As I'm writing this, every state in the U.S. has just experienced - or is still experiencing - temperatures below freezing. And much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is also starting to experience snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.
There's one place in the world, though, where the skies are blue, the water's green (and crystal-clear), and the temperatures can warm both body and soul. Here are my Top 10 getaways in the Caribbean!
No. 10) W RETREAT & SPA, VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO - Eight miles off the coast of Puerto Rico is the tranquil island of Vieques. This is the site of the swank W, close to the fishing village of Esperanza and the beach at Bahía de la Chiva. From their private patios or balconies, guests can relax with views of the ocean and the nearby island of Culebra. The Sorce Restaurant specializes in authentic Puerto Rican cuisine...and beautiful ocean views while enjoying it. And the Away ®Spa will suck all the tension of the "real world" out of you. One of the most popular spots on Vieques is Mosquito Bay, where the water is filled with bio-luminescent organisms that cause it to actually glow at night...you've never seen anything like it!
No. 9) OLD BAHAMA BAY, GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS - Old Bahama Bay is only 56 miles off the coast of Florida, situated on the western tip of Grand Bahama Island. Combining Bahamian charm with stylish luxury, the resort has 73 guestrooms and suites sitting right on the beach, along with an oceanfront pool, restaurants, massage room, marina for offshore fishing excursions (or arriving and departing by boat!), tennis, and diving and snorkeling in startlingly-clear waters. There's also a private airport here, and both the marina and the airport are official ports-of-entry to The Bahamas.
No. 8) ACOYA CURACAO, CURACAO - The Dutch Caribbean is a truly unique region, bringing the flavor of the Old World to the tropics of the New World. Here you'll find the Acoya Curacao, a new property featuring luxurious villas with private pools, in a serene setting with excellent dining and proximity to (and free transportation) the popular Mambo Beach. The resort's also close to the Dutch architecture and classic old buildings in the capital city of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site. And also nearby are golf, tennis, hiking (there are forty picturesque hiking trails through mountains, hills, and meadows), and even yoga.
No. 7) HILTON BARBADOS RESORT, BARBADOS - The Hilton Barbados Resort is known for traditional "Bajian" hospitality, and a location second to none. It fronts two of the most beautiful beaches on the island, where the sands are pure-white and the waters are crystal-clear (making for great diving). This hotel was built on the site of 17th-Century Fort Charles, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike many old forts, though, Fort Charles is still here...and its cannons and walls can be explored without leaving the hotel grounds! The 350 rooms and suites in the Hilton offer breathtaking ocean views. The Lighthouse Terrace Restaurant has real Caribbean cuisine accompanied by classic Caribbean rums. And the resort's only a few miles from the colorful capital city of Bridgetown.
No. 6) NISBET PLANTATION BEACH CLUB, NEVIS - The tiny island of Nevis, in the West Indies, is a bit of the beaten Caribbean path. And that's definitely one of its charms. With 36 intimate cottages scattered amidst 30 topical acres, Nisbet Plantation is the Caribbean's only historic plantation inn actually located on the beach. Here, Old-World charm and modern conveniences - such as Vespa scooters in which to get around - blend in timeless harmony. There are memorable meals at the Great House, built circa 1778, and soul-soothing afternoon tea on the Avenue of the Palms. Happily, in 2015 the resort will celebrate 25 years under the ownership of David Dodwell, with a signature rum-punch toast every day at 12:25 p.m.
No. 5) REGENT PALMS, TURKS & CAICOS - Regent Palms Turks & Caicos features 72 oceanfront suites with panoramic views of Grace Bay Beach. And each of these 72 suites boasts over 1,500 square-feet of space, along with a travertine balcony or terrace.
The property includes high-end retail shops, an infinity pool and swim-up bar, the award-winning Parallel 23 restaurant, croquet lawn, tennis courts, and complimentary water sports on white-sand beaches. Need to relax those aching muscles after a tough day at the beach? You can do it at an award-winning spa. In fact, this resort was named Leading Spa Resort in the World at the 2012 World Travel Awards. No. 4) HAMANASI ADVENTURE & DIVE RESORT, BELIZE - In a quiet corner of Belize, not yet discovered by hordes of tourists, lies the Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort. Here, you can spend your Caribbean getaway in luxurious tree houses or serene oceanfront rooms. You can dive among Belize's color-splashed reefs, trek through the rain forest, or climb the pyramids once climbed by the ancient Maya. Or, you can take a romantic hike to Mayflower Waterfall, or an exciting kayaking trip on a river through the heart of the jungle. Wherever you go, though, you'll see exotic ecosystems teeming with wildlife.
No. 3) ONE & ONLY OCEAN CLUB, PARADISE ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS - This was once the private estate of A&P heir Huntington Hartford II. Today it boasts beautiful Versailles Gardens, with 12th-century Augustinian cloisters and terraced steps leading down to ocean-view dining, and to what some call the finest beach in the Bahamas. Activities here include diving, snorkeling, sailing and wind-surfing; tennis; a fitness center; the One&Only Spa; a KidsOnly club; and a number of outside excursions. Duffers will want to tee off at the Tom Weiskopf-designed Ocean Club Golf Course Bahamas. The course stretches out over 7,100 yards on Paradise Island's peninsula, where and tricky crosswinds will make you work for your birdies. Afterwards you can enjoy the renowned cuisine of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
No. 2) JADE MOUNTAIN, ST. LUCIA - This resort is in the historic old town of Soufriere - a UNESCO World Heritage site - and surrounded by the sharply-jutting peaks of the Piton Range. But it boasts a range of activities that's pretty modern - including jungle biking, scuba diving, kayaking, zip-lining, and excursions to the nearby rainforest. Jade Mountain rises majestically above an exclusive 600-acre beachfront estate, with architecture that embraces Saint Lucia's natural beauty. Its private infinity pools, fronted by the Caribbean Sea and backed by the towering Pitons, also embrace that nature. At Jade Mountain, the only thing fresher than the air is the occasional aroma of the spices in it.
No. 1) BARCELO BAVARO BEACH RESORT, PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Barceló Bávaro sits astride a mile-and-a-half of pristine beach. It's actually composed of two separate resorts, one for families (Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe Resort) and the other adults-only (Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort) - so you can pick your pleasure. This is a luxury, all-inclusive property. There's Las Vegas-style entertainment in the spectacular theater, along with trendy nightclubs and a casino. There's championship golf on the course designed by P.B. Dye, on which you'll have to direct your shots over or around some 25 lakes. There's the Barcy Kids Club for the Junior set. There's the Pirates Island Water Park, where you can slide, splash, surf, and take a ride on a pirate ship. There's an authentic rum/cigar lounge, where you can indulge in the Dominican Republic's best of both. There's great tennis, and more watersports that you can possibly experience in one vacation. And after you're done experiencing them, there's the luxurious Barceló U-Spa, where you can work out the kinks in twenty treatment rooms, soothing therapy pools, or yoga classes (or on the state-of-the-art fitness equipment).
BONUS!!!! Because it's the Holiday Season, I've got the "giving" spirit. So here's one more favorite Caribbean getaway!
HOTEL LE TOINY, ST. BARTS - At Hotel Le Toiny, 15 pastel-colored Villa Suites reflect the island's French Colonial style. Private and discreet, this boutique retreat sits on 38 acres on the Island's southeastern side, with each suite overlooking an island lagoon and the Caribbean Sea, and offering a kitchenette, large terrace and private heated swimming pool. The French ambience is enhanced by the meals at Restaurant Le Gaïac, featuring innovative combinations of Classic French and island flavors. You can work off the meals at the new fitness center or the Serenity Spa. Le Toiny attracts a discriminating crowd that prefers seclusion rather than sensationalism, and that appreciate the Continental touches. And the Continental touches come naturally. St. Barts - measuring just nine square miles - was originally settled in the 1600's by people from the Normandy and Brittany regions of France. Today, it still retains a quintessentially-French flavor...but that flavor is influenced by Caribbean cuisine, colors, architecture, and a casual, relaxed pace. In keeping with these island traditions, Hôtel Le Toiny's design mirrors the early plantation houses found throughout the French Caribbean.
Those are my favorite winter Caribbean getaways. What about yours? Let's hear your picks!