R&R in Turks & Caicos

On a typical 80-degree morning, Candice Night, Theresa Pepe and Denise Weston hop on small catamaran for just such a trip. Delroy Bain of Caicos Dream Tours hands out snorkeling gear and promises to take the group to see endangered rock iguanas at nearby Little Water Cay.

But first, there are conches to catch. Turks & Caicos celebrates its native mollusk with a festival every year, and the delicacy graces menus island-wide. Masks in hand, the tourists plunge into the shallow warm water.

Only Weston is successful at finding a live one. "I'm the Queen Conch!" she crows.

The women chose Provo as a girlfriend getaway for its quiet, beach-oriented luxury. Today's agenda: boat trip, then spa. "There's no noise here," Night says. "You can just listen to the waves and water."

Figuring out if the person behind the sunglasses next to you is famous (as opposed to merely rich) is a key Provo activity. Night — the lead singer of the band Blackmore's Night — and her friends discover that actor Peter Michael Goetz is on the trip with his wife, Connie. Cards are discreetly exchanged.

Bain opens the conches, deftly sliding out the meat with a knife. Like many "Belongers" — the term used for the country's 30,000 native residents — Bain has seen Grace Bay Beach grow from its pioneering 1984 resort, Club Med Turkoise, to its current string of hotel-condominiums.

Provo's development has been mostly beneficial for Belongers, he says. The public schools are good, crime is low and unemployment is virtually non-existent, despite the downturn. (He concedes that things aren't as rosy for the Haitian immigrants, many who arrived during the building boom.)

Still, the Belongers have their limits: When a developer wanted to create a Dubai-style artificial island in the middle of a protected area last year, public outcry killed the project. "You don't need to build an island here," Bain says, waving at the atolls dotting the seascape. "We have so many of them already!"

No need to go too far afield

When leaving a canopied daybed sounds like too much work for visitors, Provo's meticulously landscaped resorts provide the ultimate do-nothing escape. Many people spend their vacations enjoying the suite life, venturing off the grounds only to go to other resorts for dinner.

On a recent Friday night at the Grace Bay Club, the Lounge is dominated by guests attending a wedding rehearsal dinner. A few people sip $13 cocktails at the Infiniti bar, a polished granite slab extending 90 feet to Grace Bay Beach. The adults-only Anacaona restaurant is about half full with couples cooing over $35 entrees.

Cross-island, dance music thumps at Nikki Beach Resort, the first hotel built by a Miami company known for its clubs in party spots such as St. Tropez and Marbella. Here, patrons pick pieces of sushi off bikini-clad model Stephanie Cerron during "In the Raw" Friday happy hour.

Even though the bar crowd is sparse, event manager Michael Sin maintains a chatty energy, pouring free drinks and dishing about celeb guests such as Yankee ballplayer Derek Jeter and his girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly.

"We had Denzel Washington here for New Year's," he boasts.

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