Luxury is not the word usually associated with tropical islands, where informality reigns along with sun and sand. But during a recent visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, spectacular resorts rivaled the finest mainland properties.

In part, the rebuilding of the islands after several hurricanes has resulted in a new and improved tourism infrastructure. On laid-back St. John, Caneel Bay's 168 airy guest rooms were all re-decorated with bright island colors, hand-crafted furniture, comfortable reading chairs, original artwork, and tiled bathrooms. The elegant and secluded resort, which boasts seven exquisite beaches, is particularly suitable for incentive programs and small corporate retreats, says managing director Luis Argote.

Larger groups traveling to St. John will be well-served by the immaculate Westin Resort, which opened in November with 10,000 square feet of meeting space clustered in a conference wing. Accommodations at the resort include 264 guest room, 21 suites, and 96 villas.

On St. Croix, close-by to the historic town of Christiansted, the 146-room Buccaneer Hotel features a challenging 18-hole golf course on its sweeping 240-acre estate. There are also three meeting rooms that can accommodate groups as small as 15 people at a U-shaped table or as large as 90 for a reception. Elegant guest rooms have large terraces with views of the Caribbean sea or gently rolling hillsides.

Perhaps the most deluxe property in the USVI is the Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas. It sits on the eastern tip of the island like a grand Italianate villa, with peach stucco walls, coppertine roofs, and hidden courtyards. Each of the 148 guest rooms has a 125-square-foot private balcony and a marble bathroom. There are also two new meeting rooms and a ballroom--decorated with Portuguese marble floors, vaulted ceilings, and crystal chandeliers--that can accommodate up to 200 people. --Regina Baraban

FOR MORE INFORMATION Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office (212) 541-4117 Fax (212) 757-1607

Aruba Convention Bureau Adriaan Arends, director of conventions and business development (954) 767-3395 ext. 10 Fax (954) 767-0714

Bermuda Dept. of Tourism (Dianne Carlson, manager, group and incentive sales (800) 223-6106; (212) 818-9800, ext. 213 Fax (212) 983-5289

British Virgin Islands Tourist Board Monica Allen, sales manager 696-0400 Fax (212) 983-5289

Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism Ana Doble, manager, special markets (305) 266-2300 Fax (305) 267-2930

Curacao Convention Bureau Miriam Inesia Martin, representative (800) 270-3350; (212) 683-7660 Fax (212) 683-9337

Dominican Republic Tourism Promotion Council Aridio Genao, subdirector of tourism (305) 444-4592 Fax (305) 444-4845

Jamaica Tourist Board Marcia E. Bullock manager, groups and conventions (800) 29-GROUPS; (305) 665-0557 Fax (305) 666-5536

San Juan-Puerto Rico Convention Bureau Felix Laboy, vice president, sales and marketing (202) 457-9262; (800) 875-4765 Fax (202) 331-0824

St. Kitts and Nevis Department of Tourism Robert Kelly, manager (212) 535-1234 ext. 13 Fax (212) 734-6511

Trinidad and Tobago Tourism 888-595-4TNT, (212) 760-2400 Fax (212) 760-6402

USVI Dept. of Tourism

Shantal Richards, director of meetings and conventions (340) 774-8784 ext. 2234 Fax (340) 774-4390