Budgeting for Your Caribbean Vacation

Whether it's extravagant or low-key, a travel budget can ensure a worry-free Caribbean getaway

Photo credit: © Jo Ann Snover | Dreamstime.com
 

Your Caribbean vacation can be as luxurious as you want it to be. Whether you book an all-inclusive holiday package at an upscale resort or piece together an off-season trip, budgeting your trip in advance is the wisest course.

Be sure to allow plenty for entertainment, recreation, sightseeing, and, of course, souvenirs. Plan on budgeting a large portion of your funds for the delicious West Indian food found in the Caribbean and signature rum drinks (when not included in your resort stay), if you so desire. Also factor in the following big-ticket and oft-forgotten budgetary items:

  • Lodging (including taxes and service charges)

  • Transportation (to the Caribbean and once you've arrived)

  • Tips and gratuities (if not included in your resort stay)

  • Travel insurance (optional)

  • Supplemental medical insurance (if not on your current health policy - optional)

  • Customs duties

Budgeting the trip before you leave home will free you up to enjoy all of the islands' Caribbean charms. With some advanced planning and research, budgeting minutiae shouldn't take time away from your daily Caribbean activities.

Money Saving Information

The most expensive time to visit the Caribbean, known as the peak season or high season, is during the winter months, as many visit the islands to escape cold temperatures back home. If you shop around you may find discounted prices, but during the off-season (summer months) you'll likely find some hotel rooms, rental cars, and plane tickets priced 50 percent lower than usual. Many hotels and resorts offer all-inclusive package deals, which may include airfare and shuttle service to and from the airport to help keep your budgeting simple.

Hurricane season, from June 1 through November 30, should not necessarily be ruled out. Even if a hurricane hits somewhere in the region, any single island's mainlands may only feel the effects in the form of heavy rains. Be sure to check the forecast, though; if it's all clear, look for deeply discounted packages during this time.

Lodging

While some Caribbean islands, like Barbados, have a larger selection of upscale resorts, others, like Jamaica, offer a wider range of luxury levels. Regardless of your island choice, however, keep in mind that most hotels and resorts require a minimum stay of three nights, which can be something worth budgeting for. On average, hotel rooms in the Caribbean are currently priced just over $200(USD) per night. There are also higher-end options; consider Barbados, Treasure Beach Hotel, for example, with suites currently ranging in price from around $600(USD) to nearly $1,800(USD) per night during peak season.

If you're toting the tots or traveling with a group, consider renting a condo, villa, or cottage in the tropical countryside. While there are singles resorts throughout the Caribbean, expect to pay more as a single traveler if booking a package deal. Guesthouses, for solo travelers or groups, are a cozy alternative to hotels. While these options may lack certain hotel-style amenities and beach side addresses, remember that some resorts sell special day passes for visitors to enjoy their amenities alongside hotel guests.

When budgeting your hotel costs, remember that most hotels in the Caribbean will add a government tax (currently averaging about 7.5 percent) and a service charge (currently averaging about 10 to 15 percent) to your final bill that will not necessarily have been part of your quoted price. High-end Caribbean resorts may also charge surplus fees at or beyond 20 percent of your room charge; special amenities or upgrades not included in your room charge may also appear on the final tally. Budgeting these fees will help you avoid unwelcome surprises.

Transportation

Airline travel is the most popular way to reach the islands. A round trip Caribbean flight booked well in advance will generally be less expensive than a one-way flight, as will flights departing mid-week or in the fall, spring, and summer months. You may find lower ticket prices from more remote airports. And, if you're willing to risk it, you can check for last-minute fare deals. During your budgeting and planning phase, also determine whether or not your ticket price is nonrefundable and whether or not you'll incur a fee for altering your departure date.

If you're the adventurous type, charter a crewed yacht, bareboat, or with just a skipper. Crewed yachts cost more, and the crew is tipped. You may be required to place a deposit and pay insurance fees for any type of charter you secure. In the case of some charter vessels, the more the merrier: chartering a bareboat yacht can cost less than some resorts if several people split the cost.

The price of yacht charters often includes equipment for scuba diving and kayaking. Crewed yachts come with an on-board chef and full crew. You should tip the crew 10 to 15 percent of the charter's total cost. Skippers' rates vary when hired solo, but are usually around $80(USD) to $120(USD) per day. Chartering a yacht during the Caribbean high season will cost more than chartering during the off-season, but budgeting for these differences can be important.

Cruise ships continuously sail to the Caribbean, especially in the winter months. Your cruise experience can be customized with events and island adventures for all ages and a variety of budgets. Ship class regulates the price of these excursions. Currently, the four classes of cruising are: contemporary/value, premium, luxury and specialty. A cruise aboard a luxury ship costs far more than a cruise on a contemporary/value ship. The luxury price buys you more spacious and comfortable rooms, a higher staff ratio, and other amenities.

On all cruise ships, upper deck suites and rooms with balconies are pricier than rooms without windows. When budgeting, remember that the published daily passenger rate is based upon double occupancy. Cruise lines may also offer all-inclusive packages and off-season discounts. Click here to read more about choosing a cruise to the Caribbean.

Once you arrive at your Caribbean destination, you'll find getting around the island is a breeze. For a little local flavor, take the bus--this can be the cheapest way to get about the city, although not always the most reliable.

Taxi service is available on all Caribbean islands; prices vary. Taxis rarely operate on a meter system but at fixed government rates; plan to tip taxi drivers based on the customs of each island, generally around $1(USD) or $2(USD) around town. On holidays, after midnight, on Sundays, or for helpful service, tip more than you would during regular hours. Remember: always establish a fare and currency with the driver before your journey begins. Budgeting in a little additional cash for transportation may allow you to hire a taxi driver as a tour guide on some Caribbean islands.

If you prefer to shuttle yourself in a rental car, plan on budgeting around $200(USD) to $350(USD) per week for an automatic with air conditioning (drivers under the age of 25 will usually pay significantly more). Many Caribbean islands require a local driving permit which you can generally obtain at a local police station or car rental agency for a nominal fee, usually between $10(USD) and $30(USD).

The Caribbean also abounds with two-wheeled rental options: bicycles, scooters, and motorbikes enable spirited and leisurely self-guided tours of island pathways and back roads. They can all be rented for a daily fee of around $10(USD) to $25(USD) and can also be rented by the week. Island hopping is possible through one of the many small Caribbean airlines, ferries, or chartered boats. Ferries are generally the least expensive of those options.

Tips and Gratuities

Some Caribbean hotels figure gratuity into the final bill. If not, budgeting for the following minimums is a good idea, keeping in mind these rates increase as the luxury level of the establishment increases:

  • Bellhops: $1(USD) to $2(USD) per bag, flat rate

  • Maids: $2(USD) per day

Caribbean eateries generally tack on an automatic gratuities charge of about 10% of the total cost of your meal. If this is not the case, apply these standard minimums:

  • Servers: 10-15 percent (or more if the service is exceptional)

  • Bartenders: between $1(USD) and $2(USD) per round of drinks or 10-15 percent of the total bar tab

Of note: all-inclusive hotels discourage or even prohibit tipping as all service charges are typically included in one final bill. When budgeting your trip, look into the tipping policies of your hotel.

Insurance

Travel insurance should be purchased before you depart for the Caribbean; it is a wise provision for an unforeseen vacation cancellation or emergencies such as an early trip back home. Purchase travel insurance directly from an insurance company. Budgeting for this takes place before you even reach the Caribbean.

Supplemental medical insurance will cover medical expenses incurred during your vacation. Most health insurance policies--except for Medicaid, Medicare and certain HMOs--cover medical costs away from home, but if your policy does not include this provision, you may want to purchase this additional coverage prior to your vacation departure as medical services in the Caribbean can be quite costly. Read more about health and medical services in the Caribbean by clicking here.

Customs Duties

Customs regulations and fees vary according to your point of departure and reentry. Check with you country's customs service office for specific, up-to-date information. Generally speaking, the duty-free allowance for the Caribbean is between $600(USD) and $1,200(USD) depending on which island you depart from. Some items, such as original artwork, are always duty-free.

You can also mail home a specified minimum amount of goods duty-free. You will not have to pay duty fees on the foreign-made, high-ticket items you already own so long as you register them with customs before you leave the country or have with you a sales receipt or insurance form to show that you owned the item before your Caribbean trip.

Putting together a budget before you leave for your Caribbean vacation will give you a better idea of the type of accommodations you can afford, which restaurants you will be able to dine in, and how much you will be able to splurge on souvenirs. Plus, it is just one less concern you will have to think about while you are on your trip, making every day you spend in the Caribbean as easy-going and enjoyable as possible.

 

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