of 2007. It will be a joyous, jam-packed time for the island yet lodgings are getting top dollar and are sure to be crowded. When planning an island vacation it's always a good idea to research what else is going on at the same time, then decide if and how it will impact your experience. Junkanoo, Carnival and other big festivals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

It's also good to consider the season. The non-Caribbean islands we cover (Bahamas, Bermuda and Turks & Caicos) can have frisky winds in winter. In summer they can be still and steamy but that’s also a time when diving may be best. Most Caribbean islands are subject to hurricane watches, although the southernmost islands are considered to be outside the hurricane zone.

There are many reasons why one visitor might give a resort a perfect 10 while others put it in the never-again category, even if the two of them are in the same resort at the same time. For example, a romantic getaway with children will rely on the availability of child care. Many children's programs take only ages 4 or 5 and up, while others have facilities for infants and toddlers. Still others have certified nannies on call and you can fine-tune child care for your own lifestyle. Some couples want to be alone, away from the patter of little feet while others consider a vacation a family bonding experience that should include the kids.

Some resorts, such as the Beach House on Barbuda don’t accept children under age 18. Others have minimum age requirements during certain seasons. Curtain Bluff on Antigua, for example, doesn’t allow pint-size guests in February.

What resorts really stand out in the Caribbean for romantic travelers?

Personal Paradise: Caribbean authors Gordon & Janet Groene

JG: Some couples want to disappear into their own lair and never see another person during their stay except, perhaps, the server who brings Room Service. We love Spice Island on Grenada for its very private suites with their own plunge pools, Pink Sands on Bermuda for its secluded cottages, and The Caves, Negril, for an earthy, exotic surroundings and respect for utter privacy. For a small, offbeat resort with a good choice of activities for him, her and a couple together, consider Kamalame Cay on Andros. It offers a world’s-end setting for bonefishing and bird watching, diving on one of the world’s best reefs and a small, seaside spa on stilts. She can have a massage while he’s out on the bonefish flats or the two of them can have a couples massage after a day of diving or sailing together.

It’s really important to know yourself and your lover before booking a Caribbean resort. How important is it to have a phone, broadband and TV? "Romantic" is too often used as a euphemism for, " There are no room phones here. When you want service, you have to wave a flag and hope somebody sees it."

What some see as a high-rise concrete horror filled with cookie-cutter rooms, others see as a beachfront paradise with a wide choice of dining and drinking options, a casino with a nightly floor show, a full-service spa and salon, workout facilities, room service and perhaps a personal butler, all without having to go out in the rain.

Do you care only about sun and the beach or do the two of you want to explore native culture too? Are planned activities important or does he or she want to just sit on a private balcony watching the sun set into the sea, with a rum swizzle in one hand and you in the other?

Honeymooners often like to pamper themselves with spa treatments. What resorts in the Caribbean are tops for spa treatments?

JG: More and more name-brand spas from the U.S., Asia and Europe are being adopted by resorts. Tortuga Bay at Punta Cana, for example, has the first Six Senses Spa in the Caribbean. The Spa at The Palms on Provo covers an entire acre and it was conceived by Angel Stewart of Golden Door and Rancho Mirage fame. Golden Door has long been a feature at El Conquistador in Puerto Rico, Radissons have their Larimar spas and Hyatts are known for their Stillwater spas. Venus Spa and RUSK Salon at CuisinArt at Anguilla is to die for and I love the scented serenity of the spa at the Almond Beach Club and Spa at St. James, Barbados.

Resorts that had no spas are adding them; resorts that have spas are enlarging them. Couples massages and spa packages are commonplace now at top resorts. Even trendier are holistic or wellness packages that provide a complete, feel-good regimen that includes spa and many other factors. At Caneel Bay’s Self Centre, individuals or couples can experience total renewals of mind, body and spirit.

What suggestions do you have for romantic travelers who are interested in an active getaway, whether that means scuba, golf, or tennis?

JG: I love the Grand Lido Negril, a couples-only all-inclusive where scads of activities are included in the price. You don't even pay extra for greens fees! Luxury accommodations and meals here can compare with any five-star resorts yet couples don’t feel they have to keep one hand on their wallet pocket lest they go over budget for a Sunfish sail or some court time. The trend throughout the Caribbean is to provide more adventure sports such as sea kayaking, mountain biking, ambitious hikes and night dives. Decide what activities are important to you, then ask what is involved, what they cost, and how far off-site you have to go to find them. One of the most unique adventures in the islands is night sea kayaking on the phosphorescent bays of Puerto Rico. It’s a one-hour drive from San Juan but an excursion can be arranged for you by the concierge at the Marriott San Juan Resort & Stellaris Casino.

What trends are you seeing in terms of pampering getaways in the Caribbean?

JG I see dining getting more sophisticated thanks to an ever-better supply of foods and wines from around the world: caviars, truffles, Arizona peppers, Chilean cherries and California melons. Too, spas are getting larger and more lavish. Resorts that had no spas are adding them; those that had spas are enlarging them; new resorts are going for the gold in spa services, furnishings, decor and products. Today’s travelers want to experience new foods, adventures, sights and sounds firsthand and, at the end of the day they want a rose-scented bath surrounded by scented candles, dinner with a fine wine, a four-poster bed draped in gauzy netting and a decent stereo system with a plug for their MP3 player.

Can romantic travelers with an eye on the budget also find a pampering paradise in the Caribbean?

JG: As I admitted in Personal Paradise: Caribbean, Gordon and I wouldn’t be caught dead in some all-inclusives but we absolutely love the Grand Lido Negril (for a splurge) and the moderately priced Couples Ocho Rios for its old-Jamaica ambience. Looking at nightly rates, all- inclusives may seem pricey but you won’t be nickel-and-dimed to death. From the time you arrive, there is no quibbling about whether you can afford another glass of wine or another half hour in the kayak. Tipping isn’t even allowed at these places. Money wrangles can put a strain on a relationship, so it’s more romantic to settle things at the start, then give yourself completely to each other and the pleasures of the trip.

Who are Janet Groene and Gordon Groene?

Early in their marriage, the Groenes decided separation wasn’t for them. They chucked Gordon’s career as a professional pilot, packed up Janet’s credentials as a freelance writer, bought a small sloop and sailed for the Bahamas. A year later they added a small motorhome and went to the mountains for the summer, returning to sailing the tropics in winter. For 10 years they were happily homeless roamers, supporting themselves as a freelance writer and photographer team. They now have a home base in Florida but are in and out of the islands as often as possible by airline and cruise ship.