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Cheap Caribbean Vacations: How to Save a Boatload of Money

Aruba is popular for its beaches, but it also is more expensive to reach via flight because it is farther south. Credit: © Aruba Tourism Board
Some people love the idea of taking two Caribbean vacations for $3,000 a lot more than taking one vacation for the same amount of money.

It is no exaggeration to say that vacation costs can be cut in half with a combination of planning, timing and self-discipline.

Some people love cheap Caribbean vacations because they simply don’t have the budget for fancy ones. Others love them because, like the statement above, it’s a lot more fun to have two of them than one for the same amount of money.

After about 15 trips through the region, it’s easy for this writer to come up with ways of making it cheap while having fun at the same time.

Destinations / Flights


Let’s get this one out of the way. People often ask for opinions on the cheapest destination, but in truth many of them have similar prices for hotels, resorts, cruises, food and entertainment because they all compete with each other for tourism dollars.

If there is one factor that impacts the cost of a destination, it’s airline ticket prices. Ticket prices fluctuate based in part on demand, time of year and distance of the flight.

An arbitrary search on a major travel Web site for ticket prices in March from Chicago to Cancun showed the lowest price was $565 per person.

Tickets for the exact same time from Chicago to Aruba showed the lowest price at $823.

The distance from Chicago to Cancun is 1,424 miles, while the distance to Aruba is about 50 percent farther at 2,292 miles.

Airliners use fuel, fuel costs money and distance eats up fuel. So where you live and where you are going is one of the biggest factors in which destination is cheapest.

Cruises


There is no doubt that the cheapest way to vacation in the Caribbean is by cruise.

A search on a major cruise site for a trip in April showed prices as low as $60 per person per night for room, food, beverages and entertainment (but not flight).

No hotel or resort can come close to those kinds of all-inclusive prices.

To get the best prices, either book far ahead or at the last minute, be flexible in when and where you go, and book during off seasons.

Be aware that the average price per night is lower with long trips than with short trips, so going longer is a better value. Besides, have you ever heard anyone complain that their Caribbean vacation lasted too long?

Hotels, Resorts and Food


Jamaica has great all-inclusive resorts, but they are also expensive. Credit: © Jamaica Tourist Board
Like with cruises, it pays to book far ahead or at the last minute and be flexible about the location and timing of the trip.

Go to the major travel booking sites including Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Booking.com, Hotwire and Orbitz and look for a deals link to get the best prices.

Compare hotel and flight as a package and then separately. A package in March to the Radisson Aruba Resort was $375 per person per night for just the hotel versus nearly the same amount as a package for flight and hotel together.

Then go the Web site for that hotel alone and do a search. In the March example, the hotel Web site quoted the same price as the travel booking site.

On the flip side, one of the best and also most expensive ways of vacationing in the Caribbean is with all-inclusive resorts. They are especially popular in Jamaica and Dominican Republic.

Also like cruises, an all-inclusive resort packages everything under one price including room, food, entertainment and sometimes beverages.

Food / Restaurants


Eating out three times a day for a full week in the Caribbean for a family of four will slaughter a vacation budget.

It is easily possible to end up spending more than $1,000 in a single week just at the restaurants.

Then again, it is quite possible to avoid restaurants altogether.

Some families take three important steps in planning how to eat.

First, they find out what they are allowed to do with food in a room. Some hotels have rooms with small refrigerators and microwaves that will dramatically cut food costs. Others have kitchenettes, although the cost of the room will jump.

Second, savvy travelers will find out what kind of food they can bring into the country and pack their baggage and flight carry-on bags with food if they have any spare room.

Most countries allow dried goods such as cereals, breads, crackers, cookies, snack bars, packaged dried fruits and even canned goods. They almost always do not allow fresh fruits, vegetables or meats.

The third thing they do is find a grocery store nearest to the hotel and buy whatever else they need after arriving.

Getting Around


Find out before arriving what kind of public transportation is available.

Destinations such as Aruba and Cancun have convenient and inexpensive public transportation systems. As a result, a rental car is often an unnecessary expense.

The location of a hotel and whether it is within walking distance of shopping and dining areas also makes a difference.

If a rental car is necessary, especially if the hotel is far from the airport and a taxi would be almost as expensive as renting a car, do know that most islands have numerous car rental agencies with plenty of price differences.

Finally, be aware that taxis are regulated on some islands and not on others. Be sure to ask the rate for where you are going before getting into the taxi.

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