The Caribbean, The Bahamas & Bermuda

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North Americans love beach vacations, or so the surveys say. But when it comes to the Caribbean islands, the beach is just part of the picture. Hotels and resorts there are pampering guests more than ever before, and not just at ultra-expensive hideaways, but at all-inclusives and other large resorts that welcome everyday people. Walking into a Caribbean hotel room today, with its ultra-comfortable bed (replete with stylish sash and high-quality sheets), windows and terraces that face seascapes or exquisitely landscaped gardens, state-of-the-art electronic gadgets, and sparkling bathroom, many visitors can’t help but wonder: Why not copy this setting when we redo our own bedroom back home?

What’s more, the pampering extends beyond the guestrooms. If there’s an arms race in the Caribbean, it’s not about weapons, but chefs and spas. Resort and freestanding restaurants are serving up every sort of cuisine imaginable, from Tuscan to Caribbean to Thai to fusion, with results that are worthy of Food Channel raves. And spas? They’ve become an integral part of the Caribbean experience, with resorts offering extensive menus of treatments and wellness classes that equal, or even top, those offered at destination spas.

Despite all that pampering, though, guests are wandering beyond hotel and resort property lines as never before, because there’s so much to see and do besides snooze on the beach. Just for starters, the Caribbean offers world-class historical sites, from the great Spanish forts of San Juan and Santo Domingo to Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua to the plantation houses of Jamaica, and people want to see them. There’s nature beyond the resorts’ manicured grounds, too: spectacular hiking trails through primeval forests in Jamaica and Saint Lucia, wrecks and reefs off the coast of Grand Cayman Island and Aruba, huge iguanas and green monkeys and colorful cousins of Big Bird on any number of islands. The islands rock at night, too, with both sophisticated clubs and down-home beach bars, lounges, casinos, and local street parties to which all are invited.

That said, back on the beach the variety of watersports is better than ever: not just sailing, snorkeling, scuba, skiing, jetskiing, and windsurfing, but paddle-boarding and kite-surfing and other 21st century pastimes. Tennis is big, with well-maintained courts and first-rate pros, and the islands’ championship golf facilities offer a who’s who in course design. Facilities for children, from playgrounds to water parks to day-care programs, are world-class. All in all, it’s a very good time to visit the Caribbean.

Getting there is easy, too, because Delta now offers service to 20 destinations in the region. From convenient gateways such as New York City, Boston, Detroit, and Minneapolis, not to mention its hub in Atlanta, travelers enjoy nonstop flights to a diverse, fascinating, and flat-out beautiful collection of islands.