The Royal Clipper, top floating destination
updated 1/3/2006 4:02:49 PM ET 2006-01-03T21:02:49

We stay at great hotels the way most other people eat home-cooked meals: We do it all the time. But don't think we are blasé about it or take our good fortune for granted. We don't. In fact, the only tough part, aside from convincing our editors that it's worthwhile to pay to send us to five-star resorts in the Caribbean, is coming up with our list at the end of the year in which we are compelled to pick those hotels or resorts we liked most.

We suppose it is our editors' way of getting back at us...

In any event, it makes us feel like judges at a beauty contest or admissions officers at an Ivy League college; there are so many deserving candidates out there but only a few can win. Over the past year, we visited dozens of resorts around the world, from terraced palaces in the Middle East and medieval lodges in Eastern Europe, to Indian villas by the Taj Mahal and grey-shuttered Nantucket inns in New England.

Of course, every destination featured on is well worth a visit, with striking architecture and interior design, pristine locations and excellent dining options and service. So what set apart the 12 resorts we chose for our roundup of Top Destinations 2005?

Originality was one thing we looked for: Some of our featured resorts for this year aren't resorts at all, at least not in the traditional sense. The Royal Clipper, a Barbados-based sailing vessel, turns the concept of a luxury resort on its head. The stately ship is a floating hotel and takes passengers through tours of the Windward and Grenadine Islands during the winter months and the Mediterranean during the summer. The Royal Clipper can accommodate 227 people, but if you do some research and book strategically, you can join cruises with much fewer passengers, leading to a close-knit onboard community.

For a more solitary experience, the Paraiso de la Bonita on the Riviera Maya may fit the bill. The luxurious resort has 5.5 beachfront acres and is located at the end of a remote 1.25 mile road, where the open-air lobby looks out over a sparkling pool and palm-fringed white-sand beach. The 90 suites are named, rather than numbered, lending the property the elegance of a friend's grand estate rather than a hotel; and the on-site Hippo Bar and three restaurants ensure a comfortable stay with plenty of dining options. For the most adventurous, 15 minutes away by boat there is a private island, where guests can reserve a candlelight dinner for two with two days' notice. Could anything be more romantic?

Of course, seclusion has its appeal. But for a different kind of vacationer, there's nothing more exciting than lying on the beach by day and exploring a new city by night. If that sounds appealing, The One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai should be topping your 2006 travel wish list. This booming city on the Arabian Gulf has more than its share of top-tier hotels, including the Burj Al Arab, a sail-shaped resort with a 24-karat gold-paneled lobby.

(To read about the Burj Al Arab and the rest of the world's most expensive hotels, click here.)But the Royal Mirage is spectacular in a different way, with sprawling terraced gardens, a beachfront location, several private swimming pools, sparkling fountains and a traditional Oriental Hammam as well as a Givenchy Health & Body Institute for newer-fangled spa-goers. Despite being located in the desert, golf courses are going up all over Dubai, so there's something to keep everyone busy.

While we had some trouble picking 12 favorites, in the end our standouts share excellent locations and espouse a unique and innovative approach to making their guests happy. We recommend them to you wholeheartedly.

© 2012


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