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For a while there, it looked like the first Park Hyatt in the Caribbean was cursed.
First, the spot the Park Hyatt St. Kitts was to call home was in a remote development notoriously plagued by fishy financing, a rotating cast of backers and promises of signature tenants that went up in smoke. Then came a series of construction delays at the resort itself that pushed the opening from sometime in 2016 to March 2017, then to summer 2017, and finally to fall 2017. To top it off, in September, Hurricane Irma came barreling down, looking like it had St. Kitts in its sights. If you were a betting man, you might’ve laid down money that the Park Hyatt was doomed to never open its doors.
But Irma left the island almost completely unscathed (nearby islands like St. Martin, Barbuda, St. Barthelemy and St. Eustatius weren’t as lucky), and the Park Hyatt St. Kitts finally rolled out its welcome mat on Nov. 1 …
… to what might as well have been tumbleweeds, to go by what I saw when I stayed at the resort for two nights in mid-December. Staff members admitted that the 78-room, 48-suite resort had an 18-percent occupancy rate in what should have been one of its busiest months, and that it had been a slow start since the opening. (They added, however, that the place was fully booked for its first Christmas and New Year’s.)
The good news was that meant I had the run of the place to judge whether or not hordes of nonexistent sun worshipers are missing out on a great place to stay. Here’s what I found.
Before it opened, Hyatt had indicated that the Park Hyatt St. Kitts would be a Category 7 property in the World of Hyatt program, which means a free night costs you 30,000 points or a combination of 15,000 points and $300 per night with Hyatt’s Points + Cash option. However, for the dates of my stay, no points options were available.
I booked the room in cash directly through Hyatt, reserving a king room for $400 per night, for a total of $976 after taxes and surcharges. I booked my stay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which allowed me to earn 2,928 Ultimate Rewards points thanks to the card’s 3x bonus category for travel and dining expenses.
The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis has been ramping up its tourism sector ever since 2005, when the European Union ended three centuries of loyally buying St. Kitts sugar and started producing its own. It was a staggering blow to the tiny country, and the islanders had to quickly shift to jumpstarting tourism, trying to catch up to better-known Caribbean neighbors.
Part of that plan included turning the southernmost part of St. Kitts — a gooseneck that stretches toward Nevis — into a development that appealed to the super-yachting crowd (there’s a marina in Christophe Harbour) and the luxury-resort set. One issue, though, was that the roadless region in question was known only for, as my driver put it, “scrub, wild animals and houses for retirees who didn’t mind buying their groceries by boat.”
There’s a road and infrastructure in place now, but, besides the Park Hyatt, the marina and a handful of other restaurants and luxury homes, little else. For my visit, that meant that a stay at the Park Hyatt was essentially only a stay at the Park Hyatt. In other words, the resort was remote and inaccessible enough that any adventure or task that didn’t take place on hotel property took 30 minutes each way by taxi. (The hotel didn’t have its own shuttle service, but would arrange cab service for guests.) The trip to and from the airport? Thirty minutes (about $30 to $35). Trip to the main town, Basseterre? Thirty minutes. Trip to Brimstone Hill Fortress? Yep, 30 minutes, maybe more. After a single day, it began to add up, both in time and money. Sure, St. Kitts is tiny (68 square miles, and the big news while I was there was that it was getting its first traffic lights), but it felt dauntingly big by my fourth or fifth trip down that long, winding road over the peninsula to and from the hotel.
That said, if you’re OK with indulging in a stationary vacation, this was the place to do it. The Park Hyatt had a private beach on a tranquil stretch of Banana Bay that afforded it an inspiring view of the two-and-a-half-mile channel between the country’s two islands, with Nevis Peak towering over the horizon from almost anywhere on the property.
After a late-night arrival and ride from Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport (SKB), I left the hired van to find three members of the hotel staff already waiting to greet me by name and show me to check-in.
We walked down a hallway that wound through carefully manicured lily ponds (with named resident crabs) and into the check-in area, which was at the other end of the main building. There wasn’t a traditional lobby, per se, but rather a collection of public and meeting rooms, all done up in a combination of dark and whitewashed boards that used skylights, gossamer curtains and archways to turn glaring Caribbean sunlight into a soothing decorative element.
The gracious and friendly staff offered a fresh mixed-fruit juice and a wet facecloth, checked me in quickly and efficiently, and upgraded me to a sea-view suite because of the Globalist status. When I asked for a map of the property, the woman checking me in told me none were available yet. Instead of leaving it at that, though, she actually drew me a map of the entire resort by hand.
After check-in, another staff member drove me to my room in a golf cart.
My suite was on the second floor of a nondescript box building nestled in the farthest crook of the crescent of hills that surrounded the resort. It was about a five-minute walk from the main building, or a minute or two to the pool and Great House, where breakfast was served.
Once you got past the antechamber, which was shared with a neighboring suite, the room was divided roughly into four sections: the entry hall and walk-in closet, the living room, the bedroom and the bathroom, all of which could be closed off by wooden sliding doors. Furnished in broad, white wood boards, plantation shutters and propeller ceiling fans, it looked like it could’ve been home to a Caribbean plantation owner.
At most seaside resorts, hotel rooms are festooned with chintzy, pastel paintings of seashells, sailboats or lighthouses (the modern version is black-and-white close-up photographs of inanimate objects related to seafaring life). There wasn’t a single painting or photograph hung anywhere in this suite. I respected that.
The bed was comfortable and tended toward firmness, a definite plus. Instead of a clock radio or iPhone speakers, there was a small, simple travel clock by the bed, which was in keeping with the less-is-more aesthetic. The phone and a notepad were the only other items placed by the bed. A large flat-screen television hung from the wall separating the bedroom from the living room.
An identical TV hung on the opposite side of the same wall in the living room, which had an L-shaped couch, small tables of various sizes and a two-person dining table in the corner.
A hidden cabinet revealed a Nespresso machine, water bottles and the minibar, stocked with snacks and alcohol. The coffee and water were free; the minibar was not. (I stopped reading the menu at the $16 bag of nuts.)
The Wi-Fi, which came free for my stay, was mostly fast and reliable, though I had to log in each day. The second morning, however, there was no Wi-Fi for an hour when workers shut off power to the entire resort as part of a planned construction project. (The guests were warned about the power outage the night before.)
The bathroom was dominated by the bathtub, but there was also a rainfall shower and a toilet, both partitioned away in their own chambers. (Anyone smaller than Andre the Giant would have been fine with the shower.) There were his-and-her sinks and the usual amenities.
The contracting work wasn’t perfect: A piece of plastic molding on the back of the toilet kept falling throughout my stay. Room service and I both repeatedly replaced it, but the little bugger kept breaking loose every time someone shut a door even a little too forcefully.
The walk-in closet linked the entry hall and the bathroom and had the usual closet-type bric-a-brac, including slippers, a safe and items for clothes care. I drew the line at embedding a photograph of the closet here, because if that’s the deciding factor for you in booking a Caribbean vacation, you’re beyond any help I can offer you.
The turn-down service staff was friendly, quick and good at their work, and didn’t miss a spot. They left a small sweet on the dining table each night — a chocolate truffle the first night, a tiny Key lime pie the second.
Finally, the balcony was large enough for a small party, and had the kind of slatted roof that offers both shade and an open-air feel. I would’ve spent more time out there if the birds hadn’t taken to the roof even more than I did and pooped quite so much through the bars.
The balcony also had a sweeping view of part of the grounds and of Nevis Peak, which was awe-inspiring at sunrise and sunset.
Less inspiring, however, was the fact that the sliding door to the balcony was impossible to lock. After a call to the front desk about the issue, a maintenance crew fixed the issue within an hour. But when I opened the door the next time, the lock once again refused to clasp shut. I eventually gave up and left it unlocked for the rest of my stay.
Food and Beverage
There were three restaurants on the property: the Great House (breakfast, lunch and dinner), the Fisherman’s Village (seafood, open for lunch and dinner) and the Stone Barn (a steakhouse open only for dinner, which I didn’t try). The Great House had a choice of a buffet or a la carte breakfast, and I tried both.
The buffet wasn’t the most comprehensive layout, with a heavy emphasis on breads and pastries, but it nodded to the local cuisine in offering a more fish-heavy cold-cuts spread than most resorts.
Here’s where the attention to detail shone. It may sound like an exceedingly minor point, but the watermelon slices had the rinds cut off from all but the middle to form natural handles, so that they looked liked arrowheads. That’s the kind of thing that makes the fruit infinitely easier to eat by hand — and it was evidence that the people in the kitchen had really thought through what they were putting out for guests.
The a la carte menu was more focused on local favorites, which traditionally make use of the sea and preservation techniques and spin interesting flavors out of what could be mundane dishes in less-inventive hands. In this case, I tried a tuna creole, which was a patty formed from tunafish and chopped peppers topped with a creole sauce, plantain chips and gently toasted cornbread. It could’ve tasted like a rushed school lunch, but it was savory and sweet and probably the best and most creative variation on a tuna sandwich I’d ever had. (But, at around $24, also the most expensive.)
The servers were helpful and gregarious, though one brought black coffee when I’d ordered black tea.
The Fisherman’s Village sat on a pier over the water, and had wonderful views of the water and Nevis Peak. When you sat inside, the sleepy roar of the ocean waves lapping against the shore accompanied your meal.
The service was quick and warm and didn’t push too hard on the up-sell. They started me off with a Dark ‘n’ Stormy that was made with two Caribbean rums, yet managed to be light on the booze. By the time I’d finished my main course, it tasted mostly of melted ice and a splash of ginger beer.
The food, though, was excellent. The starter, a saltfish (i.e., salt cod) vichyssoise, was complex and deeply rich and flavorful, and if they’d brought a vat of the stuff I’d have taken a bath in it.
For the main, they brought out grilled mahi-mahi over coconut rice, wrapped in a banana leaf and topped with julienned carrots and lettuce. The fish was tender and flaky, the rice aromatic and steaming, and all of it thoroughly delicious.
Dessert was a zesty citrus posset, a citrus sorbet over a berry-granola mixture. It, too, was excellent. Overall, the dinner at the Fisherman’s Village, though expensive ($130), was great (though I’d order a different cocktail next time).
The night I arrived, I ordered room service, as the restaurants had all closed by 11:00pm and there was nowhere else to eat nearby. I ordered a mixed-vegetable kedgeree, which was made with pearl barley and a twice-cooked egg (basically a Scotch egg without the sausage) and spiced with cilantro and cumin. The egg was the perfect consistency, with set whites but yolks just runny enough to mash into the al dente barley. I found it tasty, but, at $30, wildly overpriced for such a small portion.
When it comes to amenities at tropical resorts, you really can’t overemphasize private beaches. And the beach at the Park Hyatt was constantly groomed, picturesque — and completely empty every time I walked it. There were easily more groundskeepers raking the sand than there were sunbathers.
There were two pools at the resort. On an upper level was the adult pool, an infinity pool that seemed to disappear at a parallel set of Roman arches that had more character than all resort’s generic structures combined. Below the adult pool and between each pair of arches was a day bed.
The main pool was on a lower terrace and gently descended from an artificial beach toward the Nevis Peak volcano, giving the illusion that the pool was a natural extension of the ocean. The real beach lay right below the far, infinity edge of the main pool.
On the top level of the resort lay the kids club, an open-air “fort” with an on-duty child-care professional and a wide array of activities, including a reassuringly short climbing wall.
Down on the beach, there was a watersports shack with surfboards, snorkeling gear and the like, but the two employees on duty looked like they hadn’t had anything to do in a long time, and no guests made their way there the entire weekend I was staying.
A staff member told me that a hotel boat could take guests across the narrow channel to Nevis for day trips, but I never had a chance to test that service out.
Near the kids club and pristine fitness center (and let’s be honest, you’re not here to learn about the fitness center), the spa was set off in its own complex, designed to look like a series of platforms floating on serenity pools, including a rainfall-fed reflection pool. There were saunas, plunge pools and massage huts.
The funny, welcoming Canadian masseuse who gave me a 30-minute Swedish massage (about $180) swore she couldn’t crack walnuts with her bare hands, but I didn’t buy it — she had a strong, disciplined touch, and the massage was both deeply soothing and invigorating. She also had a lot of on-the-nose comments about how brutal the commute can be in Toronto in the winter.
The spa’s signature building was the Sugar Mill, a recreation of a local landmark that, from the outside, looked like a prehistoric nuclear reactor’s cooling tower. It had an open roof, and was used for yoga classes and meditation. The effect was ruined somewhat because it sat next to a construction site, part of the resort that was still being built.
Another quick note about a seemingly minor observation that underscored how the resort got the details right: For some reason, a surprising number of tropical hotels and resorts I’ve reviewed (I’ve done something like 120 of them in total) have decided that the best material to use for their pathways is the kind of smooth, sometimes glossy stone that looks great on travel brochures but leaves flip-flop-wearing guests slipping and sliding like caught fish during the inevitable afternoon rain showers. The Park Hyatt’s paths had great traction even when you were climbing up a slope between the terraces after a light rain. It’s not as flashy or obvious as yet another Dale Chihuly mobile, but it’s a clear sign that someone at Hyatt knew what they were doing and really had the guests’ comfort and safety in mind.
To the Point
To paraphrase John Donne, no hotel is an island — even if it is, literally, on an island. That holds true even for higher-category Caribbean properties like the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, which has the misfortune of being a superb resort that has to wait for the rest of that part of St. Kitts to catch up to it. It’s too bad, too, because the service was friendly without being fawning, the attention to detail noticeable and the minor issues (mostly subpar contracting work) largely trivial.
If you’re any kind of explorer, the resort is too stuck in its own bubble to be worth the trip, at least for now. If you’re a plant-yourself-and-enjoy kind of traveler, or if you have kids, though, this is an ideal tropical playpen, and you should go now, before everyone else discovers this hidden corner of paradise.
Images courtesy of the author.
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