suggestions for first/only caribbean vacation?

Old Jul 11th, 2004, 06:49 AM
  #1  
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suggestions for first/only caribbean vacation?

Planning a caribbean vacation for 2005 and of course I'm overwhelmed by the choices. Since this might well be my only shot at seeing this part of the world (we're only able to do a "big" vacation every other year), would sure like to get it right. Hoping for input from y'all to help me narrow it down.

We did Hawaii in '01 and had the vacation of a lifetime. Hubby would adore going back (see a different island), but I get to choose this time and think we should be a little more adventuresome.

So, our wish list for the perfect caribbean vacation:

- that georgous crystal-clear aqua Caribbean water; palm trees on beautiful semi-uncrowded beaches for that tropical feel;

- no crowds (i.e. no cruise ship day-trippers); no place full of "beautiful people", which we certainly are not.

- no dressing up and a casual feel. Hubby's idea of dressing up is to put a T-shirt on over his shorts. I don't want to feel a need for new wardrobes for us to go (frankly, even "resort casual" would be a stretch for us.....)

- friendly locals who we'd enjoy getting to know; no obvious poverty/slums; no thoughts about a "crime problem".

- day-tripping possibilities. While I'd be happy lolling on a beach w/a book all day, hubby would get bored without something to do. Need nearby "points of interest" to visit, but we're not that active: thinking car/taxi tours, boat excursions, etc. We're not into shopping as entertainment, but would like checking out local crafts etc. "Night life" not necessary: our idea of night life is a few beers on the lanai (or maybe a beach-shack-bar?) then a beach stroll before bed.

- affordable. I'll have a budget of $6000.00 or so, so we're not talking high-end places. Also, we're traveling from the midwest, so it's gonna be a HUGE hassle to get ANYWHERE (we pretty much have to change planes just to get to Vegas or L.A......)

Some ideas that have caught my imagination:

- a Windjammer cruise (the cruise line).
- Young Island
- the Mayan Riviera coast

But I'm open to any suggestions, and sure hope for some ideas/things-to-think-about here. Thanks so much.....



hens4th is offline  
Old Jul 11th, 2004, 07:12 AM
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Since you mentioned the Mayan Riviera, I would suggest Isla Mujeres.

It has all you want, and if you go during off-season (late April through late November) you could live high on the hog for your budget.

Check out Villa Rolandi or Na Balam.

Another possibility is Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. All that you want but almost all resorts are AI, so I would not go there personally.

There are several other places that have most of what you want, but I think the above fit most closely.
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Old Jul 11th, 2004, 08:27 AM
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hens4th,
Maybe I can be of some help, since i've been to caribbean mexico as well as a few windjammer cruises. Agreee with the suggestion for isla mujeres as the best choice in mexico, based on your (excellent and thorough!) description of what you are looking for in your vacation. Very good suggestions from the other poster.
I will also give a BIG recommendation for windjammer, it sounds right up your alley, especially your dress code requirements--LOL--I hear ya! On WJ the Grenadines itinerary has the best west-indian "feel",the smallest and best-sailing ship, the home base of Grenada is just wonderful, plenty of choices for just beach bumming or activity, and very, very secluded cruise stops. You won't see many other tourists, you really won't--when you do they will be on Grenada. They have a dock to accomodatelarge cruise ships, but I've not seen one in port. Definitely not like St Thomas... No info on Young Island for you, sorry. Have fun planning your trip!
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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 05:19 AM
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What a great help it is to have such a detailed and reasonable list of expectations.

I think your idea of the Mayan Riviera could work well for you. In general these AI's are very casual. The only one I am personally familiar with is Barcelo Maya, but I've read good reviews from most of the resorts in the area. If you want a little shopping/nightlife you can always go into Playa Del Carmen, but if not the resorts are very self sufficient, with nightly shows etc.

The Barcelo is a large resort, but it has never felt crowded to us. The beach is a mile and a half long with no nearby resorts to share it with. There are so many lounge chairs that you never have to worry about 'reserving' one in order to have some shade. Anyway, there is a LOT of information about the area to help in your research.

The other destination I'm familiar with that might be a match is Turks and Caicos. Has a stunning 12 mile beach, and crystal clear water. Hard to feel crowded on a beach that size. It has its own airport, so its easy to get to, but no cruise ships.

There are some fancy restaurants, but also a lot of casual ones. Not a lot of shopping or nightlife.

Anyway, have fun researching...

Ken

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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 07:45 AM
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Ken, where on Turks and Caicos would
you stay that is not outrageously
expensive but has decent accomodations
AND, is close to the "casual" restaurants that you mentioned?

Thanks.

Mark H.
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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 08:11 AM
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Hi Mark,

Everything is so subjective. I'm not sure what you would consider outrageously expensive. We stayed at the Royal West Indies resort. These (like many of the resorts on the island) come with kitchen facilities so we ended up doing many of our own breakfasts and lunches.

Also subjective is the definition of 'close'. We enjoy walking and found Ports of Call to be within easy walking distance. In this area is 21 North, Barefoot Cafe and Calico Jacks. A bit further down is Danny Bouys, an Irish Pub. We also ate at Hemingways at the Sands, which is a shorter walk on the beach than on the roads.

Ken



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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 09:45 AM
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Hi - I would suggest you look at Anguilla -- the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean (33 of them), amazing food, the friendliest islanders I've met in my travels, and restaurants to die for. The beaches are NEVER crowded, even during high season. Atmosphere is very casual, even in the most upscale restaurant. Based on your budget I would suggest Frangipani (www.frangipani.ai) or Cuisinart for accomodations. We stayed at Frangipani this year and loved it, others rave about Cuisinart. Check out www.anguillaforum.com for lots more info from other Anguilla fans.

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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 10:07 AM
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Since this may be your only Caribbean trip, why not go somewhere with a bit of the feel of the old Caribbean, rather than an homogenized resort or an Americanized tourist location? I would suggest Grenada - enough tourist development to have a decent selection of hotels and restaurants, but most of the island is not developed. It has beaches, lots of things to see, beautiful scenery, friendly people, is relatively safe, and while many pople are not well off, doesn't have real slums.
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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 10:53 PM
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How about the Maho Bay Campground--they have cottages there...it's on Saint John...in the off-season it can be VERY affordable....I just got a great deal on airfare through US Air. ($247 per person to Saint John)--I know the airfare deal is over, but specials in mid summer run sometimes...even villas in the off-season can be affordable www.caribbeanvilla.com

You can also go to usvi-on-line.com (they have a travel forum)to ask for affordable destinations in the virgin islands....
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Old Jul 14th, 2004, 03:51 PM
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Awesome info, guys.....thanks so much.

Looking forward to lots of fun the next six months researching all your suggestions. Right now, am leaning toward combining a few days on Grenada w/a Windjammer cruise. Any thoughts?

Also like the affordability issue in going with a Mexican AI. What are things we should consider when deciding whether to go the AI route?

Our time frame for the trip is probably May-November - what month might you choose for a Caribbean trip and why? What websites would you research for weather info re:best months to see a given area/island? Any suggestions for the perfect guidebook(s) I can order from Amazon, to whet our travel appetites?

Thanks again for any help.....
hens4th is offline  
Old Jul 14th, 2004, 04:00 PM
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No matter where you choose to go, I'd not pick an AI.

The food is mediocre at best, and at worst? Well, ask all of the people who have gotten sick from eating the food that lies out for hours at many of the AI's.

I think Grenada was a good suggestion. The BVI's also have some very nice beaches and loads of day-tripping possibilities. imho, neither of those places have the pretty water you will find in Caribbean Mexico or Anguilla or Turks and Caicos or Punta Cana in the DR.

I'd stick to May-July or late October to November in your time frame so as to avoid the probability of a hurricane causing problems.
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Old Jul 15th, 2004, 04:17 AM
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We traveled for years before we went to our first AI. The idea that all AI's have buffets that make the guests sick is silly. How could hundreds of multimillion dollar resorts stay in business if they routinely made the guests sick? I don't know what experiences Diana has had with AI's but they don't match with mine.

The food at the resort we stayed at was good... it was not great, but it was at the upper end of what you'd expect of a buffet feeding hundreds of people. The hot food was hot and replaced regularly, the cold food was kept cold. The choices were varied and extensive.

If fine dining is high on your priority list then an AI is probably not a good bet for you.

If you choose to go to the Mayan Riviera, then all of the major resorts are AI. If you want to stay in a smaller local hotel and sample the restaurants in the city of Playa Del Carmen, that is always an option, but all the large resorts are AI because the area is so spread out and there is not a sufficient restaurant industry to handle the number of tourists.

As I mentioned, we've done both AI and not. Sometimes it is more appropriate than others. I would not choose to stay on St. Martin in an AI because there are so many great restaurants, and the dining is a big part of the experience, but the Mayan Riviera is different.

From my research, the best AI food in Mayan Riviera area is at a resort called The Hideaway but it is fairly expensive. We stayed twice at an AI called Barcelo Maya and thought the food was good, never been sick, had a wonderful carefree time.

This is for the Mayan Riviera area, if you choose Cancun, or Isla Mujeres I would not recommend an AI.

AI is a viable travel option, and the preferred option for many people. I don't think it is always the best choice because when available we enjoy trying different restaurants. But the idea that the food service at all AI's is so poor as to make the guests ill strikes me as fear mongering.

Grenada and a windjammer cruise sounds exciting. I've never done either. Wherever you choose, best of luck in your search and your trip.

Ken

By the way, if you travel to Cancun, Mayan Riviera, Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, I highly recommend the maps at www.cancunmap.com.
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Old Jul 15th, 2004, 10:17 AM
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I think you will be pleased if you go with windjammer/grenada. I'm biased as I'm leaving in 2 weeks (yay!) for my second sail on the Yankee Clipper, combined with 5 days on Grenada. It is not an inexpensive trip, and travel to Grenada can take a full day--but so worth it. Of trips to 7 or 8 islands and Mexico, Honduras and Belize, it is my favorite destination in the Caribbean. There are a number of posts with Grenada info. I had a very good experience at Blue Horizons cottages there. Happy planning whatever you choose.
Kath
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Old Jul 15th, 2004, 10:23 AM
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Oh, forgot to mention that you can travel to Grenada safely in summer off season due to its southern location, which can save some money. I would not recommend mexico during hurricane season unless you're a risk taker!
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Old Jul 16th, 2004, 04:38 PM
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I'd go to the Cayman Islands. It has a reputation for being expensive but if you know where to go, it's not at all. We've been 5 times - we rent a 2 bedroom villa on a PRIVATE beach, nobody else around but other residents, no hotels nearby, and it is peaceful and lovely. Cheaper than the hotels, (about $175 a night) and you cook yourself so you save on meals, dine out when you want to. Check out the owners website: www.maidenplum.com

Plus on Grand Cayman you can swim with and feed tame stingrays in the ocean.

I love it there. If you want more info just shoot me an email at [email protected]
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Old Jul 16th, 2004, 04:43 PM
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Look into one of the smaller islands or the "out" islands in the Bahamas.
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Old Jul 18th, 2004, 06:17 AM
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More great input, and so much to think about.....

What has captured my imagination most is seeing that georgous Caribbean water (preferably w/palm trees!) You know, the kind I see in photos, so crystal-clear you can see the ocean bottom, all brilliant aqua/green - something so very different from what I've seen of the Pacific. On what islands are these type of photos taken?

I'm also concerned w/the distances involved. If we go very far south (say, Grenada), then I'm sure it'll take us 2 days just to get there (shoot, we live almost 2 hours from our home airport.....); then we lose almost 4 days out of our 12-day vacation just in traveling. Should I maybe concentrate on the islands easier to travel to? Does the Bahamas fit any of my "wish list"? Any others "closer to home"?

A "desert" island such as the Caymans just doesn't capture my imagination. Wishing for more "scenery", more day-trip possibilities, a good mix of things to see on land along w/getting out on the water.

Good food IS important to us, but we're not into fine dining. We're more likely to appreciate and remember "that little local shack/eatery with the fabulous ____" than any $100 meal at a fancy restaurant. Hhmmm, maybe I should rethink going with an AI, which wouldn't give us as many opportunities to try out local cuisine.....

Asking again too for suggestions for good Caribbean travel guides.

What fun!.....Thank you all and please keep the ideas coming.....



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Old Jul 18th, 2004, 07:17 AM
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My two favorite Caribbean travel guides are "Best Places to Stay in the Caribbean," written by the Jamisons and published by Houghton Mifflin; and "Caribbean Hideaways" (or possibly "Romantic Hideaways in the Caribbean&quot written by Ian Keown and published by Frommer's. (The latter not to be confused with the regular Frommer's guide to the region.) These two guides concentrate on the smaller hotels and resorts in the region and they offer a full range of price options. When a large resort or an AI really stands out, they include it in the guide, too.

Just wanted to drop a line about the "no obvious poverty" concern that you have. Most of the region is considered third world; there are few islands where the local population does not live a lifestyle that is in stark contrast to the luxuries found even in moderate resort areas. It can be a very uncomfortable line of demarcation, especially to first time visitors. After all, a tourist may spend more money in one day on umbrella drinks than a local family may have for its weekly food budget.

I don't want to discourage you from traveling to the Caribbean--in fact, it's my favorite vacation destination so far--but knowing what to expect ahead of time can help you to avoid travel disappointments.

That being said, I think the Windjammer cruise combined with a few nights on one of the islands at the beginning or end of the itinerary would perfectly fit your criteria. I hope you have fun planning the trip and an even better time living it!
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Old Jul 18th, 2004, 07:34 AM
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A word about AI's. I think the food quality depends on the property. In Jamaica we went AI twice at the Jamaica Grande and were pleased. This resort is a melding of two hotels into one complex so there are about 5 restaurants to choose from. In addition they had outdoor shows/dinners 2-3 times per week and the food was quite good. OTOH wwe tried Trelawny once (AI) and were so disappointed (frozen toaster waffles for breakfast) we shifted the JG for the duration of our stay. We have also hade good AI food quality in several places in Mexico. Bottom line is you get what you pay for IMHO. If the AI seems pretty cheap I'll bet the food is just passable. Now just where do you live? If Grenada is you choice it should not take more than hrs. to get there. And Grand Cayman, though very pricey to dine out in is tropical, not arid. Were you thinking of Aruba? BTW we love Aruba. The water is clear, warm and the beaches are shallow so one can wade out a long way. In a readers poll of the travel mag. Carib. travel and life it was voted #1 best overall destination and the freindliness of the people there is well known. The waters of GC are very good as well as is the Carib. side of Mexico. Hey amigo at least half the fun is in the planning Cheers, Larry
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Old Jul 18th, 2004, 09:44 AM
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ARUBA IS GREAT - FRIENDLY , CLEAN AND JUST ALL AROUND WONDERFUL.. GREAT RESTAURANTS AND PLENTY TO DO AND SEE.
OR JUST HANG AROUND ON BEACH, WEATHER IS GOOD ALL YEAR TO AND NO HURRICANS TO WORRY ABOUT ... HAVE FUN NO MATTER WHERE YOU DECIDE TO GO..
WENT TO HAWAII THIS PAST JAN AND LOVED IT . ARUBA IS MY FIRST LOVE THEN HAWAII. ENJOY!!!
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