Caribbean resorts expand their experiential offerings

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The Westin Grand Cayman offers stargazing through a telescope from a cushioned lounge chair.
The Westin Grand Cayman offers stargazing through a telescope from a cushioned lounge chair.

As the demand for experiential travel has exploded, giving rise to personalized itineraries on the part of travel planners, tour operators and adventure outfitters, Caribbean resorts, too, are stepping up their activities options, having recognized that the "fly-and-flop" format no longer works for many of their guests.

Beach volleyball by day and karaoke in the lounge by night has gone by the wayside in favor of activities that cater to the specific needs of travelers.

Resorts are operating well outside the (sand)box and peppering their activities rosters with options such as stargazing through a telescope from a cushioned lounge chair at the Westin Grand Cayman, an underwater photography course at Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia, an herbal tea workshop at the True Blue Bay Boutique Resort in Grenada, a hunting expedition to rid local fishing waters of invasive reef predators in Grenada and helping rebuild hurricane-destroyed flora in the British Virgin Islands.

"It's no longer OK to say, 'This is what people like' and feed it to everyone," said Ferry Zievinger, general manager of the Sandals Barbados and the neighboring Sandals Royal Barbados. "You have to really figure out what a traveler wants, what the reason is for the trip, what is it that's being celebrated, what are the preferences — and cater to it. That's very key for us and for the traveler."

For example, the 49-suite Cap Maison resort on St. Lucia's northernmost tip recently showcased a collection of bucket-list experiences and excursions tailored to individual guests' interests.

The collection was created in response to a consumer trend noted on OTAs such as Booking.com, which reported that 45% of travelers have their own bucket list in mind when they plan their travels. 

"We hand-pick our excursions, and our group size is always small in numbers, as the essence is to see the island's beauty without a crowd in tow," said Ross Stevenson, general manager at the Cap Maison.

The Cap Maison resort in St. Lucia offers several activities involving the Pitons.
The Cap Maison resort in St. Lucia offers several activities involving the Pitons.

The Cap Maison Adventure by Land and Sea experience, $185 per person plus tax, features a cruise on the resort's 46-foot motor yacht down the west coast toward Marigot Bay with stops at the Pitons and the port of Soufriere.

Along the way, guests can take a dip in volcanic mud baths, rinse off under a waterfall, sample Creole cuisine and snorkel at a protected marine park.

The Chocolate-Making — Bean to Bar excursion, priced at $190 per person plus tax, begins with a catamaran cruise to Soufriere where guests tour the Hotel Chocolat and create their own chocolate from the estate's cocoa crop. 

Every item on the a la carte lunch menu incorporates a cocoa element. Guests return to the resort in time for a Piton sunset cruise.

Hiking the 2,530-foot-high Gros Piton is not for the fainthearted, but with a dedicated guide leading the way, those who sign on for the Best View in the Caribbean tour are rewarded with a stunning view of land and sea at the summit.

The tour is priced at $170 plus tax, including transfers.

Hunting the lionfish

Sandals Grenada offers a wide range of activity options, but one that taps into the desire of some travelers to help protect the planet by doing more than reusing towels and sheets is the resort's lionfish-hunting initiative to rid waters of the invasive species, which has few predators and is destroying marine life and coral reefs.

"We have a couple of different ways to get guests involved with conservation efforts," said Jonathan Hernould, environmental officer for the philanthropic Sandals Foundation. "We offer a lionfish-hunting dive to our diving guests where they can go out with our dive team and catch, hunt and kill as many lionfish as possible."

Guests are taught to use specialized equipment, including pole spears and zoo keepers, which are plastic boxes in which to store the fish.

"We explain to guests that this fish does not belong here and that it is destroying the natural Caribbean ecosystem," Hernould said. "Once they see the inside of a lionfish with seven fish in its stomach, it becomes an easier sell, and guests don't feel guilty."

Vacationers pay $50 to take part in the lionfish-hunting session; the money goes directly to the foundation and to the lionfish programs that Sandals has implemented in the Caribbean.

Guests at several Puerto Rico resorts can volunteer with Para La Naturaleza to plant native trees that are resistant to hurricanes and drought.
Guests at several Puerto Rico resorts can volunteer with Para La Naturaleza to plant native trees that are resistant to hurricanes and drought.

Exercising green thumbs

At several resorts in Puerto Rico, guests can volunteer with Para La Naturaleza (PLN), an environmental organization, to work hands-on to aid in hurricane recovery in Fajardo, near San Juan.

The work involves planting native trees that are resistant to hurricanes and droughts.

The group's goal for the Nursery of Rio Pedras in San Juan is to plant 775,000 endemic trees in the next five years.

"Visitors who participate in this event help PLN take care of the new trees, while learning about the best reforestation practices," a spokesman for the group said.

Working on their fitness

Activities that target fitness programs have grown as guests move beyond treadmills and barbells in search of wellness regimes that also encompass mind and spirit.

Guests at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic can participate in Sound Body, a holistic approach to healthy living centered on music.

For those who do want to break a sweat, the resort's 5,000-square-foot Body Rock Fitness Center boasts more than a dozen spinning bikes, six elliptical machines and boxing and kickboxing equipment, among other amenities.

Baha Mar’s Flamingo Cay introduces guests to the national bird of the Bahamas.
Baha Mar’s Flamingo Cay introduces guests to the national bird of the Bahamas.

In line with Baha Mar's commitment to educating resort guests and the community on conservation, the megacomplex in Nassau recently announced the arrival of Caribbean flamingos and named Stacy Spurlock its "chief flamingo officer."

The exotic birds, which are the national symbol of the Bahamas, inhabit the resort's Flamingo Cay as part of the Baha Mar Ecological Aquatic Conservation Habitat Sanctuary, led by Spurlock and other avian specialists.

"Stacy will [help] guests to better understand the species and become inspired by our conservation efforts to connect guests to nature through increased public awareness and appreciation for native Bahamian species and their preservation," said Graeme Davis, president of Baha Mar.

Guests can study the migration patterns and habitat preferences of the flamingos while staying at Baha Mar.

The Avian Team offers daily educational talks and discussions about flamingos, including their role in the ecosystems of the Bahamas as well as the history of the wild flamingo population, which has grown from 5,000 to more than 60,000 since the 1950s, thanks in part to the efforts of the Bahamas National Trust.

With the addition of the flamingos, Baha Mar seeks to increase awareness of conservation efforts, leading to a greater appreciation for wildlife, according to Davis.

In addition, the $4.2 billion resort, which includes three global brand operators — Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood — and more than 2,300 rooms, features a range of other activities, including golf, spa treatments, shopping in 30 luxury retail outlets, diving, paddling, swimming, encounters with stingrays and sea turtles, bird and nature adventures, Bahamian art shows, tennis, boxing, fishing, turtle care and exploring tidal pools.

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