By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Psst! Looking for a summer beach bargain?
You know, somewhere with white sand beaches, clear blue water and plenty of activities to keep everyone happy — paddle-boarding, giant sand castle building, boogie-boarding and snorkeling. Let’s not forget kayaking.
Sure it’s high season in places like Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the towns along the Southern California coast.
But in the Caribbean, where you will stay cool by the ocean, you’ll find bargains galore and cheaper air fares. In fact, there are so many family amenities and kids-free deals that many call summer in the Caribbean family season. I also learned recently that in Mexico there is an extra plus to visiting with your kids in the summer: They’ll be able to practice their Spanish while making friends with Mexican kids whose families traditionally vacation at the beach in summer!
According to the metasearch hotel site Trivago, hotel rates in Caribbean destinations, like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Aruba, are less than half ($207) in the summer than in February ($430, and up), for example. For more beach vacations on a budget, visit Trivago’s blog.You might save anywhere from $42 a night in Cancun to $150 a night in Montego Bay. Airfare can be as much as 9 percent less in July than in February, according to Cheapflights.com.
Entire islands are getting into the game. The British Virgin Islands, where my family has had memorable trips sailing amid the 60 islands, is celebrating the second annual Summer of FREEdom with special deals, including one from Horizon Yacht Charters, which is offering 10 nights for the price of seven, or a 10 percent discount on seven-night charters.
Consider what your family likes to do. (For more ideas for summer fun, check out the Taking the Kids Best Summer Fun Guide.) If your kids are sailors or want to learn, there is The Bitter End Yacht Club’s Super Saver Family Package, which includes more than half off the second room for kids and sailing school for the whole family. The resort is famous for their sailing fleet of boats. There are also snorkeling and diving expeditions, windsurfing lessons and more. You’ll all love the hammocks on your porch. My kids did!
If you are golfers, the Super Summer Sale at the all-inclusive Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall and Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall not only includes more than half off, but also a complimentary round of golf per guest and cart rental. Up to two kids, 12 and under, can stay, play (complimentary kids’ club) and eat free. Rates for a family of four, including two kids under 12, start at $351 a night.
TIP: If you book your flight and hotel together, you can save significantly this summer wherever you go — as much as $675, according to Orbitz.com, where you can compare the price for booking separately or together. Remember to make sure there are activities for your kids, whether they’re preschoolers or teens. Ask what extra amenities are being offered — room upgrade, free breakfast, kids eat free, free activities. The best part: You will likely be able to afford a place that was out of reach in the winter.
Here’s a sampling of what’s out there:
— Bravo to the oceanfront Los Cabos Hacienda Encantada where kids up to 12 eat free and are not limited to the kids’ menu this summer, both at the resort and through a Dine-Out plan with an array of participating restaurants. There’s a new kids’ play area, complete with new kids’ pool and water playground.
— Playa del Carmen is one of my favorite spots on the Riviera Maya, less than an hour from the Cancun Airport. Kids stay free at the Gran Porto Resort and Spa with deals more than half off. The new 314-room Hyatt Playa del Carmen is designed for families and includes everything from a teen arcade with a movie theater to “Mom and Daughter Milkshakes and Manis” at the Cenote Spa. Families with kids under 13 can get a second room for the kid at half off and activities from cooking classes to sand castle making competitions. Rates start at $255 a night.
— Guests at the newly renovated Comfort Suites Paradise Island, adjacent to the Atlantis, enjoy full use of the Atlantis facilities — its water slides and rides, tennis courts and aquariums, complete with full signing privileges. Let’s not forget the free breakfasts and Wi-Fi! Rates start at approximately $180 this summer, typically one-third less than Atlantis.
— The Sands at Grace Bay resort, which was recently named by Family Vacation Critic as a top 10 Caribbean Family Resort, is touting a fourth-night-free deal and rates starting as low as $195 for suites that include kitchens, free use of watersports equipment like snorkeling gear, kayaks, Hobie Cats and stand-up paddleboards. Go snorkeling right from the fantastic 12-mile long Grace Bay beach or borrow bikes to explore the island. The resort’s Hemingway’s Restaurant and Bar is a local favorite. (I loved watching the sunset from here!) (Use promo code 4NF2015 to book.)
— For chocolate-loving parents getting away without the kids this summer, or in September, check out St. Lucia’s luxury beachfront boutique Calabash Cove Resort and Spa’s Sweet Days in Paradise five-night deal commemorating the island’s Chocolate Heritage Month in August, complete with private champagne beach dinner and dessert made with local cocoa, a chocolate scrub treatment for both of you, breakfast daily, airport transfers and more, all for under $2,500.
— Luxury lovers can check into the Four Seasons Nevis and get a fourth-night free, complimentary transfers from the St. Kits airport, for kids and teens, complimentary water sports equipment, including a water trampoline and a complimentary Kids for all Seasons program. (Go monkey spotting on the golf course!) Come for the annual Sea Turtle Conservation Weekend (Friday, July 10 to Monday July 13) and join the nighttime volunteer Turtle Watch Walks and turtle-naming contests. I’m in for the $150 spa credit per day. Starting rates are $375 a night in summer, as compared to peak winter rates that can go as high as $1,400 a night.
— The Buccaneer in St. Croix, long considered a top family Virgin Islands Resort on three of the best beaches on St. Croix touts a second room at half price, free breakfast, free learn-to-scuba classes and complimentary Kids’ Camp for those starting at age four. Think beachside basketball and volleyball, as well as tennis. I loved this place, in part because it is just 138 rooms. Summer rates start at $285 a night.
Who will build the biggest sand castle?
© 2015 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.