Tim O'Keefe answered your questions on Caribbean vacations
Hi, Everyone. Thanks for joining me. Let's talk about the Caribbean.
Cresson, PA: My 2 children and I travel to the Carribean every year (without my husband). They are currently 10 and 11 (both boys). I have found that all-inclusives are the best way to travel with boys as they are always hungry.
Unfortunately we've stayed at several all-inclusives that claimed to have a children's club. In many cases, it is non-existent and always locked and dark. In some cases, it is just a couple of pre-schoolers coloring.
Is there any highly rated all-inclusives in the Carribean or Mexico coast that have great children's programs that are active? My boys like to play a lot of sports.
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Cresson, PA
Nothing like trying to relax on vacation and having a couple of bored boys looking for something to do. Check out the Beaches Resorts, which specialize in family vacations. I particularly like the one in Turks and Caicos-terrific beach, lots of watersports and a good video arcade in case it rains. Plus a spa for you.
Fairfax, VA: A big event is coming up - my 60th birthday. I want to bring my family - 6 adults in all - to a great place that will allow me to always think back joyfully to that day. My birthday is July 21...not sure if the Caribbean is good due to hurricane season. Would like to keep the trip to $5,000.
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Fairfax, VA
Don't blame you for worrying about hurricanes after the last 2 summers. Fortunately, July is before the most active period, usually in August and September. And some islands, like Barbados, are off the usual hurricane track. Wish I knew more about your interests to suggest something more detailed.
If you want an unforgettable vacation, go to Ladera on St. Lucia, located between the pitons. July just might be affordable. Otherwise, check out the nearby Stonefield Villas if you don't mind being off the beach.
A toast to your 60th!
Jacksonville, Florida: Going to St. Thomas May 13 - any cheap flights and from where other than Miami. Looks as if American has the better flights time wise
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Florida neighbor in Jacksonville,
Miami is definitely one of the best gateways to the Caribbean but also check Orlando and Tampa. You could always drive to Orlando for a good deal. Look at flights out of Atlanta, too. In the future, keep your eye on Delta, which is starting to make a major move into the Caribbean.
Auburn, AL: My husband and I will be going to Barbados in December of this year. We read in the February issue about EasyCruise and wanted to know will a ship be in the Caribbean at that time?
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Auburn, AL
For those who don't know, easyCruise is like a hostel floating between ports except the cabins are air conditioned. It's no frills-meals are extra--and caters to young people on a budget. The room prices are bargain basement, usually under $20 a night, and you can get on and off the ship in different ports but must spend 2 nights aboard. The cruise line is from the same people that started easyJet.
A ship departed Barbados on weekends this winter. However, the ship goes to Europe for the summer and next winter's schedule has yet to be posted. Assuming everything went well this season and people didn't mind sleeping in the company's signature "orange" rooms, easyCruise should be back in Barbados in December.
Colonia, NJ: I really want to go on one more big trip before I go back to graduate school, however, I have no one to go with. I was thinking of going with a tour group, but am looking for one reasonably priced with others in my simialr situation (age, activities, etc.). Any advice?
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Colonia, NJ,
Organized tours to the Caribbean are not common like they are in Europe and other parts of the world. The islands have heavily promoted their resorts and beaches but not their culture and history. An exception is Mexico's Caribbean coast where (if this is your interest) you can follow the route of the Maya and visit some of the most spectacular pre-Colombian sites in the Americas.
Divers, windsurfers and other active travelers often form groups based on their sport but this may not be what you're looking for.
The Caribbean may not be the best destination for you.
Berwick, Pa.: We are planning a week trip to St. Lucia 6/12/06 to 6/19/06. We have the hotel reserved. Any suggestions to when to reserve the plane for the best fares and the most convenient route of travel. Either from Phila. or Newark.
Tim O'Keefe: Hi E. Bower in Berwick, PA
You'll love St. Lucia, one of the Caribbean's most striking islands. You left out an important detail---where is your hotel located? The majority of flights and all the larger planes fly into Hewanorra International Airport (airport code UVF) in the southern town of Vieux Fort. This is the island's largest and most modern airport facility. However, the majority of hotel rooms are located closer to the north end of the island at Castries, which is served by George F.L. Charles Airport at Vigie (airport code SLU). The travel time from the Hewanorra Airport to the northern part of the island is about 90 minutes.
If you're staying near Castries at the northern end, Vigie is the more convenient airport. But sometimes you have to do a lot of island hopping to get there, far more than to fly into Hewanorra.
St. Lucia is not a major destination and most people have to change planes to get there-but you might not if you were traveling on a weekend, when US Airways usually offers direct service from Philadelphia. Weekend and mid-week flights are running about the same, in the $600 range. Because your dates seem firmly set, don't wait too long to reserve. With so many all-inclusive resorts on the island, there are not always a lot of specials.
Richmond, VA: I have seen that there are several Jazz festivals this year in the Caribbean. Can you give me a list of all of the idlands hosting one this year?
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Cathy in Richmond, my former home city.
If you like jazz, looks like you're going to St. Lucia, too. It holds the Caribbean's largest and most popular festival May 5-14. Events are held at different venues around the island but almost all are at the northern end. The event started only in 1991 but it attracts around 10,000 people each year so make travel reservations and get your tickets now.
Unfortunately you've missed this year's Barbados Jazz Festival held in early January and the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Fest in Montego Bay but there's always next year. Here some others still upcoming, not all with announced dates yet:
Curacao Jazz Festival, the end of May.
Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, in October on the north coast
Jamaica Ocho Rios International Jazz Festival, June 10-18
St. Lucia Jazz Festival, May 5-14
Lake Charles, LA: Since the Bush Administration just gave in to Major League Baseball (and Fidel Castro) and will allow the Cubans to participate in the World Baseball Classic do you have any ideas for baseball fans that would love to see the Cuban baseball team play in the first round games in Puerto Rico?
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Lake Charles, LA
Who ever thought we'd see the day-- a real World Series that includes more than American baseball teams! The first ever international series takes place in March with 16 teams including the Cubans, who have to donate any profits to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Cuba is scheduled to play its first game March 8 in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, with the series continuing until March 15th. Tickets are appearing online and they're at a premium, selling for $475 and up. Finding them and a room could be challenge. Start looking now (on the beach at Isla Verde or near the historic city of Old San Juan, if those attractions are of any interest). It's going to be crowded.
Sorry, but I don't know of any guaranteed way to make sure you're in the stands at a bargain price. Attending a historic event is usually expensive.
vienna va: In December, generally how far south do you have to go in the Caribbean to guarantee warm weather (i.e. the Bahamas can be chilly).
Tim O'Keefe: Hi M in Vienna, Va
I remember the December and I landed in the Bahamas to find it chilly and windy and one January when the temps plunged into the 30s. That was a freak of nature but it happened. High winter winds caused by cold fronts can also make diving, snorkeling and fishing unpleasant, if not impossible.
To avoid any trace of winter, head at least as far south as Puerto Rico but to be absolutely sure, choose Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao or any island in the southern Caribbean.
Greenwich, Ct: We are two college students ages 20 and 22. We would like to go to an all inclusive resort for the week of March 18 for either five or seven days. We want to spend about $700 and are looking for a trip to the Dominican Republic or somewhere in the Caribbean such as Jamaica. Please give us an idea of how we can find the best prices.
Tim O'Keefe: Hi, Greenwich
March is a great time to get out of the cold-and a popular one, which means you're going to have to do some serious hunting to stay in the $700 range for air and an all-inclusive hotel. The Dominican Republic may be your best bet, on the north coast around Puerto Plata and Cabarete. The Punta Cana area hotels are likely to be more expensive.
If you're looking to party, Negril in Jamaica is probably the place to go. Look to see what deals the different chains are offering there, especially Sandals, SuperClubs. Expect the rooms to be expensive, though, $250-$350 a day for 2 people. You've chosen the most expensive time of the year.
Cranston, RI: What are the best restaurant values in Grand Bahama Island,Port Lucaya area.
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Cranston, RI.
The place to go is the Port Lucaya Marketplace, which has 100 shops and restaurants. It has a much better selection than the International Bazaar in Freeport. The Marketplace is easy to walk around and comparison shop by looking at the menus and prices. Meals typically are much less costly than in the hotels.
You should find whatever you're looking for, plain or fancy, including Bahamian, Creole, Greek and Italian. There's enough variety to keep you coming back and trying a new place every day.
Albuquerque New Mexico: Women's Surf Trip! Hello my name is Christine Ageton. Me and my best friend Kathy Begeal (Boulder, CO) want to go on a vacation that focuses on learning to surf. We are both beginners so we'll need a reputable and fun guide. We both speak Spanish and would like to go to Latin America, especially the Caribbean or Central America. We've started to look at spots in Costa Rica and Mexico. While we would also like good local food, hiking and some night life, we really prefer to travel to the less touristy destinations..chicken buseses are fine with us! What do you suggest?
Tim O'Keefe: Hi surfer girls in arid Albuquerque New Mexico,
Lots of windsurfing in the Caribbean but if you want to ride the waves without a sail, then Costa Rica is a good bet. It's become a real surfing hotspot in recent years and you can easily find complete vacation packages that include lessons. Spanish may prove to be an added plus but not really necessary except in small restaurants.
Don't know if you're planning on taking your own boards but if so beware the domestic airlines because they generally do not guarantee your board will fly and arrive with you.
Hinesburg VT: Dear Tim,
I am wondering if you have any suggestions on how to have a hassle free vacation in Jamaica. I am not the only person I know who will not go back because of the locals, they just cannot seem to leave a person alone and you are left feeling stressed out and unhappy because of it. We even paired up with another couple for safty in numbers but we got split up in the market in Ocho Rios the next thing we saw was the gentleman carring a huge bag of wooden souviners that he didnt even want but because the salesman would not give him changs for what he did want he ended up getting a bunch of junk!Also every where you go you get detoured through peddlers. I must say it is a beautiful place but what a drag for young people with out alot of money or patience.
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Hinesburg, VT
Yes, Jamaica vendors can make-you-a-crazy! The craft market in Montego Bay has tamed down a lot because the hard sell attitude was driving tourists away. Jamaica is a poor country and the hassling, while definitely annoying, is the only way some people have to make an income. Approach it as a game. Make sure you have plenty of small bills if you intend to shop. Don't get stuck with the "no change" routine (there was probably plenty of change available, from other vendors if the fellow didn't have it himself).
If you're not interested, a polite "No, thanks" is all it should take. If you stop to look at something for sale, you've targeted yourself as a potential customer. Otherwise, just keep walking, smiling and shaking your head "No." Come back later a second or third time, Just don't act all that interested. And haggle. And always remember, this is a game and you hold the winning hand.
Sometimes it's worth it to buy a small item so you can tell other sellers "You're too late." Hold up the bag to show you've really done some shopping. No one really expects you to "come over here and just take a look." But they hope you will.
If someone is persistent about selling you drugs, a simple "No" often doesn't work. The seller may start dickering over price to get you to change your mind. If you say, "Sorry, I don't use it" that's a different message.
I had a friend who once wore an FBI Academy t-shirt around Negril. People actually went the other way.
Novi, MI: We are planning a trip to Puerto Plata at the end of May (2 adults) Can you recommend a nice all-inclusive hotel to stay at?
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Novi, MI
You're going to one of my favorite islands. None of the best hotels are really in Puerto Plata itself but outside it. Let me suggest three. Iberostar Costa Dorada is one of several Iberostars on the island. No one ever seems to have anything bad to say about any of them, which is remarkable.
The Marien Coral by Hilton beach can be chilly in winter but should be fine in May. If you're a nudist, or thinking about becoming one, the Eden Bay Nudist Resort is considered one of the Caribbean's top naturist resorts. I haven't looked personally to find out.
Auburn Hills, MI: My husband and I live in Metro Detroit(DTW)-we would like to go on a romantic getaway during the month of March. Our travel dates our flexible and we would only like to be gone 2 nights. We want a place that is warm and sunny and fairly inexpensive (air & hotel no more than 300.00pp). Do you have any suggestions?
Cloudy & Cold in Michigan
Tim O'Keefe: Hi Cloudy & Cold Michigan,
Trying to come in at $300 per person for 2 nights, air and meals in March may be impossible in the Caribbean. But if your dates are flexible and you can make travel plans quickly, keep watch at the last-minute travel bargain websites. Incredible deals like you want do occasionally pop up but they're gone quickly.
March is prime time, during the peak season. Good hunting! And good luck.
Thanks for all your excellent questions but I'm out of time. Happy travels!