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Ever since Club Med promised the alluring antidote to civilization, all-inclusive resorts have increasingly dotted the Caribbean islands. Once cookie-cutter, they've increasingly diversified in a fierce battle for tourist dollars. Today all-inclusives come in every conceivable style and price range, as wonderfully varied as the Caribbean itself. Some cater to family fun, while others put the sin in scintillating for couples. One thing has not changed: no hassles. one fixed price for all you can eat, drink, and do... then leave your wallet and worries at home
To really get away from it all, head to the best all-inclusives around; the one that will cater to your every whim, where the rooms are sleek and updated, and where you can breathe easy for your entire stay. Here are the ten best all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean (with runners-up, for your consideration).
Best Beach: Tamarijn Aruba
Druif/Manchebo Beach, Aruba
Arid Aruba is famed for its sparkling champagne-hued beaches, rock formations resembling abstract sculpture, sizzling nightlife, and whipping winds that bend the trademark divi divi trees at a 90-degree angle as if bowing to nature. All rooms at the Tamarijn Aruba look out on lovely Druif Beach, which opens into the wide grin of Manchebo Beach fronting sister resort Divi Aruba.
Guests at the quieter Tamarijn can enjoy all the facilities of Divi: two resorts for the price of one, including nine restaurants, seven bars, three pools, nightly entertainment, a 9-hole golf course, and the nearby Alhambra Casino. The resorts take full advantage of that long stretch of beach, with aquatic activities aplenty, including snorkeling lessons and windsurfing clinics. Everyone gets their rocks off getting a grip on the 30-foot oceanfront rock-climbing wall.
Insider Tip: Savor tuna carpaccio while admiring the shimmering Murano art glass on display at the resort's signature restaurant, Paparazzi.
What's Nearby: Just five minutes away, Oranjestad, the capital, hops with shops, restaurants, and Dutch colonial architecture in a riot of pastel hues.
How to Get There: There are nonstop daily flights from several gateways, including Atlanta, Boston, Miami, and New York. Tamarijn is located just thirty minutes from Reina Beatrix International Airport.
Runner Up: Palm Island Resort in the Grenadines. This 135-acre green-certified resort fulfills anyone's private island fantasy for less green than you'd expect, with five seductive, hammock-strung beaches (and just 43 rooms).
Best for Adventures & Activities: Casa de Campo
La Romana, Dominican Republic
The name Casa de Campo means "house in the country"â€”as in a Kennedy-esque compound designed by Oscar de la Renta. Worried you'll weigh too heavily in the lap of luxury after indulging in the sybaritic spa and fine dining on offer? Casa also has 13 tennis courts, an Equestrian Center for horseback riding (or learning dressage, polo, grooming techniques, even rodeo stunts), and a Sporting Clays Shooting Center replete with safari-themed clubhouse for refugees from urban jungle wildlife, sailing, or fishing (deep sea and freshwater) from the Portofino-inspired marina.
Golfers snarl at "Teeth of the Dog," a Peter Dye design featuring seven water holes, trademark railroad tyes fashioned from native woods, IWC wicked bunkers, sharp drops in elevation, and unfair fairways playing across the resort's airport runways. Dye and wife Alice also created an inland sequel recalling a Scottish links layout and a scenic course that snakes around the Rio Cha and the Caribbean.
Insider Tip: If you can plan three months or more ahead, take advantage of Advance Rewards, a 15-20% year-round discount combinable with most rates and special offers.
What's Nearby: Shop and dine at Altos de Cha, a not-cheesy replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village replete with narrow cobblestone streets and crenellated stone castles.
How to Get There: JetBlue flies twice weekly to the Casa de Campo/La Romana International Airport eight minutes away; American and American Eagle feature regular service from Miami and San Juan.
Runner Up: Couples Swept Away, Negril, Jamaica. This luxury boot camp offers an eye-popping, heart-pounding array of athletic activities: Aerobicize, pump iron, soak in Rasta bush tea baths, down fresh fruit smoothies, and engage in golf, scuba, several racquet sports, sailing, kayaking, and more.
Best Offsite Activities: The Jewel Dunn's River Beach Resort & Spa
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
There's plenty to keep you occupied at the adults-only Jewel Dunn's River Beach Resort & Spa, whose brand launched in 2010: fitness center, two swimming pools, pitch-and-putt course, water sports, PADI-certified dive center, Radiant Spa, and special extras like swim-up concierges and evening Dive-In Movies (complete with Jamaica Jerk Popcorn). But the "living" wood carvings, tree stumps fashioned into artworks that dot the resort, stand as a reminder of its spectacular surroundings: Ocho Rios is a nature lover's paradise.
The name means "Eight Rivers" in Spanish but may be a corruption of chorreras (waterfalls); Columbus marveled that "the land seems to touch the sky here," thanks to the towering mountains that frame the area. Visit Fern Gully, where 550 native tropical varieties filtered by brilliant sunlight salute your passage or Green Grotto for a boat ride on an underground lake. Stroll the ruins of the first Spanish settlement, New Seville; No Coward's vacation home, Firefly; or Bob Marley's birth and burial place, Nine Mile. Mystic Mountain, an eco-conscious adventure park, offers a soaring chairlift, wild bobsled ride, and a thrilling Rainforest Zipline Tranopy.
Insider Tip: If adventures leave your feet barking, the pampering pedicure at the Radiant Spa places warmed stones from Jamaica's Black River on pressure points to coax out any tension.
What's Nearby: Dunn's River Falls, whose thunderous white water gushes in tiers down to the beach like a 600-foot wedding cake.
How to Get There: Fly into Montego Bay and drive roughly two hours to Ocho.
Runner Up: Buccament Bay, St. Vincent. This new luxury resort, whose stunning stretch of coastline provided shooting locations for Pirates of the Caribbean, offers abundant activity onsite (even a Performing Arts Academy), with excursions to the Grenadines (whale- and turtle-watching on Bequia, snorkeling the pyrotechnic Tobago Cays reefs), climbing the active La SoufriÃ¨re volcano, and hiking rainforest trails to 300-foot waterfalls.
Best for Couples: Jade Mountain
SoufriÃ¨re/Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia
"The Bachelor" popped the question at this stunning boutique resort on St. Lucia's rugged southwest coast. The setting isn't just dramatic: It's a literal cliff-hanger. Jade Mountain's architect/owner Nick Troubetzkoy and wife Karolin carved the hideaway from a steep hill with unimpeded views of the iconic twin Pitons, St. Lucia's UNESCO World Heritage site. It embodies the concept of organic architecture, with every design element connected to the landscape. Individual bridges lead to the extravagant suites, dubbed "sanctuaries," creating a dynamic dialogue with the surroundings. The result is a secluded place that cocoons its guests.
And with 15-foot ceilings, you feel high as a bird though in a surreal touch, terns and gulls glide far below. Each suite is unique, and even the "lowest" category, Star, faces the Pitons full on. Every bathroom boasts tropical hardwood vanities and whirlpool tubs for two (with strategic point-massage jets). That unparalleled service and connectedness continues with the resort's cuisine. Cookbook author and James Beard Award-winner Allen Susser is the consulting chef, and he utilizes bounty from the resort's two organic plantations. No wonder Jade Mountain wows even the most, well, jaded Caribbean connoisseurs.
Insider Tip: Visit the resort's second beach, Anse Mamin, enjoy the burgers at its jungle grill, then arrange a heritage/herbal folklore tour of the adjacent working 18th-century plantation noted for cacao (chocolate) production.
What's Nearby: The world's only drive-through volcano and the impossibly lush Louis XIV Diamond Botanical Gardens (where waterfalls gush from the volcano) replete with thermal hot springs.
How to Get There: Direct flights from London (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic), NYC-JFK (Jet Blue, American), Miami (American), Charlotte (US Airways), and Atlanta (Delta) serve Hewannorra International Airport, a 45-minute drive.
Runner Up: The Caves, Negril, Jamaica. Everything about The Caves is conducive to R&R Ã deux: 13 fancifully daubed stone-and-wood cottages clinging to the cliff above the West End's iridescent waters, hidden arbors and terraces for spa treatments and candlelit dinners in a cave commanding Caribbean views.
Best for Families: Beaches Turks & Caicos
Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
There's an industry joke: Beaches is where folks who honeymooned and got pregnant at Sandals (same ownership) go. It's that rare family place that respects both children and parents, catering to Gen X-ers and their Gen Xbox progeny. The sprawling resort sits on Provo's showcase strand, Grace Bay, apt to make any beachcomber genuflect.
It features 16 restaurants, a 45,000-square-foot water park (with surf simulator, lazy river, and tweens-only section with water cannons), six pools, Xbox game room, teen disco, and bountiful beach activities. Kids interact with Sesame Street characters at breakfasts. Educational entertainment can be found at Crayola Art Camps and Beach Science program (kids 4 to 7 dig for sharks' teeth in the sand). And the French Village section almost out-Disneys Disney, in cheery daiquiri colors. Suites in the newer, plusher Italian Village feature a sliding door that seals off the brood's bunk-bed room for greater privacy. Amid many refurbishments in the past year, all rooms now feature a personal Xbo360 game console, so parents can sneak off guilt-free for Blue Mountain coffee bean scrubs or romantic dinners.
Insider Tip: Sunrise on the dock outside Schooners seafood restaurant (owner Butch Stewart favorite location on property) and sunset drinks at the Italian Village pool tower.
What Nearby: Beach, beach, and more beach. "Going down" west from Grace Bay, Da Conch Hut is barely a shack, surrounded by towering mounds of conch shells, where several generations of Belongers (native islanders) dispense delectable conch salad and fritters.
How to Get There: Nonstop flights from Atlanta (Delta), Boston (American, JetBlue), Charlotte (US Airways), Miami (American), NYC-JFK (American), JetBlue), Newark (Continental), and Philadelphia (US Airways) service Providenciales International Airport.
Runner Up: Almond Beach Village, St. Peter, Barbados. Swim-up pool movies, junior chef classes, several kids' clubs (all exploring Bajan culture through Calypso and limbo lessons, arts and crafts incorporating indigenous onsite materials, even a Taste of Barbados program where kids can sample local fare), parental privileges at the adults-only sister property Almond Beach Club: It's like summer camp for everyone.
Best Value: Iberostar Costa Dorada
Playa Dorada, Dominican Republic
For value, you can't improve upon the Dominican Republic, where cookie-cutter compounds have spread like fungus in wildly popular Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Fountains gushing throughout the lavish landscaping, a sensuous lagoon pool, and the elegant if odd architectural hodgepodge (Spanish Colonial-meets-South Pacific) belie Iberostar's low prices.
Both the billeting (each of the nine buildings boasts its own concierge) and bill of fare, like a Brazilian rodizio (grill), far exceed the DR's budget billing; top-shelf liquors are even included. The Star Friends "ambassador" team helps guests stay entertained (highlighting experiences on- and off-property) all day with activities such as water polo, basketball, archery, shooting, tennis, soccer, billiards, aerobics, merengue classes, Spanish lessons, and more. All this for under $200/couple in high season.
Insider Tip: Guests can upload videos from any IBEROSTAR resort onto IberostarConnection.com to share their experiences with family and friends.
What's Nearby: Explore Puerto Plata and its fascinating Amber Museum, Sos (a Latin Riviera with sidewalk cafes and twin sandy crescents), and Caberete (the Caribbean windsurfing capital).
How to Get There: American, JetBlue, and United offer nonstop flights from their Baltimore, DC, NYC-JFK, Miami and Orlando hubs to Puerto Plata's Gregorie LuperÃ³n International Airport.
Runner Up: Curtain Bluff, Antigua. Two magnificent beaches, impeccable Carib-Continental cuisine (and 25,000-bottle wine cellar), ocean-view spa, stylish beachfront junior suites hugging the eponymous cliff, and notable extras (scuba and deep-sea fishing complimentary) make this exclusive all-inclusive a bargain in its class.
Best Pool: Beaches Negril Resort & Spa
Seven-Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica
The recently renovated Beaches Negril sits on the glorious expanse of Seven-Mile Beach, but good luck tempting the kids from the pool. Make that three pools and an 18,000-square-foot water park. They can cool their jets at Pirate's Island, which overflows with a 204-foot spiraling chute, a splash deck, water cannons, Elmo and Nemo slides, and a 392-foot lazy-river ride. The resort also makes a splash with Beaches' famed family-friendly frolics (pajama parties, sandcastle competitions, and Caribbean Adventure with Sesame Street shows); kids' camps that highlight Jamaican culture; and such parental perks as spa treatments with suggestive names (Scrub-a-Dub-Dub: Two in the Tub). It also helped pioneer the growing "family-moon" trend of wedding and honeymoon groups bringing children by offering packages with discounts, free group portraits, and T-shirts.
Insider Tip: If you venture offsite, take The Black River Safari, where you'll view crocodiles lazing amid the gnarled red mangroves.
What's Nearby: There's a second Negril, the West End, where hip, hopping, happening cafes perch precariously on cliffs, offering phenomenal laser-show sunsets.
How to Get There: Several carriers have daily nonstop flights into Montego Bay's Donald Sangster International Airport, which is two hours north of Negril.
Runner Up: Dreams Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This hyper-active resort's diverse attractions (climbing wall, mechanical bull, Euro-bungee ride, dancing and Spanish classes, Wiis and Xboxes) leave one of the DR's largest freeform pools, overlooking the ocean and replete with entertainment area, surprisingly deserted.
Most Luxurious: Rosewood Little Dix Bay
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
"If luxe could kill" might be the tagline of this legendary hideaway founded in 1964 by Laurance S. Rockefeller. The Rosewood Little Dix Bay remains true to his vision of a natural harmony, overlooking a half-mile crescent-shaped bay dubbed "wilderness beach." Every building, even the yoga pavilion, is situated to accentuate the stunning views. The accommodations seem to emerge from the landscape, shaded by the sea grape and palm trees.
Decor brings the outside in with floor-to-ceiling windows, light wood and teak furniture, stone walls, and earth-toned fabrics in island colors. Dine amid an ever-shifting canvas of surf, sand, and sky in the three open-air venues on cuisine that emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients. Likewise, the sense of place is paramount at the hilltop spa, which features jaw-dropping 360Â° panoramic views and incorporates many local plants in the treatments. The highlight among the splendid assortment of recreational activities? Complimentary Beach Drops via Boston Whaler to seven unspoiled strands around Virgin Gorda with beach towels, umbrella, and snorkel gear (picnic lunch and wine at an additional charge): the ultimate in barefoot chic.
Insider Tip: The Rock CafÃ©, situated among the boulders of the Baths, is the perfect spot for drinks after dinner, while listening to music at Sam's Piano Bar, the crashing waves and tinkling waterfalls providing percussive accompaniment.
What's Nearby: The Baths, a maze of granite boulders that resemble hulking Henry Moore sculptures interlaced with grottoes.
How to Get There: Year-round air taxi service operates daily from St. Thomas (26 miles southwest) to Virgin Gorda. The resort is five minutes from Virgin Gorda Airport or 20 minutes by sea on the resort's catamaran from Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, Tortola.
Runner Up: Spice Island Beach Resort, Grenada. From Janissa's Spa to Oliver's Restaurant, Spice Island admirably utilizes the enviable local ingredients, combined with world-class service, drop-dead decor, and all the latest deluxe decadences.
Best Spa: The Jalousie Plantation, Sugar Beach
SoufriÃ¨re, Anse des Pitons, St. Lucia
Just outside the French colonial town of SoufriÃ¨re on St. Lucia's less trammeled southwest coast, Jalousie unfurls luxuriantly across more than one hundred acres of tropical forest, staring right at the glorious UNESCO World Heritage-protected Pitons. Everything here rubs relaxation-seekers the right way. Restaurants feature smashing views and utilize the freshest local ingredients, while the cutting-edge Cane Bar presents a wide rum selection with a "rummelier" to help guide guests.
All accommodations offer butler service, contemporary colonial decor, WiFi, iPod docks, claw-foot tub, oversize plunge pool, and private patio. But you can really Zen out at the Rainforest Spa, with its seven tree-house treatment cabanas tucked into the dense foliage by the base of the Petit Piton. There's also a wet treatment room with mani/pedi facilities, beauty salon, and relaxation gazebo. An earthen Temascal is warmed by volcanic spring water; medicinal herbs poured over red-hot rocks produce a curative steam. In addition, body scrubs and wraps that use fresh fruits, herbs, and plants grown on the estate. And in the resort's signature Sulphur Seduction, you visit the springs to bathe in the black, mineral rich waters warmed by the Soufriere volcano. Your therapist slathers you in creamy mud to boost metabolism and circulation. You bask in the sun as the mud dries, naturally exfoliating and detoxifying the skin, and then shower in the hot spring waters of the Piton cascade.
Insider Tip: Jalousie is the island's only resort to offer night snorkeling. The National Marine Reserve off Anse des Pitons really wakes up once the sun goes down. The crystalline waters glitter with phosphorescence and marine critters dormant during the day crawl out from the reef's crevices.
How to Get There: Direct flights from London (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic), JFK (Jet Blue, American), Miami (American), Charlotte (US Airways), and Atlanta (Delta) serve Hewannorra International Airport, a 45-minute drive away.
Runner Up: Calabash Hotel, Grenada. This intimate beachfront hideaway offers utter serenity and posh pampering with superb cuisine seasoned with local spices, exceptional digs, stellar service, and the holistically oriented Heaven & Earth Spa whose celestial treatments, also utilizing Grenada's bounty, rejuvenate as they de-stress.
Best Food: Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort
Jumby Bay (Long) Island, Antigua
This swank resort presides over a 300-acre island two miles off the Antiguan coast, accessible only by boat. Originally an ultra-exclusive resort and community, it was reborn in December 2009 after an 18-month hiatus and $28-million array of new enticements. Explore the island by bike, bask on Jumby Bay Beach (where endangered hawksbill sea turtles bask), or luxuriate at the spa (try the Hammock Massage, you'll feel virtually weightless), then refuel at one of the resort's marvelous restaurants.
The Pool Grille specializes in refreshing island fare like snapper ceviche and crabmeat salad. The seaside open-air Verandah Restaurant & Bar offers "Carib-Pean" cuisine that marries the robust flavors of Provence with lighter, market-fresh local ingredients. In the evening, up to eight guests can savor private dining at a secluded Chef's Table in the Verandah "Kitchen" with a personal chef on hand, as well as a personal sommelier.
The signature Jumby Bay experience, the Estate House, built in 1830, channels bygone British colonial glamour. The interior resembles a private club out of something by Maugham, but you'll want to focus on Executive Chef Yann Giacomoni's seasonal dishes like seared scallop with citrus short rib, boniato gnocchi, or lobster ravioli in tomato confit. The decadent desserts that follow likewise infuse European tradition with local flair: think crÃ¨me Catalan PiÃ±a Colada with coconut cracker and rum-roasted pineapple.
Insider Tip: Pack white for the resort's White Night Sunday barbecue and dance party; it's Gatsby goes Caribbean.
What's Nearby: Jumby Bay's private ferry accesses the mainland throughout the day. St. John's, the capital, is just a few minutes' drive. Redcliffe Quay, and those in search of culture should explore the Church, 1716 Court House, the oldest building in St. John's, or the ancient tools and artifacts of the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda.
How to Get There: North American carriers including Air Canada, American Airlines and Continental serve Antigua's V.C. Bird International Airport. Jumby Bay staff greet and escort guests to taxis for a three-minute drive to the resort's private catamaran, crossing two miles to the island retreat.
Runner Up: Sanctuary at Cap Cana, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This resort tantalizes with five restaurants under the command of Culinary Director, Todd Gray, the celebrity chef behind DC's Equinox: Blue Marlin perches on stilts above the water, with seafood so fresh it seems to have jumped to your plate while the Asian, Italian, and steakhouse options are nearly as fine.
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