May 2, 2013

Travel Guide: The ultimate beach vacations

By: Karen Kwan

Author: Elle Canada

May 2, 2013

Travel Guide: The ultimate beach vacations

By: Karen Kwan
Image courtesy of The Viceroy Riviera Maya

Soft, powdery sand between your toes. Warm rays of sunshine on your shoulders and face. That book you've been dying to read. Sigh. Enjoying some quality beach time is an essential—especially for us in Canada where sunny shores and warm water are few and far between. To help you plan your ultimate Caribbean or Mexican getaway (we're talking about Negril, Barbados, the Riviera Maya and more), we’ve explored some top destinations and found one suited to whatever your dream vacay is. Stop dreaming and start packing.

Travel guide: To vacay like a celebrity, head to Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico (
Molly Sims was at the Viceroy Riviera Maya for a girls getaway just before I had the opportunity to visit. Starlets Rashida Jones, Rebecca Romjin and Selma Blair have all rested their pretty heads there, too. And as I trekked through the lush tropical forest, doing my best not to let my mouth hang open in awe of my surroundings, I could easily see why. There is not a single moment you don’t feel taken care of at this hotel, one of the select properties of Mexico Boutique Hotels—and yet at the same time, you never feel as though the gracious staff is in your space.

What to do: Soak up time at the beach in the day (after all, that is what the Riviera Maya and Mexico are known for -- beautiful beaches). You won’t want to leave the plush loungers and canopied beds for anything—and you won’t have to. Order fresh tacos and a pitcher of mojitos and enjoy them with the ocean view. Need to get your body moving? Walk down the private pier and take a dip in the water (or register for a yoga class held every day at 10:15 a.m.).


And if you truly want to stay in your own cocoon, the designer suites are so to die for (I swear I could hear the music for Cribs in my head each time I swept open the oversized doors) you won’t even miss the ocean for one second. After all, you can shower al fresco in your ultra-private outdoor shower surrounded by gorgeous palm trees and then lounge on your sundeck. Too hot? Dip into your own pool—skinny dip, even (rope off the path to your suite and you are guaranteed privacy). While there are no paparazzi here, you’ll feel like star.

What to eat: You’ll find yourself craving the Coral Grill’s fresh juices once you have your first sip (the Green Juice will make you feel as though you’re detoxing from any diet cheats) and even non-breakfast fans will become enamoured with the most important meal of the day when they try some authentic Mexican dishes, such as the pastel azteca, a layered dish of tortillas and chicken with an irresistible green tomato sauce.


Image courtesy of Moon Dance

Travel guide: To vacay as a couple, head to Moon Dance Cliffs in Negril (

For the lovey-dovey couple who has eyes only for each other, the boutique hotel Moon Dance Cliffs in Negril is for you two. You won’t find a rowdy crowd at the swim-up bar or be peer pressured into resort activities (that’s over at some of the all-inclusives in Montego Bay...). Instead you can relish quiet time together by the serene pool or on the deck overlooking the cliffs. Oh, and did we mention that the hotel is positioned such that you get fantastic views of both the gorgeous sunset and sunrise in Jamaica? How’s that for romance?

What to do: If you can tear yourself away from your lover, plan for some spa time (request for the massage poolside under a secluded canopy on a warm, breezy day) and try the Deep Ginger Bliss massage. With this signature treatment’s focus on deep tissue massage and trigger point therapy, if you have any lingering stress in your body, get set for it to ooze on out.

The more adventurous couple can kick their adrenaline pumping a little by jumping off the nine-foot cliff at the hotel into the water. It’s a fairly minor jump, but still earns you bragging rights to those back home. Too out there for you? Instead hop into your suite’s hot tub—your butler can sprinkle it with flower petals for you and your honey.

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Want to see more of Negril? Call your butler—yes, you’ll have a butler at Moon Dance (one is assigned to every guest and you have a direct line to them with the cell phone you are provided it)—and ask them to arrange for you to join a sunset sail. You’ll get a superb view of this area of Jamaica, including a stop at Rick’s Cafe. Although a bit of a tourist trap, the people jumping from the heart-stoppingly high cliffs here is worth a look.

What to eat: Forget for a moment that you’ll be in a bikini most of your time here, and try to enjoy as many Jamaican dishes as possible. Flavourful jerk chicken will please your taste for spice (and it’s a juicier choice than the jerk pork), and for a seafood fix for lunch, the pan-fried snapper slider served on the fluffy coco bread is top notch. For breakfast, skip your usual boring old choices and go with an authentic Jamaican special breakfast of ackee and codfish served with festival and plantain—the ackee and codfish can be salty so the sweet plantain helps balance that out, and the sweet, doughnut-like festivals are a sweet dessert finish to the most important meal of the day.

Book a girls beach vacation or a chill vacation on the next page ... 0-0-hotel-b.jpg

Image courtesy of Hotel B

Travel guide: To vacay and have some girly good times, head to Hotel B in Mexico (

The casual vibe of Hotel B makes this Mexico Boutique Hotel just right for you and your besties (it’s slight resemblance to the beach house on Beverly Hills, 90210, adds to its good-times allure, too), especially if you've already vacationed in the Riviera Maya. It’s about five-minute cab ride from the Cozumel ferry dock, which is also where you’ll find tons of fun restaurants and bars—so you and your crew can easily go out for shopping or dancing if you tire of being poolside.

What to do: There’s only so much sunbathing (with SPF on, of course) that you and your girlfriends can do. So when you reach that tipping point, check out the workshops offered at the hotel. Get schooled in tequila, crafts, learn to speak Spanish or taking a cooking course. You’re guaranteed some giggles, and better yet, these are skills you can all take with you to recreate a Mexican beach party back at home.

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What to eat and drink: The classic mojitos are good (minty and just the right level of sweetness) and inexpensive (we did say, after all, that the hotel was great for a good time, did we not?). The hotel is also known for its ceviches—taste test them all (there are more than 10 types on the menu); every type we tried was refreshing and light.


Image courtesy of The Crane

Travel guide: To vacay like it’s your sweet home away from home, head to the Crane in Barbados (

Walk around the Crane property and there’s a comforting ease to the vibe here. Many guests seem right at home, and staff are friendly as though these are relatives they see fairly often, and there’s a good reason for this—many guests at the Crane own their suites. Don’t worry about feeling like an outsider, though. You’ll quickly learn the lay of the land and the staff will soon be calling you by name and you’ll seen feel that with the Crane, there’s no place like home.


What to do: Walk to the cliff on the Crane beach, even if you don’t plan on jumping off of it into the ocean, just to take in the salty breeze, and watch the waves crash beneath you against the rocks. This breathtaking view just isn’t the same when you take it in from the beach. For more incredible ocean views, get a cab or rent a car and drive over to Bathsheba beach to watch some of the surfers. If it’s peaceful, calm water you prefer, a stop into Miami Beach where the water is less turbulent and easy to wade into is just the afternoon pit stop you need. For some culture, our favourite tourist stop was St. Nicholas Abbey, a beautiful plantation house that still boasts its original walls. Take the guided tour to learn more about the property’s history (there are some fascinating antiques, including some antique Valentine’s) and be sure to check out (and, yes, taste test!) the rum produced in the property’s boiler house and distillery.

What to eat: Set up like a little town, there are a number of shops and restaurants on the Crane property, and if you’re a sweet tooth you will want to indulge at the Village Cafe on both the homemade ice cream and the coconut cake (which was so good, we stuffed a slice into a box and brought it home with us). The cuisine at the hotel’s Zen restaurant is a luxe fine dining experience—we enjoyed some impeccably prepared shrimp indochine on basmati rice. More casual fare, including some delectable mahi mahi, is available at The Carriage House, but you may also want to venture off the property to Oistins. Here you’ll rub elbows with friendly locals (the busiest nights, ie. the nights to go, are Friday and Saturday) as you dig into some flying fish and macaroni pie at any of the fantastic vendors here.

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Travel Guide: The ultimate beach vacations