from the archives: hot spas of the caribbean

For too many years, Caribbean spas were strictly amateur affairs. Not anymore: The number of high-tech hideaways scattered throughout the islands has exploded, with each one promising to reinvigorate your body and renew your spirit in new and novel ways. As a bonus, direct flights from JFK abound this time of year, making it easier than ever to escape for a weekend of pampering and be back in time for the Monday morning meeting.

Here’s our guide to five that know how to turn up the heat: CLICK HERE for the full story.

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wishlist: spawn of the sea

Lush and tropical Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia is one of the Caribbean’s most scenic resort hideaways. In the heart of the island’s marine reserves it’s also one of the rare places where divers and snorkelers can witness the miraculous Coral Spawning, one of nature’s most spectacular performances. Often described as an upside down snow storm, corals spawn by releasing millions of packets of egg and sperm cells that appear underwater as massive pink and white clouds which slowly drift to the surface where fertilization occurs. The next day the sea is partly covered by pink slicks of coral larvae – the next generation of one of the ocean’s most vital organisms. Within a few weeks the larvae will settle on the bottom and begin the process of reef building. The advantage of such mass spawning is obvious: to increase the larvae’s chances for survival. Most will be eaten by fish and other sea organisms, but the sheer volume of spawn insures that many will live to propagate the species. Of course, the reproductive process takes on added significance as the effects of global warming and other environmental factors slowly decimate the world’s coral reefs, making this a bucket list experience if ever there was one. To witness the magnificent spectacle – expected to happen about a week after the August full moon - Scuba St. Lucia, Anse Chastanet’s PADI dive operation, is planning a series of night dives to the Anse Chastanet reef, located just off the resort’s beach. Double-dipping for the week is a bargain, too. For $1869 per person a summer dive package includes seven nights accommodation, airport transfers, all meals and then some, plus 12 beach or boat dives with all the gear.

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bucket list: 2010 – march

ST. LUCIA:  I’ve long been a fan of this tiny Caribbean island’s utter lack of pretense – and gorgeously underpopulated beaches.  Which is probably why I’ve tended to spend any amount of time here within spitting distance of the water.  Escaping the end of the winter, however, I found myself bang between the Pitons at Ladera, the open-air hideaway perched a thousand feet up and flanked by the island’s two towering volcanoes.  The birds-eye views seemed to accentuate the great swathes of rainforest which cover the island and inspired me to trek north, into the deep of the jungle, for a nature lesson and zip-line adventure in the forest canopy.

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obit (the dust) of the month: bang between the pitons

Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, was a tall, quick-witted and handsome member of one of the industrial “good families” dating back to the 17th century. Such families worked their way into the aristocracy, courted royalty and found themselves and their descendants partly eroded by economic pressures and personal tragedies in the second half of the 20th century. In the case of Tennant, who has died aged 83, it was Princess Margaret who was once the reported marital “intended” and who remained a lifelong friend. For years, long after the chances of marriage between them had disappeared, Princess Margaret kept a house on the Caribbean island of Mustique which was his personal property.  He made the island into a holiday destination for the rich, the famous and the louche. He gave fancy-dress parties where the guests turned up in outfits as striking as Tennant’s own jewelled turban. Rock stars such as Mick Jagger and David Bowie rubbed shoulders with Viscount Linley and the Earl of Lichfield and with entertainers and media folk including John Cleese and Sir David Frost. To celebrate his 60th birthday, Tennant held a floating party, for which all the guests had a 100-mile boat trip to St Lucia, where later he would choose to live.  Read the full story on The Guardian website.

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video: piton place

Playing around here with a cool new bit of online software from Animoto.  Many thanks to Matthew Sandager for his photos of St. Lucia from earlier in the year.

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st. lucia: sundowners

The view of the Pitons form Ladera just does not get old – or boring.  The play of light and shadow across the foliage-covered volcanic rock creates a constantly shiftng landscape.  One of my favorite moments happens during the impending gloaming – those fleeting few moments as the sun starts to slip behind the peak.  Some people call it a corona effect, others refer to it as flare.  Seen through the boozy prism of cool vodka tonic, I call it the perfect end to the afternoon.

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st. lucia: three viewings, jalousie beach

Named for the louvered wooden shutters that are a common – and practical – architectural feature across the Caribbean, Jalousie Beach is a small stretch of heaven between the grand peaks of  Gros and Petit Piton.  Speckled with fish, the turquoise shallows are ideal for close-to-shore snorkeling; after the break the water turns deep blue, giving safe harbor to the passing envy-inducing yacht; and the sand is as warm and soft as it should be.

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st. lucia: guest pix

I was going to share a handful of my own photos until photographer Matthew Sandager offered to let me use his.  I give him all the credit – in addition to my thanks – for all of the fantastic images of St. Lucia  you’ll see over the next few days, such as these night-blooming water lilies in the garden pools at Ladera.  Creatures of the night, they unfurl each evening just after sunset to drink the evening dew.

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st. lucia: zip line

Unlike most Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is ripe with rainforest. Rain Forest Aerial Tram, in the highland community of Chassin, gave me a unique opportunity for the full immersion: a gondola ride up and away into the canopy, a bird’s eye view of the island’s verdant north, and a series of 12 zip lines that had me gliding from platform to platform like a big blue Navi.

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st. lucia: a ladder up to ladera

Just a tease for now – more to come later this week.  But suffice it to say that Ladera – and St. Lucia – did not disappoint.

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off the grid

I’m headed to St. Lucia this morning for a long weekend off the grid.  For a change of pace, the laptop will not be in tow.  So no live-blogging til next week, when I’ll catch you up on passion fruit, sustainable chef Orlando, zip lining through the rainforest – and how I (hopefully) managed to survive the absence of a fourth wall at Ladera.

And don’t worry about missing your daily fix, either.  I’m pre-posting a few bits and pieces to keep you occupied – and thinking – in my absence.

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from the archives: five will get you tan

Today’s blustery winter storm – and the promise that it will rage for days – has got me dreaming of a secluded beach, a fresh papaya or two, and the warm rays of the sun.  And now that I’ve succeeded in torturing myself, I thought I’d share a little story I did for the NY Daily News from this time last year:  5 Will Get You Tan.  The prices might no longer be current – though it would be interesting to see the difference a year has made – yet the fact remains that there are still recession-era bargains to be had across the still-smarting Caribbean and Mexico.  A long warm weather weekend – for under a $1,000 – is still very much a reality.  And that’s why I think I’ll spend my afternoon figuring out how to make my own quick escape!

The Caribbean is a lot closer, and cheaper, than you think. As one of the areas hardest hit by the economic meltdown, the Caribbean is having a serious sale. Even some of the region’s most notoriously exclusive resorts are putting up vacancy signs and making no bones about the deals and discounts being offered to lure timid travelers to the sun — everything from free airfare and free hotel nights to free meals and free spa treatments.

Which means if you’ve been dreaming of a weekend escape, you can make it a reality — and for less than a grand.

Here’s our guide to five quick and easy getaways that will have you on the beach before lunch and being treated like a princess or a prince without making you a pauper.

Sophisticated St. Martin

The Radisson St. Martin Resort, Marina & Spa is nestled on Anse Marcel, one of French St. Martin’s best-preserved and most secluded coves. It’s only four hours nonstop from New York City to an oceanfront resort that’s a quintessential island hideaway of brightly colored plantation-style buildings, lush gardens and lazy afternoons under the swaying palms.

Take advantage of the resort’s comprehensive enrichment program, highlighted by cooking classes with executive chef Bruno Brazier, French lessons and evening tastings of local rums and spirits. Or, head into the nearby village of nearby Grand Case, considered by many to be one of the culinary capitals of the Caribbean. Or both.

As part of the inaugural 2009 season, you’ll save up to 36% with a Winter WarmUp Sale. Rates from about $321 per night include daily breakfast at Le Marché. .

Bask in the Bahamas

Music lovers will get together and feel all right at the Marley Resort & Spa, the former family vacation home of Bob, Rita and the whole Marley clan.

Undeniably cool, the resort is an elegant microcosm of African and Caribbean style, located on a private stretch of famed Cable Beach in Nassau, Bahamas.

Generations of Marley music infuse the entire resort, and each of the 16 themed suites centers around Bob Marley’s song titles, including Kinky Reggae, Nice Time and Kaya, among others. With sculptured hand-carved doors, mosaic tiles and intricate stonework, the accommodations and amenities are as beautiful and unusual as the setting.

Tropical rain showers and sumptuous whirlpool tubs come standard, as does unparalleled service that begins the moment you’re greeted at the airport. Take advantage of a 50% savings with the Royal Welcome package — starting at $250 per night in a Deluxe Room — and get treated to an Akwaaba Welcome Touch Foot Ceremony for two. The foot massage with rose petals and Royal Rita bath brew will get every visitor jammin’ to the right vibe.

Awesome Aruba

The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino contains Aruba’s only private beaches on its exclusive Renaissance Island — a 10-minute boat ride via private launch from inside the hotel’s lobby. Flocked with curious pink flamingos on one side and giant iguanas on the other, the island also has a man-grove-hidden Spa Cove that’s just right for side-by-side massages at sunset.

The Sexy & Sultry Package at Renaissance’s adults-exclusive Marina Hotel, offers a 40% savings — and every third night is free. Also included: a $50 credit at the in-house casino and $50 in cocktail credit, which might come in handy while you watch the sun set at the out-door pool overlooking the harbor.

After dark, the Miami-inspired martini bar lights up to complement the house specialty: blue martinis. Should you accidentally overindulge, a onetime hangover breakfast for two is also part of the package. Rates start at $424 per night.

Seductive St. Lucia

It might be cold outside, but there is one “freeze” you’ll cheer about: the price freeze and rate rollback to be had at the luxury, eco-friendly Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in luscious St. Lucia. Couple that with “Sun Dollars,” a daily resort credit in effect on all new bookings and the savings climb to 50%.

Spread across 60 acres on an island known for its rainforest preserves and soaring volcanic peaks, Windjammer is celebrated for dramatic sunsets over a crescent-shaped, white-sand beach. Yet it’s also an ideal spot for families, featuring two children’s pools, specially designed menus for smaller guests, and a teen program where teenagers and adults can engage in recreational activities together.

Sun Dollars can be used for food and beverage, spa treatments at Serenity Spa, a sunset sail or zip-lining through the rainforest. Lily Suites, with four-poster beds and private terrace or sun deck, are $260 per night (previously $350) with $130 in resort credit.

Mayan Hideaway

Cocooned on a private beach and entwined in a tropical rainforest, the Tides Riviera Maya inhabits a pocket along the Yucatán Peninsula coast that’s as lush as its name: Playa Xcalacoco, which in the lyrical Mayan tongue means “twin coconut palms.”

With a select number of private villas, hypnotic spa and cuisine, and one of the best stretches of beach in Mexico, this secluded outpost is full of surprises like personal plunge pools, open-air showers, handmade hammocks and lush jungle flora blooming outside your terrace.

As if that’s not enough to seduce you, a Fly Free package will really get you in the mood. Book a minimum four-night visit and get a significant reimbursement on your airfare: up to $500 per person (that’s almost enough for business class!).  Simply present your airline ticket at check-in and the credit will be deducted from your bill at checkout. Limit two people per room. Lagoon suites from $570 per night.

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loving st lucia

Were you looking for love in all the wrong places last weekend?  Well, look again on one of my favorite islands: St. Lucia.  Spectacular beaches, rain-forested peaks, and one-of-a-kind romantic hideaways, mean it’s not your typical Caribbean escape – it’s the kind of island that makes your heart beat faster for all the right reasons.

Celebrating its first anniversary in 2010, Cap Maison is quickly becoming the proposal capital of the Caribbean. The stylish resort has earned a 100% “Yes” response when the ultimate question has been popped at its ocean view villas, private pools or the sands of Smuggler’s Cove Beach. This winter, the hotel even introduced a Proposal Concierge, the ultimate partner in discretion, elegance and creativity, who works discretely behind the scenes to handle all the  details and ensure that every answer is indeed a Yes. Recently, the Proposal Concierge orchestrated a private sail aboard Cap Maison’s luxury yacht. As they plied the smooth waters off St. Lucia, the groom knelt under a full Caribbean moon with a diamond ring while the captain proffered champagne. Another inspired moment took place on Rock Maison, a cocktail deck perched above the surging waves, where a rock of another kind was zipped down the Champagne Zip Line. Winter rates begin at $435 per night through March 31, 2010 in a Gardenview Room at double occupancy.

As one of the few truly classic Caribbean hotels remaining on St. Lucia, East Winds Inn upholds a tradition of understated romance and natural beauty. That makes it the perfect escape for newly or not-so newlyweds, as well as couples who simply want a quiet romantic getaway. With its white sand beach on pristine La Brelotte Bay, 12-acres of lush tropical gardens and old-fashioned Creole charm, it is no wonder  couples find their ultimate escape here. A large part of the carefree charm is because of the hotel’s all-inclusive rate. It takes care of all meals, most beverages including champagne, as well as a variety of water sports.  It’s the not-so-secret that allows couples to focus purely on the most important part of any escape – each other. All-inclusive winter rates begin at $850 through March 31, 2010 per room per night.

Ladera provides the ultimate romantic tropical escape thanks to their signature open-air suites, peaceful aeries that, by design, are without connections to the real world. Sans televisions, phones or computers, the only thing to focus on is each other. The hotel recently unveiled its new Paradise Pavilion, a dramatic open-air destination wedding venue for ceremonies and receptions of up to 100 guests, perfect for newly weds or renewing vows. Perched at 1,100 feet above sea level with stunning views of the Pitons and the Sea, the 1,200 square-foot Pavilion is crafted in Ladera’s signature rainforest style with terracotta flooring, columns milled and richly polished from tropical Greenheart wood, as well as cut stone and tile work crafted by local Saint Lucian masons.  Winter rates begin at $615 per room per night in a Petit Piton Suite at double occupancy.

The Landings St. Lucia, A RockResort, is the most luxurious full-service resort of its size on the island, spanning 19 acres and nearly 800 feet of St. Lucia’s most stunning beachfront. In December, The Landings St. Lucia unveiled 60 new villa suites, each boasting a fully equipped kitchen and two large balconies or landscaped terrace, many with heated, jetted plunge pools. A Romance and Escape package is an authentic Caribbean escapade for adventure-seeking couples. From $431 per night, it includes deluxe accommodations, choice of breakfast or lunch daily, “his” and “her” beach amenities, an exquisite dinner for two in The Beach Club and a selection of excursions, including snorkeling, SCUBA diving, rainforest zip-lining, golf or a lavish spa treatment at the 7,000 square foot RockResorts Spa.

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