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Caribbean bargains await those who can travel soon

The Baltimore Sun

You returned the crystal candy bowl from your mother-in-law, put the sweater from Aunt Ethel on eBay and now, as the cold, grim winter sets in and with no more festivities to distract you from the bleakness, you need a vacation somewhere hot and sunny.

Looking for a Caribbean getaway? You're not alone.

Many resorts say bookings are ahead of last year, and strong demand is giving them little cause to discount. What's a sun-starved, post-holiday traveler to do?

You can forget about the Presidents' Day Weekend, when most warm-weather resorts are packed to the brim and outrageously priced. But it's still possible to book a long weekend away without breaking the bank if you're able to travel soon. Bargains can be found in January, when many Caribbean resorts offer as much as 40 percent off as a way to increase occupancy during the slight lull just after Christmas and New Year's.

"January has always been a challenging month," said John Lynch, chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board. "You still have good deals. That's when kids go back to school."

And it's not just Jamaica. All across the Caribbean, hotels are throwing in free nights and travel agents are pushing discounted packages. Orbitz.com, for example, is running a Winter Getaway sale through Feb. 15 with savings up to 40 percent off hotels and vacation packages, and an additional $75 off flight and hotel packages of three nights or more with the promo code SAVEONSUN.

Other deals can be found by signing up for e-mail alerts from deal aggregators like Air farewatchdog.com, Travelzoo.com and Farecompare.com, especially on flights.

But many promotions expire soon. Sandals Resorts, for example, is offering up to 50 percent off for stays through the end of 2008, but to get a discount you must book by Jan. 31. SuperClubs Resorts, with 11 properties in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, also has deals that must be booked by the end of the month.

And if you're willing to take a gamble, the Couples Resorts in Jamaica has come up with a new way to fill empty rooms at its four properties on the island. Guests who book its Secret Rendezvous package for $163 a person a night in January (or $175 a person a night in February) don't find out which resort they're staying at until seven days before arrival.

While the Caribbean has never been known for winter bargains, you don't need to stay at the Four Seasons to enjoy the turquoise blue water. On St. Lucia, for example, where high-end resorts have been popping up like umbrellas in the sand, the Villa Caribbean Dream has rooms starting at $40. On Barbados, the Peace and Quiet in the southern parish of Christ Church has 22 suites that start at $99. And on St. Thomas, where a room at the Marriott will set you back about $450, the Island View Guesthouse has harborside rooms starting at $87.

Even on glitzy St. Barts, there are affordable options. The stylish Salines Garden Cottages has rooms starting at 140 euros (about $205 at $1.47 to the euro), and some hotels are less than 100 euros.

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