Need some compelling evidence to convince your significant other that this is the year for a trip to the Caribbean? We found hot new activities that are the cherry on top of an already ideal tropical escape. From Aruba to Grenada, here are 10 islands you shouldn't miss in 2012.
If you think flinging treetop to treetop in broad daylight is a thrill, try Rain Forest Adventures' new AdrenaLUNA nighttime zip-line tour. It's St. Lucia's only after-dark zip-line experience. With a headlamp strapped to your helmet, you see and hear the rainforest from a completely different perspective—by moonlight.
For chocolate lovers, The Hotel Chocolat, which opened last year, has a new Tree-to-Bar experience, where guests walk the on-site cocoa estate and pick pods to roast and make into their own chocolate bar. Try a fresh cacao Bellini or martini in the restaurant, Boucan.
Just over an hour's drive west of San Juan in Isabela, Puerto Rico's newest golf course is taking shape along rugged coastal cliffs. It's set to open in April, and already the dramatic Royal Isabela course has caught the attention of Fairways + Greens magazine, which says it's destined for top-100 status worldwide. The course is part of the 1,800-acre Costa Isabela community.
Locking down its status as the most fashion-forward Caribbean island, Aruba premiered its first annual fashion week, Aruba In Style, in November 2011. The same company that organizes fashion weeks in Miami and New York plans this soiree, a long weekend of runway shows and celeb-hosted cocktail parties.
Want to see the island's culture but can't get there during Carnival (January/February)? See the new Carubbian Festival in San Nicolas. On Thursday nights year-round, people flood the streets for a 45-minute stage show, activities, and local food.
Repurposing retired forts has become a serious preoccupation in this former Dutch colony. You can dine inside the Waterfort's stone arches and Fort Nassau's fortress walls, see a concert at Fort Amsterdam, and shop in other restored forts. October saw the latest move into the fort market when Okeanos Spa took up residence in the seaside Rif Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was originally built to protect the island from pirates and other invaders. We can't imagine a more appropriate place for a Turn Back Time body wrap.
In January USA Today named Brimstone Hill Fortress on St. Kitts one of its "10 Great Places To Explore The World's Best-Kept Secrets." Visit at the end of March and you'll see staff and locals at the impressive seaside mountain fortress reenacting the 1782 Great Siege of Brimstone Hill.
Christophe Harbour, a new mega-yacht marina on southeastern St. Kitts, opens in February. It's part of a development that will include hotels, restaurants, shops, and a golf course.
The Carambola Beach Club restaurant on South Friar's Bay beach debuted in January. Its Caribbean-influenced European cuisine pairs well with a 4,000-bottle wine cellar and notes from the baby grand piano.
British Virgin Islands
It doesn't take long to find your sea legs in the British Virgin Islands. Calm seas and consistent trade winds make island-hopping a breeze, even for first-timers on a crewed sailboat. Plan the trip of a lifetime on SAIL and Cruising World magazines' 2012 Best Boat of the Year: the Sunsail 444 catamaran, based in Tortola. The four-cabin yacht boasts an open forward cockpit area and other innovative features not yet seen on production catamarans.
If you're on a budget, Footloose Sailing Charters bills itself as the most affordable bareboat and skippered sailing-vacation provider in the Caribbean, and it will beat competitor pricing by $100. A five-day charter for two starts at around $2,100, or with a skipper, $3,200.
St. Maarten/St. Martin
Two governments share this Dutch/French island, but more than a dozen nationalities are what have earned the "Culinary Capital of the Caribbean" global props for fusion cuisine. Visit in November for the first annual Culinary Month, when chefs from the island's 365 restaurants present food shows, classes, and tastings. On Tuesday nights from January to April, the restaurant mecca of Grand Case transforms into an Arts in the Plaza pedestrian zone with art vendors, live music, and other street entertainment.
Intrigued by what lies at the bottom of the sea? Grenada is a Caribbean hot spot for shipwrecks. In Scuba Diving magazine's 2012 Readers' Choice Awards, Grenada was named No. 1 for both wreck diving and advanced diving in the Caribbean. Explore the wreck of the enormous 600-foot Bianca C cruise liner and dive into her upper-deck swimming pools. For something new, see the Underwater Sculpture Park's two new statues, which were added late last year.
Non-divers can visit the Grenada National Museum's new Bianca C exhibit to learn about the "Titanic of the Caribbean," which sank in 1961 near Grand Anse.
If you're a baseball fan or a coffee connoisseur, there are a few must-sees on any trip to the Dominican Republic. A just-launched global travel company called Excursionist runs 22 tours in the DR that connect your personal passions with a local expert. Tour a ballpark with a member of the Dominican national team or meet farmers in small villages along the Coffee Trail.
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
New this year, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism is helping you achieve the impossible: "de-teching" for an entire week, cold turkey: no phones, cameras, TV, or Internet. The seven-night Digital Detox getaway is $3,799 per person. Hand over the gadgets and you get flights from NYC, three nights at the Young Island Resort, four nights at Palm Island, meals, a private crewed catamaran transfer, a session with a life coach, and a digital de-teching how-to guide.
These islands ooze luxury, but you can find a must-see list of free or nearly-free natural and historical treasures at VisitSVG.com. On St. Vincent, don't miss the lush plants, colorful parrots, and the start of a three-year restoration effort at Kingstown's 20-acre Botanical Gardens; originally planted in 1765, the gardens are among the oldest in the Western Hemisphere.