There are only a few short weeks before Spring Break hits the North Shore, and airports are packed with everyone in hot pursuit of sun, sand and escape from months of winter’s cold and gloom.
No plans yet? Don’t panic!
Local travel agents assure us that all hope may not be lost, as long as last-minute spring breakers are willing to be flexible on dates, times and are open to U.S. locations, rather than the most popular hot spots.
“On the east and west coasts you have New York, LA, San Francisco and San Diego,” says Glencoe’s Lake Shore Travel Agent Britt Gerber. “In California, you’re not going to lie on a beach, but you’ll be in the 60s and 70s, and there are so many amusement parks and things to do for families.”
Leslie Wilde, owner of Valerie Wilson Travel in Winnetka, agrees and says that while there’s no guarantee on weather this time of year, places like Arizona, New Mexico and even spots along the Florida Panhandle are great options to consider for those desperate to get out of Dodge.
“The first challenge is always airfare,” Wilde says. “But where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Wilde also says that using a travel agent may be worth the small retainer fee to help when trying to book a last minute vacation at a premium time, especially for travelers with high expectations. Travel agencies in exclusive partnerships with luxury resorts, hotels and airlines might be the only clear path to a vacation for a family where there is plenty in the budget, but little flexibility with dates and flight times. And flight times can be critical.
“Never book a tight connection because weather delays could be a factor,” Gerber says. “Security lines from one terminal to another could also be a factor.”
Since flights into major airport hubs are usually packed during spring break, Gerber suggests considering a leisurely drive to the sunshine state and to avoid major family resorts like Disney. Check out our picks for the 10 best family vacation spots for more ideas.
Surprisingly, Gerber says popular cold weather ski locations are the hardest to book at the last minute. Hotels and flights are often pricey and scarce.
“If you want to ski in Colorado, Utah or Montana you have to be flexible with dates and willing to fly at odd times,” Gerber says.
If you’re willing to go north, Gerber says Canada is also a great place to explore the slopes, with Quebec as one of the most beautiful European-style cities this side of the Atlantic.
Yet if your heart’s still set on hitting the sandy beaches of Mexico or the Caribbean, Wilde suggests taking a look at Jamaica and Cancun, where you can still find a few non-stop flights and plenty of hotels to choose from.
“Jamaica has one of the prettiest topographies of any of the Caribbean islands,” Wilde says.
For those not up for the hassles and expense of trying to put together a last-minute vacation, get creative with a “staycation” in the city to keeping the kids happy during the week-long hiatus from school.
“Staycations can be great, and you can often find great deals right here in Chicago,” Gerber says.
Stay a few nights at a hotel with an indoor pool, spa or even an outdoor ice rink (Peninsula Chicago). You’ll feel like a tourist in your own city by visiting museums, taking in a show or by eating at local ethnic restaurants representing your favorite faraway locales.
To avoid the stress of eleventh-hour travel in the future, agents say it’s always best to plan at least six months in advance to get the best prices on airfare and hotel accommodations.
“I would start as soon as the school calendar comes out,” Gerber says. “If you’re looking to go on a cruise or go all-inclusive flying non-stop on charter air (like Apple or Fun Jet Vacations), book as soon as they become available and buy (travel) insurance.”
Photo: Kids running towards colorful flip flips by Bigstock