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Nonstop Caribbean: Fly Right to the Beach
When the days grow chilly, it's time for a long weekend on the beach. We've compiled a list of every island you can reach nonstop from the mainland U.S. and Canada—because nothing kills the fun like a layover.
Note: Hotel rates in this story are for high season (generally December through April), but they may be higher over holidays.
Direct vs. Nonstop: Be careful when booking. Direct flights aren't the same thing as nonstop flights, and they may stop en route to your destination. (A single flight number can cover several flights.) One long layover in Atlanta and you won't make that mistake again.
A white-sand haven for the celeb set--everyone from Garbo to Oprah has stayed here--the former British colony is also a popular destination for boaters.
Must-do: Nelson's Dockyard National Park, the restored, 18th-century naval yard, was named for Admiral Horatio Nelson, who lived in the Leeward Islands for a few years (268/460-1379, nationalparksantigua.com, $5).
Where to stay: The Siboney Beach Club is a homey, 12-suite inn right on Dickenson Bay, one of the island's finest beaches (800/533-0234, siboneybeachclub.com, from $190).
Like sister islands Bonaire and Curaçao, Aruba--18 miles north of Venezuela--lies just outside the hurricane belt. And even though Hurricane Felix brought heavy rain in September, the island usually enjoys sunny skies year-round.
Must-do: Arikok National Park covers nearly one fifth of the island. It's home to divi-divi trees, cactus gardens, yellow-breasted bananaquits, and kododo blauw lizards. Highlights include Guadirikiri Caves and more than 20 miles of hiking trails (011-297/585-1234, free).
Where to stay: Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort is on Eagle Beach, a popular stretch of white sand (011-297/527-1100, amsterdammanor.com, from $159).
Just a 30-minute flight from the mainland U.S., the Bahamas has everything from mellow beaches with sparkling water to large resorts with glitzy nightlife and casinos. You can fly to several of the islands from Florida, but the main entrance points for the rest of the U.S. are Grand Bahama and Nassau/Paradise Island.
Must-do: Paradise Island's Atlantis is a mega complex that pairs the fun of Orlando with the subtlety of Vegas--in other words, there's a faux Mayan temple and cutting-edge waterslides (242/363-3000, atlantis.com, water park admission from $110 for nonguests, $75 for kids under 12; limited availability).
Where to stay: The 30-room Orange Hill Beach Inn is on a good Nassau snorkeling beach (888/399-3698, orangehill.com, from $123). Guests at Comfort Suites Paradise Island can access neighboring Atlantis--including the water rides, pools, and private beaches--without having to pay $425 a night (877/424-6423, choicehotels.com, from $220, includes breakfast). On Paradise Island's eastern tip, the harborfront Paradise Harbour Club & Marina has a pool, a Jacuzzi, and free beach shuttles (242/363-2992, phc-bahamas.com, from $150).
Although Barbados has been an independent nation for over 40 years, it still has British traits: Cars drive on the left, cricket is the national sport, and there's a fondness for afternoon tea.
Must-do: On Friday and Saturday nights, the village of Oistins hosts a big street-food festival, where partygoers enjoy seafood of all kinds, including mahimahi and lobster. Plates cost about $5, and the party starts around 7 p.m.
Where to stay: A 15-minute drive from the airport and within walking distance of St. Lawrence Gap, Dover Beach Hotel has 59 rooms steps from Turtle Beach (246/428-8076, doverbeach.com, from $92). All of the rooms at the beachfront Sea Breeze Beach Hotel have a balcony or patio; guests can soak in the two pools or the three Jacuzzis (246/428-2825, sea-breeze.com, from $124, includes breakfast).