from the archives: five will get you tan

Today’s blustery winter storm – and the promise that it will rage for days – has got me dreaming of a secluded beach, a fresh papaya or two, and the warm rays of the sun.  And now that I’ve succeeded in torturing myself, I thought I’d share a little story I did for the NY Daily News from this time last year:  5 Will Get You Tan.  The prices might no longer be current – though it would be interesting to see the difference a year has made – yet the fact remains that there are still recession-era bargains to be had across the still-smarting Caribbean and Mexico.  A long warm weather weekend – for under a $1,000 – is still very much a reality.  And that’s why I think I’ll spend my afternoon figuring out how to make my own quick escape!

The Caribbean is a lot closer, and cheaper, than you think. As one of the areas hardest hit by the economic meltdown, the Caribbean is having a serious sale. Even some of the region’s most notoriously exclusive resorts are putting up vacancy signs and making no bones about the deals and discounts being offered to lure timid travelers to the sun — everything from free airfare and free hotel nights to free meals and free spa treatments.

Which means if you’ve been dreaming of a weekend escape, you can make it a reality — and for less than a grand.

Here’s our guide to five quick and easy getaways that will have you on the beach before lunch and being treated like a princess or a prince without making you a pauper.

Sophisticated St. Martin

The Radisson St. Martin Resort, Marina & Spa is nestled on Anse Marcel, one of French St. Martin’s best-preserved and most secluded coves. It’s only four hours nonstop from New York City to an oceanfront resort that’s a quintessential island hideaway of brightly colored plantation-style buildings, lush gardens and lazy afternoons under the swaying palms.

Take advantage of the resort’s comprehensive enrichment program, highlighted by cooking classes with executive chef Bruno Brazier, French lessons and evening tastings of local rums and spirits. Or, head into the nearby village of nearby Grand Case, considered by many to be one of the culinary capitals of the Caribbean. Or both.

As part of the inaugural 2009 season, you’ll save up to 36% with a Winter WarmUp Sale. Rates from about $321 per night include daily breakfast at Le Marché. .

Bask in the Bahamas

Music lovers will get together and feel all right at the Marley Resort & Spa, the former family vacation home of Bob, Rita and the whole Marley clan.

Undeniably cool, the resort is an elegant microcosm of African and Caribbean style, located on a private stretch of famed Cable Beach in Nassau, Bahamas.

Generations of Marley music infuse the entire resort, and each of the 16 themed suites centers around Bob Marley’s song titles, including Kinky Reggae, Nice Time and Kaya, among others. With sculptured hand-carved doors, mosaic tiles and intricate stonework, the accommodations and amenities are as beautiful and unusual as the setting.

Tropical rain showers and sumptuous whirlpool tubs come standard, as does unparalleled service that begins the moment you’re greeted at the airport. Take advantage of a 50% savings with the Royal Welcome package — starting at $250 per night in a Deluxe Room — and get treated to an Akwaaba Welcome Touch Foot Ceremony for two. The foot massage with rose petals and Royal Rita bath brew will get every visitor jammin’ to the right vibe.

Awesome Aruba

The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino contains Aruba’s only private beaches on its exclusive Renaissance Island — a 10-minute boat ride via private launch from inside the hotel’s lobby. Flocked with curious pink flamingos on one side and giant iguanas on the other, the island also has a man-grove-hidden Spa Cove that’s just right for side-by-side massages at sunset.

The Sexy & Sultry Package at Renaissance’s adults-exclusive Marina Hotel, offers a 40% savings — and every third night is free. Also included: a $50 credit at the in-house casino and $50 in cocktail credit, which might come in handy while you watch the sun set at the out-door pool overlooking the harbor.

After dark, the Miami-inspired martini bar lights up to complement the house specialty: blue martinis. Should you accidentally overindulge, a onetime hangover breakfast for two is also part of the package. Rates start at $424 per night.

Seductive St. Lucia

It might be cold outside, but there is one “freeze” you’ll cheer about: the price freeze and rate rollback to be had at the luxury, eco-friendly Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in luscious St. Lucia. Couple that with “Sun Dollars,” a daily resort credit in effect on all new bookings and the savings climb to 50%.

Spread across 60 acres on an island known for its rainforest preserves and soaring volcanic peaks, Windjammer is celebrated for dramatic sunsets over a crescent-shaped, white-sand beach. Yet it’s also an ideal spot for families, featuring two children’s pools, specially designed menus for smaller guests, and a teen program where teenagers and adults can engage in recreational activities together.

Sun Dollars can be used for food and beverage, spa treatments at Serenity Spa, a sunset sail or zip-lining through the rainforest. Lily Suites, with four-poster beds and private terrace or sun deck, are $260 per night (previously $350) with $130 in resort credit.

Mayan Hideaway

Cocooned on a private beach and entwined in a tropical rainforest, the Tides Riviera Maya inhabits a pocket along the Yucatán Peninsula coast that’s as lush as its name: Playa Xcalacoco, which in the lyrical Mayan tongue means “twin coconut palms.”

With a select number of private villas, hypnotic spa and cuisine, and one of the best stretches of beach in Mexico, this secluded outpost is full of surprises like personal plunge pools, open-air showers, handmade hammocks and lush jungle flora blooming outside your terrace.

As if that’s not enough to seduce you, a Fly Free package will really get you in the mood. Book a minimum four-night visit and get a significant reimbursement on your airfare: up to $500 per person (that’s almost enough for business class!).  Simply present your airline ticket at check-in and the credit will be deducted from your bill at checkout. Limit two people per room. Lagoon suites from $570 per night.

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