A selection of Caribbean villa rental agencies:
Representing villas in the Virgin Islands
Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin
Jamaican Association of Villas and Apartments
Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Virgin Islands
McLaughlin-Anderson Luxury Villas
Virgin Islands, Grenada
The Mustique Co.
St. Barth Properties
Villas by Linda Smith
Anguilla, Barbados, Cayman, Nevis, St. Barthelemy, St. Lucia, St. Martin, Virgin Islands
Checklist Do your homework
No two Caribbean islands are alike. To find the one that's right for you, spend some time investigating their character and ambience.
Know your needs
Before calling an agency, establish the number of people in your party and the ages of children, the budget and time frame you have in mind, and meet to discuss what kind of vacation you hope to share. Then identify your villa priorities: a location near a beach, a home with a large pool, stellar views, and privacy, etc.
Also consider the option of renting from a homeowner directly. The advantage is (usually) lower cost and more personalized attention; on the downside, you may not have the recourses -- should problems arise -- available through an established company. One gathering place for homeowners around the world is www.cyberrentals.com. Homes available for rent or vacation exchange are listed at www.homeexchange.com.
Ask the hard questions
Has the rental representative personally inspected the villas he recommends or is he working from photos? Is this agency the only one representing this villa? Is an on-island representative available 24 hours to deal with any problems? What is the turnaround time for responding to maintenance issues?
Ask if there a service or administrative charge, and what it covers.
Understand the cancellation policy -- with some agencies, you will forfeit your deposit for canceling as much as 90 days ahead of arrival (trip insurance is strongly advised).
Since there is no villa rating system for comparing properties from one island to the next, ask for references -- previous clients that have stayed at any villa you are considering.
If you're still not sure the villa vacation is right for you, consider renting at a property that bridges the privacy of a home with the ambience of a hotel. For instance, the Villas at Stonehaven on Tobago complex offers 14 three-bedroom homes that are spacious and well appointed, each with a private pool and a short stroll to the beach, but there's a restaurant and bar for socializing, and a front desk that provides hotel-style services. The high season price: $700 nightly for six guests (868-639-0361; www.stonehavenvillas.com).
Other properties that merge villa lifestyle with hotel conveniences include Covecastles in Anguilla, Windjammer Landing in St. Lucia, and Green Cay Village in St. Martin.