sozobe
 
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:09 am
Hi all,

My husband just got back from a trip to Hawaii. It was beautiful, of course. While he was there, he learned from someone who lives in D.C. that for those of us on the East coast (OK, I'm not, but I'm a short flight from the East coast), the Caribbean is WAY closer and also way cheaper than Hawaii.

In terms of distance this is obvious, but I hadn't ever really thought about it. I've just always assumed that Caribbean = expensive.

Florida is a more commonsensical destination and a more likely place for us to actually go (my favorite cousin lives there and has been trying to get me to visit), but I'm intrigued by the Caribbean thing. It's one of those subjects where a quick Google search doesn't get you far -- there are "great deals!" being trumpeted everywhere, and gorgeous pictures, but who knows what's trustworthy.

So... have you been to the Caribbean? Any recommendations, thoughts, experiences to share, whatever? Best time of year to go? Best island?

This is all very abstract, if a trip happens it probably wouldn't be for another year or so, but sozlet and I were jealous of E.G. (we couldn't all afford to go on the trip to Hawaii) and beaches and palm trees and such DO sound nice.

Thanks!
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:19 am
Another corner of the big huge mall that is America vs a different country?

I'd go with Caribbean. Betcha its can be cheaper than even Florida if done right and betcha it's a lot more fun if done right.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:20 am
It definitely sounds more appealing.

Any clues on how to do it right?
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:29 am
I have been to the Caribbean twice, both times on cruises. What is nice about a cruise, is that you can get to see more than one island, and have time to explore. Then if you see a spot that you like, you can, on another vacation, go to that particular island. Cruises are relatively inexpensive, and there are those that cater to both kids and adults.

I loved the Cayman Islands. The water is absolutely gorgeous. The thing about going to any of the islands rather than Florida, is that they are exotic, and quite different from the US. The cruise companies offers outings on the islands. If you do a bit of homework, you can get similar side trips cheaper on your own. The cruise lines make a lot from selling these side trips. Most of the time we opted just to explore the area on our own.

You don't want to go in the summer because of the hurricanes and other varieties of wet weather, and the fact that it is hottern' hell. Winter is the "high season", and more expensive. I think that the best time to go would be spring or fall.

Each time that I went to the islands, I ended up in jewelry stores, and I am not particularly a jewelry person. Jamaica is kind of grubby but interesting. People hang around cruise ships, and try to lead you to the stores. They feed you cake soaked in rum. When you are flying a bit high, it is easier for them to make a sale. I ended up with some nice stuff each time. Razz

I don't know if this is universal, but I had a bit of a surprise when I bought something rather expensive in Cozumel, which is part of Mexico. I paid by credit card, not realizing that my credit card company adds a surcharge for the money conversion. They had just started to do it when we went to Cozumel, and before I was straightened out, I thought that the store had scammed me.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:43 am
Cruises can have some really great deals. I know many travelers who swear by them. The last one one of my friends went on was 300 some dollars for a week-long cruise! That's food, lodging and transportation!

Knowing a local can help save costs on a more authentic experience (e.g. if you wanna visit Costa Rica it'd only cost you your plane ticket cause I could put y'all up and the costs for eating etc here would be less than stateside anyway). A local can help rent a house/room which can be a lot cheaper than hotels. I'm staying in Vegas right now in a nice house that 3 of us are renting at 600 a week. That's less than 30/day when basic hotel rooms can be as high as 400/night.

And I'm sure the other angles of picking low seasons, flying on off days, getting package deals (air fare + hotel), and planning way in advance you know of but those can save up to 80% on travel costs.

You can also try another method by shopping for last-minute package deals, you can find incredible packages of air fare + hotel in the Caribbean. Here are some examples after a few seconds of searching.

In all cases remember that making it cheap might mean some inconveniences and small surprises (e.g. hotel not as nice as you expect) but in my opinion those are part of the fun of traveling and the hotel is just a place to sleep anyway (the people who travel to spend their time in a hotel pool should have just gone to a hotel in their city).
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:46 am
You've made me interested in going myself so I did a bit more searching.

http://www.cheapcaribbean.com/deals.jsp

http://vacations.travelzoo.com/caribbean-vacations/
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 08:56 am
Craven de Kere wrote:
Cruises can have some really great deals. I know many travelers who swear by them. The last one one of my friends went on was 300 some dollars for a week-long cruise! That's food, lodging and transportation!


I'm resistant to cruises -- I like to have more freedom to do whatever, whenever -- but that's a good point.

Quote:
Knowing a local can help save costs on a more authentic experience (e.g. if you wanna visit Costa Rica it'd only cost you your plane ticket cause I could put y'all up


Whoa!

Quote:
and the costs for eating etc here would be less than stateside anyway). A local can help rent a house/room which can be a lot cheaper than hotels. I'm staying in Vegas right now in a nice house that 3 of us are renting at 600 a week. That's less than 30/day when basic hotel rooms can be as high as 400/night.

And I'm sure the other angles of picking low seasons, flying on off days, getting package deals (air fare + hotel), and planning way in advance you know of but those can save up to 80% on travel costs.


Yep, that's what I'm going for, those angles.

Quote:
You can also try another method by shopping for last-minute package deals, you can find incredible packages of air fare + hotel in the Caribbean. Here are some examples after a few seconds of searching.


Packages do seem encouraging. They're all (that I've found so far) kind of ponderous to search (sure, there's a package deal for $451, but WHEN would you need to go to get that price?), but worth putting some time into.

Found this with weather info:

http://www.debbiescaribbeanresortreviews.com/temperature.html

Quote:
In all cases remember that making it cheap might mean some inconveniences and small surprises (e.g. hotel not as nice as you expect) but in my opinion those are part of the fun of traveling and the hotel is just a place to sleep anyway (the people who travel to spend their time in a hotel pool should have just gone to a hotel in their city).


Yeah, I'd definitely want to do it as an adventure rather than just hole up and look out windows at a pretty view. If it were just me, the hotel could be cruddier than if it's the kid too, but minimally OK is still several notches down from the luxury places I'm seeing.

This is sounding really fun!
0 Replies
 
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 10:13 am
I've only been down there a couple of times -- and the only island I've been to is St. Martin, the rest were on the Yucatan south of Cancun. Always vacationy places, but never too off-puttingly obnoxious.

Last stayed at Shangri-La in Playa del Carmen, and would heartily recommend it and neighboring Las Palapas for low-frills, beachfront comfort. Playa proper is all public beaches, so everybody who goes to the water shares the beach, which is more pleasant I think than going to one of those places who try to shoo the locals away. Simple rooms, top floors have thatch roofs (which are buggy and birdy but also very tall and surprisinly cool). No kitchen, though, and I really like having a kitchen when I'm hanging out on the beach. Make your own breakfast, blend your own drinks...

St. Martin was pretty pleasant, too. Not one of the major tourist islands, though it is very crowded in the off-season -- I can't imagine what it's like during high season. Very different feel to the French side vs. the Dutch side. I actually found the Dutch side to be a lotmore utilitarian and unpretentious, but I don't generally get on well with Parisians, who the French side largely caters to.



But in general if you do some looking and if you have some connections, the Caribbean seems very pleasant and doable. And a hell of a lot closer from our neck of the country. We've got some trips loosely planned in the coming few years -- Puerto Rico, Anguilla, back to St. Martin. Maybe the Dominican Republic, too -- I know a couple of people in PR and DR.
0 Replies
 
Tico
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 11:26 am
Um, I'm not so good on the really cheap because I always feel that if I'm going to travel, I want to do things, see things, eat things and generally treat myself to an experience -- and not get hung up on bargains. That said, I've had some fabulous vacations with package (air/hotel) tours that have allowed the freedom I want + the economy, privacy, basic luxury and security of standard tour packages. The trick is to find a hotel close to what you are interested in -- beach, town, interior, etc.

For a first time Caribbean vacation, I'd highly recommend St Martin/Sint Maarten (one island, Dutch on one side, French on the other, English spoken everywhere). Great beaches, some nude (French side), great food of all varieties, but especially high cuisine (French side), shops and casinos (Dutch side), and all within an area so compact that you can drive a rental car around the whole island in an hour (if you don't want to stop). It's an easy catamaran daytrip to Anguilla. We went in early April, when the hotels were almost empty and the staff were so bored that they made special trips for us, the chef cooked special meals and generally they couldn't do enough for us.

I've also been to Havana, Cuba three times -- but long ago. It is historically and culturally fascinating. But problematic for Americans to travel there, although I know there are ways of getting around the restrictions.

Tortola in the British Virgin Islands was lovely, but quiet (which can be very good). Good place for yachting. Probably one of the few places you can set up a beach chair, leave all your gear overnight (or a camera, as I accidently did) and no one will touch it.

I would also recommend Grenada, but you'd have to do some research if they've recovered from a terrible hurricane a few years back. Great hiking in the interior, not so great beaches, very interesting capital of St. George. I visited cocoa factories, plantation houses, experimental farms, farmer markets, etc. Nutmeg everywhere -- they use the hulls as mulch and ground cover, so the air always seems to be gently scented with it.

When time is limited, my favourite method of seeing things is to either hire a cabbie for the day, or pick up brochures in the hotel lobby of tours operated by local people. Often we've been the only ones on the "tour" and have been able to get great insight and taken places off the beaten track. I've had great luck with cabbies too -- get them past their standard patter and you'll learn and get to experience so much. One cabbie I had was a retired archaeological professor -- that was a fascinating day.
0 Replies
 
Tico
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 11:31 am
Wanted to add: For basic research, get a Lonely Planet travel book. They don't pull any punches and tend to concentrate on the unique features of a place rather than the standard tourist stuff.

Probably have a website, too.
0 Replies
 
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 11:35 am
Loved our little beach bar on Simpson Bay in St. Martin...
0 Replies
 
Tico
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 11:37 am
Lonely Planet Caribbean
0 Replies
 
JPB
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 12:00 pm
Places I've been with and without children --

Nassau, Bahamas (without children) -- We stayed on Cable Beach and were warned not to walk the area where we were staying after dark. Paradise Island is much more touristy and probably more expensive. The locals were not overly friendly to tourists.

Aruba (without children) -- Looooong flight. It's right off the coast of Venezuela. Desert island which was beautiful in it's own right, but it's cactus and billy goats vs lush tropics. Very friendly, would not worry about bringing my children.

Cancun, Mexico (without children) -- FUN SPOT. Plenty to do in and around Cancun. I would go back with children. Note: we've taken the girls to a number of places in Mexico, both east and west coasts. We like them all.

St. Kitts - (without children) -- secluded, laid back, out of the way spot that I think would probably be too low key for my kids. Very friendly.

San Pedro, Ambergris Key, Belize -- (with children). The BEST family vacation we ever had. We are all looking forward to going back again someday. The locals are very warm and welcoming. M cried on the flight home because she was going to miss the folks at the dive shop. Plenty of things to do on and around the Key as well as chartered day trips back to the mainland to visit ruins and small villages.
0 Replies
 
Eva
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jun, 2007 12:44 pm
I've been lots of places in the Caribbean, so just ask.

For a first-time trip, try the Bahamas (Nassau.) It's the closest Caribbean destination...just off Florida...so it's easier to find a cheap flight. It's definitely more exotic than Florida, and the water is breathtaking. (Don't miss the sight of the brilliant turquoise water from the plane before you land.)

I've always gone to the Caribbean during the off season (summer.) Things are cheaper, more laid back and not so crowded. I live in Oklahoma...tornado alley...so the idea of possible hurricanes doesn't bother me. Unlike with tornados, they get warnings WAY ahead of time, so there's always plenty of time to go to another island (or home) if something's coming. That has never happened to us, though. And it's not nearly as hot as Oklahoma during the summers.

If you like the Bahamas, I can recommend several other places that are even more exotic. Last year I spent a week on Dominica. Very third world, absolutely lush & gorgeous. (They filmed Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3 there.) But much more difficult to get to. Next year will be our 25th wedding anniversary. We're going back to St. John, USVI, where we spent our 10th anniversary. That island has the most beautiful beaches I've seen anywhere, and I've seen some gorgeous ones. Plus, it's an easy ferry ride to St. Thomas and the British VIs from there.

Cruises are a good way to get a feel for the area. Different islands have different influences...Dutch, French, British, Mexican, etc. It's fun to see more than one and compare. You can take the organized tours or not...often we've had the most fun just getting off the ship and grabbing a local taxi.
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Mon 11 Jun, 2007 10:17 am
I've been to Florida and the Caribbean - I guess it depends where you go - but for the most part I would say that the Caribbean is cheaper on the whole. Or at least I have also found cheaper deals to the Caribbean. Mexico also is typically cheap and is beautiful on the gulf coast. With a family I would recommend Aruba, although Aruba would be a more expensive island. Again it depends what type of resort you are looking for. You can stay at a less expensive resort and with a package (air/hotel) it can be relatively cheap.

Other places that are cheaper - Jamaica (I would only recommend with a family if you stay at an all-inclusive. Mexico is also inexpensive, but again with a family I would recommend an all-inclusive.

Another thought is if you want to save money, go to Aruba in the summer. No crowds and you get fantastic deals. You can also negotiate a bit more for things like snorkeling trips, boat trips, etc. as there are not so many tourists. The weather doesn't change much from one time of year to another as it is so close to the equator and out of the hurricane zone.

As far as Bahamas - go to Nassau or Paradise Island (essentially the same place but connected by a bridge). Paradise Island is much more expensive. Also in the winter time it can be too cool to go swimming. I would not suggested Grand Bahama Island - been there - it is ugly as far as Caribbean islands go.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 11 Jun, 2007 10:33 am
Great stuff, thanks so much to all of you!

We can usually travel more easily in the summer -- E.G.'s not teaching, kid's not in school -- so I'm liking the idea of going at that time of year, since there seem to be other perks too. Probably too late to do it this summer, just in terms of our own plans and available funds, but maybe next year. I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out and continuing to research, will post interesting stuff here and hope to keep getting input.

Thanks again!
0 Replies
 
 

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