Want guaranteed sun, sea and sand without zapping your savings? Here’s how to get that quintessential Caribbean experience for less than you expect
Wild, rugged Dominica (discoverdominica.com) has long attracted tourists – albeit not always of a desirable nature. Its jagged cliffs and secluded coves have been pirate hidey-holes for centuries – right up to the present day. Don’t worry, though, as the modern version is in the form of Johnny Depp, Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom, who sloped around the island while filming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest here.
Swashbuckling aside, Dominica’s real beauty lies inland, although there is a smattering of pretty beaches. You could spend a week traipsing through this volcanic island’s varied terrain, and still not scratch the surface. Don’t miss the Unesco World Heritage-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park, 18,500 acres filled with mountains, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs and rainforests, including always-steamy Boiling Lake. Keep an eye out for the Imperial and the Red-necked parrots – two species found nowhere else in the world.
Snorkellers will find a similarly varied underwater landscape, with a steeply undulating ocean floor, volcanic vents releasing bubbles, seabed craters and vast coral shelves. This dramatic landscape attracts more than just divers: Dominica is one of the world’s best places to spot massive sperm whales.
The adventurer’s favourite budget sleep is Roxy’s Mountain Lodge (+1 767 448 4845, avirtualdominica.com/eiroxys.htm), a friendly 11-room places on the edge of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, with doubles from US$52.
You won’t spend much on a week in Dominica, and the rest of your holiday budget will go on flights. No airlines fly direct from the UK, so you can either go with Virgin Atlantic (08448 747747, virginatlantic.com), via Antigua, or with American Airlines (0844 499 7300, americanairlines.co.uk), via San Juan or New York, both for around £760 from London.
The cruise ship has come a long way from the days of ball-gown dinners and sky-high prices. Nobody loves this type of holiday more than the Yanks, which means hitting the high seas in their favourite sun spot, the Caribbean, can be great value for money.
The gorgeous Norwegian Epic is one of the newest – and most lavish – ships to hit the Caribbean. But despite the world-class facilities, this ship has been designed to cater for all budgets, with specially designed rooms for solo travellers (so that accursed single supplement goes right out the porthole), rooms for families and basic doubles, right up to luxury spa-suites.
Starting and finishing in Miami, you’ll stop for day-long excursions in St Maarten (st-martin.org, vacationstmaarten.com), St Thomas (usvitourism.vi) and the Bahamas (bahamas.co.uk).
Holding around 4,000 people, the Norwegian Epic has all the amenities of a small city. Wipe those ghastly, formal dinner scenes from The Love Boat out of your mind. With 20 restaurants and cafes to choose from – and, OK, even some fancy ones – you won’t need to pack a dinner jacket if you don’t want to. Instead, grab a light bite at Wasabi sushi bar, or a French meal at intimate Le Bistro – or even have pizza delivered to your room.
After dinner, you’ll find bars and lounges that cruise experts have been raving about. Get your groove on at the Ibiza-style open-air beach bar, or chill out with a vodkatini at the ice bar. Onboard entertainment varies from Blue Man Group to celebrity impersonators, with spas, casinos, water parks, bowling, rock climbing and more.
Hop aboard the Norwegian Epic (0845 201 8900, ncl.co.uk) for a week, with return flights from London to Miami, transfers and all meals, from £1,298pp, based on two sharing.
Savvy St Lucia
You’re tied into the school holidays for a winter-sun break, which usually means you’ll pay more for less. But you can get a deal. You just have to think outside the (sand)box.
During half-term, most resorts and routes aimed at families are full to bursting, and prices go through the roof. So where to look? Think about the islands that don’t target kids. Our top pick? Honeymoon hotspot St Lucia (stlucia.org). While it could never be described as dirt cheap, unlike destinations aimed at families, its prices aren’t inflated over Half Term, so it can be a relative bargain.
St Lucia has plenty to keep kids of all ages entertained, with a drive-in volcano, rainforest walks and watersports aplenty. Better still, with no major theme parks or adventure centres, you’re likely to spend less once there as you build sand castles on the beach, mountain bike through the island or join in inexpensive turtle-watching expeditions.
Hayes & Jarvis (0871 664 0246, hayesandjarvis.co.uk) has a week in St Lucia at the three-star St Lucian by Rex Resorts, from £818pp, room only, based on two adults and two children sharing, departing 20 February, direct from London with Virgin Atlantic.
The fact it’s less popular than its chichi neighbour, St Kitts, is only to its advantage. It means you’ll have more of this island’s pristine stretches of sand to yourself. And you can choose whichever one you fancy, as all of Nevis’ (nevisisland.com) beaches are public, so you don’t need to stay in a five-star to gain access to the island’s most picturesque spots, such as secluded Lovers Beach and buzzy Cades Bay.
Unlike some Caribbean islands, Nevis hasn’t changed much since 1787, when a young Admiral Horatio Nelson married Fanny Nisbet here. And savvy lovers have been flocking to Nevis for its laid-back charms ever since: Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and John Travolta and Kelly Preston have all fallen for Nevis on romantic low-profile getaways.
British Airways (0844 493 0787, ba.com) offers direct flights to St Kitts from £473 return, then it’s a 45-minute ferry to Nevis. While the island’s only five-star resort, the Four Seasons (+1 869 469 1111, fourseasons.com/nevis), reopens on 15 December after a two-year refurbishment, with doubles starting at £379, it’s not a budget option. Instead, opt for the adorable Banyan Tree B&B (+1 0869 469 3449, banyantreebandb.com), situated high on the island, with sea views from its balconies and doubles from £85, B&B.
This southern Caribbean island has all the sun, sea and sand you could hope for, but Grenada (grenadagrenadines.com) has one more thing most of its neighbours lack – inexpensive charter flights direct from the UK. For those who don’t fancy a package break, flights can eat up a huge chunk of your winter-sun budget, typically costing around £800 return from the UK to the Caribbean. However, with Monarch (0871 423 8550, monarch.co.uk), you can fly to Grenada from London Gatwick for a mere £467 return in the middle of January.
But cheap flights aren’t the only appeal for non-package-breakers. A good supply of guesthouses and self-catering villas means you can enjoy a more authentic local experience than at large resort hotels – and for much less money. Stay at the cute two-bedroom Yellow House (+1 473 439-2486, spiceislevillas.com) for just US$950, self-catering, for up to four people.
Mooching around the island won’t break the bank either. History buffs can delve into Grenada’s Colonial, military and archaeological past, with several good sites to visit, most of them free. And nature lovers can explore rainforests, waterfalls, mountains and lakes – all for free. And for a mere US$3, you get a tour and rum tasting session at Westerhall Estate plantation – now that’s a bargain.
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