When contemplating a Caribbean getaway, visions of aquamarine waves crashing against a honey-hued shoreline surely come to mind. What might not be as easy to imagine is where to bed down. Do you want to stay in a small boutique property or would a large all-inclusive better suit your needs? Whether you've come to the Caribbean for a family vacation, your honeymoon or an indulgent escape, you can't discount the importance of a booking the right hotel.
It may seem like a daunting task, but U.S. News' travel editors have done the legwork for you. Using an unbiased methodology that aggregates the opinions of travel experts and guests, we combed the Caribbean for the best hotels. We analyzed guidebooks, magazines and review-based websites to compile a list of properties that consistently receive accolades.
The properties that you'll find on the 2014 Best Hotels in the Caribbean rankings are a diverse group -- ranging from sprawling all-inclusive resorts to small boutique hotels. Dotting the Caribbean in popular locales like Jamaica and Punta Cana and more exclusive destinations like St. Barts and St. Kitts & Nevis, each hotel on this list stands out from its peers thanks to its memorable ambiance, upscale amenities and exemplary service.
10. Caneel Bay Resort
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Trading in last year's silver badge and upgrading to gold, Caneel Bay Resort cracked the top 10 for the first time this year. Whether it's the resort's location within the Virgin Islands National Park or its technology-free ethos (there are no TVs or telephones in the rooms), Caneel Bay is consistently described by guests as an oasis. This boutique resort took home the AAA Four Diamond award and claimed a coveted spot on the 2014 Condé Nast Traveler Gold list. Visitors can explore the 170-acre peninsula or cozy up in their rooms -- accommodations feature private balconies or terraces, Caribbean stone accents and views of the garden or Caneel Beach.
9. Jade Mountain
Soufrière, St. Lucia
Talk about a room with a view: Each of the "sanctuaries" at Jade Mountain is missing its fourth wall, offering unobstructed views of the Piton Mountains. Along with the spectacular scenery, Jade Mountain's unconventional accommodations also boast 15-foot-high ceilings and contemporary interiors crafted from tropical hardwood (some also feature private infinity pools). While it's not directly on the beach (reserve a room at Jade Mountain's sister property, Anse Chastanet, to be closer to the shoreline), this AAA Five Diamond property offers plenty of other ways to stay busy, like private yoga lessons and treatments at the Kai en Ciel spa.
8. Four Seasons Resort Nevis
Charlestown, St. Kitts & Nevis
Handing over its reign as the Best Hotel in St. Kitts & Nevis to the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis fell from the No. 5 to the No. 8 spot on the 2014 Best Hotels in the Caribbean ranking. But if the awards the resort received are any indication, this Four Seasons outpost hasn't lost any of its appeal: This year, it won the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award, among other industry accolades. Stretched across the golden sands of Pinney's Beach, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis is a guest favorite thanks to its ample facilities, including an 18-hole golf course, 10 tennis courts and an outdoor spa sanctuary.
7. Rosewood Jumby Bay
St. John's, Antigua
Two words: private island. Rosewood Jumby Bay sits on a secluded, 300-acre island 2 miles off the northwest coast of Antigua. If that's not enticing enough, consider this Rosewood resort's accolades: This year it earned the AAA Five Diamond honor, the Condé Nast Readers' Choice award and a spot on Travel + Leisure's annual 500 World's Best Hotels list. The resort's 40 rooms and villas are equally impressive with wrap-around terraces, private courtyards and outdoor garden showers. Of course luxurious amenities are nothing without impeccable service to match: Guests say the staff caters to every whim.
6. Nisbet Plantation Beach Club
Newcastle, St. Kitts & Nevis
Beating out its main competitor, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, this hotel -- set on a retired 18th-century sugar plantation -- proves small boutique properties pack just as big a punch as big, brand-backed resorts. If the intimate feel of Nisbet Plantation Beach Club isn't enough of a draw (the hotel boasts just 36 guest rooms and suites), perhaps its lush setting is. The hotel's lemon-tinted cottages are spread out across 30 acres of tropical greenery on Nevis' northeastern coast. Explore the grounds on a hike or a horseback ride and see why Nisbet Plantation earned a AAA Four Diamond award, plus recognition from Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.
5. Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France
Baie des Flamands, St. Barts
Set against the waters of Flamands Beach, the whitewashed walls of Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France are easy to recognize. Though this AAA Four Diamond hotel fell three spots (it held the No. 2 place on the Best Hotels in the Caribbean 2013 ranking), the 40-room hotel consistently wows guests with its stylish interiors and impeccable service. Past visitors say the hotel's location right on the shore is what sets this St. Barts hotel apart from the rest. Travel publications seem to agree: Hotel Saint-Barth earned a place on the 2014 Condé Nast Traveler Gold and Travel + Leisure 500 World's Best Hotels lists. When they're not admiring the view from their rooms, guests can enjoy the hotel's secluded setting with a horseback ride along the shore or a treatment at the outdoor spa pavilion.
4. Eden Rock, St. Barths
Baie de St. Jean, St. Barts
Beating Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France for the title of Best Hotel in St. Barts, Eden Rock also received awards from AAA, Condé Nast and Travel + Leisure this year. This Relais & Châteaux property is perched on a rock overlooking St. Jean Bay along St. Bart's northern shore. Travelers can enjoy the scenery from the aptly named restaurant, On the Rocks, or from the rooms' private terraces. For something out of the ordinary, consider booking the Villa Nina -- of the many amenities this room boasts (like a swimming pool, whiskey bar and private butler), perhaps its most distinctive is a private art gallery.
3. Spice Island Beach Resort
St. George's, Grenada
A newcomer to the top 10 list, Grenada's Spice Island Beach Resort improved 10 spots from the No. 13 place it held last year. Occupying 8 acres of prime real estate on Grand Anse Beach, this AAA Four Diamond winner receives as much praise from guests as it does from experts: Visitors frequently describe the 32-room boutique hotel as magical thanks to the courteous staff and choice location. While Spice Island's position on Grenada is ideal for exploring the island or participating in complimentary snorkeling, kayaking and sailing, the accommodations also receive a hefty amount of praise, especially the Seagrape Beach Suites. These digs feature a private patio and garden, a double hammock and a whirlpool tub that looks out over the ocean.
2. Jamaica Inn
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Even in a vacation destination saturated with all-inclusive resorts, the intimate, 48-suite Jamaica Inn manages to stand out, moving up two spots this year from No. 4 to No. 2. Though the inn's private shoreline, beachfront spa and spacious, antique-filled rooms are no doubt alluring, the hotel's attentive staff is what keeps guests coming back again and again. Previous visitors say they were treated like royalty, with every service member remembering guests' names and personal preferences. Lodgers' praise is also reflected in the accolades the Jamaica Inn received this year, including the Condé Nast Readers Choice award.
1. Tortuga Bay
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
For the second year in a row, Punta Cana's Tortuga Bay claimed the title of Best Hotel in the Caribbean. With its private beachfront, Oscar de la Renta-designed decor and lavish, all-suite accommodations, it's easy to see why this small, AAA Five Diamond property earned top marks from travel experts and guests alike. While visitors appreciate the abundant amenities -- like the two golf courses, the Six Senses Spa and the ample water sports equipment available for use -- lodgers are also quick to praise the personalized service. Recent guests say they felt welcome as soon as they set foot on the property, describing Tortuga Bay as blissful.
-- Ann Rivall