Two Caribbean resorts made the most of Covid closures

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Amanera, an Aman property in the Dominican Republic, features private casitas as guest accommodations.
Amanera, an Aman property in the Dominican Republic, features private casitas as guest accommodations.

I haven't hoisted a carry-on bag into an overhead rack or slung a backpack over my shoulder since last February.

However, I did "check in" to two resorts recently (virtually, of course) to find out how they've fared during their closures, what they've done in their down time, how morale and staff are doing and what lies ahead as the winter seasons looms and travelers begin to once again make plans.

I'd been a guest at both resorts in the past, before masks were mandatory (or recommended) and when the term "temperature checks" referred to weather, not fevers.

Amanera

Amanera, one of the 32 resorts in the Aman portfolio, is a nature-infused luxury Caribbean resort on the rainforested north shore of the Dominican Republic, an hour's drive from the Puerto Plata airport.

The contemporary resort sits atop 60-foot-high cliffs, set between the mile-long Playa Grande beach and a Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course.

Amanera opened in November 2015; I visited in March 2016 and most recently via WhatsApp to speak with Audrey Huttert, general manager.

The resort reopened on July 1 when the Dominican government began welcoming U.S. travelers again. It had been closed for three months.

"Since reopening, it's been a surprising turnaround with steady business and some long stays. One family came for a month," Huttert said. 

For the latest protocols on visiting the Caribbean during the pandemic, click here.

On Sept. 15, the government rescinded the requirement that arriving visitors provide proof of a negative PCR test. All travelers are still required to fill out a Traveler's Health Affidavit and get a temperature check upon arrival. In addition, a rapid, Breathalyzer-style test is given to randomly selected visitors as they arrive.

"That's a boost for arriving guests, and so is the free health and insurance coverage that runs through Dec. 31 and the VIP fast-tracking at the airport, which gets our guests quickly through security and immigration," said Huttert. The coverage she referred to is offered to all visitors through year's end and includes hospitalization for those who come down with Covid while in the D.R., telemedicine services, costs for extended hotel stays and airline ticket changes.

Aman's resorts have adopted strict safety, security and hygiene measures for the protection of employees and guests.

"Our guests know that mask wearing is mandatory in public spaces. Our resort has many open-air options, and we've not had a single case of Covid here or any medical issues, although a dedicated [on-site] medical clinic is available if needed," Huttert said.

Amanera's 24 one-bedroom casitas (15 have pools) and one two-bedroom unit all have floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views beyond.

Teak doors separate the living area from the bedroom, bath and spacious walk-in closet. Each unit is completely private, hidden from view from the other casitas and bordered by crushed-shell walkways.

"We haven't added any casitas but are planning to expand inventory with several villas; two will break ground late this year," she said.

During the closure, Amanera kept a minimal staff busy with landscaping, gardening and general maintenance.

A new chef joined the roster in February and spent his time perfecting menus and meeting local producers and growers.

Off-site excursions are still limited, but kayaking through the lagoons, hiking the nearby hills and ziplining are available as are numerous activities at the resort itself.

Amanera has two dining outlets, one in Casa Grande and a second at the beach where ceviche is a specialty.

The Bequia Beach Hotel in St. Vincent and the Grenadines debuts two new villas this winter.
The Bequia Beach Hotel in St. Vincent and the Grenadines debuts two new villas this winter.

Bequia Beach Hotel

The Bequia Beach Hotel is located on the 7-square-mile island of Bequia (BECK-way) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of 37 islands in the archipelago strung between St. Lucia and Grenada.

The island and the hotel are a throwback to the Caribbean of yesteryear. The Bequia Beach Hotel, which reopened on Oct. 1, is wrapped in '50s retro-ambience and mirrors the laid-back pace of an island where goats outnumber the local population of 5,000.

I recently spoke via Zoom with Bengt Mortstedt, owner and general manager, and his son Philip, director of business development.

Bengt Mortstedt, who first came upon Bequia while on a sailing vacation with his family in 1992, opened his hotel overlooking Friendship Bay in 2009 with 12 rooms. 

He, his son and the team at Bequia Beach were busy during the hotel's Covid-related shutdown. 

Philip reported that "our two-bedroom cottages got new plunge pools, new kitchens, solar heating systems and new coats of paint." 

The chef was put to work on new menus and an expansion of the kitchen herb and vegetable gardens.

Bequia Beach added a new saltwater infinity pool on the beach with a hardwood deck and sun loungers overlooking Friendship Bay, a wine cellar near one of the three dining venues and a new lounge and open-air seating area.

The new Friendship Bay Estate Villas comprise the hotel's biggest project, according to Bengt Mortstedt.

"We're opening the villas in phases that began with the Nov. 1 launch of two units, and a third is coming along," he reported.

The hillside Villa One is a short walk from the beach with views of Mustique and the Grenadines. The five-suite, 7,000-square-foot villa sleeps 10 and includes a separate two-bedroom apartment, a kitchen with herb garden, outdoor dining area, pool, gym, office and media room. The rate starts at $3,200 per night with a five-night minimum booking and includes butler service, daily breakfast and private car transfer.

Villa Two features a master bedroom with a private outdoor bath, sun terrace and pool. The 5,500-square-foot villa sleeps eight, has an office, media room, pool, gym and a garage. Prices start at $2,500 per night with a five-night minimum and include breakfast and butler service.

An opening date for the third villa has not been announced. It will offer eight bedrooms.

The Morstedts are working on a staycation plan for long-stay digital nomads. "We're thinking of calling it Work Away in Paradise," Philip Mortstedt said.

"We're well set up for social distancing. We follow strict health and safety protocols, and we are seeing demand building to come and peel away from the crowds."

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