Carribbean travel advice
September 1, 2005 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Travel advice for the Carribbean this fall: all-inclusives, villas, hotels, etc. Too many choices!

My girlfriend and I want to go to a carribbean island for about a week this Oct or Nov. We want a beautiful beach, a clean pool, romance, clean rooms, air conditioning, and something interesting outside of the hotel. I would like to be in a safe place where we can take a walk, look in some local shops, try local restaurants, etc. I'd also like to do a little boating, rent motorscooters, and just explore.

I'm considering all inclusives because as a travel agent, I get an incredible discount. Beaches, Couples and Sandles resorts will give me a rate of $200 per couple per night! That's just about our budget - we wouldn't want to stay somewhere else and spend $200 on a room, plus food and activities. I have looked into Couples Swept Away (Negril) and Sandles in Jamaica, and they seem beautiful, but they don't seem like good places to explore outside of the resort. I'm also concerned about the mixed reviews I've seen online. We are a young couple and would like to be able to get out and explore a little.

I would love to find a little, clean hotel on a beach somewhere for $100 per night, with a nice pool/beach and restaurants/shopping/bars nearby, but it's hard to find one without a personal reccomendation.

I'm also considering the weather - I know this is the rainy season, and some islands (Aruba) get less rain than others.

Thanks in advance for all your help.
posted by kdern to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak for hotels since I wouldn't recommend the all-inclusive we stayed in while there, but I honestly cannot say enough wonderful things about Turks & Caicos, specifically Providenciales. Breathtaking white sand beaches, crystal clear water, quiet and clean island, nice people. I can't wait to go back (though I plan to do the condo-rental thing since the island itself is so easy to navigate as far as restaurants, stores, etc).
posted by justonegirl at 8:54 AM on September 1, 2005

What are you interested in exploring? You *could* also try the Yucatan - you get the Caribbean beach part, and also plenty of Aztec/Maya ruins to explore. Although you can get ruined-out pretty quickly ;)
posted by carter at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2005

I'm interested in exploring the island or a small town near the resort. Maybe that's not really why people go to the Carribbean?

Advice or experinces from the all inclusives would be helpful as well.
posted by kdern at 10:44 AM on September 1, 2005

How about exploring by way of a tour? My wife and I have stayed at the Sandals Royal Caribbean (Montego Bay) and Sandals Dunn's River. Both times, we took a number of tours to "explore" a bit in a safe way. Climbed Dunn's river falls, took a wonderful bicycle ride (all downhill) through the Blue Mountains (learned a lot about the local culture on the way there and back, too), did a "Booze Cruise" (rum punch, snokeling, and a stop at Margueritaville for drinks and water fun.

We loved every second of it, and when you say in Montego Bay's Sandals resorts, you get free shuttles/exchange privileges at the other resorts in Montego Bay (technically, you get to visit any Sandals on the island for no charge), which means (in Montego Bay) you have access to a dozen restaurants. The "private island" at Royal Caribbean has one of the best restaurants in the Sandals circuit, "Royal Thai". YUM, absolutely fabulous.

I can't say enough wonderful and encouraging things about Sandals in Jamaica. I know you want to see the local culture, and the tours might give you what you need. Jamaica is relatively safe anyway (especially around the resort towns), and some of the best food can be had just outside the resort gates.
posted by Merdryn at 11:52 AM on September 1, 2005

I went to the Dominican Republic for my honeymoon this summer. It is supposed to be the biggest bargain in the Carribbean at this time. Tourism isn't as big there yet as it is on the other islands. We stayed at the Grand Palladium Bavarro or some combination of those words. They have day trips all over the place, and there is a little town that is not far off of the resort that you can walk to.
posted by jefeweiss at 11:59 AM on September 1, 2005

My wife and I have traveled extensively in the caribbean over the past decade or so, sometimes going all-inclusive, sometimes not, and stayed everywhere from $10 hammocks (playa del carmen) to $500 suites. We are active, water-oriented people, and love the caribbean.

I'd make the all-inclusive or not decision before picking a location. The very nature of AI vacationing encourages you to sit on your duff and have people bring things to you. Sometimes, that's really nice. If the purpose is relaxation, romance, and a chance to leave the world behind for a little while and chill, then an all-inclusive may be the right way to go.

If you want to be super active and discover new things and places, you might be better off just getting a room somewhere and bringing a good set of shoes and a map.

If you do go the inclusive route, I'll second the Sandals recommendation.

We went to the Sandals in Negril quite a few years back, before we were married, and it's still the all-inclusive that we compare all others to. If I had the opportunity to go back there for $200 a night, I'd jump on it. Food was outstanding, free drinks were plentiful, staff was friendly (and the no tipping policy is a very good one, having stayed in an AI without such a policy), quality of the "free" booze was more than adequate, bartenders were entertaining. As the R & R type of vacation goes, it was unbeatable.

With that said, there's not a lot of exploration that you can do in Negril... there is a "downtown" area which is relatively safe and a number of shacks/bars/restaurants that are great for lunch fare when you leave the all-inclusive compound... but it's not the kind of place that I'd want to rent a motorcycle and just head off into the hills.

Also, Hedonism II is right next door, and is liberal with letting people from Sandals check out the scene there. It's worth a visit, if you're interested.

There also was extremely high quality marijuana readily available. At the time, that was a nice plus... now, I'm not sure that I care.

Two caveats: 1. If you are a young couple at Sandals, most people will assume you are honeymooning (and the honeymooners will ask you if you're going to get married). This didn't bother us, but did bother one of the other unmarried couples that we met. 2. Sandals is a couples resort for heterosexual couples only. This infuriates some of my gay friends, who did give me some grief about giving money to such a corporation.

Are you certified scuba divers? If so, and you're travelling in October, go to Bonaire, and catch the coral spawning season (or go later... the coral's still beautiful the rest of the year).

If you're not certified, but you're interested, you should consider taking the classroom part of the process locally, and then do your open-water instruction dives in Bonaire. There are literally dozens of novice-friendly dives that you can access just by driving around the island until you see a yellow rock, and taking a giant stride into the water. Beware... you will be spoiled, essentially every other dive you go on will pale in comparison to your dives here.

Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Isla Margarita are outside of the hurricane belt, and will have better weather than the rest of the region in Oct/Nov (and October hurricanes aren't unheard-of). Consequently, most of the rest of the Caribbean will still be in low or shoulder season, so finding a decent, romance-worthy hotel room at a bargain price should be possible (and if you're a travel agent and have an ITIAN card, it should be easy).

Bonaire is great if you're a diver, potentially quite boring if you're not. Regardless of that, it's extremely explorable, and Kralendijk is a fun place to get to know. (And if you're a radio geek, the Radio Netherlands shortwave transmitter antenna farm is worth a visit).

Aruba is very Americanized (it's teeming with New Yorkers, thanks to cheap packages from Newark), but the weather and water more than makes up for that (there's great diving there too). Also not a bad place to go all-inclusive if you want to be lazy and chill. Good deals can be had on some gemstones here, too, if you know what you're looking at/for. There are casinos here, if that's your thing.

Curacao is something of an island in transition. It's very explorable, but it's got a significantly lower quality of life than most frequently touristed areas... but the architecture in Willemstad is facinating, and there's a lot of history around you -- but there are also quite a lot of unsavory, if not unsafe areas on the island. And yes, the blue liquor comes from here.

I haven't been to Margarita Island, yet. Soon, I hope.

The BVIs are in a shoulder season in October, and lots of places will be closed. I also firmly believe that these islands are best visited by chartered boat -- but that's another vacation.

When stuff is open, Tortola is very explore-able. Be sure to schedule your visit for a full moon -- and don't be too afraid of the mushroom tea.

Regardless, enjoy your vacation. If you decide to go on the early side of your Oct/Nov window, seriously consider going to the south end of the caribbean for weather reasons. If it's on the late side, try to get a good deal on an island that is hard for you to afford during high season.
posted by toxic at 8:27 PM on September 1, 2005 [3 favorites]

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