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Please help! Help me to narrow down to a tropical destination

Please help! Help me to narrow down to a tropical destination

Apr 26th, 2014, 12:05 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2014
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Please help! Help me to narrow down to a tropical destination

Hi to all-

My boyfriend, my mom, and sister are planning a tropical vacation in December of this year. We are hoping to obviously find a place with great beach weather at this time. The more I google and research Caribbean Islands/other places the more overwhelmed I become. Below are some places we are considering. Any help on resorts/places to stay, all inclusive or not, activities/things to see, etc. would be greatly appreciated. We have been to Maui, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and Cancun in the past so looking for different places this go around. I'd also like a not very poverished island/place outside of resorts, as I had a bit of a shady experience in St. Lucia. We also are interested in any combo of these (whichever combos win us over): overwater beach bungalow, infinity pool, wild animal excursion/activities, historical site tours/culture, safe, fun nightlife, rainforest perhaps, near other islands to tour by boat for a day trip, pink sand beaches...basically not a "typical" beach island. We want to stay possibly 6 nights, nothing crazy expensive (maybe no more than $1,500/person.)

Places in mind are:
St. John
Azores-google claims the weather isn't too warm in December...?
Turks & Caicos
Bermuda-pink sand beaches, yes?
Dominican Republic
Virgin Gorda
Puerto Rico
St. Barth's

Any tips/info is much appreicated!
bns1104 is offline  
Apr 26th, 2014, 12:08 PM
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Also-not looking to zipline, paddle board. Would love it if there were some waves for surfing, I love to snorkel, we aren't looking for major excursions that are off the resort..more of a relaxing on the most beautiful beach out there with crystal clear water...GREAT food and drinks, we love music, fun night life, shopping...just unique things that I won't find perhaps on a beach vacation in Florida (although I love Florida panhandle beaches.)
bns1104 is offline  
Apr 26th, 2014, 06:15 PM
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Your short list is quite long which is why it seems overwhelming. Looking at your list of "wants" you are probably going to have to make some concessions. So. maybe this will help narrow you choices:

1) With the exception of a very high end resort in Belize and a place in Bermuda that are out of your price range you won't find any overwater bungalows so drop that as a requirement. Many places have infinity pools but I would let that be a deciding factor in where you stay. The Caribbean is not really know as a "wild animal" destination - generally speaking what you'll see are free roaming goats and sheep, perhaps a few donkeys and on the lusher islands maybe a few monkeys. On the other hand, many islands have an abundance of exotic birds.

2) Bermuda is the only destination with pink sand but it doesn't have rain forests. It's also very far north (off the cost of South Carolina so it will probably too cool for swimming/water activities in December. I'd cross it off your list.

3) St. John - hilly island 2/3's of which is a national park. Somewhat lush with an abundance of "dry forests rather than true rain forests. Great snorkeling, lots of hiking, Picturesque golden sand beaches, fairly upscale island with very little poverty. Easy access to nearby islands and cays. not a lot of night lie but some good restaurants. Not much shopping but you can take a short ferry ride to St. Thomas for your shopping fix. Put this island high on your short list.

4) Virgin Gorda - very similar in topography as St. John with many of the same "pluses" with the main difference being no "National Park. Somewhat less crowded than St. John. and not as expensive. This island has lots of what you are seeking. You should give it careful consideration.

5) Tortola - more built up than Virgin Gorda or St. John otherwise similar in attributes. On a par with Virgin Gorda as far as budget is concerned. Some good surfing beaches on the Atlantic side of the island. Look carefully at Tortola if you decide St. john or Virgin Gorda aren't for you.

6) Turks & Caicos - flat arid scrubby islands with spectacular white sand beaches, no rain forests, little night life, not much shopping beyond the ubiquitous trinket shop. Good snorkeling & some nice restaurants. Of the islands on your list, you'll find the best beaches in this island chain. Note: 95% of the resorts in the T&C's are located on Providenciales' Grace Bay (12+ miles of white sand). The T&C's are one of the more expensive destinations in the Caribbean. The T&C's may not meet all your expectations.

7) Dominican Republic - large island with plenty of budget friendly All Inclusive Resorts - your budget will go a long way on the island. Not noted for very good snorkeling but you will find some, certain ares have good surfing, some poverty off resort, rain forests, plenty of nightlife, lots of restaurants. This island ticks off most of your wish list. If you like Jamaica you'll probably like the Dominican Republic.

8) Puerto Rico - you'll find excellent surfing, lots of nightlife, all types of restaurants, lots of shopping, plenty of culture, history and rain forests, every water sport imaginable. Some poverty stricken area but these are easily avoided. You should have no difficulty finding accommodations in your budget range. Often overlooked by many travelers to the Caribbean Puerto Rico has a lot to offer and you'll find just about everything on your wish list.

9) St Barth's - very upscale island with scores of gourmet restaurants, high end resorts, sophisticated shopping, water sports, active night life and no poverty. This is one of the most expensive destinations in the Caribbean so your travel dollar won't go as far as on other islands. Hilly but somewhat arid island - no rain forests not much in the way of "history" but island has a definite French feel - think Paris in the Caribbean. This island offers many items from your wish list but you may be hard pressed to make your budget work in December.

10) Belize - good snorkeling, ok beaches, nearby rain forests, decent restaurants, active night life, some shopping, not know for surfing, plenty of other water sports. Some poverty in outlying areas. Your budget is well suited to Belize.

11) Can't comment on Azores but if you are traveling from US you may find airfare will eat up a large portion of your budget.
RoamsAround is offline  
Apr 26th, 2014, 08:59 PM
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RoamsAround: Wow, your response is exactly what I was looking for, so I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my (long) list of maybe places. You must have been to all of these places and for that I am jealous and hope to cross more off one day.

I am overwhelmed because I have recently received Groupon Getaway deals about twice/week where they list most all of these destinations and then some. I suppose once I narrow it down to a destination I will start a new discussion on specific resorts/villas. I usually don't spend tons of time at one unless it's AI, but for some reason I've seen some really pretty infinity pool pictures lately, but those mostly are from Riviera Maya/Cancun resorts. Like I mentioned, I will narrow down to whatever place appeals to us most by the wish list and what all we can find at one place with that list. Again thank you so much, and have a wonderful night.
bns1104 is offline  
Apr 26th, 2014, 09:31 PM
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@RoamsAround/Whomever....To confuse the situation further possibly, I did leave out a few other places I briefly researched that intrigued me....

Cooper Island
Peter Island
Barbuda-I also saw they have pink beaches...?

And I'm not entirely sure where you would stay to see the underwater waterfall on Mauritius Island but that would be an amazing experience! Thanks!
bns1104 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 04:21 AM
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Cooper Island, no infinity pool, beach just okay (many beaches prettier and easier to hang out in Virgins) no nightlife, no town

Peter--on it's own island, no infinity pool, no town, no nightlife, way over your budget

Barbuda, yes to pink beaches, no nightlife, flat like a pancake, ultra expensive (above your budget)

Aruba, dry, flat, crowded, fun, nightlife, shopping, cute town, can't think of infinity pool

Anguilla, dry, flat, not scenic, but ahhh gorgeous beaches, some of the best in world. Very expensive. No nightlife, no wild animals (geckos basically) no rainforest, no shopping.

And I'll trough in Mauritius, of all the exotic destinations (Bora Boea, Cooks, Maldives, Seychelles) this one doesn't come close to matching (yes, I'm a lucky girl, except for Barbuda I've been to all mentioned)

I highly recommend you buy Fodor's Caribbean guidebook. Discusses to the point every destination, you're all over the place! And really need to narrow down.

You're trying to find 1 island fits all, and it doesn't. Surprised RoamsAround didn't give "genarl" descriptions because roam describes them well, so I'll attempt:

2 kinds of islands in Caribbean:

Hilly, scenic, beaches in coves, water clear but not blinding turquoise, usually golden sand (so similar to St Lucia)

Flat dry and scrubby, neon turquoise long beaches, bright white sand, long beaches.

So hers my best of list, and you cant combine them in 6 days to get what you want:

Least poverty (and makes it expensive): anguilla, Turks and Caicos, caymans, St Barts

Overwater bungalows (not mant at all, you really need Maldives or Bora Bora) Bermuda, Belize and Staniel Cay, Bahamas (can be quite chilly at these in December)

Infinity pools, a couple in Turks and Caicos, St. Barts, usually the expensive islands over your budget

Wild animals: Costa Rica, Belize (Caribbean doesn't really have much of that)

Safe, again the expensive ones are safest, Turks, Anguilla, especially St Barts (this is the safest)

Fun nightlife, Cancun, Aruba, St Martin, Puerto Rico

Rainforest: Puerto Rico, Costa Rica

Pink sand beaches: Bermuda, Barbuda, Eluethera in the Bahamas (way chilly in December except Barbuda which is way over budget)

Historical sights, not many at all-- small islands, some may have 1 fort here and there. For historical sights basically: Puerto Rico, Mexico and Belize, Dominican Republic (and they can be far from resort areas)
So here's the catch, 6 days not enough time to island hop, most you loose travel time. Most require flights to island hop.

Whichever island you pick based on list you give up everything else in it.

For example,Anguilla has mind boggling beaches, makes up for not having everything else.

Scenic islands are stunning to look at, but beaches don't add up to turquoise water.

And here's another catch: when in December for your budget? and doesbit include air? If after 15th, most expensive time of year. Air will take up about half, leaving $200 for rooms. Doable, but really mostly DR and Mexico,

Which makes my entire list worthless!

blamona is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 04:56 AM
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Sorry for typos! Hope you understood

And 1 island that might fit majority of needs is Jamaica. (minus overwater bungalows, infinity pool, and safety away from resort areas)
blamona is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 05:09 AM
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All right - you are all over the place - sort of like a kid in a candy store that has a dollar to spend and asking which of the 100's of candies should he buy. He can only pick one and that's what you have to do - pick one place.

blamona is right on with her comments. Your "wish list" is impossible to fill on any one island or even in a group of islands that you can hop around (with 6 days you don't have time for more than a day trip to another island).

You are effectively considering almost every island and asking others to eliminate one for you but since your wish list is so long and you've not prioritized which of your desires are the most important no one can really guide you.

Use blamonas descriptions of the different types of islands to choose a couple (say no more than 3 or 4 - anything more will only keep you confused) that most appeal to you. Then do research on those island to find resorts/hotels that are in your budget range.

Don't worry about the other islands that don't make your new "short list" you can visit them another time. Keep in mind that while contributors like blamona and me have visited many, many islands (I've been to every one on you mentioned except one and scores more you didn't mention) it has taken us years to do so - we didn't do them all in one trip. One more thing, as the years pass and you travel around the Caribbean you'll each island has it's own special vibe and that there is no one "best" island there are just different islands. While you might like some better than others there will be very, very few that (if any) that you really hate.

After you've narrowed down the islands UNDER CONSIDERATION FOR THIS TRIP come back and share those with us and we'd be glad to help you find the right resort/hotel for you.

Lastly, do let us know when in December you are planning to travel - room rates increase dramatically after December 15 which is when you'll encounter the highest rates of the year and some places even have 10 to 14 day minimum stay requirements if you are planning to travel between Christmas and New Years. Tell us too, if your $1,500 per person budget is for just accommodations or if it includes airfare (if so we need to know where you are flying from to offer meaning suggestions) and food/activities (if so that will limit your choices even further).

Hope this helps you in narrowing down your choices.
RoamsAround is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 05:34 AM
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By the way, we thought Mauritius was just OK We flew there from east coast US and it was a very long haul for an island that wasn't much different than ones found in the Caribbean. If I decided to go that far again I'd look at the Seychelles.

Since you mentioned the Azores and Mauritius I wonder where you are traveling from - those two destinations are pretty far to go for a 6 day trip if you are flying from the US

I don't mean to sound condescending but are you just picking destination out of a hat?
RoamsAround is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 06:57 AM
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You've received the usual excellent advice from RoamsAround and blamona. No one island, indeed probably no place anywhere, offers everything on your wish list.

When I read your list I immediately thought of St. Martin. It has a wide variety of accommodations (although no over-water bungalows (not easy to find in the Caribbean) but I'm not sure about infinity pools), a range of dining from cheap to expensive (great restaurants in Grand Case), shopping, nightlife, nice beaches, and you can catch a ferry to Anguilla and St. Barts. With only six days I wouldn't move locations. You'll take up way too much time relocating. St. Martin (SXM) also has a large airport and is a direct flight from many cities on the east coast. I don't know where you're coming from but you may be able to reach it directly or with only one connection.

Someplace in the Virgin Islands might also work for you, either the US or the British. You can easily reach other islands via public ferry. St. Thomas will have the most shopping and nightlife but St. John does have a bit of shopping and nightlife. It has some nice beaches as well but unless you stay at Caneel Bay (out of your budget) you'll have to drive to a beach. You can surf off of Tortola and there's a little shopping and nightlife (low key restaurant/bars with live music). Smuggler's Cove and Cane Garden Bay are stunning beaches. Tortola also has some pretty good snorkeling.

Sorry to throw a new island at you with the recommendation of St. Martin but it ticks a lot of your boxes and falls within your budget. You're really all over the place so you need to prioritize the most important things you're looking for. Come back when you've narrowed it down and we'll be happy to help.
sharona is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 08:49 AM
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You mentioned the Azores. Google is right. Though it was a bit warmer than average this year, Dec and Jan temps are usually high 50/low 60 to high 60/lvery low 70. It would not be beach weather for me. It can be a bit rainy also, so jacket weather for some of us; depends on where you are coming from and what you are used to.

It is a beautiful and interesting place with multiple islands to visit and good food, but not, IMHO, a place for a beach vacation in winter. So, if it is a beach vacation you are wanting in Dec or Jan, I think you can easily eliminate the Azores.
Sassafrass is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 09:13 AM
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Ok, let's see.... the reason for being so vague is that my group is not picky and would be happy to visit most anywhere with a beach and a drink in hand. It's me that is hoping to find some magnificent place this go around, specifically in things that we've never done before. We've done ziplining, we've done snorkeling although I would love to do it again if possible, we've done ATV off roading so that's not important, we've surfed but would love an island that had that as an option. So things that are most important are (roughly in this order): a beautiful beach/es, great restaurants, some nightlife (doesn't have to offer 7 nightclubs or anything crazy), something unique to do in exchange for heavy excursions (such as a site like Mauritius, cool historical buildings/site, sunset dinner cruise, something unique to that specific place), would like some good shopping outside of local trinket shops, if we chose to stay at a resort that had an infinity pool that would be wonderful OR if we chose a place like Belize that had the beach bungalows that would great, too. Basically we will be won over by a place that has the most combinations of things most important. In doing research, as the saying goes "The more you know, the more you realize you don't know." And that's where I am..trying to easily eliminate places as I go, and @RoamsAround after your suggestions I narrowed down to St. John, Virgin Gorda, Puerto Rico, & Gray Cayman Islands last night.

I've aware that Turks may have the most gorgeous beaches but I've gathered that the island itself may be lacking, and so that stinks..

I'm aware that for wild animals/excursions that is mostly found in Belize and Costa Rica. I'm also aware that beach bungalows are best in Bora Bora and maybe Belize also.

St. Martin-I have heard a mix of good and bad about it, so I didn't leave it on the list.. will check it out again.

With island hopping, it seems the most common places to do this, from my research, is Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Peter Island, and maybe St. Kitts, can't remember. So I'm aware that we may not get a day trip to a nearby island if we are not staying at one of these islands.

As far as travel dates and cost..we honestly don't have hard lines to work with. I was thinking more of the first week/weekend in December... not sure if it's cheaper to fly and come back on certain days? I've played around with flights to see and couldn't really see a big trend. We may even could stay another night or two... and if we end up doing a villa or something more shard for the 4 of us, maybe that would lower the cost, who knows. I guess like you all mentioned I can begin researching resorts once a destination is chosen.

Half of us will be flying from Houston and the others live near the Florida panhandle, so sometimes they fly out of Atlanta although it's about 4 hours away.

@blamona-I'll check into the guide.. I guess it's easy to find by the fodors site?

And yes I am basically choosing out of a hat by seeing what all is out there, considering a wish list and cost. I've narrowed down quite a bit since reading all of the responses, and don't think it will be terribly hard to continue narrowing down. I'll be in touch and let you guys know what is chosen. Thanks
bns1104 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 09:15 AM
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@Sassafrass-thank you! I just wanted confirmation about Azores in December.. my mom used to live there as a child (military) and wants to go back and being that we are planning for December (mostly for time and budget) I need to know what places are cold or warm year round.
bns1104 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 09:48 AM
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FYI beach bungalows in Belize are rustic, and hours away (plus 2 hour boat ride) on a little gilligahans island with nothing else on it, so completely out

All infinity pool resorts are out of your budget ($750 + for 2 a night)

You're still all over the place, meaning shopping, or bungalows or historical sights aren't going to happen.

the list I gave you pretty much describes what each island offers, meaning the rest of your list will be missing.

For example: "Infinity pools, a couple in Turks and Caicos, St. Barts, usually the expensive islands over your budget" This means NO shopping, no historical sights, no bungalows, no nightlife.

I wrote what each island offers on the list, if it's not on the list, it doesn't have it!

Sounds like Hawaii to me, but in 6 days you'll only spend 3 there.

Mauritius is not that great! Maybe you saw a nice picture, but if going there Seychelles is much better!

As for surfing, again, not much in Caribbean. Maybe Puerto Rico, definitely Costa Rica.

Puerto Rico might work for you, but warning, you're not going to be blown away as beaches and scenery are much nicer on other islands, and shopping is just like the States.

Tortola sounds like the best fit. Scenery, island hopping (St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda) Good middle ground to hop around (although shopping you'd have to ferry to St. Thomas, better beaches at VG and St. John, no bungalows, no water falls, historical sights are a couple of windmills) Has decent (beach bars) type nightlife

Tortola actually has some waves, but rough bottoms

Again, you're list is all over the place. These are tiny islands. Basically laid back, slow pace, de-stress. You're really not going to get half or your "must Haves" at any of them.

Or go to Hawaii
blamona is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 10:19 AM
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Lots of very nice rental villas on Virgin Gorda - If you want beachfront or beach access check out places on Mahoe Bay. If you don't mind driving or walking short distance to the beach look at villas in the Leverick Bay area. Either area should have something that meets your requirements. FYI - there's some very good "walk-in" snorkeling on Mahoe bay and off of many of the other beaches on VG. No real shopping on VG - you'll need to go to Tortola for modest shopping or St. Thomas for lots of shopping. Easy to 'hop" to other islands for the day.

St. John also has plenty of rental villas but only a couple that could be considered beachfront and they will be way out of your price range. To reach St. John best way is to fly into St. Thomas then ferry over to St. John. Like VG there's only a limited amount of "trinket" shopping on St. John - have to go to St. Thomas for that. Easy to hope to other islands for the day.

Grand Cayman has lots of beachfront condos you can rent that would be perfect for your group. The island is flat, however, so it will be arid and won't have a lush "feel". It does have long strands of beaches, good snorkeling and lots of activities like swimming with sting rays, diving trips, day sails, deep sea fishing, etc. You'll find some decent shopping on Grand Cayman. Only other islands nearby are Litte Cayman and Cayman Brac - both "diving" islands and a little difficult to reach so island hoping take a back seat on Grand Cayman.

Puerto Rico is such a large island that you can find all types of accommodations. You'll have to decide what area you'd like to stay in. Stay in San Juan, if you want a city vibe. Go to the outlying towns like Ponce or the Rincon area if you want a more remote setting. Vieques and Culebra are nearby islands but you may find the time it takes getting to/from those islands aren't conducive for a day trip.

Now, you can find sunset cruises, nice beaches, day sails, and other interesting activities on just about every island so don't get too hung up on those types of things. Same with restaurants - every island has places you can get very good meals and there are enough "unique" activities on any of the islands you are considering to keep anyone busy for the length of time you are planning to visit.

You'll find getting to Grand Cayman fairly easy - you and your friends should be able to find non-stop flights from Houston or Atlanta. Getting to Virgin Gorda is more of a trek - you have to fly into San Juan or St. Thomas then take a connecting flight on a small commuter plane to VG. If you fly into St. Thomas you also have the option of taking a ferry to VG. Puerto Rico will be the easiest to reach from Houston or Atlanta as you can fly non-stop. In all probability airfare to Puerto rico will be lowest.

You've asked about airfare. It's difficult to give you precise info as airfare fluctuate greatly. Generally speaking flying mid-week (Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursdays) is less expensive than flying on weekends but the difference isn't always very much and it isn't always the case. Flying around holidays is generally more expensive then flying during non-holiday periods. The best thing to do is to: 1) Sign up to receive email airfare alerts from your airline(s) of choice and also on travel websites like Kayak. Also, keep monitoring airfares and when you see a fare that looks good don't hesitate - book it as it may not be there the next day.

You've made great progress narrowing down your choices to 4 islands. Hopefully you can select one of them and really begin to plan your trip. Have fun!
RoamsAround is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 10:20 AM
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Any questions I have had about any place in the Carribean, RoamsAround has been spot on.

First, probably eliminate all that have iffy weather in winter.

I would eliminate the DR based on my DDs' experiences. One lived there, the other visited. For me, I like to be able to freely explore a place and feel pretty safe doing so. Even though one DD lived there, loved it and traveled all over, she said it wasn't so good for tourists to leave selected areas. Hope that doesn't ofend anyone - just her opinion.

I have been to St Kitts three times, a week each time. First time, I loved it just for the weather, parties at the beach, etc. However, after getting to know it better, it would not be my choice. The beaches are OK, but not fabulous. Shopping, also just OK. Food - hope this doesn't offend, but I personally found the food edible, but nothing I wanted a second time and no restaurant I wished to visit a second time. I have not been to Nevis yet though, so if you were going there, it might be different. The people of St Kitts are lovely. I would enjoy a couple of days on St Kitts, but not a week again. So my opinion - eliminate St Kitts unless you are also going to Nevis. Based on my experience, St Kitts does not seem like a good fit for you.

I really liked my couple of days in Puerto Rico and think it is overlooked. It has tons of things to do, good shopping, history, restaurants, beaches, etc. Rent a car and do some touring. There is a nice cultural mix from city to country areas.

No personal experience, but friends who have been to Belize love it and it seems to have a lot of what you want, especially snorkling and diving.

We were recently on a cruise and stopped on Cozumel. We spent most of the day at Paradise Beach and did some shopping. The beaches were pretty, food was very, very good and shopping was fun. Looked like a fun place to rent a car and explore. I would research more first, but might consider a week there in winter.

No personal experience but Costa Rico looks pretty and seems to have a lot of what you would like. A neighbor went to a resort that had natural tropical pools, lots of birds, etc. Her pictures made it look like a tropical paradise. I know she took a small plane to get to the resort. It you are interested, I can ask her more about it.

Another poster on Fodors loves Puerto Vallarta, goes every year. You might look at that.

Only there for one day on a cruise, but Barbadoes is pretty and interesting - don't know about flights, etc. though. I would love to go back there for a week.

Check out offers on Travelzoo - might at least give you some other ideas to work with.

Fun thing you are doing with your group!
Sassafrass is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 11:54 AM
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Dul, we said what she was looking for was in those expensive places described and were NOT in her budget so to rule them out. Did we not write that?

I did mention Tortola, said it would come closest.

OP asked about most of those islands, so please explain your post to me?
blamona is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 12:33 PM
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PS I've been to all places mentioned on this thread-- pretty big chunk of places don't you think? Since OP is all over the place, it's easy for me

blamona is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 01:28 PM
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Dul, you are right about the Azores out of sight airfare, but I was answering the OP's question about weather there in winter. The OP seems to have a special reason for considering it, so if weather was not a concern for her, she might make it happen anyway.
Sassafrass is offline  

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