It’s hard not to get a serious case of celebrity envy whenever I glance at a tabloid magazine. Is it me, or do celebrities seem like professional vacationers in addition to being singers, actors, and TV personalities? Whether lounging on a sun-drenched beach on the coast of Hawaii or skiing on the perfect snow in Colorado, celebs have a lock on luxurious vacation hot spots that we mere mortals can only dream about.
CNN reports that the average American family plans to spend $1,200 per person on summer vacations. Of course, that’s pretty close to the amount that the rich and famous spend for just one night at a swanky hotel. So if you’re flipping through a magazine and sighing because you’ll never sip drinks poolside with Beyoncé, here’s a little secret: You don’t need to pay big bucks for a star-worthy vacation.
While celebs might be soaking up the sun and paying premium prices for the privilege, smart consumers can have incredible experiences without spending like a star. By thinking a little outside the box and choosing a vacation that’s more within your family’s budget, you might find that you can score comparable amenities and activities.
Affordable Celebrity Vacation Alternatives
1. Maui, Hawaii
Britney Spears has been known to hang out on the gorgeous island of Maui, where surf conditions are optimal and the weather is pretty much always perfect. She stays at the Grand Wailea, found on the south side of the island. It’s a Waldorf Astoria property that rests on 40 acres of pristine beachfront property. It’s also really expensive, with rooms in the $500 to $800 per night range.
Activities and food on Maui are seriously expensive – my husband and I just returned from Maui and were surprised at how much day-to-day expenditures were. We stayed at a four-star resort and managed to overspend on food, activities, and resort fees.
More Affordable Alternative: Big Island, Hawaii
If that sounds a bit pricey to you, have no fear. While Maui is one of the more pricey islands, I spoke with a local who told me to look into Big Island the next time I came to Hawaii. He told me that many Hawaiians vacation there themselves because it’s inexpensive and quiet when compared to pricier destinations, such as Oahu and Maui. The day-to-day stuff is cheaper too, especially because Big Island has better access to chain stores which are often cheaper than the boutique groceries you’d find on Maui. Just be sure that when you book a hotel, you have the whole price in mind, including resort fees and parking.
2. Aspen, Colorado
If you’re more inclined to hit the slopes rather than the beach, you probably know that Aspen is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders. You’d be in good company, since Mariah Carey and many other superstars spend winters hanging out in the mountain town. Of course, you have to pay a premium for the privilege, especially during ski season. High-end restaurants and boutique stores can also increase your bottom line, not to mention winter rentals if you can’t bring your own gear.
More Affordable Alternative: Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley has a similar feel to Aspen, offering the same ski town atmosphere, but for much cheaper. Resorts and hotels routinely run $100 less per night than comparable places in Aspen, while food, rentals, and nightlife are all cheaper as well.
If you really want to save, head to Sun Valley during the off-season. You can enjoy tons of activities, such as horseback riding and four-wheeling, and you’ll get a cheaper vacation than the snowbirds who head there during ski season. Don’t expect it to stay that way though – celebs are starting to flock to Sun Valley as an Aspen alternative, including Mark Zuckerberg and Tom Hanks, who both have homes there.
3. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Justin Timberlake picked Cabo San Lucas as the place for his 2012 bachelor party, thanks to its swanky bars, spas, and five-star resorts. Celebs seem to favor Capella Pedregal, a resort where Zoe Saldana is a frequent visitor to the 12,000 square-foot spa. You can rent a 40-foot boat for about $1,000 to $5,000 per day, while world-class dining means you also have to pay world-class prices. While there are some cheaper places to stay in the area, you might miss out on the amenities such as golfing, spa services, and onsite water sports.
More Affordable Alternative: Cancun, Mexico
Instead of visiting Cabo, head over to Cancun – just not during college spring break. When it’s not crawling with coeds, Cancun makes for an economical way to score a Mexican vacation without the high prices. You can usually book a four-star all-inclusive resort vacation from around $150 to $250 per night. When compared to the pricier Cabo San Lucas hotels, which cost about $350 a night, it’s a steal.
Also on your side? The cheaper local life, food, and amenities you’ll find. You can also check out Mayan ruins in the area to add some culture to your tropical vacation.
4. Celebrity Spot: The Cove at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, Nassau, Bahamas
Sometimes you don’t have to go very far to find celeb accommodations at cheaper prices. Take Paradise Island, located in the Bahamas. There, celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Carrie Underwood hang out at the uber-exclusive Atlantis Resort, favoring the $500 per night The Cove.
More Affordable Alternative: The Beach Tower at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, Nassau, Bahamas
The same resort offers value accommodations at The Beach Tower for rates as low as $172 per night. You get many of the same amenities and access to things such as the onsite movie theater, fish feedings, pools, beaches, onsite library, and aquatic features for a fraction of the cost. And who knows? You might do a little celeb spotting while you scan the water for marine life, too.
5. Celebrity Spot: Napa Valley, California
If you’re more in the mood for a romantic, quiet vacation, Napa Valley can sound like the perfect place. After all, it’s not only the vacation spot, but also the home for mellow celebs like Dave Matthews. But you definitely pay more for the experience, whether you’re going on a wine-tasting tour or are spending the night at a quaint bed and breakfast.
A basic wine-tasting can run about $20 per person, and Kiplinger found that only 7% of tours offer free samples. A top-rated B&B in the area can run anywhere from $250 to more than $400 per night – and after a day of tours, you definitely need a place to rest your head.
More Affordable Alternative: Oregon Wine Country
If you’re into wine but not the high prices in Napa, try taking a tour of Oregon Wine Country instead. While there are fewer wineries available for tours – 60 in comparison to Napa’s 400 – there’s still plenty to see and do. A wine tour in Oregon costs a much more reasonable $8 a person, while you can also tour the Harry and David factory, which concludes with free samples and chocolate. A night at a comparable B&B is only about $150 per night, which means you might be able squeeze a few extra days’ vacation out of your budget.
Sure, celebrity vacations can seem enviable, but that doesn’t mean a lower-budget alternative can’t meet all of your expectations. Get the star treatment by doing research and finding vacation options that meet your budget, whatever that may be. By checking for cheaper lodging or staying in a nearby but cheaper location, you can get everything you want out of your vacation dollars.
Where is your favorite place to vacation?