Caribbean Ease: The Honeymoonist's PicksWords by Susan Moynihan
As a long-time travel writer and founder of The Honeymoonist, a boutique travel company specializing in wedding and honeymoon planning, I’m on the road a lot. There are a million fancy hotels out there – I know, I’ve stayed in plenty of them! But to me, what makes a resort truly special is that combination of luxury and a low-key vibe. You know, the kind of place that offers beautiful surroundings, gorgeous rooms and impeccable service, without being stuffy or pretentious. Here are four of my favorites in the Caribbean, which are perfect for a honeymoon.
Round Hill Hotel & Villas, Jamaica
With pedigree like this, Round Hill has every reason to be stuffy. After all, it was founded in 1953 as a cottage-style retreat for the American high-society set (Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein, Bill and Babe Paley), who owned some of the first villas here. The resort celebrates its lineage proudly, with black and white photographs showing the likes of Grace Kelly. (Managing Director Josef Forstmeyr knows the stories behind every photo – ask him!) Guests return year after year, giving it an intimate, personal feel.
Today, the resort comprises 27 two-to-six-bedroom villas, plus 36 hotel-style rooms at the beachfront Pineapple House, with natty navy and white décor courtesy of designer (and frequent guest) Ralph Lauren. It’s set on its own private 110-acre peninsula, with plenty of places to kick back, including a gorgeous two-tier infinity pool set in an 18th century stone Great House and a perfectly private curve of beach. Dining is a treat, thanks in large part to the on-site garden that provides the resort’s produce. Farm-to-table dinners, a weekly beach barbecue and piano-bar sing-alongs give guests easy ways to mingle, creating friendships which span generations.
Turtle Inn, Belize
One wouldn't think a famous Hollywood director would create something so understated, but that’s exactly the case at this sweet hotel, owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola’s first hotel, Blancaneaux Lodge – set in the nearby Maya Mountains of Belize – started off as a vacation retreat for his family, so maybe that’s the secret? The Coppolas loved sharing their beloved Belize so much that they added a second hotel here in 2003, only set on the beach near Placencia.
The 25 thatched-roof cottages at Turtle Inn look rustic from the outside, but don’t be fooled. The Coppolas are avid travelers and collectors and it shows in the interiors, decorated with handcrafted furnishings and artwork from Bali and Central America, and featuring perks like screened porches and al fresco garden showers. Charcoal-grilled seafood is served beachfront at Gauguin Grill, a natural for this scuba-diving hot spot. But Coppola also shows off his roots at Italian-style Mare Restaurant, with its wood-fired pizza oven and great selection of Coppola wines.
Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos
It takes some effort to get to Parrot Cay; first, fly to Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, then taxi to the pier and take a boat to this private-island enclave. But the remote vibe is one of the prime reasons Parrot Cay has such a devoted celebrity following; it’s out of paparazzi range. The island itself is part residential (Donna Karan and Bruce Willis both have homes here) and part hotel, with 70 elegant white-on-white rooms climbing a hill above a white-sand beach that faces out to sea.
The serene vibe is due, in no small part, to the spa. Parrot Cay is run by Singapore-based COMO Shambhala, known for creating some of the best spas in the world. This one is divine, set apart from the rest of the hotel, with an open-air yoga studio, outdoor Jacuzzi garden and nine treatment rooms offering Asian and Ayurvedic treatments. The exotic feel continues at Lotus, the al fresco restaurant, which serves Asian fusion poolside, while the Terrace specializes in Mediterranean. But it's the rooms which set Parrot Cay apart, with serene monochromatic décor, canopy king beds, and even private pools and gardens with clawfoot bathtubs in the sumptuous beachfront villas which open onto the resort’s mile-long white sand beach.
Tortuga Bay, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is known for all-inclusives in every shape and size. But my favorite spot in Punta Cana is something entirely different: the small, boutique-style Tortuga Bay. It’s actually part of the massive Puntacana Resort & Club complex, which includes the Westin and Four Points by Sheraton plus residential homes – but you’d never know it. This hotel-within-a-hotel is set on its own private beach, with a separate entrance and check-in cottage. It’s a true boutique property, home to just 13 airy one-to-four-bedroom villas that feel more like vacation homes than hotel rooms — that is, if your vacation home had tasteful décor courtesy of Oscar de la Renta, which these do.
Each villa comes with a king canopy bed with Frette linens, an expansive living room, a kitchenette for convenience and my favorite part: your own golf cart for exploring. And there’s a lot to explore in this 26-square-mile complex, including a stellar oceanfront P.B. Dye golf course and the cushy standalone Six Senses Spa. The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Preserve has a private research institute devoted to sustainable development. When you want to mingle, take the shuttle to the centrally located Puntacana Village for independent shops, restaurants and a top-notch gallery showcasing local artists or to the marina for fresh seafood at the funky, boat-shaped La Yola.
Best of all, because the company that owns Puntacana Resort & Club also owns the airport, they can offer a one-of-a-kind perk: guests of Tortuga Bay get VIP service at the airport, speeding past the lines at immigration and customs. It’s a delicious treat to feel like you’re flying private even though you’re on a commercial jet. Because let’s face it, the most luxurious things in life usually aren’t about décor or flash, but about true comfort and ease. And there’s no better time to indulge than your honeymoon.
At The Honeymoonist, we specialize in planning amazing post-wedding escapes, as well as travel planning for destination weddings. The first piece of advice we offer to couples looking for a honeymoon spot: go somewhere that is new to you both. That way, you get the pleasure of discovering it together. There’s nothing like travel to create a unique shared bond that deepens your relationship – and no better time than a honeymoon to do so! To learn more about us, visit thehoneymoonist.com.
Photos (in order of appearance): Tortuga Bay (1st, 8th), Round Hill Hotels & Villas (2nd, 3rd), Francis Ford Coppola Resorts (4th, 5th), and Parrot Cay by COMO (6th, 7th).
This article first appeared in Destination I Do's Fall/Winter 2014 issue. You can order a copy here.
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