Island Hoppers, Pack Your Passports
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Hot to explore the next big thing in the Caribbean? During the past year, a beach bag full of new lodging, flights and other attractions has popped up across the region.
The most significant development has been the new regulations requiring that all non-nationals entering Caribbean countries, Bermuda and the Bahamas by air have a passport. The rules, which went into effect Jan. 23, have sent many Americans scurrying to apply for passports; similar requirements for visitors arriving by land or sea will be phased in by Jan. 1.
Not surprisingly, travel to Puerto Rico -- which U.S. citizens can enter without a passport -- has increased sharply, according to tourism officials. It's too early to tell the exact levels visits have risen islandwide, but the Sheraton Old San Juan has reported a 30 percent uptick in occupancy during January. At San Juan's Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa, bookings were up 17 percent in January. Other properties have cited similar figures.
"With all the passport confusion, people are going with what's comfortable," said Drew Toth, the Westin's director of marketing.
Flight and hotel bookings in the U.S. Virgin Islands, also accessible without a passport, have shot "way up," according to Henry de Lagarde, director of tourism for North America for the U.S. Virgin Islands. "Some visitors have told us they chose the Virgin Islands specifically because they didn't have to deal with the passport hassles," he said.
Islands where passports are required are fighting to attract customers. For instance, tourism officials in the Bahamas will reimburse U.S. travelers the cost of their passports: $97 for adults and $82 for children. (Restrictions apply; see the Web site for Bahamas tourism, http:/
Not to be outdone, several resorts in Jamaica are also offering travelers discounts on meals and other attractions up to the price of their passports. For info, check out http:/
Getting to Montserrat is easier than ever, as Air Montserrat (664-491-6728, http:/
To make island-hopping easier in other parts of the region, Air Jamaica is featuring new flights out of its hub at Montego Bay, including daily service to Barbados.
New routes from U.S. cities have put both popular and less-traveled islands within easier reach. United starts nonstop service March 12 between Dulles and Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Delta has several new flights, including nonstop service from Dulles to Cancun on Saturdays and service four days a week from the Washington area to Port of Spain, Trinidad, via Atlanta; in December flights will be offered from Washington airports to Tobago, via Atlanta.
(For an overview of what airlines offer nonstop service from the Washington area to the islands, see Page P9.)