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If You Want To Try Somewhere Different, How About American-Owned But Spanish-Influenced Puerto Rico? Santa In The Sunshine
Travel - Caribbean & Bahamas guide: Whether you want to escape with a partner or a family And, if you want to try somewhere different, how about American-owned but Spanish-influenced Puerto Rico?
By Fred Mawer
October 26, 2002
Travel - Caribbean & Bahamas guide Whether you want to escape with a partner or a family, to laze on the beach or hike to a volcano, there's an island to suit you. Over the next five pages, Fred Mawer tells you how to find it.
In years gone by, if you left booking a Caribbean winter break until as late as the end of October, you would have been hard pushed to find a room in a quality hotel or an empty villa. Not this year.
American tourists, normally the biggest spenders in the region, are fewer, so there is space even at the best properties. Meanwhile, British sun-seekers are booking much later than they used to. This means that, while the Christmas and February half-term holidays are proving as popular as ever, some tour operators are using words such as "frightening" to describe the vacancies left for the peak December-April season.
"Added-value" deals - seven nights for the price of six, 10 nights for seven, plus perhaps the promise of free dinners, rounds of golf, car hire, babysitting - are becoming more widespread with upmarket packages. As the managing director of a villa specialist puts it, "the state of the stock market means that we've had to make our prices competitive".
Don't, however, be too easily seduced. Most visitors apply for the off-peak summer months, when there are always special offers being promoted. You'll have to search much harder for peak-season deals, though Elegant Resorts, for example, promises that it has a fair number for holidays in January and March.
Cost aside, the greatest drawback of a Caribbean holiday has always been the long journey. Yet flying to many islands is getting more straightforward. This summer saw the introduction of new scheduled services by Air Jamaica from Manchester to Jamaica and by BWIA to Barbados, then Trinidad. From Monday, British Airways' service from Gatwick to Antigua, with its 365 beaches, becomes a daily one. Other islands a short hop away, such as St Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla, are expected to benefit from a boost in visitors too.
Virgin Atlantic has also announced new Caribbean flights next year, including a weekly service beginning in May between Gatwick and Tobago/Grenada. Its tour operating arm, Virgin Holidays, has just brought out a brochure dedicated to the islands, which are among the most seductive in the region. Though BA no longer flies to Havana, Air Jamaica has started a non-stop weekly service.
As for other developments: at least five luxury hotels will have opened new spas before the year is out. And, if you want to try somewhere different, how about American-owned but Spanish-influenced Puerto Rico? To date it has been largely overlooked by the British market, but two companies, Harlequin and Caribtours, are trying out some intriguing "boutique" hotels there next year.
Prices throughout the report are for a week in January/May 2003. Unless stated otherwise, they are per person on a room-only basis in the cheapest double, and include flights. Bear in mind that some packages may be discounted.
The Water Club, Puerto Rico, on the outskirts of San Juan opposite the beaches of Isla Verde, is a hip new beachside hangout full of beautiful young things. The theme is aquatic: waterfalls in lifts, the sound of breaking waves in corridors, a glam bar called Liquid and a rooftop terrace called Wet. "When the sun goes down, the hotel wakes up," says the manager.
Cost £1,031/ £958 (Harlequin).
Harlequin (01708 850300, www.harlequin-holidays.co.uk), Hayes & Jarvis (0870 898 9890, www.
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (020 7222 4335, www.caribbean.co.uk): there are links from this website to individual islands' tourist board websites.
The best guidebooks for overviews are Caribbean Islands Handbook (Footprint, £15.99), the 2003 edition of which has just been published; and the Cadogan Guide to the Caribbean and the Bahamas ( £14.99) - its latest edition was published in August 2001.
Santa In The Sunshine, Giving Yourself A Holiday Trip
By MARTHA STEVENSON OLSON
October 27, 2002
BECAUSE parents need to schedule family holidays around school vacations, and because many jobs provide time off around the Christmas-New Year's holiday, much winter travel necessarily takes place between Dec. 20 and Jan. 5. Historically, prices go up, desirable resorts fill well in advance, and crowds and bad weather can frustrate holiday cheer. On the up side are special activities, often geared to families, around this time.
Following is a sampling of special events, packages and tours available at popular destinations this year.
Santa in the Sunshine
In Puerto Rico, the holiday is celebrated from early December through Three Kings Day, Jan. 6, with bands of roving musicians and many religious ceremonies. Old San Juan, with its many balconies decorated with Christmas lights, is a good place to join in the holiday spirit. At El Convento, a 350-year-old former Carmelite convent, a standard double is $325 a night. A Romantic Memories of Old San Juan package, of three nights minimum, is $363 a room each night, from Dec. 1 to April 30. For more information, visit www.elconvento.com or call (800) 468-2779.