Bargains in paradise

Now is the time to find off-season rates and free extras in the Caribbean

Strategies

April 21, 2002|By Jay Clarke | By Jay Clarke,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Unless you've done a Tom Hanks and lived as a castaway on a desert island for the last few years, you've got to know that summer is deal time in the Caribbean.

Hotel rooms that cost hundreds of dollars per night during the winter high season become much more affordable in summer.

Not only that, but many resorts throw in goodies that they charge for in winter, such as daily breakfasts, spa treatments, local day cruises, golf and tennis fees and the like.

Some packages let children stay free in your room, maybe even feed them gratis, while others may include a car rental to let you tool around the island on your own.

Summer vacationers save about 35 percent to 40 percent over winter rates, said Richard Kahn of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, "and the temperatures are just about the same as in winter."

Just about every hotel or resort in the Caribbean offers some sort of package deal for summer vacationers at much lower rates than during the high season.

Still to be determined, though, is what airfares to the Caribbean will cost this summer.

"Airlines are being very cautious on all international airfares, not giving too much up front," said Tom Parsons, founder and chief executive of www.Bestfares.com.

As a result, at this writing, the only fare bargains available were for travel before June 20.

Deals for the rest of the summer may come around later, Parsons said, "if you don't mind holding off and being flexible." Another option to consider: Some packages, especially those of the all-inclusive resorts, have airfare add-ons that can cut total vacation costs substantially.

For a comprehensive guide to resorts in the islands, the Caribbean Tourism Organization has a 128-page Caribbean Vacation Planner. Call 800-356-9999, Ext. 199, for a free copy or click on www.doitcaribbean.com to order or download.

Here's a sample of packages offered in the Caribbean and Bahamas in the months ahead.

Rates quoted are for "summer" low-season travel, a variable period that can span from as early as April to as late as mid-December. Somewhat higher rates are offered for stays in the shoulder spring and fall seasons. All rates are for land only (airfare is extra) and all packages are subject to availability.

* Dominican Republic: In Punta Cana, the all-inclusive Melia Caribe Tropical resort offers an off-season rate of $99 per person per night, double occupancy, through Dec. 24. Included are a junior suite, all meals and beverages (including alcoholic drinks), use of all nonmotorized water sports equipment, all taxes and gratuities. A minimum of three nights' stay is required. For details, call 800-336-3542 or click on the Web site www.solmelia.com.

* Jamaica: To mark its opening, the all-inclusive Beaches Boscobel Spa Resort and Golf Club in Ocho Rios has a rate of $144 per person per night, double occupancy, for stays June 1-13 and Aug. 23-Dec. 19. The Beaches Classic Sale rate is for new bookings only with a minimum stay of three nights. Included are all meals, all drinks, water sports, greens fees and kids camp (free video games). 888-232-2437; www.beaches.com.

* Nevis: Unlimited golf or tennis are yours when you book the Sporting Spree package at the elegant Four Seasons Resort, consistently rated as one of the best in the Caribbean. Rates begin at $616 per room per night, double occupancy, from June 2 to Oct. 26 and include breakfast and dinner, unlimited golf and tennis, nonmotorized water sports and a one-hour golf or tennis lesson per stay. Launch transfers, taxes and service charges are extra. 800-332-3442; www.fourseasons.com.

* Grand Bahama: Viva Fortuna, the only all-inclusive resort on the island, is discounting its rate from $127 to $115 per person per night, double occupancy, through May 31. Included are full breakfast, lunch, dinner, unlimited beverages, cocktails and wine; nonmotorized water sports, fitness programs, live nightly entertainment, all taxes and gratuities included. 800-898-9968; www.vivaresorts.com.

In brief

Standardized tipping

Tipping adds a considerable amount to your total costs when you take a cruise. The usually recommended gratuities are $3.50 per person per day for the cabin steward, $3.50 for the dining room waiter and $2 for his assistant. That adds up to $9 per day per cruise guest.

Until now, most cruise lines have passed out envelopes toward the end of the cruise together with their tipping guidelines. Guests put the tips in cash into the envelopes and distribute them on the last night of the cruise.

Recently, however, several cruise lines have dropped that system in favor of simply adding $10 per person per day onto guest bills. So far, Carnival, Princess and Norwegian lines now apply those charges, while Disney offers it as an option. In all cases, the passenger can raise or lower the suggested amount.

That may make the process easier for the passenger, but it also takes some of the control of tipping out of his hands. Note that the amount deducted is $10 a day, an increase over the $9 recommended in the former guidelines. The passenger can alter that, but he is more likely to let it stand.

Also, that amount may include tips for those not formerly listed on the guideline, such as the maitre d'.

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