To get to the Viceroy resort on the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla, I flew first from New York to St. Maarten, where the closest sizable airport is located. During the flight, I sat next to a family of four, each member bursting with the pent-up excitement of an imminent vacation. As we chatted, I learned that the husband/dad worked on Wall Street and that the family would also be staying at the Viceroy.
From the St. Maarten airport, I took a shuttle bus to a ferry station and hopped on a boat. When the boat reached Anguilla, a cab picked me up for the final leg of the trip. When I arrived at the sprawling Viceroy, I settled pretty immediately into the outdoor bar and took up chatting with the man sitting next to me, a mushroom farmer from Pennsylvania on his honeymoon.
These two run-ins sum up the company to be kept at the Viceroy. Hedge funders fork over a couple days’ salary for a week in a villa, while honeymooners might fork over a whole half-year’s to pay for one of the resort’s 166 rooms. Whether or not you think the outlay is worth it most likely depends on what you generally hope to get out of a vacation.
I was staying in a suite that during the high season goes for $1250 per night, with a living room, open kitchen, bedroom, and a private terrace as big as all of those combined, boasting a seating area of its own, plus a plunge pool that could become a hot tub if you so wished—which we did, spending a late night situated in it, drinking and soaking and watching a wedding reception in the pool area below us grow increasingly drunken. The suite was huge, slick with marble, and it was impersonal. It felt like a hotel room.
The décor throughout the resort tells visitors first and foremost that it is expensive, not that it is genuine or creative. Oodles of money have very clearly been spent on bringing it all together, even without taking into account the absurd cost of goods and services on Anguilla. This is the work of Kelly Wearstler, whose qualifications as an interior designer include being married to the hotelier responsible for the Viceroy chain. The aesthetic she implemented in some ways reflects the landscape around it, full as it is of browns and bristle. Many reviews of the hotel compare it to what one would find in South Beach, and indeed Wearstler is known for her over-the-top inclinations—the New York Times, the New Yorker and many less serious publications have gushed about her profuse use of color and lack of patience for notions of good taste dictated from on high. But the Viceroy in Anguilla contradicts that reputation, with its muted shades of non-color and reliance on texture and shape to create interest. The effect is vaguely futuristic and not at all Caribbean. Its aura of conservative chic seems to have sprung from no discernible history or culture—this hotel could be anywhere with a good beach. Except, I’d say, South Beach.
A cultural experience the Viceroy is not. It is, rather, a self-contained snow globe of familiar food, strategically placed pools, cool and comfortable design, and guileful hospitality, all cradled by a series of truly perfect beaches. While it’s not an all-inclusive resort, guests aren’t made to feel as though they’re meant to leave the premises during their stay.
There’s not a whole lot to see in Anguilla, anyway, and what is there can be eye-poppingly expensive. Elvis’ Beach Bar is worth a night out for lethal rum punch, decent Mexican food and mingling with some of the island’s 13,000 locals, and Roy’s Bayside Grill, near the hotel, serves American-friendly breakfast, lunch and dinner right on the beach, at prices that are more forgiving than those on most of the island. The 35 square miles of the island itself are flat and arid aside from the top draw, the string of beaches, each more idyllic than the next. Anguilla’s hard to get to, but the payoff is an island that is emphatically left off the cruise ship circuit—there are no hordes of day trippers spilling onto the sand for a few frenzied hours, and as a result the beaches retain a shipwrecked charm. Free of charge, I would add.
The Viceroy excels in making those beaches into an experience. Snorkeling gear, standup paddleboards, kayaks and boogie boards are available to guests free of charge from a shack at the edge of Meads Bay just east of the hotel. There’s a beach bar, too, to the west in Barnes Bay, although it never seemed to be open when we walked by (during a trip in early May). Both beaches remained largely empty, as most guests at the Viceroy seemed to prefer one of the three pools, one of which is exquisite—a dark infinity pool next to the bar, where all the grownups ought to congregate. More crowded was the more traditional hotel pool surrounded by rentable cabanas, and a kids pool that I didn’t properly experience.
Other amenities include five different spots to order food of varying formality, a day spa (where I received a solid body scrub), tennis courts, a rock-climbing wall, a basketball court and a putting green. The staff, in a show of local flavor, refrain from doting on guests, an extension of the general feeling you’ll get on Anguilla that the locals aren’t particularly captivated by your presence. That’s tit for tat, given that at the Viceroy, guests aren’t generally spending their time getting to know Anguilla, either. Still, one might expect that at these prices, a little doting might come complimentary.