Go to Travelzoo.com and look for discount prices.
Jamaica is incredibly beautiful with lots of great resorts, especially around Negril, which has one of the world's best white sand beaches. You can be completely insulated from the "real" life of the island on most of these tourist packages, which is a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view.
Very few tourists are going to be deposited in the middle of a bad neighbourhood in Kingston to fend for themselves. Just doesn't happen.
I've been to Jamaica several times, Costa Rica -- another beautiful and relatively safe country -- both coasts of Mexico and I'd still pick Jamaica.
^That depends entirely on the resort. A lot of times the resorts will drop you in an area to show you how "dangerous" Jamaica is so that you go back to your resort for the rest of your trip to spend all your money instead of in town. In reality Jamaica isn't nearly as dangerous as the resorts want you to think.
^^I agree. I've been all over Jamaica and I've had a few unpleasant encounters, but no more than I've had in any other country I've been to. I don't go to Jamaica any more because of the resort/package tour mentality that has taken over there. I remember the good old days of renting bungalows so close to Negril beach you could hear the ocean roar, interacting with locals, enjoying the music, the food, the scenery and er...the agricultural bounty.
I've never heard of tour companies droppping tourists off in dodgy hoods in Kingston -- strikes me they'd have huge liability issues, but I can see them driving through one.
When I was in Jamaica last time we went around with a woman who had retired to Jamaica from the US (we went and climbed a lesser known waterfall than Dunns River Falls so we wouldn't have to battle as many tourists), when we were doing the really long drive she was talking about how a lot of resorts in the area try to hype the "Jamaica is really dangerous" misconception by taking the naive tourists to some of the more intimidating areas, especially the markets, and letting them roam for awhile. Usually they get so scared that they never want to leave the resort for the rest of the trip, and then go home and talk about how scary Jamaica is.
I found it to be completely the opposite. Every person we ran into there was really, really nice and we had a fantastic time-even when we decided to go into town and shop. Part of the day trip was going to this really amazing local authentic Jamaican restaurant so we could try the food. That's the kind of thing my family prefers to do with the cruises. We get in touch with local people or local tour companies (can find recommendations on just about any travel forum) so we can see more of the local culture or off-the-beaten track type of activities.
Interesting. I've usually gone on my own or with friends independently, so I haven't run into this. There are always idiot tourists who get drunk and do stupid things they probably wouldn't do at home, then blame the country for their problems.
I wouldn't get shitfaced drunk and start waving money around anywhere -- it's just asking for trouble -- and yet I've seen tourists do it time and again and wonder why they get robbed, or get their asses kicked. LOL
One thing that bothered me the last time I was in Negril was that white people could walk on the beach at night and the dogs wouldn't bark, but if a black person did it, they went crazy. Apparently the dogs are trained by scent to bark at black people. Pretty bad considering most Jamaicans are black or mixed race.
^^ That's interesting, PB. Sad, but an interesting fact.
I haven't done the Caribbean yet, but I have friends who whole-heartedly recommend Panama. It has some of everything, and is also one of the few such spots to guarantee safe tap water. They actually chose it over Costa Rica at the time because Panama City had some Kosher restaurants, but they said anyone could have a wonderful time there.
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We went to Antigua a few years ago. It was OK but the economy is almost entirely dependant on tourists so there's the usual contrast between lavish resorts and grinding poverty when you dare venture out into the 'real' country. We never felt any kind of security concerns (can be a problem in other places, eg Jamaica) and if you like history the old port of English Harbour where Admiral Lord Nelson established a garrison and Caribbean naval base in the 18th century is fascinating (but probably not for a 13yr old!). Antigua also has a Sandals resort which is OK for rutting honeymooners but not suitable for kids!
There so much to choose from I think I'd go and see a travel agent who specialises in Caribbean holidays and get some recommendations for suitable places and then hit the internet.
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Thanks for all the replies. We are going to spend some time researching this. I like to relax on vacation but I also like to go and see the sites and learn the history of the area. I just know I want a hot sandy beach in mid-February instead of the ski slopes this year.
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