All-Inclusive Update: Overwater Bungalows

Picture the Maldives or Tahiti and “overwater bungalows” are likely to come to mind. Over-the-top accommodations stretching out from the shore and standing above the water — about as picturesque and romantic as a hotel can be. In fact, overwater bungalows are among the most popular requests from clients, according to many of the travel advisors we speak to. The good news is that Americans don’t need to jetset across the globe to lavish in these accommodations — they’re popping up in the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and beyond, all just a few hours from the States. 

Here’s an array of overwater accommodations, all found within North or Central America, and all belonging to all-inclusive hotels. 

Perhaps some of the most popular overwater bungalows in the Caribbean belong to Sandals Resorts. Three properties — Sandals Royal Caribbean and Sandals South Coast in Jamaica and Sandals Grande St. Lucian in St. Lucia — all offer over-the-water accommodations. Sandals’ bungalows have expansive patios with hammocks suspended over the water, outdoor showers, swim-up platforms and freestanding soaking tubs for two. The interiors offer glass floors, allowing guests to experience the ocean from their villa. All bungalows come with 24-hour butler service; guests also receive private transfers to and from the airport in private luxury cars.

Bungalows at Sandals South Coast, here and below, have expansive patios with hammocks suspended over the water. The interiors offer glass floors. 

Both Sandals South Coast and Sandals Grande St. Lucian offer one overwater-style accommodation: The Over-the-Water Honeymoon Butler Bungalow. At Sandals Royal Caribbean, however, there are two options: The Over-the-Water Private Island Butler Honeymoon Bungalow and the Over-the-Water Private Island Butler Villa with Infinity Pool (the top such accommodation). The latter villa offers all the same amenities as the others, plus the added benefit of your own private infinity plunge pool.  

The peak times of year for Sandals’ Over-the-Water Bungalows are typically February and March, but these are an extremely sought-after accommodation year-round. Travel advisors often begin booking the Over-the-Water Bungalows a year-and-a-half in advance.

So, what’s new? Since December of 2019, Sandals Royal Caribbean, located in Montego Bay, has unveiled a slew of enhancements, including three new restaurants: Spices, serving Pan-Caribbean favorites; Bombay Club, offering Indian cuisine with dishes like the popular Butter Chicken and vegan and vegetarian options like Aloo Gobi; and La Tavola, a family-style Italian restaurant. The South Pool in 2020 was revamped with new cabanas with fans and lighting, a new jacuzzi and new outdoor shower area. The resort in December also opened 48 new accommodations: 12 new Crystal Lagoon Hideaway Swim-up Club Level Junior Suites with Patio Tranquility Soaking Tubs and 36 new Crystal Lagoon Hideaway Junior Suites with Balcony Tranquility Soaking Tubs. 

From Sandals South Coast, the resort (also in December 2020) debuted its Swim-up Rondoval Suites, located along a 17,040-square-foot pool — touted as the longest pool in the western hemisphere. Guests can also opt for the updated 112-room Dutch Village with direct access to two new swim-up pools. A modern wedding venue is also being added to adorn the garden in the resort’s Italian Village.

Good to know: Sandals has created a special team of travel advisor development managers to work with travel advisors for bookings and special requests. (There’s also the Travel Agent Booking Portal, available to advisors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.) That said, travel advisors should contact Tremaine Hart ([email protected]), one of Sandals’ trade managers. 

Another option in the Caribbean is Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa. The adults-only Chairman Overwater Bungalows are the first and only overwater bungalows on the island of Antigua; these bungalows are equipped with upgraded amenities and personal touches from private airport transfers, check-in and butler service to complimentary snorkel equipment, “sunset mixology” on the terrace and personal fitness/yoga classes taught on the bungalow’s deck. (For those last two, be sure to book at least a day in advance.) Guests staying at least three nights also receive a complimentary romantic dinner served in your bungalow, including a bottle of wine.

Each overwater bungalow has a private infinity plunge pool, a hammock, a king-size bed, a living area, ocean entry from the deck and a glass floor to experience the ocean from your villa. We also like the Bvlgari bath amenities and biodegradable sunscreen (always points for sustainability!). 

The Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa’s adults-only Chairman Overwater Bungalows, here and below, are the first and only overwater bungalows on the island of Antigua.

The weeks surrounding Christmas and New Years are the busiest. Royalton recommends looking to book a Chairman Overwater Bungalow a minimum of five months in advance; although during the busiest travel periods it’s not uncommon for guests to book up to a year in advance — so be aware if travel is during festive season.

For bookings, travel advisors can reach out to Craig Marshall ([email protected]), the newly appointed director of sales, Eastern Caribbean, or Jorge Espejo ([email protected]), regional director of sales, Eastern Caribbean.

Good to know: The Chairman Overwater Bungalows are located in the resort’s Diamond Club section, offering upgraded service, exclusive à la carte restaurants and bar areas, and its own pool and beach areas. Among others, dining options include a steakhouse, an Italian restaurant, a Caribbean restaurant and grille, brewhouse and international buffet.

Tip: For an added fee, there’s a seven-course chef’s table dining experience. 

There’s also some big news from the resort: In February, Marriott International made a significant expansion of its all-inclusive portfolio through a long-term agreement with Sunwing Travel Group’s hotel division, Blue Diamond Resorts, which has a portfolio of resort properties throughout the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. The agreement will add 19 franchised resorts, totaling nearly 7,000 rooms to Marriott’s portfolio — among them, Royalton Antigua, which will join its Autograph Collection.

There are no changes expected due to the partnership with Marriott International; however, Royalton says it’s planning to increase the unique experiences offered in the Chairman Overwater Bungalows, both in terms of services offered and amenities provided to the guests (although there’s no word yet as to what, as of press time).

In Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Palafitos at El Dorado Maroma are your best option. Blending contemporary with authentic Mexican style, these suites offer a king-size bed or two double beds, a private balcony or terrace, a private pool and indoor hot tub, and a marble-top bathroom with double sinks. They are located off Maroma Beach, just steps away from a semi-private pool.

Tip: Be sure to ask for the Elite Overwater Bungalows. They are the same as the “standard” Palafito Overwater Bungalows, except these are located at the end of the pier, offering a preferred location.

The Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa’s adults-only Chairman Overwater Bungalows

The busiest time for the resort is November through mid-April (with peak in March), plus major holidays, so we recommend booking at least four months in advance for better pricing and availability. There’s no direct contact; however, travel advisors can contact the team via the property’s travel advisor expert desk at [email protected] or 1-888-908-0442.

The new Náay Spa has over 5,000 square feet and is inspired by Mayan traditions and modern techniques. Facilities include 14 treatment suites, including two bridal suites, a beauty salon, hydrotherapy facilities, a fitness center with a CrossFit area, and a sensorial relaxation room.

Looking for relaxation inspiration? The Holistic Treatment experience combines the benefits of traditional Mexican herbal remedies, with aromatherapy and massage; it begins with a sea salt, rosemary, mint, and chamomile scrub, followed by a detoxifying mask. It finishes up with a relaxing massage. We also like the Tequila Ritual (“tequila’s not just for drinking anymore,” El Dorado Maroma says). The skin treatment uses a combination of tequila and melon extract that removes dead skin cells and improves circulation; this is followed up by a white clay detox wrap with blue agave and melon extract and finished with a 30-minute massage.

The Palafitos at El Dorado Maroma, here and below, come with an infinity pool, unobstructed views of the ocean, glass-bottom floors and a dedicated butler. 

F&B options include Caribbean and Mexican fare, Asian cuisine, Peruvian and Italian restaurants, a beach club with international cuisine and more. Tip: Guests can also request a romantic dinner on the beach. 

For something maybe a bit more “exotic,” Belize also has a selection of over-water bungalows. Our pick would be Cayo Espanto, a private island resort near San Pedro. It’s recommended that guests fly into Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, servicing Belize City; from there, they will be greeted by a resort representative, where they may board a local flight to San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, followed by a seven-minute boat ride. Alternatively, they may take a helicopter transport directly to Cayo Espanto island. 

Each of the resort’s villas, including the over-the-water-bungalow (known as Casa Ventanas), includes a private dock, a butler, personalized meals hand-crafted by the on-island chef (using local and fresh ingredients), on-island non-motorized water sports and more.

Note: There are only seven accommodations on the entire island and just one is of the “overwater bungalow” variety. Casa Ventanas offers 1,100 square feet and one bedroom, located at the end of a private 150-foot dock.   

Looking to get out of the bungalow and explore the area a bit? Snorkel trips, private yacht excursions and jungle tours can all be arranged. Sport fishers will enjoy that the island is a popular spot for bonefish, a prized catch. Other popular species include tarpon, barracuda, parrot fish and snappers. The reservations team can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 1-888-666-4282. 

Tip: Cayo Espanto’s busiest time of year tends to be February through June. If there are specific dates someone has in mind that they would prefer for their stay, with no flexibility, then the resort recommends booking at least six months ahead of time. 

The Palafitos at El Dorado Maroma

We love that dining is completely customized: A new menu, led by chef Patrick (a graduate of the California Culinary Academy) is created daily to suit your tastes, based on a survey you are asked to fill out before you even arrive on the island. Sample lunches might include a Barrier Reef crab salad Napolean with crisp flour tortilla triangles, avocado and fresh herb bouquet or Cayo’s classic jerk chicken Caesar salad with croutons and shredded local Dutch cheese coconut-infused flan with a macaroon chip. For dinner, think almond-crusted local grouper fillet nestled on blackened corn and plantain mash studded with bacon and roasted garlic, all drizzled with island-made mole sauce or char-grilled lamb chops with sauteed green beans and beet curls over Lyonnaise potatoes finished with a cherry-infused pinot sauce.

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