1. Choose the right time of year.
It is somewhat of a misconception that the Caribbean and surrounding tropics are blazing hot and have crystal blue skies all year round. While this part of the planet is able to avoid the traditional "winter", that doesn't mean that 'time of year' and 'location' shouldn't be a factor in your planning.
If you are heading down south during the dead of winter (mid-December to late-February), locations too far north may not be best. These include Cuba, Bermuda and the northern islands of the Bahamas. Varadero's daytime highs are in the low 20's (C) and nighttime lows barely crack double digits. Dominican Republic and southward is typically safe from anything that would remotely resemble "cold", year round.
Also keep in mind that late-August to November is hurricane season. While the chance of a tropical storm hitting right where you are is low, at the very least expect much more rain during this time.
A final consideration is for "Spring Break", especially if you are headed to a popular spring breaker destination like Cancun.
2. Understand hotel star ratings.
Ever been to a nice 3-star hotel in North America... say like a Hilton Garden Inn or Courtyard Marriott? They are nice right? Modern, decent amenities, good service. Well down south the star-rating scale is a bit different. In many cases you can easily subtract one star from a Caribbean resort when using a North American reference point. For example a 4-star property in Cayo Coco would likely not be comparable to a 4-star property in Toronto. Maybe a 3, but possibly even lower.
3. Who do I book with?
There are a slew of online booking agencies craving your vacation dollar. Many of them are very reputable, including the likes of Expedia, TripCentral and iTravel2000 to name a few. These sites make it easy to punch in your criteria and see the pricing for trips. As mentioned in my previous blog, TripCentral has a great "pricing grid" tool that allows you to view how the price of several resorts coincides with several different departure days. This makes it easy to determine the cheapest possible day to fly out. One thing I also like to do once I find a good deal on a vacation package (flight + hotel booked together, which is pretty standard for AI's), is to check the price on the actual site of the vacation provider. For example if I find a package I like on Expedia, and it's with Air Canada Vacations, I will go to AirCanada.com and see what the price is there. If the price is the same, and if the 3rd party travel site isn't providing any added perk (for example iTravel2000's "if it snows more than x inches on x day your trip is free" deal) then I am inclined to book directly with the provider. This is because if there is any confusion or mixup with my reservation, my contact is directly through the travel company and there is no middle man involved.
|WestJet is one of Canada's largest vacation providers|
4. All beaches are not equal.
Are you a looking for that true tropical paradise? Are you a lover of fine white sand and turquoise waters? Not all beaches are created equal. Some of the most renowned hot spots for beach lovers are Punta Cana, Aruba (Palm Beach), Barbados (Gold Coast) and Negril amongst many others. Puerto Plata, a very popular and affordable destination in Dominican Republic, is not known for it's beaches as they don't have that "Caribbean Postcard" look to them that the aforementioned locations do. Similarly, the Dutch islands of Curacao and Bonaire are prominent diving paradises, but not the best options for beach bums.
|Nothing beats finding that perfect beach (Cayo Leventado)|
Disagree with any of my tips? Have any of your own to add? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below!