But there are surprises when traveling this route that trip planners may want to consider on their way to choosing a destination.
First, look for all-inclusive resorts that include the cost of food and perhaps an activity or two with the room price. While generally a good cost-cutting move, this trick comes in extra handy in places like the Bahamas because of the peculiar situation presented. The Bahamas and most other island destinations do not grow much if any of their own food, nor can they provide their own clean drinking water. Consequently, these items must be shipped-in on barges from somewhere else. As you can imagine, this isn't cheap. But that poses little problems for the local hotels whose managers simply pass the cost on to you and your family. A hamburger can cost two or three times as much as at home. And dinner? You will be both astounded and quickly sent over-budget if you don't research this aspect of your trip in advance and prepare for it. If you can't find a place that includes the meals in a package, carefully search online menus or travel review websites to get a sense of what eating is going to cost you as you plan your trip. A good travel agent can be helpful on this point, too.
Closer but more costly
In addition, while many island vacation destinations are closer in air miles than alternatives like California or Mexico, you may find that airfare is either the same or much higher. This can have to do with the tax structure in these island nations or the simple fact of supply and demand. A small island with limited resorts and flights can command higher airfares because there are enough customers to support more expensive tickets. Bermuda, for example, a gorgeous, nearby destination with some of the most pristine beaches and scenic architecture in the greater Caribbean region, can be a more expensive ticket than Los Angeles in the seasons when the weather is most favorable (Bermuda can get cooler than more southern destinations in the winter months because of its relative northern position, although the Gulf Stream usually keeps it warmer than the U.S. mainland). The point is it's worth researching airfare to different destinations to see which offer the best deals.
Distance can be a factor in where a family is willing to travel as longer flights can be harder for kids to endure. In that case, the Bahamas and Bermuda offer the best bets. Also, when considering the Cayman Islands or Jamaica, keep in mind that U.S. air carriers do not fly directly over Cuba, but go around it, which adds time to the flights.
Your room is "bugged"!
A lodging option in many island destinations is the rental house, but a word to the wise on this subject: bugs thrive in the tropics and they do even better in a private home where the fortitude of the owner is lacking. Some landlords used to being overrun with ants or nightly visits from large cockroaches may have an attitude toward these occurrences that's less extreme than your own. The best advice I can give you is to state your position on this subject clearly while negotiating with a prospective landlord to get a sense of how this sort of nuisance is usually handled. You can also check out online reviews of a property or rental agency (if you can find them) to see if any recent visitors have commented on this issue. Houses do usually offer savings beyond rooms at a resort, but you are at the mercy of the individual owner, versus a resort or resort chain that stands to suffer a greater consequence from negative reviews. Of course, you may feel that the risk is acceptable given the savings. In any event, even if your family stays in a hotel, it's important in tropical locations to avoid leaving any food on tables or countertops and to send garbage immediately to a sealed trash can, preferably outdoors and away from your living quarters.
Once in your island paradise, make sure the kids understand one very important element to life in the tropics. While it may have been chilly at home when they left and weeks or months may have passed since they thought about the usual summer precautions, sun block is vital to an enjoyable island vacation. Traveling south brings you closer to the equator and under a much higher sun angle. In essence, you're basically flying back into summer. It will take only a short 30 minutes in this new environment for kids (and adults, for that matter) to become burned, sick, and miserable. It happens regularly, in fact, and it's a shame because just a quick daily application of SPF 40 or 50 eliminates the main source of trouble. You may also want to take it easy in the heat, especially during the first couple of days, and think about not over-exerting since your body will arrive not acclimated to the warmer conditions. There's nothing like spending all that money and traveling all that distance only to have a family member or two sick in bed for part of the trip. A few simple precautions can help you and your kids avoid this unhappy fate.
The drinking water in most of these places has been brought onto the island in bottles and restaurant water is usually safe to drink. But you can always ask the concierge at your hotel whether there's a concern before you accept a glass during table service.
Take the plunge!
Given the proper precautions and good planning, an island vacation offers plenty of unique opportunities to have fun. I would definitely recommend snorkeling to any kid who's interested. The masks can be uncomfortable and some kids may only be interested in trying this for a limited time, but the chance to see tropical fish and coral in their natural environment should not be missed. You can always pack you own snorkels and flippers if you don't want to rent. Just be sure you put your name on them with a waterproof marker. Then, dive in and take in the wonders. The underwater scenery is the main difference between our local ocean water and the ocean of the tropics; the sea life is more varied, abundant and in most cases, much more colorful and exotic.
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