If you’re already anticipating escaping to warmer climates in the cold early months of 2012, Susanna Henighan Potter, author of Moon Virgin Islands, has some great ideas for a fun-filled getaway. Here are her suggestions for travel budgets ranging from small to splurge:

1. What should travelers look for (and avoid) when searching for a resort deal?

For the Virgin Islands, the first place I go to for deals is the U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism website. They organize seasonal deals with local hotels that include incentives such as vouchers for dining, activities, and shopping.

I would also remind visitors that if they travel outside the peak months of December–February they will find discounts of 20 percent or more across the board. Travel in the “shoulder seasons”—March and November—for the best value.

You can also find deals on major travel sites like Expedia and Trip Advisor. Some of the most attractive all-inclusive resort rates are found at Divi Carina Bay on St. Croix and Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas. Be aware, however, that some deals are non-refundable, in which case you should be absolutely certain of your plans before booking.

I’d encourage travelers to venture off the major travel websites and explore some of the locally-owned, small-scale hotels (such as those discussed below) that I have included in Moon Virgin Islands. These hotels are hard to find on major travel sites, if they are there at all; but if you put in some time researching them individually, you can find some excellent deals and a much more authentic vacation experience.

2. What are the best destinations for travelers on a budget?

When considering a daily budget in the Virgin Islands it’s important to take local transportation (taxis, rental cars) and food into account. Travelers on a budget would be wise to pay a bit more for their room if they are able to get a place within walking distance of beaches and activities, and/or with a kitchen where they can prepare some of their own meals.

Bargain travelers willing to camp, prepare most of their own meals, and get around on foot can plan on $100 a day per couple ($85 per solo traveller). Campgrounds on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (Maho Bay Camps) and Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands (White Bay Campground) provide cooking facilities and are located on excellent beaches within walking distance of other things to do, which renders pricy taxis and rental cars unnecessary. In both places, “camping” means staying in a prepared cottage with electricity and beds. (It would be wise to buy groceries on the larger islands of St. Thomas or Tortola, as prices are very high on St. John and Jost.)

For budget travelers who prefer hotel accommodations, I recommend St. Croix. Budget $200 per couple ($170 per solo traveller) per day, although true bargain hunters can get by with less. Accommodations in the island’s two towns—Christiansted and Frederiksted—afford easy access to beaches, restaurants, and other activities. In Frederiksted, stay at Jasmine Manor ($75 and up), a lovely historic townhouse within walking distance of beaches, or Cottages on the Beach ($160 and up), both of which provide guests with full kitchens. In Christiansted consider Company House Hotel ($115 and up), which offers standard rooms and suites that include a kitchen. Hotel on the Cay ($150 and up) in Christiansted Harbor is a good value for a beachfront hotel, and is located within walking distance of the town’s historic attractions and restaurants. Travelers can catch inexpensive buses to other parts of the island from both cities.

3. If a traveler is looking for relaxation and luxury, where should they go to splurge?

The sky’s the limit—but I assume you don’t mean renting Sir Richard Branson’s private island for $20,000-plus per night, so for relaxation and luxury I recommend choosing accommodations that have a good on-site restaurant and amenities. That way, you get to enjoy more time on the beach.

The British Virgin Islands are more upscale than their U.S. neighbors. On Tortola, consider the Sugar Mill, a lovely boutique beachfront hotel tucked in the island’s picturesque north shore. For $425 and up per night, guests can enjoy breakfast and dinner at the hotel’s award-winning restaurant. On Virgin Gorda, an island known for its fine beaches and hotels, Biras Creek offers seclusion, relaxation, beaches, hiking, and three meals a day in its outstanding restaurant. Winter rates start at $865 per couple (including meals). For a real splurge and a taste of the private island experience, book a room at Guana Island Resort, an exclusive resort whose tagline is “Imagine the Caribbean before it went public.” High season rates, which include three meals, wine, unlimited use of resort facilities, and laundry service, begin at $1,250 per night.

4. Looking ahead to 2012, what are some of the top festivals and events you’d recommend?

The BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival (March 26 – April 1,) is the Virgin Isands’ premier sailing event. It’s a rally for cruisers with parties, pit stops, and light-hearted competition. Sailors gather in the regatta village every night to listen to music and share stories of the day on the water. The serious sailing takes place over the final weekend, when local and visiting crews compete on one of the most beautiful race courses in the world.

The St. Croix Food and Wine Festival (April 17 – 22,) is an outstanding showcase of food and drink which celebrates the island’s farmers, fishermen, and chefs. Events include a series of special-event dinners, chef competitions, wine seminars, and cooking classes, plus Taste of St. Croix—the signature event—which features the very best that the island’s restaurants have to offer.