This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Setting the luxury benchmark for the Caribbean higher than ever before, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach (rooms from $1,600) in Puerto Rico, formerly the storied Laurance Rockefeller estate, is the most hotly anticipated blowout destination for the coming winter season. The 1,400-acre oceanfront resort is poised to welcome guests Dec. 12 and features VIP villa Su Casa, a five-acre Spa Botanico and Mi Casa restaurant, Jose Andres' first non-U.S. outpost. "I have fun memories of living in Puerto Rico in 1992, and Mi Casa honors the stories of the people and the food of this astonishing island," says the chef. Dorado Beach was once the Caribbean playground of Amelia Earhart, Joe DiMaggio, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and John F. Kennedy.
The legendary getaway of film stars, the French Riviera's Hotel du Cap maintains old-world standards, but its sexy new cousin, Eden Roc Cap Cana in the Punta Cana district of the Dominican Republic, is unveiling itself as equally glamorous but less buttoned-up. Milan designers Milan Carlo Belgir and Marina Nova and Dominican architect Franc Ortega created a luxury village (rooms from $800) set around lagoon-style pools with a '60s jet-set vibe. The members-only Caleton Beach Club offers full access to a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, beachfront spa and six restaurants.
Jamaica has resurfaced once again as a chic destination for the industry's beautiful people (Jay-Z and Beyonce as well as Kate Moss and crew rang in 2012 here), and Strawberry Hill in Kingston is perhaps the coziest hideaway in entrepreneur/producer Chris Blackwell's Island Outpost empire. The property's legend was sealed when Bob Marley recovered here after his 1976 shooting, and it continues to host music luminaries from The Rolling Stones to Grace Jones; a 2012 makeover added subtle modern touches to the 12 beachy Georgian-style cottages (from $355).
The Viceroy has exported its sexily sustainable, Kelly Wearstler-conceived design to Anguilla, Istanbul and now St. Lucia. A $100 million revival of a storm-destroyed property, the new Sugar Beach resort in the Caribbean comprises oceanfront villas and white-washed bungalows (rooms from $800), with a spa, restaurant and bar (complete with in-house rum-melier). New fans of the island include Justin Bieber, Kristen Stewart and Kanye West.
Any Aspen site that can claim that Johnny Depp partied with Hunter S. Thompson within its walls has major cred. To ensure the decor lives up to the folklore at Hotel Jerome (rooms from $1,097), reopening in December, designer Todd-Avery Lenahan recently refreshed the lobby's fireplace and Indian-rug-patterned tile floor by pairing them with heritage furnishings and contemporary artwork. The J-Bar, once Thompson's de facto office, retains its rough-and-tumble romanticism. (See picture below.)
Aspen's quotidian Silvertree has been lavishly transformed into Westin Snowmass Resort, reopening for the 2012-13 season. In Snowmass Village, which draws Kate Hudson, Jack Nicholson and Zoe Saldana, the resort holds 271 rooms (from $400), a spa, pool and a restaurant that offers ski-in, eat, ski-out service. The Ritz-Carlton Aspen Highlands (rooms from $1,350) has just emerged from a re-do, following a $40 million renovation of St. Regis Aspen (from $759) , but Nancy Davis, chair of L.A.'s annual Race to Erase MS gala benefit, prefers the luxurious Residences at Little Nell (from $1,540): "It's the chicest: They have butler service, drive you to and from the mountain, make sure you have sunscreen. They almost ski for you."
With its own film festival, Telluride now requires its own escapes. Element 52's residences (from $600) tuck into the mountains yet allow for a stroll into town. With a private ski lift and concierge, the up-to-five-bedroom hideaways are perfect for those with entourages or kids (like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, who vacationed there).
MEXICO: 12/21/12 and 'Doomsday Tourism'
The end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21 has created a cottage industry: If the world as we know it is ending, experience it in luxury and style. The Rosewood Mayakoba on the Riviera Maya (guests have included Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul McCartney and Katie Holmes) just unveiled its $1.6 million makeover and will host a New Beginnings Eve party at its beachfront palapa (rooms from $750). It sits on 1,600 acres of lagoon and forest, with a Greg Norman golf course, 17,000-square-foot spa and the swank Casa del Lego restaurant for that perfect, um, last meal. Does going out in lotus position sound peaceful?
The Yoga Retreat at Cuixmala (rooms average $645), with private villas set on 25,000 lush acres along Mexico's Pacific Coast, is celebrating with Mayan-referencing sand sculptures, live music and dance performances. Yogini Maya Fiennes (yep, sister-in-law of Ralph and Joseph) will assist guests in getting Zen.
The posh Zoetry Paraiso resort (rooms from $1,624) on the Riviera Maya has hosted Heidi Klum and Dustin Hoffman; expect more creative types with activities like Mayan cooking, language lessons and craft painting.
Or discover the ruins at Calakmul, Campeche, a seven-hour drive from glossy Riviera Maya. "It's buried in jungle, making the trek part of the romance of the journey," says Starz's Boss creator/EP Farhad Safinia, who wrote Apocalypto, which shot in Mexico. "None of the better known Mayan sites like Chichen Itza or Tulum feel this lost and off the beaten path."
Tiny Costa Rica, a travel hotspot for several years now, doesn't seem to be losing its luster (M. Night Shyamalan and Will Smith just shot La Fortuna there). For an escape from the tourist hubbub, seek the boutique hideaway Kura, the newest of London's tony Mr. & Mrs. Smith hotel collection. With six villas (from $540), the exclusive mountaintop property flaunts a cosmopolitan, neo-Cubist design, and the pool and restaurant (a spa with yoga pavilion is coming soon) are as chic as any in St. Tropez -- just hidden deep in the Osa Peninsula rain forest.
Perrey Reeves, best known for her role as Mrs. Ari on HBO's Entourage, has opened yoga retreat The Sanctuary at Two Rivers (from $1,500 a week) -- an antidote to a hectic, travel-weary lifestyle. "One minute you're living in L.A. and the next minute you're in Thailand doing a movie," the 17-year yoga veteran says. "That's what I'm used to, and this feels like an [answer to] that." Only four months old and just a thousand yards from the Pacific Ocean, the environmentally friendly center uses solar panels and local products and serves gourmet organic vegetarian and vegan cuisine (packages start at $1,300 a week). Reeves -- who is waiting to see if her Jerry Bruckheimer-produced pilot The Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives gets picked up -- and co-founder and entrepreneur Jeff Gossett put about 10 years into the making of the center. "When you're in nature, when you're going to bed when the sun goes down, and getting up when the sun rises, and you get into that rhythm, your body responds positively to it," says the actress. "I wanted to share that with people."