Great Escapes

Whether you’re looking for an international adventure, a romantic getaway, or simply a place to relax with your toes in the sand, we’ve found four Caribbean hot spots where you can leave winter behind. These chic destinations offer the chance to soak in both the lively local culture and the stunning tropical setting—between indulging in luxe spa treatments, fresh seafood, and plenty of rum punch, of course.

St. Bart’s

 

There’s a bit of mystery to St. Bart’s. After all, just about every time you open up a tabloid magazine or watch any entertainment TV show, there is a celebrity bearing his or her movie star body along the white, sandy beaches or atop mega yachts in the harbor of the posh Caribbean island. It’s a frequent vacationing spot for celebs like Michael Strahan, Neil Patrick Harris, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, and even actor/comedian Kevin Hart honeymooned there last summer. St. Bart’s is, without a doubt, where the rich and famous attempt to get away from the the paparazzi. Luckily, it’s possible here with private modern villas nestled into the island’s lush mountains and some of the world’s most luxurious resorts.

This tiny French island just across the water from St. Martin has just about everything you need in a vacation: luxurious resorts, secluded beaches, laidback nightlife, epicurean feasts, and adventure. Better yet, you just might find yourself rubbing elbows with Leonardo or Bey and Jay over champagne toasts if you head there.here’s a bit of mystery to St. Bart’s. After all, just about every time you open up a tabloid magazine or watch any entertainment TV show, there is a celebrity bearing his or her movie star body along the white, sandy beaches or atop mega yachts in the harbor of the posh Caribbean island. It’s a frequent vacationing spot for celebs like Michael Strahan, Neil Patrick Harris, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, and even actor/comedian Kevin Hart honeymooned there last summer. St. Bart’s is, without a doubt, where the rich and famous attempt to get away from the the paparazzi. Luckily, it’s possible here with private modern villas nestled into the island’s lush mountains and some of the world’s most luxurious resorts.

Do

While you may be inclined to lounge on the beach with a glass of rose every day, don’t. There’s so much of the island to see by boat, car, and foot. Plan on hiking to one of the island’s most secluded spots Colombier Beach. (For years it’s been known as Rockefeller’s Beach as David Rockefeller owned the Nelson W. Aldrich-designed property that overlooks the cove.) The 30-minute or so hike—wear sneakers!—affords you panoramic ocean views, but it’s the final destination that’s the treasure here. This ultra-private beach, reachable only by foot and boat, is ideal for watching the sun set, snorkeling, and simply relaxing after your walk there. Getting out on the water is a must on St. Bart’s. Rent a small inflatable boat from Jicky’s Marine in Gustavia for a half day and tour the island’s quiet coves and rocky coastline. Better yet, let someone do the driving for you on a sunset sail, where you’ll weave in and out of the mega yachts in Gustavia’s harbor while sipping wine or Prosecco as the sun dips below the horizon.

Eat

St. Bart’s is truly a food lover’s heaven. Culling the best flavors and ingredients from all over the world including the Caribbean, chefs here create dishes that range from French to Asian to contemporary American. A must is Le Tamarin. This wildly romantic spot feels as though you’re tucked away in a rain forest with dimly lit trees casting shadows over the alfresco dining areas. The food is just as impressive as the setting: fresh tuna tartare in a coconut milk lime juice or squid and shrimp served tempura style in ginger lime dressing to name a couple. Plan to lunch at both Eden Rock and Cheval Blanc on the beach. At the former, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has created an incredible array of options including the St. Barths Lobster Salad, which is an absolute must. The lobster is melt-in-your-mouth tender while the champagne dressing is truly mouthwatering. At Cheval Blanc’s La Cabane de L’isle, relish digging your toes in the sand while appealing to your inner child with an order of the most decadent grilled cheese ever: lightly toasted bread covered in a flavorful truffle oil with just about every cheese imaginable. For late-night fun, head to Le Ti St. Barth. This cabaret-inspired show/restaurant/bar is the place to be, especially during the high season when celebs like Jessica Simpson, Sting, Cindy Crawford, Robin Thicke, and a slew of other A-listers party into the wee hours of the morning.

Stay

While you might be inclined to stay in one of the many posh villas that you can book through Sibarth or Wimco, reconsider. The reason: S.t Bart’s is known for its luxury yet wonderfully laidback boutique resorts, a fantastic antithesis to the high-rise hotels on neighboring St. Martin. Book a villa at the recently-named No. 1 resort in the Caribbean by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards Le Sereno. This unpretentious yet luxurious property sits in a quiet cove where you can watch kite surfers skim the horizon as you relax under swaying palm trees. A must is an oceanfront villa, which is decidedly private and romantic, and provides a stunning view of the moon casting a glow over the ocean at night. For something stripped down of its bells and whistles, opt for the secluded Les Ilets de la Plage. Each two-story villa boasts direct beach access where chaise lounges serve as the ideal place to unwind with a good book and glass of rose. At night, you can watch the glow of Eden Roc Hotel across the water and watch as the lights from tiny cars travel around the mountains on the island.   —Blake Miller

Getting there: American Airlines offers direct flights from Charlotte to San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, Tradewind Aviation offers a luxury charter jet flight directly to St. Bart’s. (Because of the size of St. Bart’s airport and runway, all flights must land before sunset.)

 

 

British Virgin Islands

 

December’s chill has many in Charlotte dreaming of the ultimate Caribbean escape.

Look no further than the British Virgin Islands’ Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, Autograph Collection. Here the most serious distraction encountered is chattering seagulls and the day’s most challenging decision is choosing between the Coconut Rum Poached Grouper or the Smothered Jerk Chicken with Mushroom and Calaloo for dinner.ecember’s chill has many in Charlotte dreaming of the ultimate Caribbean escape.

Christopher Columbus was said to be so taken with the beauty of the Caribbean archipelago, discovered on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493, that he named them the Virgin Islands, inspired by the martyred Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.

Columbus would be no less captivated by today’s BVI, a grouping of 60 gleaming ocean gems. Their close proximity to each other—all are within a 25 mile radius—make them a top international yachting and sailing destination with remarkably calm waters, secluded coves, pristine beaches, and resorts where guest pampering is the main order of business.

A five minute ferry ride from Tortola’s Beef Island International Airport, Scrub Island got its name from marauding pirates who came ashore here to scrub the barnacles off their boats. The tiny private isle is now home to the Scrub Island Resort, a boutique property of 52 accommodations and fully equipped estate villas dotting the steep hillside.

Guests are greeted dockside with a welcome cocktail upon arrival—Rum Punch is a popular choice—and quickly whisked away to suites where each balcony patio overlooks the aquamarine sea.

Digital detox is primary on the settling-in agenda. Planned activities are quickly abandoned as serendipity rules. Yacht-spotting, cloud watching, or a gentle-surf-sound induced nap takes precedence over checking email.

Visit Ixora Spa, where signature treatments such as the De-stress Massage with pressure point foot therapy, Elemis Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Facial, Juniper and Lemon essential oil infused Cellutox Aroma Spa Ocean Wrap, and the Frangipani Indian Head Massage, transport guests to beachside bliss.

Chat with fellow guests at one of the resort’s swim-up pool bars or find your inner child taking the water-slide alongside the cascading lower pool waterfall. The resort has three beaches to choose from and four dining options from the casual open-air Tierra Tierra—try the Conch Fritters—to the relaxed upscale Caribbean fare at Caravela.

Guests enjoy a fully equipped fitness center, water sports including kayaking and paddleboards, on-site dive shop and sailing school, boutique, and the 55-slip deep water marina.

Sail Fast, Live Slow

Unquestionably the best way to experience the BVI is on the water. The folks at Tropical Day Sails are thrilled to host guests on their 42-foot catamaran for island hopping, snorkel adventures, and an unforgettable experience on the open waters surrounding “natures little secrets.”

Captain Jacques Schoonees didn’t come all the way from South Africa to take people on ordinary day sails. Schoonees’ intimate BVI knowledge is used to deliver guests to prime spots like Monkey Point where snorkelers spy schools of cuttlefish, rainbow hued clownfish, and some of the best coral in the Caribbean.

Day sails to the unique rock formations and spectacular swimming holes of The Baths are also easily arranged for as are cruises to nearby Jost van Dyke where a Painkiller at the legendary Soggy Dollar Bar is a must.

Sail fast and live slow is the one and only plan needed when visiting the BVI.
— Michael J. Solender

Getting there: You’ll have to make one stop in Miami on your American Airlines flight to Tortola. Scrub Island Resort is only a five-minute ferry ride from Tortola’s Beef Island International Airport.

 

St. John


There are plenty of sleek, new resorts dotting the Caribbean’s white beaches. But if you’re looking for charming over trendy, and laid-back over in-vogue, Caneel Bay’s breathtaking and historic property on the island of St. John beckons.

Do

Many couples and families have been traveling to Caneel Bay resort for decades—and with good reason. The resort features a seemingly never ending supply of fun activities right at your fingertips. Its crystal-clear waters are teeming with brightly colored fish are ideal for a morning of snorkeling or driving. Adjacent to the resort, the national park is filled with winding and wooded paths, calling for a hike to gorgeous views.

From spending the day on the beach playing in kayaks with the family to getting in a little alone time with yoga in an open studio overlooking for water, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the resort’s more active offerings. But after you’ve spent an afternoon in the sun, there’s no better spot to relax and sooth your sun-soaked skin and tired muscles than in one of the resort’s massage cabanas.

The secluded cabanas open to the water, offering soft ocean breezes as you relax under the expert hands of one of the resort’s spas therapists. If you’ve spent too much time in the sun, try the Aloe Wrap, which moisturizes and heals, leaving your skin revitalized and glowing.

For the ultimate island experience, though, try the Seashells by the Seashore massage. It features smooth, heated seashells used to gently massage your skin, leaving you in a state of serene bliss.

Eat

There are a variety of restaurants at Caneel Bay and you’ll want to experience them all. But plan on starting your vacation with an evening at Zozo’s at The Sugar Mill. Set on a hill among 18th-century sugar mill ruins, Zozo’s has views across the water to surrounding islands. It’s a stunning spot to watch the sunset, but even more beautiful after dark when the lights from the other islands sparkle on the horizon. Sip wine inside the circular open-air restaurant and indulge in decadent dishes like fresh pappardelle with wild mushrooms and white truffle cream or slow-simmered veal shank with saffron risotto.

For the perfect beach-day bites, check out the Caneel Beach Bar & Grill. It’s open-air as well and features a casual setting for grabbing a midday bite in your bathing suit or for unwinding after an afternoon on the water. While much of the menu is along the laid-back lines of burgers, tacos, and pizza, be sure to sample some of the impressive sushi menu’s fresh and inventive rolls. Or if you prefer your vacation calories to be served in a glass, settle in at the beachside bar. Sample the local St. John Brewery’s Mango Pale Ale, a crisp beer with a slightly sweet flavor, or indulge in a selection of classic Caribbean cocktails full of rum and fruit.

Plan on spending at least one evening exploring the nearby colorful waterside town of Cruz Bay. There are numerous restaurants lining its lively streets, but for an unexpectedly sophisticated dining experience, stop in Extra Virgin Bistro. The elegant restaurant is dedicated to sourcing local ingredients, including herbs grown on site. For the ultimate cosmopolitan-meets-local dish, try the fresh yellowfin tuna carpaccio with pickled cantaloupe and fresh chives.

Stay

Now a Rosewood resort, Caneel Bay’s 170 acres were once owned by Laurence Rockefeller. The preservationist ultimately donated 5,000 acres surrounding the retreat to create the Virgin Islands National Park. Today, the 60-year-old resort still feels remarkably untouched by the Caribbean’s tourist crowds. Goats, deer, and donkeys graze among its grassy beachside hills and woods. And seven beaches spread around the property mean that you’re often likely to have secluded stretches of pristine sand all to yourself.

The resort was designed to enjoy those beaches and soak in the island’s tropical bliss. Lapping waves, swaying palm trees, and the quiet whir of a ceiling fan in the Caribbean breeze are the only noises in this natural setting. Rooms, which feature stone and wood décor, are free of distractions like telephones or televisions. Need something to watch? Step onto your private terrace for panoramic views of the lush grounds and azure sea. —Sarah Crosland

Getting there: American Airlines offers non-stop 3.5-hour flights to the nearby island of St. Thomas. Caneel Bay then transports guests from St. Thomas via a private 35-minute ferry ride—with rum punch, of course—across the water.

 

Turks and Caicos

It takes just two and a half hours on a direct flight from Charlotte to get to this island paradise where turquoise waters and warm smiles from the locals greet you the minute you leave the airport. Turks and Caicos is a popular destination for honeymooners and families thanks to the perfect blend of fun and relaxation on the islands.

Do

If sunbathing on some of the most incredible beaches in the world is not your thing, don’t worry, there’s plenty of other stuff to keep you busy.

Big Blue Unlimited offers half- and full-day adventures that will take you to some of the most exotic parts of the islands. Check out the half-day trip that includes a tour of an old slave plantation and a boat ride to one of the most spectacular private beaches—so spectacular they shot the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue here.

Wanna pretend you’re at that photo shoot? Go horseback riding in the Caribbean Sea, and check off something that should be on your bucket list. The islands are also known for some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.

Eat

If you want the local vibe, don’t miss Da Conch Shack. You can enjoy conch salad, conch fritters, fried conch…(you get the picture) while sitting on picnic tables on the beach. You can actually watch the locals diving for the giant conch shells that house the meat that ends up on your plate.

Opus is an upscaleyet laid back seafood and steaks spot where you can dine al fresco and choose from the biggest rum selection on the island.

Coco Bistro is one of the most popular fine dining restaurants on the island thanks to its spectacular setting—it’s in the middle of the biggest palm grove on the island—and equally impressive menu. You’ll need a reservation to dine here.

Stay

The Ocean Club resort was so successful when they built their first hotels on the island, they built a second property just a mile (and quick shuttle ride) away. Both properties have multiple pools, different room sizes and on-site dining options. If you’re staying at Ocean Club West, request the room on the beach that comes with its own private hammock. —Michelle Boudin

Getting there: American Airlines offers non-stop flights to Turks and Caicos’ Island of Providenciales, where Ocean Club resort is located.