Laura’s 40th Birthday Ideas

Blue water in the Caribbean / Aaron Burden / Unsplash

I’m excited you’ll be celebrating your 40th birthday traveling! I jotted down notes from our text and have prepared a few directions you could take. You wanted something tropical, possibly an all inclusive beach resort. No passport and short flight times are ideal.

US Virgin Islands and Belize came up in our discussion, and I added a Florida Keys option for fun. All inclusive resorts aren’t as common in these destinations, but some of the hotels below have meal plans that can make them all-inclusive.

All of these options are likely in the $3-5k range for a week-long vacation not including airfare. I looked in late May to beat the summer vacation rush now that y’all aren’t teaching. However, we could make it work for June too. Belize is a little cheaper in June because the rainy season starts. Also, if friends are coming, some of the hotels have 2 bedroom options that could be split for a better deal.

1. St. John, US Virgin Islands

If you just want to sit by the pool and sip a cocktail

Getting there: 6hr flight from Houston via Atlanta or Miami; 1hr ferry ride to St. John from the airport on St. Thomas

St. John is the less developed of the US Virgin Islands. It sees fewer cruises and its landscape is dominated by the 7,000 acre Virgin Islands National Park. This week-long itinerary emphasizes lounging by the pool or beach, and exploring the small tropical island. There are snorkeling options, restaurants, and hiking within a short distance.

Westin St. John Villas Resort / Courtesy of Westin
Westin St. John Villas Resort / Courtesy of Westin

The Westin St. John Villas is one of the most stylish options in the islands outside of the Ritz, but it’s more reasonably priced and they accept Marriot Bonvoy. Accommodation is villa style, so you have a kitchenette and there are restaurants on property and in the area.

There aren’t many all-inclusive options on the islands except for Bolango Bay and the Buccaneer, but those didn’t look as good to me.

2. Florida Keys

If you want to live it up in the city before a tropical beach escape

Getting there: 3hr flight from Houston to Miami; 2hr rental car drive down the overseas highway through the Keys

The Florida Keys are another domestic yet Caribbean destination that I considered. It’s a great option if you want to blend a little city culture with a tropical beach escape. The hotels are the most stylish in this option as well.

Part 1: Miami

This week-long itinerary starts with a couple of nights in Miami, enjoying the food, bars, shopping, and museums. There are a number of good hotel options in the city.

Miami Beach / Shawn Henly / Unsplash

Part 2: Isla Bella, Florida Keys

After touring Miami, pick up a rental car and drive south down the scenic overseas highway, across the seven mile bridge, and check in to Isla Bella. The newly opened resort occupies most of one key and is surrounded by clear blue water. Much of the key is ringed by mangrove, but there is one swimmable beach and at five pools. Spend the rest of the week here either by the pool, kayaking, or driving around the Keys.

Isla Bella Resort, Florida Keys / Courtesy of Isla Bella
Isla Bella Resort, Florida Keys / Courtesy of Isla Bella

3. Belize

If you want to walk and zip-line through the jungle before chilling on the beach

Getting there: 2.5hr flight from Houston to Belize City; 1hr flight to Punta Gorda and 15min van transfer to the first Copal Tree or 3hr drive to Chan Chich.

Belize is a mainland Caribbean destination that is surprisingly close to Texas. You do need a passport to enter, but English is the national language and crime rates are low. The flight is really short, and depending on what you pick, transfers in country can be anywhere from 1 to 4 hours.

In addition to blue water, Belize has jungles with Mayan Ruins and jaguars. This itinerary starts with a few days jungle adventure, before heading to the coast to lounge on the beach.

Part 1: Jungle Lodges

There are a few great jungle lodges in Belize. One of my favorites, Copal Tree Lodge, is set on 3,000 acres of jungle and sustainable farmland and is surrounded by 22,000 more acres of conservation land. It operates a distillery and coffee plantation, and days can be spent touring the farm or exploring the jungle on foot, bikes, or zip-lines. Visits to Mayan Ruins can also be arranged as well.

Copal Tree Lodge / Courtesy of Muy'Ono Resorts luxury Belize nature lodge

Chan Chich lodge is an alternative if you would prefer a jungle safari experience with the chance to see monkeys and jaguars in the wild.

Part 2: Ambergris Caye or Placencia Beaches

After your jungle experience, take a van to the coast. At this point you have an option to visit either of the two main beach areas, Ambergris Caye or Placencia. Both have beaches and blue water, but there are other considerations.

Ambergris Caye is the most popular beach destination in Belize. It is a well developed island, yet remains charming. No cars are allowed, so you can only drive golf carts. It’s a little more expensive than other options, but there are plenty of amenities on the island. Plus you fly into the island in a small plane from Belize city, and it gives you a great aerial view of the barrier reef. If chose only the beach portion of this itinerary, it would likely be the shortest travel time of all the options.

Las Terrazas is a small resort where I can get perks through my Virtuoso membership, but there are other nicer looking options to consider like Victoria House, Alaia Belize, or closer to the mainland on it’s own island, Shaka Caye Private Island.

Shaka Caye / Courtesy of Shaka Caye

The downside, outside of there possibly being more tourists, is that it’s much further from Copal Tree Lodge.

The closer option is Placencia, an up and coming beach destination with a more local feel. What once was a small fishing village is starting to get popular with small resorts. It is much less developed than Ambergris, so restaurant options are fewer, but the water is just as blue and prices are better. My favorites here would be Itz’ana or Turtle Inn.

Turtle Inn / Courtesy of Coppola Hideaways


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