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Need Advice: Caribbean Vacation

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Aug 29th, 2013, 06:29 PM
  #1
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Need Advice: Caribbean Vacation

I would like to take my family of 4 (kids ages 11 & 15) on a special vacation, so I am thinking Caribbean. My wife and kids have not traveled much in their lives and have certainly not seen anything like the Caribbean. As the kids get older, I'd like to take them somewhere that they'll always remember. So I am thinking Caribbean as the primary option. I am open for other ideas, but it seems the Caribbean is a good option.

I am on the fence between cruise or an island stay. I would consider either. I am trying to make a decision and gather some prices. Just as most others, budget is an important factor. Although I have not set a concrete budget, I am thinking that $10k is the absolute max out of pocket expense, but less is always welcomed

I live in the DC metro area, so my flights will have to be out of Dulles (IAD). My employer has all sorts of businesses that offer special deals on tons of things, including vacations so I am asking them for advice and pricing so I can compare. I am also looking at standard places like Costco travel. I am always looking for a deal, so any suggestions are welcome

I want to take the family on a nice vacation in a nice place. I would like to have a lot of available activities and something "inclusive" does sound like something that would be useful for us. I have 2 sons and they love to eat LOL. I do not want anything that is in Mexico. There's a few different reasons, but I am thinking Eastern or Southern Caribbean. I would prefer something that would rate in the 4 star range. Many years ago, I stayed at the Atlantis and I thought it was great. That was in 1996 though. I just know that style of place will be nice. Here is the core info for me:

Destination: Caribbean (Other Ideas Welcomed)
Duration: 7 Days (slightly flexible)
Type: Cruise or Island Stay
Budget: $8k -$10k (including activities/excursions, air fare, etc)
Passengers: 2 Adults, 2 Kids (ages 11 & 15)
Timeframe: Feb 2014
- All inclusive seems like a good idea.

With all of that said, does anyone have any suggestions? I have read a few things, but so far the best reviews for resorts I have seen have been Atlantis and Beaches Turks & Caicos. I also have some prices on cruises that I am considering. I am looking for suggestions on cruise vs hotel, location, best place to buy, best value, etc. Any advice is appreciated!
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Aug 30th, 2013, 06:02 AM
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OK - February is "High Season" in the Caribbean so no matter where you go you'll encounter the highest room rates of the year. I'm also guessing that if you are planning to travel in February it will be during President's Week or Spring Break. If so, don't delay too long in finalizing your plans as many families book their trips almost a year in advance when traveling at those times.

Atlantis and Beaches are well known family resorts but they are also on the expensive side. Your travel dollar will go a lot further at other destinations.

Cruises are a good way for a family to see the Caribbean. All your meals are included and there are tons of activities that will interest all members of your family. Many cruise lines also have "teen programs" which I'm sure your children would love and it gives you and your wife some "adult time". Look at Carnival, Princess or Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as they specialize in "Families".

If you want a land based vacation you'll find the largest concentration of All Inclusives in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, so I'd concentrate your search to those islands.

There are only a few All Inclusives in the Southern Caribbean and those that are there are on the pricey side. So, if you want All Inclusive and you want to see the Souther Caribbean on this trip your best and most economical bet would be a cruise.

There are a couple of All Inclusives on Antigua that are great for families. Look at Galley Bay, Jolly Beach, Grand Pineapple, Veranda and Coco Bay.

One last point, "KVR" one of the regular contributors on this forum is the "resident" All Inclusive expert. Hopefully she will see your post and add some very helpful suggestions.
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Aug 30th, 2013, 06:49 AM
  #3
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Thanks very much for your reply.

I am not stuck on any date to be honest. My kids are in high gear with sports from March thru the Fall and then there's T-Giving and Christmas right at the end of the year, so that's how I landed on Feb. Really nothing more than that...

I have been talking to a travel agent about vacations and pricing, but I have told them that I am shopping for the best deal. So they recommended and priced 3 cruises on NCL and RC. Both were priced with 2 joining rooms or with 1 larger room, like a suite. With 2 "big" kids, I was concerned about space.

For resort-like stays, they proposed a couple places in Dominican Republic, but the reviews were pretty bad. I think they were Occidental, viva wyndham, and Barcelo. From what I saw, the reviews were > 50% bad. All were 3.5 stars.

The only reference point I have is the Atlantis, which I like because of tons of stuff to do there. I have a friend that just got back from there so I got a few notes from them as well. My concern there is the cost of everything, especially all the add-ons that u may have to pay for. Not sure if its a big deal or not, but the general feeling I have.

The place I stumbled on last night was Turks & Caicos. Everything I read about it seems to be high reviews, particularly Beaches in Turks & Caicos. It does appear to be high-end cost though. I also wonder how much stuff there is to do there, like in comparison to Atlantis. Like I know Atlantis has all the water park stuff, aquariums, casino, etc. I am not sure what Beaches and/or T&C has to offer in that way.
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Aug 30th, 2013, 06:57 AM
  #4
 
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You keep mentioning Atlantis. Just remember that in February it will probably not be warm enough there to enjoy all the water activities.
I have been to many places in the Caribbean. You don't state what you have against Mexico, but it is one of my favorite places. The Riviera Maya area is loaded with family friendly all inclusive resorts.
If you are worried about safety, these resorts are in a safe area. Most of the tourist areas in Mexico are safe. You also will get more for your money in the Dominican Republic or Mexico. I personally felt much safer off the resorts in Mexico than in the DR.
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Aug 30th, 2013, 07:25 AM
  #5
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I guess I assumed that the temps in Caribbean would be warm in Feb. Is it not warm? That would be good to know. Its cold where I live in Feb, that's for sure!

I do not have a personal issue with Mexico, but there's a few different reasons that I have to take it off my list. Security is just one of them.

I have definitely heard about the value at places like DR. I haven't been there but I try to get a reasonable idea by reviews and opinions. I do realize that there will be extreme opinions in both directions. So far I have not found any places there that seem to have the activity level and high reviews that I was looking for. That could be completely wrong, but again I am just trying to learn more about whats out there.

I just want to take my wife and sons to a beautiful place and have a lot of fun. I want it to be a memorable vacation for them as they are growing up.
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Aug 30th, 2013, 08:25 AM
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Atlantis is in the Bahamas. the Bahamas are in the Atlantic (off the coast of Florida) not the Caribbean. In February you don't want to be any further north than the Dominican Republic to be assured of warm weather (daytime temps in the high 70's to low 80's F. the further south you go the warmer it gets.

You keep mentioning "activities" - most islands offer lots of activities - like hiking, snorkeling, diving, sailing, wave runners, kite boarding, etc. that will keep you busy so don't let that be an issue. If you stick to the major islands rather then "go off the beaten path" to some of the more obscure islands you'll find plenty to do. You see, the more tourists that visit a destination, the more things there will be to do. Activity vendors and tour operators don't set up businesses where there are no customers. And, if you go All Inclusive there will be lots of "on resort" activities for you & your kids - it's what AI's are noted for.

Lastly, a trip to anywhere in the Caribbean will be memorable.

So, first decide on which island you want to visit then choose your resort. Don't get caught up in the "Will I have more fun on the other island" syndrome. No two islands are alike and every island has something to offer.
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Aug 30th, 2013, 09:44 AM
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Wow, thanks for the heads up. I guess I assumed it would be warm wherever I went. Other than a cruise, everything I have been looking at is north of DR. Right now Turks & Caicos Beaches and Atlantis are my 2 favorites, but again I am open minded. Those 2 are the type of place I want to go to, so I am looking for places that are similar.

What is the typical climate above DR during that time?
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Aug 30th, 2013, 10:24 AM
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There's no way to predict the weather this far in advance but anything north of the DR could be cool . For example on the island of Nassau (where Atlantis is located) the Average Temperature in February is around 71 degrees. The average High is 77 and the average Low is 65. The highest ever recorded was 86, the Lowest was 48. So you see, there's a fairly wide range of possible temperatures but on average it's going to be in the low 70's. For the T&C's (where Beaches is located) you'll find average temperatures only 1 or 2 degrees higher (if there's any difference at all). Cool temperatures are a risk when traveling to the Bahamas and the T&C's in winter.

You can research "average weather statistics for any destination at www.weatherbase.com - just click your way through to the Caribbean and the the island you wish to research. FYI - on this website they include the Bahamas and the T&C's in the "Caribbean" even though they are technically outside of the Caribbean.

By the way, you won't find anything like Atlantis in the Caribbean. There are two Beaches Resorts on Jamaica, one in Ocho Rios and the other in Negril. If you have your heart set on a Beaches Resort they are better options in February than the one in the T&C's.
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Aug 30th, 2013, 04:16 PM
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I stayed at Beaches in Turks and Caicos several years ago. About 12 to be exact. I was bored silly and ready to come home in a week. We were not a family just myself and husband. They do have a gorgeous beach. Have you considered Aruba?
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Aug 30th, 2013, 04:58 PM
  #10
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Most Caribbean resorts get top dollar in the winter months. Beaches in Turks is especially expensive. I really doubt it's going to fall within your stated budget, especially since you may need two rooms. Also airfares are shockingly high for the winter. You might want to check the dates you're interested in for different destinations before deciding where to go, unless you're doing a vacation package.
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Aug 31st, 2013, 01:13 AM
  #11
 
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There are a number of AI hotels in the Caribbean aside from DR, Mexico and Jamaica. Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia have several, almost everywhere has them. If you want the "real" Caribbean with fabulous beaches, you can't go wrong with Barbados or Antigua. Aruba is also a great island but is not everyone's idea of a tropical paradise as it is flat, dry and arid, having said that it has alot to offer.
I have stayed in several AI properties over the years in the Caribbean in the 3 or 4 star category, have never found them hugely expensive but some may prefer Mexico or DR because the price of AI & what it includes is more important than the destination.
St James Club in Antigua is a good option esp with kids.
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Sep 1st, 2013, 11:41 AM
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Look at vacationstogo cruises for your time frame. Southern Caribbean is great then. You could pick whatever is best on each island you visit. Also, consider Costa Rica adventure tour. Look at the AI vacations offered on Travelzoo.
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Sep 2nd, 2013, 09:02 AM
  #13
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Thanks. So I just ran a couple different dates thru beaches T&C and it appears that the example dates I was using are almost 50% higher than dates very close to it. Does anyone know the differences between the "villages" at Beaches T&C? I just mean are certain ones better than other, eg economy vs lux.

I will check out those 2 sites, thanks.
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Sep 2nd, 2013, 12:52 PM
  #14
 
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BeachesResort, in order of nicest:

Least, Caribbean (basic)
French(nice pool, walk to the beach)
Italian (best pool, everybody hangs there)
best, Key West (small pool, quietest luxury newest rooms)

Here's the thing about Beaches, regardless of which room, you use the entire resort. So room is just to sleep in right?

Another funny thing, you could stay at a much nicer resort, gorgeous rooms, for much less. Of course, you don't get the water park or 16 all inclusive restaurants, but prices even out.

You also get better stretches of beach at other resorts, the ability to explore, and bond with your kids!

If still looking at AIs though, Beaches is the nicest one in Caribbean.
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Sep 3rd, 2013, 07:20 PM
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One of the pmost wonderful places i've ever visited (4 times already) is Cartagena Colombia. Beautiful beach, beautiful old historic town. And easily accessible islands ust off the coast. And warm all year round!
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Nov 13th, 2013, 03:33 PM
  #16
 
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Djtech2k,

Did you ever check out cruises on the vacationstogo web site? I have booked with them three times and had excellent service. If you do not find something you like on the 90 day sticker, plug in your dates, etc. on the form for expanded research. The 90 day sticker does not list nearly all of the cruises available.
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Nov 18th, 2013, 09:27 AM
  #17
 
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I will give you my best advice based on my extensive knowledge of the islands as I am from there and my experience as a cruiser as well.
In your case I would most certainly suggest one of two island in the southern Caribbean - either Barbados or Saint Lucia (where English is the language) which are quite different one from the other but nevertheless provide a great flavour of the islands. Barbados is flat with great beaches and St. Lucia, mountainous, good beaches and stunningly beautiful. I would find a two bedroom apartment near or on the beach where you can save my cooking most of your meals yet be able to go out and enjoy the cuisine at local restaurants. I wouldn't do a cruise or stay at an all inclusive if I were you. While there are benefits you will have much more freedom the other way and get to know local people as well. If you would like more specific information from me please indicate that in your response and I will give you my email address here in Canada where I now live.
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