First time to Caribbean, where to go?

Old Nov 11th, 2012, 09:19 AM
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First time to Caribbean, where to go?

My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to somewhere in the Caribbean for sometime in the first two weeks of January (approx 7 day trip). I have no idea where we should go though. There are so many options! Hopefully you guys can help us choose. Here are some of the criteria we are looking for:

Budget: around $5000 for the two of us including airfare from Calgary, Alberta Canada

Type of resort: All inclusive. We have never been to an all inclusive and want to try it. We do however want a luxury all inclusive (I hope our budget allows this). I want a place where we can eat excellent food (not a buffet like the one in National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation). I also want to be able to drink premium liquor, not just no-name rum and beer as part of the inclusive

Wouldnt mind a little bit of history, but scenery is more important. Relaxation is number one, but a small portion of adventure is ok.....maybe a one day historical tour.

not really looking to have to rent a car

I want to see the most beautiful turquoise water I have ever seen, and powdery white sand beaches. I have been to Playa del Carmen and that sand/water was beautiful, but I have expectations for the Caribbean water/sand to be even better.

I wouldnt mind doing a little bit of snorkelling, not something I would do every day.

Shopping/Nightlife/Casino: a bit of shopping would be nice......dont care too much about clubs.....a casino is cool, but not a necessity.

proximity to beach.....I want to be very close to the beach.....actually on the beach.

food.....As I mentioned earlier, we want to eat really well. My girlfriend is a vegetarian fish....but eggs and cheese are ok. She doesnt want to have to eat pasta every night. This is an important one. We are both culinary adventurers (I eat anything) but there just has to be good meatless options for her. hot hot! I love the heat. Since I am escaping a brutal Canadian winter, I am looking for some smokin hot temps.

Hopefully that is enough info for some of you experienced travellers to help me out. right now I am leaning towards Barbados, St Lucia, ABC islands, etc, etc but I am really open to anything. The only thing I want to avoid is Mexico.

Thank you in advance for your help.

jkevol is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2012, 10:07 AM
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I have been to over 15 AI resorts in varying price ranges. Though I love AI's, excellant food and AI doesn't not go well together. Although I have frequented a few with food I thought was really good. If you really want an AI resort, I highly recommend that you lower your expectations just a bit.

The majority of AI's are located in Mexico, Jamaica and the DR.

For the Islands you've tagged, Barbados does not have many AI options and they ones they do have are really expensive. Most people do not suggest AI there because there is an abundance of places to eat. The same goes for Aruba. Curacao only has a handful of AI's. When we went there, we did not do AI. I don't believe there are AI's on Bonaire.

That leaves St. Lucia. There are several AI's there. We have stayed at the Sandals Grande. For the price we paid it was terrible. The food was pretty bad. Of all the AI resorts we've been to I rate it second from the bottom. That just goes the show that even the most lux AI resorts can still have iffy food.

All AI's have a buffet, so what you will probably want are resorts that have several ala cart options to chose from.

Here is a list of AI's in Mexico:

Here is a list of AI's in the Caribbean:

Do a little research on the ones you might think meet your criteria and then come back if you have specific questions.
KVR is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2012, 12:23 PM
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You also listed Antigua in your tag. Antigua has quite a few AI resorts and the water and beaches there are beautiful.
I agree that AI and great food don't necessairy go together.
schmerl is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2012, 03:07 PM
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Look at Sandals Antigua or...Sandals just bought La Source on Grenada.....I've been to several AI's and I agree about the's good, not for foodies though.
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Old Nov 12th, 2012, 05:21 AM
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If you are not near a major air hub, you may first want to check which Islands are easy to fly to. For us, many Islands require two plane changes and 12-24 hours.
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Old Nov 12th, 2012, 08:00 AM
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Barbados, Antigua and Grenada are great islands for a first time visit to the Caribbean, esp Barbados, however I don't see luxury available at this budget. Two weeks in peak season is not cheap. On the ABC islands you don't need AI because there are many dining options (Aruba would also be a good first time choice).
Some hotels offer MAP rather than AI, this might be another option to explore, for example Cobblers Cove in Barbados who are a member of Relais & Chateaux, Ti Kaye on St Lucia and many others.
Odin is offline  
Old Nov 12th, 2012, 08:25 AM
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To meet the foodie component of your vacation, perhaps would be best incorporated by sparing at least a few meals out at some of the islands finest restaurants.

This may be a good bet and achievable if you happen to discover an all-inclusive that is comfortable and affordable, which leaves room in the budget for at least a couple of memorable meals out.

Snorkelling in Barbados leaves something to be desired although there are a couple of wrecks to explore, it doesn't compare to St. Croix for instance. However Barbados would be one of the islands that offer pretty beaches, stellar restaurants and duty-free shopping.

St. Lucia also has beautiful beaches, not necessarily in the sense of the bright blue turquoise waters you described but is beautifully lush tropical island, with nice options for eating out and sampling creole fare.

St. Maarten and the Bahamas would offer not only the beaches but the, food and casino elements of your trip as well.

Perhaps choosing an all-inclusive on the islands you're most interested in , and seeing what other criteria they meet can help in deciding if you can get more of the options out of one island than the other best on how much you have left after accommodation is sorted.

All the best
Delishbajansauce is offline  
Old Nov 12th, 2012, 10:44 AM
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You're looking for a one island fits all which doesn't exist, so you'll have to give up some things. You're also rting to go the most expensive time of year.

2 types of islands, hilly and scenic, with smaller beaches in coves, not usually very turquoise; or flat dry and scrubby that has the beaches you seem to crave.

Most islands are too small to offer much history or sightseeing. Those that do, don't have the beaches you crave.

The first week of January is the most expensive of the year, so you should cross that out.

AIs are AIs because they can feed the masses. At your price point that time of year you will get buffets and lower liqour brands. (no primium). The best islands for AIs are Mexico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica. There are few more scattered on some islands, but they will be way over your budget.

Most islands don't have much nightlife, especially the ones with better beaches than Playa
Del Carmen. Not much shopping either. Or casinos.

So, a general list

Scenic, hilly, gorgeous: St. John, Virgin Gorda. Beaches are nice, but any nicer than PDC. No AIs. A little bit of nightlife. No casinos, not much history. Good snorkeling.

Beaches, best are Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, Out Islands of Bahamas. TCI has snorkeling and a small casino. None have nightlife, shopping, and may to cool for hot hot hot. (although coming from Canada it might be hot to you). Only TCI has AIs, and not the typical what you think type. club Med(nothing luxury about it) Veranda(vy upscale and luxurious with top shelf liqour ) and the very expensive Beaches. Exumas has the very expensive Sandals AI.

Truly your description fits Mexico. But since you're looking for better beaches, you have to give up everything else (and increase your budget)

If you give up AI, you could check out Aruba. If you give up snorkel and best beaches, then check out .St. Martin. St. Martin has almost everything on your list, and you can day trip to Anguilla for the glorious beaches (you have to go to Anguilla for the beaches you crave)

Or you can wait for after April, when all the prices drop considerably, but you'll still have to give up something on your wish list.

Hope this helps!
blamona is offline  
Old Nov 13th, 2012, 10:09 AM
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Your best bet is to check out Red Tag's Lowest Price Calendar. Should give you lots of options leaving from Calgary.

I did a quick check for all inclusive packages from Calgary. Aruba and Turks and Caicos are the most expensive (start around $2800). St.Lucia, Antigua and Barbados have packages from $1400s upwards. Negril, though not on your list, has some starting around $1025.

St.Maarten is one of my fav islands, not known for it's AIs though but has everything else.

I would avoid T&C and Bahamas in January, might not hot enough even for us Canadians Check out as well.
Sunfish2017 is offline  
Old Nov 14th, 2012, 09:53 AM
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There are a number of AI's in Antigua with nice beaches.

Halcyon Cove is on Dickenson Bay, in the northwest part of the island. It is directly north of St. John's, and I think it is one of the island's best beaches, with powder-soft sand and calm turquoise waters. If you are on the AI plan, you can use their kayaks, snorkeling gear, and sailboats. There are two restaurants and multiple bars at the hotel. Or you could walk over to some bars and restaurants nearby. They're casual places.
Knowing is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2012, 09:08 PM
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Thanks for all of the great responses so far. I have been doing some more research, and right now am leaning towards Sandals Grande in Antigua. They have 9 restaurants on the resort and almost all of them have at least one valid vegetarian option (for my GF) that is not just a meatless pasta dish. It sounds like the property is new and well kept (not dated). Right now I can get 7 days there with airfare for $3000 per person.....Slightly over my budget, but not bad. Anyone with experience at this particular resort?
jkevol is offline  
Old Dec 1st, 2012, 09:40 AM
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Jordan, I've been to almost every Caribbean island and here's a run down of where you will find the best per category, you'll have to sort out what's most important:

Most beautiful torquoise water: Hands down, Turks & Caicos
Best beaches: Turks & Caicos, Anguilla
Best shopping: Barbados, St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao
Best food (international cuisine): Anguilla, Aruba, Barbados
Best food (local cuisine): Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Grenada
Best snorkeling: Bonaire, St. John, Virgin Gorda, Tobago
Traveler1542 is offline  
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