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Even though its winter, you can still take advantage of the relatively drama-free weather on the Left Coast where the rooftop shenanigans live-on. Remember, these haunts are available year-round and come with a side of schwanky--hold the frostbite. So grab your date and enjoy these rooftop destinations for your next romantic romp west of the Mississippi.
Suite 700, Hotel Shangri La, Santa Monica, CA
Hotel Shangri-La Santa Monica's Suite 700 open-air bar & lounge is the epitome of swank with its Art Deco Hollywood glamour combined with epic views of the Pacific sunset. It's no wonder the hotel was named after the earthly paradise James Hilton spoke of in Lost Horizon. Treat your date to a fire pit and some popcorn chicken avec cocktail, and get lost watching the flames. Or watch the killer sunsets. The nice thing about Shangri-La is you can stay indoors in the lounge if it's breezy, or venture onto the rooftop, so its the best of both. Weekends can be crowded, so try a weeknight or just come early if you want some elbow room.
We might not be super-impressed with the Marriott Bear, but that doesn't mean we'll hold it against the St Kitts Marriott Resort in St Kitts and Nevis. After all, TripAdvisor reviewers have decided it's the best place to stay in St Kitts, and who are we to argue.
Well, we probably won't argue with all the previous guests, but you shouldn't forget that there aren't really more than a dozen resorts on St Kitts, which hasn't been in the tourist game that long. The St Kitts Marriott has its good points--convenient location close to the airport, a fantastic beach that's rarely too crowded, and the food is tasty.
But on the flip side, the tasty food is also rather pricey (and there's not a huge amount of other choices), and the uncrowded beach can get pretty windy, too. Enough of our complaining, though: when you get to the pool you'll be happy again. It's one of those daydreamy lagoons of a pool, with beautiful water matching a cheery blue sky ... that's probably all we need (plus a good cocktail or three) to enjoy a day at the St Kitts Marriott.
There's nothing wrong with picking your warm weather escape hotel purely by its cute name, is there? Luckily the Green Turtle Club and Resort in Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas also comes highly recommended as the top pick of hotels in the Great Abaco Island area.
The Green Turtle Club is one of those romantically exotic places that can only be reached by boat, and the resort is housed on an island just three miles long, so you can quickly become familiar with the whole place. We like that, when we're trying to relax.
In fact the place has been there since 1964 so it's no new-fangled tourist resort, but a well established spot that many consider their favorite Bahamas getaway.
If you decide to vacation at the Stonefield Estate Villa Resort on St Lucia in the West Indies, the biggest problem will be trying to choose which of the 20 villas to stay in.
Recent guests who've left TripAdvisor reviews each have their very firm opinion that the villa they stayed in is the best ever--with names like Frangipani, Manchineel and Hibiscus (this pic shows the plunge pool at Hibiscus), there are various pros and cons to each, but all seem to have pretty good views.
The Grace Bay Club at Providenciales on Turks and Caicos isn't scrimping on things: they even have a hotel school set up for their employees to learn the skills of the trade. Since tourism is the fastest growing industry on the island, Grace Bay takes the view that to get good staff, it should be giving them extensive training themselves, and that seems to be helping.
Recent guests give plenty of compliments to the staff, with the only complaint being that they move a bit more slowly than some people might be used to--but that's the whole point of being away from the hustle and bustle of normal life.
Holidaying in Great Exuma has gotta be great, right? Otherwise they wouldn't call it Great Exuma ... just kidding. Great Exuma is the largest of the cays at Exuma in the Bahamas, and that's why it's so great. Also not too bad is the Four Seasons Great Exuma in Emerald Bay, which according to the endless adjectives in the resort's own description is a place that's secluded, tropical, undiscovered and unforgettable.
When we're thinking warm weather vacation, the swimming pool status is something we always like to check into. The Four Seasons Great Exuma has three pools--one for kids, one for active guests and one intended to be a "quiet pool".
If you're looking at a stay in Montego Bay in Jamaica, the Coyaba Beach Resort comes up tops according to TripAdvisor reviews, and there's a few reasons we like it too. First, it's pretty small--just 50 rooms--which means you can avoid that overcrowded, too-busy feel of many larger resorts. And despite the small size, guests report that Coyaba Beach isn't lacking anything:
All the facilities of a large resort without the crowds. If you want a rest - this is the place. Food was good in all the restaurants and the staff very friendly and helpful.
Each room has large French doors that lead out to your own balcony, overlooking either the gardens or the ocean. There are three restaurants and bars on site, some casual and some finer, and the resort usually holds Seafood Night and Native Night (Jamaican cuisine) on two nights during the week.
Winter season rates run until April 15, and range from US$320 per night for the Garden Deluxe room through to $420 for an Ocean Junior Suite. You can add various meal packages to that or get all inclusive for an extra $115 per person, which includes all meals, all bar drinks and some of the sports facilities too.
The Southampton region of Bermuda is renowned for having the best beaches, so that makes it sound like a good place for a winter getaway. The Fairmont Southampton is one of the hotels near the beach, although it's on top of a hill, so there are good views, but a trolley ride down to the actual beach.
This resort promotes itself as having "old world British charm" (but hopefully not the old-fashioned British food). Recent guest reviews of the Fairmont Southampton have been mixed, and the common theme seems to be that if you book a package through a discount site, you won't be treated as well as the regular guests.
The Fairmont runs a heap of package deals ranging from a simple Bed and Breakfast deal or a package including golf games, through to deals that tie in with special Bermuda events like the Breeze Jazz Concert series or the Bermuda Love Festival.
Or if you're looking for an end of winter splurge, you can gather your friends together for the "Ultimate Girls Getaway Package" over the weekend of April 10 to 13, 2008, and you'll be spoiled with a special dinner, some special guests including authors who've appeared on Oprah, a Little Black Dress dinner, a nice afternoon tea and even a PJ party.
Summer doesn't seem to be getting any closer for those up in the northern hemisphere, but down at the Blue Waters Antigua the summer is pretty much there all year round. Blue Waters is a small resort with just 77 rooms and suites, and is proud to be one of Antigua's longest established resorts.
Long established can mean in-need-of-repair, but the Blue Waters has been undergoing some renovations and guest reports are very postive. From a base at the Blue Waters, there are plenty of activities within reach, including sailing, snorkeling, golf, kayaking and windsurfing, or you can also hire a jeep and head round the island in a few hours. Apparently though the tennis court hasn't yet experienced the refurbishment and its rough surface might make for a frustrating game.
Meals can be had outdoors in the Palm Restaurant, or for a more upmarket dinner try the Vyvien's A-La-Carte place; there is also the gourmet Cove Restaurant on site, but if you've booked an all-inclusive package you won't be able to eat there.
Winter rates--the winter season runs until April 23, 2008--start at $479 for a double in the basic Superior Hillside room, rising to $1050 for a Cove Suite and if you're traveling with a group, you can grab the Cove Penthouse with three bedrooms for $2132 a night. For various surcharges you can add breakfast or all-inclusive deals that also include access to more of the facilities. Or you can just hang out at the beach.
[Photo: the boss'ess]
It's big, but it's still good. We're talking the luxurious Caribe Hilton San Juan between historic San Juan and Condado in Puerto Rico. Yes, there are 814 rooms or suites, but that means they've got 9 restaurants as well. There's even a Starbuck's, although the jury's still out on whether that's a good thing when we're on vacation. We don't want places to look too much like home.
Anyway, the Caribe Hilton San Juan is basically equipped to deal with everybody, be it a family trip, a romantic couple's vacation or even business travel. Of course, it's not always easy to keep your service standards high and appropriate to all those different kinds of guests, and we won't pretend things run perfectly there.
Guest feedback does show, however, that the vast majority of stays work out well, and the friendliness of the staff and the great beach are recognised by all. And a lot of people praise the comfortable beds. The main problem at the Caribe Hilton tends to be the relatively high costs in some of the restaurants.
A nice touch is that the hotel complex includes tropical gardens and a bird sanctuary, so you don't have to go far at all to find something to do (once you've done all your shopping in the hotel's boutiques). There are lots of different deals to be had so shop around when you're booking to make sure you don't pay full price--at a minimum, there are usually free night deals available for longer stays.
We've been tipping the Peninsula Papagayo region as the one for a beach vacation in forever-warm Costa Rica, but if cooler kinds of nature are more your thing, you might want to head into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and try the Hotel Fonda Vela.
Fonda Vela bills itself as "the jewel of the Monteverde hotels" and does in fact hold the #1 place out of the 20 hotels TripAdvisor lists in the Forest Reserve. With just 40 rooms, there's time for personal service, yet apparently enough business to run two restaurants and a bar. The rooms are also relatively large and are commonly described as "rustic" in taste.
The bonus at the Fonda Vela is the huge collection of paintings you'll keep almost tripping over. Paul Smith Sr, the father of the two founders and current owners, brothers Paul and Steven Smith, is a prolific artist, and some 400 plus of his paintings cover the rooms of the hotel. Head into the shops and restaurants of Monteverde and you're just as likely to find his pictures adorning walls there, too.
On top of all that, the rates at the Hotel Fonda Vela are more than reasonable. A standard double costs $103, although meals are extra ($9 for breakfast, $14 for lunch and $18 for dinner)--or they'll set you up with an all-inclusive package. Perhaps soon they'll start throwing in a free painting with every extended stay.
Another warm weather pick is to head down to Costa Rica and try out the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. The website starts out by making this resort seem like some kind of heaven on earth:
Spilling down a coastal hillside to an isthmus of golden sand, Four Seasons creates an ambiance of simple luxury in this pristine natural setting. With two unspoiled beaches, an indigenous spa, championship golf and the magic of the tropical dry forest.
Wow. We accept happily, however, that nothing could live up to that kind of prosaic marketing, but nonetheless the Four Seasons is rated the top hotel by TripAdvisor reviewers, so it must be on the right track. The biggest plus seems to be friendly and flawless service, with a meet-and-greet service that takes the place of an annoying check-in procedure.
The setting is also amazing, although with more developments planned around Liberia in the future, it might become a bit spoilt. There are a couple of large swimming pools and easy access to the beach so you can get a proper taste of summer fun.
Standard room rates start at $835 per double, but there are a stack of different packages to choose from. These include the Room and Spa Package, Adventure in Costa Rica (horse riding, hiking and catamaran cruises), a golf deal and the Romance Package, so choose one that suits your interests.