The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
When most of us think of adventure travel, we imagine heart-stopping thrill rides or pushed-to-the-limit outdoor activities. I, however, believe adventures can be rooted in simply challenging yourself to try something new. With this thought in mind, I answered the reader's following question with places that may not be the most daredevil destinations, but definitely offer a sense of adventure.
Question of the Week
Maggie writes, "Not your typical family—we've fed monkeys in the Panamanian rain forest and rode camels in Morocco—looking for a vacation this winter somewhere warm ... no big resorts or all-inclusive clubs. We love to hang with the locals. We have two girls ages nine and seven. My husband dreams of a trip to India, but in this economy, I'm thinking somewhere close to home. Can we find an inexpensive adventure in the Caribbean ... any suggestions?"
My, you do sound like an adventuresome bunch, and luckily for you the Caribbean is filled with a wide range of wildlife and outdoor activities. Here are a few of my favorite family-friendly trips that will hopefully help you choose where to go.
- Cayman Islands: The Cayman Islands consist of three islands located just less than 500 miles south of Miami. Whether you stay on Grand Cayman (the largest of the three) or Little Cayman, you will find plenty to do that will satisfy your daring spirit, including hiking in Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, kayaking in the mangroves, or snorkeling with the stingrays. The latter is a popular pastime, and you can set up tours with stingray trips that start at $39.99 for adults and $27.50 for kids.
For authentic places to stay on your preferred island, search for a bed and breakfast or a vacation rental. Some B&Bs like the Shangri-La start at $119 per night, and include breakfast, while a guesthouse such as Jeff's Resorts offers three two-bedroom homes starting at $895 per week during low season. Also, keep an eye out for promotions or packages that may be available during the time of your stay.
- Dominica: Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica stands on its own as a must-stop destination for all things adventure-related. The lush surroundings (two-thirds of the island is tropical forest) may also look familiar to Pirates of the Caribbean fans, as the island was one of the filming locations. Those who are not faint of heart can participate in thrilling activities such as zip-lining, rainforest aerial trams or ATV rides, and rappelling and canyoning. One of the more popular hikes on the island—albeit a bit long at about seven-and-a-half hours—is to Boiling Lake, one of the world's largest volcanic lakes, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For lodging, choose from a range of guesthouses, cottages, and B&Bs. Some places offer specials like the five-day combination package at the Hibiscus Valley Inn, which includes accommodations in a nature bungalow, transportation, all meals, a guide, and activities such as a hike to Boiling Lake and river tubing. The package starts at $390 per adult and $195 for kids during high season.
- Montserrat: With black- and white-sand beaches, an active volcano, and more than 30 dive sites, Montserrat has plenty to keep the avid adventurer busy. Here, you can learn about the awesome fury of volcanoes at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory before exploring the island's former capital of Plymouth, which is now a modern-day Pompeii. Other activities include hiking along jungle trails, snorkeling in shallow reefs, kayaking to secluded beaches, and deep-water diving.
Accommodations are a bit limited, as there are only two hotels located on the island. However, you can find cheap lodging by staying at a local hostel for as little as $25 per person per night, or by renting a guesthouse or an apartment starting at $88 per night for four people. Packages and promotions are also available.
Whatever you choose to do, I hope you keep me updated on all of your future adventures. Also, if you have any other tips for family-friendly adventure activities in the Caribbean, please share any and all ideas below.
Deal or No Deal?
Virgin Vacations is offering several deals on winter vacation packages. Some of the specials promised include Dublin from $639, London from $719, Rome from $739, and Paris from $789. All prices include airfare and at least several nights' lodging, but no taxes. This seems like it could be too good to be true when you consider that most flights cost about the same price without hotel.
I decided to compare Virgin's deals to similar vacation packages from Orbitz, and found that there wasn't a huge price difference. Virgin was cheaper, but only by about $80. Not the kind of savings that make me jump for joy, especially when the included lodging is a chain hotel three miles east of the city. On the other hand, this package includes airfare and six nights' lodging, and I priced airfare alone at about $300 shy of the overall package price after taxes and fees are included. So, although Virgin's price isn't much better than other sites, the deal does save money on lodging if you don't mind staying a bit outside the city.
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