Image: Stingray City
Photo provided by Cayman Islands
Travelers with children can ooh and aah while watching sting rays off the coast of the Cayman Islands, one of several Caribbean islands offering summer deals.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 7/10/2010 1:02:22 AM ET 2010-07-10T05:02:22

Finally, a Caribbean beach that’s everything a Caribbean beach should be — quaint, with hammocks strung from palm trees, crystal-clear water perfect for snorkeling, white sand, a first-rate beach bar and enough water toys to keep the kids happy (banana boat ride anybody?). Welcome to Rum Point on Grand Cayman’s North Side.

It’s a Sunday favorite with locals, but tourists in the know like it too. “Don’t tell anyone about this place,” jokes Marshall Bonds, who rented a condo nearby with his family.

There’s also plenty beyond the beach for the kids to do on the Cayman Islands, like the chance to learn new tricks at the Black Pearl Skate Park, the second-largest skate park in the world, visit the Blue Iguana Recovery Center; (yes, they really are blue and were nearly extinct just three decades ago) or tickle green sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm at Boatswain’s Beach. (Kids admission is free per one paying adult.) Our entertaining guide at the Turtle Farm, Tim “Reds” Akers, tells us that from here some 30,000 sea turtles have been released back into the wild over the years.

This summer, take the kids to free Sea School with SpongeBob Square Pants where they might also learn about historic shipwrecks, Caymanian culture or marine life.

The best part: You might even snare a bargain this summer — with island-wide family deals like Cayman Summer Splash, which includes a free night when you pay for four, 30 percent off on kids (under 12), flights on Cayman Airways, free entrance for kids at many island attractions, free meals at restaurants, free diving rental gear for kids up to 17 and half off on dives, and free open water certification when kids are accompanied by an adult.

Other islands luring families
Despite high airfares, the Caymans aren’t the only islands trying to lure families to their beaches. St. Lucia has launched a family “Go Bananas” package that includes free meals for kids under 17, a complimentary room upgrade, a complimentary excursion, a Kids Education day at Pigeon Island National Landmark to learn about St. Lucia’s legends, an island-wide discount card and — my favorite — a complimentary night of babysitting. St. Kitts has “fall in love with St. Kitts & Nevis” with free night offers and special kids’ discounts.

“If people are willing to shell out for airfare, there are great hotel deals in the Caribbean this summer,” says Jaime Samuels, publisher of Travelzoo.com’s Newsflash. Samuels suggests looking for packages from Miami that include airfare. To get the most bang for your buck, she suggests grabbing a flight to Florida and let the deal guide where you go from there.

“Getting there, is the main challenge,” says Mike Thiel, founder of hideaways.com. “Airfares continue to stay higher than in past years as planes fly full every day.” The good news, he adds, is that once you find a flight, you will have your pick of deals — as much as 40 percent off on villas, for example — with plenty of extras at resorts. (Free massage? Golf lessons?)

Best deals for families
Look for packages that include free nights at reduced summer rates (pay for two and get two free at the Viceroy Anguilla), free diving for kids and teens (Captain Don’s Habitat in Bonaire), free excursions to the Maya Ruins and Rainforest (The Inn at Robert’s Grove in Belize) and more. TripAdvisor data suggests that hotel prices are as much as 30 percent lower than they were this past February and March. (Check out TripAdvisor’s new Trip Friends feature, for advice on locales from Facebook friends.

If kids are traveling with you, you will probably save the most at all-inclusives, says Travelzoo’s Samuels. For example, Antigua’s Elite Island Resorts offers a “pay for one and bring up to four” deal that’s a little more than $100 a night per person. Divi & Tamarijn Aruba let two kids up to age 17 stay and eat free when accompanied by two adults. For single parents, the Occidental Grand Aruba invites up to two kids 12 and under to stay free with one parent. The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort has just become St. Thomas’ only all-inclusive — with deals as much as 60 percent off.

Troll for deals on online travel auction sites like familygetaway.com or jetsetter.com. Of course, you’ll save the most if you book a villa or condo you can spread out in, cook some of your meals and perhaps split costs with friends or extended family. Consider Mexico where you might get a cheap airfare and lodging deals south of Cancun in Playa del Carmen that start at just $215 a night — (30 percent off luxury condos at) or try Casa De Los Primos in Akumal, which offers some of the best snorkeling along the Yucatan Peninsula.

Fun in the water doesn’t necessarily end when the sun sets either. On our last night in the Cayman Islands, we kayaked after dark — on a luminescent bay (www.caymankayaks.com). When our paddles hit the bay, it’s as if we’re writing on the water with glow-in-the-dark crayons, as minnows glow around us. Water dripping through our fingers glistens and the water appears to sparkle, mesmerizing the teens … for a while at least. I lean back in my kayak and smile. Even in paradise, you don’t get too many picture-perfect moments — not when you take kids along.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Photos: Caribbean way of life

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  1. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Authority shows Harrismith Beach, Barbados. Sun, surf and sand are the main draws on this tropical Caribbean island. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Authority shows The Watering Hole rum shop in Barbados. The rum shops on the island are good places to sample local food and drink, watch a game of dominos, or just get to know the friendly and hospitable Bajans. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. St. Lucia

    Developed, beautiful and situated in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia is accessible from Europe and Canada, and reachable -- albeit not as easily -- from the United States. St. Lucia is known as a romantic destination. The island gets plenty of visitors, including wedding parties. (Holger Leue  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. St. Lucia

    Cocoa pods lie on the ground ready to be processed at Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St. Lucia. Cocoa is one St. Lucia's main produce alongside the more obvious banana crop. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. St. George's

    The capital of Grenada, St. George's is considered one of the prettiest harbor towns in the Caribbean. Grenada's unique layout includes many finger-like coves, making the island a popular sailing destination. (Richard Cummins  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Cayman Islands

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Stingray City

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. St John's

    In high season, up to five cruise ships visit St John's, Antigua, each day. The boats unload mostly American and European passengers who fan out across the island visiting the casinos and beaches. Antigua is easily accessible, and can offer good values for tourists. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Antigua

    Antigua, located in the Northeastern Caribbean, is a popular tourist spot. While there are high-end, stylish hotels, the island also features a large number of mid-priced options. Visitors will find beach bars, restaurants, casinos and shopping. (Richard I'Anson  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Antigua

    People walk along an area known as Devils Bridge in Indian Town Point, Antigua. Antigua is a wintertime destination for many visitors from the north. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dominica

    Not as well known as other Caribbean islands, Dominica is green, fertile and mountainous. Visitors will find some opportunites to scuba dive, but watersports are not its main draw. The island does, however, offer a slew of rainforest trails -- great for hiking and sightseeing. (Greg Johnston  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Dominican Republic

    An old church building is seen in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic. (Wayne Walton / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Belize

    Belize gets more than 850,000 visitors each year. The hot spot allows watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, as well as inland activities like hiking and birding. The Mayan ruins of Altan Ha, pictured, are easily accessible from Caye Caulker. (Andrew Marshall / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. La Tortuga

    A fisherman repairs his nets on Cayo Herradura, off the island of La Tortuga in Venezuela. The country offers visitors a variety of activities to choose from, but remains undervisited -- especially compared to its South American neighbors. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cuba

    Cuba blends the fantastic attractions associated with other Caribbean destinations with an amazing history. Tourists can stroll white sand beaches, take in the incredible architecture and party into the early-morning hours. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. St. Barthelemy

    St. Barthelemy is a vacation spot of stars and millionaires. Trendy, chic and sexy, St. Baarths is safe for tourists, but expensive to visit. About 8,700 people reside on the island. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Puerto Rico

    A man climbs to a 40-foot waterfall at the south side of the Caribbean National Rain Forest, commonly called El Yunque, near Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Most visitors hike the well-marked paths in the northern half of the park's rain forest but the trails in the south allow hikers and nature lovers to explore the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system. (Herminio Rodriguez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Puerto Rico

    The cupola of San Juan Cemetary as well as colorful homes sit next to the ocean in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Puerto Rico

    Men play dominos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a well-preserved colonial city that allows tourists a peek into the past. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Guadeloupe

    Guadeloupe isn't as developed as some other Caribbean islands, but it offers a variety of beaches -- some active with watersports, some secluded. The island also offers beach bars, restaurants, mid-range hotels and other tourist amenities. (Marcel Mochet / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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