What is accommodating about the Caribbean, that warm bathtub in which Americans come to dip a frostbitten toe each winter, is that you can have it Spanish, French, British, Dutch or U.S.A. You can have it with $4 Chanel and $3 Scotch. This winter you can have it with Willie Mays or Princess Margaret. Any winter you can have it in your shirt sleeves, for, unlike Florida, there are no cold waves to send you scurrying for a topcoat. You can be sure if it's West Indies.
MARGARET AND WILLIE
As for Margaret, she will spend the month of February waltzing up the isles of Old Blighty, from Trinidad to the Bahamas, with stops at Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts and Jamaica. As for the prince of swat, Mr. Mays will be wintering under the palms of Puerto Rico where he will be on exhibition with Ruben Gomez and the gentlemen of Santurce until it's time for spring training.
From Miami, sometimes known as Neon-sur-mer, it's an hour to Cuba, which has Havana, Hemingway and hissing all on one island. You hiss for trolley cars, for buses and for waiters, which leaves I don't know what for villains. You buy a shirt with the tails hanging over the side, you buy immense cigars at minuscule prices and you get thrown to the mambo so often that six lessons from Madame LaZonga before departure shouldn't be a total loss.
For anyone who likes to exercise passages from Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon, Haiti speaks French, feels warm, acts African. The ladies wear brilliant bandannas and pad the hills with a startling undulation. And while the voodoo drums still roll loud and clear out of the jungle and you can find conch stew and mango pie and sweet potato pudding and the most fantastic market in the Caribbean, the new hotels—take the Simbie, opening this winter, for instance—have swimming pools and air-conditioned rooms and rates that soar as high as $50 a day for two, with food.
With rare exception, the rates are no higher than this over in the colonial acres of Jamaica, which celebrates 300 years under British rule in 1955. Well inside this figure you can go progging for lobsters at Silver Seas, a place that puts on floor shows complete with donkeys, chickens, goats and an impresario named Lord Composer who votes under the cognomen of Roy Muddle. You ought to see the magnificent garden layout at Shaw Park, you ought to go river-rafting down the Rio Grande and you ought to indulge in the sheer Maughamicry of lunching at the Myrtle Bank in Kingston while the red and gold Zouave band blares on the lawn.
San Juan has bright bulbs and gaming tables, a shiny Hilton hotel and a wonderful French restaurant called La Rada, not to forget Se√±or Mays, the garden keeper of Santurce. The pink-washed Virgins, a few air minutes away, offer all sorts of sophistication. The Rockefellers are sprucing up the off-beat isle of St. John, and the gentle acres of St. Croix will be decorated come this winter with The Henge, the Caribbean cousin of Victor Gilbert's Stonehenge, that den of urbanity nestling in the Connecticut hills near Ridgefield.
WHY NOT TAKE SABA?
You may wonder what's left for the banana tourist. Plenty. Take Saba, which is merely a mountain rising out of the sea and reachable only by boat. In a jeep you climb the concrete road and when you reach the mountain top you are at Bottom (pop. 1,175). Or get thee to Bequia, with sloop service twice a week from St. Vincent's. It has six miles of real estate, lots of beach, but no lights, no cars, no movies. The tariff is $2.70 a day, room and meals.
The only other bargains like that are in the Caribbean's "free ports"—Jamaica (perfume, watches, English china, British fabrics), St. Thomas (Scotch is $2.25 a fifth, cigarets $1.10 a carton, and look for Swedish glass and Danish silver), and Curacao, whose beach is pictured opposite (goods of the Orient, Swiss watches at half U.S. price, German cameras). The bargain basement of the Caribbean, Cura√ßao—let's face it—is Klein's-by-the-Sea.