Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri December 11 2015

3 Key Ingredients for the Classic Caribbean Experience

Features & Advice | Kelly & Ryan McDaniel | December 11, 2015

3 Key Ingredients for the Classic Caribbean Experience

Sunshine, sand and surf. That's what you get on a Caribbean getaway. And when you add in happenings beyond your resort's beachfront, the possibilities for fun really expand. We've got three key ingredients that mix together to create the Classic Caribbean Experience.

Enjoy a Tropical Drink or Two or...

The fruity adult beverage is a Caribbean holiday mainstay. After all, the tastiest rums and tequilas hail from this part of the world.

Sip them from the swim-up bar at your hotel or venture out and grab a table at a favorite hangout for residents. Don't be afraid to break out of your comfort zone to sample the various concoctions that your hometown bar doesn't offer. We didn't realize that we liked spiced rum until we visited Barbados.

And your friends and family certainly won't mind if you bring a bottle or two back home to share. Many distilleries offer tours to see the entire production process up close. Check out the Mount Gay Visitor Centre in Barbados or the Appleton Estate Rum Tour in Jamaica, for example.

Don't drink alcohol? Try the sweet water from a freshly picked coconut opened right in front of you by a machete. Or enjoy a tropical fruit juice such as mango or lychee. Lounging beneath the very trees where your yummy drink came from just makes it that much tastier.

Spend a Day Enjoying the Water

The Caribbean Sea boasts warm, crystal clear waters. Dive in! Don't just wander down the beach from your lounger to dip in and cool off. Try a Jet Ski or catamaran adventure — or any of the hundreds of other activities. Do your research online to book a tour or chat with your hotel concierge to find the best daily excursions.

Try a boat trip for sightseeing, swimming or snorkeling. We have snorkeled with fish, sea turtles, eels and manta rays. You can't see those from the beach! And remember those tropical drinks we mentioned? Many tours include an open bar so you can get your drink on while rollin' with the waves.

We had a very memorable (albeit tipsy) boat tour with Calabaza Sailing tours in Barbados and quite an adventure zipping around Saint Martin with Soualiga Destinations Boat Tours. Both tours included made-to-order lunches using ingredients from local markets. In Saint Martin, our small speedboat anchored just offshore, and we swam up to picnic tables right on the beach, ready for a relaxing lunch break.

Explore Inland

Caribbean islands are notable for their natural diversity and amazing landscapes — from the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico to the desert-like terrain of Curacao. It might be tough to break away from the beach, but we suggest leaving time to seek out active adventures.

Ryan and I always enjoy getting out into nature, whether it be hiking through the Virgin Islands National Park on Saint John or ziplining through the rainforests of Saint Lucia (you have to try ziplining at least once, trust me, it's exhilarating!).

Getting away from the touristy resort areas and experiencing the authentic side of these tropical paradises will often surprise and excite you. Exploring the extraordinarily preserved Brimstone Hill Fortress in Saint Kitts gave us the opportunity to imagine what life was like in this 18th century relic. And we loved spending a day away from Cancun's busy epicenter, climbing the Mayan ruins at Coba and dropping into the underground cenotes in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Decisions, Decisions...

With so many destinations to choose from in the Caribbean, how do you pick where to stay and what tours to take?

Most of our visits to the Caribbean have been on cruises. We were able to visit several islands while only unpacking once.

We usually book excursions through independent tour operators (rather than through the ship or resort) as we find them to be more intimate and private for the same price, or cheaper. More often, the tour guides on these smaller outings allow you to create a more custom experience. There’s time to stay longer at your favorite spots or stop at off-the-beaten path areas to eat or shop and meet island residents.

Larger groups tend to stick to a strict itinerary and will only go as fast as the slowest participant. However, sometimes the assurance, quality and safety of booking tours through the resort is a worry-free option because all the work is done for you, and all you have to do is show up, relax and enjoy the tour.

Have fun planning your exotic getaway. After all, a trip to the Caribbean is a treat, especially if you're prepared to turn it into the Classic Caribbean Experience.

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