It has been just over a year since the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa opened on Grand Cayman, Kimpton's first international resort and the island's first new property in a decade.
The 266-room resort, the tallest structure on Grand Cayman, is also Kimpton's first real luxury property.
On a trip to the resort last spring I found that the stylish property took the Kimpton brand to a level I hadn't seen in its U.S. portfolio of mostly urban, four-star hotels.
For the upscale traveler, room accommodations include bungalows facing either the beach or a pool, suites with large living areas and kitchens and oversize balconies with full ocean views.
But its standard guestrooms are also spacious, with modern design and large, sleek bathrooms, each with a double sink and standalone soaking tub.
There is plenty to do at the hotel, where a $60 resort fee includes the use of kayaks, paddleboards, water tricycles, sailboats and snorkeling gear as well as daily yoga on the beach and on paddleboards.
The Kimpton is on the island's famous Seven Mile Beach, and the resort also has two pools, one of which is adults only.
Kimpton offers its signature bikes to guests, encouraging them to explore the island, which is safe and easy to get around. I used them twice, once to visit a local fish shack, and the staff was also helpful about directions and suggestions of where to go.
Any hotel on Grand Cayman — often referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean — needs to have serious eats on offer. This is an island with a strong economy outside of tourism that brings in business travelers demanding high-level cuisine. The Seafire delivers with Ave, a Mediterranean seafood restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking Seven Mile Beach, and Avecita, its restaurant-within-a-restaurant that does a nightly tasting menu of Spanish tapas, with one of its eight prime seats at "the chefs' bar," where you watch the meal being prepared.
My favorite Seafire dining experience is at the beachside Mexican eatery Coccoloba, which was thoughtfully designed to maximize ocean views and serves items like ceviche and a variety of tacos all day and more sophisticated entrees by night. It's definitely a top place to watch the sunset on Seven Mile.
The Coccoloba restaurant pairs great ocean views with ceviche and tacos.
Virgil Napier, Seafire's director of sales and marketing, said that the hotel embodies the brand's evolution.
"You don't have to have pomp and circumstance" to achieve luxury, he said. "As time has evolved, Kimpton has evolved."
Jack Ezon, president of luxury agency Ovation Vacations, agrees.
"It is so much more than I expected of a Kimpton," Ezon said. "It totally blew me away at first impression. … The hotel meets everything you would expect for the luxury quotient (spacious rooms, great food and beverage, fabulous service — even for the Caribbean), while delivering on the whimsical and relaxed Kimpton approach, all with a chic and trendy sassiness."
Ezon sells the hotel against high-end Miami properties like the Edition, the 1 Hotel South Beach and the W, or Nizuc in the Riviera Maya "for the ability to overdeliver at its price point."
"It is a great place for people who want a fun, trendy vibe without sacrificing space, comfort or service," Ezon said.
Napier said Kimpton thought long and hard about how to take the brand into the five-star realm in a decidedly different, modern way.
"This is not butler-style," he said of Kimpton's luxury, calling it more akin to a personal assistant who is empowered to be intuitive and personalize service.
For example, Seafire housekeepers write notes to the guests, making staff and guests "feel connected," Napier said, something that guests comment on frequently.
The staff's personalized approach really shines with families, he said, recounting the story of a staff member that surprised the kids by building a fort in the living room of a suite and setting up a "campfire" with s'mores.
Napier said the property is popular with families and that the ones in premium accommodations "aren't worried about the price because the value is so amazing."
For those of us traveling without kids, in my case on a girls weekend, we were big fans of the daily wine hour from 5 to 6 p.m., when complimentary wine and apps are served in the lobby.
The popular event brings droves of guests to the lobby, from families and couples to groups of friends, making the property feel communal.
Napier said the wine hour is immensely popular, with the hotel going through a bottle a minute.
A guestroom at the Kimpton Seafire.
Kimpton, acquired by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in January 2015, will expand its five-star properties as well as its international footprint.
The 146-room, cliffside Kimpton Kawana Bay Resort is scheduled to open in Grenada in 2019, on the island's southwest coast overlooking Grand Anse Beach. The property will also be luxury, Napier said, and geared more toward the FIT traveler than large group and incentive programs, which the larger Seafire can accommodate with its meetings spaces.
In May, Amsterdam's Kimpton De Witt became Kimpton's first hotel in Europe; a second is scheduled to open in Paris in 2020.