Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part Perspectives series on last-minute winter escapes for both luxury travelers and the budget-minded. Read the first.
Are you dreaming of a winter break, but still recovering from holiday bills? There are some budget-friendly ways to stick it to Old Man Winter and enjoy a mini beach vacation.
Cindy Richards, editor of web magazine TravelingMom.com, said for budget-minded travelers who want go to the Caribbean but don’t have a passport, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is hands-down her favorite, with or without kids.
”What’s nice about Puerto Rico is it’s like going to a foreign country without the hassle," Richards said (the country is a United States territory). "You can spend dollars; most people speak English. It’s a good first foreign experience for families who might not be comfortable going to Spain.” (Hotel rates in San Juan currently average around $208 a night, according to Travelocity.)
She noted that travel-deal website Travelzoo highlighted Puerto Rico as one of its top five travel spots this year.
Lisa Lubin, author of The Ultimate Travel Tips: Essential Advice for Your Adventures and a popular travel blog, said a lot of deals pop up in late winter, turning places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic into budget getaways. She said Southwest Airlines flies to many popular cities in these destinations, including Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, and unlike nearly any other airline, Southwest offers free checked bags.
Don’t overlook all-inclusive resorts, which are common in the Caribbean and Mexico, Richards said. Tour operators like Apple Vacations and Funjet can book the entire trip, including airfare, hotel, transfers, food, and even alcohol for one price (Apple currently offers three-day, all-inclusive trips to Los Cabos, Mexico, starting around $539 per person). She’s taken these trips, and said since meals are included and are usually buffets, parents of picky eaters usually have more options for their kids at dinner time.
“I used to turn up my nose at all-inclusive trips … [but] going all-inclusive was fabulous,” she said. “It was one of the most relaxed vacations I ever had with kids.”
If airfares give you sticker shock, fear not. Consider a driving trip, especially with gasoline pump prices around the lowest levels in six years. Both Lubin and Richards said Florida offers plenty of options.
Richards said Panama City Beach in the Panhandle has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with miles of quartz sand that squeaks when you walk on it. She warns, though, to check the temperatures. This is a northern Florida city, so it can be cool. For the truly budget-minded, rent a condo, she recommended.
Further south, there’s Fort Lauderdale, which “is no longer the party haven of years gone by,” Lubin said. “With more sophisticated dining and shopping, this American tropical getaway can be a great family destination.” (Hotel rates in the city currently average around $277 a night.)
Some hotels have winter package deals, such as the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort in Fort Lauderdale, which is on one of Florida's largest private beaches, she added (vacation packages start at about $375 a night).
Lubin also gives Key West a nod.
Key West “is ushering in a new, modern-day era with a fresh crop of new restaurants and experiences that are contributing to its renaissance,” she said. The Marker Waterfront Resort, an independent, luxury, boutique hotel recently opened and is the first new hotel built in historic Old Town Key West in 20 years, she added.