Tranquil, relaxing Caribbean resort sought

We’re planning a Caribbean trip sometime this summer, four adults and an 8 year old, and are having a hard time finding the perfect spot. I’ve looked trough many of the travel sites, watched the Travel Channel’s Top Caribbean Destination this past weekend, have solicited advice from friends and even researched some old threads here. In doing all that, I think it’s help us refine what we are and, maybe even more importantly, aren’t interested in but we’ve still yet to lock in on that perfect site. As a bit of a guide, the most intriguing site is Peter Island in BVI but we’re not going to do anything near THAT pricey. We’d like nice but we’re not trust fund babies. So something with similar surroundings, only scaled down a bit would be preferable.

What we’re looking for:
Nice long, white sand beaches, clean water for snorkeling, swimming.
Golf. Not a “must” but definitely a big plus. Same with tennis, croquet, etc.
Villa or cabana style rooms w/ character, on or close to the beach. A place that compliments, goes in hand with the surroundings.
Interesting topography a plus, whether it be hilly vistas, nature trails, volcanoes, whatever.
Access to town with restaurants, shops, sites of historical interest.
Friendly populace, at least some English spoken, definitely want a SAFE environment.
Fairly accessible w/o numerous flights, long boat rides, etc.

What we’re trying to avoid:
Crowds, touristy kitsch, pushy vendors, especially on the beach.
Being surrounded by or too near a large city.
Mosquitoes or other pests, sea lice, great white sharks, etc.
Towering hotels, cookie cutter rooms, bland restaurants.
All inclusive deals that lock you onsite.
Loud, party environment.

Places not interested in:
Mexico - too dangerous.
Haiti/Dominican Republic - been there already and too many vendors.
Cayman Islands - honeymooned there already.
Jamaica - been already, too many vendors.

Considering but unsure about:
Belize - is it safe?
Aruba - is it too desolate?
Puerto Rico - don’t know much really.
Turks and Caicos - seems a bit desolate, anything besides beaches?

Very interested in:
St Lucia
St Kitts
Antigua
Barbados
British Virgin Islands
Curacao
Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines

So… anyone have any suggestions? You may know of some place not even mentioned yet. Fitting destinations, especially if you also have a specific resort would be much appreciated. Also, any recommendations about when it’s best to go? For instance, when to avoid peak occupancy, windy or rainy season, etc. Are there any “must dos” while you’re there? Your comments are all greatly appreciated!

What a terrible quandary you have found yourself in.

BVI is great for snorkeling, but really more of a sailors paradise. Belize is safe, and they speak English, which is a plus for communicating. Plenty of beaches. It was over ten years ago, but we had a lot of independent cabana type places and boats for hire. I didn’t golf, so I couldn’t tell ya.

I’ll throw in a plug for Bequia, in the Grenadines. It falls short in two regards though - it’s not easy to get to (via ferry from St Vincents, or islandhopper plane from Grenada / Barbados), and it’s got no golf. But it’s safe, uncrowded, English speaking, and the people are very friendly.

We were only there for a half a day on our recent Carribean trip - but it’s far and away the one we want to go back to.

The island is seven square miles, pop around 5000. The main town {Port Elizabeth) is small but cute - has all the basics, including a bookstore. The harbor is gorgeous, and filled with small yachts (no cruise ships come anywhere near there). There are several (oldish) hotels near Port Elizabeth as well as many restaurants, and some newer hotels in a second settlement that if memory serves is called Friendship Bay.
There’s a small museum, a fort, and a turtle sanctuary. Snorkeling and diving sites are aplenty, and the beaches while not stunning, are uncrowded.

Have you considered St. John, one of the US Virgin Islands? Not much town there, at least there wasn’t in the 70s, but otherwise would seem to fill your bill.

I went to St. John about a month ago and loved it. It sounds like it meets all of your criteria. The snorkeling was outstanding. There is a small, kind of gritty town with restaurants, plus a few more interesting ones scattered around the island. St. John is too mountainous for golf (or for its own airport) but it’s a short ferry ride to St. Thomas which has golf, more shopping and restaurants. (And the ferry ride is awesome in and of itself.) 65% of the island is a nature preserve so if you want complete privacy, you’ll be able to find it. Just pick out one of the many snorkeling spots that can’t be accessed except by foot or sea.

We snorkeled every day except one. Entry from the beach is very easy because they stay shallow for so long. We saw huge starfish, octupus, stingray, barracuda, etc. Some of the beaches (e.g. Trunk Bay) were crowded, but if you ventured to the other side of the island it was much less crowded. SaltPond Bay and WaterLemon Bay were outstanding, with just a handful of people and great snorkeling.

There are lots of hiking trails on the island. We took a half day hike along the Reef Bay Trail that went past a former sugar mill and the ruins of a former house. We did this through the National Park Service and they provided transportation to the trailhead and water transportation back to the park hq. We also visited petroglyphs (and some mongooses), a short distance from the main hiking trail. There are also ruins scattered throughout the island – one of them is located right on the grounds at the Caneel Bay Resort. Very cool.

We hired a sailboat for a day sail. He took us around to a few snorkeling spots. If I did it again, I’d hire a boat to JostVanDyke, a neighboring island.

St. John is very mountainous except for the parts at sea level. Being part of the USVI, English is the language and USD is the currency. You can also get decent fares. Our friends found a fare of $350/pp.

We stayed in a 2 bdrm villa at the Westin. They are pretty new and probably too cookie cutter for you. Caneel Bay Resort is very nice, but I’d also consider renting a private home.

Roatan, Honduras.

I don’t know where you are so it’s hard to say if it will meet your “accessible” criteria. I’m going this summer and it’s two-stops there but only 1 on the way back. I’ve read there can be mosquitos, but most reviews say you’re fine with deet if they’re there at all.

I’ve been to Barbados and the BVI. Both were beautiful and worth a trip.

I don’t know about resorts, but I recommend Colombia. (Yes, really!) I was just there and it was beautiful, the people were incredibly friendly, and I felt totally safe the whole time - even though I violated the State Department’s warning on traveling by bus at night. I imagine that if you flew in some place closer to the sea than I did, that wouldn’t even come up.

I’m more of a backpacking, hostel-staying kinda gal, so resorts didn’t come up, but I’m sure there are some along the Caribbean coast, and I bet you anything they’re cheaper than what you’re finding. Poor Colombia still has a reputation for being incredibly dangerous, so there aren’t a lot of tourists, but the security situation has improved immensely in the last several years.

Roatan’s lovely and has good diving, Costa Rica (either coast) is wonderful and they like Americans. Bonaire is for hardcore divers. Aruba can be nice but is quite small, ditto Curacao. If you didn’t have the restriction on the DR, I’d say Punta Cana (anywhere). What about Isla de los Mujeres?

Another option you might consider is a live-aboard. That way, you get the best of the islands but don’t have to sleep there. In the Caribbean, you can get most everything from “another Mai Tai, please, Walter” to “HEAVE! Pull that capstan!”

I’ve always wanted to stay at Ladera in St. Lucia. The rooms have only 3 walls and are open to the rainforests.

In addressing each and every one of these suggestions tomorrow I hope you’ll then forgive me for not doing so tonite. I’ve read them all. To a post they’ve either compelled me to do more research or have caused me to point out to my wife “This… this they mention is the one I showed you!”

It’ll be her 40th birthday. I don’t want her to forget it. Thanks for help tailoring it to insure it’s special.

Nothing wrong with working a capstan now and then; those can be interesting. Don’t get me started on the windlass, though.

Nevis is beautiful, although I can’t recommend any place in particular. I walked on the beach past the Four Seasons; it’s beautiful and has a golf course, but it might be a bit ritzier than you’ve said you’re looking for. If you’re in the neighborhood, go to Sunshine’s Bar and Grill next door, have a Killer Bee and drink a toast to sailors for me.

You might also look into Grenada. The Grand Anse Beach area is supposed to be nice, but perhaps a bit more party-oriented than you want. Grenada in general is supposed to have great snorkeling, and the harbor at St. George’s is beautiful and I know a nice restaurant there.

If pictures are representative, BVI appears to me as heaven on Earth. Sailing would indeed be an option for us and from what I understand “island hopping” via that platform is a popular pastime there.

The past threads on Belize pushed it to near top of our list. Everyone seems to love it.

… and no wonder, that place is gorgeous. We’re not doing just one trip to the Carib but kind of plan to keep revisiting over the years. The villas on Bequia look too good to resist for very long.

Actually, yes. Of our group my daughter and I are the only ones who hadn’t been there yet and it was the positive experiences of everyone else that drew our collective interest to this area. Although I was remiss not to mention it before, Caneel Bay is on our short list.

A Bob’s your uncle moment indeed. After everything you and they say about St. John, how could I not be smitten? As mentioned, the others in my group loved it. Unless they simply want to continue to try the new, this looks like a place where we’d all be tres content.

How did this escape my radar? Best I can figure is that the Honduras, like Belize, fall under “Central America” in travel searches, not “Caribbean.” I’d not even contemplated Roatan but only because I didn’t know about it. Thanks to you I can now give it its due consideration.

Looking at a map it doesn’t appear to be that far from Belize. Sure makes them both more attractive as we’ll be there long enough we could do a “two fer” and split our time between the two. Copan? Oh man, how cool would that be!

Kyla, years ago when I was still single and a world trekker, I met buddy Charlie in Peru to do the Inca Trail. Despite the beauty of that place, he kept talking about Columbia (where he’d just left), how staggeringly beautiful it was and how wonderful the people were. How fortunate you are to be able to visit. Sadly, I’m afraid my window there has passed but you should start a thread on it sometime so those of us who can’t go can experience it through your eyes. It’s my loss but I’m under no pretenses I’m as bulletproof as I used to be, nor would the rest of our group discount stories about the cartels. It’s a shame but that’s the reality of it.

False_God, thanks, all good recs, duly noted and am investigating. As to the live-aboard option, two things; One, with a young 'un I’d never rest for fear something might take her overboard. Also, we did the Pacific cruise thing last year and decided the next time we just wanted to park in one or two places and really settle in. Used to be whenever I travelled that I’d try and do and see it all. We’d return from a vacation exhausted and for the sake of the others I’m trying to mend my ways.

Bwhaaa… my dear, you and I are birds of a feather. I came across Ladera in my investigations and was spellbound. I don’t think it’s going to work for us this time but it definately is a place that tops my “just once before I depart this Earth” list. If you’re familiar with Ladera can I assume you’re also aware of Jade Mountain? It’s simply beyond description.

Strange you should mention this. I saw it on the show I mentioned and it’s one of my ‘Well, we could just say what the hell, let’s do this right’ spots.

Let’s see… we only live how many times?

Anguilla. They don’t have golf, but it is the most beautiful and relaxing place in the world. Completely safe. They have a pricey hotel on a gorgeous beach, (beach is open to everyone) and there are tons of villas and small rentals to be had as well at moderate costs. AND they have incredibly good restaurants. The locals are very, very friendly and English is their native language. The island is a former British colony. There are NO crowds or kitschy souvenir places. People may approach you on the beach by the swanky hotel to ask if you want jewelry or a hair braid, but if you say no thanks they will leave you alone.

We love Aruba, and go almost every year for at least a week or two. The food is fantastic, I don’t play golf so I can’t help you there (but the “minor league” baseball is pretty good). You are dealing with a very friendly, incredibly well-educated populace (a minimum of four languages spoken on average, plus papiemento) and very safe. Lots of nice beaches, you don’t have to visit the toursity-hell parts of the capital if you don’t want to. A bit desolate, I suppose (it is a classic desert island) but with the trade winds there are zero mosquito problems. Also great hospitals in case of emergency.

Did I mention the food? Best fresh seafood in the hemisphere.

When I was in college my parents took our family to a Club Med in the Bahamas which I still remember fondly. Beautiful beaches and pretty girls and blazing sun. But that might not be your cup of tea, and it was a long time ago, so it might have totally changed.

I have a much-better-travelled friend who likes both Belize, mentioned upthread, and also Vieques: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vieques

Having been to both Aruba and Anguilla, I’d say Anguilla’s is better, but YMMV.

However, if you do go to Aruba, be sure to look for the butterfly farm.

I can second Anguilla. We stayed at Ku on the North side, where it was about $200 per night for an ocean front suite with a kitchen, about 30 yards from the beach, and it was a sister property of Cap Juluca, so we got to use their amenities. (Cap Juluca is much much more expensive to stay there).

The water is the clearest I have ever seen. But the snorkelling was better in Belize. (near Ambergris Kaye, Kaye Caulker, etc).

MLS, when I first looked up Anguilla after reading your post I realized it was the beach for Cap Juluca, already on our short list. Hearing that about Ku though, I’ll give it a hard look.

Morbo, you say the snorkeling is better in Belize. What is it you prefer there? We’ve heard good things about Ambergris Kaye’s beaches but an earlier thread here cautioned that there was a lot of sea grass and kind of difficult to get away from. I’m the only one that going to SCUBA but everyone will be snorkeling pretty heavy.

EJsGirl, some of our relatives go to Aruba every year for the golf and love it. From your description and theirs I think we’ll have to go some year. The other couple on this trip wants “lush” this time but personally I think that desert environment sounds pretty awesome to explore around in.

Elendil’s Heir, I saw a show on bomb disposal teams working Vieques awhile back and the scenery was fantastic. I’ll give that a look too, especially if he puts it on par with Belize.

The beach for Cap Juluca is public, by the way. We stayed at a real quiet rental on a beach elsewhere, and would drive over to CJ to enjoy the beach, which is spectacular. Another thing, if you can, go out on that or any other remote beach at night. If it’s on Anguilla you will be perfectly safe, and you will see more stars than you ever knew existed.

The reason, incidentally, that Anguilla is so safe is not because of some superior police force. It’s just such a small island that everybody knows everybody else, and there is obviously a limited exit from the island. If a kid were to, say, steal a bicycle, it would be immediately apparent to everyone. Ditto with any other imaginable crime. They told us when we were there that there had been no violent crimes in recent memory at all. Of course, you don’t leave your camera lying on your car seat in front of an open window, that’s just asking for it. Some other tourist would probably steal it.