For Linda Wells, editor of Allure magazine and mother of two teenage sons, it’s Antigua every winter. It just…well, it works. Year after year. “It’s a quick enough flight, the kids love it, and we’ve been coming to the Mill Reef Club forever,” says Wells of the “Waspy, old-guard, resort-members-only club.”
“That’s soooo Linda,” said a fellow magazine editor and St. Barths snob. “But then, to each his own.”
These days the Caribbean comes in absolutely every flavor under the sun. In fact, it’s sort of a lifestyle litmus test. Chic and modern? Amanyara on Turks and Caicos. Flip-flop funky? How about Rockhouse in Jamaica? Want difficult to get to—thus all the more coveted—but with the cachet of living in Mick’s very own rock-star villa? Mustique. And don’t even get us started on that red carpet of beach life, St. Barths.
The most recent addition is Jumby Bay, a private, 300-acre island off the northeastern coast of Antigua. The resort reopened in December after 18 months and $28 million.
Since our first visit, six years ago, we’ve always thought of Jumby as Carib-urbia: its style more Lilly Pulitzer and polo pullover than thong-snapping Dolce & Gabbana leopard print; the vibe a kind of Santa Barbara comfortable and healthy all-American. (There were, on a recent mid-January weekend—still high seasons, mind you—children everywhere.) Jumby remains easy to get to by commercial air, Continental being our choice for its four-plus-hour direct flight from New York to Antigua, just in time for a late lunch, or by private plane. (Brief explanation: Jumby was originally called “Long Island” until the late eighties, when developers decided that expensive real estate was the wave of the future and that New York second-homers just weren’t going to invest big bucks or come all this way for “another Long Island.”)
Upon arrival from Antigua, guests are embraced by the staff (one of the best we’ve experienced in the last ten years, hands down. Seriously!), then fruit-and-rum-punch’d their way to a series of pavilions—open-air check-in, the Verandah restaurant, a gift shop. (Bring your own sunscreen: Island economies depend on forgetful, anything-goes vacationers to fork over $61 a small tube.) Via adorable little golf carts, you’re putt-putt’d to individual “suites”—villas, really, but the word “villa” is reserved for the residents’ properties—stuccoed California Spanish-y-looking bungalows with terracotta roofs and big, dark mahogany doors opening onto courtyards and glass-fronted rooms with four-poster beds and mosquito netting, sumptuous Italian linens, and 42-inch flat-screen TVs.
Unlike the last time we were here, the decor is impeccable—and it should be, with a price tag of $1,400 per night for a one bedroom in high season (including all meals and drinks). “The hotel and suites now really seem to match the real estate,” says Don Tate, speaking for the well-heeled but low-key association of Jumby homeowners whose properties, with their voluptuous landscaping, individual beaches, and awesome views, are also available for rent by the week.
The real news, however, is the debut of the Pool Grille and the nearby Sense spa, a clutch of open-air bungalows where billowing curtains flutter apart to reveal nothing but sky and sea. There, therapists tend to your every ache and pain (real or imagined) with hot stones, acupressure, deep-tissue massage, reflexology, or perhaps a bit of Neem tree extract, a local substance meant to “hydrate, restore, and firm sensitive or irritated skin and balance its useful glow,” according to the spa menu. Ask for Marsha.
And about the Pool Grille. Like the Verandah restaurant and the Estate House—a beautiful 19th-century sugar plantation whose downstairs serves as an outdoor dining room and upstairs as a bar (very Somerset Maugham, with its slow-moving fans and palm-frond wallpaper)—the Grille is overseen by Juan Pablo Loza, a 30-year-old master who’s already a veteran of Le Cirque Mexico City and Las Ventanas, Rosewood’s Baja, California, property. He’s multiskilled—hamburgers at the beach, fish tacos up at the Grille, and a sophisticated fusion of Caribbean, Mexican, and French in locally inspired dishes like spicy bouillabaisse with toasted avocado leaves and fennel at the Estate House.
And speaking of food...the gym, alas, is the only disappointment: Unfortunately it’s still a crowded, one-room affair with only a few sub-wonderful pieces of equipment. But don’t despair: The resort can arrange for Adam Kirby, a private trainer from Antigua, to come over. Smart, articulate, and pretty much a perfect example of the modern trainer, he understands our concerns, like hip and rotator cuff problems, emphasizing work on these parts of the body (through a series of soft, on-the-beach stretching exercises) before allowing clients to return to regular weight training.
In sum? It’s a terrifically thought-out and sensitive renovation—nay, restoration—of a small and exclusive resort, with 40 guest rooms and suites, 16 villas, and six dazzling rental properties ranging from $5,150 a night (and able to sleep six) to $14,000. It’s over-the-top. And pretty wonderful. Don’t believe us? Then ring up Paul McCartney, as one gossipy neighbor suggested. “He can tell you firsthand.” jumbybayresort.com.
And In Other Caribbean Hotel News…
Hotel Christopher, St. Barths
Reopened December 2009
Off the beaten path, on the scenic and private Pointe Milou, this gently priced 41-room hotel—which one St. Barths regular calls “a diamond in the rough”—just completed a top-to-bottom redo. It debuts an artsy, shabby-chic look, plus two new restaurants and an unusual shop selling vintage records, books, movies, and seventies Pucci beachwear. The pool—the island’s largest—remains a major draw. From $289; 59-05/90-27-63-63; hotelchristopher.com.
NonSuch Bay, Antigua
Opened January 2010
This resort, which has 62 suites and 18 villas, takes its name from a neighboring bay, whose prime maritime conditions keep the focus on sailing here. Nonsuch’s 23 boats—most from the British company RS—are all-new, its course offerings are diverse, and the sailing director, Richard Chadburn, is a two-man-skiff world champion who once managed the Antigua Yacht Club. From $200; 268-720-3020; nonsuchbayresort.com.
The Veranda Resort, Turks and Caicos
Opened February 2010
The folks behind Turks and Caicos’s beloved Grace Bay Club run the show at this nearby beachfront spot, where fully inclusive rates mean guests don’t pay more for meals, drinks, or most activities. Things remain small and top-shelf, however, with all 123 suites done in a Caribbean-colonial style. From $455 per person; 877-289-4487; verandatci.com.
Opened December 2009
This 166-room, Kelly Wearstler–designed hotel—Viceroy’s first outside the States—sits on a cliff, its geometric glass exterior giving views over Barnes and Meads bays. Wearstler stuck to pale, minimalist earth tones, adding a driftwood lamp here, African and Asian artwork there. Of note is the spa, whose menu includes classes on healthy lifestyle choices. From $595; 866-270-7798; viceroyanguilla.com.
W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island
Opening April 2010
Accessible only by rustic ferry or tiny plane, Vieques (eight miles east of Puerto Rico) seems an unlikely location for the W to make its Caribbean debut. But for this 157-room resort, David Rockwell has adapted the brand’s aesthetic to embrace nature, creating seamless connections between indoors and out. It’s not all kumbaya, however: Alain Ducasse opened a branch of his Las Vegas restaurant Mix here, too. From $449; 954-624-1768; wvieques.com. —Shirin Najafi