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CARIBBEAN: WHEN TO GO

Seasonal Pricing

Room rates are at their highest from mid-December through mid-April (and at all-time highs during the holiday weeks), and generally fall about 40-50% during low season. Resorts that seem out of reach in the winter months may be right in your price range during the summer.

Of course, into any scene a little rain must fall, and in the Caribbean that means low season. Low season covers the summer and early fall months, for two reasons. First, these are the warmest months in the Northeast US, the area of the country that often flees to the sunny Caribbean during the chilly winter months, so demand is down. Second, this is hurricane season.

Climate

Mention the Caribbean and weather in the same sentence, and one concern quickly arises: hurricanes. These deadly storms are a threat officially from June through November, although the greatest danger is during the later months, basically August through October. (September is the worst.)

Keep in mind, however, that the Caribbean is a large region. We've been in the Western Caribbean when storms were picking up force in the eastern reaches and never felt a gust of wind or saw a wave over ankle high.

To minimize the chances of a hurricane ruining or postponing your trip, plan a vacation outside the hurricane season or outside the hurricane zone. In the far southern reaches, the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (also known as the ABC islands) and Trinidad and Tobago are below the hurricane zone and are safer bets during the summer and fall months.

Except for the hurricane season, weather in the Caribbean is a wonderfully monotonous topic. (In Papiamento, the language of the Dutch islands, there is no word for weather. It's almost always perfect, so why waste a word?)

In the summer, days peak in the low 90s, with lows in the 70s. In the winter, temperatures run about 5 to 10 degrees cooler. The sea remains warm enough for comfortable swimming year-round. (Note: The Bahamas are technically not part of the Caribbean, and you'll find the temperatures here are slightly cooler.)

If budget is not your prime consideration, then when's the best time to go to the Caribbean? Any time!

Festivals

Whatever time you visit the Caribbean, chances are good that an island festival of some sort will be in progress, offering you the chance to take part in local celebrations of life. Carnival is the biggest bash in the islands and is held in January in Trinidad, April in St. Thomas, and February in St. Martin.

When it comes to Carnival, no island's festivities can beat Trinidad's pulsating party, perhaps second only to Rio de Janeiro's celebration. Held the Monday and Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday, this pre-Lenten party is preceded by weeks of parties, balls, competitions, and calypso shows. J'Ouvert, Carnival Monday, starts at two in the morning as Trinidad- ians take to the streets in costume. Grab your mate and practice Carnival dances: chipping (a slow shuffle down the street), jumping up (you can picture that one), and wining (a pelvic dance that would put Elvis to shame). Soca music pulsates from giant trucks while people playing steel pans deliver traditional calypso sounds. The two of you can jump in and shuffle along as the whole parade gyrates down the street.

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