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Escape to the Islands

The weather in the Bahamas and the Caribbean is glorious year-round, but from mid-April to late November, island resorts charge 20, 40, even 50 percent less than they do in high season.Seats on the most popular snorkeling boats, lounge chairs under the palms, the best-situated suites—all so hard to come by in January—can be yours in July and August. True, you won't be escaping blizzard warnings back home, and as the summer progresses, the hurricane risk looms a bit larger (most storms occur in mid-September). But what you'll discover is worth it: the islands at their unhurried, upbeat—and affordable—best.

Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay, Bahamas
Low season/High season*
$275/$550
800/819-5053 or 242/336-6800; www.fourseasons.com/greatexuma
On sleepy Great Exuma, the largest island in the mostly undeveloped Exuma Archipelago, this new-in-2003 hotel sits alone on the white sandy fringe of translucent Emerald Bay. With a choice of 183 balconied rooms and suites, all done in conch shell-colored neutrals; plus three pools (including one designated "quiet," and one in the children's center, free for ages 5 to 12); a golf course; and an Asian-influenced spa on the grounds, you might find it easy to stay put. But do get out—to Stocking Island, a layover spot for nomadic yachties; Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park; and pink-washed George Town, where you might catch a rake'n scrape band playing in the harbor-front park.

Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall, Jamaica
Low season/High season
$195/$495
800/826-9430 or 876/953-2800; www.ritzcarlton.com
Located just 15 minutes from the major international airport in Montego Bay, this horseshoe-shaped 427-room Ritz is perfect for families who long for a tropical escape but can't stand the thought of a multi-flight ordeal. The place has an easy island vibe that belies its pedigree and makes guests feel welcome—even when their nap-starved toddlers start to short out. On the resort's schedule: sailing and golf clinics, yoga classes, scavenger hunts, karaoke, crafts, magic shows, and beach parties. If you want an adventure, rafting and hiking outings into the lush—and often cooler—up-country are good options; the hotel will provide box lunches. Many families take advantage of all-inclusive meal packages, unusual for the Ritz.

Peter Island Resort, British Virgin Islands
Low season/High season
$940/$1,450
800/346-4451 or 770/476-9988; www.peterisland.com
If you have the kind of kids who see a pool and immediately think "cannonball!" Peter Island is not the place for you. Best for children over the age of eight, this private-island retreat is all about serenity—and catering to classic desert- isle fantasies. Thirteen sunny two-story bungalows are tucked away among the bougainvillea and sea grape. Most overlook Deadman's Beach, the enchanting mile-long crescent that fronts the resort. Guests have the entire island to explore: there are four other beaches (one can be reserved for your party alone) and five miles of hilly hiking and biking trails into the arid interior. A large marina serves as home base for resort-run scuba and snorkeling boats. (The wreck of the 310-foot RMS Rhone is a popular dive.) There's dress-for-dinner dining in the Tradewinds restaurant, where large windows look out over the Sir Francis Drake Channel. But if your kids can't stand the thought of putting on a collared shirt, you'll eat most meals, very happily, right by the water; Deadman's Beach Bar & Grill serves fresh fish, ribs, and wood-fired pizza.

Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Country Club, Puerto Rico
Low season/High season
$185/$420
800-554-9288 or 787/796-1234; www.doradobeach.hyatt.com
This well-maintained former RockResort, built on the grounds of a coconut plantation, encompasses three miles of lush Atlantic oceanfront. Low buildings with 262 rooms (picture cool white walls and dark wood two-poster beds) are scattered along palm-shaded private coves, putting most everyone just steps from the beach. The swimming is terrific—two calm lagoons, an easy-to-reach reef ideal for young snorkelers, and several pools, one just for toddlers. Or you can hop a vintage-style trolley and shuttle two miles over to the 41/2-acre "river" complex at the Dorado's sister property, the Hyatt Hacienda del Mar, a time-share resort. Camp Hyatt for ages 3 to 12 is open day and night. Be sure to set aside time for exploring the slate-blue cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, 20 minutes away.

Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Low season/High season
$92/$102 per adult; $32/$35 per child
800/258-2633; www.clubmed.com
Recent renovations nearly doubled the size of this 74-acre beachfront Club Med, long a favorite of take-it-easy French families and action-addicted Americans. All 519 rooms are suites with sleeping alcoves for kids. The expanded all-inclusive plan now covers bar drinks, in addition to kids' programs (for ages 2 to 17), sports, and meals (the Dominican cooking and fresh tropical fruit here are another plus). On the roster of children's activities: in-line skating, tennis, waterskiing, archery, windsurfing, hip-hop dance lessons, and the ever-popular flying trapeze and other circus skills. Among the best family outings are catamaran cruises to Saona Island, a national park inhabited by sea turtles, and visits to a "haven't I seen this in a Ralph Lauren ad?" cocoa-bean farm in the highlands.

* Rates quoted are for double rooms unless noted. Low season is generally from mid-April through November.

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