HOW DID WE COMPILE OUR LIST? We turned to Travel Agent magazine's top in-house destination editors and freelancers, who have traveled the world to sample some of the best; we also consulted with three industry experts and globetrotters: Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network; Suzanne Hall, senior director of marketing and development, land products for Ensemble Travel Group; and Albert Herrera, vice president of Virtuoso's Hotels and Resorts Program.
The Cove Atlantis—Paradise Island
Chic design, a high level of service, two nightclubs and a hip pool scene have made this resort a must for jetsetting clients. Soaring 22 stories into the sky, The Cove Atlantis (www.thecoveatlantis.com) is home to 600 suites, all with great ocean views. We found it to be the ideal complement to the just-opened Reef Atlantis, which is more geared toward families. Contact Brent Hall, national sales manager, leisure sales at 954-809-2175 or [email protected].
Cable Beach Resort and Crystal Palace Casino—Nassau
We recently checked out the $145 million repositioning of the Sheraton Cable Beach Resort and its sister property, Wyndham Nassau Resort, which comprise Cable Beach Resort and Crystal Palace Casino (www.cablebeachresorts.com). We stayed in Sheraton's Ocean View Room #583 and loved the balcony, which offered partial pool and ocean views. The Ocean Breeze Suites, however, are the "wow" factor here, since they offer wraparound, private terraces, plus bedrooms with adjoining parlors for wet bars—ideal for entertaining. And while we highly recommend Atlantis for gaming, The Crystal Palace Casino was about half as crowded and the table minimums were about half as expensive. Contact Vince Angelo, Sheraton Cable Beach Resort's hotel manager at [email protected].
The Mediterranean Village at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa—Antigua
The $70 million Mediterranean Village at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa (www.sandals.com) is an elegant retreat; we predict that besides attracting loyal Sandals fans, it will also draw an affluent, hip Gen-Y crowd, who will want to "see and be seen" at the huge freshwater pool with swim-up bars and luxurious cabanas, which are equipped with Wi-Fi. The top accommodations here are the One-Bedroom Villas, which have their own plunge pools and Jacuzzis, but we preferred our Penthouse Suite (#4501) because of its dramatic views of the Caribbean, and the entire resort for that matter. Contact Jennifer Ross, manager, retail partnerships, Unique Vacations at 305-284-1300.
Maxim Bungalows—Puerto Plata, The Dominican Republic
Singles are strongly encouraged to visit the highly anticipated Maxim Bungalows (www.maximbungalows.com), two properties set to open in Puerto Plata. Maxim Bungalows, Cofresi Beach, will debut March 15 while its sibling, Maxim Bungalows, Juan Dolio, is scheduled to open in September. The hotels are mainly for the Maxim magazine readership, 29-to-36-year-olds, singles and even couples looking to live the good life. Aside from a posh pool area with hip cabanas, guests of the Maxim Bungalows at Cofresi Beach can unwind at the huge 17,000-square-foot spa and on the 54-foot Maxim yacht, Independence. Contact Adriana Acosta, sales manager for Maxim Bungalows, at 809-970-3364, ext. 35060 or [email protected].
Villa Aquamare—Mahoe Bay, Virgin Gorda
At Villa Aquamare (www.villaaquamare.com), the 62-foot Azimut power yacht and 36-foot Tiara cruising yacht are available to rent, and make a fine perk to the three 8,000-square-foot villas that have just opened here on Virgin Gorda. Each villa has five bedrooms and large outdoor showers overlooking the channel. What makes this a hot property? We say it's the at-the-ready staff, on hand bearing chilled towels, ice-cold bottles of water and other "cool" creature comforts. Contact Managing Director Guillermo Paz ([email protected]).
Central and South America
Ka,'ana Boutique Resort & Spa—Cayo District, Belize
Ka'ana Boutique Resort & Spa (www.kaanabelize.com) has 15 cottages but we say the best to book are the King Villas with butler service. Luxury fans will love the iPod docking stations, espresso makers and flat-screen TVs while adventure seekers will enjoy canoe treks on the Mopan, Macal and Belize rivers, hikes through nearby rainforests, cave exploration or horseback riding. Contact Sales & Marketing Director Bernard Codd ([email protected], 501-824-3350).
Hotel Fasano—Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (http://fasano.com.br), a newly built, luxurious retreat on Ipanema Beach, has 91 spacious rooms and suites with private balconies. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, its not-to-be-missed rooftop pool has stunning views of the coastline and the mountains. The hotel's Fasano al Mare restaurant has already become one of the top tables in Rio, says Signature's Ignacio Maza, who also calls out the property's sleek design and its "understated, luxurious decor that combines contemporary design with period pieces from the '50s and '60s."
The newest concept in the Grupo Posadas family of hotels, this lifestyle hotel on Cancun's main Boulevard Kukulcan even has its own minty signature scent which wafts throughout the property. The service mantra here is "Your wish-my wish," but the main vibe can be detected at the AKA Wine & Mezcal Bar where mixologist Steve Olson's signature cocktails are proffered. (Think, watermelon mojito). Contact VP of Sales Rafael Sandoval at rafael.sandoval[email protected] .
Rosewood Mayakobá—Riviera Maya
The luxurious new Rosewood Mayakobá (www.rosewoodmayakoba.com) is set along a mile of beach on Playa del Carmen in the heart of the Riviera Maya. What's to love? The property has 128 suites, on either the beachfront or a lagoon and its spa occupies a private island with a cenote, a natural limestone pool fed by subterranean springs. For active guests, there's the championship Greg Norman golf course. Contact Corale Ortiz, reservations manager at [email protected] .
Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya
Even newer than Rosewood is the Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya (www.mandarinoriental.com/rivieramaya), which just opened its doors February 1. Set on 36 acres, all guest rooms at the resort have water views, whether of the lagoon, the resort's waterways or the Caribbean. Each room has its own private terrace or garden, some with individual plunge pools. We're anxious to try out the very chic M-Bar, an outdoor lounge serving exotic drinks.
The Tides Zihuatanejo
The Tides Zihuatanejo (www.tideszihuatanejo.com), formerly the Hotel Villa Del Sol, has a number of amenities that make it a standout, including an enhanced beach experience, exclusive butler services and a seafood-themed restaurant with private lagoon dining. Thirty-seven luxurious guest rooms and 35 suites are housed in two-story, adobe-inspired casitas; each has a private terrace or balcony. Suites include outdoor infinity-pools for soaking up the views. If the need for still more serenity strikes, there's the spa, which has a beachfront massage palapa. Contact Carlos Blanco, reservations manager, at 755-555-5500.
The Levin—London, England
The Levin (www.thelevinhotel.co.uk), a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has recently opened with just 12 rooms on London's Basil Street just behind Harrods. Nice touch: In-room minibars have been usurped by champagne bars, allowing guests to mix their own sumptuous cocktails en-suite. Contact General Manager Henrik Muehle at (44) 20-7589-6286 or e-mail reservations to [email protected] .
Capella Castlemartyr—Cork, Ireland
What's the buzz about this new property, which is the brainchild of Horst Schulze, former president of Ritz-Carlton? Capella Castlemartyr (www.capellacastlemartyr.com) is one of the most expensive hotels in Ireland, plus a new castle hotel always generates interest. Finally, there are high-level service expectations—General Manager Peter Bowling ([email protected]) hails from Jumby Bay in Antigua. While there's much to be said about the luxurious rooms, clients will be impressed with The Knight's Bar, which spotlights a 50-bottle Irish whiskey cart with such rarities as Midleton 1973.
The Charles Hotel—Munich, Germany
The Charles Hotel (www.charleshotel.de/home) is an elegant, understated property with fine Italian dining, says Signature's Maza. Rocco Forte's newest hotel is within walking distance to Maximilianstrasse and the center of the city, and boasts 160 large, bright guest rooms, many with views of Munich's botanical garden. A fantastic new health club and top-notch service make this a world-class hotel.
Mystique (www.mystique.gr), a member of Starwood's Luxury Collection, has 18 rooms carved into a cliff on the edge of Santorini's chic town of Oia. We suspect having cocktails at The Aura Bar and snagging the resort's wine cave for a private dinner will be two of the top attractions for jetsetters. Contact Kalia Konstantinidou at [email protected] .
JK Place, Capri—Capri, Italy
JK Place, Capri (www.jkcapri.com) opened on the Amalfi Coast a year ago on the former site of the Hotel Continental. What's the hip factor here? We feel it's a tie between the cosmopolitan bar inside and the posh scene at the hotel's outdoor swimming pool. Be sure to request a Double Deluxe Room with a seaview terrace. Contact Resident Manager Verena Fiori ([email protected]).
Ca' Sagredo—Venice, Italy
At Ca' Sagredo (www.casagredohotel.com), most of the hotel's 42 rooms and suites serve up stellar views over the Grand Canal. The building housing the hotel, which is near the Rialto Bridge, dates back to the 15th century, when it was one of Venice's most luxurious palazzos. We predict that watching the sunset from L'Alcova restaurant and L'Incontro bar will become one of Venice's top pastimes.
Aquapura—Douro Valley, Portugal
Set in Portugal's charming wine region, the Aquapura Douro Valley (www.aquapurahotels.com) is the place to send those clients who claim to have "done" all the other wine regions. The new hotel, set in a 19th-century manor house, has 50 units, including a Presidential Suite. In addition, 21 luxury villas range in size from one to three bedrooms. Contact Tania Garcia at [email protected] .
The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow
The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow (www.ritzcarlton.com) opened next to the Kremlin on Red Square last July. Sparing no expense, the property employs a staff that includes a three-Michelin-star chef, a vodka sommelier and "night butlers" who escort guests to Moscow's hottest venues. Want more? There's an ESPA with 14 treatment rooms and the must-visit O2 lounge on the hotel's rooftop. Contact Guest Relations Manager Alla Kosik ([email protected]).
Thompson Beverly Hills—Beverly Hills, CA
The new Thompson Beverly Hills (www.thompsonhotels.com), the invention of Jason Pomeranc, the force behind the SoHo's 60 Thompson, is already creating a buzz on the West Coast. Why is the hotel en vogue? Walls behind the beds are covered with black leather and smoked glass mirrors and each room has a small balcony overlooking L.A. We say for a true SoCal experience, check out the rooftop area for fabulous vistas of the Hollywood Hills and to sample the private cabanas with flat-screen TVs, minibars and sofa beds. ABH (Above Beverly Hills) is a rooftop lounge with firepits, where guests can enjoy drinks, appetizers and meals from the hotel's sushi restaurant, Bond St. Contact Stacey Sidles, the hotel's sales director, at [email protected] .
The Ivy—San Diego, CA
The Ivy (www.ivyhotel.com), the latest addition to San Diego's lively and historic Gaslamp Quarter, is being favorably compared to the hottest that New York, L.A. and Las Vegas have to offer. Amenities include personal butler service, free Wi-Fi, MP3 docking stations, 42-inch, HD-plasma TVs and full in-room bars. The Ivy's Envy Nightclub and Eden rooftop bar (with pool and cabanas) are the places to be seen in San Diego. Contact Mia Williams, director of leisure sales ([email protected]).
InterContinental San Francisco
The eagerly awaited InterContinental San Francisco (www.intercontinental.com) opened last month adjacent to the Moscone West Convention Center. With 550 rooms, the property is the largest hotel to be built in San Francisco in almost 20 years. What do we love? Floor-to-ceiling windows in guest rooms and suites provide views of the city, the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The hotel's 2,000-square-foot bi-level Presidential Suite has an indoor fireplace and two outside terraces with fire pits. Contact Gail Gerber, director of sales and marketing ([email protected] ).
The Tides South Beach—Miami Beach, FL
On a recent visit to South Florida, Travel Agent fully embraced the energy of Ocean Drive during our stay at The Tides South Beach (www.tidessouthbeach.com). However, when we wanted to absorb the true pulse of this tropical area, the property's landscaped terrace was the place to see and be seen. Besides stares from envious passersby, our view included the pristine waters of the ocean and whatever jaw-dropping luxury car happened to be parked in front of the property at the moment. Contact Director of Sales and Marketing Virgil Napier ([email protected] , 305-722-7407).
Regent Bal Harbour—Bal Harbour, FL
Its location on the northeastern end of Bal Harbour Village—a haven for jetsetters and South Florida's fashionable elite—might just be the biggest draw for patrons of the Regent Bal Harbour (www.regenthotels.com), which opened March 1. But the 10,000-square-foot Guerlain spa (already a destination unto itself), a spectacular pool and nearly 1,000 feet of beachfront property are also drawing visitors. Contact Director of Sales and Marketing Philippe Parodi ([email protected]).
St. Regis, Fort Lauderdale
St. Regis Fort Lauderdale (www.starwoodhotels.com), which opened this past May, is the first property to pave the way for luxury travel to Fort Lauderdale. The hotel features St. Regis' renowned butler service and its own beach facilities. For more information, contact Director of Sales and Marketing Catherine Cumings ([email protected]).
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua—Maui, HI
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua (www.ritzcarlton.com) has just undergone a $160 million transformation. Biggest "wow" factor? The Residential Suites have kitchen areas with large "Calabash" gathering tables, spacious living rooms and marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs. Contact Heidi Denecke, senior sales manager, travel industry, at [email protected] .
The Wyland Waikiki—Honolulu, HI
There's nothing cookie-cutter about the boutique-style Wyland Waikiki (www.thewylandwaikikihotel.com), which opened last April. The property is several blocks from Waikiki Beach and proud of it, billing itself as an alternative choice for sophisticated travelers. The hotel's Chill Room has massage chairs, 65-inch, flat-screen TVs and complimentary Xbox. Contact Stacy Keen, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
Housed in a mixed-use high-rise, Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago's (www.trumpchicagohotel.com) standard rooms are a capacious 600 square feet with stunning views of the Windy City. Room decor here relies on muted coloring and amenities such as Sub-Zero refrigerators and rainfall showerheads. The ubiquity of carpenters and construction workers will persist through March, but when the last wire is fused, Trump Chicago will assume a lofty place amongst the Chicago skyline. Contact Robert Prohaska, the property's director of sales and marketing at 312-588-8050.
Taj Boston—Boston, MA
We say guests of the venerable Taj Boston (www.tajhotels.com)—which, until January 2007, was The Ritz-Carlton—should not miss having a martini at The Bar, a well-known Boston landmark with stunning city views. The Taj also uses fireplace butlers, who offer guests a "menu" of types of wood to burn. Also good to know: The 80-year-old hotel's antique wine cellar was made into a private dining salon with room for up to 12 guests. The Palazzo Las Vegas
The Palazzo Las Vegas—Las Vegas, NV
We found The Palazzo Las Vegas (www.palazzolasvegas.com) to be a gorgeous complement to its sister mega-resort, The Venetian. An all-suite hotel, the standard rooms are some of the largest in Las Vegas. Other highlights? The Shoppes at the Palazzo house a Barneys New York, then there's Jay-Z's 40/40 Club with five different lounges and the largest Canyon Ranch SpaClub to be found anywhere. Did we mention that the 105,000-square-foot casino has more than 120 table games and nearly 1,400 slot machines ranging from a penny up to $500 a pull?
Palms Place at the Palms—Las Vegas, NV
Palms Place (www.palmsplace.com), the sister of the cool Palms Casino Resort, has just opened. What's good? Studios, one-bedroom suites, and penthouses have high-end appliances and full kitchens, 42-inch plasma TVs, rainfall showerheads and private balconies. We're looking forward to sampling the plush cabanas at the resort's pool and testing out the 50,000-square-foot pool and spa, which promises to have the only hammam in Sin City. Jetsetters will want to check out the salon operated by renowned color specialist Michael Boychuck, as well as the lobby bar, Rojo Lounge.
Planet Hollywood—Las Vegas, NV
The repositioned Planet Hollywood (www.planethollywood.com) is now the place for the Gen-X and Gen-Y (and even the baby boomer) crowds, who love rock-and-roll memorabilia, busy bars and rooftop pools overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. And what could be cooler than having the entertainment television show, EXTRA! report regularly from your casino floor?
Duane Street Hotel—New York, NY
The Duane Street Hotel (www.duanestreethotel.com) in Tribeca boasts 45 rooms that are minimalist in design but evoke a loft-like charm. There are also flat-screen HD TV's, which will come in handy when viewing a DVD from the hotel's film library (Tribeca is home to the much-ballyhooed Tribeca Film Festival). On the ground floor is 'beca, a 40-seat restaurant and bar that serves "New American Mediterranean" cuisine. Agents can contact Foiz Ahmed directly at 917-232-6169.
Jumeirah Essex House—New York, NY
Several factors make the newly repositioned Jumeirah Essex House (www.jumeirahessexhouse.com) hot; for example, the views from the rooms facing Central Park are spectacular. However, if we have to focus on just one reason why this Central Park South mainstay tops our list, it's Chef Kerry Heffernan's South Gate restaurant, which has already become the destination for fine dining connoisseurs. The Modern American menu's seamless chemistry with Tony Chi's sleek interiors is another reason this property made our list. Contact Roselle Roces (212-484-4540).
The Plaza—New York, NY
The Plaza (www.theplazaresidences.com) reopened its doors March 1 after a two-year, $400 million revamp. For many, this venerable property remains the epitome of classic New York. We're sure guests will again enjoy Afternoon Tea, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Oak Room and Oak Bar. However, as far as new touches are concerned, the Champagne Bar and Rose Club—both opening in late March—will pioneer a new era for this iconic hotel. Contact Cynthia Scherer at [email protected].
The Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui—Koh Samui, Thailand
Romance-minded travelers are already giving The Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui (www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui) high marks. Why? The resort, which opened last year on a private cove on the Gulf of Siam, has a spa whose treatment rooms are in five salas, each with two indoor and two outdoor Thai-style massage beds and an outdoor shower. Another plus? The resort's 63 villas and residences have alfresco living spaces with their own infinity pools. Contact Christina Purba at [email protected].
Peninsula Tokyo—Tokyo, Japan The new Peninsula Tokyo's (www.peninsula.com) guest rooms average a cool 579 square feet. If that's too small, suggest the 3,730-square-foot Peninsula Suite, which commands views of the Imperial Gardens, Hibiya Park and Mount Fuji. Virtuoso's Albert Herrera says, "The Peninsula Tokyo offers everything you'd expect from a luxury hotel and more. While architecturally stunning, it has not sacrificed its sense of place in favor of high design. You will find the Japanese culture carefully preserved throughout and it is, without a doubt, the best location in the city. Tokyo has not seen a hotel of this caliber in more than a decade." Contact Director of Sales Karim Meslem ([email protected] , 81-3-6270-2510).
Sun International Resort at Port Ghalib— Port Ghalib, Egypt
At the exotic Sun International's Port Ghalib Resort (www.portghalib.com), which is actually comprised of three properties, clients are seeking out high adventure in the form of jeep treks, camel rides, quad biking, Arabian horse riding and diving. The property also owns the largest privately owned marina on Egypt's Red Sea. Contact Nevine Mohamed at [email protected].
Banyan Tree Maldives Madivaru—The Maldives
The Banyan Tree Maldives Madivaru opened last July with the first tented-pool-villa concept in the Maldives. Not meant for those who want to rough it, each villa comprises three individual tents equipped to function as living, sleeping and bath areas where guests can even enjoy spa treatments. Contact Victor Koi ([email protected], 805-499 9101), the U.S. representative for Banyan Tree.
Explora en Rapa Nui, Posada de Mike Rapu—Easter Island
Isolation meets luxury at the just-opened explora en Rapa Nui (www.explora.com/rapa-nui_thehotel.php. This hotel is the ideal base for exploring the mysteries and history of Easter Island. Of the 30 guest rooms, four are suites, and all have ocean views and Jacuzzis. A bar, swimming pool, massage facilities and fine cuisine round out the offerings of this remote resort, which is almost five miles from the island's only town. Contact Helen Nodland ([email protected]).