Bargain trips between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2019
Can you keep a secret? The weeks between the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holidays can hold bargains for travelers who are willing and able to sneak away for an early-December “mini shoulder season.”
Everybody knows Thanksgiving week is one of the busiest periods of the year, with more than 50 million Americans on the move and airfares and hotel rates typically rising. Likewise, as you get closer to Christmas Eve, the more you can expect to pay for airline seats and hotel beds. But what is not commonly understood is the sweet spot in between those holidays (roughly from late November through Dec. 20 or so) brings opportunities for savings as theme parks, hotel chains, and airlines see a big drop in demand and seek to entice travelers with good deals. Here are some of the most alluring places to consider.
Devotees of Walt Disney World, in Orlando, FL, who have made multiple park visits consistently report early December is one of the most magical times to enjoy iconic attractions like Space Mountain, Fantasyland, and the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Holiday decorations and events abound, including Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show, and Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays and Candlelight Procession. And select Disney Resort hotels such as Animal Kingdom Lodge, BoardWalk Inn, and the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa offer up to 20 percent savings on bookings right up to December 24, when the crowds return and room rates rise. (Learn more at disneyworld.disney.go.com). If you’re considering a trip to Disneyland, in Anaheim, CA, for its holiday festivities, aim for the weeks of December 9th and 16th for lower rates at popular on-site hotels such as the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and the Disneyland Hotel. (Learn more at disneyland.disney.go.com)
Travelers can enjoy immersive lands devoted to the Simpsons, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and more, plus get a head start on holiday celebrations minus the hordes by booking a stay at Universal Orlando Resort in early-to-mid-December. You’ll enjoy the Christmas decorations and events at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal’s legendary Holiday Parade, and a live retelling of Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch in the ‘Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular.’ Hotel bargains are available for stays until December 19, including rates starting at $120/night for a four-night stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, including early park-entry privileges each morning. (Learn more at universalorlando.com) A visit to Universal Studios Hollywood, in Universal City, CA, in early-to-mid-December offers similar attractions and holiday-themed events and reduced crowds, with nearby partner hotels offering reasonable packages that include room and park entrance starting around $190 per person; prices start to tick upward as you get closer to the weekend of December 20. (Learn more at universalstudioshollywood.com)
Warm Beach Getaways
Sure, most travelers dream of escaping the cold weather in January and February. But the “mini shoulder season” between Thanksgiving and Christmas is an ideal time to plant yourself on a warm white-sand beach at major savings. From the South Pacific to the Caribbean, warm-weather beach communities regard early-to-mid-December as a time to lure bargain-seekers. Hawaii hotels and resorts are known for offering nice post-Thanksgiving deals such as complimentary nights added to your stay; the Big Island, home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, consistently offers the best hotel rates among the Hawaiian islands. South Florida and the Caribbean have said “buh-bye” to hurricane season and offer buy-one-get-one-free stays (which can often be even more generous than that – research deals online, then follow up with a direct call to the property and ask, politely, if they can offer you even more).
European River Cruises
Now is the time to research and book a 2020 December river cruise through some of Europe’s legendary Christmas celebrations and public markets. Follow cruise lines such as Viking River Cruises and Avalon Waterways on social media and sign up for alerts so you can jump on good deals, which are typically offered up to a year in advance (when cruise lines are especially eager to fill staterooms for the coming year). For the best possible taste of Europe’s Christmas markets, with their handmade crafts, elaborately decorated baked goods, and endless old-world charm, choose a cruise that will visit Central European cities like Vienna and Budapest. Note: While it’s theoretically possible to grab a last-minute deal on a 2019 Christmas markets river cruise, it is unlikely at this late date. (Learn more at vikingrivercruises.com and avalongwaterways.com)
Québec City, Canada
Can’t afford a trip to Paris? Opt instead to stroll the charming winding streets of Québec City, along the St. Lawrence River, where you can practice your French language skills, try an array of authentic local cuisine (including the ultimate “gravy fries,” poutine), and sip great wine. While Québec draws visitors from all over the world as the New Year arrives with its winter festival and ice sculptures (and the ice hotel, opening January 2), early December is a great time to get a taste of all the city offers before the crowds arrive. (Learn more at quebec-cite.com)
Everything You Need to Know to See The Northern Lights This Year
Winter is coming, and it’s bringing with it the magnificent aurora borealis. More commonly known as the northern lights, the cosmic phenomenon is among nature’s most mesmerizing light shows. The visuals are mysterious and bewildering, and sometimes planning a trip to see them can feel the same way. But trekking to the far north in winter doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive if you know what to expect and plan accordingly. Here are a few of the key elements to remember when building an Arctic adventure of your own. 1. When to go Winter is prime northern lights season because the sky is at its darkest and days stay darker longer, especially near and in the Arctic Circle. Generally, the aurora borealis (which translates from Latin as “northern dawn”) is visible September through April, with the strongest lights glowing from November through February. Of course, no one can predict the weather, and cloudy skies are a big reason spectators may miss the lights. The other big variable involves the sun, where the lights originate. The simple scientific backstory goes like this: the sun releases electrically charged particles that are carried across the galaxy via solar winds. When those particles reach earth’s atmosphere (really, its magnetosphere), they collide with oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases to form lights that appear to our eyes as gray, green, purple, red, and other colors. They’re strongest around the North and South poles, though some say that the northern lights have been seen as far south as Florida. So the vital part of any aurora viewing vacation is to plan ample time in a destination to account for cloudy nights and times when the sun is less flared up. Most agree to a minimum of five days, but eight might be wiser. 2. Where to go A trip north in winter can be surprisingly affordable thanks to lower hotel demand and cheaper airfares. Just aim for a smaller town or park with minimal light pollution. In North America, start your search in cities with nearby airports, tour operators, and lodging options. Along the Arctic Circle, consider Fairbanks, Alaska; Whitehorse in the Canadian Yukon; and Churchill in northern Manitoba (where Hudson Bay can yield some great watery reflections). Dark-sky delights also await in Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta; Torngat Mountains National Park in Newfoundland; and Nunavik Parks in Quebec’s Arctic region. If you’re game to travel farther, consider the lovely small city of Tromso in Arctic Norway, which is more affordable thanks to Norwegian Air’s budget-friendly airfares, and a weaker Norwegian kroner exchange rate. The island nation of Iceland is another wallet-wise destination thanks to Icelandair deals. Plus both Norway and Iceland have infrastructure for winter tourism that makes it easier to find the right hotel and tour company. Tip: Buy your ticket around two or three months out to lock in the best airfares. 3. Where to stay Lodging in remote locales is easier than you may think, especially if you’re fine with a no-frills hotel that offers comfy beds and powerful heaters. Just aim to book six to eight weeks out (or longer) for the best rates, and remember that hostels may yield irresistible bargains. If you’re seeking more memorable accommodations, check into an igloo or panoramic dome with sky views, like the ones offered by Fairbanks’s Borealis Basecamp. Or try the glass-fronted chalets at Whitehorse’s Northern Lights Resort & Spa. 4. What to pack Upon planning a subzero January trip to the Arctic, I once asked a Norwegian for packing advice. His reply: “Bring a sweater.” I second that wisdom – especially for a hearty wool sweater – and also recommend investing in some serious thermal baselayers that you can wear every single day of your trip. (Tip: Uniqlo makes great lightweight, affordable long underwear.) Other winter travel essentials include: wool or thermal socks, heavy gloves or mittens, insulated hats (that won’t blow off in the wind), a thick scarf or buff, and waterproof boots for high snow and powerful winds. Goggles or sports glasses are smart too, to help protect your eyes from blustery snow and wind. And it goes without saying that a waterproof, heavily insulated coat is mandatory if you want to be outdoors longer than 15 minutes. Winter in the Arctic is no joke, so plan for the most intensely cold temperatures of your life. 5. Photography forethought For many, capturing the northern lights on camera is a core part of the experience – and the ultimate souvenir. The best photos require a DSLR or smaller camera with manual settings, because to capture the aurora you’ll need a wide-open aperture and super-slow shutter speed (my best shots took about 30 seconds each to snap). Manual focus, adjustable ISO and f-stop, a shutter timer, and high-resolution image settings also are key. Plus you’ll need a sturdy tripod. But more than anything, always dress as warmly as possible for outdoor aurora photography, because you can spend hours pursuing the perfect shot, and it only takes a few minutes below zero to start losing finger sensation. Tip: Set your camera up in advance with recommended northern lights–shooting settings, so you don’t have to fumble around with them on the spot (where it’s usually pitch dark and freezing). 6. Rely on local experts The most successful northern lights adventures come with the help of expert local guides. So building on tip No. 2, consider destinations where seasoned tour operators know how best to predict the locations and timing for awesome light shows. On the bright side, since most of the best aurora views are from small cities, you won’t have to comb through tons of listings to find good local guides. Upon booking, look for companies that offer multi-night tours (in case no lights are seen on the first night or two), and ones that will drive safari-style to more than one location, since cloud cover could limit views in different spots. You might also double check that the tour will travel to areas far from urban light pollution, like parks and remote hilltops. Some may even offer basecamp-style huts or lodges with skylights, so you can stay warm indoors, perhaps with a mulled wine or cocoa, while gazing skyward.
Booking.com Predicts These Surprising Destinations Will Trend Next Year
Booking.com’s 2020 Travel Predictions have been released and it says that 70% of global travelers say that they want to go somewhere that offers experiences they’ve never had before in 2020. To help inspire travelers to achieve this ambition, the travel search engine has delved into global booking trends to reveal the top emerging travel destinations for 2020. Seogwipo The second-largest city on South Korea’s Jeju Island, Seogwipo is a bustling coastal city surrounded by natural wonders of the volcanic coastline. Ideal for active travelers, its clear blue waters will prove popular with scuba-diving enthusiasts, while nearby Mount Hallasan is a great option for those looking to lace up their boots and take a hike. Stay at Heyy Seogwipo Hotel, which is within walking distance of Cheonjiyeon Waterfall and nearby walking trails. Świnoujście Located in northwest Poland, Świnoujście is a beautiful port town on the Baltic Sea that’s a perfect destination for water lovers. Travelers can immerse themselves in the town’s history and visit the Museum of Sea Fishery, which features model vessels and astonishing sea creatures, before continuing the sea theme and taking a walk to the 19th Century Lighthouse for panoramic scenery of the harbor from the observation deck. Houseboat Porta Mare III is the perfect accommodation for sea-loving visitors. Zabljak Travelers looking to go off-grid with their 2020 travels should head for the mountains in Zabljak, a small town in northern Montenegro at the center of the Durmitor mountain region. The must-see list includes Durmitor National Park, Black Lake and the Djurdjevica Tara Bridge, a concrete bridge that was once the biggest concrete arch bridge for vehicles in Europe. Holiday Home Vile Calimero offers a family- and pet-friendly stay with views of the surrounding mountains. Yerevan For history lovers, Armenia’s capital Yerevan’s past and spectacular architecture makes it a must-experience destination. Take in the spectacle of the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, and explore the ruins of the Zvartnos temple located within the Ararat Plateau, enjoying views of the surrounding mountains. While sightseeing in the city, don’t miss the Cascade, a giant stairway made of limestone which features fountains, sculptures and a tranquil garden courtyard. Stay at Panorama Resort & Suites, which offers panoramic hilltop views of Yerevan city and Ararat Mountain. Salta Bright colonial architecture with colorful and unique landscapes nearby, Salta is located in the heart of the Argentine Andes. Whether taking in the colorful cityscape with a visit to San Francisco Church, a historic church and monastery that dates back to the 1600s or exploring the nearby colorful landscape of The Hill of Seven Colours and Salinas Grandes, a trip to this beautiful part of the world will leave a colorful impression. Sociable Hostal Prisamata is for travelers looking to mingle with other like-minded adventurers.
Zipcar, Turo, Car2Go: Which Is The Best Carsharing Service?
Travelers today have no shortage of options when it comes to renting a car. In particular, the rise of carsharing services has revolutionized the way people get around. As of May 2019, carsharing was available in 59 countries, according to an industry analysis by movmi and the Carsharing Association (CSA), with 236 carshare operators in 3,128 cities. But why choose a carsharing service over a traditional car rental company like Enterprise or Hertz? Pam Cooley, executive director at CSA, says it often boils down to cost: ‘Carsharing is usually cheaper than car rental companies,’ she says. Indeed, by some estimates carsharing prices are about 30 percent lower than car-rental rates. Still, ‘if you’re a traveler, you have to research what businesses operate at your destination,’ Cooley adds. To help you narrow down your carsharing options, we’ll look at three of the biggest players in the industry: Zipcar, Turo, and Car2Go. Here’s how these services stack up: Zipcar How it works: Zipcar customers pay a monthly membership fee in exchange for a Zipcard, which they scan on a device under. the windshield of their chosen rental vehicle to unlock and lock the car at the start and end of each reservation. Each vehicle has a reserved parking space (called a ‘home location’), where it must be returned with at least one-quarter tank of gas. Members book reservations through Zipcar’s website or mobile app, which they use to locate the rental car. What it includes: Zipcar covers the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance. It also offers dedicated parking spots in many areas. All reservations include up to 180 miles of driving per day. How much it costs: Membership fees start at $7 a month or $70 a year. In return, Zipcar members can rent cars from $7.75 an hour or $69 a day. (Rates vary depending on the type of vehicle.) Each car rental includes a complimentary gas card, so customers pay nothing at the pump to refill their ride. Where it’s available: Launched in 2000, Zipcar is the largest carsharing service in the world. The company operates in more than 500 cities and towns and on more than 600 college campuses around the world. Fleet: Zipcar offers members vehicles from more than 60 different makes and models, including Audis, BMWs, Mini Coopers, Prius hybrids, minivans, pickup trucks, and cargo vans. Turo How it works: Unlike Zipcar, where customers rent vehicles from the company, Turo users rent cars directly from local car owners. The owners have the option to set their own rates, or they can have Turo set their car’s price based on local market data. Customers make reservations through Turo’s website or mobile app, and they set their pickup dates and times to suit their plans. To exchange keys, owners will deliver the car to custom locations around town or nearby airports, or allow travelers to pick up the vehicle at the owner’s chosen location. What it includes: Depending on the vehicle, insurance is provided to the driver from Turo or the car owner. Car owners choose how many miles or kilometers they want to include per trip; this can be a daily, weekly, or monthly limit. Turo provides 24/7 roadside assistance. How much it costs: In addition to the car owner’s rental rate, each rental charges a trip fee (that varies depending on the location), a security deposit, and taxes. (Some car owners also charge a delivery fee.) The car owner may also ask the renter to pay for additional post-trip costs, such as cleaning and tolls. Typically, renters pay for their own gas. There is no membership fee for car renters. Where it’s available: Though Turo operates in a number of cities around the world, its primary marketplaces are in the United States, the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Fleet: Looking for an exotic or luxury vehicle? Although car offerings vary depending on location and availability, Turo makes and models often include Teslas, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, and more. Economy cars, SUVs, mini-vans, and pickup trucks are also offered. More on Carsharing: Getaround Makes the Car Rental Experience Personal car2go How it works: A German rental car company, car2go’s business model is simple: customers use the service’s mobile app to search for available cars in their area. The vehicles are located on the street or in designated parking lots. Customers access the car using the app (with no reservations required), drive it for however long they want to, and then park it in any approved legal parking spot in the vehicle’s designated home area, such as within a city’s limits—meaning there’s no need to return the car to its original location. (That’s a nice convenience.) What it includes: Car insurance is provided by car2go. The company also provides roadside assistance around the clock and free parking spaces in certain areas. How much it costs: There are no annual or monthly fees or membership costs. Cars can be rented by the minute, hour, or day. Rates vary depending on the vehicle model, city, and time. To give you a benchmark, though: a one-hour car2go rental in Washington, D.C. starts at $16. Some pickup locations, such as airports, may charge an additional fee. Also, customers are subject to a cleaning fee of $50 for stains, smoke, and pet hair. Where it’s available: The company operates in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, including New York City, Seattle, London, Rome, and Paris. One big caveat: in October 2019 car2go announced it is pulling out of five North American cities: Austin, TX; Calgary, Alberta; Portland, OR; Denver; and Chicago. Fleet: The company offers three types of vehicles: a smartcar (a tiny two-seater that’s ideal for squeezing into tight parking spaces), the Mercedes-Benz GLA (a hatchback that offers extra cargo space), and the Mercedes-Benz CLA (a stylish four-seat sedan). The verdict The best carsharing service truly depends on your needs. If you do a lot of traveling and rent cars frequently, paying to be a Zipcar member might make financial sense, since the company offers relatively low rental prices. If you only need a vehicle to get you from point A to point B, car2go is a great option, since you can leave the car wherever you choose. Turo, meanwhile, offers a number of sports cars you can’t find from the other carsharing providers.
How to Save Time and Money on Thanksgiving Travel in 2019
If you’re one of the more than 54 million Americans who are predicted to be traveling over the Thanksgiving 2019 holiday, you already know your journey won’t be as easy as “over the river and through the woods.” But even with long lines at airport security and bumper-to-bumper traffic on major thoroughfares looming ahead, there are a number of data-driven tips that can help you search out deals, avoid the worst crowds, and arrive at your holiday destination with your appetite and enthusiasm intact. Get started soon The good news is it’s not too late to save time and money on Thanksgiving travel. In fact, now through the end of October is the ideal window to research flights. To take some of the uncertainty out of the process, AAA recommends that you consider consulting a travel agent and purchasing trip insurance. If you’re planning to fly for the holiday, the folks at the global travel search engine Skyscanner.com suggest that you set up price alerts now (as in, stop reading this for a second and set up price alerts on your preferred flight booking app), and that you consider price alerts for a range of dates, as prices can be significantly higher or lower as one gets closer to Turkey Day itself. (See “How to Choose the Best Travel Days,” below.) The best time to buy airline tickets “Holiday travelers should make their plans now and begin booking their flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the best deals and availability,” says Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel. The ideal window for getting reasonable prices (under $500 round-trip for domestic flights, according to AAA) is between 30 and 60 days prior to Thanksgiving. A quick look at the calendar will alert you that the time is literally now: Book by October 27. (AAA makes its predictions and recommendations based on an analysis of flight booking data for domestic US travel for Thanksgiving from 2016 to 2018.) It bears mentioning, however, that AAA predicts that it is possible to nab airfares averaging $482 by waiting until the last minute (in this case, purchasing your ticket seven to 13 days before Thanksgiving, or November 11 to 17). But purchasing at the last minute will always be a game of chance, so be forewarned. “Procrastinating travelers may be able to find last-minute deals on flights close to the holidays, as airlines look to fill their last few remaining seats, but flight availability for these peak travel weeks will be very limited by that time,” says Twidale. How to choose the best travel days Which days you choose to fly will have a major impact on your airfare and your airport experience. Traditionally, the Monday before Thanksgiving is the best day to fly for both airfare (averaging under $500 round-trip this year, according to AAA) and for lighter crowds than later that week. AAA notes that the Sunday before Thanksgiving is the best day for travelers who seek the lightest possible crowds and don’t care about spending a bit more. The biggest airfare savings will be found by flying on Thanksgiving day itself, averaging around $450 round-trip. Those who have flown on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas often enjoy not only the savings but also the elbow room and festive vibe. The busiest and priciest days to fly are, of course, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Over the years, research has consistently suggested that if you can delay your return flight until the Monday after Thanksgiving, you’ll save money and airport hassle. (That strategy, of course, is often most practical for retirees or adults traveling without school-age kids.) If you’ve ever wondered how many of your fellow Thanksgiving travelers share your best-day-to-fly preferences, Skyscanner.com recently crunched the numbers on domestic Thanksgiving bookings over the past few years and reports that nearly 60 percent of Americans prefer to fly midweek, departing on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving and returning between Friday and Sunday – that certainly explains the massive airport crowds. Conversely, only 20 percent fly on Thanksgiving itself, and only 10 percent are “week-long travelers” who leave for their Thanksgiving destination on the Saturday or Sunday before the holiday. Secrets to a successful Thanksgiving road trip When it comes to hitting the road for the holiday, the same days that are best – and worst – for flying apply to driving as well. If you can pack up the car and roll out before the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and return the Monday after, you’ll have a relatively relaxing drive. If, like so many of domestic travelers, you can’t avoid driving on Tuesday or Wednesday and returning Saturday or Sunday, consider driving at night or in the very early morning – and let your relatives know that you may need a catnap while they’re watching the Lions' game.