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For travelers flying into Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport, the first glance of sand beach comes about 10 seconds before landing on the runway. The stripe of lush green mangroves in the middle of Caribbean-blue waters is the Renaissance Private Island, just off the coast, home to two beaches of pristine sand surrounded by palapas, and hammocks strung between the palms.
Entry to this island is completely free, from the water taxi to the use of the beaches, with one big exception: you absolutely must be a guest of the Renaissance Aruba Resort, either the family-friendly Ocean Suites or the adult-exclusive Marina Hotel.
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Remember that bright red phone that went straight to Batman’s cave, summoning him whenever crime was afoot and a superhero was required? Well, Viceroy Sugar Beach Resort in St. Lucia has one of those. Except it’s not red, necessarily. And it doesn't summon Batman, but rather, your butler.
But this one works from the beach. And if you find yourself in a dire champagne emergency — well, let’s just say that not all heroes wear capes.
We recently spent some time at Sugar Beach, a resort replete with amenities throughout its luxury villas--from infinity plunge pools overlooking the sea below, to full wet bars stocked with local beers and rum. (Also awesome: private terrace views of a spectacular Caribbean sunset flanked on each side by the lush Piton mountains.)
One of our favorites, though, is the handy provision of Firefly mobile phones. The brand is typically treated as a “starter cell” for kids, since the phones are restricted to dialing among a handful of pre-programmed numbers. Sugar Beach, however, cleverly repurposes them as service bells, basically.
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The Renaissance Aruba Resort is a tale of two hotels. Literally.
Although united under one name and one website, two very different booking options exist: the Marina Hotel or the Ocean Suites. It's confusing, sure, but luckily they're only two blocks apart and connected by a golf cart shuttle that zips across the harbor front.
Are you traveling without children and hoping for a more active location? That's the adults-only Marina Hotel. (pictured above)
Are you a family looking for an ocean view and lots of resort-style pools? Ocean Suites it is.
Both have pools as cool and blue as the Caribbean just outside; both give guests complimentary access to a water taxi to a nearby private island of beaches and flamingoes (more on that to come); and both recently completed renovations to rid the guest rooms of staid patterns and bring the beach indoors.
Actor/writer/director/Nobu hotelier Robert De Niro just got a new title--and a great big thank you-- from the government of Antigua and Barbuda. Prime Minister Gaston Browne has pronounced De Niro “special economic envoy” to the two-island Caribbean country for his commitment to reviving the ailing K Club Resort on Barbuda.
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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.