As we enter the off season, you can get to the friendly Caribbean island of Jamaica for very little money whatsoever. While you're there, you may find plenty of things to entice you, other than the obvious beach-related activities. The Jamaican Tourism Board's website (tel. 800/233-4582; www.visitjamaica.com) is a great place to start. You can get an overview of the island and events such as the Calabash Bay International Literary Festival (tel. 876/965-3000; www.calabashfestival.org), May 26-28, featuring dozens of writers, including Margo Jefferson, Sonia Sanchez, and M.G. Vassanji. It's held at Jake's at Treasure Beach, an Island Outpost property (www.islandoutpost.com), and admission is free. The Ocho Rios Jazz Festival is June 10 and the Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest (www.reggaesumfest.com) runs July 16-22 in Montego Bay.
But what's most interesting is the tourism board's Meet the People Program (http://meetthepeople.visitjamaica.com), which puts visitors in direct contact with Jamaicans to learn about the culture and way of life. You get teamed up with a host family or volunteer who shares a common hobby, profession or interest, at no cost to you. You can sign up online once you've confirmed your accommodations and travel dates.
Atlas Vacations (tel. 800/846-7912; www.atlasvacations.com) offers a search function to find packages; they're not easily found just by scrolling through offers. However, a search from New York-area hotels to Jamaica yielded several good deals for weeklong stays. The Sandcastles Resort Ocho Rios is available from $746 per person, including airfare, transfers to resort and airport, hotel and airline taxes. The price reflects their "supersaver European plan" which sleeps two. You can up the price for an all-inclusive package, for example -- it brings it up to about $1,047 per person.
Air Jamaica Vacations (tel. 800/307-4359; www.airjamaica.com) is running a fare sale through its website to destinations in Jamaica from the United States. Some of the specials expired, but there are a few available. For example, you can fly from Baltimore to Montego Bay for $268 round-trip; the purchase deadline is June 17 and the travel period goes through the same date. If you can make a last minute decision, there is a sale running for flights between Ft. Lauderdale and Montego Bay and Ft. Lauderdale and Kingston, both priced at $188; the booking and travel deadline is May 24. Atlanta and Kingston and Atlanta-Montego Bay are on sale for $188 (June 15 booking and travel deadline). Other routes, such as Orlando-Kingston, are available for $242 (June 21 booking and travel deadline).
In addition to fare sales, there are select vacation packages on sale, such as the all-inclusive, three night packages with air from $529 per person, based on New York/JFK and Chicago departures. The prices reflect a savings of 40 percent. Choose from Starfish Resort ($529 per person), Breezes Montego Bay ($599), and the more luxurious Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa ($1,015). The package also includes in-flight Caribbean meals, hotel accommodations, all meals, snacks and unlimited cocktails, round-trip island transfers, land and non-motorized sports and entertainment, hotel taxes, service charges, all gratuities. You must book by May 29 and while some blackout dates apply, the greatest savings are based on midweek travel August 19-December 13.
If you can act quickly -- book by May 26 and travel by June 21 -- Air Jamaica is also offering a three night deal from $369 for the Holiday Inn SunSpree in Montego Bay. The deal includes airfare, meals, snacks, and transportation to and from the airport; this rate is based on flights from Miami, but other cities such as Ft. Lauderdale and Atlanta ($70), Orlando ($90), Newark/JFK ($120), Chicago ($230) and Los Angeles ($300) are also available.
Cheap Caribbean (tel. 800/915-2322; www.cheapcaribbean.com) is offering an adults-only all-inclusive special to Runaway Bay. It's a seven night deal priced from $719 per person, including airfare, based on double occupancy. You must act quickly, and book by May 24 for travel June 26-December 20. You'll stay at Club Ambiance, a beachfront resort, in a standard room and all meals, beverages, tip, gratuities, and round-trip flights. Transportation to and from the airport is not included, but the company has added "free your mind" travel protection which allows you to cancel or change your travel plans for any reason for one time; you'll be given a credit voucher that's good for up to one year from the date of cancellation. (It's like a get-out-of-jail free card.)
Eleisurelink (tel. 888/801-8808; www.eleisurelink.com) is running a sale on a four day, all-inclusive Jamaica break from $399 with air and three nights at Superclubs Starfish Trelawny. All meals and drinks are covered, along with airport transfers, but the price is low because it's based on airfare from Ft. Lauderdale; others are available for a surcharge. You must travel by July 31 and book by July 24. The resort is located twenty miles from Montego Bay and has two pools and a spa.
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