Aruba

It’s time to get your spring break plans in order, and if you’re looking for some fun in the sun, the Caribbean is a prime destination. But with thousands of islands (although only a few dozen are inhabited) to choose from, that doesn’t narrow things down much. That’s why we at Oyster have created an A to Z (well, actually, an A to V) guide to the Caribbean, so choosing your island and resort will be a piece of cake. First stop: Anguilla.

Anacaona Boutique Hotel, Anguilla

The boutique Anacaona has two pools.

Anguilla is a tiny British territory that covers fewer than 40 square miles and is a popular spot for couples and celebs (Sofia Vergara went on a girls’ trip to the island) due to its small size and upscale vibe. Visitors must either fly to St. Martin and take a short ferry to the island, or fly in directly (by way of a small seaplane) from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thus, getting to the island can be pricey. So once you’re there, we’d recommend staying at the boutique Anacaona in the island’s West End. Though its not quite as luxe as the CuisinArt or Viceroy, it offers access to the same gorgeous white-sand beach as the neighboring Viceroy – through an off-property path — as well as to the nearby Greg Norman’s golf course and a few restaurants, and its prices are considerably lower. With two small pools, a great restaurant serving Caribbean fare with a twist, and a massage hut on the beach, the hotel is a good pick for value.

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The beach at Divi Dutch Village is picturesque -- particularly when the crowds are gone.

Divi Dutch Village is one of five mid-range Divi properties on the island of Aruba. All of the 123 suites have king beds, queen sofa sleepers, and fully equipped kitchens, making them a convenient pick for families. Additional in-room amenities include balconies, duvets, flat-screen TVs and DVD players. Don’t expect ocean views, though, as the property is situated in a garden-like setting behind the Tamarijn Aruba. That being said, guests are just steps from a prime stretch of Druif Beach, where white sands and crystal clear waters make the short walk more than worth it. It’s particularly beautiful in the early mornings and at night, when the crowds are gone and the pinkish sky is reflected off the rippling waves. So as we say every week: sit back, relax, and soak up the goodness that is the Divi Dutch Village.

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Winter may be firmly upon us now in the Northeast, but that doesn’t mean we have to write off warm weather entirely. The Caribbean isn’t too far away (especially for us East Coasters), and some island hotels are featuring wonderfully affordable rates this time of year. You may have to forgo a few luxuries to stay on budget, but designer toiletries are highly overrated, right? So pack your bags and get ready to hit the beach for a few days — or a few weeks! Oyster has the skinny on the Caribbean’s best value stays.

Rockhouse Hotel, Jamaica

Dive right into the Caribbean Sea from your room at the Rockhouse.

The Rockhouse is a lush, laid-back Jamaican resort offering gourmet dining, morning yoga, a premium spa, and best of all, a gorgeous cliff-side location on Negril‘s coast. Sure, there’s no fitness center and rooms lack TVs and Wi-Fi, but its unplugged vibe is just why some guests come. Plus, with rates usually falling below $200, it’s a steal compared to similar resorts — such as the slightly chicer Caves — in the area. (NB: Children under 12 are not allowed on the property.)

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Dream jungle gym.

Kid-friendly hotels are so important when traveling with young ones in tow — everything from giving a child milk and cookies at check-in to having video game consoles in guest rooms can make all the difference. But as the hotel experts, we’ve found that kids’ clubs are super important — not only are they *usually* under careful supervision, but they also provide the parents with much-needed alone time while on vacation. So before you book the next family getaway, browse this gallery of really cool kids’ clubs that’ll have your children thanking you for the awesome trip of a lifetime.

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With the venue, caterer, florist, photographer, bridal party gifts, rehearsal dinner, hair and makeup, etc, etc, etc, even a wedding on a budget can end up costing a pretty penny. [Ed. note: Sorry to any bride-to-bes whom we may have just given major anxiety. But honey, that list was just the tip of the iceberg.] So often a super-luxe honeymoon to top it all off is out of the question. But hey, everyone deserves a honeymoon. After all the planning, prepping, and smiling for guests whom you definitely didn’t invite (“Oh, so your my mom’s neighbor’s daughter’s friend? I see!”), a romantic getaway will be just what you need to kick off your wedded bliss. That’s why we at Oyster have found five fabulous beachy honeymoon spots that’ll be kind to your new joint bank account. (Or separate! hey, we’re all about independence here) And just because they’re budget-friendly, it doesn’t mean these spots sacrifice style. They’re also some of the most quaint, peaceful, and romantic hotels around. So relax: Your wedding will be perfect (we promise) and no matter what, you’ll be able to follow it up with the romantic trip that doesn’t break the bank.

Book a Flight to: St. Lucia

We dieeee over the beach at The Still Beach House.

We dieeee over the beach at The Still Beach House.

Stay at: The Still Beach House

Though this island of friendly people and gorgeous beaches has recently seen an influx of tourism, it maintains a sense of unspoiled, exotic beauty that gives it great appeal for a romantic getaway. The Still Beach House, along Soufriere Bay, is a quaint, budget-friendly inn perfect for penny pinchers. There’s little in the way of amenities — in fact, the only extras are direct access to a public beach (that’s, by the way, totally gorgeous) and a breezy restaurant and bar –  but adventurous couples will find the hotel’s location exceptional and its accommodations satisfactory. Not only does the inn offers incredible views of Petit Piton — which appears at arm’s length from every room’s private balcony — the landmark is also within walking distance of Soufriere, so there’s lots of local flavor to be found. And with just five rooms, Still Beach guarantees newlyweds peace and quiet.

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Summer’s in full swing — in fact, it’s scaring us how quickly it’s flying by. (Insert sadface emoticon here.) So what better way to enjoy your summer to the fullest — and deal with the reality of the approaching fall — than to visit a happening bar on the beach? Whether you’re stateside or sunning yourself in the balmy Caribbean, there’s a hotel beach bar with your name on it. So stick your toes in the sand and order up a strong one: These seven spots will have you feeling good in seconds flat.

Beach Bar at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos, a Wymara Resort

Beach Bar at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos, a Wymara Resort

Beach Bar at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos

It doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. The beach bar at the Gansevoort is a casual spot largely used as a meet-up for lunch rather than a booze-fueled night. But of course guests can order up a margarita while enjoying fresh bites such as conch fritters and grilled red snapper tacos. Diners can munch under umbrellas on the deck, or take their meal directly to the sand with beachside waiter service. Fresh seafood, cocktails, attentive service, and unparalleled views of crystal clear water? You don’t have to twist our arm.

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Owner Stephanie Rooijakkers with her pooch Lola.

The Boardwalk Hotel, a 14-room property situated on a former coconut plantation, has long been one of the island’s hidden gems. Original owners Geert and Julia bought the property in 1987 to use for their windsurfing business (Aruba’s constant trade winds make the sport exceptionally popular here), and it quickly became an insider destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing devotees.

The hotel’s location is a large part of its appeal for water sports fans: It’s located just north of most of the High-Rise hotels along Palm Beach, and across the main road from Fisherman’s Huts — where the turquoise sea is ideal for both sports, with waist deep water for hundreds of feet and a sandy bottom free of rocks.

But the times, they are a changin’. A 320-room Ritz-Carlton property, slated to open in 2013, is being constructed right across the street from The Boardwalk, obstructing its views — and soon, it will bring more crowds to Fisherman’s Huts.

The Boardwalk Hotel’s new owners — Stephanie and Kimberly Rooijakkers, a pair of blonde, fit Belgian twins who bought the hotel last year — have mixed feelings about the Ritz-Carlton. Yes, the obscured view is unsightly, and the resort will extend Palm Beach, pushing the wind and kitesurfers farther north. But the Ritz-Carlton will also bring attention to the area and allow The Boardwalk to broaden its appeal: specifically, the owners hope to attract families, couples, and groups.

The decor will be a part of this evolution. While Geert and Julia designed the hotel with a Southeast Asia vibe, the twins have implemented a Coastal Living style. Dark woods throughout the grounds have been painted white, and new bright orange, green and turquoise accents give the casitas a cheerful “Hamptons-esque” appeal. Future plans include the addition 12 new casitas, and modern updates to the beach-y rooms.

The entrance to the Boardwalk literally transports you to paradise.

Not everyone is happy with the changes. While walking to my rental car after shooting the property for Oyster, a sporty gentleman (who had clearly spent the morning wind surfing) called my name and ran after me, asking if I was a journalist.

“Yes, I am,” I answered.

“Are you writing a piece about the hotel?”

The man wanted to express his doubt about the new ownership. It has been his home way from Boston for years, and he had genuine concerns that the twins would take the hotel in an undesirable direction.

“It’s not like the old days, and I don’t think it ever will be,” he said, pointing to the fresh white paint. “There are more families and kids running around now. Before it used to be all wind and kitesurfers — it was our little secret.”

It’s true that the clientele is changing, but the hotel’s sense of community remains. “People know it’s a small hotel here, and they tend to talk to each other more, ” Stephanie said. The property will remain a low-key haven, where guests can kick off their flip-flops and unwind. Each casita has a private porch, with a hammock and charcoal barbeque. And it’s still very much a hidden gem. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it; the hotel, with a garden-like atmosphere tucked behind an iron fence, is hard to spot, especially when the eye is naturally pulled towards the large Marriott properties and massive Ritz-Carlton construction site along the beach.

Grounds at the Boardwalk. Rather, comfy seating.

As for the wind and kitesurfing? Even if it moves a bit farther north, the hotel will still be a convenient home base — and fans of the sports can still talk shop with the owners, who are kitesurfers themselves. In fact, they first discovered the hotel when they stopped by to buy a kitesurfing harness.

The pint-sized pool is positively dreamy.

Of course, running and growing the hotel has certainly had its ups and downs. “At first it was frustrating. I like to do things with my hands and see the results. So the first few months were really hard because it felt like nothing was happening quickly,” Stephanie said. Luckily, the twins’ father is a regular visitor. “He likes to come by the property a few times a week and see how things are going and help with handiwork.”

And even more changes could be in store down the road. Stephanie, a foodie who is eager to provide guests with dining recommendations around the island, may start feeding visitors as well as lodging them. “I really want to have my own restaurant, and it will happen someday.”

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Monday Morning Ahhhh

by Rachel on March 26, 2012

This morning’s virtual deep breath comes from one of our favorite beach spots in the world — Aruba, of course. Despite the oft-crowded resort scene, the island has fantastic weather and an inviting culture that always makes visitors feel right at home. Right now, we’re pretty jealous we’re not curling our toes beneath that incredibly soft sand. So as we say every Monday morning, sit down, take a deep breath, and soak in the goodness that is the Radisson Aruba‘s soft strip of beach. 

Beach Radisson Aruba Resort Casino Spa

Beach at the Radisson Aruba Resort Casino Spa

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We already knew that airlines were regularly ripping us off — $25 to check a bag, $10 to board in the first group — but now we’re finding more hotels charging so-called daily “resort fees,” some which are obscured a bit during the hotel booking process. Hotels will often explain these extra fees are for using the amenities, upkeep of the property, pretty much anything a concierge or bellman can think of on his or her toes. And when we read yesterday that a guest at Walt Disney World‘s Swan and Dolphin Resort was fighting with the Starwood-owned property over an “unmentioned” $10 per day resort fee, we decided to go on a mini-mission: To find three super-luxurious hotels that charge the daily rate (plus tax, natch) and that’s it. The result? Many of our fave spots did charge said resort fee (upwards of $35 a day) — but three incredibly luxurious resorts made the cut. (If you can’t leave your cube, don’t fret — the pictures alone make us feel like we’re on vacation, too.) Check out ‘em out below, and then tell us: Would you pay a daily resort fee?

Punta Cana Hotel & Resort, Dominican Republic

The main pool at the Punta Cana Hotel; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Why We Love It: This resort is practically the definition of luxury, with not only one of the best swimming beaches in all of the D.R., but also two crystal clear pools to splash around in. Need even more R&R? Check out the major Six Senses Spa — but make sure to book your massage in one of their beachside cabanas. Can’t you hear the ocean breeze already?

The breakfast buffet at the Punta Cana Hotel; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Our Favorite Free Amenity: Gourmet buffet breakfast. Yum. Fruit on a tropical vacation? Yes please!

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Dreaming of the perfect wedding getaway? These hotels aren’t over the top, gaudy, or flashy. They’re breathtaking, inviting, and just right. Aruba, Jamaica (Oh I wanna take ya)…

First up:

1. Half Moon, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Drawing everyone from Queen Elizabeth to 50 Cent, Half Moon strives for timeless, understated luxury (even at the swim-up bar). Stretching over 400 acres (including 2 miles of beach), the 400-room resort offers attentive service, quality cuisine, and seemingly limitless activities like golfing and horseback riding.

Half Moon, Jamaica

Half Moon, Jamaica

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