What’s new in the Caribbean for Winter 2015

From new guesthouses, villas and farm houses on a working organic farm to a renovated historic hotel designed by architects of New York City’s Grand Central Station fame and Jewish and LGBT tours of Cuba, the Caribbean has introduced a wide array of new offerings. Here’s some of the scoop:

Anguilla

  • Chef Darren Connor has opened Sarjai’s restaurant on Meads Bay at a location formerly known as Lucy’s. Connor is the lead chef at Bamboo Restaurant at Viceroy Anguilla and a member of the Anguilla Culinary Team. He named the eatery for his daughter. The menu features local and Caribbean dishes with international flavoring. For information: 264-497-6755.

Antigua

  • Hollywood actor Robert De Niro is developing a hotel project on the island of Barbuda. The project involves renovating and expanding the K-Club and is expected to cost around $250 million. De Niro is involved in the hospitality industry with restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurants and hotels and has partnered with Australian James Packer in the Barbuda project. Plans for Barbuda also include airport enhancements.

Aruba

  • Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks are now available at Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad. The new service is expected to streamline the customs process for travelers.The kiosks were acquired via the Vancouver Airport Authority and “recognize registration of all passengers from the 38 countries that do not require a U.S. Entry Visa” in addition to “U.S. passport holders and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents and all Canadian passport holders.”
  • Aruba Aloe has opened a new flagship store in the all-inclusive 482-room Riu Palace Antillas hotel. Founded in 1890, Aruba Aloe grows, harvests and manufactures aloe skin and hair care products on-site. The company has 14 retail stores; its products are also available online at www.arubaaloe.com.

Bahamas

  • Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas now takes passengers out of the Cape Liberty Cruise Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey on 8-night Bahamas cruises. The 4,180-passenger, 1,500-crew vessel is equipped with advanced features such as wireless connectivity, robotic bartenders, bumper cars, skydiving simulations, futuristic entertainment, real-time luggage tracking and more. Royal Caribbean has also established partnerships with celebrated chefs Jamie Oliver, Michael Schwartz and Devin Alexander for Quantum of the Seas dining. For information on Royal Caribbean Cruises in the Bahamas, click here.
  • The 1,900-passenger Grand Celebration is expected to begin two-night trips from Palm Beach, Fla., to Freeport every other day as early as February. The former Carnival vessel is replacing the smaller Bahamas Celebration that sailed the route until late October, when it was damaged after striking an object. The vessel features 10 public decks, five pools, a spa, fitness center, five restaurants, a casino and a 950-seat performance center. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line intends to offer 4- to 8-night cruise and resort stay vacation packages. For information: BahamasParadiseCruise.com or GrandCelebration.com.

Barbados

  • The all-inclusive adults-only Sandals Barbados in St. Lawrence Gap is expected to open in January 2015, after the property’s 280 accommodations are completely refurnished and swim-up suites and rooms with soaking tubs on the balcony added. Sandals Barbados is to feature 11 gourmet dining options, English Guild-trained butlers, an expanded spa, wedding garden, fire pits and more. For information: http://www.sandals.com/destinations/barbados/.
  • Delta Airlines has also added new routes from New York and Atlanta to Barbados. The flights depart Thursdays and Saturdays out of New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The flights aboard 160-passenger Boeing 737s depart New York at 8:45 am, arrive in Barbados at around 2:38 pm, depart Barbados at 5:05 pm and arrive in New York at 9:08 pm; and depart Atlanta at 10:30 am, arrive in Barbados at 4:04 pm, depart Barbados at 3:35 pm, and arrive in Atlanta around 7:46 pm. For information: www.delta.com.

Cayman Islands

  • The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort along Seven Mile Beach has undergone a $16 million-plus renovation. The lobby, restaurants, ballroom, meeting rooms and fitness center have undergone a major transformation and evoke a Ship-to-Shore concept with a spirit of openness, sense of adventure, craftsmanship and the island’s strong connection with the sea. The lobby restaurant and bar is now the Anchor & Den; the revamped oceanfront restaurant and bar is now the bohemian chic Veranda and Vista Bar; and new amenities include complimentary Linus bike rentals. For information visit http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/gcmgc-grand-cayman-marriott-beach-resort/.

Cuba

  • Memories Resorts & Spa have expanded with the opening of Memories Holguin Beach Resort, the fifth addition to brand’s growing Cuba portfolio. Previously operated as Riu Playa Turquesa in the resort area of Holguin, the beachfront property features 531 guestrooms and suites, sprawling swimming pools, seven dining options and six bars, including a cigar bar. Vibrant evening shows and the on-site disco will keep everyone entertained day and night. On-site services include motorized water sports rentals, horseback riding, spa and beauty treatments, wedding planning, a teen lounge and supervised children’s activities plus appearances by famous kids’ characters.
  • Royalton Luxury Resorts has expanded its portfolio with the addition of the Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort & Spa. The hotel group has managed the property under its original name for the past 12 months while conducting extensive renovations and upgrades that include a stylish lobby, re-designed beach restaurant, a new Jazz bar, and new pool and beach side Bali beds. The adults-only all-inclusive resort features more than 400 junior suites, five restaurants and activities including tennis, squash, catamaran sailing and diving.
  • Latour, an Isramworld company, is offering offering three Cuba vacation programs for a limited time. The vacation programs include Hello Cuba, which is designed to capture the spirit of Cuba and its people and mixes mambos and mojitos; Shalom Cuba, which provides a rare opportunity to interact with and explore the Jewish community; and LGBT Cuba, which provides opportunities to experience the country’s diverse gay life. Programs include round trip air between Miami and Cuba, eight nights hotel accommodations (one near Miami International Airport & seven in Cuba), all ground transportation and airport transfers via deluxe Air Conditioned Motorcoach and people to people exchange Cultural Programs. Latour and Isramworld are approved by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to run these special programs. For information: http://www.latour.com/vacations/cuba.
  • Germany’s Condor Airlines now offers weekly service from Frankfurt to Grenada and Cuba. The Cuba service is provided between Cologne and Varadero; the Grenada service is provided from Frankfurt. For information on Condor flights, visit www.condor.com/us.

Dominica

  • LIAT has added seven new regional Caribbean flights per week, including four new weekly flights between Dominica and St Maarten that operate on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Dominican Republic

  • The adults-only CHIC Punta Cana resort has opened on Uvero Alto Beach. The 323-suite property features six restaurants, a cafe, a grill, a mermaid swimming pool with DJ booth and personal poolside cabanas, an oxygen bar and an extensive spa. Amenities include 24-hour concierge services, rain shower heads, complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room liquor dispensers and guest-controlled mood lighting. A 3,505-square-foot Chic Mansion affords the opportunity to enjoy a private six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, swimming pool and hot tub, fire pit, wine cellar and security system while also enjoying Chic Punta Cana amenities. For information visit http://www.chicpuntacana.com/.
  • The Gansevoort Playa Imbert has opened on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. The property’s 48 suites include one and two-bedroom lofts; three-bedroom apartments with private plunge pools and spacious terraces; and a collection of four-bedroom penthouses, each with private rooftop Jacuzzi. Guests can enjoy a three-tiered cascading infinity pool overlooking the crescent-shaped beach; two restaurants, and a wine and cigar cellar; a fitness center and day spa with Hammam-style sauna, and a meditation and yoga garden. For information: http://www.gansevoorthotelgroup.com/hotels/gansevoort-dominican-republic/.
  • Air France and MSC Cruises are teaming up to offer 18 flights on a 432 passenger Boeing 747-400 between Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport and the Dominican Republic’s La Romana airport, which accommodates cruise passengers. The new flights add 7,776 seats to acccommodate the MSC between Dec. 7 and April 5. Cruise passengers are to be provided a dedicated check-in desk at CDG airport. For information: AirFrance.com Dominican Republic flight reservation page or MSC Cruises Dominican Republic information page.

Grenada

  • Germany’s Condor Airlines now offers weekly service from Frankfurt to Grenada and Cuba. The Cuba service is provided between Cologne and Varadero; the Grenada service is provided from Frankfurt. For information visit www.condor.com/us.

Jamaica

  • The $43 million, 238-room all-inclusive adults-only Riu Palace Jamaica has opened next to the Riu Montego Bay. All rooms are oceanview junior and Jacuzzi suites. The property also features five restaurants, three bars, two swimming pools a gym and a conference room and offers access to Riu Montego Bay with spa, sports bar, night club and live nightly theater and music entertainment. For information: www.riupalacejamaica.com.
  • The 130-room Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma Hotels with gourmet inclusive cuisine has opened along Negril’s Seven Mile Beach. The Gourmet Inclusive® property accommodates families and features adults-only areas with honeymoon suites and areas that accommodate families with as many as two and three children. All rooms afford ocean views. The property features three swimming pools plus a wading pool with a splash park; an Azulitos, by Fisher Price program; a playhouse with supervised activities for children ages 4 to 12; non-motorized water sports; kayaks, boogie boards, hobie cats and canoes; a fitness center; table games and nightly shows and live music. Yoga, beach volleyball and soccer, giant chess and ping-pong are offered, and massage and wedding planning services available. For information: www.azuljamaica.com.
  • Hyatt Hotels and Playa Hotels & Resorts BV have opened the all ages Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica and the adults-only Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall. Located at the former site of the Ritz-Carlton, the all-inclusive properties represent an $85 million expansion, renovation and repositioning. Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall features 496 suites, including 28 newly created premium swim-up suites, eight swimming pools, three whirlpools, a swim-up bar with pool butler and a children’s program. Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall features 125 suites, including 30 swim-up suites, plus its own gourmet dining and lounges. Adult-oriented amenities at Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall include four private swimming pools, a pool bar and restaurant furnished with chaise lounges and Bali Beds and a private beach. For information on the Hyatt Ziva, visit http://rosehall.ziva.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html and to find out more on the Hyatt Zilara, visit http://rosehall.zilara.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html.

Mexico

  • The family-focused, Gourmet Inclusive® Azul Fives Hotel in Playa del Carmen is scheduled in January to unveil $40 million in renovations, including the addition of a large plaza, four new restaurants, a new bar and two new villas with swim up suites connecting to two new swimming pools. The property, with the Azul Hotel by Karisma in Negril, Jamaica, in June debuts a Nickelodeon vacation experience, the result of a partnership with Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN).
  • The all-suite, all-inclusive adults-only Secrets Playa Mujeres Golf & Spa Resort has opened near Cancun in Playa Mujeres. The beachfront property features 424 suites, some with private patio swim-out access to one of two swimming pools, along with five restaurants, a 16,000-square-foot spa, live nightly entertainment, 24-hour concierge and room service, two swimming pools, onsite shopping and non-motorized water sports. Greens fees at the nearby Greg Norman-designed, 18-hole Playa Mujeres Golf Course are complimentary. Secrets Resort & Spas is a part of Unlimited Vacation Club by AMResorts’ portfolio of luxury brands, which also include Dreams® Resorts & Spas, Breathless® Resorts & Spas, Zoëtry® Wellness & Spa Resorts, Now® Resorts & Spas and Sunscape® Resorts & Spas. For information: http://www.secretsresorts.com/our-resorts-spas.
  • Unlimited Vacation Club by AMResorts has rebranded and reopened Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres as Zoëtry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun. The wellness & spa resort is the fourth of its kind in Mexico and features 35 oceanfront suites with Jacuzzi terraces; gourmet dining at the award-winning Italian-Swiss restaurant Casa Rolandi; a full-service state-of-the-art spa & Thalasso center with 10 wet and dry treatment rooms; a heat-regulated natural seawater pool, and a private marina with 42-foot yacht to transport guests between Cancun and the resort. For information: www.zoetryresorts.com/mujeres.
  • The all-inclusive, all-ages Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta has opened at the site of the former Dreams Puerto Vallarta after an approximate $20 million expansion, renovation and repositioning. The property features four dining options, celebrity chef Maximo Lopez, three swimming pools, including an adults-only pool with butler service; spa hydrotherapy services and a fitness center. Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta also offers tequila sommeliers, 24-hour in-suite dining service with chef designed menus, fire pits,entertainment and activities. For information: puertovallarta.ziva.hyatt.com.

Nevis

  • Paradise Beach Nevis, a new boutique villa resort, is expected to open in January 2015. The beachfront property composed of three- and four-bedroom thatched roof villas combines the ambience of a private residence with the service of a five-star resort. Paradise Beach Nevis features an outdoor dining pavilion and a swimming pool and offers concierge, butler and private chef services. For information: paradisebeachnevis.com.

Puerto Rico

  • Restoration of the circa-1919 Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan is completed. The Spanish Revival-style property was the brainchild of Frederick William Vanderbuilt and was designed by the architects involved with Grand Central Station in New York City. The property’s 319 rooms include 108 suites, three food and beverage outlets, an 8,000 square foot spa and fitness center, 17,000 square feet of meeting space, two swimming pool areas and 370 parking spaces. Paulson & Co. Inc., a New York-based investment firm, partnered with International Hospitality Enterprises to acquire a major interest in the Condado Vanderbilt and neighboring La Concha Renaissance Hotel for $260 million, including costs to complete construction on the Condado Vanderbilt. La Concha, a Renaissance Resort, contains 483 hotel rooms, including 225 suites, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a 17,000 square foot casino, five food and beverage outlets, three pools, generous common areas and 568 parking spaces. The resorts are separated by approximately 200 feet via the La Ventana al Mar public park. Nearby are retail stores and several restaurants. For information: www.condadovanderbilt.com or www.laconcharesort.com.

St. Kitts

  • Belle Mont Farm has opened at the sustainability-focused Kittitian Hill resort complex. The boutique luxury resort includes guesthouses, villas and farmhouses, the latter of which include private 100-foot long infinity-edge pools. The property is set on a 400-acre working farm and features a restaurant as well as an 18-hole golf course that’s been dubbed the world’s “most edible” because of its ready-to-pick organic crops and trees. For information:www.kittitianhill.com.
  • A 14,000-square-foot greenhouse has opened at St Kitts Eco Park, a cooperative effort between the governments of St Kitts and Nevis and Taiwan, where a similar facility is located. The park features plants, herbs, flowers and tropical fruit trees and is intended to integrate tourism, agriculture and renewable energy, according to a government statement. Admission is free.

St. Lucia

  • Capella Marigot Bay has opened on the west coast of St. Lucia. The property, with 124 rooms and suites, features four dining and lounge options, including a swimming pool bar and rum cave replete with rum maestro for tastings and other events. Capella Marigot Bay was formerly the Discovery Hotel.
  • Delta Airlines now offers service between New York and Saint Lucia The weekly service aboard a 160-seat Boeing 737-800 departs John F Kennedy International Airport on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m., arriving in St Lucia at 2:10 pm. The return flights depart St Lucia at 3:15 pm, and arrive in New York around 7:07 pm.

St. Maarten-Sint Martin

  • Sint Martin’s Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort and Spa has reopened since experiencing damage from Hurricane Gonzalo in October 2014. The 257-room adults-only, all-inclusive resort had recently upgraded restrooms, the pool area and fitness center and has now added a wedding cabana. For information:www.sonesta.com/greatbay.
  • LIAT has added seven new regional Caribbean flights per week, including four new weekly flights between Dominica and St Maarten that operate on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

US Virgin Islands

  • AMResorts has opened the all-inclusive Dreams Sugar Bay on St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The 297-room property features seven dining options and restaurants, three bars and lounges, three linked swimming pools with caves and waterfalls, a bumper-boats pool, tennis, miniature golf, a fitness center and a spa. Located on the site of the former Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, Dreams Sugar Bay also offers supervised activities for children and social activities for teens. For information: www.dreamsresorts.com/sugar-bay.

Trinidad & Tobago

  • Curacao-based Insel Air now offers service to Port of Spain, Trinidad. For information: www.fly-inselair.com.
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About Author: Michelle Sheldone

Michelle Sheldone is an award-winning writer and the author of "Historic Walking Guides: Florida Keys." She launched her career at Family Circle magazine, where she worked as an entertainment editor. She has since contributed to newspapers, magazines and travel guides and handled marketing for government, education, travel, hospitality, fashion and conservation interests.