The Secluded Caribbean Travel Guide

Beautiful beaches and private islands

Getting There

THE COTTON HOUSE, MUSTIQUE
Mustique Airways flies to Mustique from Barbados once a day (twice daily December 14 — April 3). Cotton House guests coming in from the United States (on American, Delta, BWIA, or Air Jamaica) usually arrive in Barbados around 2 p.m. The next Mustique Airways flight leaves at 4 p.m. Remember to pack a day's worth of clothes—that's everything from bathing suit to dinner attire—in a carry-on because if the in-bound U.S. flight is late, Mustique Airways waits only for passengers, not baggage. The airline has no choice: The flight has to make it to Mustique before darkness falls, as there are no runway landing lights. Bags that cannot be transferred come over on the 10:30 a.m. flight the next morning. A resort representative meets Cotton House guests at the Mustique airport for the 10-minute drive to the property.

COVECASTES, ANGUILLA
Fly to San Juan, and then transfer to an American Airlines 46-seater for the 65-minute flight to Anguilla. Or fly to St. Martin and hop over to Anguilla by air taxi (six minutes) or ferry (about an hour, including taxi and waiting time). The resort is about 20 minutes by taxi from the airport, 15 minutes from the ferry landing. Taxis are available at both places.

MERIDIAN CLUB, TURKS & CAICOS
Fly to Miami, and then transfer to American Airlines (two flights a day, at 1:25 p.m. and again 4:55 p.m.) for the 80-minute hop to Providenciales. Collect your luggage (a scene of minor chaos), stand on line (the Nothing to Declare line moves as slowly as the Goods to Declare queue), then go outside, where you will be met by a resort representative. Check in for the eight-minute, eight-seater flight to Pine Cay. Sharon and Jim Shafer meet incoming flights with the resort golf cart.

NECKER, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Fly to Tortola/Beef Island via San Juan or St. Thomas, then take a taxi to Trellis Bay dock, where the Necker Island launch meets arriving guests. The crossing takes 30 minutes. (Note that flying via St. Thomas is quicker, but nonstop flights are offered only during high season from most U.S. cities.)

BIRAS CREEK, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Fly to Tortola/Beef Island via San Juan or St. Thomas, then take a taxi to Trellis Bay dock, where the Biras Creek launch meets arriving guests. The crossing takes 30 minutes. (Note that flying via St. Thomas is quicker, but nonstop flights are offered only during high season from most U.S. cities.)

FLIGHT PLAN
Getting to the Caribbean's secluded resorts can be an aviation trial, given the fact that you're often taking small planes on the final leg of a two- or three-flight trip. The best solution: Charter your own plane. Our pick: Gorda Aero Service, with FAA-licensed pilots and a nine-seat new, well-maintained Cessna Caravan. Based in Tortola but can fly anywhere in the region. Cost depends upon destination. 809-495-1571; fax 809-495-2838.

—G.W.

Jumby Bay Reopens

One of the Caribbean's best secluded resorts, now called Jumby Bay Island, reopens December 16 after being closed since March 1997.

The property, which occupies a private island just off the coast of Antigua, was shuttered by its owners, the Arawak Company, as part of a protracted dispute with the island's homeowners, led by Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

According to Leach, the resort proprietors had agreed to sell 575 memberships in the island (either in the resort or the residential community) on a co-op basis. That meant that once all the memberships were sold, the island and the resort would belong to the members.

The dispute ensued, Leach says, when the resort owners decided they didn't want to relinquish title and stopped selling memberships. Fifteen of the existing members then sued. Last August the high court of Antigua ruled in their favor. They have now bought Jumby Bay Island and engaged Rock Resorts to manage it.

The property will get a light dusting off before it opens, then beginning in April it will undergo a major renovation. This will include the creation of 10 super-suites, each with its own butler and chef. "A baby version of the Bungalows at Mauna Lani," Leach calls them. Information and reservations: 800-223-7637.

—G.W.

The Cotton House, Mustique

The Cotton House is an erstwhile debutante on her second whirl around the dance floor. Just consider her pedigree. She was fathered by an English noble, Lord Glenconner, who originally developed Mustique in the sixties as a kind of Caribbean Capri for jet-setters. She was dressed for her role by a lord of the English stage, set-designer Oliver Messel. She had her coming-out party in the early seventies, led a gilded life for several years, then in the eighties let herself go a bit. Last year, though, she quietly underwent cosmetic surgery and emerged looking poised and beautiful.

Of the five resorts profiled here, the Cotton House offers seclusion at its most refined. Indeed, the first thing I saw upon arriving was a nicely tanned, gray-haired woman, perched on a seraglio pillow, painting a watercolor. (Beside her on a harem cushion slept a Siamese cat.)

Her name is Sue Sanderman, and her watercolors grace the walls of the rooms, which, except for the new Coutinot House deluxe accommodations, are, frankly, small. (The accommodations once housed workers when this was a sugar mill.) Moreover, the bottom rung of the room hierarchy is the place to be. Which is to say that the Pool Cottages, the minimum category, are among the nicest rooms, and that the deluxe suites and terrace rooms, the penultimate category, didn't quite seem to live up to their billing. (The best choice at this level is a second-story deluxe terrace room, as it has a better view and two terraces at no extra charge.) As the rooms are not in detached units, the privacy is average.

Still, the overall feeling here is that of being cocooned in very genteel surroundings. The Cotton House decor—simple though it is—is the most elegant of the five resorts. My cottage, Paw-Paw, was only 18 by 20 feet, yet contained a king-size canopy bed, two peach-melba boudoir chairs, and a small ottoman of the same hue. The plank boards on the ceiling had been given a light, irregular wash of white paint, as had the small dresser, to make them seem weathered. The marble in the bathroom counterbalanced its small size (but hooks for wet towels and bathing suits, as well as good water pressure, would have been more welcome). The overall feel was cozy rather than small, an impression helped by the back veranda running the length of the building.

At most secluded resorts the dress code is "keep it casual." The Cotton House, however, makes you want to put on white linen trousers and a crisp shirt. That's mainly due to the resort centerpiece, the Great Room—an English drawing room transposed to the tropics—in which the original Oliver Messel decor has been restored. Here, in this stage set of sorts, you find facing couches, a horseshoe-shaped bar, game boards, and some brilliantly flamboyant touches, such as a shell-encrusted breakfront and monkey motifs. The Great Room's generous wraparound porch serves as the dining area, and here again simplicity works—white-linen tablecloths and high-back chairs covered in white cotton duck. At twilight, with the candles guttering...well, you get the picture.

The only cloud on this refined horizon at presstime was a succession of staff changes—the general manager had left, and no one had been appointed to replace him; and the resort's second chef in two years had departed: Mustique was too secluded, apparently. (He has been replaced.) The food when I visited in November of last year was excellent, the menu refined. Let's hope the resort sticks with that approach, because it completes the package.

Mustique has miles of deserted beach, but the Cotton House has only a modest one, fronting a sheltered bay. It's fine, but do sample the island's windward side (with a picnic lunch and Champagne). There the landscape is wilder, and the ocean is too. On the way back, stop and watch the landing of the Mustique Airways flight from Barbados. The pilot makes a U-turn off the ocean, threads the gap between two hills, then dives for the runway. As landings go, it's right up there with St. Bart's.

AMBIANCE
Hideaway boutique resort.

THE LAYOUT
Seventeen rooms in four buildings, three Pool Cottages, and the Great Room (public areas).

ROOMS
Simply but elegantly done. Most are small.

PRIVACY
Average overall.

MOST PRIVATE ROOM
Coutinot House Deluxe Master Room, which looks out at the sea.

DRESS CODE
Stylish casual after dark.

PHONE IN ROOM
Yes.

AIR-CONDITIONING
Yes.

CEILING FAN
Yes.

TELEVISION
Upon request.

ACTIVITIES OFFERED
Full menu of watersports, plus a catamaran for private excursions. Two tennis courts and a nearby equestrian center.

NICE TOUCH
The pillow menu. Nine choices, from Royal Cotton to Snore Stopper and Maternity.

RATES
Pool Cottages: $590-$890; Deluxe Suites: $750-$1,050; Ocean-Front: $900-$1,250. Plus 10 percent service charge and seven percent government tax. Lowest rate in effect until December 19, 1998, after which rates increase and include three meals.

RESERVATIONS
800-826-2809.

—G.W.

Covecastles, Anguilla

It's a mark of Covecastles' seclusion that by lunchtime of day one i was hungry for human contact. Here I was, sequestered on one of the wildest points of Anguilla's western shore, the place where the coastline turns to meet the Atlantic. The trade winds were roaring, as they always do here, contributing to the quiet by muffling every other sound (not to mention wreaking havoc with the breakfast dishes). I had gotten the last villa, I'd been told. Since there are 36 rooms in 14 buildings, that meant there could be at least 70 other people spirited away around this 8.5-acre property (though 50 is the norm, says management). Yet I'd seen no one in five hours of pursuing this resort's main spectator sport: veranda lolling. So I called the one person I knew I could have a conversation with: the chef. About lunch. For among the many ways that this property—a collection of 14 stark, whitewashed villas with galleon-sail facades—conspires to make you housebound is by delivering to your door breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And as you need not restrict yourself to the daily menu, I was certain I could contrive a 10-minute conversation with the Aureole-trained Mr. Alvarez (who has since left) about coming up with one of my own. Which I did; and then, appetite appeased, I went back to looking out at the bluest water this side of Bora Bora.

Such is life at Covecastles—as pared-down as the villa architecture itself. The interior design is simple but elegant—rattan chairs with beige raw-silk cushions, sparkling white countertops, white-on-white bedrooms, terra-cotta floors. In short, neutral and soothing. And in the stay-at-home spirit that characterizes this place, every villa has more entertainment options than you're generally offered in hideaway resorts: CD player with an unusually varied list of choices (Streisand to 1950s Cuban music, Beethoven to Mingus and the Gipsy Kings), a VCR with a similarly diverse list of movies, and cable television. (As well as telephone with voicemail.)

Outside, life is elemental too—sea, sky, and sand. The activity menu is modest (a tennis court, a sunfish, a few sea kayaks, snorkeling gear), as befits a Type-A free zone.

I fully indulged my appetite for sociability at dinner
that first night, reveling in the company of the 20 other guests who turned up to bid farewell to the manager (who was leaving after a four-year stint). We broke open bottles of Bordeaux, there was much hugging, a few tears—all impromptu, nothing planned, of course. Then everyone went back to his villa—and a day and a half later I had yet to see one of them again.

AMBIANCE
Low-key beachhouse.

THE LAYOUT
Fourteen two-, three-, and four-bedroom villas, ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 square feet; 36 rooms in all.

ROOMS
Same simple decor throughout. Bedrooms small; common rooms large.

PRIVACY
A lot of it. Buildings are staggered so views out are uniformily good, views in uniformily bad. Decks swathed in foliage.

MOST PRIVATE VILLA
The new Pool Villa (has four bedrooms plus plunge pool).

RUNNERS-UP
The three-bedroom villa 3 (owned by resort architect Myron Goldfinger) and two-bedroom beachhouse number 6.

DRESS CODE
Resort casual.

PHONE IN ROOM
Yes; voicemail.

AIR-CONDITIONING
No, but trade winds make it unnecessary.

CEILING FAN
Yes.

TELEVISION
Cable, plus extensive selection of videos.

ACTIVITIES OFFERED
Modest. One tennis court, watersports (sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving).

NICE TOUCH
The pillow menu. Nine choices, from Royal Cotton to Snore Stopper and Maternity.

RATES
Depend on season and number of guests. One/two-bedroom beachhouses: $425-$895; one/two-bedroom villas: $525-$1,195; three/four-bedroom villas: $725-$2,995.

RESERVATIONS
800-223-1108.

—L.W.

Meridian Club, Turks & Caicos

The Meridian Club is only a 10-minute flight from Providenciales, one of the main islands in the Turks & Caicos, yet so far removed from the world that here, to paraphrase that song from Casablanca, the fundamental rules don't apply.

Of economics, for instance. If you pay more, you get more: It's a foundation axiom of price-value relationships. But not at the Meridian Club, where what you do not get for $600 to $700 per night, depending upon the season, includes: in-room phone, air-conditioning, television, decor. In fact, you don't even get a resort, because as managers Jim and Sharon Shafer will tell you, this is, officially, a beach club. Like everything else on 800-acre Pine Cay, it is jointly owned by the islet's residents. Had Mies van der Rohe conceived the property, he would have said "Less costs more."

The interesting thing is, the extremely loyal clientele wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'd never go to a Four Seasons," one guest, a retired CEO, hurrumphed on a snorkeling trip when I gingerly asked why the Meridian Club was worth the money. Then he spread his arm in an arc and said, "For this."

The interesting thing is, he's right.

The Meridian Club's rooms may be breeze-block simple, but the sense of solitude is deluxe. The pool is tiny, but the ocean out front vast. The horizon is perennially dust-ruffled with clouds, the beach almost always empty—and it is two miles of sifted sugar. As for the ambiance, it is determinedly low-key. "We had a cell-phone alert last week," Jim mentioned to one of the guests as he drove us, in a golf cart, from the landing strip to the lobby. The rule is simple: "No cell phones!" If you must call the outside world, there's the pay phone behind the tennis court.

The people who own Pine Cay are immensely wealthy. To buy a house here you have to pay cash, because the bylaws stipulate that each member of the community must own his own home. (If you have a mortgage, technically the bank owns it.) When I asked one Pine Cay resident why she flew to West Palm Beach instead of Miami, she said—without batting an eye—"Miami is awful for private planes."

Meridian Club guests are cut from the same cloth—millionaires who are loath to show it. Which imparts some of the property's most charming patrician peculiarities. Like the fact that most men come to dinner barefoot, but always in a collared shirt, and are served by waiters in black tie minus the jacket. Women tend to come up with alluring riffs on barefoot, the toe thong, for instance.

Some years ago, one longtime guest enthusiastically described the rooms to a Wall Street Journal reporter as "motel-y," a bit of candor she regretted for years. But even Sharon says that's true. "You don't come here for the rooms," she conceded (without being asked, in itself extraordinarily candid).

But on the other basics, the Meridian Club gets it right. The food was consistently good, especially the fish—and meals are included in the rate. The wine list is short, but good too (and that's rare in the Caribbean). Room-service breakfast turned up on the dot at 8:30, and the staff was unfailingly obliging, polite, and sociable.

Entertainment consists of silly resort rituals, quickly adopted by newcomers (it's part of joining the club). These include watching the green flash that precedes sunset and waiting for Jo Jo the dolphin to come by during the day, as well as watching the as yet unnamed night heron vainly fish the hotel pool at night (8:30 sharp) and going over to Little Water Cay to see the wild iguanas.

Otherwise, all there is to do is contemplate just how simple life can be on $600 to $700 a day.

AMBIANCE
Laid-back beach club for low-key millionaires.

THE LAYOUT
Twelve beach suites facing gorgeous beach, plus Sand Dollar Cottage.

ROOMS
Basic.

PRIVACY
Average.

DRESS CODE
Bare feet, but shirt with collar.

PHONE IN ROOM
No.

AIR-CONDITIONING
No.

CEILING FAN
Yes.

TELEVISION
No.

ACTIVITIES OFFERED
Sailing, windsurfing, tennis, sportfishing (for bonefish and tarpon).

RATES
$500 per room until December 17; $700 through March 31. Includes three meals.

RESERVATIONS
800-331-9154.

—G.W.

Necker, British Virgin Islands

Is it the aura of Richard Branson that makes men indulge in the big-splash entrance when they come to Necker Island? How else do you account for the guest who helicoptered over from St. Thomas—the best way of arriving, I'm told—and insisted that the pilot land the chopper in the pool, even though that necessitated inflating the pontoons, which cost a few grand extra. Or the man who kept his guests in the dark about their destination, even getting the Necker Island boat crew to dress sans resort logo. As the resort-launch drew near to the island, he dove overboard and from the water cried out, "Man overboard. I need to be rescued by the nearest island. Take me to that one over there." That makes the guy who waterskied over from Virgin Gorda, about two miles to starboard, look unimaginative.

Or is it that they have an audience, one they've brought and paid for. For Necker is the place for the person who wants to be secluded with 25 of his closest friends. The entire 74-acre island belongs to Richard Branson, who sliced off the top of the highest hill in order to recrown it with a residential complex, done in Balinese style. (This is the only resort in the Caribbean where your eye is constantly lighting on the serene visage of Buddha.) You book the entire island by the week; according to managers Joanne and Mark Netherwood, 85 percent of the time one person—the guy in the helicopter, you can bet—pays.

The prefix ultra adheres to Necker Island like black sand does to your back, because it costs $20,500 a day. That sounds astronomical, but do the arithmetic and you find it's a very good value as luxury Caribbean resorts go—$788.46 per person per day in all. (You can easily spend that on a room at top Caribbean properties.) Like most secluded Caribbean resorts, Necker Island is neither ultraluxurious (there is no formal room service) nor even ultrachic. Hell, an oversize body-pillow is part of the living room furniture. But that's the point here: You are at home, or rather you are borrowing Richard's home—he's always referred to by his first name, incidentally—and he likes to be comfortable.

If the sense of seclusion comes from having your own island for a week, the atmosphere is that of a house party. Meals (at one and eight, heralded by a gong) are taken communally at a table for 26. Most of the rooms are in an annex, where the togetherness theme is pushed even farther as several adjacent doubles (Timor and Aior, Sumba and Surabaya) share a balcony. (The rooms are named for Indonesian islands.) The accommodations have a sturdy Balinese simplicity—four-posters and bamboo furniture—with occasional flourishes like the cotton-and-crewelwork duvet covers ("a real bugger to iron," according to Joanne).

The premier rooms are in two detached, pagodalike structures, Bali Hi and Bali Lo. Each is three stories high, with an open-air sitting room (first floor), windows-all-around bedroom (second floor), and crow's-nest sitting room (third floor). Of the two, Bali Hi has much the better location: right out on a point.

Necker Island comes with a wine cellar of 2,000 bottles, a chef who will (say the managers) get up and make you a sandwich at 3 a.m., and 27 other staff to ensure that the party goes smoothly. Although they are sometimes sidelined by the sheer momentum of 26 people out to have a good time. For in a kind of inmates-taking-over-the-asylum scenario, guests at Necker, according to the staff, often start acting like they do own the place. They tend bar, they go into the kitchen and help themselves, they do calisthenics nude on the roof sundeck. By week's end the group dynamic can become quite giddy, as when one French gentleman, on his final night, stepped up on a rough-hewn bench in the living room, whipped off his sarong, and shouted, Voilà! And was no doubt thrilled when all of his compatriots followed suit.

AMBIANCE
Private island house party with Balinese overtones.

THE LAYOUT
Main house with public rooms and 10 guestrooms, of which Nila has by far the best view (panoramic window wall), followed by Madu and Roti. Two detached suites, Bali Hi and Bali Lo.

ROOMS
Sturdy Balinese decor. Double rooms modest in size.

PRIVACY
Varies. High in Bali Hi, Bali Lo, and Master Suite in main house; average to low in others.

DRESS CODE
Whatever you like.

PHONE IN ROOM
Upon request.

AIR-CONDITIONING
No.

CEILING FAN
Yes.

TELEVISION
Giant screen in the main house. But none in rooms.

ACTIVITIES OFFERED
Snorkeling, windsurfing, sailing, light-tackle fishing. Game fishing and almost anything else can be arranged.

NICE TOUCH
The pillow menu. Nine choices, from Royal Cotton to Snore Stopper and Maternity.

RATES
$13,000-$20,500 per day, all inclusive, depending on number of guests.

RESERVATIONS
800-557-4255.

—G.W.

Biras Creek, British Virgin Islands

"You must be new here," said the sweet-looking couple from Seattle standing behind me at the maître d's desk. How could they tell? Was it because I wasn't relaxed enough or dressed down enough or confused from having taken the wrong path in my pursuit of the dining-room stairs? Whatever the telltale sign, they ended up doing what veteran guests here love to do—they invited me to dinner as a way of welcoming the newcomer to the club.

Which put me in an awkward position that evening, for I felt something of an ingrate confessing that I didn't get Biras Creek. Sure, I could see the away-from-the-world allure: The resort, on the largely unsettled eastern neck of Virgin Gorda, is reachable only by boat and has water on three sides. But in my whirlwind, golf-cart tour of the property, conducted by one of Biras Creek's high-spirited British staff, I thought the grounds looked a bit scruffy; the beach, while fronting gorgeous aquamarine water, was composed of sand that looked coarse; and while the two Grand Suites lived up to their name in size and design (a mix of Caribbean fabrics and furniture), the regular rooms were too cute, with painted ceramic sinks and accessories and Caribbean prints. As for the bicycles provided for riding down to the beach—shouldn't someone have taken a wire brush to them and removed the rust?

My hosts looked at me with mild exasperation, then outflanked me, conceding all objections but ending by saying those points were exactly what Biras Creek was all about. To come here isn't just to travel beyond the reach of cars, they averred, but to escape the perfectionist expectations of daily life back home. To them that rust was reassuring. And, they added, the bicycles should be old-fashioned; you should have to pedal a dusty road to get to the beach; the room decor is meant to be cheerful, not a tour de force of design; and the beach, if not one of the world's best, is fine for lounging. Biras Creek, they said, was about being comfortable, one of the few resorts in which they could really relax. "Give it twenty-four hours," they advised over dessert.

By the next day, I'd begun to understand, if not convert. The rhythmic roar of the Atlantic rollers hitting the stony ocean-side beach outside my suite had lulled me to sleep the evening before. And there was no denying that chef Daniel Patterson had a deft hand in the kitchen. His menu mixed classics like beef in red-wine sauce with lighter dishes like wahoo in carrot-ginger sauce; in both instances the flavors were punchy, the color vibrant. I started looking forward to socializing over the wheel of Stilton put out every evening after dinner, accepted when one of the guests offered to teach me how to play snooker, and swore never to watch the satellite TV in the swanky new entertainment room installed in the 1996 renovation. (Repeat guests regard it as an egregious violation of the Biras ethos.)

If you subscribe to the perfection-is-boring school of thought, and find English clubbiness congenial, you'll fit right in. I almost made it. But maybe I'm too American: That rust never really made sense to me.

AMBIANCE
Low-key, English.

THE LAYOUT
32 suites plus a pair of two-bedroom villas.

ROOMS
Grand Suites live up to their name. The rest are spacious, but the Biras Creek decor is Tropical 101.

PRIVACY
Good overall.

MOST PRIVATE ROOMS
Number 16A, plus the two villas.

DRESS CODE
Casual.

PHONE IN ROOM
Yes.

AIR-CONDITIONING
Yes.

CEILING FAN
Yes.

TELEVISION
Only in entertainment center.

ACTIVITIES OFFERED
Two tennis courts, watersports, and boating.

RATES
High season (mid-December to early April): $570-$770 for suites; $870-$970 for villas, depending on number of guests.

RESERVATIONS
800-223-1108.

—L.W.

Other Resorts We Tried

Little Dix Bay, on Virgin Gorda, has one of the most beautiful beaches in the British Virgin Islands, and overall we liked the property. The setting is splendid, there are three restaurants, nightly movies, and many organized activities. However, the resort's size (98 rooms) and the relative lack of privacy in guestrooms made it less secluded than the other resorts profiled here. The rooms, while modernized, reflect the resort's 1960s origin in size and layout. Rates: $550-$1,300. 800-928-3000.

Peter Island Resort, a private island owned by the Amway Hotel Corporation and also in the British Virgin Islands, reopened in December 1997 after a multimillion-dollar renovation. The common rooms, and 52 bedrooms, have all been spruced up (with the exception of the bathrooms, which remain motel-like). The setting is wonderful, the beaches fine, but here, too, the sense of seclusion isn't as great as it might be if the layout were different. Aside from two villas, there are two sets of rooms—the detached A-frame Ocean and Garden View rooms, near the dock, and the two-story beachfront Junior Suites (four to a unit), which are better by far. The second-floor rooms are more secluded than those on the first-floor. The best option: Rent one of the two villas, the four-bedroom Crow's Nest or two-bedroom Hawk's Nest. But even then you might be mixing it up with daytrippers, since this 1,800-acre island is a sailors' destination. Rates: $705-$825 MAP; $970- $1,180 for Hawk's Nest villa; $5,500 for Crow's Nest villa. Rates slightly higher December 19-January 2. 800-346-4451.

The Four Seasons Nevis sounds like it will be secluded since getting there involves two flights (to San Juan, then St. Kitts) followed by a 25-minute boat trip. But the size of the property (196 rooms) and its nature—a full-service golf, tennis, and beach resort—make it seem that you have brought the world with you. That's not a criticism; this is one of the best resorts of its kind in the Caribbean. Service is excellent, the golf course one of the region's best, and the kids' program the reason so many families opt to come here. The only thing that could be better is the beach. $625-$3,895. 800-332-3442.

Grace Bay Club in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos started out as a small (21 units) condominium development and was turned into a hotel at the last minute. The condominium feel remains—not necessarily a bad thing. The rooms are residential scale and come with full kitchens and a washer/dryer. But the hotel is not secluded; rather it occupies a small slice of busy beach. This is the Caribbean for those who don't want to travel far (an 80-minute flight from Miami) but do want to relax on a beach where there is a lot going on. Best rooms: 207, which has two large balconies; 111, 211, and 304 (a duplex), all of which have great views of the beach. Those who want privacy should take 114, "the worst room for the view," said manager Martein van Wagenberg, "but one of the most secluded and romantic." $495-$1,255. 800-946-5757.

—G.W.

About this Guide

Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel Prices For high-season, double occupancy, from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite, not including taxes or service.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS)
For travel assistance, call 800-443-7672. From abroad, call 602-492-5000 collect.

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Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.

Disclaimer: the information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in November 1998, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.