TraveLuxe

Archive for September, 2009

Navigating the Islands

I recently posed a question on my blog asking readers for their unanswered travel questions. One theme seemed to be differentiating the Caribbean islands from each other and knowing which one to choose.

Whether you are deciding upon a cruise itinerary or are looking some R&R at a resort, knowing what each island has to offer is a key factor, especially with the number of islands to choose from.

Here are tips that might help you narrow your search and get you one step closer to your ideal vacation.

All-Inclusive Resorts:

Jamaica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic offer the greatest number of all-inclusive resorts. Aruba, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Anguilla also offer several options each.

Lush Scenery:

While many of the islands are known for their natural beauty, St. Lucia, Dominica, Granada, St. Kitts and Nevis,  and St. John are among the most lush.  Islands like Aruba and Curacao have more of a desert landscape.

Seclusion:

If you’re looking for a serene, out of the way getaway, islands such as Barbuda, St. Bart’s, Matinique, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadaloupe, Grenada or St. Vincent and the Grenadines may be ideal. Here, you aren’t likely to find mega-resorts or tour buses full of day trippers from a cruise. Just you, the ocean, the sand and a few others looking to escape.

Restaurants, Shopping and Nightlife:

St. Thomas and Aruba are possibly the most notable for all three.  Aruba is 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela and it’s cuisine and atmosphere reflect the latin influence. It’s fun and lively with a bit of sass. St. Thomas is popular for it’s tax-free shopping and particularly noted as a place to purchase electronics and jewelry.

Diving, Snorkeling and Water Activities:

Good diving and snorkeling can be found throughout the Caribbean, though Bonaire, Grand Cayman and Cozumel (included as it’s on many cruise itineraries) are among some of the top dive spots in the world. With 365 beaches, Antigua offers virtually every water-based activity available.

Beaches:

The Caribbean has no shortage of beaches and whichever island you choose will offer beautiful ocean views. However, some of the most notable beaches include Seven Mile Beach (Caymen Islands), Honeymoon Beach (St. John, USVI), the beaches of Antigua, Anse Chastanet (St. Lucia), The Baths (Virgin Gorda, BVIs), Shoal Bay (Anguilla) and and too many others to name.

Festivals and Celebrations:

Aruba and Jost Van Dyke (British Virgin Islands) do two of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Caribbean. Cruise ships will do an onboard celebration for New Years Eve as well.

Trinidad and Tobago are known for having one of the best Carnival celebrations in the world.

St. Lucia’s Jazz festival in May and Montego Bay’s Reggae Sumfest in July attract music fans from all over.

The best way to determine the right cruise or island to fit your needs is to work with a travel professional. They know the islands and properties and can help create an itinerary or find a cruise which fits your needs, interests and budget.

Choose the Right Cruise

Cruising seems to have a bit of a cult following – people either love cruises and rarely travel any other way, or they prefer to stay on land.

Whether your a veteran or rookie cruiser, your enjoyment of the experience hinges largely on choosing the right cruise. The notion that cruises are essentially all the same can be easily disproved by looking at the incredible variety of cruise ships, types, destinations and themes.

Some critical points to consider when choosing a cruise include:

1. What type of overall experience are you looking for? Cruises range from family-oriented to couples oriented to themes such as jazz, shakespeare or motorcycle groups.

2. Would you prefer a smaller, more intimate ship with more personal attention or something more grandiose with a rock wall, a skating rink and theater performances.

3. What time of year are you cruising? This is critical. There is a reason that cruises to the Western Caribbean are cheap during September – it’s the middle of hurricane season and the Western Caribbean is the most often hit. Possibly more than any other type of vacation, bad weather can affect your cruise vacation.

4. What type of dining experience are you looking for?  Do you want scheduled dining times or open dining? Are you looking for all you can eat buffets and 24 hour dining or higher end restaurants. How personalized do you want your dining?

5. Start your planning by asking yourself what you want to see and experience, rather than which destination you want to visit. You might have the Caribbean in mind, but realize through the planning process that the mediterranean better fits your interests.

6. Ask if a cruise really is for you. The pool games, casino, and rock wall sound like they’ll fill up your day at sea but will you really participate? Will six to twelve hours in each destination be enough for you? Are you happy with the stateroom options?  If the answer to these is yes, you’re probably ready to set sail! If you’re not so sure, discuss other options – or possibly a different type of cruise – with your travel planner.