A Caribbean spring break may get pricey for college kids heading to resorts, but anyone shivering and shoveling their way through winter can get a spring break of their own on the cheap.
The Caribbean was hit hard during last year’s hurricane season, but a big part of the recovery process involves assuring potential visitors that all is well and that there’s a reason to come back. This year, that means there are deals.
“As much of the Caribbean was unaffected by the fall storms, travelers will find most destinations are open for business now and are ready to welcome travelers for their peak travel season,” said Brooke Ferencsik, senior director of communications for TripAdvisor.
That peak season starts in December and January, but can stretch into April. Humid weather typically forces prices down from June through October, as does the start of hurricane season. Ed Perkins, a travel analyst with TripAdvisor-owned SmarterTravel, notes that the biggest lull in the Caribbean travel calendar stretches from September through November as hurricanes blow through, but notes that resourceful travelers can find some deals scattered throughout the spring.
If you’re looking to book a trip during actual spring-break season, you’re likely too late. Maddi Bourgerie, spokeswoman for vacation rental site HomeAway, notes that travelers should book spring-break excursions by the end of January if they want to get the best deals and beat the crowds.
However, TripAdvisor notes that a week in five Caribbean destinations — Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Puerto Rico — costs less than $2,000. All five have hotel deals under $250 per night, while travelers can save 33% on accommodations when they pick the least expensive week to go.
For the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and hard-hit Puerto Rico, that discount week is April 30 though May 7. Hotel rates range from $175 a night in Martinique to $244 in Puerto Rico.
Round-trip airfare, meanwhile, is as little as $208 to $218 from Atlanta to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, respectively. However, even passengers from Los Angeles and San Francisco can reach those destinations for a round-trip price of $330 to $526.
Amanda Norcross, features editor for travel site Family Vacation Critic, notes that those destinations can be fairly family-friendly as well. “The Dominican Republic offers a wide selection of all-inclusive resorts, including Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Punta Cana, which is offering a kids-stay-free promo for spring break,” she says.” There are also some really great adventure activities in the Dominican Republic, both in and out of the water: everything from sailing and surfing to zip-lining and canopy tours.”
In Curacao, April 23 through 30 is the magic week, with the average hotel room going for $189 a night and airfare as low as $323 round-trip from New York’s JFK airport. However, there’s a reason why a week there costs an average of $1,646.
“In general, islands that have frequent and inexpensive air service (such as Nassau and the Dominican Republic) get more visitors, while islands that are more expensive or difficult to fly to (like Curacao or Grenada) will see fewer visitors,” says Sarah Schlichter, senior editor of SmarterTravel. “If you’re willing to pay a little more or take a longer flight, you might have a better chance of avoiding crowds.”
Schlicter notes that quiet, romantic islands like St. Lucia (a traditional honeymoon destination that averages $3,750 from April 30 to May 7), St. Kitts and Nevis (lightly visited and too pricey for spring breakers at $4,831 a week from April 30 to May 7), and the Cayman Islands ($5,155 from April 30 to May 7) tend to draw fewer spring breakers even at their peak. That makes them great for couples, but also for families who aren’t looking to contend with the noise or mayhem.
“Grand Cayman is a fantastic island for family vacations because it offers something for every age,” Norcross says. “World-renowned diving, bioluminescent kayaking, Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City (where you can actually swim with stingrays) are among the highlights.”
But if you want to trim those prices down even further, SmarterTravel’s Schlicter suggests getting creative. Be flexible with dates if possible, but also consider vacation rentals and guest houses when looking for accommodations.
In the Cayman Islands, for example, the average nightly hotel rate during its cheapest spring week is $674. If you can get a group of 10 down there, a five-bedroom, five-bathroom villa on HomeAway with an infinity pool, hot tub and its own boat can be had for $166 per couple per night, or $83 per person. Oh, and the minimum age for rental is 25, which leaves spring breakers out of the equation.
In Barbados, where round-trip airfare is as little as $206 from JFK but average room rates on its cheapest weekend (again, April 30 to May 7) are $436, a vacation rental that sleeps six goes for $454 a night. The three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with an outdoor living room overlooking the sea is on the Royal Westmoreland Golf Course and has a pool, a private cottage, a tennis court and a lenient policy toward children.
We’ll warn that this won’t work with every destination. When hotel prices average $198 a night in Guadelope and $175 in Martinique, a vacation rental will do little to offset airfares from Dallas that are $1,382 and $1,094, respectively. In that case, SmarterTravel’s Perkins says, your best option may be a hotel, flight, and car-rental package where discounts on the room and vehicle offset the ticket price a bit.
“As always, the only way to be sure is to compare,” Perkins says. “Packagers are often a better last-minute source than airlines and resorts directly; they may have availability when individual airlines and hotels say ‘sold out.’”