Going Our Way: The Caribbean for seven on a budget

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 2:57 PM

Who: Claire Weaver, 64, of Springfield and her extended family: husband Martin, two grown daughters, one son-in-law and two grandchildren

Where: Caribbean

Why: Family vacation

When: Summer 2011 for seven days

Budget: $7,000"I want a memorable family vacation to celebrate my upcoming 65th birthday. We will be paying for EVERYTHING, so cost matters."

Claire Weaver of Springfield is turning 65 next summer and wants to celebrate by treating her extended family - husband, grown kids and grandkids - to a trip to the Caribbean. Before we get into details, I'd like to point out that the traditional gemstone for a 65th birthday is the blue sapphire - in case anyone in the group is feeling reciprocal.

Weaver's budget of $7,000 has to cover everything, so we'll look for ways to keep costs down. But first, a word about summer in the Caribbean. It's the off-season, yes, so you get to avoid the crowds and higher rates of winter and spring. But keep in mind that the islands in summer are hot, something that the airline ads and tourism offices don't dwell on. More important, June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season. Although August and September are the most active months for tropical storms, early summer also can be risky, so plan accordingly: Ask your hotelier about refund and evacuation policies, and consider buying hurricane insurance.

The Weavers are open to any Caribbean destination except St. John and the Dominican Republic, which they've visited before (and loved). So, how to choose from the remaining 30 or so islands? Going with the hurricane theme, we could focus on the spots that are least likely to be hit by storms, the so-called ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. They are lovely, but you'll probably find the cheapest fares to destinations closer to the United States: Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Mexico's Cancun and Maya Riviera, which are served by discount packagers and their ilk. (Gotta watch out for those ilks.) Round-trip fares from Washington to Aruba, for example, are running about $418 per person for next June. Compare that with $288 to San Juan, Puerto Rico; $314 to Nassau, the Bahamas; and $309 to Cancun.

Let's see how four budget-conscious options compare.

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