Dollar by Dollar

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Dollar by Dollar

Vacation fantasies may be fueled by travel magazines and brochures, but vacation reality is driven by your bank account.
By Everett Potter

Whether you're dreaming of a palm-lined Caribbean beach or a foot of Utah powder, a budget trip or a money's-no-object blowout, your vacation choices will necessarily be governed by your finances. The following 12 trips give you the option to go cheap, to travel in serious comfort, or to make the splurge of a lifetime. The prices are based on seven-night stays in January, and include an estimate of meal and transportation costs. Prices are rack (published) rates, so you probably will be able to do better by booking a package. Airfare is not included in our calculations, but that wisdom about flying midweek to cut costs still applies. And, of course, be sure to use those precious frequent-flier miles whenever possible.

Money's tight, but you're no longer a kid with a backpack staying in roach motels — you're an adult with a mortgage and a ten-year-old Subaru in need of a new transmission. You've squirreled away $750 per person to spend for seven exotic nights. Impossible? Not if you look for an affordable destination, like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, or Jamaica. Ask for a garden-view room, which can cost 25 percent less than an ocean-view room. Go in shoulder season, or low season, or skirt Christmas and February highs in favor of January lows, weather permitting. And choose places where the food bill won't kill you.

Baja California beckons, but you don't have to string a hammock on the beach to afford it. La Concha Beach Resort and Condos (800-999-2252), a four-star property about two miles outside of La Paz, sits in a small cove with a palm-fringed beach and has two pools, a restaurant, and a bar. All the rooms have a bay view, all the condos have ocean-view terraces or balconies, and all provide prime sunset-viewing, a major pastime in La Paz.

There's good snorkeling off the beach and better snorkeling on Isla Espíritu Santo, a cheap boat ride offshore. Seven nights in a studio condo with a king bed and full kitchen is $630. For food, figure a munificent $40 a day or $280 for the week in La Paz. You'll find street vendors selling fish, shrimp, and clam tacos, and at the Mercado Municipal are clusters of loncherías serving a fixed-price comida corrida, an inexpensive lunch. Or go for a splurge on ceviche and steak at La Paz-Lapa de Carlos 'n Charlie's (112-2-92-90); it shouldn't run you more than $20. You won't need a car, so add an extra $40 for those $3 taxi rides. That's $950 for two, leaving $550 for the margarita kitty.

Hawaii isn't cheap, so forget architectural aesthetics and learn to love plate lunches. Grab a deal from Outrigger Hotels & Resorts (800-688-7444) on a one-bedroom unit at Plantation Hale on Kauai, which comes with a living room and a fully-equipped kitchen. It's on the eastern side of the island, about five miles north of Lihue and a ten-minute walk from the nearest beach. Figure $135 per night, or $945 total. This deal includes a two-door compact from Budget Rent A Car. Plan on $60 a day for food, or $420 for the week; find cheap eats at Hanamaulu Cafe, Tea House & Sushi Bar (808-245-2511) on Hawaii 56 north of Lihue, where tempura for two runs about $20, or at Hamura's Saimin Stand (808-245-3271), a funky Lihue institution where two can eat chicken kabobs and saimin for $15. Figure another $40 for that gas miser. That's $1,405, with $95 left over for renting sea kayaks to explore the Na Pali Coast.

Off the coast of Puerto Rico lies laid-back Culebra, with a bird-filled National Wildlife Refuge on the seven-mile-long island and beaches where green, loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback turtles lay their eggs. Try Club Seabourne (787-742-3169) overlooking Fulladoza Bay — the only place on Culebra that can be called a resort. Its air-conditioned doubles run $95 per night and include a continental breakfast. There's a pool for laps, some of the best snorkeling in Puerto Rico just offshore, and 20 nearby cays to explore by sea kayak and sailboard. Figure another $50 a day, or $350 a week, for heaping helpings of plantains, rice, and beans, and you're still $485 under budget. Put it toward seats on the puddle jumper from San Juan ($60 per person round-trip), a time-saver over the taxi-ferry combo from Fajardo.

Mad River Glen, with its aversion to grooming, snowmaking, and publicity, is an anomaly in the ski world. So it's not too surprising to find that those who've been skiing Mad River since it opened in 1948 are still enjoying aprˆs-ski and accommodations at The Hyde Away Inn & Restaurant. The original farmstead, built in 1820, was converted to a ski lodge in 1947. There are still no TVs or in-room phones, and the tavern still occupies the original barn. The inn has 12 rooms with both private and shared baths.

And it's 1950s cheap. A seven-night stay in January runs $399 for two people, including daily breakfast. That leaves $50 a day for food, or $350 a week, in a place where you'd be hard-pressed to spend more than $15 a head for dinner. Try The Hyde Away Restaurant (802-496-2322) for steak and pasta or Miguel's (802-583-3858) for fajitas and enchiladas. A four-day lift ticket at nearby Sugarbush is $168 per person, or another $336, while Mad River charges a mere $54 for a two-day weekday ticket. You get six days of skiing for a grand total of $1,193, leaving $307 for gas, maple syrup, and Long Trail Ale. Call 800-777-4933.

Even in our middle range, you can easily blow that budget, so think seasonally, and watch out for hidden costs. At Caribbean resorts, for example, a meal plan can save you plenty. Food in the Caribbean is usually undistinguished and invariably costly, so why spend $30 for mystery fish and pigeon peas? All-inclusive resorts provide three meals, all sports, and no hidden charges, and can be a better buy than a slightly cheaper resort that socks you for all of the above.

Gin-clear waters, more than 40 world-class dive sites, nearly three miles of beachfront, and low-lying bungalows filled with artifacts from Bali, Brazil, and New Guinea: It's Columbus Isle in the Bahamas, one of Club Med's upscale resorts, which means that everything is more luxurious than at your average Club. You're looking at $1,225 per person, or $150 under budget. You get three restaurants, food a cut above the Club Med buffet norm, as well as wine and beer. You also get spacious rooms with beds from the Philippines, Burmese wall hangings, a balcony or patio, and ocean views. There's usually a lot of the Euro crowd here, along with a sprinkling of South Americans. They're here for the swimming pool, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, tennis (nine Har-Tru courts), bicycling, a 24-hour fitness center, and all meals. Only diving costs extra. Call 800-258-2633.

Downhill isn't the only direction in the Rockies. Not when you can take advantage of 35 kilometers of set tracks and 20 kilometers of skating trails at Vista Verde. This ranch is long on Western charm, but what they really do best is get you out into their 540 acres of backcountry, which borders on a seemingly endless national forest. Vista Verde is about 25 miles from Steamboat Springs.

You get round-trip transfers, three meals a day, and lodging in a log cabin, as well as tours, lessons, and state-of-the-art rentals. The tab, starting at $180 per person per day, comes in at $2,520 for the two of you — enough saved for two new pairs of Lycra tights and a can of Swix. Call 800-526-7433.

The sweet spot for tennis lovers is the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida. Monica Seles and Pete Sampras come here for the 21 perfect courts. You should grab the Slazenger and join them at this enclave of low-rise villas clustered along a superb west-coast beach. Seven nights for two in a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and a patio or balcony is $1,715. Figure $100 a day for food, another $700. A dinner of meatloaf or roasted cornish hen at the Colony Bistro is about $40 for two, while quesadillas at sunset at the Beach House on nearby Anna Maria Island (941-779-2222) will run half that. Or go for lunch at the Alley Cat Cafe (941-954-1228), a conglomeration of 1920's "cracker cottages" where such oddities as brie-and-sliced-apple sandwiches round out a $15 lunch for two. Car rental will run you no more than $200 a week, so figure on spending $2,615 — with unlimited tennis, of course. Call 800-426-5669.

Grenada is still a secret to some, and that's especially true for one of its finest hotels, Secret Harbour Resort (800-334-2435). This is a Mediterranean-style resort on a steep slope overlooking Mt. Hartman Bay on Grenada's southern end. It's also one of the most romantic places in the Caribbean, with its Italian tiles, individual patios, and utmost privacy. It has a sporting pedigree as well, courtesy of its current owners, The Moorings, the premier bareboat company. Sailfishing, windsurfing, and lazing about on the gray sand beach are the favored sports here. So is lingering in your four-poster bed, in your Roman bath, or on your balcony.

At $230 per night, or $1,610 for a week, that should leave you with $990 for callaloo soup and fresh fish at Mamma's (809-440-1459), a rum punch at Betty Mascoll's Morne Fendue plantation house (809-442-9330), or conch curry at Coconut Beach (809-444-4644). It should also cover the occasional cab ride into St. George's, the quaint island capital. Or for just $1,030 per person, or $2,060, you can spend four nights at the hotel and three nights on one of The Moorings's crewed 50-foot yachts. The deal includes all onboard meals, service charges, taxes, and airport transfers.

Maybe it's a honeymoon, a significant birthday, a milestone. Whatever the reason, you've decided that money is no object. But the problem at this level is finding places that aren't stuffy and that offer enough in the way of adventure to justify high prices and long travel times. The following four choices all meet the challenge.

Outside of Ubud is a Balinese village without the mud, the chickens, and the gentle Balinese chaos. It's Amandari, one of those places that redefines paradise, with private duplexes done in batik and teak overlooking their own lush gardens and plunge pools. You can go trekking through mountain villages, mountain biking in Ubud and beyond, and rafting down the Ayung River. Amandari may well be the most desirable of all the famed Aman resorts — and one of the most expensive — as in $578 per night or $4,046 for the week, before tacking on the combined 21 percent services charge and taxes. Who said paradise was cheap? Call 800-447-7462.

There's no Caribbean island more chic than St. Barts. And there's no place that defines simple luxury better than the Guanahani Hotel, the only full-service resort on this French outpost. It sits on nearly 40 acres at the northern end of the island, with 76 brightly colored gingerbread cottages — low-lying, spacious, and decorated in strong colors.

There are two beaches where you can windsurf or snorkel, as well as a fitness center, two tennis courts, and two pools. You can go horseback riding nearby, or book catamarans and deep-sea fishing excursions. At the two restaurants, you'll find a convivial mix of Europeans, South Americans, and Americans. For $428 a night, you get a room for two, airport transfers, and continental breakfast, including service charges and taxes. That's $2,996 — not bad for this level of luxury. You'll find the best food and wine in the Caribbean here — the fortuitous byproduct of so many Parisians congregating in one place. So put aside another $1,500 for dining; try a grand place, like Manapany Ouanalau, or a casual classic like Eddy's Ghetto. Call 800-223-6800.

If you're going to ski Europe, you might as well do it in style. In Austria, you can spend seven nights at the Arlberg Hospiz in St. Christoph, a 600-year-old Relais & Chateaux property that once provided free shelter to weary travelers. It's no longer free, but it still welcomes weary travelers returning from a day of skiing the Arlberg. And it's ranked among Europe's finest hotels, with exquisite service, warm interiors, eiderdown comforters, a full spa and pool, and a wine cellar to die for.

The $1,896 per-person tab includes seven nights at the five-star hotel and a daily buffet breakfast and eight-course dinner. It also includes a six-day ski pass good at St. Anton, Lech, Z’rs, and Stuben as well as St. Christoph, first-class rail transfers from Zurich, and an eighth night at the zum Storchen in Zurich. Add another $500 for Austrian power lunches and you're home. Call Lindenmeyr Travel at 800-248-2807.

It's a remote 1.5-hour drive outside of Puerto Vallarta, but Las Alamandas, with four private beaches and 1,500 acres to explore, is the hacienda of your dreams. Or perhaps those of Robert DeNiro, who likes to book the whole shebang — four villas, which altogether house a maximum of 22 guests — every Christmas. When Bob's not taking over the place, you can go. Think bougainvilleas and las alamandas, the yellow flowers the resort is named for. Rooms are painted in bright colors and outfitted with Talavera tiles and Oaxacan black pottery. There's a 60-foot pool, tennis courts, and a small gym where the StairMaster has a sea view. Or you can explore the mixture of oasis and desert around the resort on mountain bikes or horses. Your meals — dishes like cream of avocado soup and grilled red snapper — are served wherever you want: on your terrace or under a thatched palapa in the beach-view restaurant.

But this is not a place for type A's who can't stop moving; it's about listening to palm fronds flapping and waves crashing. And it's about empty beaches where you can take along the picnic packed by the staff. Figure $380 per night, or $2,660 for the week, and an extra 17 percent for tax and service charges. Meals will set you back about another $1,400 for the week. Transfers are costly — $300 round-trip in their Suburban. A car rental would be cheaper, of course, but this fantasy isn't about economizing. Call 800-223-6510.

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