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Saving on Your Hotel Room

The rates given in this guide are only "rack rates" -- that is, the officially posted rate that you'd be given if you just walked in off the street. Almost no one actually pays them. Always ask about packages and discounts. Comparison shop online for great deals on hotel rooms on hotel websites (which often offer multiday packages). Or check Hotels.com, Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire.

It's a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online-booking transaction.

The high season in the Turks and Caicos is the winter season, roughly from the middle of December through the middle of April. Hotels charge their highest rates during the winter season, and you'll need to make reservations months in advance to snag a room at your favorite hotel or resort during this peak period. The Christmas holidays have become big business for TCI lodgings, and you may need to reserve a year in advance for a room during this time.

The off-season in the TCI is the rest of the year -- although the so-called "shoulder seasons," roughly late spring and late fall (after hurricane season is over) -- are increasingly popular. Still, outside the traditional high season, expect rates to fall, sometimes dramatically in the summer.

Watch Out for Those Extras! -- The government imposes a flat 11% occupancy tax, applicable to all hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants in the 40-island chain. When booking a room, ask whether the price you've been quoted includes the tax. That will avoid an unpleasant surprise when it comes time to pay the bill.

Furthermore, many hotels routinely add 10% to 12% for "service." That means that with tax and service, some bills are 17% or even 25% higher than the price that was originally quoted to you!

That's not all. Some hotels slip in little hidden extras that add up quickly. For example, it's common for many places to quote rates that include a continental breakfast. Should you prefer ham and eggs, you will pay extra charges. If you request special privileges, like extra towels for the beach or laundry done in a hurry, surcharges may mount. It pays to watch those extras and to ask questions before you commit.

One of the biggest extras is phone charges. Try to avoid making international calls from your hotel phone -- you'll be charged around $2.10 a minute, depending on the time of day, which can add up quickly. Many hotels also have fees for local calls, sometimes $1 and up. If you have a GSM cellphone with international roaming capabilities, you're in business; otherwise, you may want to consider renting a cellphone or buying a prepaid cellphone when you're on island.

And don't forget gratuities. You will be expected to tip just about everyone who does a service for you, from the beach boy who sets up your beach chairs and towels to your masseuse to your captain (and any mates who are particularly helpful) on a beach cruise. Many hotels now have personal concierge service, and you should tip them at the end of your stay.

What The Abbreviations Mean -- Rate sheets often have these classifications:

  • MAP (Modified American Plan) usually means room, breakfast, and dinner, unless the room rate has been quoted separately, in which case it means only breakfast and dinner.
  • CP (Continental Plan) includes room and a light breakfast.
  • EP (European Plan) means room only.
  • AP (American Plan) includes your room plus three meals a day.

Hotels & Resorts

Many budget travelers assume they can't afford the big hotels and resorts. But there are so many packages out there and so many advertised sales during the low season that you might be pleasantly surprised at what you can get. And many hotels offer upgrades whenever they have a big block of rooms to fill and few reservations.

What Are Condo Hotels? -- In the Turks and Caicos, the buzzword in resort development is condo hotels. Many, if not most, of the resorts on Grace Bay are fully or partially condo hotels. Condo hotels are nothing but hotels whose units are sold to individual owners, usually even before the hotel is built. Most units then enter the resort rental pool: When the owner is not using the unit, it is managed and rented out to hotel guests by the resort; the owner then receives a percentage of the rental income. This is a popular concept in the TCI for a number of reasons, one of which is the favorable financial conditions here for international investors, large and small, including no property taxes, capital gains taxes, or sales taxes.

All-Inclusive Resorts -- The ideal all-inclusive is just that -- a place where everything -- meals, drinks, and most watersports -- is included. In the Turks and Caicos, three resorts now bill themselves as all-inclusive: Beaches, Club Med Turkoise, and the Veranda. The all-inclusive market is geared to the active traveler who likes organized entertainment, lots of sports and workouts at fitness centers, and lots of food and drink -- and all three resorts come through in these categories.

In the 1990s, so many competitors entered the all-inclusive market that the term means different things to the different resorts that embrace this marketing strategy. With the TCI all-inclusives, all meals, drinks, and gratuities are included, for example, but you'll have to pay for extras such as certain spa treatments or optional scuba-diving services. At the island's newest all-inclusive, the Veranda, menu items have prices attached -- a neat bit of transparency that lets you know exactly what you're paying for.

The all-inclusives have a reputation for being expensive, but to many people not having to "pay as you go" or deal with gratuities is liberating and worth the money. If you're looking for ways to cut costs with an all-inclusive, the trick is to travel in off-peak periods, which doesn't always mean just from mid-April to mid-December. If you want a winter vacation at an all-inclusive, choose the month of January -- not February or the Christmas holidays, when prices are at their all-year high. The resorts also regularly offer special packages for weeklong stays; check the websites for the latest offerings.

Guesthouses/Inns -- An entirely different type of accommodations is the guesthouse. In the Caribbean the term "guesthouse" can mean anything. Sometimes so-called guesthouses are really like simple motels built around swimming pools. Others are small individual cottages, with their own kitchenettes, constructed around a main building in which you'll often find a bar and a restaurant that serves local food. Still others are more like small inns, often with private bathrooms, luxury linens, and boutique amenities. The guesthouse or inn usually represents very good value, simply because it does not have the full-service amenities of a resort or hotel.

In the TCI, you can find inns or guesthouses in Grand Turk, Salt Cay, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, and South Caicos .

Renting a Villa, Condo, or House

Particularly if you're a family or a group of friends, a "housekeeping holiday" can be one of the least expensive ways to vacation in the Turks and Caicos, and if you like privacy and independence, it's a good way to go. Accommodations with kitchens are now available on nearly all the islands. Some are individual cottages, others are condo complexes with swimming pools, and many others are private homes that owners rent out. Many (though not all) places include maid service, and you're given fresh linens as well.

In the simpler rentals, doing your own cooking and laundry or even your own maid service may not be your idea of a good time in the sun, but it saves money -- a lot of money. The savings, especially for a family of three to six people, or two or three couples, can range from 50% to 60% of what a hotel would cost. Groceries are sometimes priced 35% to 60% higher than on the U.S. mainland, as nearly all foodstuffs have to be imported, but even so, preparing your own food will be a lot cheaper than dining at restaurants.

There are also a number of quite lavish homes for rent for which you can spend a lot and stay in the lap of luxury in a prime beachfront setting. Many villas have a staff, or at least a maid who comes in a few days a week, and they also provide the essentials for home life, including linens and housewares. Condos usually come with a reception desk and are often comparable to a suite in a big resort hotel. Nearly all condo complexes have pools (some more than one). Like condos, villas range widely in price.

You'll have to approach these rental properties with a certain sense of independence. There may or may not be a front desk to answer your questions, and you'll have to plan your own watersports.

For a list of agencies that arrange rentals in Providenciales, see a few recommended options below. If you're looking for rentals in North or Middle Caicos, you can ask the Turks & Caicos Tourist Board for good suggestions.

Make your reservations well in advance. Here are a few agencies that rent in Provo:

  • North Shore Villas (tel. 404/467-4858; www.northshorevillas.com) has a number of deluxe free-standing private villas, most of which are located on Grace Bay Beach, as well as other vacation villa properties all over Provo.
  • Prestigious Properties (tel. 649/946-4379; http://prestigiousproperties.com) offers a range of villas, condos, and single-family residences.
  • Seafeathers Villas (tel. 649/941-5703; www.seafeathers.com) has a variety of beachfront villas, cottages, and condos, many with private pools and oceanfront locations. Chefs, maids, and babysitters are also available on request.
  • Ocean Point Villas (tel. 404/467-4858; www.oceanpointvillas.com) has lovely deluxe villas ranging in size from two to seven bedrooms in the strictly residential neighborhood of Ocean Point and on the North Shore near Turtle Cove.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.