June 17, 2024
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10 Fresh Tropical Resort Experiences

These all-inclusive vacation hosts add amenities for 2020

By Jennifer Davoren

Vacations Magazine: 10 Fresh Tropical Resort Experiences
Yotam Sandak/Sonesta Hotels & Resorts
Hurricane Irma blew through the Caribbean in September 2017, and among its victims were 70 percent of structures found on the divided isle of St. Maarten- St. Martin. Sonesta Ocean Point Resort and its sister property, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino and Spa, sustained heavy damage, but the pair recently put finishing touches on months of repairs and upgrades.

Former guests returning in 2020 will dig into Caribbean-fusion tapas and sip mojitos at the adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point's rooftop restaurant and enjoy revitalized children's programming at the family-friendly Sonesta Maho Beach. A new entertainment program brings music, "master class" demonstrations and meditation sessions to both properties, while the neighboring Casino Royale offers stage shows throughout the week, including a Saturday "circus spectacular." As part of the post-Irma recovery, storm-resistant building materials were used throughout the resort complex, such as exterior panels made to withstand wind speeds up to 200 mph.

So stop by St. Maarten in the new year to meet these new-and-improved retreats. The following tropical properties also bundle food, drinks, accommodations and more in a single, hassle-free package and could be the host of your next getaway. Contact the resort specialists at Vacations To Go for recommendations and the latest deals.

Refurbished Rius. This popular all-inclusive brand closed out 2019 with makeovers for three of its properties in Mexico.

In Mazatlan, Hotel Riu Emerald Bay wrapped up an expansion in September that added a new bank of rooms, a bar and buffet, the RiuLand kids club and Splash Water World, a park built for adults and children alike. Hotel Riu Vallarta followed with its own grand reopening in November and now boasts a RiuLand, additional eateries and, through a partnership with the neighboring Hotel Riu Jalisco, a new entertainment concept, Riu Party, with DJs and other guest acts.

Hotel Riu Palace Riviera Maya, which welcomed guests back to its beachfront Playa del Carmen site in December, also will include Riu Party in its all-inclusive package through its cooperation with the nearby Hotel Riu Tequila. Italian and Mexican restaurants join a patisserie among expanded snacking options. Fresh and breezy decor, poolside grills and a spa and wellness center round out the property's new-for-2020 advantages.

D.R. hideaways by Hyatt. Two autumn resort openings marked the hotel brand's all-inclusive debut in the Dominican Republic. Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana, an all-ages escape, and Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana, for adults only, together offer 750 suites along Playa Juanillo's calm, clear surf. Fun at Hyatt Ziva involves its waterpark with slides, a lazy river system and water cannons made for soaking younger siblings. Hyatt Zilara guests, meanwhile, might prefer to pay an extra fee for a day at the "cave" spa, with a cenote-like pool for long soaks after massages.

Hyatt Ziva's restaurants have a playful atmosphere with fare made to satisfy every member of the family, like The Noodle and Thread's classic pasta dishes. Hyatt Zilara guests have access to Ziva eateries as well as their own upscale outlets for fusion cuisine: Peruvian-Caribbean and Tahitian-meets-French bistro. These sister resorts also share an expansive fitness center and a 300-seat, open-air amphitheatre hosting nightly entertainment.

Dreamy winter escapes. After adding a property to its portfolio in late 2019 and looking ahead to two more grand openings in February, family-friendly Dreams Resorts & Spas hopes to kick off 2020 as the premier host of snowbird season.

Dreams Curacao Resort, Spa and Casino, found on the sun-soaked coast of this south Caribbean isle, opened in December. It offers Dreams' "unlimited luxury" experience, including 24-hour concierge service and drop-in fine dining, no reservations required. It provides location-specific perks, too: Dreams Curacao guests can enroll in Papiamento classes to pick up the local language.

Dreams Vista Cancun Resort and Spa, with all 232 of its guest rooms overlooking the Caribbean, also loves locals' experiences -- be sure to sign up for a tequila tasting after its February opening. And Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana expects a Feb. 21 debut in the Dominican Republic, with accommodations ranging from garden-view suites to two-bedroom villas as well as dining options that include nine on-site restaurants and eateries at neighboring resorts participating in the Sip, Savor and See exchange program.

A southern smorgasbord. The all-suite, adults-only Barcelo Maya Riviera also made its debut in December. It curves around a palm-studded beach in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, joining a development complex that encompasses five other Barcelo resorts. As part of their all-inclusive vacation package, guests of Barcelo Maya Riviera have access to amenities at all six properties, which means a grand total of 26 restaurants are at their disposal. Choices include the usual well-stocked buffets as well as spots for teppanyaki, Mexican and Mediterranean-style seafood. Bars abound, too, including a cigar lounge at the neighboring Barcelo Maya Tropical.

Bring a little extra cash if you'd like to sample a few smokes, as they aren't part of the standard Barcelo resort package. Other activities available for an additional fee include bowling and the ziplines of Ventura Fly and Ride Park. Still, swimming pools, mini-golf and multiple theaters hosting live entertainment come at no extra cost, so guests can stick to a predetermined budget while soaking up the sun.

Sipping in St. Martin. Guavaberry rum might be the national liqueur of St. Maarten, but sharing an island with St. Martin has turned this "woody, fruity, spicy, bittersweet" drink into a crossover hit. Ask about samples during a stay at the adults-only, 258-suite Secrets St. Martin Resort and Spa, which plans a February opening on Anse Marcel, a small bay on the north side of the isle. With five on-site bars, including one for swim-up orders in what Secrets claims is the largest infinity pool in that part of the Caribbean, guests will have plenty of chances to sample local cocktail specialties.

Generously sized rooms range from 452 to 2,099 square feet and feature
private terraces and your choice of mountain, garden, ocean or marina views. Six restaurants and 24-hour room service are on offer, as are group activities like dance classes and hosted theme parties. Learn to scuba dive during a free lesson in the pool, or take a kayak to explore St. Martin's shoreline. You also can venture over to Anse Marcel Marina to price island tours and fishing charters.

New Palace perks. Palace Resorts reopened its flagship property, Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun, last spring after a $30 million renovation that freshened decor and added restaurants like Bella, with Italian dishes developed in part by Michelin-starred chef Giuseppe Iannotti. Its spa takes inspiration from its Yucatan Peninsula setting, so sample a new service like the Balche Massage, named for a drink once used in Mayan ceremonies.

The brand also is looking forward to resort openings in the years ahead, with its third Moon Palace coming to the Dominican Republic's Punta Cana in 2022. Plans for the sprawling, 3,350-room complex include 20 restaurants, seven swimming pools, a casino and a Greg Norman-branded golf course.

As for 2020, Palace Resorts will wrap up an ambitious remodel of Cancun's Sun Palace. This retreat closed in June and expects to welcome guests again sometime this winter, but grand opening dates and amenity details were not available at press time.

A Punta Cana supper club. The Dominican Republic's adults-only TRS Turquesa Hotel shares amenities with three sister resorts, expanding its restaurant roster to include venues like the neighboring Grand Palladium Punta Cana Resort and Spa's La Lola, with tapas and Spanish wines, and Grand Palladium Bavaro Suites Resort and Spa's Bhogali, with curries and other Indian-inspired dishes.

This winter, TRS will expand its own on-site offerings as it debuts Chic Cabaret and Restaurant. Already in place at two TRS resorts in Mexico, this supper club's "feathers, glitter and sensual choreographies will transport you from the Moulin Rouge in Paris to the old cabarets in Berlin." Catch dinner and a show at no extra cost, as the venue is covered by your stay-and-play package.

Other perks include butler service, yoga and Pilates programs and a shuttle service for lifts between properties. As far as accommodations go, consider a Romance Suite with a 6.5-foot-wide hot tub.

Lounge and restaurant revamps. Couples San Souci will undergo a $7 million renovation between May and October to update its rooms, tennis facilities and lobby space. This Jamaica resort also plans to overhaul key restaurants and lounges like the Balloon Piano Bar, named for its whimsical decor and host of guest singalongs over fruity cocktails.

What won't change, however, is Couples' above-and-beyond inclusion package, which covers transportation to and from Sangster International Airport, an offsite excursion to island icon Dunns River Falls, unlimited golf without green fees, an introductory tennis lesson, free Wi-Fi and -- should the romantic ambience take hold -- a complimentary wedding service, in addition to the usual benefits like dining and drinks. The resort fronts a private beach just outside Ocho Rios, so activities revolve around the water, from a shaded mineral grotto to an au naturel area with its own Jacuzzi, waterfront grill and swim-up bar.

An environmental initiative. Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, with all-inclusive properties throughout the Caribbean, on both coasts of Mexico and along Brazil's sunny shores, recently announced a partnership with EarthCheck, an eco-advisory group for the tourism industry. Together they will introduce programs to more than 120 hotels to reduce plastic use, preserve coastal ecosystems and encourage responsible seafood consumption.

Iberostar already has opened a coral lab near its Punta Cana resort complex to study reef bleaching and other threats. And, by the end of 2019, an estimated 35 resorts will have been EarthCheck certified -- a distinction that marks the properties' efforts to "increase efficiencies, maximize guest experience and minimize their environmental footprint" -- while all remaining Iberostars will seek certification in 2020 and 2021.

Guests can benefit from these developments in 2020 simply by dining. Gourmet restaurants like Le Tourbillon, found at Iberostar Grand Bavaro in Punta Cana, and L'Atelier, in Iberostar Grand Paraiso near Playa del Carmen, are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and Aquaculture Stewardship Council for serving responsibly sourced seafood.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Winter 2020. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.

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