Bargain Beach Stays
One price covers it all at these tropical resorts
By Elizabeth Armstrong
Holiday Inn Resorts Caribbean/SBPR
Here are eight properties that specialize in these easy-to-budget escapes. Prices shown below were current at press time and cover a week's stay in June; nearly all are less than $100 per day, per person. To book, call Vacations To Go, (800) 998-6925, or visit www.All-InclusiveResort.com.
Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Montego Bay
Make it a family affair at the Holiday Inn SunSpree, where a Caribbean getaway can be effortless and affordable. Up to two children in the room age 12 or under stay and eat free at the three-star property, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown Montego Bay. The recently refreshed accommodations have new paint, flooring, linens, drapes and art. KidSuites have a partially separated section for your young travelers, with bunk beds, a TV featuring kid-friendly channels and a child's desk or play table.
The youth staff at the KidSpree Vacation Club leads organized activities for three age groups -- 6 months to 3 years, 4 to 7 and 8 to 12 -- with such diversions as games, movies, sand castle construction and T-shirt or face painting. Babysitting is available for a fee, and a registered nurse is on duty during the day.
Parents in need of "together time" can make their way to the half mile of pristine, white sand and wade out to Tek-It-Easy Island, a delightful little palm-lined haven just offshore. When you want to explore your watery surroundings, borrow snorkeling gear, a pedal boat or kayak.
The Portside Restaurant includes a kids' corner and pizza bar in its buffet-style setting. Sorrento offers fine dining with ocean views, Paella specializes in tapas and other Spanish fare, and the popular beachfront Jerk Hut serves up some of Jamaica's best-loved dishes. An Asian-themed eatery is in the works for next year.
The price of a weeklong stay starts at $679 per person, based on double occupancy.
Gran Bahia Principe Jamaica
The flora and fauna of Jamaica add an authentic touch to this three-star compound in Runaway Bay on the north-central coast. Hummingbirds flutter at hibiscus blossoms, and green sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach. Palm, coconut, almond and poinsettia trees grace the grounds, as does the ackee tree, which produces the country's national fruit; it's incorporated into saltfish dishes and other local favorites.
Rooms are contained in stately whitewashed buildings with red turreted roofs, and most yield views of the translucent blue-green water. Guests get one hour daily of windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking or catamaran rides. Specialty restaurants include the Garden Grill for steaks; Dolce Vita for calamari, mussels and pasta; and Mikado for sushi and teppanyaki. The main buffet restaurant puts out an international smorgasbord of foods.
Island beats infuse the playlist at the Ska Discotheque, where DJs spin reggae hits. Bars and lounges are spread across Gran Bahia's public areas -- in the lobby, by the beach and in or near the three linked pools. The spa boasts a variety of experiences, from saunas, an indoor pool, ice fountain and "sensation shower" to hot stone massages, anti-stress facials and aloe vera body treatments.
Rates for a seven-night stay start at $804 per person, based on double occupancy.
ClubHotel Riu Merengue
Get three tropical playgrounds for the price of one at ClubHotel Riu Merengue, tucked between verdant slopes and Maimon Bay in Puerto Plata on the north shore of the Dominican Republic. It shares a site with ClubHotel Riu Mambo and ClubHotel Riu Bachata, and guests at the three-star Merengue have access to activities and entertainment at the sister properties.
Buffets present cooking stations and hot and cold bites (including Dominican specialties), and twice a week the chefs lay out a themed evening spread. Those preferring a sit-down dinner can snag a table at the Italian restaurant or the steak house. Hungry between meals? Snacks are available around the clock.
The RiuLand youth club designs programs for ages 4 to 7 and 8 to 12. Meanwhile, adults can join a game of water polo or beach volleyball, lob a tennis ball across one of the three lighted courts or try windsurfing or kayaking. Those who venture into Puerto Plata can browse displays of Dominican amber at the Amber Museum or sample spirits at Brugal & Co., one of the world's largest rum producers.
A seven-night vacation starts at $464 per person, based on double occupancy.
Iberostar Costa Dorada
Turtles paddle in ponds while flamingos and peacocks strut across the grounds, lending a whimsical tropical touch to the four-star Iberostar Costa Dorada, also in Puerto Plata. Flower-lined paths connect common areas to accommodations, which continue the Caribbean theme with rattan-and-wood furniture and batik-style fabrics in sprightly blue, green and yellow.
Many guests gravitate to the expansive, meandering pool that serves as the resort's centerpiece. Those who wander down to the waterfront can snorkel, kayak or windsurf. Yoga sessions, archery, basketball and Spanish lessons are among included activities, and kid-friendly Lucy's Club keeps guests ages 4 to 12 engaged. Any lingering stress you packed with you can be quickly disposed of at the on-site spa, which offers numerous massage techniques, including Swedish, Thai, hot stone and shiatsu.
Niche restaurants showcase Brazilian, Mexican and Caribbean cuisines, and there are three buffets daily at El Mercado. El Kiosko bar serves up light snacks that you can carry back to your poolside perch or hammock.
Rates for a weeklong vacation start at $623 per person, based on double occupancy.
Punta Cana Princess All Suites Resort and Spa
A vibrant island palette greets vacationers at this four-star, adults-only sanctuary in Punta Cana, at the easternmost point of the Dominican Republic. Spotless green lawns surround buildings painted in hues of golden yellow, sunset orange, deep salmon and ocean blue. And just a few steps away is a broad swath of soft, white sand lapped by clear turquoise water.
Take advantage of the gorgeous setting and stretch out in one of the beach beds near the surf (waitstaff will deliver libations to you), or make an appointment for an outdoor massage in a cabana and let the ocean's rhythm lull you into blissful relaxation.
More of the comfy beds for two edge the pool, which is the site of scheduled daytime activities. Evening entertainment takes place in the lobby of this low-key resort. Guests also have access to facilities and fun at neighboring Princess resorts, including a casino, disco and theaters hosting stage productions. Five restaurants include a buffet option, steak house, Italian and Mediterranean eateries and a Swiss fondue spot. A spread of traditional Dominican fare is set up on the beach once a week.
Rates for a seven-night stay begin at $609 per person, based on double occupancy.
Golden Crown Paradise Resort Puerto Vallarta
Everyone at the Golden Crown Paradise Resort wakes up to ocean views, because all rooms have balconies that face sparkling Banderas Bay. The five-star property on Mexico's west coast promises a kids-free environment, making it an alluring option for a romantic getaway.
You're encouraged to gear down to vacation mode upon arrival as you're handed a cool towel and fruity drink. From then on, your sojourn can be as lazy or as active as you wish, from catching up on your reading beneath a palapa on the beach to working off calories in a spinning class. Need more help to unwind? The spa has a tempting list of therapies, like a peppermint-infused pick-me-up for hands and feet and a lavender-and-papaya scrub that will bring the glow back to tired skin.
All restaurants are a la carte. Paradise channels the ambience of a Mediterranean villa, and the Grill serves up burgers, barbecued chicken and pizza. The Breeze Beach and Snack Bar, perfectly positioned to catch beautiful sunsets, proffers an evening sushi menu. You also can ring up room service 24 hours a day.
The cost of a seven-night stay starts at $569 per person, based on double occupancy.
El Cozumeleno Beach Resort
This four-star retreat is 10 minutes from Cozumel International Airport, which means you won't have to wait long before you're feeling the sand beneath your feet. This small island off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is a diver's delight, adjacent to the world's second-largest barrier reef. And while off-site snorkeling and diving trips can be purchased from an outfitter at the resort, the snorkeling available right at El Cozumeleno's beach wins kudos from guests.
When they're not exploring underwater worlds, vacationers can join volleyball matches and bicycle tours, mingle at the swim-up bar, get a free scuba lesson in the free-form pool or slip into an oceanfront hammock. Golfers get a 30 percent discount at the Cozumel Country Club across the street. The 6,734-yard, par-72 layout was sculpted from marshes and mangroves by Nicklaus Design and is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Dining options include a la carte La Veranda for dinner, a poolside snack shack and the open-air El Cocal, where buffets are accompanied by views of the Caribbean Sea. The town of San Miguel is a five-minute drive away, and its waterfront promenade is lined with enticing shops.
Prices for a weeklong vacation start at $504 per person, based on double occupancy.
Barcelo Langosta Beach
Costa Rica boasts an incredible biodiversity, with more than a quarter of its territory designated as conservation areas. Barcelo Langosta Beach in the Guanacaste province is the perfect base for exploring the Central American country's natural attractions, and the staff can help you arrange excursions for an additional fee. Travel to still-active Arenal Volcano and Tabacon Hot Springs, take a walk on suspended bridges through the treetops of Monteverde Cloud Forest, spy howler monkeys on a hike in Tenorio National Park or spot crocs on a cruise down the Tempisque River.
Back at the three-star resort, you can stretch out under one of the thatched palapas that dot the green lawn and listen to the singsong of parrots, or wade into the warm Pacific waves, which are particularly attractive to surfers. Drop in on an aerobics class, play a game of beach soccer or soak in the Jacuzzi.
Meals are buffet-style, though an a la carte restaurant is available for a surcharge, and unlimited beverages are poured at the lobby and pool bars. If you sense that Lady Luck is on your side, seek out the small casino; it's open from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. and has Caribbean and stud poker, roulette and slots.
A weeklong stay in a superior room, with views of gardens or the Las Baulas estuary, starts at $595 per person based on double occupancy.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2012. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.