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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.
If there was any doubt about whether the Caribbean hotel scene was headed in the right direction as far as growth goes, the industry's performance and gains over the past two years have put most questions to rest. Both hotel-goers and investors are feeling optimistic that the recession is indeed a thing of the past, evidenced by a string of new investment and property takeovers in 2013, including Hyatt's entrance into the all-inclusive market.
And it looks like the momentum will continue in the new year. There have been multiple reports about a packed pipeline for the Caribbean in 2014, headlined by the expected opening of the massive Baha Mar at the end of 2014 in the Bahamas. According to one count, 52 hotels with 8,891 rooms are going to open across the Caribbean and Mexico in 2014. That's a lot of hotels!
The calendar just flipped to December, which means it is officially the Caribbean season as much as it is the Christmas season. We know many of you are planning jaunts to greener waters, and you might be interested to know that if you choose the Radisson Blu St. Martin, you can get picked up from the airport in a boat.
The hotel's water shuttle service scoops you up at Princess Juliana International Airport and takes you on a 30-minute ride to the resort's full-service marina, which is right on property and a short walk from the lobby. The shuttle travels up the west side of the island past Simpson Bay and Grand Case.
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Deals: you want 'em, and surprisingly, everyone has 'em. Take a look at some of the latest hotel deals going around the internet today from booking sites, social media sites, flash sale sites and more. Don't forget to scroll down to see the HotelChatter-approved deal either. Who knows? You might just find what you're looking for. (But don't forget to tell us about your stay!)
DEALS, DEALS, DEALS*
· Hotel Monaco Baltimore's Ravens Purple Pride Package: Love the Ravens? Like, really, really, really LOVE The Ravens? Then book the “Ravens Purple Pride” package at the Hotel Monaco Baltimore. It includes deluxe accommodations, complimentary overnight parking for one vehicle, complimentary Ravens swag at check-in, two complimentary “Hail Mary” specialty drinks at B&O American Brasserie and a complimentary hosted evening wine hour, held in true Ravens fashion with festive purple sangria and purple lighting in the hotel’s living room. Rates start at $159 and are about a 25 percent savings over best available rates. The package is available from September 15 - December 30, 2013 during Ravens home games and is based on availability. Go here to book using the promo code RAVEN or call (888) 752-2363 and request the “Ravens Purple Pride” package.
· Start Peeping for Leaf Peeping Season at the Woodstock Inn: The leaves are going to change colors soon so you better book your leaf peeping hotel room now. The Woodstock Inn in Vermont, recognized as one of the “prettiest small towns in America,” is now offering a Wake up In Woodstock Package that includes one night stay, a country breakfast for two, Vermont Maple Syrup to take home, admission to Billings Farm & Museum, admission to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and complimentary use of Racquet & Fitness Club. Rates start at $265, based on double occupancy, excluding applicable taxes and resort fee. Go here to book.
Well ladies and gentlemen, the US Tennis Open is in full swing and if you are anything like us, you totally plan on tuning in when it gets down to the nitty gritty. Because let’s be frank unless you are REALLY into tennis, some of what comes before the final days of the competition is a little less engaging than, say, Superbowl.
BUT, if you happen to be someone who does live and breathe the sport, this particular package will knock your socks off. Actually, who are we kidding, you get to hang out with Sir Richard Branson as a part of this deal, so even if you despise the sport, we think you can fake it and just enjoy a killer vacation in the Caribbean. Plus ten percent of the cost goes to charity, so if nothing else just
lie develop a love of the sport for a good cause.
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There's something about a swim-up bar that gets hotel guests excited, but the one at Cancún's Nizuc Resort & Spa truly blows our socks off. The pool is still pretty pristine as the hotel has only been open since March, so there's no wear-and-tear as of yet.
Also, Nizuc is not an all-inclusive, so this bar isn't three-deep in 18-year olds clamoring for cloyingly sweet margaritas and cervezas. No, this is a more civilized ( and pricey) experience in an infinity pool with a sleek, dark blue hue, rather than the traditional garish turquoise coloring. The over-sized serving area is manned by a crew of talented bartenders who mix up such concoctions as the Rocket (made with reposado tequila, lime juice, and cranberry) and a green powerhouse of a drink made from local chaya leaves and vodka ( a healthy-boozy drink!).
One of the many waiters will bring your drink to your bali bed (no charge, first-come, first served) or lounger and from there it's just you and the incredible scene you see above and after the jump.
Caribbean properties saw their numbers go up last year, and optimism stemming from that growth in profits is now attracting developers who believe the downturn in tourism might be a thing of the past for the tropics.
On the surface, this news is great to hear. If you’ve been to any of the Caribbean islands over the past couple years, the lack of visitors was definitely obvious, and for islands whose sole income is tourism, it was a sad sight to see. We also want hotels to succeed and be profitable, of course, because if they aren’t, we’re pretty much out of a job!
But there is another side to this coin that pertains to the industry as a whole, and it really boils down to one logical question: Don’t people go to the islands because they are remote? We think it’s reasonable to assume that as resort development on an island increases, the natural beauty and local culture in turn decrease. That’s sad on a number of levels.