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Be American and Take a Vacation

Photo by Anita Ritenour

Fourth of July is one of the first official signs that summer is in full effect. It’s that time of year where kids are out of school, pool parties happen on the regular and everyone’s in good spirits - ready to enjoy the summer.  You’re probably busy making plans to celebrate our great country’s freedom and the last thing on your mind is taking any sort of vacation (that would just be so un-American, right?).

Well, in efforts to keep the patriotism alive after the holiday, we suggest a little R&R time on some of the country’s most stunning beaches. You may be surprised to find out that we’re talking about parts of the Caribbean. Yep, the Caribbean is home to a few U.S. territories that all have beautiful beaches, yet still embrace the essence of the Caribbean. And this Independence Day, we’re all about taking a visit to live out the American dream.

Cheap Vacations - Puerto Rico - CheapCaribbean.com

The first destination on this “Be American and Vacation” list is Puerto Rico. Home to vibrant culture, epic nightlife and stunning beach views; Puerto Rico is a no-brainer for a summer vacation spot. For example, the thrill-seeker can enjoy zip line tours in El Yunque, cave tours at Parque de las Cavernas, or the largest radio telescope in the world at Arecibo Observatory. If beach lounging is more your thing, enjoy beaches like Rincon (great for surfing) or Boquerón Beach, known for it’s incredible scenery & views.

And of course it goes without saying, the nightlife in Puerto Rico is unprecedented. While hot spots are scattered all along the island, the main attractions can be found in San Juan. With plenty of raging bars/clubs that flow into casinos, it’s perfect for the party animal in us all. If you’re still looking to get down, but prefer a little bit of a tamer vibe; be sure to check out Old San Juan. Stop in at Maria’s for her signature cocktail, La Nota or enjoy reggae at La Sombrilla Rosa. No matter what you decide to do, you’ll have a blast in Puerto Rico. Oh – and since you don’t need a passport to get here, it’s the perfect spot for your American vacation adventure.

In terms of where to stay, you can’t go wrong with places like El San Juan Resort & Casino for great nightlife, or Rincon Beach Resort to be within walking distance of killer surf spots.

Cheap Beach Vacations - USVI St. Thomas - CheapCaribbean.com

If the idea of a three vacations in one sounds right up your alley, then the next suggestion on our “Be American and Vacation” list is the United States Virgin Islands. Located not far from the coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the USVI is home to St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix. You can essentially enjoy three completely different vacation experiences all with short boat rides from island to island.

Each island has something unique to offer. St. John is the greenest island with two-thirds of the island being part of a National Park. It also makes for a great day adventure. St. Thomas is catered more towards the flow of tourists with luxury resorts and plenty of shopping. And then St. Croix is sort of a hidden gem with a mix of everything St. John and St. Thomas have to offer. We recommend a trip to an old sugar plantation while visiting, or an epic scuba diving adventure. Oh and don’t forget to stop in at the Cruzan Rum Distillery for a tour and taste of a signature island spirit.

And of course, this wouldn’t be a beach vacation recommendation without the beaches. The USVI is home to a hefty list of some of the world’s top-rated beaches. Stop in for a dip in Magen’s Bay (St. Thomas) in the Caribbean Sea or see what all the hype is about at Trunk Bay in St. John. Because Trunk Bay is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, the preservation has kept this iconic strip home to pearly white sands, crystal clear waters and complete serenity.

When it comes to accommodations, a few of our choices include Sugar Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas or Westin St. John Resort & Villas in St. John.

So as you can see, there are plenty of great vacation spots to jet away to while still enjoying the patriotism that comes with being a part of this great nation. So today – have a safe, wonderful Fourth of July and be sure to celebrate what it means to have a nation of freedom for nearly 238 years (Happy Birthday America!). And once you get the itch to find a sunny spot on a beach, be sure to keep in mind these United States vacation destinations.

Are there any other US beach vacation spots in the Caribbean that didn’t make the list? Let us know your recommendations in the comments below!

Brittany Innes is a travel junkie with a passion for food, trying new things and being spontaneous. 

Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals Guest Post on Living the Island Life

Live the Island Life in the Caribbean

By: Kara Williams, The Vacation Gals

Kara Williams, The Vacation Gals Blog for Cheapcaribbean.com

Sure, on any Caribbean vacation, there are likely tourist attractions you don’t want to miss – key landmarks that you must snap your photos of or must-do activities that are truly unique to that vacation spot. But there are some simple ways to see a more off-the-beaten-path side of your Caribbean destination – just like the residents who live there do. Plus, “living the island life” like a local means you’ll save money, too! Here are my tips:

Get friendly with your resort concierge
Instead of asking your concierge to book you a dinner reservation at the most upscale restaurant in town, ask him where he likes to eat when he's off duty. Better yet, ask the resort bartender, your waitress, your bellman or the kids’ camp counselor. You’ll get the insider scoop on the hot places to eat, dance or shop from the locals themselves – plus, whatever they recommend will be much less expensive than any restaurant, nightclub or shopping center marketed to tourists.

Visit the farmer's market
Again, find out where the locals shop for their everyday food and visit the local market to purchase picnic fixings for your mid-day meal. You’ll find that a grocery-store lunch will be much cheaper than eating at a restaurant. Also seek the local outdoor farmer’s markets, fruit stands or food trucks, and you’ll likely be standing in line with area residents also looking for cheap eats.

Literally go off the beaten path
Every city in the Caribbean has a main shopping and dining area, usually in the center of town. In Playa del Carmen, for example, it’s the pedestrian area of Fifth Avenue (La Quinta), while on St. Thomas it’s Dronningens Gade, better known as Main Street, in Charlotte Amalie. Wander a few blocks off the main drag and you’ll find smaller, quainter, cheaper shops and restaurants that cater to the locals.

Take public transportation
Not only are public buses and trains more colorful and entertaining than private taxis, they are so much cheaper, too. City transportation can be a nice alternative to trying to navigate in an unfamiliar resort town in a rental car you may not be fully comfortable driving. It’s also a great way to see how residents get to school and work every day. I loved getting around the island of Bermuda recently, because we had to take the local bus line since foreigners can’t rent cars on the small island with very narrow and curvy roads!

Remember safety first
While I absolutely advocate getting away from main touristy areas to get a more authentic feel for any Caribbean destination, you do want to keep your safety top of mind at all times. Bring an area map to your resort’s concierge desk and ask him or her to mark any regions of town that may be particularly unsavory. Trust me, you’ll still find plenty of places to explore off the beaten path!

For more ideas on how to “live the island life,” check out CheapCaribbean.com with its informative customer reviews about not only popular resorts, but fabulous out of the way places.  

Celebrate Carnival Caribbean Style

It’s time to celebrate! Carnival is in its prime peak in the Caribbean. This means you’ll find lots of parties, parades and celebrations honoring the time leading up to Lent, a holiday that many islands participate in. For all the party animals out there, here’s a few celebrations happening amongst the Caribbean this Carnival season.

Aruba Does Carnival Right

Aruba is one of the choice Caribbean islands that celebrates Carnival all throughout January and the beginning of February. The entire schedule of events includes exciting parades, jump-ups, beautiful costumes and a truly vibrant atmosphere that you can only imagine by experiencing it.

There have been four major eras of Carnival in Aruba, with the first starting in 1921. This era was marked by debutante balls and costumed parties that took place at specific social clubs. The second era lasted 11 years through 1954 and was marked by the Lago Oil refinery success. This time period saw the introduction of carnival queen elections and the first parades were hold by Aruba’s oldest social club, the Tivoli social club. During the third era through 1965 is where the first island-wide public carnival took place. This also signifies the introduction of the island’s two grand parades seen each year. The fourth and current era has established a large majority of the tradition you’ll see at Carnival in Aruba. In 1966, when the era began, The Stichting Arubaanse Carnaval committee was founded at exactly 11:11 a.m. of the 11th day of the 11th month. This day has been named Fools Day.

Carnival Celebrations in Aruba from Cheapcaribbean.com

The Grand Parade in San Nicolas showcases the Carnival Queen, as well as the colorful, traditional parade floats. Photo credit from VisitAruba.com

With a colorful January full of parties, costumes and celebrations Aruba’s Carnival begins to unwind during February. The final Carnival parade takes place on Sunday, February 10th. This year marks the 59th Grand Parade and will include traditional, extravagant costumes and floats celebrating a successful Carnival season. There will also be an appearance by the elected Carnival Queen. And what’s the best way to reward the island’s successful Carnival season and allow people to prepare for Lent that starts on Ash Wednesday? Carnival Monday, also known as Burnout Monday, is a national holiday recognizing a national day of rest.

Cozumel is one of Mexico’s biggest Carnival celebrations. The week leading up to Fat Tuesday is full of parties, celebrations and a series of parades with a Final Grand Carnival Parade down the Seafront Downtown. On Wednesday, February 6th the Grand Opening and Coronation of Carnival King and Queen will take place. This weekend will bring costume and dance competitions, as well as a Second Grand Carnival Parade. There’s even a costume contest for children and pets!

Cozumel Carnival Celebrations 2013 from Cheapcaribbean.com

Children, parents and even the pets get all dressed up in the festive Carnival attire. A friendly competition has emerged awarding the best costumes awards! Photo credit: CARNAVAL COZUMEL

If you ever want to plan a trip to experience all the rich culture and festivities of Carnival in Cozumel, you’ll want to make sure to attend one of the three Carnival Balls. Each ball is on a different night and features a concert or costume competition, with the final ball occurring on the evening of Fat Tuesday. Mexico’s version of Mardi Gras happens on the Cozumel seafront, offering iconic beach views the whole time. The Wednesday after Fat Tuesday there’s an award ceremony to acknowledge outstanding carnival participants. And after the final award is given marks the monumental burning of Juan Carnaval. Fires are started to burn the revelry associated with Carnival and begin the preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Let’s Party All Year Long

Carnival is celebrated at all different times throughout the year. And don’t worry, if you weren’t able to catch one of these festivities, there are plenty of other opportunities to celebrate. Jamaica has just begun their 25th annual Bacchanal Festival, which lasts all the way through April. With a Le Masqurade theme, there’s a series of parties all throughout February, March and April you won't want to miss.

St. Thomas’ Carnival attraction takes place throughout the month of April as well. It's a month long of dazzling pageants and talent shows that take place to name royalty over the festival. You can expect traditional music, food and a rich representation of this island’s vibrant culture.

Each parade has performers that perform different routines in traditional, vibrant costumes. Photo Credit by Virgin Islands Carnival

These are just a few of the celebrations that are to come this year. No matter when you’re looking to party, there’s a Caribbean or Mexico destination with a celebration with your name on it.

No passport, No problem!

Your guide to traveling to the Caribbean sans passport!

You’re dying to head to the Caribbean, but your passport has hidden itself in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, or maybe you never even had one. Quick! What do you do? Head to Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands, of course! With no passport, it’s no problem... These two stunning destinations are perfect no passport beach getaways.

With temperatures in that “it feels sooo good outside range,” St. Thomas, USVI, and San Juan, Puerto Rico is simply perfect-o. The tropical mountains on one side, and ocean breeze on the other, create a ridiculous panoramic that pictures don’t do justice.

Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort

If you’re not interested in the multitude of water activities like snorkeling, windsurfing, zip lining, kite boarding, scuba diving, sailing, fishing, parasailing, and kayaking… there’s also some duty free shopping and superb historical heritage to check out and write home about.

The best part of St. Thomas is the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort. It sits on the side of a cliff, which might be the coolest thing we’ve seen in quite some time. We've also got a whole lotta love for the Conrad San Juan, Puerto Rico in no passport paradise. Give us a break, palm tree swaying in the wind… you can’t be this perfect all the time! Or, can you?!

Conrad San Juan, Puerto Rico

Two words. Infinity. Pool. They’re so cool when you look at the edge and it looks like they’re dropping off into the ocean. Especially when the sun is stuck at high noon and you can’t tell which blue is pool and which blue is ocean.

Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort

See, you really don’t have to wait for a new passport to book your summer vacation to the Caribbean. The options for no passport travel have just arrived!

PS – Don't miss out on our Mega Marriott exclusive cheapcaribbean.com sale. Hurry, book now thru Thursday at any Marriott resort for insane savings!!