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Caribbean Incentives – JAAC’s Experiences

By on November 13, 2013

Over the past few  years, JAAC has been fortunate enough to manage several incentive events in the Caribbean.   We have taken groups to Nassau in the Bahamas, St Maarten, Costa Rica (twice), Aruba (twice) and St. Lucia.  The following are candid reports on our experiences which we hope you will find to be helpful when selecting a destination.

Nassau, Bahamas

After conducting site inspections of the British Colonial Hilton (recently renovated with spectacular results), Sheraton, Wyndham and Sandals resorts, we opted for the Wyndham and were certainly not disappointed.   Whilst each of the other resorts would have served us perfectly well, what sold us on the Wyndham at the time were the unprecedented level of service and the willingness of the hotel to accommodate our request for all-inclusive and upgraded rooms for all the guests.  The Corner Suites were all newly appointed and offered excellent views, comfortable beds and seating area and a separate dressing area and large bathroom. 

The buffet breakfast had a myriad of interesting and unusual selections and the evening events were for the most part spectacular, with each night having quite a different flavour in menu and atmosphere.  We had a poolside Welcome Reception which was probably one of the best Caribbean events I can remember, with interactive food stations and a pleasant ambiance created by the brand new LED lighting around the pool and in the palm trees.  

Another night, we held a beach barbecue with a limbo dancing competition which was a huge success.  The tables were set in the sand and many finishing touches were included at no extra cost, including upgraded linen, chair covers and a complete outdoor kitchen with chefs cooking à la minute. 

Nassau’s Tourism Bureau was a delight to work with, offering several attractive incentives and discounts on WestJet, who fly to Nassau several times a week.  Air Canada currently offers a daily service to Nassau.

St Maarten/St  Martin

Rather a unique experience at the Sonesta Maho Beach resort on the Dutch side of the island, where you can watch planes land at very close proximity from your bedroom window and witness crazy people being blasted by jet fuel and catapulted at alarming speed down the beach, as planes take off from the end of the runway.   We were there in 2010 and the hotel was undergoing a complete renovation, scheduled to be completed by 2011, however looking at the Maho Beach website, the bedrooms look very much the same as they did three years ago.  The five restaurants had very similar menus to one another, with breakfast definitely being the best value in terms of variety. 

On the plus side, one of the most exciting experiences of my life was in St Maarten, racing in an America’s Cup catamaran, with two teams of high achieving sales agents, East versus West.  Definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone looking for an adrenalin rush.  The nightlife and duty free shopping in St Maarten are excellent, however for an overall more elegant and cosmopolitan experience, my recommendation would be to stay in St Martin, the French side of the island.   

Aruba

After our first experience at the Riu Palace Aruba, I swore we would never take another group there.   However memories fade and at the request of the same client, two years later we returned to a much more positive experience.  The issue the first time was that the resort simply did not welcome groups and every request was greeted with a “No, we don’t do that”.  Unfortunately the contract had already been signed by the client, so after the site inspection for our first trip, we simply opted to take all group events off site, with spectacular results.  Our Destination Management company, De Palm Tours were outstanding, organizing each event down to the last detail for us, including a welcome dinner cruise operated by Red Sail Sports Aruba and De Palm’s own Jeep Rally along the wilder coast of Aruba.  The final dinner was held at Marandi restaurant, where you have to arrive early to catch the spectacular sunset.   There are two very acceptable golf courses on the island, both of which were regularly frequented by our group.

On our second trip to Aruba, we were delighted to find that the Riu Palace had changed their modus operandi and were now willing to offer some group events.  Whilst we basically repeated our successful experiences from two years’ prior, we also held a very pleasant welcome reception in Barry’s Bar as the guests had a late arrival time, and the closing dinner was held close to the beach with background music courtesy of JAAC’ iPOD as neither a DJ nor a band was permitted outside.  The food continues to be outstanding at the Riu Palace with one of the most interesting buffets for breakfast and dinner that I have experienced at any resort.  The bedrooms are very large with plenty of amenities and all with some level of ocean or poolside view.  The beds are extremely hard and the bathrooms floors are lethal when wet.   All that being said however, Aruba is definitely worth a visit and there are many other excellent hotels along the same strip, including the Westin and the Park Hyatt.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Caribbean.  Our group stayed at the Westin Playa Conchal, which is an idyllic oasis on the Pacific side of the island, a region still relatively unspoiled and free of endless stretches of hotels.  Whilst the beach area was not as inviting as others we have experienced, the pool area was gorgeous.  Most of the bedrooms are split level suites and housed in condominium type buildings of eight units each. 

The Royal Beach Club is recommended for high-end groups, however if you are booking through a tour group such as Nolitours, these rooms may be limited in quantity, so best to check first.   Benefits of the Royal Beach Club include concierge service, private dining at breakfast and advance reservations for the à la carte restaurants.    Personally I found the condominium suites to be just as comfortable and much closer to the restaurants and night life if you preferred to walk everywhere.  A shuttle service is available throughout the resort, however it can be a little sporadic at peak times.   An outstanding golf course is attached to the resort and after 4:00pm there are guided tours of the course available with some spectacular sites such as the “Walking trees” and another tree filled with sleeping iguanas.

Our destination management company was Swiss Travel and they organized some exciting tours for us, including a river cruise in open boats surrounded by crocodiles – not for the faint of heart.  An all-terrain vehicle ride through the rain forest and rugged countryside was deemed to be the best experience of the trip, especially when preceded by zip lining and culminating in a delicious lunch at an exclusive beach resort,  the Bahia Del Sol, with the opportunity to swim and enjoy the  dazzling (and very hot) white sandy beach.   The trip was booked via Sunquest, however Air Canada Vacations, West Jet Vacations and Nolitours also operate tours there, so shop around for the best price.

St Lucia

My first Sandals experience outside of a FAM trip.   Of all the resorts we visited on the site inspection, the Sandals Grande St Lucia was the most accommodating and interesting in terms of events that could be done on site.  On the negative side, the bedrooms were quite dark and shabby, and many had poor views, despite being called Ocean View.   This was by far the most expensive trip that we have organized, however it was still excellent value for money, given the destination.  The beach was spectacular and there were several exclusive areas where guests could hide for some down time.  The spa was a good standard but very noisy and the food was plentiful and tasty, with options for all tastes.

We used a DMC called Tropical Holidays Ltd, recommended to us by a colleague.   This is an excellent DMC to use for a high-end group as they provide luxury SUV’s through their subsidiary, Executive Club Caribbean, for airport transfers and shuttles to restaurants and they also have access to some of St. Lucia’s more exclusive resorts, such as Jade Mountain and The Landings.  Tropical Holidays organized a wonderful day out sightseeing and exploring the rain forest and spectacular views of the island.  The day was completed by a catamaran tour with a delicious lunch and the opportunity to snorkel in a secluded cove, followed by a coastal cruise and ending by being delivered directly onto the beach at Sandals to our delight and the consternation of Sandals security!

If I had to choose between these five destinations, it would be very difficult, as each excels in its own way.  The ultimate experience does not have to depend on budget, as much of the pleasure is derived from being immersed in a beautiful country where relaxation and excitement don’t have to cost anything.   For a luxurious experience, plan on spending between $3,800 and $4,500 per person (double occupancy) for the flights, all inclusive accommodations and off site events. 

 

Jyl Ashton Cunningham is the President of JAAC Corporate Enterprises, based in Ontario and now expanding into Scotland.  Jyl welcomes your comments and can be reached at info@jaacevents.com.

 

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