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How I spent my summer vacation

Without spending much in the beachy Caribbean: special sales for families
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

Summer is approaching the half-way mark, the kids have been out of school for weeks, but many Americans are sitting on their credit cards, unsure as to whether they can afford to take a vacation this year. According to the Travel Industry Association, 20 percent of Americans won’t consider taking a vacation at all this summer and another 38 percent are wishy-washy about their plans—they hope to travel, but won’t make their bookings until the last minute.

InsertArt(1950949)WHAT DOES this mean folks? It means that the market has been flooded with last minute discounts, as hoteliers, tour operators and airlines scramble to salvage what is traditionally the most profitable season of the year: summer vacation. Prices are particularly low to the Caribbean, after a very slow spring season (thanks to the war in Iraq). Here are just a few of the biggest money savers for families:

Dominican Dude ranch

Summer and sand: a classic combination. But why not take that a step further? How about summer, sand and saddle! That’s the lineup in the Dominican Republic this summer, where a “dude ranch” Carib style (ie not a dude ranch at all, but rather a cushy all-inclusive resort with horseback riding) will cost families from just $879 per week, per adult with airfare. Kids (two per family, up to age 12) stay for free and fly for just $499. Those are the rates from Newark, but many other gateways are available. For example, adults pay $879 from Baltimore (kids $479) or $1044 from Chicago ($499 for the young ‘uns). Those prices include all taxes, airfare, seven nights’ lodging, transfers to and from the airport, meals, drinks and activities.

The “ranch” in question is the Sunscape Casa del Mar and it’s a place that could earn Mary Poppin’s approval: truly kid-friendly, with imaginative, well-supervised programs from morning ‘til night. The day starts with horseback riding on the white sand beach (for those who want to participate). Then children ages four to twelve go off to the “Explorer’s Club” where they do nature projects, visit with local schoolkids, have sand castle competitions and more. In the evenings there are “dive-in” movies, with family features screened either on the beach or next to the pool. One night a week children can camp out on the beach or in one of the on-site tree-houses, overseen of course, by the staff.

And what are the parents doing while all this is going on? They can take a windsurfing lesson, take out a kayak, or simply laze on the beach with an umbrellaed drink in one mitt—all are included in the price, as is nightly entertainment, meals at a choice of four restaurants and unlimited booze at five open bars.

For more details, go to

Separate rooms

InsertArt(1950947)The one downside to the Dominican deal above is that though the rooms are nice and roomy, you’re all going to be sharing one. If you’d prefer to bunk with your honey, with your kids in the room next door, you may want to look into a special promo being floated by Breezes Curacao. It is offering families of four (with two kids up to 13 years of age) a second room at no extra cost. The kids stay there for free, attend the kids club and chow down on unlimited meals and snacks, at no extra charge. The parents pay $143/night each, which is a 50 percent off the brochure rate, and isn’t bad for a quality all-inclusive resort (tennis courts, three nice restaurants, the islands largest casino, rock climbing, etc). You can click here to take a peek at the resort or call 800/GO-SUPER for more information. There’s also news of this promotion at Prices do not include airfare.

Super cheap Caribbean

If the above two deals are too rich for your blood, turn to budget specialist Vacation Travel Mart, which can trim tabs at even the fanciest resorts. And the property on this offer is a swell one, the four star LTI Beach Resort with a postcard-pretty white sand beach, spacious rooms, a good kids club and a rather European ambiance (many of its guests are from the Continent).

We don’t know how they do it, but Vacation Travel Mart is offering five-night air and hotel packages to the resort this summer for a mere $488 (including round-trip airport transfers, all meals, drinks and activities). That low rate holds only from Florida, but the prices are nearly as good from the rest of the country including New York ($599/adult) and Chicago ($749/adult). The best part? Kids stay and eat free paying only for their airfare (from Chicago that would be $460, from NY $290, only $199 from Miami). Taxes are extra. Call Vac Mart at 800/288-1435 or and mention you read about this on for an additional $25 off each family group (not much, but hey every bit counts).

{Editor’s Note: What have been your most successful family vacations? Do you have an instructive anecdote, tip or horror story to share? We’d love to hear it and possibly reprint it in our letters to the editor column. Simply click here to send a letter to our editors.}

Copyright © 2003 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.