Celebrities' Secret Winter Vacation Spots
Question: If you’re Jennifer Lopez (the ninth-richest woman in entertainment with a net worth of $110 million), you have a $350 million fragrance and fashion empire, and your husband just bought ownership in the Miami Dolphins, where do you spend your winter vacations?
It’s not surprising why: the luxurious Las Ventanas has the perfect formula for any traveler looking to escape a dreary winter. There’s a long, crowdless, milky-white beach that stretches for miles; giant suites with private Jacuzzis on big balconies overlooking the sea; and Mini Cooper convertibles and fully loaded Kindles to borrow.
But what really draws JLo (and fellow superstars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Adam Sandler, Fergie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Brad Pitt) is that the resort is private and remote. It doesn’t even have a sign. And when it comes to a getaway, “the number one thing celebrities look for is seclusion and privacy—places out of the reach of the paparazzi,” says noted wedding planner Mindy Weiss, who has organized nuptials for Jessica Simpson, Gwen Stefani, and Adam Sandler. Privacy at Las Ventanas begins at check-in, where there’s not even a desk. It’s handled in rooms so stars can come and go without being noticed.
Privacy is essential in cold-weather destinations, too, and part of Aspen’s appeal is that celebrities can just blend in—especially at places like the Little Nell. Right at the base of Aspen Mountain, the resort has been a celebrity hot spot for two decades, attracting the likes of Mariah Carey and Kate Hudson, who can mix in with minimal rubbernecking. “The celebrities really don’t stand out,” says Carol Hooper, the Little Nell’s head concierge, who has seen her share of A-listers eating burgers and going unnoticed during après ski, like any other guest. “They hang out in the lobby; they have lunch in the restaurants. They feel very comfortable here,” she says.
Another important element for stars: hotels that can handle any request. At the fashionable Setai in South Beach, which has played host to celebrities like Bono, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Leonardo DiCaprio, there’s a dedicated team of sales managers whose sole responsibility is to look after famous guests and be in touch with assistants and publicists. It’s one-stop shopping for anything the celebrity needs.
That person proved helpful a couple years ago, when an A-lister asked if one of the bedrooms could be converted into an exercise studio. No problem. And could the hotel bring a giant exercise ball? Done. And could that exercise ball be pink? Of course. The world’s best hotels get a lot of odd requests (see our story on outrageous concierge requests) but do their best to take care of their clientele—especially big names who are hibernating there for the winter.
Setai, South Beach, Miami
Wintertime Guests: Gisele and Tom Brady, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono.
Why They Like It: This South Beach hotel merges Zen Asian aesthetics with Art Deco chic (a nod to its South Beach setting). Antique bricks from Shanghai fill the lobby, which spills into an alfresco courtyard with soaring columns, pergolas, and ponds. Of course, celebrities flock to the 40th floor, four-bedroom, $30,000-a-night penthouse suite with a private rooftop infinity pool, Steinway piano, and two large Jacuzzi tubs encased in coral.
Celebrity Scoop: Hidden inside the hotel is a 2,500-square-foot ocean-view recording studio designed by Lenny Kravitz. Beyonce, Timbaland, and Mary J. Blige have laid tracks there.
RoundHill Hotels and Villas, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Wintertime Guests: Emma Thompson, Gabrielle Union, Ewan McGregor, Lance Armstrong, Michelle Williams, Nicole Miller, Mena Suvari, Patrick Dempsey, Shaggy, Russell Simmons, Sigourney Weaver, Paul McCartney.
Why They Like It: In the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Stella found her mojo at Round Hill; many celebrities come here to do the same. Picture villas with horizon pools, mahogany beds, vaulted ceilings, wicker furnishings, and alfresco living rooms with sweeping ocean views. Each separately owned cottage has its master’s personality.
Celebrity Scoop: Owners include Ralph Lauren, Jamaican track star Merlene Ottey, and (at one point) Betsey Johnson. Every Christmas when he was married to Linda, Paul McCartney booked a master villa—maid, gardener, and cook included.
ParrotCay, Turks andCaicos
Wintertime Guests: Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Bruce Willis, Alex Rodriguez, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner.
Why They Like It: There are no cars on the 1,000-acre private isle; guests get around via golf cart. Airy rooms have whitewashed interiors, teak furnishings, four-poster beds, and terracotta floors, and there’s a one-mile-long white sand beach. And since the hotel can be reached only by boat, it offers celebrities a respite from the paparazzi.
Celebrity Scoop: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner married in the sand and then honeymooned on the property. Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld honeymooned here, too. Last December, Alex Rodriguez, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Bruce Willis, and Donna Karan rang in the New Year on the island.
FairmontChateau Whistler, Whistler, BC
Wintertime Guests: Heidi Klum and Seal, Justin Timberlake, Queen Latifah.
Why They Like It: Set at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, this 550-room luxury hotel offers ski-in, ski-out access along with (of course) great mountain views.
Celebrity Scoop: Queen Latifah likes to kick back at the resort’s Mallard Lounge. And in December 2004, the resort arranged for Seal and Heidi Klum to fly via helicopter to the top of a 14,000-foot glacier, reported People Magazine. When they arrived, he proposed in an igloo built just for the moment.
LasVentanas al Paraiso, LosCabos, Mexico
Wintertime Guests: Jennifer Lopez, Fergie, Harrison Ford, Jessica Simpson, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Costner.
Why They Like It: There is never a line to register at this 71-suite resort set between pink mountains and desert, since there’s no check-in desk. Instead, guests are whisked away by private butlers to their ocean-view suites with private Jacuzzis stocked before arrival with favorite goodies. For literary types, the hotel has been known to lend advance copies of books, long before they’re available to the public.
Celebrity Scoop: Jennifer Lopez told Harper’s Bazaar that she loves the alfresco massages, while Jessica Simpson told Rolling Stone that the infinity pool here is one of her all-time favorite places.
The Little Nell, Aspen
Wintertime Guests: Antonio Banderas, Heidi Klum and Seal, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Katie Couric.
Why They Like It: The 92-room Little Nell at the base of Ajax Mountain has been a celebrity magnet for two decades (and surely all were pleased with the recent $18 million renovation). After taking a few turns, celebs can enjoy the après ski with cheese fondue and truffle fries—without being hassled.
Celebrity Scoop: A usual après-ski at the Little Nell’s Living Room can seem like a red-carpet event. Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Katie Couric, and Gregory Peck’s son, Tony, were once all spotted in a single day.
Eden Rock, St. Bart’s
Wintertime Guests: Tom Hanks, Mick Jagger, Lorne Michaels.
Why They Like It: At the 34-room Eden Rock, celebrities flock to seriously luxe villas like Villa Rockstar and Villa Nina. The 16,000-square-foot, three-level Rockstar features four master suites, a screening room, a private gym, a private office, cloisters, garages, cars, dining facilities for 12 people, a pool table, two pools, and a fully equipped recording studio. Meanwhile, Villa Nina has a rotating art gallery, a private pool, a movie theater, and use of a Mini Cooper.
Celebrity Scoop: John Lennon recorded "Imagine" on the console that's now installed in Villa Rockstar's private recording studio.
CopacabanaPalace, Rio deJaneiro
Wintertime Guests: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Gisele Bundchen.
Why They Like It: The palace has been around since the 1920s so not surprisingly has hosted the likes of Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, and Ava Gardner. It served as the backdrop for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio.
Celebrity Scoop: Last winter, Gisele Bundchen visited for Carnival and spent the day on the terrace pool with her sisters and friends. And in January 2009, the Cruise clan—Tom, Katie, and Suri—stayed in one of the sixth-floor presidential suites with ocean-view bathtubs, inlaid parquet floors, and exclusive use of a 35-foot pool designed with black Jijoca granite.
TheRitz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, FL
Wintertime Guests: Bill Murray, Paul McCartney, Anna Wintour, Roger Federer, Venus and Serena Williams, Britney Spears, Jerry Seinfeld, Conan O’Brien, Martha Stewart, Green Day, Justin Timberlake, Simon Cowell, Michael Kors, Andy Garcia, Ziggy Marley, Whitney Houston.
Why They Like It: The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne is a 10-minute drive from downtown Miami but feels about a million miles away. Celebrities enjoy a quiet respite and a break from paparazzi at the seven-mile beach, without having to venture far from the city action. And of course, they love the presidential suite, with its wraparound views and two private terraces.
Celebrity Scoop: Tennis legends from Roger Federer to the Williams sisters have stayed at the resort and warmed up on the courts at the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center. And Andy Garcia maintains a VIP rum locker at RUMBAR, the resort’s vintage Havana-inspired bar and lounge, serving 52 different rums.
Rockhouse Hotel, Negril, Jamaica
Wintertime Guests: Keri Russell, Jude Law, Lennox Lewis, designer Nanette Lepore, Mad Men star John Slattery.
Why They Like It: This boutique hotel stretches across the cliffs of Pristine Cove in Negril and is spread along eight acres of tropical lush gardens. Rooms are in thatched-roofed villas with private decks, and there’s a 60-foot-long, cliff-top horizon pool along with a restaurant that serves tangy dishes like blackened mahimahi with mango chutney.
Celebrity Scoop: John Slattery visits every year to snorkel in Pristine Cove and savor the Rockhouse culinary offerings. And Nanette Lepore says, “We go every year with a group of friends and love the routine that we slip straight into: the daily spa treatments, relaxing by the pool, and the great group dinners in the restaurant.”
The FairmontBanff Springs, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Wintertime Guests: Robin Williams, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Alicia Silverstone.
Why They Like It: Modeled after a Scottish Baronial castle, the hotel is situated in Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some stars opt for the presidential suite, which contains a library, grand piano, living room, fireplace, and private glass elevator.
Celebrity Scoop: For the past four years, Alec Baldwin has stayed at this hotel and skied at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. “I’m a huge ski whore, and I love it up here,” the 30 Rock actor told the Calgary Sun. “I always tell people it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.”
Spring CreekRanch, Jackson Hole,WY
Wintertime Guests: Jim Carrey, Sandra Bullock, Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, Matthew McConaughey, Christie Brinkley, Ron Howard.
Why They Like It: Space, space, and more space. Spring Creek Ranch lies in a 1,000-acre wildlife sanctuary and is framed by the 13,770-foot-high Teton mountain range. Guests are surrounded by rugged landscape and wildlife, including 100 species of birds, mule deer, eagles, coyote, and elk. Accommodations range from inn rooms in cabins to condos to mountain villas made from fir, spruce, and lodgepole pine.
Celebrity Scoop: Sandra Bullock and Ron Howard prefer to hole up in the ranch’s mountainside manses with massive wood-burning stone fireplaces, pine furnishings, decks, and cathedral ceilings.
Molori SafariLodge, SouthAfrica
Wintertime Guests: Kate Moss, pop star Lily Allen, Mischa Barton.
Why They Like It: This chic five-suite retreat located inside the Madikwe Game Reserve allows guests to experience Africa in serious luxury. Guests take game drives to look for elephants, buffalo, black and white rhinos, cheetahs, hyenas, and hundreds of bird species. At night, guests stargaze in the observatory using one of the largest privately owned digital telescopes in southern Africa.
Celebrity Scoop: Lily Allen was lucky enough to spot the rarely seen and endangered pangolin. And Mischa Barton, on her first safari, loved the truffle-infused scrambled eggs with salmon.
InterContinentalMontelucia Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, AZ
Wintertime Guests: Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Barry Bonds.
Why They Like It: The resort finds its inspiration from the Andalusian region of southern Spain; the décor has Moorish touches with rich colors, antiques (16th-century hand-carved doors), and fountain-filled courtyards. Celebrities love the Joyambrosia Signature Massage and Diamond Facials at the Moroccan-inspired Joya Spa.
Celebrity Scoop: When Jay-Z visited, the rapper hosted a barbecue cookout for his entire entourage. And during her stay, Taylor Swift offered to meet and greet fans.
Wintertime Guests: Martha Stewart, Rihanna, Kate Hudson, Kanye West, Jeremy Piven, Katy Perry, Molly Sims, President Obama.
Why They Like It: This 1,504-room landmark oceanfront hotel reopened last November after a cool $1 billion was spent to strip the property down to its studs and rebuild it like new (while maintaining the architecturally iconic Lapidus-designed avant-garde exterior). Today there are 11 restaurants and lounges, including ones by celebrated chefs Alfred Portale (from Gotham Bar and Grill), Scott Conant (of New York’s Scarpetta), and Alan Yau’s Hakkasan (Britain’s only Michelin-rated Chinese restaurant).
Celebrity Scoop: Miranda Kerr and Diane von Furstenberg are fans of the Lapis Spa at Fontainebleau and the Tracie Martyn facials.
Rock House HarbourIsland, Bahamas
Wintertime Guests: Robert De Niro, Elle Macpherson, Colin Farrell, David Copperfield, Katherine Heigl, Cher.
Why They Like It: Unlike at more ritzy Caribbean spots, flip-flops are the shoe of choice at the three-mile-long Harbour Island. “The island is unique because there is no paparazzi,” says Wallace Tutt, the famed builder who worked with Cher and Versace and owns the 10-room Rock House resort here. “Princes and plumbers mix, and Bahamaians don’t care if you’re a big star.”
Celebrity Scoop: Each room has a unique theme and décor; Robert De Niro prefers the Asian suite (it’s the most remote). Colin Farrell has stayed several times. Katherine Heigl and husband Josh Kelley enjoyed hanging poolside with other guests.
Badrutt’sPalace Hotel, St. Moritz,Switzerland
Wintertime Guests: Hugh Grant, George Clooney, Laurence Fishburne, Rupert Everett.
Why They Like It: Guests are chauffeured from the train station in a 1967 Rolls-Royce to this grande dame Alpine resort that lies before the Lake St. Mortiz and the Swiss Alps. The grand hall (dubbed St. Moritz’s living room) has its original 19th-century cathedral ceiling, stained glass, and antique furnishings, but the trendy Nobu@Badrutt’s Palace—open only during winter—brings modern cuisine to the hotel.
Celebrity Scoop: Celebrities like George Clooney head to the resort’s private King’s Club to groove as guest DJs spin tunes.
San YsidroRanch, Montecito, CA
Wintertime Guests: Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.
Why They Like It: An orange and lemon ranch dating back to the 1800s, the property was transformed into a hotel in the 1930s, attracting Groucho Marx, Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, and Sir Winston Churchill. Set on 500 acres between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, 40 cottage-style suites and bungalows meander along tree-lined paths littered with exotic flowers.
Celebrity Scoop: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier married here. John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy honeymooned here, and reportedly, so did Julia Roberts and Danny Moder, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, and Sandra Bullock and Jesse James. It has also been reported that Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow married in a secret wedding in the resort’s Willow Tree Suite.
Necker Island,British VirginIslands
Wintertime Guests: Jimmy Fallon and Nancy Juvonen, Mel Gibson, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Larry Page.
Why They Like It: A private island owned by Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, Necker is hardly your traditional resort. The freshwater pools, whirlpools, beaches, tennis court, and Balinese-style guesthouses are all yours, along with all you can eat and drink. Of course, private-island luxury doesn’t come cheap—nightly rates start at $51,000.
Celebrity Scoop: In December 2007, Jimmy Fallon married Nancy Juvonen (Drew Barrymore’s producing partner) before 40 close friends and family there, reported People Magazine. Earlier that same month, Google cofounder Larry Page married Lucy Southworth on the isle. Branson served as the best man, Bono attended, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed.
FourSeasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico
Wintertime Guests: David Duchovny, Jeff Francoeur.
Why They Like It: Set on a 1,500-acre private gated peninsula with 150 spacious rooms, this resort is just 26 miles from Puerto Vallarta. There’s a Jack Nicklaus golf course, an infinity pool spread out before the Pacific, and long stretches of beach. Celebrities love the Coral Suite, a five-bedroom beachfront casita tucked away at the end of the resort and featuring a private gym, media room, kitchen, pool, and separate driveway and spa area.
Celebrity Scoop: Jeff Francoeur and Catie McCoy honeymooned here.
Wintertime Guests: Madonna, Mick Jagger, Heidi Klum and Seal.
Why They Like It: Situated on a 25,000-acre Biosphere Reserve along the Pacific, this eco-resort is surrounded by rivers, lagoons, and coconut plantations, while wild boar, zebra, antelopes, and sea turtles roam free. Accommodations are spacious, vibrant-colored casitas and villas with private swimming pools and panoramic views of hills, lagoons, beaches, and fruit grooves.
Celebrity Scoop: Madonna is a fan of Casa La Loma, the grand villa with a Moroccan and Arabian-themed décor set above a two-mile-long beach. Seal and Heidi Klum were so taken by Cuixmala’s landscape that they married on the beach here before 40 guests. In fact, Seal wrote his song “Wedding Day” for his bride here.
CaneelBay, A Rosewood Resort, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Wintertime Guests: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Why They Like It: Guests trade telephones and televisions here for seven unique beaches bordering 170 lush acres inside Virgin Islands National Park. This low-key-yet-luxurious resort was built by Laurance Rockefeller and designed to preserve the natural pristine environment. To that end, rooms contain native stone and handcrafted furnishings, which seamlessly blend into the environment.
Celebrity Scoop: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and their brood celebrated the New Year here in 2007, reported People Magazine. The family holed up in Cottage 7, Rockefeller’s five-bedroom residence, which contains the best ocean views on property.
Wintertime Guests: Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Will Smith, Prince.
Why They Like It: All 326 rooms offer expansive views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. It’s the only hotel in the city to have a private (man-made) beach, and the trilevel spa with gigantic floor-to-ceiling treatment suites is not to be missed.
Celebrity Scoop: People Magazine reported that for two months while she was filming Marley and Me, Jennifer Aniston lived in a suite on the 19th floor. Her romance with John Mayer became public while at the hotel as, according to the magazine, they were spotted cuddling in the infinity pool overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Wintertime Guests: Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, John Travolta, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Affleck, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson.
Why They Like It: The 453-room, five-acre lushly landscaped resort on Waikiki Beach likes to wow guests: its huge pool has an orchid mosaic with 1.2 million glass pieces imported from South Africa. Suites are similarly stunning (and come with use of a Maserati, Bentley, or Lotus). Vera Wang personally designed the eponymous ocean-view suite, which contains rare furnishings from Hawaii and Asia, a dining room for six, and a 50-inch plasma TV.
Celebrity Scoop: Cameron Diaz likes to hit the waves here with her surfing buddy and good pal, pro surfer Kelly Slater.
The Brazilian Court Hotel& Beach Club, PalmBeach, FL
Wintertime Guests: Rod Stewart, Jane Fonda, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Buffett, Tommy Lee Jones.
Why They Like It: Known since 1926 as a rendezvous spot for celebrities, this elegant 80-suite hotel continues to attract notable names, especially for Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud and the Frederic Fekkai Salon & Spa. Large carpeted suites contain oil-rubbed bronze hardware, handcrafted cabinetry, and closets with custom built-ins.
Celebrity Scoop: Tommy Lee Jones enjoys Kistler Chardonnay from Café Boulud’s table 34 in the rear corner, while Jimmy Buffett prefers a crisp Sancerre and Rod Stewart likes the Peter Michael Chardonnay. James Patterson adores the place so much that the restaurant has made its way into some of his novels.
The MandarinOriental Riviera Maya, Mexico
Wintertime Guests: Paul McCartney and Nancy Shevell.
Why They Like It: Set within 36 acres of tropical forests, mangroves, and lagoons, this resort also sits right on the Yucatán coastline. The 128 guest rooms are in two-story and bungalow-style villas along meandering pathways. Celebrities particularly like the three-bedroom Presidential Villa with its own swimming pool, sauna, and spa patio.
Celebrity Scoop: During the last week of December 2008, Paul McCartney stayed in the presidential suite with girlfriend Nancy Shevell and dined on vegetarian dishes the resort custom-designed for them.
Wintertime Guests: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, Paul McCartney.
Why They Like It: Located where the creamy white beach meets the jungle, the resort sits before the second largest coral reef in the world. All 128 suites feature private plunge pools; some have patios with Yucatán limestone showers and sunken soaking tubs in gardens. Private butlers cater to every whim. The fetching spa sits on its own private island, and guests can test their swing at a championship 18-hole Greg Norman golf course.
Celebrity Scoop: When the Governator and his family visited the property, he worked out with a personal trainer. And this past October, U2 stayed here during a four-day respite from their long tour.
Wintertime Guests: Eli Manning, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Hilary Swank.
Why They Like It: Set on a 300-acre private island two miles north of Antigua, Jumby Bay is a luxurious nature lover’s paradise, with white egrets, blue pelicans, hawksbill sea turtles, and other wildlife. The 40 suites and 12 villas (which have alfresco bathtubs) are spread throughout the property so guests feel like they have their own private hideaway. The resort just completed a $28 million overhaul, with 28 new suites (some with their own private pool), a new spa, and two new restaurants.
Celebrity Scoop: Hilary Swank found that the resort offered an idyllic respite. “We were looking to just go somewhere really secluded—sit in the sun, read a good book, get taken care of, and be truly alone,” the Oscar winner told Travel + Leisure a few years ago. “That's how we ended up at Jumby Bay.”
Cap Juluca, Anguilla
Wintertime Guests: Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Jerry Seinfeld, Jennifer Aniston, Caroline Kennedy, Glenn Close, Bill Gates, Matt Lauer, Sheryl Crow, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Cruz, Michael J. Fox.
Why They Like It: This enclave on the crescent-shaped Maundays Bay Beach has 98 rooms spread among 18 separate Moorish-style beachfront villas with cool white-tiled floors, louvered doors, and ceiling fans. The über-famous usually opt for the enormous private-pool villas, but with a staff-to-guest ratio of 4-to-1, every guest can expect great service.