Tip Sheet

A Dozen Ways to Skimp in the Sun

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dreaming of a Caribbean vacation but afraid to even start thinking about the costs? Here are some money-saving tips that may help.

1 Monitor airfare sales . Fierce competition has lowered fares to some hot spots. When fare wars to a particular destination erupt, try to be the first to know.

Sign up for deal alerts with travel sites, such as Travelocity's Fare Watcher, and with individual airlines. (US Airways and United have numerous flights to the Caribbean from D.C., competing on some routes with discount carriers Spirit and Air Tran, and increasingly with Delta, which is expanding its Caribbean routes.) Also sign up to get e-mails from sites like http://www.smarterliving.com/ and http://www.travelzoo.com/ , which monitor travel deals for many products, including flights, hotels and packages.

2 Shop last-minute deals. It's best to plan ahead, especially if you have your heart set on a particular week or place. But procrastination can sometimes pay off. Numerous travel agencies offer last-minute deals. At Site59.com, for example, we found a five-night stay plus airfare to Jamaica, one week in advance, for $672.30 per person, based on two traveling. At Lastminute.com, we found virtually the same trip for 70 cents more.

3 Stay cheap, live high. There are several ways to ethically enjoy the facilities of an outstanding resort even though you're sleeping cheaply elsewhere. First, some resorts sell day passes. For example, for $4 a day you can use the outstanding beach and comfy chairs at the Buccaneer in St. Croix -- by far the nicest property on the island. And the all-inclusive Jolly Roger in Antigua lets you eat two meals, drink and use the facilities, water toys and towels for $48 a day, $24 for children.

Alternately, check out relatively cheap resorts with upscale sister properties. For example, Barcelo Hotels and Resorts in Punta Cana, D.R., has five resorts. You can stay in the cheapest and enjoy the facilities of the most expensive. Other hotel chains, including Westin and Sheraton, have similar sister properties on some islands.

Finally, some hotels have negotiated daily-use deals with upscale properties. A stay at Comfort Suites Paradise Island, for example, includes a pass that allows you to use the facilities of the luxe Atlantis Resort and Casino. Rooms at Grand Bahama's Pelican Bay are just as nice as many of those at the Westin across the street, but Pelican Bay, as the name suggests, is on the bay rather than the ocean. But stay at Pelican Bay for less, and a $5 wristband entitles you to use the beachfront facilities of the Westin.

4 Go off-peak . Even among individual properties on a given island, dates for high season can vary. But the peak time generally runs from Christmas week through April 16. Seasonal differences can be huge. For example, you'll pay $185 per night at the Wyndham Aruba Resort, Spa and Casino Dec. 16-22. The following week, the price more than doubles, to $400.

Travel providers on entire islands conspire to entice travelers on the off-season. Cayman Islands, for example, has a "Summer Splash" program in which rooms, water sports, dive packages and even airfares are discounted as much as 50 percent.

5 Find out where the locals eat. Three of the best meals we've had in the Caribbean came from small, locally owned joints. A hotel clerk on Grand Cayman Island turned us on to Lorna's Jerk Shop, where awesome grilled pork, chicken and fish stuffed with cabbage is grilled along the road and served with heaping side dishes for less than $10, including a soda and a seat at an outdoor picnic table. (There is no address -- get yourself on the main road in Pease Bay and ask a passerby.)

In the Turks & Caicos Islands, a dive boat operator clued us in to the shabby little Poop Deck on Front Street in downtown Grand Turk, where platters of outstanding chicken, yellow rice, beans and plantains go for $6.

On Grand Bahama Island, the atmosphere is as good as the food at Sunset Village at Eight Mile Rock, where local entrepreneurs have erected a series of small, brightly painted buildings for cooking, and decks with picnic tables overlooking the water for eating and dancing. One example: Veronica Bishop's, where chicken, ribs and jerk pork platters go for $7, seafood a dollar or so extra.

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