All This for 50 a Night?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

All This for $50 a Night?

12 weeklong tropical escapes from $650 per person to $14,000 — what's your vacation worth?
By Everett Potter


Hotel Lanai, Lanai
You don't need to be a gazillionaire to vacation on the island where Bill Gates said "I do." And at the 11-room Hotel Lanai (808-565-7211), located up-country in Lanai City, you can wear shorts and flip-flops to dinner. Built by the Dole Pineapple Company in 1923 and restored in 1994, the hotel retains a rustic bungalow look with its wood-paneled dining room, country pine furniture, hardwood floors, and fireplace. Yes, this is the cooler side of Hawaii, and that goes for the price as well, a $95 rate that includes continental breakfast. That's $332.50 each for seven nights, leaving $417.50 for everything else, so go ahead and splurge on a dinner at the Manele Bay Hotel ($45-$60 per person); otherwise, dine on rotisserie-roasted chicken and pizza at the hotel's restaurant. Two dinners at Manele Bay and the rest of your meals at Hotel Lanai will run about $300 per person per week. Take the free shuttle to Manele Bay to go snorkeling or hiking along the beach or rent a mountain bike at The Lodge at Koele ($8 an hour). You won't see many people — there are fewer than 3,000 on the whole island.


Molokai Ranch, Molokai
No need to shell out extra money for vacation action at Molokai Ranch (800-662-0570): Mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and surfing are all included in the rates at this working cattle ranch that takes up a third of the island (only horseback riding is extra). Where else would surfboards and spurs both be standard equipment? You'll stay in a "tentalow," a private tent perched on an elevated platform with a queen bed, a solar-heated bath with shower, and a deck with views across the sea to Lanai or Maui, and you'll chow down family-style on grilled steak or mahimahi in the open-air dining pavilion. The per-person charge of $185 per night includes all meals, transportation, and equipment, so it'll run you $1,295 — with a few bucks left over for a mai tai or two.


Kapalua Bay Hotel, Maui
As long as you're popping for luxury digs, skip the crowds at Kaanapali and head north to the Kapalua Bay Hotel (800-367-8000), part of a 1,650-acre resort complex set amid a 23,000-acre working pineapple plantation. The 194 spacious guest rooms, with giant baths and muted tropical decor, overlook one of the most beautiful beaches on Maui. Doubles start at $275 per night, or $962.50 per person for the week. Use the remaining $737.50 to rent a kayak ($25 an hour) or snorkeling equipment ($15 per day), or take a sunset catamaran sail ($35), plus pay for meals, which can easily run $90 for two at the resort's restaurants. To work off the calories, hike the four-and-a-half-mile Waihee Ridge Trail up the slopes of the West Maui Mountains or snorkel at Honolua Bay and Mokuleia (Slaughterhouse) Beach, both part of a marine sanctuary that's approximately a 10-minute drive from the hotel.


Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, The Big Island
The term "bungalow" is woefully inadequate to describe these 4,000-square-foot, two-bedroom palaces at Mauna Lani (800-628-7815) that come with their own butler (who'll pick you up and drop you off at the airport in a limo), a full bar, daily continental breakfast, and evening appetizers. The butler can unpack your Speedos and pour your champagne while filling you in on the best snorkeling opportunities along the spectacular coastline of the Big Island. The place will be stocked with your favorite CDs, magazines, newspapers, and linens because the hotel thinks to ask about your preferences before you come. You can unwind in your Jacuzzi and private pool, watch the fish in your private lagoon, then indulge in a lomi lomi massage on the rocky beach. At $3,625 a night, it'll run you $12,687.50 per person per week before you've even had lunch. But hey, it sleeps four, and if your two best friends can be persuaded to join you, you've just halved the cost of paradise. Add another $1,000 or so each for meals, tips, and sundries, and you're up to $14,000. Let's just hope you get a bonus the size of the Big Island this year.


Lambert Beach Resort, Tortola
Value can be as elusive as a cool day in the British Virgin Islands, which is why the brand-new Italian-owned Lambert Beach Resort (800-225-4255) is like an offshore breeze. Located a couple of minutes from crescent-shaped Elizabeth Beach on the northeast end of Tortola, the resort looks out across the sea to Guana Island. Its eight villas, some of which sit right on the beach, house 38 Caribbean-style rooms decorated with tile floors and huge sliding-glass doors leading to spacious patios. The price is $100 per night — just $50 per person. Chances are these inaugural teaser rates won't last, so go now for the freshwater pool, sea kayaking, fishing, and snorkeling. You've still got $400 to play with, so you can opt for the resort's dining plan that provides breakfast and dinner at $60 per person, per day (you'll be over-budget by only $20), or you can do-it-yourself down in Roadtown. Either way, the Caribbean is rarely this reasonable.


Friendship Bay Hotel Resort, Bequia
The Friendship Bay Hotel Resort (784-458-3222) on the seven-square-mile Grenadine island of Bequia is one of those rare Caribbean resorts where guests feel a part of things: It's a laid-back, friendly retreat surrounded by gardens of hibiscus and frangipani fronting a mile-long palm-lined beach and overlooking the handful of boats moored in the tiny bay. The low-rise stone buildings have 28 rooms with ceiling fans and verandas but no TVs or phones, and there's a friendly bar/restaurant where yachties sometimes hang out with the guests. On-site activities include windsurfing, sailing, and tennis. It's a half-hour walk to the restaurants and bars of Port Elizabeth — try Le Petit Jardin for reasonably priced French cuisine and Daphne's for Creole cooking. Rooms run $200 per night, including breakfast; having spent $700 per person on lodging and breakfast, count on another $350 each for lunches and dinners. That's $1,050, leaving $150 for rum punches, windsurfer rentals, or a day sail ($65-$75) on the resort's 52-foot yacht to Mustique or Tobago Cays with migrating sperm whales for company


Long Bay Hotel, Antigua
You won't find scented soaps, monogrammed towels, or TVs at Long Bay Hotel (800-225-4255) on the northeast coast of Antigua. But you will find 20 rooms with simple grass rugs, cane furniture, and ceiling fans overlooking the lagoon (the white-sand beach is a few minutes' walk away), plus five breezy one- and two-bedroom cottages with kitchens and one eight-person villa nestled on a hillside. Americans and Europeans come to this quiet, family-run resort, located on a glassy bay and surrounded by gardens of lilies, hibiscus, and bougainvillea, to escape any trace of glitz. At a princely $375 per couple per day — $187.50 apiece — you get breakfast and dinner, along with free tennis, sailing, and windsurfing. Take one of the hotel's (free) snorkeling trips to offshore islets, or explore the island's 365 beaches. Check out such St. John's establishments (25 minutes away) as The Redcliffe Tavern for fresh grouper or Hemingway's Caribbean Caf‰ in a Victorian house for lobster soup. Figure another $285 or so for lunches and excursions around the island and you've spent just under $1,600.


Necker Island, B.V.I
A glass of champagne and a vigorous 20-minute cigarette-boat ride from Tortola is your entree to Necker Island (800-557-4255), the private retreat of Virgin Atlantic head Richard Branson. Staying here is probably the closest you'll ever get to the advanced hedonism enjoyed by the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Steven Spielberg, all past guests. An obliging staff of 28 awaits in an open-walled Balinese-style house with 360-degree views. Constructed with paving stones from Yorkshire, hardwood roof beams from Brazil, and woven bamboo ceilings from Bali, it's filled with tropical plants, oversized chaise longues, and hammocks. Paradise? Sure is. You can take a morning swim, go sea kayaking, or race a Hobie Cat around the 74-acre island — then do sunset cocktails poolside before sitting down to fresh local swordfish, Australian chardonnay, and iced passionfruit souffl‰ with coconut. Necker takes only single parties of up to 24 guests, but four times a year they welcome couples during Celebration Weeks. The tab is $10,000 per couple, per week, with all meals and activities included. At rates that would make a rock star think twice, they'd better be.


Sunset Reef, Costa Rica
On the southern tip of Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, Sunset Reef (888-388-2582) is adjacent to the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Preserve, a 2,896-acre reserve of unspoiled shoreline and forest with howler monkeys, cougars, and anteaters, and tidepools filled with crabs, starfish, and sea cucumbers. Set on three acres of oceanfront property, the lodge has 11 rooms and three suites with hand-crafted furniture, private baths, and those rarest of commodities in this region, hot water and air-conditioning. At $100 per night for two, you're talking $350 apiece for accommodations. You'll take meals here as well, since this is the only game in town. Figure another $35 per person per day for three meals of fresh grilled fish, beans and rice, and eggs, or another $245. That's $595, leaving you with $55 to splurge on Imperial beer or to rent sea kayaks ($15 a day) and mountain bikes ($10 a day) from the hotel. You can hike the trails of Cabo Blanco and observe parrots, jaguars (if you're lucky) and frigate birds soaring above the beaches. Think of it as Swiss Family Robinson with running water.


La Puertecita, San Mieguel De Allende, Mexico
Painters, potters, and mountain bikers converge on San Miguel de Allende, a charming colonial town with pink 18th century facades and narrow cobblestone streets. La Puertecita (011-52-415-2-2250) is a restored hacienda with terra-cotta fireplaces and domed stone ceilings set in a private park full of waterfalls and cacti. The price for this bit of civilized Mexico is $82.50 per person per night, or $577.50 for the week. The owner, a sculptor and avid mountain biker, offers rentals and organized rides along the area's 800 miles of trails. Start pedaling. Return to the hotel to dine on Peking duck in orange sauce, stuffed shrimp, or grilled filet of salmon. If you figure $230 per person per week for food, you're left with $92.50 for bike tours ($40) and Coronas, not to mention shuttle fare ($17 round-trip, though the hotel will sometimes take you for free) to Taboada, where you can soak those thighs in the thermal springs.


Quinta Real, Huatulco, Mexico
Imagine 27 stone-floored rooms in six buildings with white-washed domes and thatched roofs, set them amid palm trees and hibiscus overlooking one of the nine bays that comprise the Bahías de Huatulco, and you have Quinta Real (888-561-2817). You'll pay $235 — that's $117.50 per person — for a master suite, which comes with a king-sized bed, a robe, slippers, a balcony, and a Jacuzzi overlooking the sea. Go snorkeling in the bay ($6 for equipment) or horseback riding on the beach or through the jungle ($50 for half-day trips); surfers should drive north an hour and 45 minutes to Puerto Escondido to find big waves. The hotel's $822.50-per-person tab doesn't include breakfast, which will run you about $70 for the week for two. Reserve another $340 per person for lunches and dinners of lobster medallions and fresh grilled fish at the resort's restaurant. Or for just a few bucks go local for tacos and frijoles at Los Portales in the adjacent town of La Crucecita. Lodging and meals will run about $1,200 per person, leaving you $150 for horseback riding, snorkeling, and drinks. Enjoy the tranquil coves now, before this place metamorphoses into another Canc”n.


Rosewood's Las Ventanas Al Paraíso, Baja California, Mexico
The gold standard has been set in Mexico by the 61-suite Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, which opened in 1997. As you sip your welcome margarita, note that even the smallest rooms are 984 square feet (larger than your average Manhattan apartment); they're masterpieces of Mexican minimalism, with hand-laid stone, fringed carpets, terra-cotta fireplaces, marble bathrooms, balconies and rooftop terraces, and telescopes to scope out the Sea of Cortez. The expansive, ivory-sand beach out front, lined with hammocks and palapas, isn't swimmable due to strong currents, but you can stroll 15 minutes up the shore to more protected waters or head for the fitness center and spa with its cluster of pools. Doubles cost $475 per night, for a total of $1,662.50 per person for the week. Count on another $700 per person for food, and you've got $137.50 for sundries like deep-sea fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, horseback riding, or snorkeling in Los Cabos (the concierge will make arrangements for you). If you've still got change, try the Sea and Stars night massage for two on your terrace or on the beach. Romantic? Yes. Expensive for Mexico? Well, yeah. But as blowouts go, it's not a bad deal.

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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