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Tropical Resort Guide

Dec 2nd, 2014 Destination Guides, Special Interest/Seasonal Travel

After (or during) a long winter, escaping to a tropical resort sounds just right. Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are some great vacation ideas for a week or two, or even for weekend getaways. But when we think of tropical vacations, we also have to include some more distant favorites, from Brazil to Vietnam, Costa Rica to Zanzibar. Our picks range from big and small to culturally alluring and value conscious.

The Americas

Mexico – Small Beachfront Gem

Cancun and its miles of white sand and turquoise waters greet visitors traveling to the northwest gateway of the Caribbean Sea, coined the Mayan Riviera. Popular for spring breakers, families and honeymooners, Cancun pulses with hotels and resorts that dangle all manner of alluring packages. Further south, stately luxury resorts with esteemed names like Rosewood, Belmond and Banyan Tree make their mark in the soft sands of Playa del Carmen. Standing quietly between these notorious glitterati, a diminutive oceanfront resort named Petit Lafitte glimmers like an undiscovered jewel. Small and intimate, it shines in its personal feel and exemplary service. The staff knows each guest by name and you’ll find them attentive to your every need. In the world of resorts, its personality and value is a breath of fresh air that leaves a big impression.

Mexico Vacation Checklist:

  • Rates include authentic local breakfasts and delicious dinners.
  • Iconic palapas, beach massage, pool and animal refuge center.
  • Walk on the beach into town for shopping and lunch, or take a cab.
  • Sip a refreshing Paloma without ridiculous price tags attached.

  • Hawaii – Traditional Island Tranquil

    “Resort-style condos” are the best way to hang loose and bypass exorbitant resort rates in the 50th state. Drive through the tree tunnel on Kauai’s road to Poipu, and you’ll soon come upon the Kiahuna Plantation Resort. Gracefully capturing the feel of old Hawaii, it inhabits 35 acres of sweeping lawns and gardens filled with palms, orchids and fragrant plumeria. It also boasts a superb location near Poipu Beach, often cited as the island’s best. The individually owned, low-rise resort condos are a popular option for repeat families and independents, who prefer more low-key, traditional Hawaiian vacations. The mostly one- and two-bedroom condos include full kitchens, daily maid service, free parking and complimentary Internet.

    Hawaii Vacation Checklist:

  • Pool, tennis club, barbeque and picnic areas, plus an activities’ desk for further recreation options.
  • Direct access to the beach with complimentary towels and chairs.
  • Walk across the street for shopping or supplies.
  • If you don’t feel like cooking, frequent the resort’s lovely open-air Plantation Gardens. The atmospheric restaurant is surrounded by orchids and tiki torches and features superb island fare.
  • If you prefer luxury and added amenities, we recommend the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai instead.

    The following sites book different units within the Kiahuna Plantation:
    Kiahuna Beachside (only beachside units)
    Outrigger Resorts
    Castle Resorts
    hawaii


    Costa Rica – Romancing the Volcano

    The lush scenery of Costa Rica beckons adventure seekers and naturalists who revel in its natural bounty, which has prompted plenty of visitors to settle here and leave their frazzled lives behind. Dense rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, exotic wildlife, rich tropical flora and friendly people populate this wondrous country that lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Of the more than 200 volcanic formations, five are classified as active—the most frequent rumbler is Mt. Arenal. Standing in a national park, the imposing giant sets the stage for the highly romantic resort of Arenal Naraya, which envelops guests in tropical splendor. Ensconced in the rainforest, it’s a dream jungle hideaway.

    Costa Rica Vacation Checklist:

  • Hike over hanging bridges or ride horses to the waterfalls.
  • Tour the volcano, take a wildlife refuge tour or raft the Sarapiqui River.
  • Nourish yourself in the open-air rainforest spa amidst splendid teak accents and the natural healing tranquility of lyrical birds, flowing water and forest breezes.
  • Sleep in exquisite individual casitas and suites that feature verdant gardens, outdoor showers and terraces with private Jacuzzis looking into the jungle and onto the volcano.
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    Dominican Republic – Colonial Caribbean Casa

    Two hundred miles of white sand beaches lure travelers to this beautiful island of sunny Caribbean climes. As the landing place of Christopher Columbus, the capital of Santo Domingo comes with plenty of colonial charm. If you’re traveling to find a slice of the Old World and combine it with a beach respite, head to the Amber Coast on the north side of the island. Among the beautiful beaches of Puerto Plata and within the gated area of the large all-inclusive resorts of Playa Dorado, the smaller and distinct Casa Colonial Beach & Spa Resort stands out with a masterful blend of serene old-world grace and chic, contemporary flair. Renowned Dominican designer and architect Sarah Garcia, who also happens to be the owner’s daughter, faced no small feat in making her mark in “a country of men,” as she refers to her native land. Surprisingly friendly rates make this a true Caribbean discovery.

    Dominican Republic Vacation Checklist:

  • Lush grounds and classic architecture for peaceful restfulness.
  • Airy fabrics, unique art pieces and eclectic furnishings tastefully provide upscale, modern ambiance
  • The acclaimed Lucia restaurant with a vast wine cellar
  • Private beach, rooftop infinity pool, massage cabanas on the beach
  • The luxe Bagua Spa
  • Access to the adjacent golf course
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    Brazil – A Resort for all Interests

    The massive coastline of Brazil sports some of the best beaches in the world and plenty of room for activity and repose. If you’re having trouble deciding between a golf, beach or international escape, the Ilha de Comandatuba Resort has it all. Situated on an island fronting the Atlantic between Rio and the more northerly business hub of Recife, an endless stretch of white sand, palm-fringed beach awaits with everything imaginable to keep sun, sport and leisure enthusiasts happy with some adventure travel in the mix.

    Brazil Vacation Checklist:

  • Swing away on the Dan Blankenship-designed 18-hole Comandatuba Ocean Course that seamlessly assimilates coconut trees, sand dunes, ocean vistas and vegetation housing monkeys, anteaters exotic birds.
  • Kids can frolic in the water complex, while sailors, fishermen, boaters, water-skiers and windsurfers can cavort in the ocean
  • Take part in soccer, basketball, pool aerobics, dancing and beach volleyball.
  • Escape to the isolated beach or the spa.
  • Tour nearby cities, cocoa farms and an Atlantic forest reserve.
  • Venture out quadricycling, riding, bird watching or crab catching.
  • Sail through mangrove channels to try the region’s famous medicinal black mud for a uniquely Brazilian adventure.
  • Five restaurants and seven bars seal the deal.
  • Perfect for resort wear
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    Exotic Destinations

    Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are popular for resort vacations, but we also explored further afield to discover exotic locales across the globe. Read our picks for vacation ideas that offer adventure travel of the more refined variety.

    Fiji – Private Panoramic Retreat

    If you’ve ever dreamed of a South Pacific getaway, Emaho Sekawa will fulfill your every wish and then some. Its magnificent hillside perch on Vanua LevuFiji’s second largest island—features stunning panoramic views over coral-filled seas and vast acres of rainforest jungle. It only caters to one individual, couple or small group at a time, ensuring an authentic, one-of-a-kind island experience like no other. Whether traveling for an intimate dream wedding or honeymoon, a special anniversary or a unique vacation, the world as you know it ends when you step onto the tarmac of the island’s tiny airport to the effusive welcome of your hosts. You get to decide timelines and the level of activity, privacy or interaction. The owners take care of the rest.

    Fiji Vacation Checklist:

  • Sleep in a luxury villa scented and adorned with fresh island flowers.
  • Eat delicious organic meals sourced from the gardens or local environs that embody the essence of tropical gastronomic delights, gushing with local flavor.
  • Sit on the incredible villa deck and take in stunning views.
  • Lounge by the infinity pool with a fresh tropical beverage.
  • Clamber rainforest waterfalls.
  • Have a beachside picnic.
  • Partake in a private kava ceremony with villagers.
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    United Arab Emirates – Serene Desert Fantasy

    In the wealthy UAE, fantastic hotels and resorts compete for most opulent in service and luxury fit for sultans and sheiks. To experience a world of surreal splendor, make tracks beyond Abu Dhabi into the western gateway of the vast Rub al Khali Desert, where the silence of towering dunes drowns out urban clamor. A cool towel, hibiscus beverage and dates greet your arrival at the mesmerizing oasis of Qasr Al Sarab. Frequented by the Emirates’ royal family, the splendid sandstone Arabic palace captures the essence of Middle East flavors and traditions of traveling dream lore. You’ll find fabulous architecture patterned with open-air walkways and courtyards infused with trickling fountains, narrow passageways, hanging gardens, royal art objects and mythical desert hospitality.

    UAE Vacation Checklist:

  • Unwind by the meandering palm-fringed pool, where water and smoothies appear on the hour
  • Recline on your pergola-shaded outdoor terrace to soak in far-reaching views.
  • Arise with the sun for a desert stroll on the dunes or sunrise dune bashing.
  • Sign up for a camel trek or try the ancient sport of archery.
  • Book a “date scrub” treatment in the spa and recline in the healing Hammam (traditional bath).
  • Climb the dunes to watch a spectacular desert sunset.
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    Zanzibar – African Island Hideaway

    The island of Zanzibar welcomes weary travelers who seek R&R after safaris in the mainland’s fantastic parks and reserves. This rustic island outpost of exotic flair hearkens back to a sleepy, old-world Africa. Although you can live like a sultan in the higher-priced opulence of the Baraza Resort & Spa, or check into a more typical all-inclusive resort at the Dongwe Club, you’ll have a more local and personal experience at Next Paradise Boutique Resort—for a tenth of the price. Located on the eastern side of the island, this small boutique escape enchants with rounded, thatched-roof lodgings that look out to unbelievably turquoise seas, vivid white sands and jet-black night skies strewn with stars. Curved entryways, wooden accents and local art provide a traditional feel in this intimate setting.

    Zanzibar Vacation Checklist:

  • Taste the fresh daily catch and delicious exotic fare infused with island spices.
  • Take an excursion to a spice farm or the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park to see the spiky haired red colobus monkeys.
  • Try a stint of kite surfing.
  • Lie on a hammock and find new meaning to the famous Swahili phrase Hakuna matada (there are no worries).
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    Vietnam – Resort Gems at all Price Points

    Only a one-hour flight north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Nha Trang beckons vacationers with mild temperatures, a 12-mile stretch of clean sands, clear seas and a French colonial influence that includes a seaside promenade. Superb seafood, renowned barbeque pork rolls and a noted Bird’s Nest soup make it a further hit with the locals. Although plenty of accommodation options are strewn along the beach, we recommend traveling a bit away from the hurly-burly of the touristy city.

    Suggested Resorts:

  • Hewn into rocks and hillside in the quiet bay, the luxury Six Senses Ninh Van Bay enchants on the tip of a peninsula where weaving pathways lead to eco-friendly villas outfitted with outdoor showers, private pools and plenty of privacy. But a private beach, serene service, speedboat shuttle and butler service come at a price.
  • The smaller and more intimate An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas delivers wonderful personalized service, discreet rock and lagoon villas, 5-star outings and a stellar Vietnamese iced coffee. Lower rates than Six Senses mean great value for a top-notch boutique resort.
  • No shame comes with booking a room at the moderately priced Mia Resort south of Nha Trang. Besides a beachfront location and pristine views, it won’t disappoint in its local cuisine, spa pampering and beachside or cliff villas—and what about breakfast in bed?
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    Maldives – Paradise Found

    Of the 1,190 coral islands in the Indian Ocean that make up the Maldives, 200 are inhabited and 80 have resorts—each on its own small island, often without cars. Since all islands come with the same inherent beauty of powder white sands, lush greenery, vast baby-blue skies and translucent turquoise waters, it’s a matter of choosing from the levels of luxury, types of activities and accessibility from the international airport by boat or seaplane. For a modern-day castaway experience, the all-inclusive Robinson Club Maldives makes a fabulous choice. A 50-minute seaplane journey from the airport, and an added 20-minute speedboat transfer means it’s far removed from civilization.

    Why Robinson Club?

  • This all-inclusive resort opened in 2010—still pretty new
  • In the “moderate” price range, it boasts excellent value in services, cuisine and accommodation on par with far pricier 5-star resorts in this heavenly enclave
  • A pristine coral reef in a crystal-clear lagoon provides one of the finest snorkeling and diving spots in the region
  • Waterborne activities, an open-air recreation area, beach, pool, gym, spa, art studio and live evening music
  • Elegantly appointed beach bungalows and villas that look out over sand and sea, and over-water villas with glass-bottom floors
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    Tropical Resort Travel Tips

    Rest & relaxation come standard at resorts, but to get the most out of your vacations or weekend getaways—from travel wear to packing checklist—read our travel tips first to help with your vacation checklist.

    What’s Included in an All-Inclusive Resort

    The traditional all-inclusive concept includes: resort accommodations (with taxes), three daily meals, drinks (alcohol included), tips, daily activities and evening entertainment. Be on the lookout for specifics and restrictions since resorts vary from limited all-inclusive to comprehensive. Traveling to or from the resort is not included in cost, except perhaps from the airport. If any of the following are important, research in advance whether they are included, unlimited or extra:

  • Airport transfers
  • Area shuttle service or transportation
  • Children’s activities
  • Entertainment, live music and themed events
  • Excursions & off-property tours
  • Land activities (ping pong, gym, beach games, tennis, riding, golf, game center, bikes, equipment, instruction, etc.)
  • Water activities (non-motorized boats, scuba, snorkeling, surfing, equipment, instruction)
  • Premium/top-shelf liquor, wine brands, canned/bottled drinks
  • Snacks, food beyond the three daily meals, types of meals (buffet, a la carte or both); number or type of restaurants
  • Spa
  • 24-hour room service
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    Resort Deals

    Although resorts are pricier by nature given the amenities and activities included, there are still ways to land a deal, even for last-minute travel.

    Tips for Finding Resort Deals:

  • Look for newly opened resorts that offer promotional rates to attract clientele. A soon-to-open resort may also have a little-promoted “soft opening” or “soft launch” meant to work out the kinks prior to a grand opening.
  • Check websites like smallresortspromotions.com for daily deals and packages, including last-minute travel.
  • Find out when it’s slow. Off-season rates can be significantly lower and may even come with extras to lure customers during the hotter, cooler or rainier seasons.
  • Be flexible with dates; start your stay mid-week.
  • Look for special promotions following natural disasters, catastrophic events or health scares when the travel and tourism industry seeks opportunities to bring travelers back and restore confidence. Cut-rate prices were coined “SARS specials” when Asia suffered from the virus panic in 2003.
  • Sit through a timeshare sales pitch on location, it may be worth the savings and deals offered.
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    The “Resort Fee”

    As you research vacations, budget-minded travelers should be aware that a “resort fee” is often automatically tacked onto your bill as a mandatory charge (approx. $10-$40 U.S. + tax per day). It is now standard practice in Las Vegas and elsewhere as a way to lower room rates and get around incidental charges for amenities, which you may not necessarily use. Resort fees may include fitness center, recreation or business facilities, parking, shuttle service, bottled water, in-room Internet or wireless access.

    Resort Fee Checklist to Consider When Booking:

  • Find out what’s covered and compare to what others in the area charge or include.
  • Are the resort fees mandatory, or only applied to certain rooms?
  • Booking agencies like Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline, etc. do not include resort fees. If it’s important to your traveling budget, find out directly from the resort in advance of booking.
  • Some resorts may not have resort fees as an added incentive to book
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    Resort Wear

    Hawaiian shirts and leis no longer define resort wear. Although attire may be more casual at a family resort, business casual with a fun and flirty twist is appropriate at most resorts, particularly in the evenings.

    Resort Packing Checklist

  • Vibrant colors, floral print skirts and bolder accessories go with the nature of the tropics and make it fun.
  • Ladies can think of flowy dresses, linen pants, capris or lightweight skirt and a top with accessories, or a classy black dress with heeled sandals and bigger jewelry for evening wear.
  • Men can don dark pants or khakis with a dress shirt for an evening outing. Ties and jackets are usually overly formal, except for special occasions or when for a particular restaurant, special event, etc.
  • Pack appropriate shoes and attire for beach, water or land activities and any potential outings and adventures. Comfortable waterproof shoes, lightweight convertible or cargo pants or shorts for jungle outings or adventure activities and swimsuit for water and sand.
  • Pack a cover-up and flip flops to wear between room and beach or pool, or beach to restaurant or bar. It’ll also help shield you when you’ve had enough sun.
  • Check out our complete Resort Wear Collection for more inspiration for your next tropical vacation
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    Will I Need a Car?

    Pending whether you plan to stay planted at your resort or if you like to get out and about and explore on your own for some adventure travel, you might need a rental car.

    Car Rental Checklist:

  • Does the resort offer shuttle service or tours that will satisfy your needs?
  • What are parking fees if you have a car?
  • Distance to town – can you walk it, or do you need transport?
  • Find out road conditions and research if the area is safe for tourists.
  • Are you comfortable driving in places where rules and signage are different? Can you read the language or communicate adequately?
  • Find out if the resort has a car rental desk in case you opt to do a one-day outing after you feel more confident.

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    Expect Cultural Differences

    A resort in one country does not necessarily equal a resort in another. Cultural norms vary when it comes to standards and pace of life. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Often referred to as “island time” or “rubber time,” the flexible outlook on time in tropical locales is part and parcel of a more laid-back approach to life. Schedules may run late, service might be slower and requests could fall through the cracks as locals place a different level of importance on matters.
  • A lower standard of living in some countries may also preface a local’s outlook of what’s normal or critical and lend to a sunnier disposition when things don’t operate perfectly. “It’s all good,” “No worries” and “Relax, Mon” are good phrases to adopt as you settle into your tropical resort.
  • Some cultures (e.g., Asia, Middle East) are more conservative. Even if resorts may be accustomed to foreigners, respect cultural norms and choose travel clothing wisely. Cover up when you stroll through the resort or any public place. In conservative countries, it’ll look better for you AND the locals.
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    Ready to Go?

    Shop our site for travel clothing and travel gear ready made for Tropical Resort climates. And consult our packing guides for a free packing checklist of everything you need to pack for the trip!