It’s the time of year when winter starts getting to you and Brooklyn families start pricing out trips to warmer climes. I always feel somewhat at a loss when I start planning these getaways though. I just want a beach, but there are so many to choose from and it can be hard to distinguish one from another. Here are a few thoughts. It’s not an exhaustive guide to the Caribbean but it will help you narrow down your options and focus your research.
Florida and Hilton Head (via Savannah) are incredibly easy flights. And while it won’t be hot, it will be warmer than damp, gray New York City.
It’s unlikely you’ll be dipping your toes into the Atlantic at Hilton Head, you can walk and play on the fabulous beach, ride bikes, take nature walks, play golf, shop at the outlets and maybe even take a boat ride. The Marriott (www.hiltonheadmarriott.com) and Crowne Plaza (www.cphiltonhead.com) hotels have indoor pools.
Winter and spring breaks can also be a good time to visit Disney World without having to deal with blazing heat (though there will probably still be crowds). In southernmost parts of Florida, like Miami, you could luck into some very warm weather or enjoy the beach and sights and food in that eclectic city in any event.
For Older Kids
If your family likes their vacations on the rustic side, consider Maho Bay (http://www.maho.org/) or Concordia Eco Resort on St John, US Virgin Islands. Planes don’t land in St. John (you take a taxi and ferry from St. Thomas), and the accommodations are efficiency cottages or upscale tents. This would be my pick for nature lovers who aren’t resort people but still need some sun. Also, it’s probably better with kids who are old enough to handle the schlep and will look forward to hiking in the nearby national park, diving into water sports and taking pottery classes.
If you are resort people, a great option is to sublet one of the time shares at Atlantis (http://www.atlantis.com/) on Paradise Island, Bahamas. You have access to all the neat water rides, wading pools and aquatic shows at Atlantis, plus an apartment with a kitchen and some room to spread out.
When we visited Paradise Island in March of 2010, the temperature never got above an unseasonably cool 75 and the pool was freezing. But friends who visited the same year in February swam every day in sunny, 85-degree weather. The flight is super easy and kids who are old enough to run around the giant Atlantis complex on their own will have a ball. But I would make this a spring break rather than winter break destination if you don’t want to take your chances with the weather.
For Beach-going Plus
If you like to get off the beach and experience local culture, we suggest looking into Barbados or Aruba. The flights are a little bit longer but it’s worth it.
Barbados has nice snorkeling, horseback riding and other activities. The Oistins Fish Fry (http://www.barbados.org/oistins-fish-fry.htm) is a weekly party where locals and tourists mingle over fried fish, macaroni pie and live music. St. Lawrence Gap offers smaller hotels and a walkable town with restaurants and nightlife. The Crane Hotel, (http://www.thecrane.com/Dining/LAzure/) perched atop a cliff like it’s namesake bird, offers a lively Gospel breakfast buffet on Sunday.
Visitors to Aruba will find similar dining and activity options in the resorts and hotels adjacent to Oranjestad, the island’s picturesque main ”city.”
The Something For Everyone Option
I can’t think of any situation where I wouldn’t recommend the Mayan Peninsula for a winter getaway. Skip Cancun around spring break time. If the all-inclusive deals seem almost too good to pass up, there could be a reason (and that reason likes to do keg-stands). There is a giant reef that extends along much of the Mayan Riviera and behind it the further from Cancun you travel, the calmer the water is.
The all-inclusives come in a range of prices and tend to be good values. If your kids are older look for resorts where at least some excursions like snorkeling , swimming in the local cenotes (caves with fresh-water pools) or visiting the Tulum ruins are included in your package.
With very small children and babies, consider staying in Playa del Carmen. The beach is public so you can stay at a small hotel or in a condo and just walk on (we did this and wound up with a lot of kids for my daughter to play with). The end of town furthest from Cancun is party oriented (but there’s a nice playground near the ferry terminal). The other end is a mix of couples and families; no one will look at you funny if you eat dinner at 5:30. And there is a Target-type store with a supermarket on the edge of town.
If your family is more into yoga than water slides and you want something mellower still, consider one of the small eco-resorts around Tulum. They’re sparse but comfy and can be a real getaway.
I wouldn’t recommend driving in most of Mexico, but it’s doable here. There’s one main highway that runs the length of the coast. It’s in good condition and well-signed. But if you have a small child consider packing your car seat; we were not impressed with the one we got from Hertz.
Enjoy the sun!