A getaway to the Dominican Republic. A road trip with the kids. Even a weekend in Vegas — as long as you take it easy in the casino.
With most Americans expecting to receive a tax rebate of up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples), there are plenty of ways to get the most vacation for your buck, say travel experts. Whether it’s a cruise, a tropical paradise, or family travel, these trips can all be done for under $600 a person.
Note: Deals are subject to change, travel may be limited to certain time periods, and taxes and other fees may apply.
Cruises: Appealing to first-time cruisers and time-pressed travelers, several cruise companies are offering shorter cruises on older ships for as little as $60 a night per person (based on double occupancy), says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. For example, a Caribbean Princess three-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas in May starts at $259 (for a no-frills room).
“There is no other travel option (other than a cruise) that gives you so much for the base price,” said Brown. “You get all your meals, you get accommodations, you get entertainment, and you get to go to a variety of places without having to hop on planes, trains, buses.”
Travelers seeking a longer vacation aboard a more luxurious ship can catch deals in the offseason. A seven-day cruise on Holland America to the Western Caribbean (leaving from Tampa) in November starts at $514. (Transportation to the port, tips and extras like the spa, alcohol and shore excursions will add to your bill.)
Tropical getaway: Believe it or not, $600 can get you a beach in the Caribbean or Mexico.
Cheapflights.com has an air-hotel package from Phoenix to Cancun, with a three-night hotel stay at the four-star Barcelo Tucancun Beach Resort & Hotel Villas for $585 per person. The resort is all-inclusive.
Cancun is a popular destination for spring breakers searching for the 24-hour party, honeymooners on a romantic getaway, and anyone else craving sunshine and relaxation. But travelers who are seeking more than beaches and night clubs can arrange snorkeling, diving and fishing excursions; tour the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum, about 80 miles away; or visit the nearby eco-parks Xcarat and Xel-Ha for wildlife-watching.
Travelzoo has an air-hotel package to the Dominican Republic for $499 per person, including roundtrip airfare from Miami and New York, five nights at the four-star Sunscape Casa del Mar (all-inclusive). Lie on the beach, visit the clubs, or go fishing, rafting, diving, or whale-watching.
If you want more than the beach, take the Islabon Jungle River Tour or a scenic drive on the Carretera Touristica Route, a road lined with vendors and scenic views. The Dominican Republic is also home to Columbus Aquaparque, one of the biggest water parks in the Caribbean.
Liberty Travel has several discounted air-hotel packages to St. Lucia. A sample air-hotel package leaving from New York, with three nights in the four-star Coco Kreole hotel starts at $575 per person. Too much sun? Rent an ATV and ride through the mountains, take a hike through the rainforest, or go whale- and turtle-watching. Visit the Diamond Botanical Gardens to see the mineral baths.
Maho Bay Resorts on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, bills itself as an “ecotourism destination.” The resort has 114 units connected by elevated walkways of stairs and boardwalks to alleviate soil erosion and damage to the beach, and a “Trash to Treasure” recycling program, in which trash is recycled into craft items and artwork.
Round-trip airfare from Miami to St. Thomas, with a ferry to St. John and four nights at the resort is $430 per person, according to Maho Bay Camps in conjunction with Travelocity.
Road trips: Skip the airport hassles and hit the road. Even with the high cost of gas, driving is cheaper than flying a family of four, says Carol White, who wrote “Live Your Road Trip Dream,” with her husband Phil.
“It’s also a great way to reconnect with your spouse or family,” said White, who recommends leaving the electronics at home for real bonding time. “How long has it been since you played cards or a board game?”
To save on lodging and meals, White suggests camping out in a tent or RV in one of the national or state parks. Yellowstone National Park has biking, horseback riding, boating, hiking and park education programs for kids. Most of the national parks also have Junior Ranger programs for children.
“You can pack a picnic to your favorite spot, take a whitewater rafting trip on the Rio Grande, go snorkeling at Dry Tortugas, rent a sailboat (on a lake) in Grand Teton,” said White. “The list is endless and just depends upon the features of the park itself.”
For couples, “there are a lot of beautiful parkways and scenic drives all over the country that you can combine with activities along the way,” such as California’s State Route 1 (Highway 1) along the Pacific or routes through the state’s wine country in Sonoma and Napa Valley. In New England, U.S. Route 1 includes small towns and the coast. Pick a theme, such as historic mansions, golf courses, or wine, and map out the route.
“Don’t overplan your trip,” said White. “The best part of the road trip is letting things happen along the way.”
Cities: It’s not impossible to travel to a sophisticated city for $600. Get out of the casino, the high-end restaurants and upscale shops, and Vegas can be done for less than $500, says Bryan Allison, vice president of marketing for Vegas.com.
Vegas.com has several deals on air-hotel packages, including two airline tickets from Phoenix and two nights at the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino for $474 per person (double occupancy).
Once in Vegas, spend the afternoon relaxing in your hotel pool complex, and at night wander the Strip to see free attractions like the Bellagio’s fountain show, Conservatory and Botanical Garden; the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand; or the “Sirens of TI” show, staged four times a night outside Treasure Island Hotel. Red Rock Canyon, 17 miles from Vegas, offers hiking and a 13-mile scenic drive ($5 car entry fee).
Washington D.C. is a great destination for families looking for fun on a budget, since many museums are free. Visit the National Mall, the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court Building. Check out the Smithsonian and the Museum of Natural History. Stroll through Constitution Gardens. See the pandas at the National Zoo. And for a night on the town, head to Adams Morgan or Georgetown.
A sample Hotwire trip, with airfare from Columbus, Ohio, to Reagan National, two nights in a hotel and a rental car is $564 per person (based on double occupancy).
Finally, you can plan a trip to New Orleans that’s not only in your budget, but that can help the economy there. “We have a bit of a ways to go to get to where we were before Katrina,” said Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Roundtrip airfare from Boston to New Orleans and a three-night hotel stay at the three-star Pelham Hotel is $574 per person, according to Cheapflights.com.
Stroll down Bourbon Street, eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde, listen to street musicians in Jackson Square, check out the new Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, or tour parts of the city that are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.