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Insider's Caribbean: Where To Go Next

February 10, 2014 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent

View of Nevis from Majors Bay Beach on St. Kitts. Visitors can make plane or ferry connections between the two islands.
View of Nevis from Majors Bay Beach on St. Kitts. Visitors can make plane or ferry connections between the two islands.

Island hopping throughout the Caribbean can pose a hefty challenge since interregional airlift can be so inconsistent that clients are sometimes required to fly past their final destination before eventually landing and vacationing there. But hopping within the destination or nation presents a much more realistic option. So Travel Agent decided to target the four sets of siblings located within the Caribbean that can help add a little salt and pepper to the usual Caribbean getaway.

Also significantly, “little sister” isles are something you can use to lure your veteran Caribbean clients who think they have “been there, done that,” but may not be aware of these idyllic getaways that are often overshadowed by their more heavily–promoted twins.

Antigua and Barbuda

The Big Sister/Little Sister: Antigua gets the big sister nod as it is the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands. It is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, covering roughly 110 square miles. It has a population of 80,000 people, whereas the much smaller Barbuda is home to only about 2,000. Barbuda is a flat coral island with an area of only roughly 70 square miles.

Location: Antigua and Barbuda are part of the Leeward Islands chain in the Eastern Caribbean.

Nearest Airport: Antigua is home to V. C. Bird International Airport, which is where most people will fly to when going to Barbuda as well, followed by a 25-minute drive. However, Barbuda is also home to the much smaller Barbuda Codrington Airport, which can accommodate small charter flights. Currently, it has only one scheduled service offered by ABM Air as the airport has a very short runway and no terminal building.

Shirley Heights, Antigua, affords panoramic view of the island’s English Harbour, Nelson’s Dockyard and surrounding bays.

Shirley Heights, Antigua, affords panoramic view of the island’s English Harbour, Nelson’s Dockyard and surrounding bays.

Hottest News: It was announced toward the end of 2013 that Sandals Resorts International will bring a new Beaches Resort to the country. The move comes not too long after the company announced the purchase of a Couples Resort and a new Beaches resort in Barbados. The new Beaches Antigua will be built on the site of the company’s existing Grand Pineapple Beach Resort in Long Bay. It will have one- to four-bedroom rooms and suites, up to 12 restaurants, conferencing facilities and a waterpark, cinema, Xbox Play Lounge and BMX track.

Most Popular Clientele: Young couples and large families are the dominant guests here. Specifically, fans of all-inclusives should be targeted. Affluent clients tend to head to Barbuda for an overnight while budget-conscious vacationers in Antigua will head to Barbuda for a day trip or perhaps an overnight or two. Antigua is immensely popular for both couples on a budget and families looking for some of the best all-inclusives in the region. 

Other Niche Markets: Soft adventure travel, weddings and honeymoons, and both budget and luxury travel.

Most Popular Activities/Attractions: Water sports continue to be the most common activity on both islands, while horseback riding is also a big attraction on Antigua. Also on Antigua, tell clients to check out Shirley Heights, a restored garrison that has a panoramic view of English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard. Named after General Sir Thomas Shirley, a former governor, this installation has two particular vantage points worth seeking out. One of the main buildings, known as the Block House, was put up as a stronghold in 1787 in case of a siege. From here, in the southeast area of the island, you can peer over a cliff 487 feet above Galleon Beach. It is as terrifying as it is absolutely gorgeous. Don’t worry; you don’t have to get too close to the edge to see the green hills, where countless goats and their adorable kids can be seen, and definitely heard, climbing on their way down to the base of the cliff.

At night, the area is a popular camping ground for couples looking to watch the sun come up. 

Hot Hotels: Arguably the best place to stay in Antigua is Galley Bay Resort. This 40-acre couples’ haven, built next to Giorgio Armani’s mansion, sports a larger pool area, a tennis court, small fitness center with only a treadmill and exercise bike (although there are plans to make the gym bigger), a cricket lawn, pool table, free Internet room with two computers, two bars and three restaurants—Gauguin, Sea Grape and Ismay’s Restaurant & Bar.

Pigeon Point on Tobago’s southwestern coast is a popular beach in its own right and also a jumping off point for visiting Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool dive sites.

Pigeon Point on Tobago’s southwestern coast is a popular beach in its own right and also a jumping off point for visiting Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool dive sites. 

Galley Bay Resort is for couples seeking tranquil surroundings. Since guests need to be at least 16 years old, it is not an option for most families. 

There is only one hotel in Barbuda, but it’s a great one. Lighthouse Bay Resort sits on its own private island, with 17 miles of pink sand beach and the Caribbean Sea on one side and a shallow lagoon on the other. This is just the thing for affluent couples looking for something off-the-beaten path in the Caribbean. While Barbuda in general is not recommended for a vacation on its own, one or two days here could be a much needed escape from the more tourist-heavy Antigua. Guests can either access the property directly via a private helicopter from Antigua Airport (ANU) or take an S.A.G. flight to Barbuda followed by a boat-ride across the lagoon. A private plane can also be arranged from Antigua to Barbuda.

Additional Tips for Agents: Barbuda is a great compliment to Antigua, but until its gets more resorts and easier access to the island, we wouldn’t recommend anything past a night or two on the island. In fact, it is perfect for a day trip, but staying at Lighthouse Bay Resort for a couple of nights is a treat in itself. Antigua has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean so be sure to tell clients to soak up the sun while there.

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St. Kitts and Nevis

The Big Sister/Little Sister: St. Kitts is clearly the bigger sister, but both destinations can carry their weight equally. In fact, Nevis is one of the few “smaller sisters” that can make a great vacation on its own. Roughly 36,000 people make St. Kitts their home and nearly 4,000 people live on Nevis.

Location: St. Kitts and Nevis are part of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles and represent a federal two-island country in the West Indies. They are the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, in both area and population. The pair is separated by a two-mile-wide channel. 

Nearest Airport: On St. Kitts, all flights arrive at the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport, just two miles outside the historic capital city of Basseterre. On Nevis, carriers are serviced via Vance W. Amory International Airport.

Hottest News: In early January, the St. Kitts Tourism Authority announced that Racquel Brown has been appointed to serve as the organization’s acting chief executive officer. As a 17-year veteran of the industry, Brown brings a depth of experience to her new position that has been gained in both the public and private sectors in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean.

Lobby terrace at Hyatt Regency Trinidad, a hotel that is popular with veteran Caribbean clients.
Lobby terrace at Hyatt Regency Trinidad, a hotel that is popular with veteran Caribbean clients.

Also on St. Kitts, Seaborne launched a service between San Juan and St. Kitts on January 15. Seaborne has a code share agreement on select sectors with American Airlines and interline agreements with Delta and JetBlue. These agreements will provide additional connections over San Juan that will augment the island’s current non-stop lift and open St. Kitts to passengers flying JetBlue and other carriers to the Caribbean. 

Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s senior executive management team and project designers recently reviewed and approved the final designs for Park Hyatt St. Kitts, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. 

First announced in February 2013, preliminary work has already begun on the $180 million 298-unit Koi Resort & Residences in St. Kitts’ Half Moon Bay. Set on 16 acres of prime beachfront property, it will feature 24 Half Moon Villas and 12 waterside villas with the rest being studio and one-bedroom units. The mixed-use resort development will also include the renowned Koi Restaurant, beach club, and an exclusive ultra-lounge, all with a design that will combine colonial and modern architecture to capture the definition of rustic luxury. 

The Imperial Bay Beach & Golf Residences broke ground last March. Set in St. Kitts’ Half Moon Bay, the project consists of six two- and three-story buildings housing 86 contemporary and traditionally styled one-bedroom condominium units with Atlantic Ocean views of Nevis as well as views of a lake and the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course. There will also be a common area with an office and leisure room, a swimming pool and landscaping.

In February, Christophe Harbour announced a new $50 million residential villa development for 50 new two-bedroom villas within its Sandy Bank Bay community, each of which will incorporate 1,500 square feet of interior and exterior living space. 

As far as Nevis goes, Travel Agent spoke in 2013 to Mark Anthony Graham Brantley, Nevis’ newly elected tourism minister, and learned that the sister island to St. Kitts is looking to add Amanresorts to its portfolio of luxury boutique resorts. Brantley told us that although “there are still some small matters that need to be finalized,” the plans call for a roughly 40-room resort to be built on the opposite side of the island of the Four Seasons Nevis, currently the island’s most popular luxury resort. The Amanresort would be roughly 15 miles away and will also include an array of villas as well as a new golf course.

Oyster Bay Beach Resort accommodates visitors to Dutch St. Maarten and is only minutes from the delights of French St. Martin as well.

Oyster Bay Beach Resort accommodates visitors to Dutch St. Maarten and is only minutes from the delights of French St. Martin as well.

Most Popular Clientele: St. Kitts is good for everyone, but leans more toward families since there are well-known hotels brands such as Marriott there. Nevis is great for older affluent couples looking for a romantic getaway. Younger couples head to Nevis as well, but generally both islands attract clients with more than $100,000 in annual income. These are also both excellent scuba diving and golf destinations. 

Other Niche Markets: Romance continues to dominate both islands, while soft adventure and health and wellness continue to be growing niche markets on St. Kitts and Nevis. Golf and scuba diving are also dominant on both islands. 

Most Popular Activities/Attractions: Among St. Kitts’ most impressive features is Brimstone Hill Fortress, rising almost 800 feet above the sea and boasting the island’s most spectacular view, which spans as far as Nevis, St. Eustatius, Saba and even St. Barts on a clear day. Known as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies,” Brimstone Hill began construction in 1690 by slave labor during British rule as a refuge fortress in times of war. It is the only man-made UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean and sprawls over 38 acres. 

The Botanical Gardens of Nevis combines a rainforest conservatory and other natural wonders with contemporary sculptures.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis combines a rainforest conservatory and other natural wonders with contemporary sculptures.

In Nevis, there is an abundance of golf and health/wellness activities, but be sure to tell clients to check out a cricket match if they want some true culture. Matches are played between January and mid-July, both locally and on a regional level. School children, both boys and girls, can often be found playing in schoolyards around the island. You can watch both men and woman play cricket Thursday nights during the season in Grove Park in Charlestown. 

The Botanical Gardens, with contemporary sculptures amid resplendent fauna, is also a must-see.

Hot Hotels: The St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino is well-suited for families and groups while the island’s Ottley’s Plantation Inn is a good fit for couples seeking romance and for weddings. On Nevis, the best hotel is the Four Seasons Nevis, which is often credited with putting the island on the tourism map and can be recommended to affluent couples or families.

Additional Tips for Agents: Tell clients how easy it is to get to both St. Kitts and Nevis from North America with various non-stop flights and easy connections. Describe the wealth of attractions, including zip-lining and hiking in the rainforest, spa treatments, water sports, beaches and much more. Lastly, explain that the islands are not overdeveloped, so they retain an unspoiled, authentic feel along with a laid-back Caribbean vibe.

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Trinidad and Tobago

The Big Sister/Little Sister: Trinidad is the big sister here, but not by that much. The pair lies just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles. Trinidad is home to 70,000 people while nearly 60,000 live in Tobago.

Nearest Airport: Piarco International Airport has direct service to many destinations in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, and Europe. The airport is the hub for the national airline of Trinidad and Tobago—Caribbean Airlines—and is a third hub for Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT).

Hottest News: In September, JetBlue Airways announced plans to begin once-daily nonstop service to Port of Spain (POS), Trinidad, from New York/JFK starting February 24, and also from Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport (FLL) on May 1, 2014. These flights are subject to receipt of government operating authority. Daily nonstop service between JFK and Savannah / Hilton Head is expected to begin on February 13.

Most Popular Clientele: Affluent and honeymoon clients will head to Tobago while business clients and those younger leisure clients looking for some of the best clubs and overall nightlife will head to Trinidad.

Other Niche Markets: Girlfriend or guy getaways, luxury travel, weddings and honeymoons, and family travel dominate the region.

Most popular Activities/Attractions: Whether biking or zip-lining in Chaguaramas or kayaking in Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Trinidad offers something for all adventure-savvy travelers. In Tobago, visitors can enjoy world-class diving at Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool or hiking the Main Ridge Rainforest (the oldest protected reserve in the Western Hemisphere). Also, Carnival in Trinidad should be on all Caribbean lovers’ bucket list. Officially, Carnival is the Monday and Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year), but celebrations begin right after Christmas.

Historic Fort Louis sits atop a hill overlooking Marigot, St. Martin.

Historic Fort Louis sits atop a hill overlooking Marigot, St. Martin.

Hot Hotels: The Hyatt Regency Trinidad offers expansive state-of-the-art meeting facilities with 43,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a 16,000 square-foot grand ballroom and a 10,000 square- foot multi-purpose facility; full-service restaurants with lobby bar and lounge; rooftop bar and grill; 9,000 square-foot spa and fitness center; and a rooftop pool and terrace. This is perfect for seasoned, affluent Caribbean clients.

Recommended for families, Tobago’s Plantation Beach Villas has six villas, each offering three bedrooms and a full kitchen to provide clients with a home-away-from-home while on vacation. Clients have complimentary access to table tennis, badminton, volleyball, beach paddle tennis and darts as well as sea kayaks. The reception can also arrange hiking excursions, day cruises, cacao estate tours and horseback riding by the sea.

Also in Tobago, tell clients about Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, which became the destination’s first new hotel in more than 12 years when it opened in 2011. The 200-room oceanfront hotel has five fine and casual dining options, an 18-hole PGA-designed golf course, expansive beachfront, multiple swimming pools, generously sized and flexible meeting/event space, and the newest spa on the island.

Additional Tips for Agents: Trinidad has its share of crime, so tell clients not to go out alone at night. However, the nightlife in Trinidad is one of the most appealing aspects of the destination so we definitely recommend clients hiring a private driver, tour guide or anyone who is employed by the tourist board and knows the ins and outs of the country. No trip to Trinidad, however, is complete without at least a two-to-three day visit to Tobago. Of all the sister islands we’ve featured in this story, these two perhaps have the greatest contrast. Tons of business clients will get their work done in Trinidad and then relax in Tobago but very rarely vice versa. With the exception of Carnival, a visit to Trinidad is not complete without meeting its smaller counterpart.

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St. Martin and St. Maarten

Big Sister/Little Sister: This is probably the most evenly divided of the sister islands as far as both population and popularity amongst clients go. This in part may be attributed to the fact that these separate nations actually share the same island in the northeast Caribbean, roughly 185 miles east of Puerto Rico. St. Martin houses 41,000 inhabitants while St. Maarten comes just short of that at nearly 37,000 people.

Nearest Airport: Aéroport St-Martin Grand Case is the international airport on the French side of St. Martin while the Princess Juliana International Airport is the airport on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.

Hottest News: On St. Maarten, Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino recently completed a series of renovations around the property and has rebranded itself to appeal to a more adult audience. Each room now has Wi-Fi, a flat screen television and a clock radio with an iPod dock, among other amenities. 

The Towers at Mullet Bay is nearing the completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation slated to conclude this month. The renovation will include upgrades of the fridges, stoves, ranges, dishwashers and microwaves in the units’ kitchens, along with new beds, drapes and other soft furnishings in the rooms. 

Oyster Bay Beach Resort began the last phase of its unit renovation plan in the fall of 2013. The project includes the renovation of 24 units in four separate buildings. Sapphire Beach Club Resort, located just three miles from the Princess Juliana International Airport, has recently unveiled a newly-renovated onsite bar and restaurant. Baker’s Suites, St. Maarten’s first and only all-suites boutique hotel, has recently opened in Simpson Bay. The Blue Mall shopping center has officially debuted in St. Maarten. 

The roadways on the island have been improved with the construction of the new Simpson Bay Causeway, including a swing bridge which will alleviate traffic and improve accessibility to Simpson Bay, the airport, Cole Bay and Marigot, St. Martin. A brand new marina is under construction at the Oyster Bay Beach Resort with 38 boat slips—five slips reserved for the resort and 33 for private owners. Oyster Bay Marina will be a focal point for the watersport excursions available to Oyster Bay Beach Resort owners and clients and will include amenities such as a resident harbor master and access to Wi-Fi.

On St. Martin, the biggest news has been the return of Mardis de Grand Case. Every Tuesday, from January 10 to April 3, the old village of fishermen which has become the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean, livens up around the biggest arts and crafts market of St. Martin. The inhabitants put on their nicest costumes while visitors let themselves be led by the Caribbean rhythms and admire traditional dancing or local artists shows. The event also gives an opportunity to sixty or so artists and craft workers to exhibit their works in the thriving creativity of this merry season.

Most Popular Clientele: Foodies, foodies and foodies. Both destinations have been hailed as some of the best places in the Caribbean dine. For families, we recommend St. Maarten as it is home to bigger resorts and is a bit more Americanized while the French side caters more to the European. Many of St. Martin’s resorts are smaller boutique properties with so-so rooms but incredible views, lending it more to the wedding or honeymoon client.

Other Niche Markets: On St. Maarten, the most popular niche markets are culinary travel, family travel and luxury travel. On St. Martin, the dominant niche markets are incentive travel and weddings and honeymoons.

Most popular Activities/Attractions: On St. Maarten, the most popular activities are sailing and yachting. Also, tell clients on St. Maarten to be sure to check out Maho Beach. Due to the beach’s close proximity to the Princess Juliana International Airport, the location is one of the few places in the world where aircrafts can be viewed in their flight path just outside the end of the runway.

On St. Martin, tell clients to visit Fort Louis overlooking the bay of Marigot, the Loterie Farm, and Orient Bay, the paradise for watersports activities. Also, tell foodies to visit Grand Case, often referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean.

Hot Hotels: On St. Maarten, the two hottest resorts are Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino and Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa

Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino is great for families as it’s one of only two all-inclusives on the island and has activities for children and adult-friendly entertainment, such as multiple restaurants, bars and casinos nearby. The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa is great for affluent clients who want to be off the beaten path a bit. Grammy-Award winning singer John Legend recently stayed here.

On St. Martin, recommend the La Samanna, Karibuni Lodge or Radisson Blue St. Martin Resort, Marina and Spa. La Samanna is on the largest beach of the island Long Bay. This five-star property with architecture inspired by Greek remains is a unique haven. It also has one of the best wine cellars in the Caribbean. Located on the French side, the Karibuni Lodge welcomes you on the north side of the island, overlooking the bay Cul de Sac and the islands of Little Key, Pinel and Tintamarre. Located in the picturesque Anse Marcel, on the northwest coast of the French side of St. Martin Island, on 500 meters of beach, Radisson Blu St. Martin Resort, Marina & Spa has more than 250 rooms and suites with private patios, a spa, an infinity pool, and two restaurants in beautiful tropical gardens along the beautiful beach. 

Additional Tips for Agents: When booking St. Maarten, highlight the cuisine. The island is known as “the culinary capital of the Caribbean” with 365 restaurants—one for every day of the year. With the widest variety of dining experiences of any other island in the world, the destination offers visitors a wide range of worldwide cuisine. Also, highlight St. Maarten’s vivacious nightlife. There are 14 world-class Las Vegas-style casinos on the Dutch side of the island, not to mention an abundance of nightlife venues—chic rooftop lounges complete with sandy floors, restaurants, nightclubs that go all night and a consistent stream of popular performers. For clients that are pure beach lovers at heart, highlight how St. Maarten’s 37 square miles is home to 37 breathtaking beaches. 

Also, be sure to tell clients English is widely spoken in both destinations and the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere. The hotel product in St. Martin leans more toward the European clients who rarely spend time in their room, meaning the rooms at most of the resorts are average but the views are spectacular at most resorts. St. Maarten has the more Americanized resorts but not as many smaller, cozy hotels as St. Martin has. We recommend doing three days in each.

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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