Our first island adventure took us to the island of Montserrat. The ‘Emerald Isle of the Caribbean’ seemed a likely spot for an intimate getaway to a tropical paradise. After a day of flying and a hair-raising cab ride from the airport over the lower slopes of a volcano, we arrived at the Flora Fountain, a boutique hotel in the capitol, Plymouth. We had dinner in the their courtyard, the only diners, but the manager turned on the fountain with its light display for us. On our doorstep was a bustling tropical port with shops and a marketplace; a few miles away in a bird sanctuary a black sand beach became our private swimming hole. Tropical jungle and ruined plantations were fun to explore, and in the evening we hung out at a seaside bar where we became ‘locals’ overnight. Our transportation was a Mini-Moke; sort of a cross between a land rover and a golf cart, but it got us around on breathtakingly narrow roads winding between mountainsides and cliffs. One day we drove, then climbed to the summit of Mt. Souffriere and looked down into the bubbling mud in the maw of the volcano. On the way down we hummed the Jimmy Buffet song ‘I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blow.’
A return visit convinced us we’d found our intimate getaway and didn’t anticipate ever wanting to go anywhere else. The volcano put an end to that dream. It did blow, and a wall of ash buried our piece of paradise.
So with bittersweet memories we planned our next tropical getaway. A promotional package to the Canary Islands caught our eye. Volcanoes again! But it was a great price for a first class island escape. So we flew to Tenerife and enjoyed all the mod cons at the Vulcano in Playa de las Americas. Our jaws dropped when we went to breakfast the first morning and encountered a hundred foot buffet surmounted by an ice sculpture! The pool had an island and a swim up bar with the beach just beyond it. On the street side was a swirl of Eurofusion shops, restaurants, real estate offices and currency exchanges. A short walk led to the port and yacht basin. Very cosmopolitan and chic. We went to the volcano on a bus, took the ferry to a neighboring island and day-cruised on Shogun, a Chinese junk that had found its way to the East Atlantic. We decided that upscale was fun too.
For our next venture in search of sun, sand and palm trees we decided to combine intimate getaway with luxury resort. We stayed for a few nights in English Harbor, Antigua at the Admiral’s Inn, a two hundred year old building once part of Nelson’s Dockyard, a major British Naval base in the 18th century. Goats grazed by the side of the road as we walked down to a restaurant on pilings above the water. Sailboats from around the world were moored in the harbor. Egrets stalked the shallows and a mongoose darted past us on the walk back. In the morning we ate breakfast on the terrace and tried to keep bananaquits away from our marmalade. Later, one of the Inn’s little outboards took us to a nearly deserted beach to swim, sun and watch yachts sail by. Lookout Point, on the cliffs above, hosts sunset reggae barbecues and it was there that we actually saw the fabled green flash.
St. Martin and Orient Beach was a world apart. The Mont Vernon was a huge complex perched on hills overlooking the beach. The beach was an eye opener – aptly named the Riviera of the Caribbean, it has the same dress code. Topless was the mode du jour, while one end of the beach was totally nude. It’s lined with clubs and restaurants, water sports, parasailing, and gift and t-shirt shops. Truly never a dull moment, but when it got too much, we had a private section of beach and a choice of pools. A poolside boutique sold French fashions; elsewhere you could indulge in henna body painting. One day we hiked to a butterfly farm, another found us enjoying our best meal since Paris at Bistrot Caribe in Grande Casse. Our last day we took a jet ski to Pinel, a ‘deserted’ island a mile off shore, then stuffed our swimwear in baggies and flew back to the states.
Nassau, we agreed, called for glitzy. The Wyndham Crystal Casino certainly provided that. With a private beach, huge tunnel waterslide at the pool, soaring towers around a shop filled atrium, restaurants and casino, we had a four star stay. Located on Cable Beach, it was a short ($1) bus ride to Nassau, with its pirate museum, straw market, cruise ships and over on Paradise Island rise the towers of Atlantis! This mind boggling resort is Vegas in the Bahamas; the walk-through aquarium is world class as are the Chihuly glass sculptures in the casino. A day on a Robinson Crusoe Cruise took us by boat to a small island for snorkeling, a bountiful lunch and even swim with a nurse shark. Upscale resort amenities were welcome and dinner at the Black Angus overlooking the action on the casino floor was memorable.
But we decided we wanted our next warm, green, faraway island to be quiet. We found Sebastian’s by the Beach on the West End of Tortola. A rambling collection of buildings with a compact general store cum front desk, comfortable rooms behind a palm shaded courtyard and a bar and restaurant across the street directly on the beach. While on the island we danced with dolphins and sailed twice: on a catamaran and a schooner. But we loved walking down the little road past the Sugar Mill Hotel to Bomba’s Shack, a beach bar built of driftwood that’s renowned for its full moon parties. We had dinner by candlelight one night at the Sugar Mill and watched the surf in the moonlight as we strolled back. On our last night we ate at Sebastian’s dining room, open to the beach breeze, and watched surfers as the sun slowly sank behind St. Thomas.
St. Thomas was our next destination. We intended to get over to St. John too. The Wyndham Sugar Bay had an attractive package, and it was conveniently located near Red Hook and the St. John ferry terminal. It also has an islanded pool with swim through grottoes, private beach and beach bar set amidst its own nature preserve populated with iguanas, egrets and night herons. There was a lively night scene at the casino and down at the pool complex. The in room wifi was really appreciated and being able to get a sandwich at midnight was nice.
So what’s the answer? Obviously, for us, it’s to do both, depending on our mood and where we want to go. Our experiences show some of what you might expect depending on your choice. There are advantages and drawbacks for each: here are some of them.
No crowds or touristy scene
Extremely personal service
Better chance to meet local people
Privately run, usually owner operated
Plenty of opportunities for private moments
Accommodations may lack some amenities
Limited dining, entertainment options
Car rental may be necessary
Can be remote, hard to find
No room service
First class amenities, pool, spa, private beach
Internet, satellite TV
Round the clock or very late night on site food, drink, entertainment
Often provide some shuttle service (airport, shopping)
Concierge for special requests
Front Desk frequently a long way from your room
Day trips often expensive
Can be crowded
Staff may be harried
‘Resort fees’ and other add on charges