Conch shell craft or coconut palm weaving?
At the kids club at The Somerset on Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos, teacher Kaye-Ann Irving-Rigby runs a complimentary program for kids as young as three -- even if there is just one child in house -- where they'll do crafts with conch shells, weave coconut palms, read local stories and play with toys on the spectacular beach. Maybe they'll play beach volleyball, Irving-Rigby said.
One night, there are bonfires on the beach with s'mores; another night, there are movies and popcorn at 5 p.m. -- just enough so parents and grandparents can get a break, if they choose.
Many consider summer in the Caribbean family season because rates are significantly lower and there are so many value-added amenities. The all-condo Somerset, for example, is touting two nights free on a seven-night stay, free water sports and lessons, free dinner at the resort's popular Beach BBQ (usually $50 per person) and daily continental breakfast. Just down the beach, the affordable Sands offers a 4th night free deal for stays through December 20 that include free use of water sports equipment, snorkeling gear and bikes. Here's what I wrote about some of the fun we had in Turks and Caicos last winter.
You'll find deals like this all around the Caribbean this summer, whether you want to gather the extended family at a villa, an all-inclusive (kids stay free at the all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa in Montego Baywhere adult rates start at just $139 per night) or rent a condo from www.homeaway.com. (A two- or three-bedroom unit in the U.S. Virgin Islands can be had for just $239 a night -- nearly $100 less than in winter; one in Puerto Rico can be had for even less.)
You can likely find a deal at a high-end resort you can't afford in winter. (The ultra deluxe Viceroy Anguilla is touting a second room at half price and other discounts.) Hopefully, flights will be less expensive too -- Cheapflights.com reports Caribbean airfares drop as much as 12 percent in summer with the best deals to San Juan, St. Thomas and Montego Bay. You might be able to find a flight-hotel deal from Jet Blue, which has increased flights to the Caribbean and also from Southwest, which is starting service to Mexico City and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on July 1.
Yes, it's likely to be a little warmer than in winter, but the trade winds will keep you all comfortable. Be mindful that the Caribbean hurricane season officially runs from June through November, though more hurricanes strike in late summer and fall. Consider travel insurance, just in case. Of course, bad weather can derail a beach vacation wherever you go, but that shouldn't keep you home when there are so many tempting offers like these:
The Cayman Islands -- fly nonstop from major U.S. cities on Cayman Airways -- has got Summer Only in Cayman with hotel nights as much as $100 less than in winter, resort credits, and a special savings card that will save you significant bucks on everything from snorkeling tours to Stingray City and the Cayman Turtle Farm, which kids love. Book by June 30 for travel all summer.
Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands promises a fifth night free when you book four nights (two nights free when you book seven) at the deluxe resort with its expansive Children's Grove Center. Rates start at $415 a night, less than half what they are in winter. There are also free night deals at Rosewood Jumby Bay in Antigua and Rosewood Tucker’s Point in Bermuda. Even better, there are a slew of complimentary kids' activities -- everything from tennis and cooking lessons at Tucker's Point to a kid's beach bash and West Indian musical instrument crafts at Little Dix Bay and "Pirates of the Caribbean" kids' parties at Jumby Bay.
St Maarten hotels and resorts are offering rates up to 35 percent off, and in some cases more. The Summit Resort is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special $40 per guest per night rate (kids under 12 are free). Princess Heights Luxury Boutique Condo Hotel offers a free rental car, as long as you book with the hotel directly. Rates start at just $139.
Saint Lucia is famous for its beaches, rain forest and even a drive-in volcano and has got island-wide savings that include free nights, discounts over 50 percent and additional savings on activities from zip-lining to catamaran sunset cruises. The St. James Club Morgan Bay is all inclusive and has rates discounted 40 percent on three night or longer stays. The kids' program starts at age two, while water sports, including water-skiing, wake-boarding, banana boats, sailing, kayaking and snorkeling are all included.
Leave your passport at home and opt for the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has just launched a Virgin Islands Nice campaign that allows you to save a minimum of $500 on a stay of five or more nights at resorts on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, which is home to the wonderful Virgin Islands National Park. There's also a month-long St. John's Festival in June and into July with music, parades and food fairs. You get the first night free, a $200 instant credit and $300 in certificates to be redeemed at restaurants, shops, spas and more.
Fly down the water slides at Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort with the Summer Splash Package that includes passes for a family of four to Coqui Water Park, the resort's state-of-the-art aquatic playground, plus a $50 resort credit per night. Use the resort credit for golf or Mommy & Me or Daddy & Me spa treatments. Try new Foot Golf -- kick a soccer ball into a cup with as few kicks as possible! Rates start at $199 a night -- $80 less than in winter.
Wherever you're traveling with teens this summer, encourage them to enter the Family Travel Forum Teen Travel Writing Scholarship contest that I support. They could win $1,000 for an essay with photos or video on a trip they've taken in the last five years, or at the very least get some practice for those college admission essays. Entries are accepted until July 27.
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.