The Caribbean is a blissful family escape, but paradise comes with a price. From accommodations to dining, it’s one of the most expensive regions for a vacation. That said, there are ways to enjoy a Caribbean getaway without major damage to the bank account. Try these tips for keeping costs in line:
Peak travel time for the Caribbean is exactly when it’s cold and dreary in the U.S. and Europe — December through early spring. Travel at a less popular time of year and prices usually plummet, from airfare to accommodations. As a bonus, you often can find terrific package deals.
Many properties close annually from the end of summer through early fall, but the periods just before and after can be great times to visit. I’ve been to Jamaica in August, the Grenadines and Barbados in May, and St. Lucia and Turks & Caicos in November … all wonderful. Summer is hot and muggy, but not as unbearable as it may sound; ocean breezes keep temperatures fairly consistent throughout the year.
The tradeoff for low-season travel is a higher rain risk, though I’ve never yet had weather ruin a Caribbean vacation. Typically, it’s just a few showers that blow in and out as the day passes. For the best odds, pick an ABC island (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), as they tend to stay dry and sunny.
TIP: Trip insurance is a good idea any time of year, but crucial if you book a Caribbean trip for hurricane season (roughly June through November). Don’t take a chance on losing both your vacation and your vacation budget to a storm.
Some, such as St. Bart’s and Anguilla, cater to the luxury market — visitors aren’t likely to find true deals there no matter when they go. Opt for an island that offers a wider range of pricing. Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico are usually my top suggestions for a variety of accommodations across all price categories. While there are plenty of upscale hotels and resorts on each, there are also some less pricey gems.
Also, low-cost carriers such as JetBlue, Spirit and others offer reasonable fares to many Caribbean islands. If you don’t have your heart set on a particular destination, try doing the legwork to find out where you can fly for the lowest price, then working around that to plan the trip.
TIP: Don’t forget about Mexico. The Riviera Maya is part of the Caribbean too, and inexpensive flights into Cancun are easy to find. Affordable yet high-quality hotels and resorts abound in this area. It’s the exact same ocean for a much lower price tag — a win-win.
Accommodations are usually the main budget-buster for a Caribbean vacation. Large resorts have enormous pools, all-inclusive pricing, and/or a huge variety of onsite activities, and those are great perks. But none of that comes cheap. Resort fees can be as much as 10-15 percent of room rates (and that’s in addition to local taxes). Instead, consider a small boutique property — fewer bells and whistles often translate to lower pricing. You don’t have to sacrifice creature comforts, but there’s no need to pay the overhead for a lengthy menu of amenities you may or may not use.
Another great strategy? Rent a standalone villa, which can be much less expensive than choosing a resort. Economies of scale come into play here — share a villa with at least one other family and the costs drop for everyone. Many villa rates include a housekeeper and/or private chef; eating in-house usually saves a lot of money.
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The key is to make sure to rent through a reputable agency. We manage a list of vetted, family-friendly agencies in the region; send a request through My Trip Planner for help. One fantastic bet: the Long Hill Road Villa on Jamaica, part of the CB! Hotel Collection via our partner Kid and Coe.
Gazing over the water from the bedroom window is a treat, but the same panorama can be seen from the hotel grounds. If you’re on a budget, book a garden view or partial ocean view room. You lose the amazing vistas, but the savings can be a worthy tradeoff.
Food is another major expense for a Caribbean getaway. The good news is that inexpensive dining is plentiful on most islands — you just have to know where to look. Ask locals to recommend their favorite food stands and simple restaurants. They can almost always steer you to a delicious meal that’s fresher and more authentic than the fare at many resorts, for a fraction of the cost.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Ciao Bambino unless otherwise noted.
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