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One of the coolest and "greenest" new boutique hotels to surface in the Caribbean is on the popular island destination of Vieques, Puerto Rico. El Blok, located in the town of Esparanza, at the southern end of Vieques, is putting on its final touches and will be fully open by this weekend.
El Blok, designed by San Juan based Fuster+ Architects, goes for the softer side of modern minimalism, with a curvalineal shape that compliments the natural coastline and Esparanza's beachfront promenade. The hotel offers just 22 rooms, thus keeping its footprint small both literally (the hotel occupies the site of a former home) and environmentally (El Blok is LEED Gold Certified.) Virturally every aspect of the hotel's design has an environmental benefit.
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The new Frangipane Spa at the Queen's Garden Resort on Saba
If you remember the killer views we showed you last winter that make the Queen's Garden Resort on Saba, the Caribbean island's most luxurious property, you might recall the unfinished building in some of the photos. The work-in-progress was a spa, which was finished earlier this month, just in time for the upcoming Caribbean season.
Called the Frangipani Spa, it features two open air treatment rooms, Finnish sauna, Turkish steam bath, herbal facial aroma pots, waterfall shower, and an outdoor Jacuzzi. Like the hotel, it overlooks Saba's capital, "The Bottom," as well as the mountainside and ocean.
The photos below show a simplistic charm and a hut-like environment, the beige of the wood dominating as a background and allowing the bright Caribbean-colored accents to burst out. So as not to lose sight of the views, the hotel decided to completely leave out one side of the building - a decision we think will turn out to be a really good one. The treatments will use products from SXM Nectar on nearby St. Maarten.
Artist rendering of the new Sonesta Ocean Point
Despite already having two resorts on St. Maarten, Sonesta will open a third property this October in the form of the Sonesta Ocean Point. If you're already thinking that's a lot of properties for a small island, consider the fact that all three are on the Dutch side of the island, and that this new one will be adjacent to its Maho Beach Resort.
So what's the deal? Well, the two existing properties offer pretty different vibes despite being similarly run. The Maho Beach Resort is known for its killer views and nightlife, and the Great Bay Resort puts guests on the quiet shores of Great Bay in Philipsburg. Turning up the level of luxury, Ocean Point will be an all-suite, all-adults concept aimed at the higher-end crowd.
Ocean Point will have 129 suites, ranging in size from 480 to 2,600 square-feet. It will have three pools, a roof top bar, and one of those questionable wristband systems. Guests will have access to the facilities at the Maho Beach Resort, but guests of Maho will not have access to Ocean Point.
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As Week 2 of HotelChatter Cocktail Week(s) wraps up, here's our second run-down of some of the things we see going on in the world of hotel bars and bevvies. What do you see goin’ on out there? Let us know in the comments below!
Roll Out the Barrel(aging) –
One trend that is growing stronger this year is in-house barrel-aged and private label spirits. We're envisioning cask-aged moonshine made in a mad scientist-type laboratory.
Jeff Josenhans at THE US GRANT in San Diego is producing an in-house barrel-aged Chartreuse with Wayne Geiselman, who has a PH D in Food Science. Using complex-sounding reverse engineering, food scientist Wayne created a proprietary blend of 25 local, organic ingredients including Southern California wildflower honey. Jeff then took this botanical blend and an un-aged bourbon to use as the spirit base (as opposed to traditional European brandy), and is now aging this noble experiment in 100% New Allier French Oak (never done before in the cocktail world). Six-month, 1-year, and 2-year-old bottlings will be ready to open on October 15. If you want to stay over for the big unveiling, you're looking at rates starting at $239.
The Dorchester has revived the historical recipe for Old Tom Gin to create a newer, bolder blend exclusive to the hotel. The City of London Distillery has the weight of distilling the gin under the watchful eye of the hotel’s bar manager and expert alchemist, Giuliano Morandin. This is the second time Giuliano has re-introduced Old Tom Gin to the UK drinks market, the first being in 2006 after a 30-year absence. To celebrate the re-launch, Giuliano has created the Old Tom Cobbler cocktail, made with coriander, fresh lemongrass, elderflower and, not surprisingly, Old Tom. A 700ml bottle of The Dorchester Old Tom Gin is priced at £65 ($109) and is available at The Bar at The Dorchester or by visiting shop.dorchestercollection.com. Signature cocktails including the Old Tom Cobbler start at £16 ($27). Stays start at £505 ($838).
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It's pretty much common knowledge these days that weddings are all about the bride. Rightfully so in many ways, but even the most intense bridezilla has to admit that when it comes to hotel wedding packages, the grooms have always gotten the short end of the stick. Think about it. There's typically a beautiful, spacious suite with in-room hair services and champagne for the bridal party. Meanwhile, the groom and his three groomsmen share two double beds.
The Marriott Caribbean & Latin America Resorts Collection is looking to fix this injustice with its "No Guy Left Behind" package, part of its "Worry-Free Weddings Program." Obviously, despite being designed for guys, women are still naming these packages.
Basically, it's an activity menu that offers a selection of things for the guys to do leading up to the wedding, such as cigar, scotch, and tequila tastings, flag football on the beach, and grooming sessions at the spa/salon. Personally, this writer finds the booze tasting to be an intriguing option, perhaps as a groomsmen present the day before the wedding. Flag football sounds like a good way to shake off the nerves, so long as everyone remembers it's only a game.
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Well, after only four years of operating under the Radisson Blu brand, the property has been bought by Riu Hotel & Resorts for $45 million and will undergo a name change to the Riu Palace St. Martin on June 1st.
While it has yet to be announced whether Riu will make any physical changes to the property, we do know that it will become an entirely all-inclusive resort under the new ownership. There was an all-inclusive option under Radisson, but it was not an all-inclusive property.
It is fitting that Southern Cross Club owner Peter Hillenbrand grew up in a small Indiana farm town, one where he left his keys in the ignition overnight and his doors were literally always open.
He brought that same small-town mentality to the already sleepy 10 square-mile island of Little Cayman, located about 60 miles northwest of the better known Grand Cayman. With a population that currently sits at just under 200, his sense of community and trust seemed to be a perfect fit for the island. Typically, we board up our room tighter than Fort Knox when heading out for the day, so imagine our surprise when we were told upon check in that there were no keys for any of the rooms.
For those traveling from the bustling cities of the U.S., this might sound insane. Yet, it is exactly what sets the tone for the entire trip and definitely the most rewarding concept a traveler can experience in today's relatively untrusting world. The idea of leaving your door unlocked is designed to help you truly leave your worries behind, to pretend like you're on an untouched, semi-deserted island where none of the problems of home have surfaced. And it's easy to do, because you are.
All right, so the Queen's Garden Resort has incredible beauty and first-class service, but let's take a step back and understand what's happening with the rest of the island's hotel scene.
There are only 80 beds in total, so let's not confuse things. Options are limited, but that doesn't mean they aren't quality. The coolest thing we learned about the hotels on the island is that they all used to be something else. When tourism started to grow, they were converted to the hotels that exist today.
Queen's Garden Resort is without question the premier resort on Saba -- the place the King and Queen of the Netherlands stay when they visit -- but from the moment you step through the door and meet the owners, Hidde and Claire, you feel like you're at a small boutique hotel or a bed and breakfast.
Part of that is because, in a way, you are. The property has only 15 rooms, and the proprietors are the ones actually running the place. They're working the front desk, they're cooking in the kitchen, they're training the staff, and, when they have a free moment, they're having a drink at the bar with guests. Walking through the grounds, every employee knows your name and stops to chat. Do you need anything? Would you like a drink?
While top-tier service is a part of being a great hotel, you can't simply put lipstick on a pig -- the property itself has to do some talking. A stroll through the photos below should calm all doubts about whether a Caribbean island of 2,000 people can deliver first-class luxury lodging. First, there's that killer view we talked about. And the in-room hot tubs found in the suites, combined with the view, pretty much speak for themselves.
Next week on Jaunted.com, our baby bro who tells us what to see and do, we'll explore the hotel scene on the tiny, 5-square-mile island of Saba that sits 26 miles off the coast of St. Maarten and in eyesight of a handful of other Caribbean islands, including St. Barth's, Anguilla, Nevis, and St. Kitt's.
But for now, especially during this cold and wintry time, enjoy this killer view from Queen's Garden Resort, perched above "The Bottom," the capital of Saba. As you can see, the property is also in the process of adding on, and we're excited for what's to come.
We'll also take a look at the island's hotel scene in general. With a population of only 2,000 and the shortest commercial runway in the world, this little-known island is one of the most unique and unspoiled getaways we've come across in the Caribbean.
[Photos: Will McGough]
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A speck in the strikingly blue sea, there are no towns or high-rises, no major roads or cars (each guest, young and old, gets a bicycle), just white sandy beaches, that picture-perfect palm tree, and (what the resort promises is) blazingly fast and free internet, being the first test case for 4G capability in the Caribbean.
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Amanyara, Turks & Caicos
We might have only gotten two out of four hoped-for openings from Aman Resorts last year (that would be Aman Canal Grande in Venice and Amano’i in Vietnam), but despite the wait for Lijiang (China) and Jordan, we’ll continue to keep an eye out for anywhere else Aman might be popping up in the (near) future.
One likely destination is the Dominican Republic, which would make it the second Aman in the Caribbean, next to Amanyara in the Turks & Caicos. Rather than the popular eastern region of Punta Cana, the hotel will be part of the Playa Grande development on the northern coast, east of Puerto Plata and kitesurfer’s paradise Cabarete.