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Your Own Private Caribbean

Meridian Club, Turks and Caicos The first thing anyone needs to know about the Meridian Club—and the last thing you are likely to learn about it before going—is that it is not a real hotel. That's not a criticism. It's just the way it is. The Meridian would agree. And, of course, its very un-hotel-like qualities are exactly what many people love about it. Loyalists who have been coming to the resort since it opened 30 years ago wouldn't change a thing. If suddenly it became as well-oiled and systematized as a Four Seasons, they'd be gone in a minute.

Initiates, however, may need time to get their sea legs. The Meridian has a fax but no phone. Other resorts make a lot of noise about forgetting the outside world, but this one means it. You hardly ever see the staff, and the reception desk is almost purely symbolic. Mostly, you're on your own on Pine Cay, which is a 10-minute skip on a puddle jumper from Turks and Caicos's airport on Providenciales. Flat as a debit card, and about the size of New York's Central Park (half of it guaranteed to remain wild), the island has a delicious Survivor-ish feel, minus the aggression.

After two days at the Meridian, I began to understand the resort's laissez-faire appeal. It's contrary to most notions of what constitutes a luxury vacation, but I discovered how liberating it can be not to be fussed and hovered over—even, believe it or not, at the cost of many hundreds of dollars a day. One fashionable school of hotel service kills the client with empty kindness. With its ban on solicitude, the Meridian takes the opposite approach.

If the resort can be compared to anything, it's to an informal—once your shoes come off, they never go back on—country club, which is how the 35 families who have houses on Pine Cay (and are the Meridian's owners) use it. Six low-slung buildings of no distinction house 13 guest rooms whose size and situation make up for what they lack in zing. Set back 100 feet from the shore, each has sleeping and sitting areas, a proper dressing room, open and screened terraces, and indoor and outdoor showers (in a great missed opportunity, the outdoor ones are so lacking in privacy, their appeal is limited to exhibitionists). The only completely private, freestanding unit is Sand Dollar Cottage, which, naturally, everyone wants. There's always a waiting list.

Who goes to the Meridian Club?Collectors of seashells, lovers of desert-island picnics, nature freaks who thrill to the mating of glowworms, and regular people who appreciate a twisted orange slice on their breakfast plate. At dinner—the bell is rung at 7:30 sharp—there is talk of summerhouses on Nantucket and people are still telling lots of jokes at the expense of the Clintons. And though guests can be a boisterous lot, they're all in bed long before midnight.
Pine Cay; 800/331-9154; www.meridianclub.com; doubles from $650, including meals.

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