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New in the Caribbean

Making Waves
It's showtime in the islands, where seven ready-to-rumble resorts have shot up from the sand. The big chill-out was never more sizzling.

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At the airport in San Juan, while our luggage is taking a sweet eternity to arrive, my date insists upon teaching me to swing-dance. And so we twirl between the carousels, oblivious to the bemused passengers. This is a novel experience. Soon, in an unrelated episode, a woman I have never met before places heated stones on my oiled body. This, too, is new. Ah, the new. How we love it. But a few days later (yes, at a resort just 45 minutes away), another woman I have never met before places heated stones on my oiled body. How quickly the new becomes old.

In the Caribbean, resorts are perpetually opening like so many hopeful flowers. Or -- when I'm feeling less charitable -- juddering to life like so many Frankenstein monsters. It is a difficult thing to capture a location at the eureka moment: At the time you choose to visit, some will still be lying on the slab, waiting for that jolt of life-giving electricity, whereas others will already have gone on to terrify scantily clad innocents. It is rare when delivery matches anticipation, but I spend a few weeks trying to find just this as I investigate the latest resorts at every level of price, from the shiny and new to the shoddy and nouveau.

Stirred, Not Shaken

Unless you're a supermodel, a billionaire, or an East German mole, chances are that Goldeneye in Jamaica will be pretty new to you. The property was originally Ian Fleming's estate, and it was here that he conceived James Bond. Later, Goldeneye was bought by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who made it available to his personal friends. Only now is it open to the public -- not to John Q. Public, mind you, but to John D. Public III: Goldeneye is not for the faint of pocketbook.

Take the main house, for instance, which I occupy all too briefly with my haughty, tempestuous date. With three glorious bedrooms, it generally houses six occupants, paying a collective $2,500 a night. Each bedroom opens onto a huge outdoor bathroom: You have a choice of an antique ceramic tub raised on an altar or a shower that drains into smooth stones. And when you are nice and clean, you can make your way into the living-and-dining area, equal parts opium den and animist temple, where you can worship or recline upon echt-Balinese objects, including totemic sculptures and bedlike chairs.

Long before Vishnu sent his chic avatars to retool the décor, Liz Taylor hung out here, as did Errol Flynn and Noël Coward (whose own decadent estate, Firefly, is a short drive away). Fleming's desk still stands in a corner of the master bedroom -- you can write a prurient thriller at it, should you so desire -- but chances are you will entertain in a somewhat different mode. An expensive stereo with a changer full of CDs provides a library of reggae and world music: Chris Blackwell, the owner, sold Island Records for a whack of cash in 1989 and now operates a new label, Palm Pictures, and a handful of the most sophisticated hotels in the Caribbean.

Goldeneye's fifteen acres include four slightly lesser villas. Naomi Campbell, for instance, prefers the two-bedroom farthest from the main house: It's nicely private and is $400 a night. A three-bedroom villa is only $1,000. The living quarters are splashed with bright paint and feature idiosyncratic baths handcrafted by locals. Three of the villas have a kitchen and the option of dining indoors or out. A TV-VCR and a stereo ensure that you will never be too far from the benevolent influence of Island Records.

Blackwell prides himself on his eco-sensitivity -- this tends to happen to people who spend too much time with supermodels -- and guests are invited to plant a tree. Martha Stewart planted a lemon tree; Christy Turlington and Jim Carrey have plaques on theirs.

Dr. No was filmed here, and I'm prepared for rafts of kitsch: naked waitresses painted gold, gymnastic security guards in bikinis, a fat concierge stroking a white Persian. But no: The predominant aesthetic is Balinese, which has more to do with the latest trends in island décor than with sophisticated sexism from the sixties. Bazillionaires in the Caribbean compete, it seems, to see who can be the most authentically Balinese. Virgin CEO and frustrated balloonist Richard Branson did up his entire private island like Bali, and Blackwell poached his designer to renovate Goldeneye in 1998.


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