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Island bargains.

From the 365 shimmering beaches of Antigua to the black sands of Martinique, the beauty of the Caribbean islands lures millions of vacationers back to its shores year after year. In 1990, to 11.8 million people visited the Caribbean--6.5 million of them from the United States. It is the islands' proximity to the United States, the wide variety of travel packages and the Caribbean's cultural diversity that make it a travel bargain in today's economy.

"The Caribbean offers a series of price alternatives," says Marcella Martinez, a spokesperson for the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). "One can stay at an upscale, luxury resort, a guest house, or if traveling with a group, rent a villa, which is much cheaper per person."

The Caribbean also offers a host of destinations and activities. Are casinos and night life among your favorite activities? Aruba, the Bahamas, Curacao Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and St. Maarten offer gambling galore. Does scuba diving suit your fancy? The waters surrounding Bonaire, Belize and the Cayman Islands are deep with underwater adventure. Are you a nature lover is search of a good rain forest? Take a look at St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent or Dominica. If you want to enjoy a little bit of everything while living in the lap of luxury, Jamaica, Barbados and the U.W. Virgin Islands have it all.

The points is: Do a little homework and learn about the diversity of cultures, the economies and the attractions each island holds. Ask yourself what do you really want in a vacation package? Is a rental car necessary or would a sightseeing tour be sufficient to see the island? After all, a bargain is only good if you're getting what you really want and using it!

Cost Considerations

The primary factor for most people when planning a vacation is money. The cost of a vacation is generally determined by the choice of accommodations, length of stay, destination and point of origin. How much can you afford to spend on a vacation and how would you like to divvy up that amount? If you have $1,500 and not a penny more, perhaps an all-inclusive package will help you stick to your budget. If all you need in the way of accommodations is a place to hang your hat, perhaps a small inn or apartment might suit your needs and the money saved can be used on a first-class game fishing excursion or scuba diving package. Why get a meal plan in your hotel package if you know local restaurants are good, inexpensive and plentiful, as they are in Jamaica?

As a rule, travel agents have access to the lowest air fares and airline packages, as well as packages put together by tour operators. Do not assume, however, that an airline's add-on fare is the lowest fare available. Perhaps it would be cheaper to buy one airline's package out of Miami, but travel on another airline from your gateway city to Miami if the second airline has a less expensive fare.

For example, American Express Vacations offered a three-night package to St. Thomas during the winter high season for $519 if travelers departed from Miami. The same package leaving from Dallas cost an additional $156 for the add-on purchase of round-trip air fare. If that same traveler chose Aruba instead of St. Thomas, the cost of the package would be $459 from Miami, and the add-on round-trip air fare from Dallas would be $256 presumably because Aruba is much farther away. But, a savvy traveler would have checked to see if another airline could beat the round-trip air fare of $256 between Dallas and Miami.

Other cost-conscious measures to consider: the cost of living on the island you want to visit. The dollar value right now in Jamaica is 15 Jamaican dollars to one U.S. dollar. Although Jamaica is home to a tempting array of all-inclusive resorts, is it worth having everything included in one price when the dollar is doing so well there? For a traveler from Los Angeles, a seven-night package to Montego Bay was as low as $505 during the high season, excluding the $284 additional round-trip air fare. Once there, the U.S. dollar went a long way toward food and other Jamaican items.

When buying a package vacation, ask exactly what is and is not included to get an estimate of how much the "not included" charges will total. Ask how much hotel room taxes are, island departure taxes and other costs such as an energy surcharge tax-- which is often added to the cost of your hotel room. Is the $12.50 price tag to leave Barbados included in your package? Often, what may appear to be a good deal on the surface, may end up costing a great deal more once you add up the hidden charges. Additionally, if you are taking children, ask for package rates, including air fare. Generally, there are two sets of rates, one for air fare for children ages 2 through 11 years old and another for ages 12 through 17 years old.

Where The Deals Are

According to CTO's Martinez, Caribbean islands that are closer to the United States, such as the Bahamas, continue to offer more affordable packages. Delta Air Lines, for instance, has packages to Nassau-Cable Beach, Paradise Island, Freeport-Lucaya and some of the Bahama Family Islands. All of these "Dream Vacation" packages includes round-trip air fare on Delta and a connecting carrier where applicable, a choice of hotel accommodations, round-trip ground transfers (except for the Family Islands) and U.S. departure tax, plus bonus features such as two-for-one admissions to various attractions and sightseeing excursions. A seven-night stay during high season at Merv Griffin's Paradise Island Resort and Casino is $689, if you leave from Orlando. Add-on fares from other U.S. cities are as high as $290 from Newark, N.J., but only $170 out of New York City.

USAir's "Funjet" vacation packages to Nassau are least expensive from the airline's hub city of Charlotte, N.C. All packages include round-trip air, hotel accommodations, hotel taxes, service charges, mandatory maid service, pool and bellman charges, round-trip transfers, a $6 U.S. departure, tax $5 immigration inspection fee and $4 security surcharge and a "Bahamas FunBook" of savings coupons. A seven-night stay in a superior room at Paradise-Paradise Beach Resort on Paradise Island costs $841.

Travelers from Atlanta, a hub city for Delta Air Lines, will find good land and air packages, especially to St. Thomas and the Cayman Islands. A seven-night stay can cost as low as $1,259 per person at the Radisson Resort Grand Cayman, located on the island's famous Seven Mile Beach. The package includes round-trip air fare on Delta to Miami and on Cayman Airways from Miami to the Cayman Islands: it also includes accommodations, ground transfers, Cayman Airways baggage security surcharge, plus bonus features, such as coupon discounts on selected activities.

The collapse of Pan Am hurt Barbados for a while, but Bajans are bouncing back with charter flights out of New York and Miami or Trump Air, out of Cleveland and Detroit on American Trans Air, and out of Philadelphia and Baltimore on Key Air. "If money is your sole concern," says Peter Rothholz, public relations agent for Barbados tourism, "then chances are a charter will save you money." However, you will not have the flexibility available on regular commercial flights. For instance, Key Air only leaves once a week, while American Airlines and British West Indies Airlines (BWIA) have daily nonstop service to Barbados from New York City and Miami. Round-trip air fare on BWIA from JFK Airport in New York City to Barbados, for example, costs $398 for weekday travel and $438 on weekends for a 14-day advance nonrefundable ticket.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is American Airlines' gateway to the Caribbean, and package deals abound. Its "Fly AAway" vacation package includes round-trip transfers between the airport and Humacao and the Hyatt Regency Cerromar and Hyatt Dorado Beach Hotel in Dorado, hotel taxes, service charges and surcharges, if applicable. The package does not include air fare, which must be purchased on American or American Eagle.

Besides Charlotte, USAir has hubs in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Indianapolis with daily departures from each of these cities (except Indianapolis) as well as others to San Juan. A seven-night stay in a standard room at the El San Juan Hotel and Casino including air fare costs $971 from Charlotte, Philadelphia, Newark and New York City. The add-on air fares range from a high of $165 from Detroit, Memphis, Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y., to a surprising low of $10 from Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport. The package price includes round-trip air fare, hotel accommodations and offers "specials" such as a $40 deduction for Tuesday and Wednesdays departures, and one free night at the Hyatt Regency Cerromar or Hyatt Dorado with the purchase of a five-night package. Ground transfers, a government room tax of 6 percent to 9 percent, and bellman, housekeeping and energy surcharges are not included in the standard package. "USAir packages can include almost anything the client wants," says David Shipley of USAir. "Car rental and sightseeing tours, can all be added to the package of additional costs."

Air Jamaica, which serves five U.S. airports--Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Miami, New York City and Philadelphia--offers packages to Jamaica only through tour operators and wholesalers. Unlike other airlines, Air Jamaica's lowest fares are during the fall, spring and winter months, while its peak fares are during the months of July and August.

American Express has done the bargain hunting for consumers with its extensive lineup of Caribbean vacation packages. By securing large blocks of hotel rooms, condos, airlines seats and rental cars, they are able to offer some of the best deals. going. Having already shopped for the lowest fares on Air Aruba, Air Jamaica, ALM, American, BWIA, Cayman Airways, Continental and USAir, travelers can buy packages departing from over 175 U.S. cities. With this in mind, it's worth picking up a copy of their "Caribbean Vacations" catalog to compare prices and add-on fares with those offered directly from the airlines.

Once in the Caribbean, island-hoppers can make the most of their trip by purchasing an Explorer's Package from the inter-island airline, Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT). Similar to a Eurorail Pass, the LIAT 30-day pass offers year-round travel to all 26 islands that the airline flies to for $357. A three-island LIAT pass, good for 21 days, costs $169 during the low seasons of winter, spring and fall, and $199 from July 1 through Aug. 31. However, the pass must be purchased before leaving the United States and must have a set itinerary. If you have frequent-flyers points that you can use and only need a accommodations, most hotels offer special or all-inclusive packages you can purchase directly. For example, the Stouffer Grand Beach Resort in St. Thomas is offering 30 percent off its season-high winter rates from April 3 to Dec. 19.

Hyatt Vacations is offering a 40 percent discount off the price of individual components in its all-inclusive packages at all five of its Caribbean properties--in Aruba, Grand Cayman, St. John and both hotels in Puerto Rico. The package includes air fare, hotel, car rental, meals and recreational activities. Prices will vary according to the length of your stay, time of travel, location and activity options.

One of the best packages is being offered by an island--the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). A cooperative pact with the hotels on all three islands has prompted the country to offer "free" transportation between the islands--by plane or boat-plus a flight bag filled with beach towels and other items, for a total package worth $100 in savings, when you book an eight-day/seven-night stay. You decide how many rights you want to stay on each island, or choose to stay only on St. Croix and get two days free car rental.

With such a variety of experiences to choose from right in our own back yard, the Caribbean islands are bound to give you more than your money's worth!
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Caribbean Travel Guide
Author:Giles, Dari
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:May 1, 1992
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Next Article:Quiet getaways.

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