Yes, there was damage to a number of islands from hurricanes over the past couple months. Canadian airlines have pretty much shut down winter service to battered St. Maarten. Puerto Rico is still in bad shape, as is Barbuda, Dominica and parts of other islands.
But there was little or no damage to most major Caribbean destinations, including Jamaica, The Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua and the Cayman Islands. In destinations that were hit, work is proceeding nicely and many hotels and resorts have already re-opened. That includes Anguilla and the Dominican Republic, which suffered only minimal damage. So you can feel comfortable booking flights to a number of great destinations that Canadians have grown to love. Not only will you get a fine holiday, but you’ll be doing a world of good for folks who rely on tourism to feed their families.
Speaking at a Caribbean Tourism Organization meeting in Toronto on Nov. 13 , CTO secretary-general Hugh Riley told journalists that the Caribbean is more dependent on tourism than any region on the planet.
Here’s a look at a variety of cool places you can check out for a great winter vacation.
ANTIGUA: While neighboring Barbuda was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma, Antigua was spared. The island’s tourism folks like to boast they have 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. Hermitage Bay is one of the best resorts in the Caribbean, with awesome suites, private plunge pools and ocean views. The view of English Harbour and Freeman’s Bay from Shirley Heights might be the best vista in the Caribbean.
ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES: Air Canada has started direct flights from Toronto to this peaceful, hilly island south of St. Lucia, which is great for Canadians. Young Island Resort is a wonderful spot that’s just a few minutes from the mainland by boat. Head up to Wallilabou Bay to see where they filmed parts of the original Pirates of the Caribbean. And don’t miss the island’s magnificent waterfalls, including Dark View Falls. Don’t miss a chance to visit Bequia, a low-key spot that feels like a throwback to a simpler time. Even more quiet is Mayreau, which features a couple of truly magnificent beaches. The stretch of sand at Saltwhistle Bay is one of the prettiest on the planet. Mustique is known as a retreat for the rich and famous, including the likes of Mick Jagger, Prince William and Canada’s own Bryan Adams.
ANGUILLA:This island, which is just north of badly damaged St. Maarten, was battered and bruised by Hurricane Irma. But some places are operating as per normal, including Shoal Bay Villas on Shoal Bay East; a long, magnificent beach with a series of fun beach bars and casual restaurants. The luxury Zemi Beach Resort and the Four Seasons likely won’t re-open until sometime in the new year. Ditto for Cuisinart Resort, a lovely spot on a gorgeous beach on the south side of the island. The highly-rated Frangipani Resort will re-open sometime next month. The Reef Anguilla is taking reservations now and plans to re-open April 10.
JAMAICA:One of the top islands in the Caribbean wasn’t badly hurt by either hurricane, so you’ll find things pretty much the same. Negril has warm, shallow water and wonderful sunsets. The Jamaica Inn near Ocho Rios has colourful, low-rise units spread around a grassy square, plus a terrific beach and a tranquil spa. The Sandals Royal Caribbean has fantastic rooms and a series of overwater bungalows I wrote about in this space earlier this year. For something truly unique, check out the unique units at Great Huts, including tree-house rooms next to a beautiful bay.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:The DR was largely spared this past hurricane season. This is one of the top winter destinations for Canadians, with everything from inexpensive, all-inclusive spots to super-luxury resorts. Cap Cana and Punta Cana have marvellous beaches on the eastern tip of the island, with easy airport access. The Gansevoort Playa Imbert is a sleek, sensational spot near Sosua. Don’t miss a visit to Playa Rincon in the Samana area, where you’ll find a freshwater, swimmable creek and a series of stunning beaches.
ST. LUCIA: This romantic and beautiful island was spared by both hurricanes and is operating at full steam. There are new, overwater bungalows at a Sandals resort on the north side of the island. New developments on the south end of the island, near the international airport, are coming from both Fairmont and Ritz Carlton. The tourism bureau’s website is advertising deals for up to 65% off.
THE BAHAMAS:This region was virtually unaffected by the two big storms. Long Island is a heavenly slice of land with a couple of beautiful beaches and a lower-than-low-key atmosphere. The locals are inviting and wonderful, and there’s spectacular diving. Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort is a nice resort on a great beach.
DEAL OF THE WEEK: The Perry Key Hotel Key West at Stock Island Marina is offering 40% off best available rates from Nov. 27 to June 28 for Cyber Monday. Blackout dates apply. Visit www.perrykeywest.com and use the promo code CYBER