By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services
Cabdriver Sam Rogers remembers the days when there was just one car on the Caribbean island of Anguilla; when islanders grew their own vegetables and picked salt for a living instead of working in tourism.
I was thinking about what Rogers said about Anguilla after he dropped us off at the stunning Viceroy Resort, which employs 600 people for its 166 rooms. Did I mention the five-bedroom villas that rent for as much as $17,500 a night? A lot of the suites have their own private plunge pools on their terraces and bathrooms as big as some N.Y. apartments.
This is the place that attracts Hollywood and sports celebs, as well as celebrity icons like Paul McCartney, Michael Jordan and Paul Simon. But in summer, here like elsewhere in the Caribbean, you might be able to vacation like A-listers — without having their unlimited budget.
In summer, you’ll find cheaper air fares than in winter, too, which will enable you to experience more far-flung locales. Look for deals in the Bahamas, for example, that include free airfare from Nassau to the outer islands. But be forewarned that especially if you plan to travel in August or September, a tropical storm might rain on your parade. It’s wise to invest in travel insurance just in case. (Travel Guard’s Gold Plan covers children 17 and under when traveling with an adult,)
That said, here’s an opportunity to try something as a family you’ve never done before — like scuba diving. Take an online course (www.padi.com) and you and your kids, 10 and older, can do your scuba certification dives at a Caribbean resort this summer.
And thanks to trade winds, temperatures aren’t too much warmer than in winter. Take your pick of deals — privately staffed villas, all-inclusives where kids stay free, resorts with free babysitting or packages with resort credits that can cover your spa or fancy dinner. Homeaway has a variety of affordable houses for rent in Costa Rica, for example, where you could gather the entire extended family. (If you like condo vacations, save 30 percent with www.vacationcondos.com this summer.)
At the Viceroy, for example, there’s the Families Stay Together Play Together package, which starts at $550 and includes kids-eat-free deals, a daily $100 resort credit and daily activities for kids — significantly less than what you can get in winter.
I especially like that the kids’ programs are mostly complimentary and that in summer there are special sailing camps as well as other camps. When the kids get tired of the beach, they can try the climbing walls (there are two) or play beach volleyball or soccer.
Part of the welcome backpack the kids get includes a re-useable water bottle and a card that identifies Caribbean fish (have you seen a Blue Tang? It’s really more purple than blue) and constellations so kids can see how many they can find (have you ever seen Grus?)
For more summer ideas in the Caribbean and elsewhere, check out The Taking the Kids Best Summer Vacations. In addition, here are six Caribbean deals that are guaranteed to please:
— Moon Palace, the 2,000 plus room all-inclusive resort in Cancun, is celebrating its $55 million renovation by inviting kids 12 and under to stay free this summer, awarding guests $525 air credits per room (as long as you book by the end of June) and those staying five nights or more $1,500 resort credits. Cirque Dreams Rocks, which has a summer-long run at their Moon Palace property, is hosting Cirque Dreams Kids Time at the kids’ club (an hour-long interactive program several times each week) during the summer. Kids will love the dolphins too. Rates start at $210 per person.
— The Cayman Islands with their shallow waters and calm seas are a great place for your kids to learn to snorkel, scuba dive or sail. The Cayman Islands summer promotion means a 20 percent discount at the Turtle Farm and many other attractions on Grand Cayman that offer kids free admission. Look online for offers posted by the participating partners. They also have a unique partnership with the Fresh Air Fund, which sends inner-city New York kids to stay with Cayman Islands families and Cayman kids to a Fresh Air Fund camp.
— Head to St. Lucia (there’s additional air service this summer) where there are deals island-wide like the one at Cap Maison — a villa resort ideal for families. Book a one-bedroom villa suite and get a second one free; book a two bedroom and get a third bedroom free. Kids under 12 eat free and you even get a free evening of babysitting.
— Moon Dance Resorts in Negril, Jamaica offer the lowest summer rates of the year starting at $195 a night. Opt for a boutique hotel and villa resort or your own private villa on a stretch of famed Seven Mile Beach — consistently rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world. (Split the cost of a staffed four-bedroom villa with your favorite relatives — they are under $1,000 a night, roughly 30 percent less than in winter.) Nearby outings include waterfall and zip-line excursions, golf, tennis, horseback riding, river rafting, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, diving, parasailing, coffee plantation tours and more.
— One child per paying adult stays and eats free at Divi Resorts in Aruba and Bonaire, famous for child windsurfers and world-class scuba diving. Rates start at $129 per night in Aruba and $139 in Bonaire. No minimum or maximum stay required.
— Snorkeling, scuba diving and a host of activities are available right off Seven Stars Resort’s shores in Turks and Caicos. Take advantage of the all-suite resort’s complimentary non-motorized water sports (ever tried paddle boarding?), bicycles, tennis and more and save 30 percent off for stays now through July 31, 2013, as long as you book by the end of June. Stay five nights or more and get an additional $100 resort credit. With low rainfall and consistent oceanic currents, dive sites surrounding the Turks and Caicos feature some of the clearest blue waters in the world. Seven Stars offers guests one-tank, two-tank and multi-day scuba packages and courses for beginners and experienced divers.
Got plenty of sunscreen?
© 2013 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.