Deciding When and Where to Visit
Two of the most important factors that will affect your travel plans to the Caribbean are when you plan to visit (your travel dates) and where you'd like to go. Family travel is often constrained by school schedules, so you may not have much flexibility in that regard. Your destination, however, is up to you. With so many popular tourist destinations to choose from—Aruba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Bermuda among them—you'll want to choose one or more destinations that cater to what you're looking for out of your vacation.
Popular Times to Visit the Caribbean
For the majority of the Caribbean tourist destinations, the busiest time of year is during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period (mid-December through early January).
In general, early January through mid-April is considered the high season for tourism. If you're planning your trip for this period, you'll need to book your travel reservations early, and you can expect the beaches and tourist attractions to be crowded. In addition, this is when prices will be at their highest. Spring and summer (late May through late August) are the times when popular Caribbean destinations are the least crowded. During this off-season, prices for accommodations, all-inclusive resorts, and cruises all drop considerably. This is also when you can find excellent travel vacation bargains throughout the Caribbean.
Temperature and Climate
The Caribbean is a lovely tropical paradise and an excellent choice of family vacation destination. Throughout almost the entire year, you can expect to experience warm weather, both day and night. The average temperature is typically between 78 and 84 degrees, seldom dropping below 65 degrees or rising above 90. (The chapters on the individual islands describe their year-round weather conditions.)
There are times, however, when the weather isn't always perfect. Hurricane season in the Caribbean is generally between early June and late November. During this time, it's common for tourists to encounter rain and even severe storms. Unless you're experiencing an all-out hurricane, however, the rainstorms you encounter during hurricane season won't last too long and probably won't disrupt your outdoor plans too much.
To determine the weather forecast for the dates you plan to travel, visit any of these Web sites:
Caribbean Hurricane Reports: www.gobeach.com/hurr.htm
The National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov
The National Weather Service: www.nws.noaa.gov
The Weather Channel: www.weather.com
Yahoo! Weather: http://weather.yahoo.com
If you'll be traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season, be sure to determine the exact hurricane- and other weather-related policies of the airlines, hotels, resorts, and/or cruise ships you'll be using before booking your reservations. You need to know in advance whether you can change or cancel your reservations due to a hurricane. It's also an excellent idea to purchase travel insurance (described in Chapter 2) to protect your family against unforeseen events when traveling overseas.
Where to Visit
Most of the Caribbean islands belong to one of thirteen independent countries. Some island groups are part of France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, or the United States. Because of this diversity, you should do a little homework before planning your itinerary. In addition to the sights and services offered, be sure to consider other information about each locale, including any special entry requirements, medical care available in the event of illness (especially if you or anyone in your family has special medical needs), crime statistics, currency regulations, and even civil unrest.
Chapters 6 through 17 focus individually on the most popular Caribbean islands and will help you choose those that offer the activities and accommodations best suited for your family. No matter when you travel or what your ultimate destination, the proper advance planning will ensure you have a fun and memorable vacation experience.