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Caribbean and Bahamas: Island Resort Report

Hotelier Chris Blackwell continues to place a stamp on his homeland. He has just turned Goldeneye-- the north- shore estate where James Bond creator Ian Fleming lived and wrote-- into an Island Outpost hotel. Guests stay in rustic but stylish seaside bungalows (doubles from $1,000 a week, all-inclusive; 800/688-7678). News at Strawberry Hill, Goldeneye's sister outside Kingston: an Aveda spa is moving in (doubles from $280; 800/688-7678).

In order to accommodate its growing fan club, Negril's laid-back Rockhouse recently added 14 thatched-roof huts. Not to worry: there are still fewer than 30 rooms (doubles from $100; 876/957-4373).

El San Juan Hotel & Casino has been creating a buzz with the opening of its new restaurant, Aquarela, headed by superstar Cuban-American chef Douglas Rodriguez, founder of Miami's Yuca and New York City's Patria (dinner for two $110; 787/253-5566).

Down the beach, Puerto Rico's first Ritz-Carlton makes the scene in December (doubles from $400); 800/241-3333). Not to be outdone, the Four Seasons is said to have snapped up beachfront land on a prime, undeveloped stretch of the north coast.

The secluded, luxurious Horned Dorset Primavera, on the west coast near Rincón, is spreading its wings. Its owners have just built a one-bedroom bungalow, Mirador Villa, with a wraparound veranda and a private pool (doubles from $280, Mirador Villa from $800 a night; 787/ 823-4030). They're also turning a historic Old San Juan building into a 15-room inn; look for a summer opening. There's even talk of a third Horned Dorset, on Puerto Rico's out island of Culebra.

On the better-known out island, Vieques, the arrival of the 15-room Hacienda Tamarindo (doubles from $115; 787/741-8525) perks up this beach-blessed but hotel-deficient island. The top place to stay on Vieques, Inn on the Blue Horizon, has expanded from three rooms to nine (doubles from $150; 787/741-3318).

Long before it was fashionable, eco-tourism got its start on St. John, when Laurance Rockefeller managed to have two-thirds of the island declared a national park in the 1950's. Today, as an alternative to hiking St. John's mountains and beaches, travelers can take them in on donkeys or horseback (809/693-5778). On sister island St. Croix, the newest way to explore the rain forest is on an escorted mountain-bike adventure (809/773-5004).

Excitement is growing on ST. THOMAS in anticipation of the Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star beach resorts, relaunched by Marriott after a $45 million makeover. Interiors are by Hirsch Bedner Associates, which redesigned the Beverly Hills Hotel (doubles from $298 at Frenchman's Reef, from $385 at Morning Star; 800/524-2000).

If you have the cash, consider being the first in your set to stay at Cerulean, a spectacular new villa designed by minimalist architect Deborah Berke, who counts New York's Calvin Klein store among her projects. Besides eight vast bedrooms with marble baths, a free-form pool, and all sorts of gardens and courtyards, the place has a sensational American chef (from $15,600 a week; 888/728-4552).

Just up the magnificent white beach from Cerulean, the legendary Cap Juluca has just been acquired by one of its original investors, South African financier Dion R. Friedland, who has announced his plans to turn this property of domed Moorish fantasy villas into "the Caribbean's number-one resort" (doubles from $1,810; 264/497-6666).

Still under the watchful direction of founder Howard Hulford, the 35-year-old Curtain Bluff resort will surprise guests this season with its first swimming pool and a newly relaxed evening dress code for men: jackets are still required, but ties are optional (doubles from $655, including all meals; 888/289-9898 or 212/289-8888).

Galley Bay, a 61-room hideaway, has reopened after renovations due to hurricane damage. The most romantic accommodations are in the 12 thatched Gauguin Cottages. It's like dying and going to Tahiti (doubles from $520, including all meals; 800/345-0356).

Forever chic, forever trendy, St. Bart's continues to lure the rich, the famous, the wanna-bes-- and the shoppers. It's the Caribbean's place to find the last word in French resort fashions. This season, check out the new Morgan (synthetic suede bikinis, lingerie-inspired minidresses) and Raffia (its own sunglasses and chiffon cover-ups).

Half-French/half-Dutch St. Martin suffered considerable hurricane damage in 1995. Among the casualties were the rickety shacks (lolos) in the French town of Grand Case, where island ladies sold barbecued ribs, fried fish, and grilled shrimp and chicken. Happily, the lolo ladies are back, now operating out of sturdy thatched booths.

In a dreamy location on Cul de Sac beach overlooking the offshore Îlet Pinel is Little Key, an attractive new 94-room resort. It has two restaurants, five pools, and a ferry that takes guests to the aforementioned islet for snorkeling and picnics (doubles from $235; 590/87-49-19).

An unlikely hotelier has set up shop near St. Lucia's capital, Castries: Partridge Family teen star turned syndicated radio personality Danny Bonaduce recently purchased Shingle Cove, a former prime minister's estate. The three-villa property, which must be rented out in its entirety, comes with a top cook. Already, the place has stirred interest among Bonaduce's Hollywood pals (from $335 a night for two people; 561/482-5618).

With its rain forests and mountains, St. Lucia is often compared to the South Pacific. This year it's getting its eco-act together, with the Nature Heritage Tourism program. All over the island, new hiking trails are being established: near Soufrière, check out the Enbas Saut Trail, which winds up at a series of waterfalls.

Also near Soufrière: after a checkered history of owners and managers, the 102-villa Jalousie Plantation has been taken over by Hilton International, which is spending $6 million to perk it up (doubles from $500; 800/445-8667). Cliff-hanging Ladera has added five one-bedroom suites. Each has a plunge pool and only three walls; the fourth is open to the views-- and sometimes the rains (doubles from $330; 758/459-7323).


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