Although Barbados's high season officially ended in mid-April, two of this British West Indian islands' best music and street festivals won't take place until the end of this month and late July. Crop Over is the biggest and most popular, originally celebrated to mark the end of the sugarcane harvest, in late July and early August. Now, however, it's just another excuse for more rum and street beats than usual -- with calypso and tuk performances and competitions, parades, and native craft shows. And if you can score a last-minute deal, you can make it on time to the Congaline Carnival, the last week of April. Every day, from mid-afternoon until late evening, socca, calypso, reggae, and steelpan concerts enliven Dover pasture, near Saint Lawrence Gap, on the south shore.
If you want to try to squeeze in a Caribbean hop next weekend, during the Congaline Carnival, check out BWIA West Indies Airways' (tel. 800/538-2942; www.bwee.com) low fares for midweek departures through May 25, from New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Round-trip from New York is $328; from Miami, it's $329; and from Washington, DC, it's $306. From Miami for next weekend, American Airlines (www.aa.com) is offering last-minute Internet-only fares from Miami for only $289, good for April 27 departures returning May 2. Taxes are not included.
Cheap Caribbean (tel. 800/915-2322; www.cheapcaribbean.com) is running a great air-hotel package valid for either festival season: Round-trip air and five nights at the beachfront Savannah Hotel are $799, from now until July 31, from numerous East Coast cities. The Savannah is a 3.5-star, 200 beachfront resort, in a 220-year-old building with modern additions, on the south shore. It's just ten minutes from the capital of Bridgetown -- Barbados's only city and one of the Caribbean's oldest. Amenities include two freshwater pools, one of which meanders the length of the property, and a host of spa services. Rates are good for departures from a number of East Coast cities, including New York, Newark, and Philadelphia (Chicago and Washington, D.C., are $100 more; Los Angeles is $200 more; call for more alternate departure cities). Additional air and hotel taxes are only $130 a person.
Expedia (tel. 800/551-2534; www.expedia.com) is running the best packages to offer a variety of hotel options. For travel from New York in mid-May (May 19 to 23), the best values are four nights at the three-star Southern Palms Hotel for $665, taxes included ($851 from Chicago and $956 from Los Angeles); and the three-star Amaryllis Beach Resort for $679 total ($865 from Chicago and $970 from Los Angeles).
On Trip Advisor's user review boards, both resorts receive an average four out of five. The Southern Palms is set amid six acres of land around an old, pink plantation house in St. Lawrence Gap. The Amaryllis is set on 4-1/2 acres of tropical gardens. According to user reviews, the Amaryllis's rooms are modest and service is minimal, but the location, along a fine stretch of beach, makes up for it.
If you're visiting during Crop Over, the last week in July (July 28 to August 1), expect slightly higher costs: from New York, air and four nights are $753 at the Amaryllis and $739 at the Southern Palms; from Chicago, the Amaryllis is $941 and the Southern Palms is $927; and from Los Angeles, Amaryllis is $970 and Southern Palms is $956.
The very cheapest Expedia deal is at the Barbados Villa Rentals: Round-trip air and four nights lodgings are only $603 total from New York ($789 from Chicago and $894 from Los Angeles) for travel in May. Expedia prices include all taxes and fees.