St. Lucia a hot spot for new developments and more airlift

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A nonstop flight from New York is a must-have for Caribbean destinations looking to increase visitor numbers from the Northeast. If it's easy to get there, people will go. 

With the New York area representing a major chunk of Caribbean-bound travelers, negotiations between the airlines and Caribbean officials have resulted in additional flights to sunny climes, including American's three weekly flights from Kennedy to St. Lucia that launched Nov. 15, followed by twice-weekly nonstops to St. Kitts on Nov. 18.  

"Our bookings through December are nearly full with wholesalers like Gogo and Travel Impressions having done a remarkable job," said John Lisiew-ski, American's regional sales manager for the Caribbean.

To entice travelers, double frequent-flyer points will be awarded on the St. Lucia flights through Feb. 12 (promotion code NYCRB with registration on AA.com).

Air Jamaica, the Caribbean's largest carrier, welcomed the new competition on the St. Lucia route.

"When the tide rises, all boats in the basin rise," said George deMercado, Air Jamaica's vice president of sales.

He said that American flights will boost tourism, which in turn should help his airline.

"Everybody is going to benefit from whatever is done to promote St. Lucia," he said.

Nestled between Martinique and St. Vincent with the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern shore, the Caribbean Sea to the west and its drive-in volcano and the Piton Mountains in between, St. Lucia is in the midst of a building boom. High-end properties are being built at a rapid rate.

I visited several resorts recently and found similarities and differences in each, much like the colors on the madras plaid cottons worn by many island women and children.

" For clients seeking seclusion who can pay for high-end luxury and do not mind a bumpy, 90-minute drive from Hewanorra Airport, Cotton Bay Village is idyllic.

Located on a sandy beach on the untapped Atlantic side of St. Lucia, surrounded by mangrove trees and purple passion-fruit vines, Cotton Bay Village is designed for discerning travelers.

Butlers swathed in white tunics and pants cater to every whim. The suites and villas with kitchenettes lend a homey feel to the place.

Perks include the use of a dedicated cell phone to reach the butler should an urge for a club sandwich strike at an off hour.

There's also scuba, kite surfing, golf and a variety of treatments at the Casuarina Spa, including the 19th-hole massage, aimed at getting golfers in shape for another round.

The open-deck Beach 1461 seaside restaurant, named for its latitude and longitude, is the only spot at the resort with wireless Internet access, although plans are in the works to enable Wi-Fi for the entire property. 

Bartender Zina Felix suggested a sunflower seed-encrusted mahi mahi as my entree, accompanied by a glass of South African Nederburg chardonnay.

"Dinner with a side of sunset is what I recommend," he said.

A piano bar, a cafe, a deli, a sushi bar and a champagne bar opened in November.

For rates and packages, visit www.cottonbaystlucia.com.

" On the west coast of St. Lucia, the Coco Kreole and Coco Palm are favorites of British tourists, although the boutique properties are catching on fast with Americans looking for a laid-back, Caribbean vibe. 

"We support village tourism, which is why we are not an all-inclusive resort," said Jean St. Rose, general manager of Coco Resorts. "Guests can charge their bills at nearby restaurants to their hotel accounts in addition to enjoying dinner at Ti Bananne, our Creole restaurant."

For more information, visit www.coco-resorts.com.

" The seafront Bay Gardens Beach Resort in Rodney Bay is reminiscent of St. Lucia's colonial history with its Georgian-style architecture.

The Bay Gardens Beach is a sister property to the nearby Bay Gardens Inn and Bay Gardens Hotel. Guests staying at one property can use the facilities at all three.

The Bay Gardens Beach, an all-suite resort with timbered balconies, is arranged neatly in six blocks of three-story buildings. The lagoon-style pool, open-air Creole restaurant and an inviting sundeck are proving popular with families and couples.

"We offer a mix of natural charm and contemporary design," said Berthia Parle, general manager.

For more information, visit www.baygardensbeachresort.com.  

" In the northern part of St. Lucia, tucked in a cove, the tranquil Body Holiday at Le Sport has earned a slew of awards, including Best Destination Spa from Conde Nast Traveler and a AAA Three-Diamond rating for Tao, Le Sport's signature restaurant.   

For more information, visit www.thebodyholiday.com.

" On the west coast, the new, five-star Discovery at Marigot Bay offers suites with cherry hardwood floors, Kiehl's personal-care products and free Wi-Fi access.

Movie fans will appreciate the Pink Snail Bar not only for the raspberry bellinis and pink glass chandeliers but also for its cinematic history. Scenes from the 1967 film "Doctor Dolittle" were shot there.

"The giant pink fiberglass snail used in the movie remained here for decades but is now missing," said owner Judith Verity. "We think folks in the hills may be living in it."

More than an hour's drive from Hewanorra Airport in the south, the eco-chic property overlooks Marigot Bay, described by author James Michener as "the most beautiful in the region."

The resort offers a novel form of transportation to transport its guests across the bay.

"We use a solar-powered ferry, which suits our environment because it is powered only by the sun," said Capt. Marvin Adams, as he shuttled his passengers to the nearby Rainforest Hideaway restaurant.

The resort is part of a $60 million project that includes a 40-slip marina and a retail village.

For more information, visit www.discoverystlucia.com.

" Slated for a July opening is Cap Maison, a beachfront hotel built on the grounds of a former sugar plantation with clear views of neighboring Martinique.

The Ritz-Carlton on Half Moon Bay in the south of St. Lucia is expected to open in 2009. In the north, Raffles Hotels signed an agreement to manage Raffles St. Lucia, which will include a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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