This is a tricky one. Pretty much every destination in the Tropics has its peak rates of the year during the weeks you have in mind. That said, there are still some fairly cheap destinations in the Caribbean, even at peak rates. However, since you live in South Florida and understandably don’t want to go someplace even hotter during the only semi cool time of the year, it sounds like you are ruling out most of the Tropics.
If you’re pretty simplistic when it comes to food, you can always bring nuts with you. They last long, they taste great, and they’re packed full of fats (if you choose correctly). Macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts are among the top high-fat nuts out there, and they’re well worth the extra cost if they save you from an accidental cheat right at the end of a great vacation.
Based on your description, you definitely want to go to Costa Rica. The neighboring countries have many similarities, but Costa Rica is the shining star in Central America for tourism. They have endless national parks and nature sights, but also lovely beaches and adventure activities. The area in the north around the town of Tamarindo is the more luxurious part of the country, but there are many other beach towns on both coasts that could work for you. You will also probably want to spend one or more days in the Arenal volcano area, which has many other great activities. The Caribbean coast is more laid back and less family oriented, so better to focus on the Pacific. Have a great trip. -Roger
Prices go up a bit when you go south into Malaysia, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the money. You might even consider Myanmar as well, which I’ve yet to visit, but I keep hearing great things about. It’s honestly the perfect time of year there. By April it’s insanely hot (the hottest month of the year), but December through February is lovely. It’s all quite safe as well, as long as you keep your wits about you. I’m happy to help with more information if you need it.
My top recommendation would be San Juan, Puerto Rico. It offers a wonderful mix of history and culture and nightlife and great food, alongside excellent beaches and abundant activities. Hotels and rental apartments are mostly in the mid-range for the Caribbean, but food and drinks and most other things are great value. You could get a place in the Condado area, which is close to the lovely Old San Juan neighborhood and plenty of nightlife all around. And then perhaps you could rent a car and stay for a few days at one of the smaller beach towns elsewhere on the island. You wouldn’t even need a passport, although it does feel fairly exotic while you are there. But because it’s part of the US, it’s also well organized and safe. Most people you’ll meet will speak at least some English, and many are fluent, so it’s easy even if you don’t speak Spanish.
As with other Caribbean resort destinations, the weather in Montego Bay is perfect in December, and the first half of the month is still cheap for flights and resort prices. The weekend before Christmas is when peak season here starts, and if you book early enough you can still get a good deal then, but don't expect many last-minute bargains during that period.
I haven’t followed the Zika list, but I do understand the concern. Since you aren’t big beach people, you might just bring jackets and go to a more romantic city like Paris, and then maybe down to Nice for part of the trip and something a bit different. I’m not sure if this is helping, but if you have any questions about any of this I’m happy to keep trying. -Roger
One of the simplest ways to add squash to the Thanksgiving menu is with a classic Baked Acorn Squash, dressed up with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and freshly grated nutmeg. The dish, which we first shared with readers in 2008, has the ideal balance of sweetness and tang, and the addition of a touch of butter right before serving gives it a boost of richness.
To the life aquatic now and Micronesia’s little-known islands scattered in the Pacific Ocean, which serve as the mating grounds for giant manta rays. With wingspans that can reach up to 5m, the chance to dive alongside these dancing behemoths shouldn’t be missed. From colossal to downright cute, rare (and ridiculously adorable) pygmy hippos can be found in Sierra Leone, once you've had your fill of lounging on palm-fringed beaches.
Oh, did you want a sunny tropical vacation that doesn’t require a passport? Done. Hurricane season is over, flights are cheap, and the water is still warm enough for swimming (and scuba diving). Almost all the tourists come here via cruise ship, which means you’re mostly not competing with them for hotel rooms -- Windward Passage, Emerald Beach, and the Bolongo are all open for business after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. On December 16 you can catch Jazz By The Sea down at Coral World Ocean Park, and on December 21 watch the St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, where contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.