With the persistent cold weather and the ever-present news of the struggling economy, it's no wonder the winter doldrums seem endless. While I can't offer a cure, I can suggest a reprieve from both. Head to the Caribbean, where you can find plenty of sunshine and savings.
Here's what $500 will get you right now on five different islands. Plus I have a bonus vacation suggestion at the end. Packages are for three- or four-night stays, and most include accommodations and airfare. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how far your precious dollars can go if you're willing and able to travel.
CheapCaribbean.com has extended its Puerto Rico vacation package sale, which offers for four nights at the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa plus airfare from $449 (based on double occupancy). I checked availability for mid-March departures from Miami, but when I clicked through, the system found an even lower airfare and the vacation price dropped to just $415.72. Then, I added promo code "PR100" and another $50 per person came off, bringing the total to $365.72 (before taxes and fees). If it's true that the original price was $1,329 (as the offer claims), then this is a steal. The promotion is valid for travel through June 30, and you must book by March 4.
If you've ever assumed $500 wouldn't be enough to cover a vacation at a popular resort, think again. For $499, you can stay four nights for the price of three at Atlantis, plus kids completely stay for free. And while the taxes and fees are likely to push the total price over budget, the $200 rebate you'll receive when booking an air-inclusive package will help bring at least the hotel portion of the trip back down. The deal must be booked by April 30 and travel is vaild through May 31.
If you want to fit airfare completely into the budget and stretch that $500 even further, the rebate offer is also valid at a host of other, more economical hotels in the Bahamas (though you must book by March 9 for travel through December 15). Use promo code BAHAMAS200.
In the Dominican Republic, Spirit Vacations steps up. Stay three nights at the all-inclusive Barcelo Capella Beach Resort in Santo Domingo, plus get round-trip airfare and transfers from $339 (before taxes and fees). While the lowest advertised price is based on Ft. Lauderdale departures, early-March packages from Atlanta came within striking distance of the budget as well.
With United Vacations, stay three nights at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, plus get round-trip airfare (including fuel surcharges), and transfers from $479, based on a March 4 or 8 departure from Washington, D.C. For $433 (before taxes), Book it offers air-and-hotel packages to the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort for travel in early May (though March and April packages were available for a little bit more). Kids stay free and the lowest prices were for Boston departures. At press time, JetBlue had a similar vacation sale from $499.
I've seen a bunch of getaway packages to Jamaica, and here are two that caught my eye. Starting at $499, CheapCaribbean.com offers three nights including air at the Riu Montego Bay for travel from May 12 through June 12. Book by March 8. The lowest price is based on Miami departures. US Airways Vacations is promoting discounts on SuperClubs Resorts. When I checked, two-night vacations at Rooms Negril departing from Philadelphia cost $423.65 for dates in early March.
Cruise: Key West and Cozumel
While vacation packages seem to give some of the best bang for your buck, cruise lines are offering very competitive rates as well. For example, you can sail four nights on the Carnival Imagination in an oceanfront cabin, plus receive a free upgrade, for $369 (before taxes). Sailings depart from Miami, with ports-of-call in Key West and Cozumel. The price mentioned was based on early March sailings, and you can find a host of similar offers on Expedia.com.
While these deals are sure to expire soon, you're likely to find similar deals throughout the rest of winter and into spring as resorts and airlines continue to offer discounts in hopes of attracting guests. Also, if you don't see your departure city in the examples I've mentioned, don't rule out the deals, since most have other departures available for similar prices or for reasonable add-ons.
Been to the Caribbean lately or come across any great deals? If so, please share your experiences with other readers by posting a comment below.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com)