With rules, requirements and regulations galore needed to enter another country; it’s a sheer pleasure not to pack a passport. With plenty of flights from the USA, no shortage of tropical sunsets, fruity cocktails and swathes of sandy beaches, Puerto Rico and the USVI top the list for vacationers looking for American convenience that is tinged with Caribbean flair.
Although US citizens do not need a passport to enter either Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands, legal ID is required to exit; still a lot easier than traveling to other islands where the paperwork to get in and the line-ups to get out can be more hassle than befits a holiday.
Three Times Lucky
A pretty trio of islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John offer a bevy of fun in the sun, from snorkeling and pub crawling to shopping for perfume, jewelry and electronics at prices up to sixty percent lower than on the US mainland. “Travel is seamless with numerous airlines offering nonstop flights to both of our airports in St. Thomas and St. Croix,“ said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner tourism. “With hotels, resorts and attractions offering attractive incentives and commissions to travel agents, we look forward to strengthening our relationship with the travel agent community to welcome new and more repeat visitors to our shores in the months and years ahead.”
In St. Thomas, Iggie’s Bar at the 62-room Bolongo Bay Beach Resort is deliciously inviting with buckets of VooDoo Juice and bowls of callaloo soup and snapper crowned with a mound of cornmeal fungi and a dab of hot sauce served every Wednesday, which is Carnival Night at the seaside resort. Owned by the Doumeng family for more than three decades, the resort welcomes guests (and agents) like family. “As an independent, family-owned resort,“ explains manager Richard Doumeng, “travel agents have always been an important part of our business and we value their relationships. We offer year-round overnight FAM rates and complimentary FAM day passes for agents visiting by cruise ship.” For travel through December 22, with bookings by October 31, fifteen percent discounts on room-only rates are offered. www.bolongobay.com
Also in St. Thomas, Dallas-based Aimbridge Hospitality took over the 294-room all-inclusive Sugar Bay which has been without a management company since the Wyndham lowered its banner in 2011. Aimbridge, whose Caribbean properties include two Jewel Resorts in Jamaica, San Juan Water Beach Club and the Best Western Premier in Haiti, will oversee renovations which got underway this summer and are scheduled for completion in December. Revamps include a redesign of guestrooms and rebranding of the Journeys Spa to the Radiant Spa. “Our plans for this Caribbean treasure are to enhance this beachfront retreat into an upscale all-inclusive with the signature programming, food and beverage and service levels that are the platform for the hotels and resorts in the Aimbridge portfolio,“ said Rich Cortese, vice president of Caribbean operations and development. www.sugarbayresortandspa.com
For nature buffs, one of three underwater national monuments in the US, Buck Island in St. Croix is home to the hawksbill turtle and brown pelican and with its underwater trails, the island is a popular pit stop for snorkelers. In St. John, Hurricane Hole invites with an underwater mangrove fringe forest and in St. Thomas, sport fishing is the big catch for tourists on a vacation roll. www.visitusvi.com
Say Si to Puerto Rico
Translating to “Here We Go“, Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) launched a new campaign, “Y nos fuimos” that includes improved online content, planning guides and coupon booklets valid through December 14. Also new, “Puerto Rico by Puerto Ricans” encourages locals to show their island to visitors. “Who better than Puerto Ricans to let the rest of the world know the beauty and wonderful attractions our island has to offer?“ said Ingrid Rivera-Rocafort, director of PRTC.
“Eat, Love and Play” is not only the order of the day at the 525-room San Juan Marriott, but also the name of a package valid for travel through December 21. A host of extras include champagne and strawberries on arrival, blackjack lessons, tours of the Bio Luminescent Bay and yoga lessons. “Travel agents are especially important to us in this competitive market,” said Hans-Georg Roehrbein, general manager. ”We continue to create programs to reward and acknowledge their hard work in this dynamic industry.” Resort-wide renovations will be complete in December. www.marriottsanjuan.com
For an ultra-stylish tryst, W Retreat on Vieques Island is wooing couples with “Sneak Away for a Romantic Rendezvous” that includes dinner at the Sorce restaurant, breakfast for two, credit at the Away Spa, champagne toasts and late check-out. (www.wvieques.com). And for an awesome locale to pop the question, try night swimming in Bioluminescent Bays. Home to tiny critters that light up like fireflies, the waters appear to be glowing under the light of a full moon. Two of the most spectacular are at Mosquito Bay in Vieques and Laguna Grande at Las Croabas, Fajardo. www.seepuertorico.com
A Rain Check
Starwood Resorts are offering a ‘travel interruption’ policy during hurricane season, which officially ends on November 30. “As travelers plan their sun-and-sand infused escapes, we wanted to set a firm Starwood guarantee that ensures a no-risk cancellation policy to put our guests at ease,” said Dawn Parisi, director of sales and marketing, Caribbean. Participating properties include The Westin St. John Resort; Sheraton Puerto Rico; W Retreat Vieques Island; St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel. www.starwoodhotels.com