If you're a hopeless procrastinator like me and still haven't planned your winter escape strategy, you probably assume it's too late to find anything affordable. Yet you are not as screwed as you think you are! The ethos of the Caribbean -- always be slacking -- applies to booking vacations there. And now isn't such a bad time anyway: The US dollar is at its strongest level in years, and plenty of savings await anyone who knows know where to look.
Still, given the sheer number of islands, resorts, and resort packages, even a veteran vacationer can get overwhelmed. This, dear traveler, is where we apply some research.
"Do your homework and prioritize what's important to you," Sandy Lovick, the owner of Minneapolis-based Travel Leaders, told me. "If it's about price, we're finding that Puerto Vallarta and Punta Cana are still really competitive." Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Panama are also seeing a rise in popularity, she said: "These places are offering five-star service at a more affordable rate than other Caribbean islands."
Once you nail down your port, picking the right resort means sweating a few details. Read the fine print, and don't assume that "all-inclusive" means everything is free. Prices, and what may or may not be included, run the gamut. Your best bet is a low-cost all-inclusive, in a place where you don't feel guilty about eating out when you want to.
Resorts that do things a la carte -- meaning you pay out of pocket as you go, on top of the room rate -- are a fine option for the discerning traveler who wants more control over the experience (and budget). And of course, if "a la carte" and "all-inclusive" are just frivolous concepts to you, there's no shortage of mind-jumblingly luxurious resorts where you can mentally round every transaction to the nearest thousand dollars.
Here are the best resorts at every price point (from $ to $$$$$) to get a traveler on any budget started.