Our tips will help you with travel planning homework that will make this year’s spring break memorable.
By Deborah Reinhardt
It may seem odd to think about spring travel this month–on the heels of the holidays–but families who may be considering a getaway for spring break 2012 can’t afford to postpone planning. Reservations at popular destinations, such as Orlando, can go quickly. Availability shrinks the closer you creep to spring break, which typically is mid-March through April.
Above: Advance planning to Walt Disney World Resort can help families get the most out of a vacation, including the desired character “Meet and Greets.” ©Walt Disney World photo
Below: Silver Dollar City will welcome Viva Italia, a performance troupe making its WorldFest debut in March. ©Silver Dollar City photo
To help with your planning, we offer these tips and getaway ideas. Your AAA Travel professional can help you pull together all the details for a spring trip. Click here (AAA.com/travel) to get started or call (888) 366-4222.
Creative Budgeting 101
In addition to planning in advance, spring break travelers should plan to pay more to travel. This calls for some creative budgeting.
Start first with your AAA member discounts. Save on hotels, car rentals with Hertz, dining, theme park attractions, and more while you travel. AAA even has an app for that. Android and iPhone users can get a free app detailing where to access AAA discounts. Get the details.
Hotels may have packages that bundle rooms with other amenities, such as meals or local attraction admissions. Always call the hotel directly–not the central reservation number–for the most updated information.
If you have to fly to your destination, you may have little recourse in avoiding higher fares. Flyer miles may be blacked out, but call the airline far in advance if you have any rewards to claim. Flexibility as to when you can leave and return may work to your favor. Watch for online specials.
Pack your Patience
Popular spring break destinations, such as Florida, will be crowded. Research the destination as much as you can before arrival, keep an open mind, and smile. Try not to pack too much into just a few days; remember you’re on a getaway to enjoy family time.
“April can be a busy time to visit Orlando, but the weather is great–with temperatures in the 80s–and AAA has so many ways to help you plan the perfect family getaway,” said Sue Wells, vice president of travel services for AAA. “We are an authorized Disney vacation planner and are aware of the ins and outs of making the best use of your time at various Disney parks.”
The travel experts at Disney say winter and spring breaks typically are the busiest times to visit the parks. However, on-site hotel guests can take advantage of extended park hours–usually in the form of earlier openings–to help avoid long lines at the attractions. But go in with a plan. Know what rides you want to be sure to experience and go to those first, working your way from the back of the park to the front. Consider using express passes that can cut your time waiting in lines.
And while visiting the iTunes store for your AAA savings app, look for useful free apps that will tell you wait times for rides at Disney and Universal theme parks. The software also can include interactive maps and dining options inside the parks.
Five Alternative Ideas
Some families may choose to avoid the places that can be over-crowded and opt for a different destination. If that appeals to you, then consider:
• regional theme parks. Sure, the Orlando parks are fantastic, but your gang can have a blast closer to home, too. Herschend Family Entertainment operates three family friendly theme parks: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.; and Wild Adventures near Valdosta, Ga. Dollywood is operated in partnership with country music legend Dolly Parton and is nestled in the Smoky Mountains, a beautiful spring destination in itself. Silver Dollar City in the southwestern Missouri Ozark hills, has a pioneer theme to it. Wild Adventures, located of Interstate 75 just north of the Florida state line, combines theme park attractions with an animal park. Visit http://www.hfecorp.com/properties for more information.
Spring breakers at Silver Dollar City can enjoy international festivals featuring performers and food from around the world. Save on admission to Silver Dollar City and Dollywood by ordering tickets online.
• a beach less traveled. Some of us are simply drawn to the shoreline, to dig into sand and dip toes in water. A family friendly spring break beach is along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While not a secret, visitors can find smaller crowds than in Florida’s beaches. Water temperatures are between the mid-60s and 70-degree range, while air temperature might reach the mid-70s. Altogether pleasant. The fish are biting, stores and restaurants are open, family attractions will keep everyone entertained.
You may catch the opening of the new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, rebuilt from the ground up, while striving for the highest recognition in environmental sustainability through LEED Platinum certification. Destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan and beaten back by Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina, the new home for 400 animals will become what’s being called the first environmentally sustainable zoo.
• going camping. Here’s a way to foster real togetherness–in a tent or RV. Bring your gear, rent an RV or find a newer luxury lodge at a state park near you. Arkansas has three lodges–DeGray Lake Resort, Mount Magazine Lodge, and Queen Wilhelmina Lodge–that offers complete comfort with countless outdoor activities.
A variety of cabins throughout Louisiana’s state park system will put you close to great fishing and other outdoor recreation. Visit http://www.crt.state.la.us/parks/iAccomoTitle.aspx for details. Many cabins in Mississippi State Parks will welcome pets. Click on http://mississippistateparks.reserveamerica.com for information.
And before you get on the road, visit AAA.com/travel
camp/index.html for trip ideas and information on campgrounds in the AAA CampBook®.
• rail trips. Children are interested in trains and Amtrak makes it easy to plan a rail adventure for the family. Children traveling with adults can save up to 50 percent on fares. Visit www.Amtrak.com for information on spring vacation ideas.
• a weekend getaway. If time (or budget) constraints are a factor, a weekend escape is a good alternative. Sometimes an overnight in another city and a change in scenery can be rejuvenating. If you need ideas, comb through our archived Tank Trips, a collection of getaways close to home for you to explore.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler magazine.