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10 Stylish Steals in the Caribbean!

By The Editors of Budget Travel
March 20, 2013
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Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Wyndham-Nassau-Bahamas/photo/9225765/21864.html" target="_blank"> marian13/myBudgetTravel</a>
Sure, the amazing islands in the Caribbean Sea and off the Southeast coast conjure images of exclusive beaches, posh nightlife, and glitzy shopping. The good news? All of that can be yours without the sticker shock.

Admit it—you've had the Caribbean on your must-see list for years. What's stopping you? For starters, the very word may inspire you to keep one hand on your wallet. But the truth is there's never been a better time to take the plunge—both figuratively and literally—into those turquoise waters. Here, words of wisdom from your favorite experts—the editors of Budget Travel—about enjoying the white sand, world-class restaurants, and rich culture of the Caribbean without breaking the bank. Plus, for each destination, we share a Stylish Steal that will help you book a stay that feels luxe at a smart price.

SEE THE ISLANDS!

1. BAHAMAS 

From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau, home to gorgeous Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite for savvy travelers (airfares fell 4 percent in 2012 and hotel prices fell 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012). While in Nassau, you can hop a three-hour ferry to the beach of your dreams on Andros Island, join a deep-sea fishing trip for blue marlin, wahoo, billfish, and tuna, and get a taste of authentic Bahamas cuisine at Twin Brothers with its grilled seafood combo platters including conch, snapper, and grouper starting at $20.50.

Stylish Steal: Wyndham Nassau Resort & Casino, on Cable Beach, is a good home base for exploring Nassau and New Providence Island. Three bars and four restaurants are onsite and the casino offers table games and slots (wyndhamnassauresort.com, from $112).

2. ARUBA 

Sure, the western side of this Dutch island is dominated by high-end hotels, casinos, and chic shopping. But venturing off the ritzy path, Aruba offers staggering natural beauty and outdoor activities. Take a jeep tour of cactus-studded Arikok National Park, go snorkeling, horseback riding, or get a bird's-eye view of it all on a skydive. Near the island's northwestern tip, Malmok Beach is a mecca for snorkelers and divers thanks to the sunken Antilla, a 400-foot German World War II freighter that is now a diverse mini-ecosystem that includes ruby sponges, colorful coral, and tropical fish. Take a detour from the wreck to swim in secluded Boca Catalina Bay.

Stylish Steal: MVC Eagle Beach is a 19-room inn with ocean-view terraces, all-white bedding, and dark-wood furniture (mvceaglebeach.com, from $95).

3. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 

Punta Cana has been a popular beach destination for Europeans for years, but Americans are now getting in on this inexpensive paradise just a stone's throw (well, a two-hour flight) from Miami. Bavaro Beach is the area's busiest, but its white sand, clear water, and offshore coral reef make it worth a visit. Take day-trips to the country's historic capital, Santa Domingo, with its Spanish colonial architecture, and Indigenous Eyes Park, a private nature reserve and jungle park featuring waterfalls and lagoons for swimming. You can also try a surf lesson at Macao Beach, explore the Cordillera Septentrional Mountains, and soak up some history at Casa Ponce de Leon, a museum dedicated to the explorer.

Stylish Steal: NH Punta Cana is a colorful and stylish resort on Bavaro Beach with plenty of modern perks like complimentary Wi-Fi and satellite TV (nh-hotels.com, from $130).

4. JAMAICA 

"Liming" in Jamaica means relaxing. And with miles of beaches, Rastafarian culture, and amazing food, this is the place to lime! Doctor's Cave Beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay, a short walk from many hotels, and Seven Mile Beach is a few minutes' drive away. Jamaica's beaches offer not only the sun and fun you'd expect but also tasty jerk chicken and the national beer, Red Stripe. Montego Bay Marine Park is an underwater nature reserve with tropical fish and anemones; it's an ideal place to try snorkeling. Up for something more adventurous? Venture to 180-foot Dunn River Falls in the rain forest in nearby Ocho Rios.

Stylish Steal: Casa Blanca Beach Hotel is a classic Jamaican hotel with old-world styling situated in the middle of Montego Bay's Hip Strip near Doctor's Cave Beach (Casa Blanca Beach Hotel, from $80).

5. PUERTO RICO 

One of the delights of visiting Puerto Rico is that you're still in the U.S. yet a world away at the same time. Old San Juan's narrow cobblestone streets and pastel houses—not to mention its salsa-driven nightlife—invite you to join the party. Stop in at Bodega Chic or Nono's for a drink, or join in a public sing-along in Plaza del Mercado, nicknamed "La Placita." For a great view of the Atlantic, head to El Morro, an old fort that's stood here since the 16th century. The most popular beaches in San Juan are in the Condado neighborhood on the eastern side of the city; get there early to grab a prime spot on the golden sand.

Stylish Steal: Numero Uno Guesthouse is a darling 15-room inn right by the beach in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan (numero1guesthouse.com, from $149).

6. MEXICO

Quick! What's the number one overseas destination for Americans? Venice? Paris? Guess again. It's Cancun, on Mexico's Caribbean coast. Here on this islet, 14 miles of beach and legendary nightlife draw hordes during Spring Break, but the real Cancun, with its Mayan roots, offers something much deeper than a party scene. The beach at Playa Tortugas is festive, with bungalow restaurants and bars under the palms; Playa Delfines, in contrast, is an escapist white-sand beach for aspiring surfers and those who crave some quiet. Don't miss a day-trip to the Riviera Maya with its beachfront ruins at Tulum and the jungle temples of Coba. If you insist on indulging in Cancun's nightlife, head to Coco Bongo, a 1,800-person temple to excess with dancing, nightly trapeze acts, and rock-star impersonators.

Stylish Steal: The Royal Islander is a beachfront resort with humdrum décor but a great location (and a seaside pool) in the Zona Hotelera of Cancun (royalresorts.com, from $120).

7. U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

St. Croix is a bit of a curiosity in the Virgin Islands. It's bigger than St. Thomas and St. John put together, but draws the fewest visitors because of its remoteness and relatively undeveloped landscape. It also happens to be the easternmost point of the United States. That means that, without a passport, you can immerse yourself in a culture that blends Caribbean, Dutch, French, British, Spanish, and Danish influences all in a package less than 23 miles long and eight miles wide. With all the expected to-dos you associate with an island paradise (swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, fine dining, and golf), St. Croix also offers the old-world architecture of Christiansted, with homes dating back to the 18th century, and a "rain forest" near the western shore. (It's not technically a rain forest, but private land open to visitors, with a bounty of tropical flora and colorful hummingbirds, warblers, and other birds.)

Stylish Steal: Hotel Caravelle is near Christiansted's historical sites and has a restaurant, bar, outdoor pool, and spa onsite (hotelcaravelle.com, from $136).

8. BERMUDA 

Sitting all alone in the Atlantic Ocean 650 miles east of North Carolina, Bermuda is a true outlier. It's not anywhere near the Caribbean Sea, and its food, architecture, and customs are far more British-colonial than tropical paradise. Still, the island (actually an atoll) has found an easy alliance with its neighbors to the south, sharing in tourism efforts and reaping the benefits of their counterbalanced seasons: The Caribbean booms in the winter, while peak season in Bermuda runs from spring through fall. Though Bermuda is always pricey—four of the five most expensive destinations in the Caribbean are here—visitors traveling off-season can find lower airfares, reduced golf fees, and hotels that may be more than 40 percent off summer rates. It's not quite sunbathing weather: December days average 70 degrees.

Stylish Steal: The 200-year-old main house of the Greenbank Guesthouse & Cottages incorporates cedar beams that were used as ballast in transatlantic trading ships (greenbankbermuda.com, from $145).

9. CAYMAN ISLANDS 

The Caymans are practically synonymous with two wealthy pursuits: deep-sea diving and offshore banking. Dive 365, an initiative launched by the islands' Tourism Association, inspired by the notion that the Cayman's should provide a unique diving experience for each day of the year, is making at least one of those more accessible to regular folks. One of the most noteworthy dive projects is the decommissioned U.S. naval ship Kittiwake, a 251-foot submarine rescue vessel that now sits in 62 feet of water off Seven Mile Beach. Because the top is only about eight feet below the surface, the vessel is also accessible to snorkelers.

Stylish Steal: Affordable hotels on Grand Cayman are rare, but one good pick is 130-room Sunshine Suites, just a stone's throw from the Ritz-Carlton; each room has a fully equipped kitchen (sunshinesuites.com, from $158).

10. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO 

Tobago is like Trinidad's backyard, a 116-square-mile haven just a 20-minute flight on Caribbean Airlines from its bigger, noisier sibling. Where Trinidad has restaurants, nightclubs, and 96 percent of the country's population, Tobago has empty beaches, calm bays, and spectacular brain-coral reefs. There are also almost three times the number of exotic bird species as there are hotels, and the birds have free rein in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, one of the oldest protected forests in the western hemisphere.

Stylish Steal: When it comes to human nesting, it doesn't get more peaceful than the four-room Gloucester Place Guest House in Parlatuvier, on the island's north coast. Shaded by coconut palms and mango trees, the guesthouse even has its own natural waterfall and an infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean (gloucesterplace.com, from $100).

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Inspiration

7 Beautiful Cable Car Rides Around the World

Cable cars and aerial trams around the world give you access to brilliant panoramic views without having to go through the effort of hiking a long, winding trail up a mountain or trekking through the wilderness in search of the perfect vantage point. We scoured the globe to find the most travel-inspiring views, whether you're seeking a relaxing ride in Rio or want to try capturing a different angle of the New York City skyline. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy. And don't forget your camera! SEE THE VIEWS! Sugarloaf Mountain Aerial Tram Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Sugarloaf Mountain has always been a major Rio de Janeiro landmark—the city itself was founded at the mountain's base in 1565. The Sugarloaf Mountain Aerial Tram was built in 1912, turning Rio de Janeiro into a major tourist destination. Able to carry up to 65 passengers at a time, the cable car offers two rides—first the 722-foot climb to Morro da Urca, then the 1,300-foot rise to the Sugarloaf Mountain summit—and 360-degree views of Copacabana, Ipanema, Guanabara Bay, and the Corcovado Mountains, as well as a peek at the statue of Christ the Redeemer that this area is known for. Take a lunch or shopping break mid-way at Morro da Urca and visit the Bondinho exhibit at the mountain's summit for a look at the role Sugarloaf Mountain has played throughout modern Brazilian history. How to ride: Tickets cost $27 for adults and $13 for children ages 6-12; children six and under ride free. Cable cars depart every 20 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Click here for directions from touristy Copacabana and Downtown Rio de Janeiro. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Cape Town, South Africa Treat yourself to 360-degree views of Cape Town, the Helderberg Mountains, Blue Mountain Beach, Sunset Beach, Devil's Peak, Camps Bay, Robben Island, Signal Hill and Lion's Head, the Cape Town Stadium, and the 12 Apostles with a ride on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Cable cars depart every 10-15 minutes and make the 3,559-foot climb up the 260-million year old Table Mountain in under five minutes. More than 20-million visitors have taken a ride since the Cableway opened in 1929. At the top, buy a souvenir, dine in a restaurant while enjoying gorgeous mountaintop views, opt for a short nature walk through Table Mountain National Park or try a longer hike along the top of the mountain down to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden or the Silvermine Nature Preserve. Sip wine while watching a magnificent sunset, or if you're feeling especially gutsy, Abseil Africa offers the opportunity to rappel down the side of Table Mountain, sure to be a memorable experience, if you're brave enough to do it. How to ride: The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is located 15 minutes from the city center on Tafelberg Road in Cape Town. Adults pay $20 for a round-trip ride while children ages 4-18 pay $10 when tickets are ordered online; children under age four ride free. The Cableway will be closed between July 22nd and August 25th, 2013, for annual maintenance. The Yellow Mountains Cable Cars Huangshan, China Located in the remote hills of China's Anhui Province, Mt. Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, is home to some of the country's most striking natural wonders—you can visit hot springs, waterfalls, and unique rock formations like Lion Peak, the Flying Stone, Monkey Gazing at the Sea, as well as popular tree formations like Black Tiger Pine, Lovers' Pine, and Two Immortals Playing Chess, that the area is known for. Hiking enthusiasts flock to the area's vast trail system with pine trees, streams, and jagged rocks on one side of the path and nothing but sheer cliffs on the other. Yellow Mountain boasts three cable car systems, carrying visitors to various scenic points on the mountain since 1986—the Yungu Cableway takes you from Cloud Valley to White Goose Peak, the Yuping Cableway takes you from the Mercy Light Pavillion to the Jade Screen Pavillion, and the Taiping Cableway takes you from the Pine Valley Nunnery to Pine Forrest Peak. One-way trips last about 8-12 minutes and cost $13 for adults and $7 for children from March 1st and November 30th (prices are $11 for adults and $6 for children from December 1st to February 28th). How to ride: Several options are available to help you get to the area: hop a flight from Shanghai to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), take a 13-hour long overnight train from Shanghai to Tunxi, or ride one of the seven public buses from Shanghai's South Bus Station to Tangkou, a small village near the Huangshan scenic area where the cable cars are located. Skyline Gondola Queenstown Queenstown, New Zealand First opened in 1967, the Skyline Gondola Queenstown offers 220-degree panoramic views of some of New Zealand's best natural highlights including Coronet Peak, Walter Peak, Cecil Peak, The Remarkables, and Lake Wakatipu as you rise 1,476-feet over Queenstown. A variety of activities are available once you reach the top of Bob's Peak—try a scenic nature walk or take advantage of one of the many area bike trails. The Skyline Queenstown Luge is open year-round, and you can choose between the easy-going scenic track with simple turns and dips, and the advanced track with steeper hills and sharper turns. A special section of the mountain is reserved especially for stargazing—there is no light to obstruct your view of the universe, and with access to telescopes, you'll be able to spot planets and an endless array of stars. For a unique cultural experience, catch a performance of Kiwi Haka, a show celebrating traditional Maori music, dance, and legends. Activity prices may vary—check the website for ticket packages that combine gondola rides, dinner, and the Kiwi Haka performance. How to ride: Skyline Gondola tickets cost $26 for adults and $15 for children, or you can pay $74 for a family pass for up to four people. Gondolas run from 9 a.m. thru 9 p.m. while the luge is open from 10 a.m. thru 5 p.m. in the winter and until 9 p.m. during the summer months. Grindelwald-Männlichen Gondola Cableway Grindelwald-Männlichen, Switzerland Deep in the heart of the Swiss Alps, and about a 25-minute drive from Interlaken, lies the 7,687-foot tall mountain, Männlichen, a haven for nature lovers, and home to the Grindelwald-Männlichen Gondola Cableway—stretching for more than 3.72 miles, it is the world's longest. Opened to the public in 1978, the cableway was built to provide visitors with easy access to hiking and skiing areas, and to cater to families wanting to get closer to nature—breathtaking views of the nearby Jungfrau massif and Bernese Alps also made the ride popular with visitors. Hikers and mountain bikers flock to the region during the summer months, while skiing, snowboarding, and sledding remain popular winter activities. Families visiting the Jungfrau region should check out the Felix Trail, a special family-friendly route between Männlichen and Holenstein where kids can learn about the different animals and wildlife living on the mountain and participate in other fun, educational activities. How to ride: Tickets cost $61 for ages 16 and up, while children ages 15 and under pay $31 for the round-trip ride. The gondola cableway is open from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from June to late September, and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter months. Roosevelt Island Tramway New York City Originally built in 1976 as a way to help Queens residents reach their offices in Manhattan, the Roosevelt Island Tramway is now a part of New York City's transportation system, making it the only commuter cable car in North America. The Tramway carries up to 125 people at a time and crosses 3,100 feet at 16 miles an hour in less than five minutes, all while providing scenic views of the Queensboro Bridge, the East River, and the Upper East Side. After crossing from Roosevelt Island, the Tramway leaves visitors at 2nd Avenue between 59th and 60th streets, allowing easy access to subways that connect you to the rest of the city, or on a nice day, opt for a 15-minute walk through the Upper East Side to Central Park. The best part: the Roosevelt Island Tramway is all yours with the swipe of a regular New York City Metrocard, the same card used to ride subways and buses throughout the five boroughs. In other words, you'll get a memorable ride with stunning views for $2.75, the cost of a subway ride. How to ride: Trams operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday thru Thursday, and from 6 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Please note that morning rush hour takes place between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. with evening rush hour between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Prepare for large crowds during those times and plan accordingly. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Palm Springs, California Located about two hours from Los Angeles and San Diego, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was opened in 1963, providing visitors with a beautiful 2.5-mile ride through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, an area featuring rugged mountains, abundant wildlife, and magnificent vistas. A number of hiking trails through Mt. San Jacinto State Park are available from the Mountain Station at the top of Chino Canyon, as well as a concrete pathway to Long Valley, a popular picnic area during the warm summer months. Free, guided nature walks are also offered from Memorial Day thru Labor Day from the Natural History Association store. Visit the Winter Adventure Center for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing rentals or to buy a $5 per person permit for camping, available year-round. Dine at the top of Chino Canyon at Peaks Restaurant (fine-dining) or at the Pines Café (a cafeteria-style restaurant), both of which offer stunning views of the Coachella Valley below. How to ride: Tickets cost $23.95 for adults, $16.95 for children ages 3-12, and $21.95 for seniors ages 62 and up. Trams depart every half hour starting at 10 a.m. Monday thru Friday, and starting at 8 a.m. on weekends and holidays, with the last tram at 9:45 p.m. The Tramway will be closed for annual maintenance from August 10-30, 2013.

Inspiration

Mark Your Calendar: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

It's that time of year again. Washington D.C. is gearing up for its 101st annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, set to take place this year from March 20th to April 14th—peak days, when at least 70 percent of the blossoms are open, will be from Tuesday, March 26th, thru Saturday, March 30th. Don't miss The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. between 7th and 17th streets, NW, along Constitution Avenue on Saturday, April 13th, featuring performances by pop star Mya and singer Elliot Yamin from American Idol among a variety of floats, balloons, and marching bands. Grandstand seating costs $20 per person, but you can stand along the parade route free of charge. Download the free festival app for your iPhone or Android for the latest updates. SEE OUR READERS' BEST PHOTOS OF CHERRY BLOSSOMS AROUND THE WORLD OnBoard Tours runs a guided bus tour featuring the best places to view the cherry blossoms, stopping at the U.S. Capitol, Lower Senate Park, The White House, The Old Post Office, the FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, World War II Memorial, and Washington Monument during the three-hour tour. Tours are available for $69.99 for adults and $59.99 for children ages 12 and under—enter promo code NCBF001 for a $5 discount per person when booking online. Hotels in and around Washington D.C. are getting in on the action and offering special rates in honor of the Festival—click here to view all the options ranging from the Sheraton Pentagon City for from $87 a night to splurges like the Mandarin Oriental Washington D.C. for from $265 a night. Eleven Kimpton Hotels throughout Washington D.C. and Virginia are participating in the Blossoms &amp; Bubbles Package, offering perks like a $30 room credit per stay (to use towards parking or dining), a bar of locally handcrafted cherry blossom soap, bubbles for kids, complimentary sake during wine hour at the hotel, and rates ranging from $135 to $185 per night depending on the hotel. Use promo code BLOOM when booking online between March 20th and April 14th.

Inspiration

Would You Sail on Titanic II?

Have you ever watched (the beginning of) the film Titanic and thought, such a great ship, such splendor, I wish I could have sailed on something like that? Well, thanks to Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, chairman of the Titanic II Blue Star Line, you may soon get your chance—he's working on an exact replica of the original Titanic, with its first voyage across the Atlantic (on, you guessed it, the original path) starting in 2016. According to this video report by ABCNews.com, it's been Palmer's dream to build the second Titanic ship and recreate as much possible including the same details, amenities, and features as the first Titanic, a task which will cost him $500 million to complete. Palmer says the only real differences between his version and the original ship will be a special area at the ship's bow so couples can live out their Titanic film fantasies by recreating the iconic Jack and Rose "I'm flying" pose, and to accommodate modern safety updates—an extra deck to provide better visibility for the bridge, a few extra feet to adhere to international stability safety codes, and of course, plenty of lifeboats, you know, just in case. When asked by the ABCNews.com reporter if he sees this whole endeavor as tempting fate, Palmer mentioned how one of the benefits of global warming has meant there are less icebergs to contend with. Whether or not you share his optimistic views on how the repeat voyage will be, Palmer says more than 45,000 people would be interested in sailing on Titanic II, most notably Helen Benziger, the great-grandaughter of the unsinkable Molly Brown, one of the Titanic's best known survivors. Unfortunately for budget travelers, tickets will be rather steep, with the best first class cabins rumored to be priced at $1 million, but we've got our fingers crossed for a good deal, even if it is technically in steerage. We want to know: would you ever sail on Titanic II, even if it is supposed to be safer than the original? Tell us what you think and check the Titanic II website for updates on prices and schedules as things develop.

Inspiration

Is Las Vegas Safe?

One of the reasons people like to visit Las Vegas—and 40 million of them do each year—is that the city has the aura of recklessness, even mild danger, that seems to come with casinos. But a recent spate of violent crimes may cause some to have second thoughts about visiting Sin City. Reality check: Violent crime around the Strip (the area around Las Vegas Boulevard that is home to major destinations such as the Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, CityCenter, the Bellagio, and Circus Circus) fell by 13 percent in 2012, and has continued to fall in early 2013. But you wouldn't know it from the highly publicized, and somewhat bizarre, streak of violent incidents that have earned news coverage in recent weeks. Not only did a shooting and car crash kill a rapper, taxi driver, and passenger and injure several bystanders, but an unusually violent stabbing (in which the perpetrators themselves managed to stab each other in addition to the victim), the beheading of a bird, and New Year's Eve gunplay have also rocked the city's epicenter of hospitality. Although Las Vegas's tourism officials are concerned that vacationers may think twice before booking a gambling getaway, a bigger concern is convention business, which brings in thousands of visitors at a time and is a key component to the city's economy. Of course, it should be pointed out that the Strip is under the surveillance of guards, cameras, and undercover workers, and the area has banned knives, toy guns, and fireworks. (Nevada law allows people to openly carry guns.) For many, to go or not to go may have more to do with their perception of the situation than the reality—the Strip's high number of security workers and relatively low rate of violent crime (just 223 incidents in 2012) should add up to a safe trip with just the right kind of thrills. TALK TO US! Will the recent shooting on Las Vegas's Strip affect your travel plans?

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