Beaches + Islands
On such a wintery day, I can’t help but daydream about my recent whirlwind trip to Ambergris Caye, a small island off the northeastern coast of Belize—a place so consistently warm that residents easily (and even somewhat wistfully) recall in detail the one day of the year they wore a sweater. I was there to check out a hotel for T+L’s “40 Secret Beach Hideaways” (March 2010), and expected to spend most of my time stretched out on a white sand beach, piña colada in hand. The island, after all, is only 25 miles long and one mile wide. And while I did my fair share of reclining, I was surprised—and thrilled—to discover how many activities are available to the traveler. Here’s my short list for how to best explore the island and its surroundings.
I’ve just returned from a blissfully relaxing trip to the deep Caribbean. After the Christmas rush, my family annually escapes to the West Indies for a week of sailing, diving, and, with months-in-advance reservations in place, great food! As French and posh as ever, St. Bart’s seemed virtually unaffected by the unfavorable economic climate—with Microsoft magnate Paul Allen’s 416 foot mega-yacht Octopus in the lead, an unparalleled collection of pristine 150+ footers took up their usual spots on Gustavia’s glitzy dock.
That is, until a powerful tide and unforeseen surge forced the multimillion dollar vessels to leave their front-row seats on the flashy dock and retreat to the outer harbor (where our relatively diminutive sailboat lay), leaving the high-profile passengers to be shuttled in their heels and tuxes to the mainland in lieu of stepping right off their boat onto dry ground. A nice reminder that being on a boat does, in fact, involve being in contact with water!
Tis the season for toys and presents, but what about getting your 2010 travel calendar in line? These three contests might make for one heck of a New Year.
Ultimate Fiji Adventurer
Now – January 1st
Make your New Year’s resolution to be more adventurous. Tourism Fiji has launched a video contest to give away a pair of roundtrip tickets
to Fiji on Air Pacific (from Los Angeles) and seven nights—with
meals—at Sonaisali Island Resort. Contestants must submit a 2-3 minute video explaining why they are an Ultimate Fiji Adventurer at www.fijime.tv/videocontest.
After entries close on January 1st, it’s up to the public to vote on
their favorite submission. We could not confirm at publilcation time,
but contestants shoudle expect to pay taxes and fees.
After almost a decade as an editor at Travel + Leisure, I’ve developed a sixth sense about offers that seem too good to be true. Which is why I was justifiably skeptical when I ran across the U.S. Virgin Island’s CENTsational sale (while doing research for an appearance on the Today Show; watch the video here).
The cynic in me was tempted to write the deal off a a clever marketing ploy with enough fine print to fill an encyclopedia. However, after examining the details closely, I have to say that I’m sold. Here’s the back story: to celebrate the newly minted U.S.V.I. quarter, a dozen hotels on St. Thomas and St. Croix , including Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort, are offering a 25 cent nightly rate for a three-night stay (plus nominal taxes and fees).
Sure, sure, Siesta Key, Florida, is known for having one of the world’s nicest beaches, but it's also home to some of the world’s best breakfasts. The Broken Egg (140 Avenida Messina) came recommended to my breakfast-deprived boyfriend and me upon our arrival at our Sarasota hotel after taking one of those ridiculously early LGA to TPA flights.
“It’s where the locals go,” said the hotel manager (and sure enough the BE’s website plays “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”).
I was pretty sure it was 2009 when I hopped in my friend Lisa’s Volvo in Boston, but when we parked in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, two hours later, I felt like we’d driven back in time into the 1950’s. Our intended beach getaway had magically transported us to the midst of classic Americana in all its kitschy, fun glory—think neon lights, vintage diners, old-school motels, and waterfront amusement park, not to mention the slow-pace of a much simpler era….
The Gulf Islands—a string of seven scenic barrier isles with white sand beaches, nature trails, and historic fortifications that stretch from the southwest corner of Mississippi to the east end of Florida—have finally reopened after suffering severe damage in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, and are ready for visitors. About $42 million in all—$23 million for facility and infrastructure
repairs (trails, buildings, campground, cleanup, etc.) and $19.1
million for all the roads—was spent on clean-up and repair efforts.
While each island has something to offer, our favorite is quiet Santa Rosa Island. Start your trip on U.S. 98 and take it to the new Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center (850/934-2600) in Gulf Breeze, Florida, where you can peruse books about local natural history. After crossing a three-mile bridge, head west on Fort Pickens Road for seven miles until you reach the 1829 stronghold; after, you can spend the afternoon on the snow-white beach, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, snorkel off the pier to spot seahorses, pinfish, and the remains of the USS Massachusetts, a 1920s battleship. From there, pick up J. Earle Bowden Way, a winding road along the Gulf of Mexico with views of bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the distance.
Bree Sposato is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.
Photo courtesy of National Parks Service
Back in May, my fiancé and I were all geared up for a trip to St. Martin—until, 24 hours before our flight—Dan realized his passport had expired. After spending a good hour researching expedited passport fees, and realizing there was no way we were leaving the country, I called Jet Blue and priced out fares for all of its beachy destinations—from Long Beach to Fort Lauderdale. Turns out sunny Orlando was the cheapest to fly to (by hundreds of dollars). We reserved a rental car, and the next morning we were off—with no hotel rooms reserved, much less an idea of where we’d end up.
Block Island? Isn’t that somewhere off the coast of Canada? Or one of the Thousand Islands? Nobody knows The Block. And that’s precisely what makes it so special (and what makes me hesitant to post this). Just off the coast of Rhode Island, this secret gem is a throwback to the mid-1800s: antique-filled Victorian inns, miles of pristine rolling hills, and towering cliffs with stunning views of the Atlantic.
On a recent trip to St. Bart's, I spotted the owner of the Revlon empire, Ron Perelman, on his yacht in Gustavia Harbor, a Rockefeller or two shopping in the village of St. Jean, and Jon Bon Jovi having dinner at Eden Rock. Sure, they can afford the prices here—it's the winter getaway of the rich and famous, after all. But what about we normal, not-so-recession-proof folk?Here's my short list for how to do the island affordably:
STAY: The Hôtel Baie des Anges, on the northwest corner of the island, is on one of the prettiest beaches around—it also shares its sands with the tony Hotel Isle de France. The people watching here is great. The really good news?Rates here dropped significantly on Apr. 1 (from $415 to $230 for a double room). (Flamands; 590/27-63-61; doubles from $230)
EAT: The year-old beach-front shack O'Corail is run by a local sister/brother team. He's a fisherman. She runs the restaurant. They serve the freshest-caught fish, straight from his boat. (This is big for St. Barts: seasonality and eating local is just catching on here; neighboring Le Sereno hotel brags about its Madagascar prawns, to illustrate my point.) O'Corail does lunch all week and dinner only on weekends. At lunch, order a rum punch and the spiny lobster salad and watch the dozens of kite surfers fly across the Grand Cul de Sac. (Grand Cul de Sac; 590/29-33-27; lunch for two $60)
DO: Rent snorkle gear at Marine Service and head to Gouverneur Beach. It's secluded, with crystal blue water and the some of the best snorkling on the island: My boyfriend and I spotted French anglefish, sargeant majors, sea turtles, rays, and a nurse shark. (Quai du Yacht Club, Gustavia; 590/590-27-70-34; daily gear rentals, from $20)
Clark Mitchell is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.