Earlier this year, while on a woefully quick trip to Turks and Caicos, my host spoke the greatest words my ears can ever hear: “I’m taking you to get the best steak on the islands.” A few minutes later, we were seated at Le Bouchon Du Village, where the owner and head chef scoffed at the notion I was about to eat the best steak in Turks and Caicos. “It’s the best steak in the world,” he said with a grin, and about 30 minutes later I completely agreed.
With that hunk of meat still on my brain, I jumped at the opportunity to return to Turks and Caicos a few months later, but this time a friend eagerly told me, “There’s a place called Salt… it has the best calzone in the world.” It’s a good thing I’m not allergic to hyperbole or I’d need an EpiPen the size of an oil tanker. But as luck (or foodie fate) would have it, I was spending my first night at Blue Haven Resort, the home of Salt, where I did, in fact, enjoy the best calzone I have ever had.
That’s sort of Turks and Caicos in a nutshell. There is something about these islands that causes people to seemingly oversell the experience, because no place can be this amazing, right? And yet, Turks and Caicos always delivers, from the steak au poivre and the calzone to the gorgeous beaches and kind, generous people. So, when I was offered the chance to visit Ambergris Cay, a private island resort from the Turks and Caicos Collection, I had no doubt that it would deliver the best vacation experience of my life.
It Starts with a Flight
Whenever someone asks me if I really love everything about Turks and Caicos, my reply is: “Well, not everything…” Providenciales International Airport isn’t exactly my favorite place to land (it’s certainly no Queen Beatrix International Airport), but let he who complains about tiny airports stay home, right? And tiny airports play a big part in this private island experience, because the only way to get to this resort that sits on Big Ambergris Cay is by private airplane.
It goes without saying that the involvement of a private plane makes any situation a VIP affair. I once flew from Orlando to Palm Beach in a 12-seat plane and I thought I was the king of England. At Ambergris Cay, the island’s small air strip leads right to the front door of the reception building, so this is truly the pinnacle of door-to-door service. It’s also the beginning of an extravagant vacation experience that gets better with each new revelation.
There’s Nothing Like Your Own Island
Most of us never really know what to expect when we hear the phrase “private island.” Admittedly, I think of old cartoons when there’s a little blob of sand sitting in the middle of the ocean, with coconut radios, and maybe the Harlem Globetrotters stop by, so part of me expects a private island resort to be a hotel that is basically surrounded on all sides by beaches. After all, that sounds pretty amazing. But Big Ambergris Cay is, well, big, and so getting around the resort was unexpectedly adventurous.
Once checked in, you’ll hop in your own golf cart and embark on the journey to your one-bedroom beachfront suite or three- or four-bedroom villa. This excursion also serves as a tour of the island, as there’s plenty of ground to cover between the resort’s facilities, and suites are also located on lower ground, while the villas are up the hills and closer to the other side of the island. It’s not like you’re traveling from one side of the main island to the other, but I definitely found out the hard way, driving back to my villa from dinner on the first night, that it’s very important to remember which turns to make.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get the hang of the layout after one or two rides around the island. I only accidentally wound up at the tennis courts once—okay, twice—when I was trying to get to the beach. If anything, it made me wish I packed my tennis gear.
Inside the Accommodations
Everything about this resort is romantic, so choosing the right accommodation comes down to preference. There are 10 one-bedroom beachfront suites lining the incredible white-sand beach, and while you will be close enough to wave hi to your neighbors, privacy is no concern, with each suite surrounded by native flora.
What makes these suites so amazing is the stunning-yet-simple design, which was created by Nicole van Schouwenburg. Enter the lone, beautifully decorated bedroom and you’ll see a king-size bed that faces the ocean and overlooks your private plunge pool. The bed sits on a wall that separates the room from the large closet and bathroom, and there is also a living space with couch in case you want to turn on your flat screen TV and then quickly turn it off when you remember everything that is right outside your massive windows. (Not turning on a TV is my favorite part of any trip, and I didn’t touch a remote the entire time I was at Ambergris Cay. Never even thought about it.)
The villas are also great for romance, as they offer significantly more privacy with less windows and a pool deck that is very well hidden from the eyes of other guests. But if I was recommending the villas for anything, it would be a family getaway or large gathering, as the three- and four-bedroom setups are perfect for families with multiple children, or extended families that have multiple couples. As of my visit there are three villas available: two three-bedrooms and one four-bedroom.
All villas can sleep up to eight people, and so all I could think during my entire stay was how the villas are laid out in such a way that we could easily host my entire family and my wife’s family for a huge reunion. There’s even enough space between the villas that we could keep the in-laws from fighting over politics.
When It’s Time to Eat
There are two restaurants at Ambergris Cay: Calico Jack and the Club House. The first is your traditional resort restaurant and bar, as Calico Jack sits near the suites, and just a quick golf cart ride from the villas. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this restaurant offers a combination of Caribbean and international cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh seafood dishes like paella and lobster. And just steps from the restaurant is the Calico Jack bar, where our bartender made craft cocktails like he was making art. Not only is there an impressive cocktail list, but the bartender went out of his way to make various drinks for us, including a strawberry margarita that made me hug him.
The Club House is a different experience, in that it has a rugged vibe and looks almost like a bait shack when you drive up. But looks are deceiving, and this spot will have kids of all ages running wild. For starters, there are classic and modern video games available (I went nuts for the stand-up arcade version of 1942) but the coolest part of this building is the kids’ art room, which offers everything from paint to Legos, and little guests even get to slap a hand print on the wall to let the world know the next Picasso once stayed here.
And then there was the Club House food. I am a grilling fool, and game respects game, so I was thrilled with the various chicken, beef and vegetable skewers we picked straight from the massive grill below the wraparound deck. This is a fantastic spot for a quick early lunch prior to a snorkeling excursion or even dinner after taking the paddleboards out.
Saying Goodbye is So Hard
There’s an old unattributed saying that goes something like this: “The hardest part of leaving a private island is knowing that you’re returning to a public island.” Okay, that’s not an actual saying, but it should be. Boarding that private plane for the return trip was once of the saddest vacation moments of my life, because what Ambergris Cay offers is truly the vacation experience of a lifetime.
Even the iguanas that snuck around us at lunch and dinner seemed happy to have us on their island, or maybe those lucky lizards were just rubbing it in my face that they never have to leave paradise.