Getaway: Now's the time to head to the Caribbean
My coupon-carrying mom taught me to love a good bargain. And one of the best bargains in travel happens every April 15, when prices in the Caribbean drop dramatically until high season picks up again in mid-December.
Spring is a great time to visit the region. Unlike Central America, where the rainy season rears its ugly head in the spring, the Caribbean gets very little rain this time of year. Temperatures hover in the mid-80s. So the islands continue to tease us with their bright sunshine while many of us are still dealing with a cold and often damp April and May. And without the winter crowds you may have the beach practically to yourself.
But what about summer and those dreaded hurricanes, you ask? Summer happens to be a great time to visit too. Hurricane season starts in early June and runs through October, with August and September usually the height of the stormy season. The good news is, unlike tornadoes, hurricanes come with advance warning. Travelers who have the flexibility to wait until the last minute will know exactly where the hurricanes are headed if they are, indeed, in the region. The reward for your brave undertaking is a big discount at resorts off the exorbitant high-season rates - look for savings of up to 50 percent.
And not all the region is hurricane prone. If you are afraid of storms, head to the southern Caribbean, especially the ``ABC'' islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. The last major hurricane to slap those islands was way back in 1877. Visit the ABCs - as well as neighbors Trinidad, Tobago and Margarita Island, just off the Venezuelan coast - and you have less than a 2 percent chance of encountering a major storm, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another southern island, Barbados, has no time to fret about bad weather: They celebrate their annual Crop Over, a five-week festival with live calypso music every night, parades and more, pegged to the sugar harvest in August.
Caribbean deals are sweet this year as hotels and airlines try to court travelers in a sluggish economy. Holiday Inn Sunspree Resorts in Jamaica and Aruba have launched a 50 percent off sale from April through the end of June. For $180 a night per room, a family of four can stay at an all-inclusive resort on the beach in Montego Bay. The Aruba property's rate is a bit more expensive, at $283 per room, but it's still a great deal when you consider all food and alcohol are included in the cost. Call 888-HOLIDAY or visit www.holidayinn.com, and mention promo code 150.
Lush St. Lucia has created its own Web site, www.stlucianow.com, to give travelers a slice of paradise on the cheap. Book through the end of April for travel through June 20 and you could be staying at the four-star boutique hotel Coco Kreole for a four-day, three-night getaway. Cost is $599 per person, round-trip, including flight from the East Coast.
Resorts on the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, have banded together for a Sizzling Summer Savings promotion that offers a free fifth night and various resort credits and gift cards at shops. Properties across the islands are participating including The Buccaneer on St. Croix, The Westin St. John and the Wyndham Sugar Bay Beach Resort & Spa on St. Thomas. The offer is valid for bookings made from May through October. Find more information at usvitourism.vi.
The Dominican Republic and Mexico are the best value travel destinations in the Caribbean year-round. On the newly discovered North Coast of the Dominican Republic, check out the Allegro Playa Dorada, an all-inclusive near Puerto Plata that's letting kids stay for free from May until the end of December. Save as much as $730 on a five-night getaway, with all-inclusive summer rates as low as $173 per night. All the Occidental-Allegro properties in Mexico (Allegro Cozumel, Allegro Nuevo Vallarta, Allegro Playacar) have similar deals this summer. Call 800-858-2258 or visit www.occidentalhotels.com.
There's a new reason to be joyous on the white sands of Antigua's Jolly Beach. From April through late December, the all-inclusive Jolly Beach Resort (866-905-6559, www.jollybeachresort.com) will take an additional 15 percent off for adults and let the first child stay free. Summer rates from $250 per night.
On Grand Bahama Island, stay in Freeport at the Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya (800-325-3535, www.starwoodhotels.com) and you'll no doubt be saying TGIF. Their "Free Fridays" program allows guests to book a three-night stay for only $178 per person, through Sept. 1. Add $5 per child, 11 and under. The promotion also includes a free breakfast, happy hour and unlimited golf on Fridays.
It's your choice this summer. Fight the crowds at your favorite U.S. beach spot or leave your footprint in the Caribbean sand.