Virtuoso’s managing director of hotels and resorts, Karen Goldberg, island-hopped in style on a recent seven-day Barbados-to-Sint-Maarten sailing on the 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey. She also witnessed the Caribbean’s comeback firsthand, visiting several hotels that are now reopen after sustaining damage from hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. Here, her report:
Island-hopping: Just the phrase conjures images of endless stretches of white sand, dazzling blue waters, bright sunshine, and carefree days. Cruising makes this possible, and the all-suite Seabourn Odyssey made my trip with my husband effortless, extremely comfortable, and totally indulgent. In the care of their gracious staff, our morning view changed daily as we sailed from one picturesque Caribbean island to the next.
Luxury at Sea
The Seabourn Odyssey is an all-suite, all-inclusive (meals, drinks, and gratuities are included in your fare) luxury cruise experience. From the spacious cabins, with their cool cotton linens and walk-in closets, thoughtful touches abound. We didn’t even use half of the storage space. The bathroom was a showstopper, with a full bathtub, double sinks, exclusive Molton Brown bath products, and a shower with at-sea-defying water pressure.
We booked a Verandah Suite and loved watching the sun rise and set from our private balcony. Privacy is something you can find easily on the Odyssey, due to its 450-passenger capacity. On board we enjoyed evening shows, a practice putting green, table tennis, a casino, and multiple dining options – including a Thomas Keller restaurant. A highlight: The onboard marina platform, which allowed us to take out watercrafts into the Caribbean.
We began our journey in Barbados. My best advice is to book a minimum two-night pre-cruise stay at one of the many Virtuoso hotels on the island, including Port Ferdinand Marina & Luxury Residences, the Fairmont Royal Pavilion, the Sandy Lane Hotel, and Cobblers Cove, Relais & Chateaux. This will help you ease into vacation, providing ample time to shed your winter shell and (almost) forget about work. This also ensures you’ll get on the ship on the day of departure – cruise ships don’t wait for delayed flights. Don’t miss Nikki Beach Barbados and its gorgeous beachfront location and fabulous dining.
Our first port was Mayreau on Saint Vincent, a quaint, isolated, and drenched in sunshine hilltop village with a population of 270. Dominica was next with its lush rain forest and colorful timber houses, followed by Guadeloupe, an island known for its Parc National, hiking, rivers, waterfalls, and Soufriere Volcano. Truth be told, I left my husband on Sundeck 5 and went shopping in town. My souvenirs: shoes, a bathing suit and a cover up.
We found beautiful eighteenth-century homes and flawless beaches on Saint Kitts and took a fishing excursion where I pulled up barracuda and bonito by myself. Saint Bart’s is definitely back with its celebrity sightings; yachts the size of cruise ships docked in the harbor; and shops, restaurants, and hotels bustling with visitors. Les Salines beach is our must-visit spot every time we’re on the island. It’s hard to leave Saint Bart’s, but when your next port of call is the picture-perfect Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, with its isolated and rugged beauty, it makes departing a bit more palatable.
Seabourn offered a host of shore excursions for exploring these island gems, including some available exclusively for Virtuoso travelers. You feel truly privileged to be able to reach these islands, most of which can only be accessed via a small cruise ship. You also feel grateful that many of these islands and their hotels are back and better than ever.
A Caribbean Hotel Comeback
After hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the Caribbean in late 2017, many hotels took the opportunity to renovate, refurbish, and improve their properties. The flurry of recent hotel reopenings tempted us to visit a few, where we found appreciative island and hotel staffs wanting to show off their new and improved products and facilities.
On Saint Bart’s, the recently reopened Le Sereno showcases new villas, a restaurant, a beach bar, and a fitness center and spa. The “new” Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France debuted eight to-die-for Beach Suites, plus a new bar area and restaurant concept – it looks as fresh as a brand-new hotel. Hotel Le Toiny, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa, and St. Barth Properties have also all reopened with an enticing array of fresh facilities.
Our final port of call was Phillipsburg on the Dutch side of Sint-Maarten; we took a 30-minute taxi over to the French side to visit the newly opened Belmond La Samanna and its endless winding sandy beach and new beach bar.
More Caribbean Hotels to Keep an Eye On
New and exciting beginnings are everywhere in the Caribbean. Richard Branson recently visited Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands to show his gratitude and well, yes, also danced on a table with some guests. Just as hoteliers tirelessly readied their hotels this past year, clients eagerly awaited these re-openings. Just in time for this year’s season, additional recently reopened properties include Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and The St. Regis Bahia Beach on Puerto Rico; Belmond Cap Juluca and Cuisinart on Anguilla; and Secret Bay on Dominica.