Planning a tropical getaway in the dead of winter feels essential to preserving what modicum of sanity remains, especially when the words "record snow" accompany your start to the New Year. For years I've been passe on the nearby Caribbean for a few simple reasons: too boring, too slow, and too spotty when it comes to service and food. But even the sternest service snob has to relent when the wind chill becomes unruly and your skin tone can only be described as morose. An easy three hours direct from New York and Boston lies pristine Turks and Caicos. Get excited.
Southeast of the Bahamas in the North Atlantic Ocean, this British West Indies island cluster has eight inhabited main islands and 299 smaller ones, depending on whose count you obey. Their political history reads like a confused teen's rap sheet: complicated, with no satisfying resolution. After not-uncomplicated government flirtations with Canada, old pirate gangs, Cuban and Bahamaian bedfellows, they are now, again, part of the British Overseas Territory. Don't ask what passport this gets you; I tried and am still not sure. All this won't matter to you as a tourist. The rules are simple: US dollars are the currency of choice, English is the most popular tongue, and ripsaw music (a cousin to reggae, let's say) is on the radio. The population is small, at around 30,000 and a third of all Islanders are under 15. A relative few skew in the other direction. Expect youth and expect a lot of it.
GWS fell hard for Turks and Caicos. Its people are delightfully friendly, its beaches glorious and its turquoise water unrivaled. Even the dolphins had flair. Therefore it is unsurprising that discerning celebs like Bruce Willis, Keith Richards, and Christie Brinkley own properties here. It's unspoiled in all the right ways.
This week's tips are focused on a few factors: where to go for a detox (of the mind and body) and how to do this without little people frolicking nearby (if you need kid-friendly, consider Grace's Bay. The service is so-so, but the amenities are ooh la la.) The Gansevoort is where to party, if you crave that here, and leave your hair gel and neon attire at home because Nikki Beach is long gone. For high-end fun and sun, there are two standout options: Amanyara and Parrot Cay.
Opened in 2007 by Aman Resorts, Amanyara—meaning peaceful place—is as close to peaceful perfection as one can imagine. On the main island of Providenciales (Provo to locals) and a close 25-minute drive from the international airport, this gem feels like a Thai getaway much closer to home. Seemingly every detail has been thought-through, from the friendly welcome to the staff never asking your room number or presenting you with a bill for your meals. They are trained to know who you are and they do. It's dreamy.
Amanyara is whimsical with airy open spaces, high ceilings, and an Eastern flair with honey wood and clean lines. The resort clearly focuses on privacy. You will not be pestered with unnecessary knocks on the door for cleaning service or a question that doesn't directly relate to how to make your experience spectacular. The property is deceiving; it is larger than it implies, but laid out in a manner befitting a luxury experience. There are 40 pavilion rooms and 20 villas, each equipped to ensure you and your lucky travelmate feel like the only guests in residence. Amenities are plentiful—from sun block to aloe for the sun, or the complimentary mini bar for your enjoyment. Why don't more properties do this? It can't cost much and makes the guest quite literally feel at home. Like all things in life, perfection comes at a price. Rates for pavilions are from $1,250 per night in low season (June 1-Oct 31) and from $1,600 in high season (Jan 9-May 31); villas start at $3,750 in low season and from $4,800 in high season.
Worried you'll get bored? Amanyara has figured out how to keep beach bums and active types both happy. There are three full-time tennis aces on site who are more than happy to improve your backhand or perfect that serve. GWS took a lesson every day and was stunned by the improvement and ensuing tan that followed. Craving a spa? The property boasts a secluded Serenity Villa where there are an array of options for the body and mind. There is a "master in residence" named Mirsia Lina, who is a "highly trained massage therapist and bodyworker specializing in integrated massage, Neuromuscular and Craniosacral therapy." You decide. GWS and beau opted for the couples lemongrass body-wrap and massage. Same room, luckily not wrapped together. High marks were earned and everyone, ahem, stayed awake.
The Amanyara is nicely secluded, meaning it's doubtful you'll want to leave for meals. A few lucky guests plan early in the day to snag one of the three cabanas that line the gorgeous infinity pool. This in itself feels like a holiday. Don't be shy—stake one out and let the breeze be your reminder that you did the right thing. It's worth a mention that Amanyara is above the water in a rocky part of Turks and Caicos, which means you may see humpback whales, but perhaps won't engage with the water as easily as you'd like. This isn't a deal breaker, it just requires a little extra effort to partake in the main reason to choose this destination.
Breakfast is a delicious blend of simple buffet and cooked options; stick with the simple stuff, as the eggs are a bit ambitious. Lunch tends to be taken by the aforementioned pool. The infamous Conch Shack is a few minutes by car, but leaving this place is tough. GWS didn't. Try the simple greens and flavorful soups as winning fare. Remember you won't see a bill until check-out, which really does add to the sensation of being pampered and relaxed.
Dinner is taken at either the main restaurant or the Beach Club, which is open a few nights a week. You can request a table on the ocean (if you think ahead) or one of the many options connected to the property. The food choices don't feel commensurate with the stay; they're a bit limited and not that inventive. Simple can work, but something here feels lacking.
On the whole, Amanyara is the splurge to invest in. The staff and setting are idyllic, and a few days here can remind you why you work so hard.
Parrot Cay is a fairly different experience, although many guests seem to hop between the two. Set off the mainland and only accessible by boat, it is noticeably less luxe. The entrance to the property is a shame, because the main building is an eye sore. Don't let this sway your opinion too much. Parrot Cay's property is lush and akin to a healthy campus. Half of it has been refurbished or added, and this is the half to focus on. There are 71 rooms and villas. The beach villas are lovely and where you should stay. Forget the regular rooms; they are connected in blocks of eight and are simply not worth it. You can hear every footstep, which detracts from the experience exponentially. The villas are newly done, airy and simple, with private plunge pools and outdoor showers—they put you on the beach in 60 seconds or less. Speaking of, the beach is like a fantasy. The water is as clear as you can imagine, and wading out to the sand reef is a scene from a romance movie. Indulge in this, as it's the main attraction to visit this island paradise.
Before we go further, it's worth sharing that there is a phenomenal experience to partake in called "Como Shambhala." This is the ayurvedic program focused on health and well-being. GWS highly recommends this for you fried city-types seeking a spa getaway. The program can be done in intervals (seven days works a treat) and includes meals, spa treatments, private yoga/pilates or gym sessions, as well as consultations with the lovely Doctor Swati, the ayurvedic doctor in residence. This is the way to go at Parrot Cay. The program derives from Bali, where the namesake experience began, and again feels like the Far East has relocated to the North Atlantic Ocean. Balinese therapists give winning treatments like the pizichili, shirodara, and Indian Head massage. A Thai woman called Nina handles Thai massage and a Japanese trained doctor named Nobu handles acupuncture and shiatsu treatments. It is a true experience to have masters of the craft and culture work on restoring your balance. Thirteen spa treatments in seven days is about as good as it gets.
The biggest surprise at Parrot Cay was the food. It was spectacular. With only two restaurants on site one worries they will disappoint. Just the opposite happened. Lotus, the casual beach restaurant specializes in Asian fusion with rich flavors and incredibly fresh ingredients. Terrace is in the main building, which is less exciting but offers Italian-inspired choices as heartier fare. Both restaurants offer their regular menu and the Como Shambhala customized menu. It is out of this world. Healthy options like grilled chicken wraps, salmon with roasted cauliflower, or fish curry are just the beginning. Interesting juice choices like a liver detox or kryptonite mix flavors, like carrot and ginger with apple and grapefruit. Desserts using carob won't substitute your chocolate yearning, but it certainly is a start. Your body thanks you during each bite.
The workout facilities are beautiful and on-site trainers are easily attainable. The property has two daily complementary activities—in the morning and evening—that include yoga, Pilates, and meditation.
Privacy isn't as easily found at Parrot Cay, but it somehow doesn't detract from the stay. Other guests are focused on their goal of relaxing or being healthy, and most seem to be couples in love.
The Como Shambhala experience includes accommodation, return airport transfers for scheduled commercial flight, daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner (three courses per meal per person excluding beverages), spa treatments, participation in complimentary scheduled activities, non motorized water-sports and use of the hotel gymnasium. Three night programs from $4,000 for a garden view room (which you shouldn't take) up to $12,000 for a one-bed beach house. Off peak rates from late April onward.
Regular daily rates for Parrot Cay in high season begin at $900 for a garden view room, up to $3,500 for a one bed villa.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50 percent of the year. Her recommendations are aimed at business travelers who are short on time but not on taste. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. She lives between New York and London.