Over the years, we have visited the Caribbean countless times, and our experiences there have ranged from blissful to dire. On a good day, however, it is undeniably one of the most agreeable places on earth. The sun is hot but not too hot; the sand and water can be world-class; and the gently insistent trade wind brings a delicious softness to the island climate. At the end of our recent extended trip, we concluded that the region is changing fast, and in many ways for the better.
The Caribbean’s besetting sin used to be complacency. Its islands are so close to the United States that hoteliers once seemed to believe that they had a captive market that would continue to pay grossly inflated prices for a markedly inferior product. As stylish resorts sprang up around the globe, we began to wonder just how long the place could hope to remain in business. To be frank, there are still only a handful of Caribbean properties that compete with the best that Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean have to offer. But in the recent past, we have observed steady improvement. Gaudy fabrics and unremarkable rattan furniture are being replaced by thoughtful interior design; the cuisine now frequently employs local ingredients and is enlivened by indigenous culinary traditions; and proper staff training has resulted in greatly improved levels of service.
Somewhat belatedly, the global craze for luxurious leisure spas has become widely established. (Indeed, one surprised general manager confided that revenue from beauty treatments now exceeds that from the golf course around which his resort was originally constructed.) For decades, the prosperity from tourism has flowed overwhelmingly to coral islands such as Antigua and Barbados. Indeed, it seems that white-sand beaches are still the best guarantee of commercial success. Given current preoccupations with the environment, however, combined with an increasing preference for spa therapies over sunbathing, the green and mountainous islands of the Caribbean may finally be coming into their own as fashionable and appealing destinations.
As any recent visitor to Miami can attest, cruise ships keep getting bigger. But for me, the allure of cruising is still to be found on smaller vessels. On my last Caribbean trip, I sailed aboard the 4,333-ton SeaDream I, which accommodates just 112 passengers. Previously I had enjoyed a memorable voyage on the classic windjammer Sea Cloud II, which carries a maximum of 94 travelers. The larger vessels of Seabourn and Silversea, which accommodate between 300 and 600 passengers, remain deservedly popular with Hideaway Report members. Not too long ago, I sailed with friends in the Grenadines aboard a comfortable 70-foot sailing yacht.