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The Caribbean's Finest

Our panel of travel experts pick their favorite destinations across the region, and the best hotels, restaurants and golf courses on each island
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Ernie Els, November/December 2012

(continued from page 1)

Best Beach, Caribbean

TIE: Shoal Bay Anguilla; Grace Bay, Turks & Caicos

While write-in Grace Bay was singled out for excellence by the same number of panelists as Shoal Bay, Anguilla, which easily ran away with the title of best beach island. In addition to the winners, our experts vocally argued for several other beaches here as the Caribbean’s best, including Meads Bay, Rendezvous Bay and Cap Juluca.

Former Caribbean Travel & Life editor Veronica Stoddart describes Shoal Bay beach as, “Two miles of bone-white sand that is as soft as cotton, with translucent water featuring shimmering ‘bands’ of turquoise, aqua and azure. There are also beautiful iridescent offshore reefs, that are perfect for snorkeling, so is it any wonder this idyllic strand helped put Anguilla on the world tourism map?” MoonRings’ Wallace calls Grace Bay, “Rivaled perhaps only by Whitehaven Beach in Australia’s Whitsundays.”

Island by Island Best

Cayman Islands

Best Large Resort or Hotel

Ritz-Carlton: With nearly every vote cast there is no second place on Grand Cayman—the Ritz wowed with facilities, rooms, service, golf and most of all, food. As USA Today’s Stoddart puts it, “Combine British colonial architecture with Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach and add a dash of star chef Eric Ripert’s cuisine. It doesn’t get any better on Grand Cayman.” She was not alone: top travel agents Stacy Small, Anne Scully, Carrie Wallace and Michael Holtz, along with golf experts David Baum and Brian McCallen, even spa and travel writers Hensley and Carter, all loved the place. As Scully sums it up, “The Ritz-Carlton it is clearly the best on the island, and their many repeat guests agree.”

Best Small Resort or Hotel

Cotton Tree: Our experts had little trouble debating the lodging merits of Grand Cayman—while the Ritz was nearly unanimous for best large hotel, the Cotton Tree got every single vote for smaller property. “Cottages comprise this intimate property—less Caribbean than high design, which actually really works for the Caymans, since it’s a different sort of island in the first place,” says Hensley, adding that, “It is as if you are visiting your rich uncle’s house while he is out of town.”

Best Golf

Blue Tip: Not many 9-holers impress our experts, but this design by Greg Norman at the Ritz-Carlton won over our most diehard golf critics, including former Golf Magazine editor Brian McCallen. No other course got a single vote.

Best Restaurant

Blue by Eric Ripert: It’s not surprising that our grand winner for best in the entire Caribbean was also best on its home turf, taking every vote cast—and a lot of votes were cast. “Blue, by Chef Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin, is spectacular. Dining at the Ritz-Carlton may be expensive, but it is extraordinary,” says David Baum. Our travel writers, food writers and travel agents were all in agreement.

Jamaica

Best Large Resort or Hotel

Half Moon: It’s the setting, with villas along a private crescent beach, and laundry list of activities that won the day for this long-established property that recently became a RockResort. “Although its golf is utterly forgettable, the Half Moon Resort & Spa is an amazing place to stay with an incredible offering of things to do,” says David Baum. Journalist Michael Patrick Shiels adds: “This, old-fashioned, time-honored resort has a British Colonial feel to it, and it should—it’s home to the Royals when they visit.” 

Honorable Mention: Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall. Our golfers and spa lovers preferred this more contemporary property. “With the best golf and the caliber of guest rooms Ritz-Carlton is known for, it does the best job here of overcoming service shortfalls typical of its neighboring properties,” says Cigar Aficionado contributing editor Olmsted.

Best Small Resort or Hotel

GoldenEye: Guests can still sit at the desk where Ian Fleming, former owner of this private compound, typed away at his James Bond novels. Today GoldenEye, much refurbished and just reopened, is part of music impresario Chris Blackwell’s Island Outpost collection of boutique resorts. “Music mogul Chris Blackwell’s GoldenEye melds fun, funkiness and
finesse into one vacation experience. Colorful cottages dot the lagoon’s edge, guests have untold numbers of activities and experiences from which to choose,” says Wallace.

Honorable Mention: Round Hill. This resort overlooking Montego Bay impressed our panel with its array of lodging options, a vast selection of rooms, villas and homes.

Best Golf

Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall: While Half Moon narrowly edged out the Ritz for best resort, not even one of its fans spoke up for its golf course. Instead, every Jamaica vote went to Rose Hall, home to the excellent Cinnamon Hill course, and the marquee White Witch, the best on the island. “The White Witch casts a seductive spell cast with spectacular ocean views from 16 holes. The course weaves through rugged, heavily wooded hillside, reaching a peak elevation of 1,000 feet,” notes Golf Odyssey’s Baum.

Dominican Republic

Best Large Resort or Hotel

Casa de Campo: Just as it swept best golf in the Caribbean, Casa de Campo won this vote in a landslide—despite a rash of new, high-profile competition. Its vast facilities and choice of lodging remains unrivalled. “Huge and a world unto itself, Casa de Campo remains the Caribbean’s most complete and satisfying retreat,” says David Baum, while honeymoon expert Wallace concurs: “This resort has everything you’d ever need.”

Honorable Mention: Punta Cana Resort & Clubs. With three golf courses, two hotels and numerous villas, out experts were quite impressed. “Before I went I was doubtful about this sprawling resort that owns its own airport, has residences, several restaurants and primo golf—but I fell for it,” said Becca Hensley.

Best Small Resort or Hotel

Tortuga Bay: The new Oscar de la Renta–designed boutique hotel within the larger Punta Cana Resort & Club includes exclusive access to the resort’s otherwise private golf course. “Oscar de la Renta’s jewel in the Caribbean, Tortuga Bay. The property boasts 5 miles of beautiful beach and a Six Senses Spa…that’s a vacation worth taking!,” says travel agent extraordinaire Scully.

Best Golf

Teeth of the Dog—and the Rest of Casa de Campo: Voters were stuck between choosing all four Pete Dye courses at Casa de Campo and  singling out Teeth of the Dog, long the highest rated in the Caribbean. The choice was not hard for former Golf Magazine editor Brian McCallen who called Teeth of the Dog, “By far my favorite Pete Dye course.” Cigar Aficionado contributing editor Larry Olmsted added, “While Teeth of the Dog gets all the attention at Casa de Campo for its stunning oceanfront holes, the resort’s newer Dye Fore, on the river highlands, may be even better.”

Honorable Mention: Punta Cana Resort & Club. This is the most serious rival to Casa de Campo’s golf eminence in the Caribbean. Golf writer Shiels says, “Tom Fazio’s Corales course plays along the ocean and picturesque canyons. P. B. Dye, competing with his father Pete’s work at Casa de Campo, designed the La Cana and Hacienda layouts.

Puerto Rico

Best Large Resort or Hotel

TIE St. Regis Bahia Beach; W Retreat & Spa Vieques Island: While both are sprawling, full-featured resorts they have very different vibes, with the St. Regis capturing the bustling flavor of nearby San Juan, and the W being, as its name suggests, a retreat on an island long occupied by the US Navy. “The new St. Regis is a very welcome addition to Puerto Rico’s otherwise mediocre resort scene. It’s already drawing a celebrity crowd, and with time, this resort will be a ‘go-to’ in Puerto Rico,” says MoonRings’ Wallace. Our more escapist panelists including spa expert Ann Abel and Fodor’s editorial director Arabella Bowen chose the W for its secluded charm and outdoor activities.


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