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Your place in the sun

What’s the deal? Winter. What can you do? Look for a package with blue seas, blue skies

By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / December 4, 2011
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Leaves fall. Temperatures drop. Snow swirls and our thoughts drift to the warm turquoise waters and bright blue skies of the Caribbean. With more than 7,000 islands, reefs, islets, and cays, not to mention Mexico’s Yucatan coast, it’s hard to decide where to go. And once you pick an island, so many choices remain: All-inclusive or not? Child-friendly or swinging for singles? Mega-resort or secluded hideaway?

Here is a selection of destinations offering packages and deals at various price points. Rates are based on queries for accommodations in mid-January.

Consult websites to check for newly posted specials, and don’t forget to pack your passport along with the sunscreen.

ATLANTIS, PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS

If you are looking for a resort with affordable rates that likes children, you might want to consider this ocean-themed destination in the Bahamas. The myriad lodging and dining choices are built around what might be the largest open-air marine habitat in the world: a 140-acre water park of fresh and saltwater lagoons with nine water slides, 11 pools, a mile-long river tubing adventure, and habitats that are home to more than 50,000 marine animals. There are more than a dozen activities for kids, such as swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cay, the resort’s interaction and education center. Adult activities in clude snorkel and scuba diving, yacht and fishing charters, golf, tennis, rock climbing, a spa, a casino, nightclubs, and theater. Recent online specials featured the fourth night free plus a $250 airfare credit. Rooms start at $199. 888-877-7525, www.atlantis.com

MAGDALENA GRAND BEACH RESORT, TOBAGO

Home to the hemisphere’s oldest forest preserve, with lush vegetation and cascading waterfalls, Tobago is the perfect eco-tourism destination. Open since last month, the 200-room Magdalena is the island’s newest and largest full-service resort. Bring your binoculars for birding, as this 20-acre estate offers nature trails and canopy walks through a virgin mangrove forest. Located along a 2 1/2-mile stretch of beach, you can also swim, sail, and surf. There’s a pool with cabana beds, and golfers will enjoy an 18-hole PGA-designed championship course. Dining options include al fresco poolside tables, Caribbean fusion cuisine, and casual cafes. Rates start at $270. To celebrate the opening, the resort is offering 15 percent off rates from Jan. 5-April 14. 868-660-8800, www.magdalenaresort.com

THE SANDS AT GRACE BAY, TURKS AND CAICOS

Only 80 minutes by air from Miami, this family-friendly resort attracts diving and snorkeling aficionados drawn to one of the longest barrier reefs in the world. The resort can arrange other water activities. Nestled in a lush tropical six-acre property along the white sands of Grace Bay Beach, the place exudes the gracious hospitality you would expect in a secluded, Caribbean plantation setting. The 114-room resort has a spa, a beachfront restaurant, and a series of pools. Check out their “5th Night Free’’ special, offered Jan. 3 through Feb. 12. Rates from $285. 877-777-2637, www.thesandstc.com

CURTAIN BLUFF RESORT, ANTIGUA

Sometimes you just want to splurge. For 50 years, this 72-room resort has been offering a luxurious platform for indulgence. Though the price might seem high at first glance (from $795), the good news is this rate is all-inclusive. What’s included? To start, all meals and beverages (with room service and mini-bar items), plus a long list of such activities as scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling, water skiing, deep-sea fishing, tennis, squash, yoga, and kayaking. A winter special, Wellness Week (Jan. 12-16), starts the New Year on a healthy note. For $735 a night, daily fitness activities include a rain forest hike, Beach Boot Camp, Pilates, yoga, stretch, aqua aerobics, a personal training session, healthy cooking class, and choice of daily spa treatment. 888-289-9898, www.curtainbluff.com

HYATT REGENCY CURAÇAO GOLF RESORT, SPA AND MARINA, CURAÇAO

There is something for everyone at this full-service Dutch resort. Situated on 27 acres between the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Water Bay, this 350-room Hyatt boasts of white sand beaches, water views on three sides, three outdoor pools, and other amenities you would expect at a luxury property, like a spa and an 18-hole Pete Dye-designed championship golf course. A camp offers educational and fun activities from 9 to 9 for children ages 3 to 12. Rates from $299. Reserve before Dec. 20 to take advantage of the Three for Free offer: Stay three nights and get the fourth night free, plus a full American breakfast for the entire family and a room upgrade. 800-55-HYATT, curacao.hyatt.com

MALECÓN HOUSE, VIEQUES

If mega-hotels are not your thing, consider this 10-room inn situated on the Malecón, a picturesque boardwalk in the seaside village of Esperanza. Called the “Little Sister’’ of nearby Puerto Rico, Vieques is a sparsely populated, quiet haven. The modern, spacious rooms have air conditioning and some offer balconies with views of the bay. There is a pool, sunbathing deck, and gardens. It’s an easy stroll to bio-bay tours, shopping boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Popular island activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and horseback riding. Winter prices from $175. 787-741-0663, www.maleconhouse.com

MOUNT CINNAMON, GRENADA

One way to find and compare specials is though websites that represent multiple properties. We found Mount Cinnamon, a colorful boutique resort on Grenada, through Elite Island Resorts. Prices usually start at $900 to stay at this resort with 21 deluxe villas located on a lush hillside overlooking two miles of the white-sand Grand Anse Beach, but a 30 percent savings reduces the cost to $630. A dozen more hotels on the site, on seven other islands, offer similar deals at various price points. This property has a small spa, tennis courts, gym, swimming pool, and beach volleyball court, and can arrange excursions for diving, boating, rain forest hiking, and rum distillery tours. 800-858-4618, www.eliteislandresorts.com/grenada/mtcinnamon/index.html

BALCONES DEL ATLÁNTICO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

You will find low-key luxury at this newly opened beachfront resort located in the small fishing village of Las Terrenas on a northern peninsula in the Dominican Republic. Each of the 86 two- and three-bedroom villa suites features hand-carved furniture and polished coral and granite tile. Enjoy meals three times a day at Porto, an open-air restaurant facing the white-sand beach. At sunset, cocktail hour is enhanced with roaring fire pits and music. Activities include sailing, snorkeling, kite surfing, whale watching, and rain forest tours. A winter special, “Three for FREE!’’ offers one free night (based on four-night minimum), a $50 resort credit, and hydration backpack. Rates start at $375. 866-614-7625, balconesdelatlantico.rockresorts.com

SONESTA GREAT BAY BEACH RESORT & CASINO, ST. MARTIN

With a casino, three swimming pools, three restaurants, four bars, a spa, water sports, tennis, and nightly entertainment, this resort is like a cruise ship on land. Overlooking Great Bay Harbor, this 257-room beachfront resort also boasts an activity center with water aerobics, volleyball, scuba diving, shuffleboard, and more. For those who want a taste of the island’s small shopping, dining and entertainment district, it’s a short walk to the Dutch capital of Philipsburg. Sonesta rewards those who plan ahead, offering 15 to 25 percent savings on 60- to 120-day advance purchases. Rates start at $135 for mountain view and $205 for an ocean view. 800-SONESTA, www.sonesta.com/greatbay

FAIRMONT MAYAKOBA, PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Located along a stretch of Mexico’s Caribbean coast known as Riviera Maya, this 47-acre property combines the best of the jungle and the sea. A network of waterways winds through tropical forest, mangroves, and lagoons, connecting the main building with a series of villas. Get from one place to another with a covered canal boat service, or use a network of well-marked nature trails, bicycles, and staff-driven electric golf carts. This beachfront property has five freshwater pools, a spa, boat tours, bird-watching tours, a full-service discovery and adventure club for children ages 4 to 12, and an 18-hole, par-72 golf course designed by Greg Norman. The Appetite for Luxury package (starting at $429) offers unlimited food and beverages at participating restaurants, and for a limited time, 30 percent off regular rates. 800-540-6088, www.fairmont.com/mayakoba

QUEEN’S GARDENS RESORT, SABA

For a truly peaceful getaway, journey to the tiny island of Saba (5 square miles), a lush rain forest mountain surrounded by pristine coral reefs said to be a paradise for scuba enthusiasts. Saba’s population of about 1,600 is spread over four villages: The Bottom, Windwardside, Hell’s Gate, and St. Johns. Perched 1,200 feet above the capital city (The Bottom), this 12-suite luxury resort is the place to be pampered after a day of diving and snorkeling. On-site activities include a swimming pool, fitness room, yoga, and cooking classes. The hotel can arrange sunset cruises, guided hiking, and other island tours. A diving package (four days of double tank diving) averages $392 a night for two guests, for a seven-night stay. Non-package room rates from $250. 011-599 416-3494, queensaba.com

GOLDEN ROCK INN, NEVIS

An island of simple pleasures, Nevis is eight miles long by six miles wide with a 3,000-foot dormant volcano at its center. Many inns on the island are renovated 19th-century sugar mills, as is this 100-acre restored plantation set on a lush hillside below Nevis Peak. Eleven brightly painted cottages offer views across the sea to Antigua and Montserrat, or stay in the two-floor suite inside a stone sugar mill. Well-marked, easy hiking trails traverse the property, which also offers access to the “Source Trail,’’ a rigorous hike through the rain forest to a waterfall atop the mountain. With its 50-foot, spring-fed swimming pool, a small restaurant, in-house massages, private yoga classes, and breathtaking views, it’s a tropic aerie where one can unwind. Rates from $260; with breakfast $296. 869-469-3346, www.goldenrock.com Necee Regis can be reached at neceeregis@gmail.com.

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