13 DEC 2011: It might have been cold outside, but it sure was hot, hot, hot indoors as Caribbean Week dazzled the crowds with rum, rhythm and plenty of talk on sunny destinations. Now in its fifth year, Caribbean Week celebrates the distinctive sights, sounds, food and culture of the Caribbean, and quite frankly is a great teaser for those of us who wish to escape the cold harsh winters we all know too well.


In case you missed the action which took place December 5th through 10th, here’s a quick winter escape of some popular sun destinations:

Cuba


Karen Puebla from the Cuba Tourist Board was all smiles relaying the massive growth her country has been experiencing with new properties coming on the scene not to mention increased air.

“We have 1700 rooms in 5-star hotels and around 300 new rooms in 4-star hotels,” she says. Watch for five-star hotel openings in Cayo Santa Maria, Varadero, and a 4-star hotel in Havana called the Hotel Palco. “The hotel was closed for 10 years and it’s beside the Hotel Nacional,” she beams of the radiant Palco property.

For families Karen adds Cayo Santa Maria will have a new aquarium so “You can swim with the dolphins.” Another crowd pleaser relates to the formerly known Occidental Hideway which was an adults’ only hideaway. The property has now morphed into the luxe five-star Iberostar Ensenachos in secluded Cayo Santa Maria. On the air side, West Jet is increasing flights to Cayo Santa Maria two times weekly from Toronto and Alberta.

In Varadero you’ll start to see big changes as this area has positioned the construction of a massive marina for 1200 boats which will be surrounded by big apartment buildings, ideal for long stays. Expected completion date: 2015.

Turks and Caicos


Rep Rosemarie Wilson says she’s projecting a positive year this year. Even spring extended into summer and the resorts were full. “We have a lot of air. Air Canada has two flights a week and soon five flights a week in Toronto; and starting February 16th a brand new flight out of Halifax. West Jet currently has four flights a week.” Rosemarie raves about the newly renovated 98-room Comfort Suites Ports of Call Resort, which was well known for years. It recently was purchased by a Mississauga entrepreneur who’s made some amazing changes, she notes.

Trinidad and Tobago

You get two islands offering diverse experiences and with 11 flights from Caribbean Airlines it’s easy to get there. Ecotourism is big, so is birding and the rich culinary scene is drawing huge crowds. Sasha Hlozek rep for the new Magdalena Grand Beach Resort in Tobago says her new resort opens on December 15, and is “the largest resort to open on the island in a decade.” The four-star 200 room property with oceanfront views has 22 suites glammed with a private Jacuzzi. Sasha says for reservations agents can contact the hotel directly by visiting the website www.magdalenagrand.com or by calling toll-free 868-660-8800.

Why the name Magdalena? When Christopher Columbus first sighted the island eons ago, he quickly blurted “La Magdalena” so the luxe resort is playing on its historical roots. No doubt the meetings industry will be courted by the island’s latest venture as it boasts Tobago’s largest ballroom and is a mere 15-minute drive to the airport.

Puerto Rico

Kerry Sullivan rep for Puerto Rico Tourism was all holidayed up when we met. In full reindeer regalia with red stocking in hand, she doled out the latest on WestJet Vacations which recently celebrated its inaugural FAM trip last month.

Watch for the stunning La Concha Renaissance San Juan Resort, a Marriot property, which had renovations done, and touts the architectural genius of Mario Salvatori. When first opened in the fifties, the shell-like structure was termed “a marvel of engineering and architecture” and “one of the high-water marks of Puerto Rico’s national architecture.” For romance and history, it doesn’t get any better than strolling through Old San Juan.

Jamaica

Hotels are planning additions or improvements to existing hotels, says Raquel Queensborough from the Jamaica Tourist Board. Experiential travel is big too. “A lot of people are inquiring about Port Antonio on the eastern side of the island,” she notes of the next up and coming destination. While this chunk of paradise is void of all-inclusives, there are quaint hotels, charming guest houses and secluded villas that are attracting consumers who wish to dabble in green surrounds with no earthly distractions. “It’s very eco friendly and has been a local secret as it’s so non-touristy,” she smiles. No wonder celebrities are known to hang there. Direct flight from YYZ: 4.5 hours.

Barbados

Dagmara Grabowski, account rep with Weber Shandwick, says you can’t go wrong with the friendliest people around especially when Maclean’s magazine has pegged this island nation among the top 10 friendliest people in the world. “It’s safe friendly and great for families,” she says. One of the biggest exports these days is songstress Rihanna who has taken on the role as Barbados brand ambassador for the next three years. “So she’ll be known as ‘Rihanna the artist from Barbados,’” she explains.

For clients with a penchant for ultra luxe boutique, there’s rep Theresa Taylor from Resorts to the Best who can connect your clients with some island gems. Two idyllic ones with all the charm you can garner will be the family-owned Coral Reef Club and The Sandpiper. Theresa says a couple from England enjoyed the island so much they bought the first property for themselves and ended up opening a hotel and then another. “Mrs. O’Hara who is semi-retired, once a week has a manager’s cocktail party where she invites all the guests to have a cocktail at her home,” she says, explaining you can’t get any more island charm than that. “That sets the ambiance for what the property is all about,” she smiles.

For more details visit www.ResorttotheBest.com or call toll-free 1-800-567-5327.

Grenada


Karen Stephenson sales rep for this Spice of the Caribbean nation is thrilled with the increase flights from YYZ. “As of December 15th Caribbean Airlines will be flying twice weekly into Grenada (Thursdays and Sundays) and Air Canada once weekly on Saturdays.” A five hour direct flight with plenty of hotels from which to choose it should be easy-peasy for bookings.

Antigua’s Jolly Beach Resort

Rep Judy Duncan says watch for Transat and Air Canada charters starting this December with direct flights from Toronto and Montreal. She says it’s the best value and has something for everybody. “It’s the place for beach lovers. We have the nicest beach in Antigua,” she beams describing the largest resort in Antigua.

For more info on Caribbean Week see www.caribbeanweekcanada.com.



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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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