Help me plan an awesome pre-baby vacation. Details inside....
September 15, 2011 1:24 PM   Subscribe

This is a multi-part question: My wife and I are going on vacation in February. We want to go either to the Caribbean or to Europe but cannot decide (I know, I know...these two really have nothing in common). What are the pros and cons of these two destinations in February? The Caribbean: which island? We're not looking for a "spring break" kind of a feel or huge crowds. Which island(s) has the nicest beaches, some cultural activities and good restaurants? Europe: Paris or Italy? We know February isn't ideal, but is there anything we should know about these two that would exclude them from the short list?
posted by burlsube to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Northern Europe in February is almost always as cold and shitty as New York or Toronto that time of year, whereas the Caribbean is the Caribbean. But the weather in Italy and the rest of southern Europe might be relatively OK.

BUT if you don't like crowds, February might be the right time to see Europe and avoid the warm spots.
posted by pracowity at 1:35 PM on September 15, 2011

The Caribbean: which island? We're not looking for a "spring break" kind of a feel or huge crowds. Which island(s) has the nicest beaches, some cultural activities and good restaurants?

I am very partial to St. Martin. Absolutely no spring break feel (especially on the French side of the island), amazing beaches (something like 40 of them), and exceptional food that could compete with restaurants in culinary capitals (and costs about as much, too). It's certainly light on cultural activities, but that's probably true of most Caribbean islands.

My wife and I went in February last year and I'd say that was close to ideal, since you aren't competing with holiday vacation traffic. Also, if you're in a cold-weather part of the US, taking a warm beach trip right in the worst part of winter really helps you survive until spring, I find. Another plus to St. Martin is that it has a pretty substantial airport with lots of non-stop flights from various US destinations.

P.S. I definitely recommend staying on the lower-key French side, rather than the built-up Dutch side, which has some garish casinos and ugly fast-food restaurants.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:42 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

But the weather in Italy and the rest of southern Europe might be relatively OK.

On the other hand it might be cold and snowy. Average february temp in sicily is 10-15C, but can be colder, the further north in Europe the colder obviously. If you want beaches (and I assume thus sun) then its the Caribbean for you. There would be plenty to do in Europe in February so long as you don't mind the cold, and the continent can be very cold. Paris ranges 3-8C in February. Go further afield and you could have a skiing holdiay in Europe that could be very memorable, you could tie that in with more touristy stuff, for example, Vienna/Salzburg/Zurich/Bern or the French Alps.
posted by biffa at 1:47 PM on September 15, 2011

If you're living somewhere that's gloomy and crappy in February, then you're primed for wandering around a relatively tourist-free Paris - you won't be discouraged from going out because of poor weather. And there's something kind of lovely about Paris in the winter.

But if you're living somewhere that's gloomy and crappy in February, then you may be really primed for some vitamin D and fruity drinks on a beach.
posted by rtha at 1:58 PM on September 15, 2011

New Zealand can be nice that time of year. You can get two islands for the price of one. And it's summer!

It has amazing beaches (Hot Water Beach - one of the top ten in the world, yet pretty isolated!) plenty of cultural stuff, absolutely the BEST food as even little diners off highways are generally excellent, and loads and loads of activities (easy hiking thanks to DOC huts on all major trails - no lugging of tents into the bush! - glacier climbing and hiking, kayaking and overnight kayak camping, vineyards and wine tasting and bed and breakfast inns, spas, great music (DJ's and music festivals) + nightlife in Auckland and Wellington, especially...)

They really should hire me to promote tourism there, huh?

The Caribbean freaks me out because I am hurricane adverse. I agree weather in Europe will be spotty.

It's a pretty long flight. If you have two weeks or less, travel closer. If you can manage 3 weeks, go to NZ and have the adventure of a lifetime.
posted by jbenben at 2:09 PM on September 15, 2011

Regarding Paris: I live in northern Europe. February makes me wish I didn't.

(Think grey, cold, damp, miserable.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:34 PM on September 15, 2011

February is carnival month in a number of European towns (Venice, Basel etc.). Other than that, and unless you are a wintersports- and/or culture-fiend, I'd say February is the worst time for travelling to Euope, possibly out-worsted by November.
posted by miorita at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2011

Some years ago I got an email from United: "Hey, cheap fare's to Europe in February", and yes, the fares were very good and I took them up on the offer. I discovered why flights to Europe in February are empty.
posted by Runes at 4:01 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

To help choose a Caribbean island, check out the Washington Post travel section's Island Finder.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:22 PM on September 15, 2011

In regards to jbenben's comment, hurricanes in February are just ridiculous. They just don't happen then, that's why February is peak for the Caribbean. (peak for these islands is still easy/lovely & not at all like the annoying/packed peak tourist season we experience here on the southeastern US beaches.)

My husband and I went to St. Martin, St. Thomas, and San Juan (PR) last February. We had a blast. We've been to Iceland in January, France in March, Germany in June. But, I heartily recommend the tropics in the dead of winter. It restores the system.
posted by Kronur at 6:26 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I enjoy Europe in the winter, but I will do just about anything to avoid crowds.

As for Paris or Italy, I'd suggest flying into Paris and then taking the train down to Rome. If that's not far enough south for you then you can go all the way down to Sicily -- there's this really cool bit where they put the entire train on a ferry -- but the amazing part is the trip through the Alps.

Wherever you go it will be dark and damp. That can either be a source of depression or tremendous romance involving cozy little cottages and roaring fireplaces. Either way the tourist facilities will be largely yours for the taking -- it will usually be just you and the Australians.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:08 PM on September 15, 2011

Then environmental lodging at Cinnamon Bay on St John is rustic as hell but really fun. Or, throw down some real money and stay at Caneel Bay on St John. Pretty quiet, crazy beautiful... BVI has lots of nice spots too.

For gods sakes avoid Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St Thomas.

Given the weather in Europe in February I think you would be nuts to go there.
posted by jcworth at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2011

Nearly all of Europe sucks massively in February, but you might want to consider Portugal. Lisbon is the warmest city in Europe during the winter, and when I went in January, it was actually warm enough to walk around in jeans and a t-shirt. It might rain, but if you head even further south in Portugal, like to Albufeira, you might wind up with a 20C sunny day.
posted by cmonkey at 10:24 PM on September 15, 2011

2nding that you don't get hurricanes in February.

You could also try Playa del Carmen. It's too small for the cruise ships to harbor there; they go over to Cancun, so Playa is not as touristy. Chichen Itza is impressive and definitely worth a day of exploring and Tulum, with its ruins on the cliffs and stone staircase down to the beach, is surprisingly romantic. Might have to do a good deal of driving/riding buses to get to the ruins, depending on where you stay.

St. Martin's is relaxing. There's a clothing-optional beach over on the Dutch side (St. Maarten), Orient Bay, that's well-known locally so you could easily get a taxi there. We enjoyed zip-lining at the "Eco Park," Loterie Farm (the originally owner actually won a lottery and that's how it got its name). If you have a fear of heights, the climbing around and ropes to get to the zip lines is a bit harrowing, or at least it was for me. But the zip lines themselves are great, and everyone else enjoyed the hell out of the whole experience. Otherwise, not much to do without getting caught up in the really touristy stuff.

I personally love Grand Cayman, which is slightly more touristy, but the people are just lovely, and it's really gorgeous. The water is crystal clear and snorkelling is great and the locals are friendly and cheerful. You are pretty much required to swim with the sting-rays if you visit Grand Cayman.
posted by misha at 11:42 PM on September 15, 2011

Hubby and I love St Bart's, a quick and exciting plane ride away from St Martin (do not take the ferry, it's supposed to be nightmarish).
posted by Dragonness at 8:36 AM on September 16, 2011

« Older Your experience with iPad ergonomics?   |   How to win at Ticketmaster Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.