Petit St. Vincent, The Grenadines
Here's a place where you could easily spend your entire vacation between your room and the beach. The 113-acre private island is home to 22 cottages, and numbers 6 through 11 are steps from the water. Each ultra-private stone cottage (sans TV and phone) features a wooden sundeck, living room and bedroom. You can beckon staff using a flag system: Hoisting yellow signifies you want something (piña coladas, a picnic set up on the beach, sunscreen), while red means "Do Not Disturb." Eat. Sleep. Beach. Repeat.
Book: Cottages 6 to 11
Rates: From $635 in low season ($960 high)
Contact: 800-654-9326; www.psvresort.com
Cabañas la Conchita, Tulum, Mexico
Step into your cabaña from the sandy courtyard and turn the clock way back. Candles sub for electricity (6 p.m. to 10 p.m. only), and you won't find a TV or air conditioning anywhere in sight — just back-to-basics living 20 paces from the water's edge with a solar-heated shower, a comfortable bed with voluminous mosquito netting and a patio hammock for listening to the slip slap of the surf. Everything else you need — drinks, eats, water sports — is a short walk away along a gorgeous beach.
Book: Cabaña No. 1
Rates: From $110 including breakfast in low season ($160 high), cash only
Contact: 888-582-9848; www.differentworld.com
Bucuti Beach Resort, Aruba
A stay at the Euro-chic, 104-room Bucuti Beach Resort will put you on the white sands of Eagle Beach, the low-rise alternative to Palm Beach. You'll want one of the 36 oceanfront Tara Beach Suites, which have up-to-date amenities, kitchens, living rooms and primo views. If you get thirsty while sunbathing, simply plant a handy flag in the sand, and a bar attendant comes to take your order. Now that's what we call service.
Book: Tara Beach Suites
Rates: $375 in low season ($495 high)
Contact: 011-297-583-1100; www.bucuti.com
Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort, Long Island, Bahamas
You're practically sleeping on the sand at this charming Long Island gem. From the 20 one-story bungalows it's a hop across the boardwalk to the resort's private beach (which, by the way, is 4 miles long). Each one-room Bahamian-style unit has a private veranda, air conditioning, coffee maker and minifridges; larger parties can book a two-bedroom condo (ask for a bottom-floor unit in these two-story buildings). The Beach House restaurant provides a superb sunset-watching perch.
Rates: $235 to $595 in low season ($325 to $795 high)
Contact: 800-663-7090; www.capesantamaria.com
Emerald Palms Resort, South Andros, Bahamas
First you have to get yourself to funky Congo Town airstrip; then head north to the village of Driggs Hill. By then you know you're someplace way, way off the beaten track. Emerald Palms, in a grove beside a beach that goes on for 5 miles, has been around for years but is now blossoming under new management. Its 22 motel-like cottages line up in two neat rows at right angles to the beach, so only two rooms and two oceanfront villas let you step directly onto the sand. A backwater the location may be, but the accommodations are kitted out with refinements like canopy beds, marble floors and whirlpool tubs.
Book: Beachfront Superior rooms and Reef Suites Deluxe
Rates: Beachfront rooms from $307 in low season ($542 high); reef suites from $847 in low season ($1,308 high)
Contact: 888-424-6835; www.ichotelsgroup.com
Turneffe Island Lodge, Belize
You want escape; you get Escape. For starters, you can only get here twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and only by boat, a 35-mile trip. (You could, of course, charter a helicopter, but that's not quite in the spirit of such an eco-oriented, idyllic spot.) Picture a circular cay, 14 acres in all, with an expanse of sand larger than a football field at one end, a tropical copse at the other, and somewhere among the sea grapes and palms a 12-room, eight-cabana resort. There's no TV, no radio, no phones, no Internet, and your shower is heated by solar panels. Fishermen and divers love Turneffe, but so will romantics who don't mind fish talk or family-style dining — there's all day for billing and cooing and hoping Saturday and Wednesday never come.
Book: A cabana
Rates: From $864 in low season ($1,000 high), including meals and a few extras
Contact: 800-874-0118; turneffelodge.com
La Samanna, St. Martin
The 81 rooms and suites here are top-drawer elegant, the bluff-side restaurant is drop-dead romantic, the grounds are a floral kingdom, and Baie Longue, on which this legend is perched, really is long. The owners, Orient-Express, have just installed estate-wide Wi-Fi, a new infinity pool, beach cabanas and a beach lunch bar. What more could you want? Easy beach access, of course. Guests in the four-story Main House have great views, but it's a bit of a hike to the beach. Savvy sand lovers check in to ground-floor suites tucked among the sea-grape trees, just 20 paces from the turquoise bay.
Book: One-bedroom Suites A12, A14, A20, A22
Rates: From $1,095 in low season ($2,100 high)
Contact: 800-854-2252; lasamanna.com
Palm Island, The Grenadines
This 135-acre Grenadine isle was made famous by its original owner, charter-yacht skipper "Coconut" Johnny Caldwell, who rowed his passengers ashore for picnics, planted a few coconuts on each call and eventually built a castaway resort among his grove of palms. Now part of the Elite Island group of all-inclusive resorts, Palm Island still revolves around the splendid, soaring Polynesian pavilion (with dramatically improved cuisine), but the stone-and-timber bungalows now have air conditioning (still no TVs or telephones). Palm is all about beach and sea, with most of the 37 rooms rimming a dazzling boomerang-shaped strand.
Book: Beachfront Cottages 7 to 19
Rates: From $795 in low season ($960 high), all-inclusive
Contact: 800-858-4618; eliteislandresorts.com
Spice Island Beach Resort, Grenada
"Spice" has been an insider's favorite for years, but a recent $12-million rejuvenation has vaulted the resort into the front ranks of Caribbean playgrounds. So it's no surprise when you stroll past the dazzling free-form pool and flower-draped pergolas and step into suites with Hansgrohe bathroom fixtures, double-whirlpool tubs and flat-screen TVs. What is startling is that you can step from this elegance onto a shaded veranda with double daybeds and then down a few steps into a garden patio with hammocks and loungers — and find yourself right in the dunes. You can see people walking along famed Grand Anse Beach, but they can't see you.
Book: Seagrape Beach Suites
Rates: From $815 in low season ($1,075 high)
Contact: 473-444-4258; spiceislandbeachresort.com
Secret Harbour Beach Resort, St. Thomas
It's not exactly a secret anymore, given the number of villas and condos that fill the surrounding hillsides, but it's still a curvaceous beauty: a half-moon of white sand studded with palm trees; calm, clear waters protected by headlands; and a couple of islands just offshore to complete the postcard setting. Secret Harbour is essentially a condo resort that offers hotel services, with most of the three-story wings of suites terraced on the hillside. All 60 of them are fitted out with kitchens and individual tropical décor, and the choicest suites are beside the sand, naturally. When you can drag yourself away from the shade of your xeric palm, a short walk brings you to the dive shop and the Blue Moon Café, where you can enjoy a Cuba Libre.
Book: Studios 111, 116, 211, 216.
Rates: From $250 in low season ($375 high).
Contact: 800-524-2250; secretharbourvi.com
Caneel Bay, St. John
This is one of the legendary resorts created by the late Laurance Rockefeller, which means lots of garden and parkland — roughly one acre per room. (How's that for space?) It's now run by Rosewood Hotels, which means a few choice concessions to the 21st century, like air conditioning and splashier, lighter interiors (but still no TVs or phones in the rooms). Of the 166 rooms and suites, most are beachfront, and they all have elegant furnishings and amenities like coffee makers and minibars. The sports facilities are outstanding, especially for tennis nuts.
Book: Premium beachfront suites on Scott Beach
Rates: From $650 in low season ($750 high)
Contact: 888-767-3966; caneelbay.com
Hotel Les îlets de la Plage, St. Barts
It's on the far side of the island's most photographed beach, so Les îlets doesn't rate the same buzz as its neighbors. But being overlooked is just fine for the folks who come back here year after year for peace and quiet. This complex of red-roofed native houses plops four of its 11 suites on St. Jean Beach. Each is decorated white-on-white, accented with blue-and-white-striped fabrics, and each follows a typical French layout: pantry and lounging area downstairs, sleeping loft and bathroom up top, a wooden deck at the rear leading to a patch of lawn before you hit the sand. The housekeepers will stock the refrigerator before you arrive, and they place freshly baked baguettes on your doorstep every morning. Stroll down the beach to dine at the chi-chi hangouts.
Book: Rooms 17 to 20
Rates: From $285 in low season ($530 high)
Contact: 011-590-590-27-88-58; lesilets.com
Ana y Jose Charming Hotel & Spa, Tulum, Mexico
The namesake parents have retired, and their children now run this friendly 18-year-old getaway, but you can still dine on Doña Ana's Mexican and Mayan family recipes. After a standout breakfast, it's just a short stroll through leafy gardens to a spa where you can sample a coconut-and-sea-sand exfoliation or a chaya-and-flowers hydrating bath. Ana y Jose's cluster of 22 air-conditioned rooms with chic Mexican decor flanks a beach-side playground with free-form pool, hammocks and boutique-style four-poster daybeds. As the name says, it's all very encantado.
Book: Amanecer, Brisa del Mar, Agua de Mar, Capricho
Rates: From $292 low season ($331 high)
Contact: 011-52-998-880-5629; anayjose.com
Turtle Inn Placencia, Belize
Venturing forth from your cabana with its bleached palapa roof, you can visit wildlife sanctuaries with jaguars, howler monkeys and butterflies so big they must be on steroids. But for most guests, "exploring" means a lazy shuffle along the beach to the fishing village. Rooms and suites (seven of which are 10 steps from the water) are artfully designed with outdoor garden showers and décor that's more Bali than Belize. Since Turtle Inn is the fiefdom of Francis Ford Coppola, dining plays up Italian fare, and when you sip a merlot in the sand-floored bar, chances are it's from one of Coppola's prize-winning vineyards.
Book: For couples, Cottages C5, C9, C10, C18; for groups of four, Villas V1, V5, V7.
Rates: Cottages from $385 in low season ($425 high); villas from $550 in low season ($650 high)
Contact: 800-746-3743; turtleinn.com
Galley Bay, Antigua
This low-key, 69-room all-inclusive is probably best known for its strikingly original and romantic Gauguin Cottages, which face a bird sanctuary. The remaining rooms stretch along the beach in wings separated by the resort's trademark bar, a sort of palapa teepee. A swimming pool with grotto and waterfall becomes the center of activity on days when heavy breakers rule out bay swimming. The décor runs to rattan and bamboo, ceramic tile floors and local artworks, but for many guests the most appealing feature here is the dining (well above all-inclusive norms) — especially the beach-side Gauguin Restaurant with its interlocking gazebos and Polynesian air.
Book: Rooms 4, 10, 12, 14 and 41 to 47
Rates: From $850 low season ($1,140 high), all-inclusive
Contact: 800-858-4618; eliteislandresorts.com
Covecastles Villa Resort, Anguilla
Staying here is like going from beach bum to master chef in 20 strides. Step from the curvaceous half-mile of beach lapped by calm, crystal-clear water across the terra-cotta patio to a dream kitchen equipped with high-end GE appliances, a Krupps coffee maker and cupboards stacked with Buccellati china and no fewer than 72 glasses. Covecastles is a parade of 15 glaringly white two-story villas with roll-top rooflines and skylighted interiors. You sit on plump, raw-silk love seats, sleep between Frette sheets and lounge in a hammock while sipping exotic drinks from your Braun juicer. Despite the fancy kitchen in every suite, you can order room service from the resort's own beach-side restaurant.
Book: For couples, Beach Houses 1 through 8 (other villas are more suitable for groups or families)
Rates: From $595 in low season ($895 high)
Contact: 800-223-1108; covecastles.com
Mango Bay Resort, Virgin Gorda
This is a classic British Virgin setting: secluded bay (Mahoe, actually), calm water, ribbon of white sand. Plop a few one-story cottages among the palms and sea grapes, and you have a resort that's a quiet escape for self-reliant types. Of the 18 bungalows, five are directly on the sand, all individually owned and rented in various configurations for couples, foursomes and families. Each comes with an indoor or outdoor kitchen, and Giorgio's Table is just down the beach.
Book: Beachfront suite or beachfront villa
Rates: From $270 in low season ($380 high)
Contact: 284-495-5672; mangobayresort.com
Tortuga Bay, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Stay in a resort room designed by the island's most fashionable favorite son, Oscar de la Renta. Everything is tasteful and impeccable, with ceramic tile floors so you don't feel too guilty about tracking in grains of sand. The 3-mile beach is fronted by 16 two-story villas
(the lower-floor units all have two bedrooms, so bring along your buddies) and, it must be said, you do have to walk over a few feet of grass to get to the sand. You can fly into the resort's own airport, 10 minutes away, where VIP staff escort you through formalities and drive you directly to your suite.
Book: Suites 6161, 6171
Rates: From $1,070 for a two-bedroom suite in low season ($1,430 high)
Contact: 888-442-2262; puntacana.com
Mary's Boon Beach Plantation, St. Maarten
The beach in question is the inviting ribbon of sand you see on the right of your jet as it touches down at Princess Juliana Airport, and Mary's Boon is the one-acre garden with seven white roofs right beside the beach. The 36-room inn's fame reaches back to the early '70s, when the legendary Mary Pomeroy turned it into a sort of tropical salon for expats and gregarious travelers who gathered each evening around the honor bar. The honor bar is still there, but almost everything else has changed: new owners, new garden pool with swim-up bar, and new décor (Queen Anne pencil-post beds, televisions). Today's habitués don't seem to mind the occasional roar of jets — but don't say you weren't warned.
Book: Deluxe beachfront or beachfront one-bedroom
Rates: From $165 in low season ($270 high)
Contact: 866-978-5424; marysboon.com
Brac Reef Beach Resort, Cayman Brac
The tiny island known as The Brac is a longtime favorite of scuba divers, but this family-run inn welcomes families by laying on lots of kids' programs, movies, barbecues and massages on the broad beach, which is protected by a reef. The 40 rooms in two-story peach-colored buildings "no higher than the treetops" are set among landscaped beachfront gardens and decorated in soothing island colors. You'll have air conditioning, ceiling fans, a kitchenette, television, phones and free Internet access.
Book: Ground floor with patio
Rates: From $154 year-round
Contact: 800-594-0843; bracreef.com
Le Petit Hotel, St. Martin
The beach here is not the greatest, but the waterfront restaurant scene sure is. Aptly named, the Little Hotel is poised on the edge of the village of Grand Case with its boulevard of bistros: When you step from one of only two ground-floor rooms to the sand and walk the length of the beach, you pass perhaps the choicest collection of dining spots in the Caribbean. Rooms in the three-story Mediterranean villa are equipped with designer duvets, flat-screen TV, contemporary chairs and balance lamps beside the beds — more Paris-chic than Caribbean-cool. For breakfast, you have your own kitchen with refrigerator, range and microwave. For lunch, hit the lolos (beachfront stands; see page 36). And for dinner, choose from two dozen gastronomic restaurants nearby — the real reason for staying here.
Book: The ground-floor bedroom suite or ground-floor deluxe studio
Rates: From $305 in low season ($400 high)
Contact: 011-590-590-29-09-65; lepetithotel.com
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