Tried and True: One of Punta Cana’s original resorts, Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort (www.barcelo.com; 800-227-2356) received a top-to-bottom, $330 million makeover in 2011, leaving 11 restaurants, the P.B. Dye golf course and 1 1/2 miles of beachfront. Child facilities are strong, but almost a third of the 1991 rooms are in a dedicated adults-only wing. All-inclusive doubles from $312, through Dec. 20.
Logistics: Air-hotel packages typically offer the best value for those winging to the D.R., but choose your all-inclusive resort carefully. Once it’s booked, the style and tone of your vacation will be pretty much set.
BEYOND THE FORTS, PUERTO RICO
Step off the plane and you can feel Puerto Rico’s heat. No, not the tropical heat (though you’ll feel that, too). Arrival in San Juan plunges visitors into the piquant sensuality of a modern Latin culture set against the imposing backdrop of Spanish Colonial history. But while the city has plenty of nightlife and dining, the island has long had a love affair with cars, and exploring the hinterlands reveals Puerto Rico’s shade-grown coffee heritage. Explore beyond San Juan and you’ll find seaside villages, lush rain forests, and deserted tawny beaches — roads are generally good. In the rainforests of El Yunque, hike or frolic in lush waterfalls. At the awesome Arecibo Observatory, scientists have an ear to the heavens, listening for distant signals through a 20-acre satellite dish. In Rincon, on the west coast, playful surfing beaches await.
What’s New: Zip lines have sprung up throughout the Caribbean, but the world’s highest and second longest is found at Toro Verde Adventure Park (www.toroverdepr.com; 787-867-7020), where La Bestia (The Beast) sends riders at speeds of up to 55 mph along a nearly one-mile traverse.
Tried and True: On the south coast, well away from San Juan’s hubbub is Copamarina Beach Resort (800-468-4553; www.copamarina.com), a 106-room family-oriented hotel in the seaside town of Guanica. Rooms start at $145, leaving something in the budget for exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed biosphere reserve next door.
Logistics: Puerto Rico is a driving island, and road rules and insurance issues will be familiar to Americans. And note that Puerto Rico has three airports, with increasing (and sometimes more economical) service by JetBlue into both Ponce and Aguadilla airports.
ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
A busy port for cruise ships and shopping sprees, St. Thomas’s historic capital, Charlotte Amalie, boasts an outstanding natural harbor engulfed by muscular mountains, and a Danish history that comes alive in evocative passageways paved with cobblestone. Despite considerable development, natural beauty still makes an appearance, especially as you head to less-busy beaches like Lindquist or Brewer’s Bay. day trips by ferry to lovely (but pricey) St. John are easy. Airfares are competitive; discount coupons are common for dining, activities and shops; and pesky surcharges (departure tax, service charges, etc.) are at a minimum. Affordable lodging is found in the hills surrounding Charlotte Amalie, and though you’ll be off the beach, the advantage of bunking down here is a concentration of restaurants. The central location is also convenient to shopping, the airport and ferries to neighboring islands.