If ever there were a daunting challenge, it would be to pick the "Best of the Caribbean." Name a category, and there are literally dozens of contenders-even hundreds for some categories-that should be mentioned. Fabulous resorts, spectacular beaches, romantic restaurants: How can you choose?
To start with, everyone on our staff contributed their own favorites. Then we talked to boat owners, charter captains, crews-anyone and everyone. Last, we appealed to members of the Society of American Travel Writers to help frost the cake. By the way, to keep our list manageable, we opted to save the Bahamas and the Mexican Caribbean for future Bests.
From those lists (which were in surprising agreement), we culled the categories to manageable size. Then we donned our flak jackets to offer you a look at the Best of the Caribbean. If you have an addition-or even a nomination for a new category-we'd love to hear from you. Enjoy!
5 Best Private Islands
Private means what it says: sand, water, palm trees, privacy, a hammock and a well-stocked bar (okay, you can toss in a French chef and a yoga instructor, too). Necker Island, owned by Sir Richard Branson, a hands-down winner at $42,000 per night (Yes, that's not a typo) Petit St. Vincent, St. Vincent Guana Island, BVI Palm Island, St. Vincent Young Island, St. Vincent
Water Adventures Stingray City, Grand Cayman (feed rays by hand and pet them if you dare) Whale Shark Gathering, Belize, April-June (swim with gentle 40-footers) Night Dives, Bonaire (go with divemaster to town pier in Kralendijk to swim around the coral-encrusted pier) Swim With Giant Rays, Tobago, November-April (huge docile rays give rides)
Barbados Jazz Festival, January 10-16 Mustique Blues Festival, January 19-February 2 Curacao Jazz Festival, May 27-29 St. Lucia Jazz Festival, May Heineken Jazz Fest, Puerto Rico, June 2-5
5 Caribbean Beers To Taste
Red Stripe, Jamaica, popular with yachties in the islands Presidente, Dominican Republic Banks, Barbados Carib, Trinidad Hairoun, St. Vincent/Grenadines
6 Caribbean Trinkets To Bring Home
Serious sailors know Bequia as the home of some of the last authentic wooden boatbuilding, done by eye, not computer, and informed by generations of experience. It makes sense that their toy boats would be little masterpieces, and a perfect bribe to those you left at home. Model sailboats, Bequia Carib baskets, Dominica Amber, Dominican Republic Cruzan bracelets, St. Croix Lace, French islands Artwork, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, et al.
6 Local Phrases to Work Into Conversation
All Mash Up Broken. "My autopilot is all mash up."
Bahn Har Born here. You probably can't use it unless you're from down island.
Jeeze & Bread! A clean swearword, curiously addictive. "Jeeze & Bread, my autopilot all mash up!"
For True? Really? "Is your autopilot all mash up, for true?"
Limin' To hang out. "They limin' down at Foxy's bar."
Walk With Take with you. "Be sure plenty of money walk with you into town."
5 Tennis Destinations
Our criteria is based on long experience of trying to play on courts that were melting under our tennis shoes, while groups of disgruntled guests waited to kick us off. All of our picks, on the other hand, have plenty of courts, are lit at night (a must) and offer good pro service. Curtain Bluff, Antigua; Four Seasons, Nevis; Little Dix Bay, USVI; Wyndham Sugar Bay Beach Club, USVI; The Buccaneer, USVI
12 Events Not to Miss
1. Trinidad Carnival, February 2. Shirley Heights Jump-Up, Antigua, every Sunday afternoon 3. Vaval Carnival, Martinique, February 4. Anse La Raye Jump-Up, St. Lucia, every Friday night 5. Full Moon Party, Tortola, on beach at Bomba Shack, with mushroom tea 6. Fete des Cuisinieres, Guadaloupe, April, celebrates Creole cooking 7. Bonaire Dive Festival, Bonaire, June 8. Pirates Week, Grand Cayman, October 9. Parang Festival (ad-lib singers), Carriacou, December 10. Leatherback Turtle Egg Laying, Trinidad/Tobago, March 11. World's Longest Conga Line, Barbados, April 25-28 12. Dominican Merengue Festival, July 23-31
5 Best Bars
Oh gosh. The research notes are all smudged! But if memory serves us right, host Foxy makes up songs about you while you're sitting there; if you sit long enough at Soggy Dollar, everybody in the yachting world will stroll past; the bonfire at Turtle Beach is bright enough to read palms by; Basil's is upscale and elegant and on the beach; and Rick's has a spectacular view, perfect for endless contemplation of ways to miss the flight home. Foxy's Tamarind Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVI Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVI Turtle Beach Bar and Grill, St. Kitts Basil's Beach Bar, Mustique Rick's Café, Negril
12 Great Rums To Sip
If you had to choose the one rum to go under every pink parasol of every fruity drink in the Caribbean you'd pick Bacardi-but the brand has history on its side too, from the addition of Coca-Cola to the invention of the daiquiri (both by Americans). Yachties wax poetic about Mt. Gay and Pusser's, for their nautical associations. Insider's quote: "Cruzan is the rummy's rum." Think intense, local, a taste acquired but then never forgotten. Bacardi (easily #1, from Puerto Rico) Mt. Gay, Barbados Myer's, Jamaica Pusser's Don Q, Puerto Rico Cruzan, St. Croix Callwood's, Arundel Appleton's, Jamaica Westerhall, Grenada Rhum Balbancourt, Haiti Cockspur, Barbados Alleynes, Barbados
6 Best Airlines To Fly
Flying is no-frills in the Caribbean, with a premium placed on getting there on time and with all your baggage. National loyalty aside, American does the best job, offers the most routes and may even give you a packet of peanuts. Glancing over your pilot's shoulder and seeing a Texaco map in his lap can certainly dispel any romantic notions about going local. American Airlines (the hands-down leader with pro service and lots of flights), BWIA, LIAT, Air Jamaica, Caribbean Star, Cape Air
5 Offbeat Events
Tivoli Lighting Parade, Aruba, January 29 (lighted people and floats) Midnight Ban Topa Street party, Curacao, February 5 (a public slumber party) Laugh til Belly Burst Humoristical Night, St. Maarten, March 11 (comedy night) Lobster Festival, Belize, July 1-3 (crack and eat) Ripsaw Music Festival, July 31-August 2, Turks & Caicos (bring your hand saw)
5 Caribbean Drinks To Try
CSR, St. Kitts/Nevis (Cane Spirit Rothschild), a clear sugarcane liqueur Guavaberries, St. Maarten, a berry liqueur Maubi, Puerto Rico, a nonalcoholic drink of tree bark, sugar and spices Prickly Pear Cactus Liqueur, Virgin Gorda, a potent liqueur Shrob, French islands, a liqueur of bitter oranges
8 Local Dishes to Try
Conch Fritters (deep-fried and battered) Johnny Cake (a deep-fried dumpling, hot or cold) Ole Wife (boiled triggerfish with spices and onions) Callaloo (soup of greens, ham or crabmeat, and okra) Grizzadas (mouth-watering handheld tarts filled with coconut) Goatwater, Antigua (hot goat stew) Grilled Flying Fish, Barbados Iguana Stew, Grenada
10 Great Caribbean Golf Courses
Golf in the Caribbean can be like Jekyll and Hyde: sweet in the morning, hellish in the afternoon once the trades pick up. Our advice is to tee off at dawn and kick back in the clubhouse and on the beach the rest of the day. Teeth of the Dog, a Pete Dye course in Dominican Republic at the Casa de Campo resort, and the only Caribbean course on Golf's 100 Best List White Witch at Ritz Carlton Rose Hall, Jamaica, a Robert von Hagge course Green Monkey at Sandy Lane Resort in Barbados, a Tom Fazio 54-hole course Blue Bay Golf Club, Curacao, a Rocky Roquemore course Four Seasons, Nevis, by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Royal Westmoreland, Barbados, by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Carambola Golf Club on St. Croix, USVI, by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and built by Laurance Rockefeller Tierra del Sol, Aruba, by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Mullet Bay, St. Maarten, by Joseph Lee, and the only course on the island >Tryall Club, Jamaica, by Ralph Plummer
6 Best Caribbean Sailing Regattas
Antigua Sailing Week, April (modern sailing yachts) Antigua Classic Regatta, April (vintage sailing yachts) Heineken Regatta, St. Maarten, March (modern sailing yachts) BVI Spring Regatta, April (modern sailing yachts) Anguilla Boat Races, August (locally built boats) LaSource Grenada Sailing Festrival, January/February (all kinds)
10 Best Spas
Spas are big in the Caribbean, naturally complementing the vacation and recreation experience. But there are spas and there are places like Body Holiday, which deals in "personalized rejuvenation," the imparting of "small wisdoms," and the sort of treatments and dietary regimens that could turn Wallace Beery into Leonardo DiCaprio. (Don't worry, most of them have tennis and scuba, too, and all the other good stuff.) Body Holiday at LeSport, St. Lucia Cuisinart, Anguilla Elysee at La Samanna, St. Maarten Malliouhana, Anguilla Oasis at LaSource, Grenada Sandy Lane, Barbados Four Seasons, Nevis Jalousie Hilton Resort, St. Lucia Privilege Resort, St. Maarten Self Center at Caneel Bay, USVI
Perfection is in the details, and to narrow down the hundreds if not thousands of beaches in the Caribbean to a Top 10 might take a lifetime of research. (Sorry, we have plenty of volunteers.) These are our Top 12. What do we know? They were on everybody-who's-anybody list, even if the order of appearance was different. Before you quibble, we suggest you try them all. Half Moon Beach, Turks & Caicos Shoal Bay Beach, Anguilla Coco Point Beach, Barbuda Dickinson Bay, Antigua Palm Beach, Aruba Payne's Bay, Barbados Diamond Beach, Martinique Half Moon Beach, Antigua Grand Anse, Grenada St.-Jean Beach, St. Bartholemy Palmetto Beach, Barbuda Pigeon Point, Tobago
10 Best Snorkeling Sites
What makes our top pick here is that The Indians is not an overnight anchorage. Get there in the morning bright and early and the water is not only clear, but the fish haven't been scared away by the anchors and chains. Our number 10, by the way, is reputed to be the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island grotto. You can swim inside for about 60 feet, checking out the fish and hoping for doubloons. The Indians, BVI Bonaire Marine Park Bloody Bay Point, Cayman Islands Curacao Underwater Park, Curacao Buccoo Reef, Tobago Princess Alexandra National Park, Turks & Caicos Buck Island Reef National Monument, USVI Grand Anse, Grenada Norman Island Caves, BVI
20 Hotels and Resorts to Savor
What distinguishes the best Caribbean hotels is the way they blend their indigenous ambiance with the four-star approach to service and amenities. And then there are the specialties, whether the French Main House restaurant at Malliouhana, the 55 acres of beachfront at La Samanna, or the white-domed Moorish villas at Cap Juluca that give it the look of a Greek island. Malliouhana, Anguilla La Samanna, St. Maarten Cap Juluca, Anguilla Sandy Lane, Barbados Little Dix Bay, British Virgin Islands Hotel Carl Gustaf, St. Bartholemy Biras Creek, BVI Hotel Le Toiny, St. Bartholemy Four Seasons, Nevis Hotel Eden Rock, St. Bartholemy Ladera Resort, St. Lucia Cotton House, Mustique Caneel Bay, USVI Nisbet Plantation, St. Kitts Golden Eye, Jamaica Curtain Bluff, Antigua Jamaica Inn, Jamaica Hotel St. Barthe, Isle de France St. Bartholemy, Wyndham El San Juan Hotel & Casino, Puerto Rico
6 Best Diving Spots
Sometimes a name says it all, and there's not much anyone can add to the Great Blue Hole to convey its sheer grandeur. Think of it as an elevator to the ocean bottom, with stops on all major aquatic wildlife floors. Great Blue Hole Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands Anegada, BVI Ambergris Cay, Belize Provo, Turks & Caicos Saba