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Deals abound for Bahamas, Mexico and Caribbean vacations

This is the beginning of the off season for lots of Caribbean and Mexican destinations. But it's no hotter there than here in Florida, especially if you're neck-deep in blue water. Here are some good deals I found (not all of them necessarily cheap). These values were available at the time I checked; prices may vary.

Florida residents have until June 4 to book an airfare-inclusive, three-night stay (based on double occupancy) at participating hotels on Nassau Paradise Island in the Bahamas and receive a free companion airfare. Travel must be completed by Dec. 22. It's a huge range of properties from Atlantis (pricey, but offering a fourth-night-free deal now) to Best Western Bay View Suites and the Comfort Suites Paradise Island (less pricey), but the cool thing is that if you stay at the Comfort Suites you still have privileges to use all of Atlantis' incredible water attractions. To get a sense of the savings, round-trip airfare between Orlando and Nassau, Bahamas, on JetBlue and AirTran, starts around $180 total, at least $75 less than from Tampa.

On Cruise.com, I saw a seven-night Southern Caribbean cruise from $434 on the Caribbean Princess from San Juan, Puerto Rico, with ports including Dominica, Grenada and Bonaire. Sure, you have to get to San Juan by air, but flights from Tampa start at about $280 round trip; from Orlando, about $240.

Through June 30, Lifestyle Tropical Beach Resort & Spa in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, offers a superior room for $79 per night per person, all-inclusive, based on double occupancy, and junior suites for $89 per night per person, all-inclusive, based on double occupancy. With a minimum of five nights, it includes free admission to Ocean World Adventure Park next door plus all food and drink and daily activities (introductory scuba lesson in the resort pool, nonmotorized water sports, gym, etc.). (809) 970-7777; lhvcresorts.com.

Grand Cayman Island's Reef Resort on the island's east end has a sale on beachfront suites until Dec. 20, ranging from $159 to $329 per night. The Reef also features opportunities for wall diving, clear-water snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and eco-ventures with an onsite tour operator. Other available activities include sunset cruises, submarine excursions, spa treatments and performances by Barefoot Man, a Cayman Island entertainer who wrote and recorded Money, Money, Money for the film The Firm. thereef.com.

The "eco-sensitive" Kanantik Reef & Jungle Resort on the southern coast of Belize is offering four-for-three nights (a savings of $340 per couple) and seven-for-five (a savings of $680 per couple) deals through June 30. The daily rate is $342. The resort is 4 miles from Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world's first jaguar preserve, and offers a variety of guided excursions. It's for people age 14 and older. Toll-free 1-877-759-8834; kanantik.com.

Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas offers more than 50 percent off room-only rates through June 30: resort-view rooms for $186 per night (a 55 percent discount), bay-view rooms for $205 per night (a 54 percent discount), ocean-view rooms for $224 per night (52 percent discount), and something called "ClearAir Water-View" rooms for $274 per night (a 50 percent discount). They also have discounted all-inclusive rates where children 17 and younger stay free. (340) 777-7100; sugarbaywyndham.com.

Through the end of May, the Gran Porto Real in Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Riviera Maya is offering rates reduced up to 60 percent. For example, a junior guest suite for two adults, all-inclusive (taxes and gratuities as well as meals, alcohol and resort activities), is priced from $227 per guest suite (normally $472 per night). It is a beachfront family-focused resort with lots of activities. realresorts.com.

The Iberostar hotel chain currently offers lots of deals, with all-inclusives from $87 per day and kids staying free. Go to iberostar.com, where there's a video of Antonio Banderas shilling for them in really bad sunglasses.

Bargain-hunter resources

Every savvy traveler knows Orbitz.com, TripAdvisor.com, Kayak.com, Hotwire.com, Travelzoo.com and Expedia.com. Here are a few other resources that can add to your tool chest.

Airfarewatchdog.com gives you the option of joining up for a weekly e-mail newsletter for the best fares from your home airport. Here's a sampling from the May 5 listings from Tampa International Airport: round-trip to Boston for $178 on AirTran; round-trip nonstop to Chicago's Midway for $162 on Southwest; and round-trip to San Francisco for $158 on Delta. There are some perplexing low-priced fares from St. Petersburg, as well ($40 round-trip to Chattanooga, $60 to Lexington, Ky.). To these prices you must add taxes and fees, but with fares like $40, it might be time to go back and check in on Chattanooga's Rock City Gardens.

CruiseOutlet.com is a clearinghouse of cruise and vacation package deals, with a special pull-down menu for last-minute deals. The week I was looking I found a five-night Key West and Bahamas cruise out of Jacksonville aboard Carnival Fascination starting at $209. The site provides ship pictures, itineraries and bonus category upgrades. Remember, government fees and taxes can add quite a bit to these numbers. It's still worth comparing these fares to cruise lines' own websites. On Carnival's website many cruises list a "pack and go" last-minute special rate. I found a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise from Tampa starting at $349.

CheapCaribbean.com is a roundup of deals in the Caribbean, Mexico and Bermuda, with air and resort packages. There are weekly $299 vacation package specials and $499 weeklong inclusive deals that seem hard to believe. There's an ominous, final-looking "book now" button, sale deadlines ticking down, and promo codes you have to input to see the deep discounts reflected, but if you have the nerve, it appears legit.

Same with SaveOnResorts.com. I found a four-night deal at the Gran Melia in Puerto Rico for $329 total (not per person or per night, and that includes taxes). The catch? You have to listen to a resort time-share spiel. Check the fine print on these deals if these kind of hard-sell pitches give you a rash.

Laura Reiley, Times staff writer

Deals abound for Bahamas, Mexico and Caribbean vacations 05/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010 8:44pm]

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