Mexico and the Caribbean
Save on airfare Go in the early summer -- when ticket prices drop but the threat of bad weather is much lower than it is during the rest of the off-peak season, says Kelleher. In general, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas are the cheapest places to fly to, but you might get great deals on others depending on whether discount airlines like Southwest, JetBlue, and Frontier cover that route out of your local airport. Anything under $300 round-trip (including taxes and fees) is awesome from the East Coast and Midwest. Flying from the West will be cheaper to closer-by places like Mexico and pricier to the Bahamas.
Sleep cheaper The chain of Occidental's Allegro resorts starts as low as $40 per person per night with meals and activities, including kayaking, tennis, and a mini disco for kids. McCarthy's pick is Maho Bay Camps in the U.S. Virgin Islands, an eco-friendly resort near a National Park that has family nature programs. Studio rooms with a private deck and a kitchenette start at $130 per night. In the Bahamas, family-mecca Atlantis, with dozens of waterslides and a special play area for young kids, is exclusively offering Parents readers a package starting at $499 per person for four nights, including a two-for-one discount to the kids' club. It's for travel through September 15; you must call 800-Atlantis and book by May 31. In Cancún, the Villa del Palmar, which opened last year, is offering rooms starting at $154 per night, including breakfast for two.
Eat well for less If you're not staying at an all-inclusive resort, check out the "street food" scene. Pinchos (ka-bobs of pork or chicken) are big in Puerto Rico, as are mole chicken and beans in Mexico and shaved ice in the Dominican Republic. Seafood is fresh and reasonably priced. In the Bahamas, try The Fish Fry, a collection of brightly colored restaurants with outdoor seating along the shore, which sell local fare like conch salad and grilled shrimp.
Find freebies There's no charge to get on most beaches in the Caribbean, and if you pack snorkeling gear, you'll save money on rentals, suggests Josey Miller, tripadvisor.com's travel expert. Hiking is another popular no-cost activity. The U.S. Virgin Islands has more than 20 hiking trails, and many of them are easy enough for kids to handle. In Puerto Rico, there are also several family-friendly hikes in the El Yunque National Forest.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Parents magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.