If you’ve put off taking a Caribbean vacation — you were too busy, too broke or too fat from Marshmallow Peeps to look good in your Speedo — you’re in luck: The islands are a bonanza of bargains right now.
After the busy winter season, the Caribbean is on sale. A bonus: There’s plenty of space to plop down on a beach towel, since sun-starved Northerners have gone home.
Now is a great time to go to the Caribbean, says Anne Banas, executive editor at Smarter Travel (www.smartertravel.com). “You’ll spend less and there are fewer crowds,” she says.
You can save from 20 to 40 percent or more on hotel rooms, Banas says, and you’ll see a lot of offers like buy three nights and get one free.
Tip: “A great place to see good deals all in one place — usually some kind of hotel or vacation package — is on the tourist board web\sites,” Banas adds.
We asked Samantha Fanelli of Trivago (www.trivago.com), the hotel price-comparison site, to analyze average hotel prices for several island destinations using the 2014 Trivago Hotel Price Index. Fanelli reported that all of the average prices of a standard double room decreased from March to April. Prices either remained low through September, or they dipped slightly lower. So, this could be a good time to try that luxury resort that tempts you, when sky-high prices come down to earth.
You could postpone traveling until later in the summertime, but you’ll be edging toward hurricane season, and bumping into the honeymoon crowd. In addition, Banas notes, some airlines reduce airlift during the slow summer months. If you do go during that time, skip the super-romantic spots, and spring for travel insurance, she advises.
Given that the Caribbean is practically Miami’s backyard, it’s easy to get there from here. American Airlines offers numerous nonstop flights out of Miami International Airport, and discounters like Spirit, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines operate a growing number of flights out of Fort Lauderdale. Here are some current deals. Now get packing already.
Why go: Yes, it’s a tad far, but once you’re there, dushi Aruba makes it super-easy to enjoy yourself. Book a hotel on Palm Beach and choose from among every conceivable watersport (we’re looking at you, Big Mabel, the giant rubber donut!) from beachside vendors. For contrast, take a Land Rover tour or guided horseback ride through the otherworldly desert landscape of Arikok National Park. Bonus: wind = fewer bugs.
Flight time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Best freebie/cheapie: No need to rent a car to get to Oranjestad, just take the “Arubus” into downtown for less than $3.
Stay here: The Aruba Marriott Resort (www.marriott.com) offers sexy beachfront dining, the largest casino on the island, and rates starting at $329 (down from $549-plus in high season) right now.
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Why go: Of course there are fine beaches here, but it’s the cool green side of Puerto Plata that’s so alluring. Set on the Dominican Republic’s North Coast, Puerto Plata is backed by lushly forested Mount Isabel de Torres. Take a cable car ride up 2,656 feet to the summit to reach walking paths awash in exotic blooms. Another feature is hard to miss, a statue of Christ the Redeemer, a smaller replica of the Rio de Janeiro landmark. And of course you’ll play in the crystalline pools of Mother Nature’s waterpark, the 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua.
Flight time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Best freebie/cheapie: A stroll around downtown Puerto Plata reveals a lovely collection of Victorian homes and public buildings.
Stay here: Located in the hotel zone of Puerto Plata, between the airport and the city, the 75-room Blue Jack Tar (www.bluejacktar.com) is famous for its canopy beds on the beach (who doesn’t love that?) and affordable rates, typically about $105 per night, with breakfast included. Digs aren’t fancy, but they’re spacious. For a splurge: The 48 suites and luxury apartments at the new Gansevoort Dominican Republic (www.gansevoorthotelgroup.com) are pure, understated opulence, with floor-to-ceiling windows and Egyptian linens, a private beach and cascading infinity pool. From now to July 1, get the fifth night free if you stay four nights; rates from $845.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Why go: You’ve probably done San Juan, so boost the excitement factor by exploring the more rugged, adventurous side of the island. Hike in the dry forest in the southern part of Puerto Rico, or zip along at 60 mph on one of the longest zip-lines in the world. Explore bio-bays in a glass-bottomed kayak, or take a surfing lesson. There’s a lot more to this place than you might think, and San Juan makes an easy base.
Flight time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Best freebie/cheapie: It doesn’t cost a thing to wander El Morro, the fort that overlooks San Juan Bay, and it’s especially gorgeous at sunset. (There’s a fee if you want to enter the Castillo San Felipe del Morro historic site.)
Stay here: One of San Juan’s grand dames, the c.1919 Condado Vanderbilt Hotel (www.condadovanderbilt.com) has undergone a $200 million facelift, with 319 posh guest rooms and a spa featuring Puerto Rico’s only hammam. This month, the rates dip to about $262 per night (from $570 in February) at this five-star, 319-room property; in August, they rise to $300.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Why go: No matter when you go, it feels like a party in Mo’ Bay, but there’s more wiggle room at Doctor’s Cave Beach (the nicest but busiest beach) after winter crowds thin. Take a peek at Rose Hall Great House, a 1770 plantation haunted by the White Witch, and take a romantic rafting trip on the Martha Brae river, where bamboo rafts are poled by local guides.
Flight time: One hour, 35 minutes.
Best freebie/cheapie: You can’t beat the people-watching on Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay’s hip strip.
Stay here: Considered one of the top five hotels in Jamaica, the luscious Half Moon Resort (www.halfmoon.rockresorts.com) offers rates that drop to $289 per night for a deluxe room in April, from $459 or more in high season. They also offer bespoke excursions, like the chance to tour Blue Mountain coffee plantations, visit a local organic farm, or meet local artists. Plus, the Half Moon’s golf course is considered one of the top in the world.
Nassau/Paradise Island, Bahamas
Why go: Gotta have more cowbell? Make plans to be in Nassau during the new Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival (May 7-9 this year), which promises to be a lively scene of concerts, cultural shows, street parades, parties, and lots of crazily costumed people dancing to drums, horns, whistles, and cowbells.
Flight time: 55 minutes.
Best freebie/cheapie: Walk the 65 limestone steps of the Queen’s Staircase, a shortcut to Bennet’s Hill, the highest point in Nassau. The famous steps, hand-carved by 600 slaves over the course of 16 years, also serve as a passageway to Fort Fincastle.
Stay here: Enjoy the over-the-top pleasures of Atlantis on the cheap at Comfort Suites Paradise Island (www.comfortsuitespi.com), starting at $200 per night, including breakfast and Wi-Fi. The deal runs through May. Guests at Comfort Suites have access to all of Atlantis’ features, like Aquaventure, 11 swimming pools, dozens of restaurants, and the Atlantis Casino.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Why go: If all you really want to do right now is a whole lot of nada, head to the easternmost coast of the D.R. Thirty-five miles of beaches are dotted with coco palms, perfect for lounging in a blissful stupor. About 90 percent of the hotels here are all-inclusive properties, so you can stay put if you like. No traffic jams and no decisions to make, except where to eat dinner — now that’s a vacation! Feeling energetic? Take a catamaran trip to Saona Island.
Flight time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.
Best freebie/cheapie: Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park is a lush wonderland of natural lagoons; free to guests of Puntacana Resort & Club hotels (including the Westin Puntacana, below).
Stay here: Rates drop as low as $242 a night in springtime (from the mid-$300s in high season) at the 200-room Westin Puntacana (www.westinpuntacana.com). With a three-mile beach, 45 holes of golf, watersports, and nine restaurants, the resort is a one-stop vacation. Every room has a balcony and an ocean view. Bringing the kids? Consider the all-inclusive Club Med Punta Cana (www.clubmed.us/new-punta-cana). The Get Packing sale, going on now, offers rooms from $119 per person per night; book by May 5 for travel through Oct. 30, 2015. Bonus: They’re upping the fun quotient in mid-June, with the new Club Med Creactive by Cirque Du Soleil. Guests (adults and kids alike) can learn everything Cirque, from acrobatics to mask creation.