For more than a year, the pandemic has left globetrotters with nothing but their wanderlust. Now, with vaccines in arms, travelers determined to make up for lost time are packing their bags and planning for some serious revenge travel. So where are Chicagoans heading this summer and beyond? We checked in with travel industry leaders for a pulse check.
Make Way for the Traveling Twenties
“If the Roaring Twenties followed the last global public health pandemic, we expect the Traveling Twenties to follow this pandemic,” said Anne Sayers, Acting Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Sayers expects recreational tourism to make a relatively quick rebound, noting that travelers are looking not only to reconnect with loved ones, but to “get revenge on a year’s worth of canceled or postponed travel.”
Travel search terms such as “cruises”, “hotels”, and “flights” have all been trending upwards by between 25 and 50 percent over the past several months, said Eric Bowman, executive editor of TravelPulse.com.
“Widespread vaccine availability has created higher confidence among travelers to get out there or at the very least to start making upcoming travel plans,” Bowman said.
A new travel search term is on the rise too — “vaccine travel.” “Travelers want to know what the vaccine might mean for their vacation plans; cruisers want to know what cruise lines are saying about vaccine requirements,” Bowman said.
Kendra Thornton, president of Royal Travel & Tours in Winnetka, is seeing a lot of activity among her clients both in the short and longer term.
“As more people get vaccinated, we’re seeing bookings really increase greatly for last-minute trips, particularly for couples who maybe want to travel without their children before kids get out of school,” Thornton said. She said Royal Travel is also busy helping families plan everything from summer and holiday travel in 2021 through to next year’s spring breaks.
Choose Your Adventure
To date, most of Thornton’s clients have focused on domestic travel, with many requests for Florida, the Carolinas, Arizona, Georgia, and Louisiana, she said. Because of the state’s pre-departure testing requirement, Hawaii has been another popular destination for cautious travelers.
Lauded for its stringent health and safety protocols, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando has been a popular destination for families since the resort reopened in July, with some regular visitors actually preferring the pandemic-era changes to the experience.
“The extent to which everyone respected the rules and social distancing was sublime,” said Hope Tagliere, a mother of three from Western Springs. “I don’t know if I could ever pick a favorite trip, but it was absolutely up there in my book.”
Walt Disney World hotels and theme park reservations are already beginning to fill up for the fall and beyond as “The Most Magical Place on Earth” gears up to kick off an 18-month 50th anniversary celebration beginning Oct. 1, 2021. Preparations are already visible around the resort, including a new color scheme and embellishments for Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle, substantial updates underway at two of Disney World’s most iconic resorts, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and numerous new attractions under construction including Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, set to open at EPCOT on Oct. 1, and Harmonious, an epic new nighttime spectacular also coming to EPCOT.
Hitting the Road
Despite the increase in vaccinations, some Americans remain hesitant to fly, Bowman said.
“Road trips and staycations are the trips we’re seeing now, and some people will continue to travel this way through 2021,” he said.
Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, a 7-hour drive from Chicago, is always a popular destination among Thornton’s clients, particularly those currently avoiding flying. Set on a 4200-acre estate in the Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm offers guests plenty of hiking, horseback riding, and a farm-to-table dining experience, Thornton said. Many guests who drive opt to stop on the way in Nashville, Hilton Head or Charleston.
Closer to home, Sayers says Wisconsin is well positioned to capture the regional drive market.
“We’re seeing family (including multigenerational) trips and friends-groups trips as the most popular preference for travel this year, and outdoor activities and adventure seem to be on everyone’s mind,” she said.
Just two-and-a-half hours from the North Shore, Elkhart Lake is a charming resort village that’s popular for weekend getaways to enjoy the lake’s crystal-clear waters, farm-to-table cooking, and motor sports at Road America, one of the world’s fastest permanent road racing tracks. Elkhart Lake’s grand dame hotel, The Osthoff Resort, is home to award-winning Aspira Spa and features 245 spacious suites.
In Lake Geneva, boating and golf are the name of the game. Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is a perennial favorite with its two world-class golf courses and spa just minutes from the lake and charming downtown area. Fortify for a day on the water with breakfast or brunch at Simple Café or Egg Harbor and for a family-friendly dinner, try Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas at Oakfire Pizza.
Located on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Door County is home to charming villages, parks, beaches, water activities, and the arts. Indulge in a fish fry at Pelletier’s in Fish Creek, ice cream at historic Wilson’s in Ephraim, and take a day trip by ferry to Washington Island for hiking and relaxing at the beach.
For a more secluded Wisconsin getaway, The Cabins at Destination Kohler are two idyllic new private cabins, surrounded by nature while providing easy access to Destination Kohler’s five-star amenities and spa treatments.
Michigan is also gearing up for a busy summer tourism season, said Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, noting that there is huge pent-up demand for travel.
“Travelers will be looking for places like Michigan that feature abundant natural open space for distancing,” Lorenz said. “With warm weather upon us, we are reminding travelers of the beauty and diversity of Michigan’s destinations and that their favorite activities can still be enjoyed in Pure Michigan, while staying safe.”
It’s well worth the six-and-a-half hour drive plus ferry ride to experience the car-free bliss of Mackinac Island. For an ultra-luxe stay, try The Grand Hotel — or just pay a visit to the resort for dinner at The Jockey Club. For a quainter experience, The Cottage Inn bed and breakfast oozes charm and is located just one block from the historic downtown area where you can take one of the island’s iconic horse-drawn carriage tours.
While road trips might still be king this summer, Bowman says people are going “big and long” with future travel plans. “Bucket list trips will be a focal point for many, as will extended long trips,” he said. Thornton said Africa and Europe are among the most popular destinations for her clients who have bigger plans in the works next year while Bowman noted that Oceania Cruises’ Around the World in 180 days cruise sold out in one day.
Ever-changing cruise guidelines from the CDC have led to ongoing uncertainty about when the big cruise lines will resume operation. Thornton has been told to expect cruises to book in 2022-2023, and has been seeing more interest from clients in private charters of yachts and catamarans as well as small ship cruising.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is now taking reservations for bespoke voyages on custom-built yachts accommodating up to 298 guests in 149 suites.
Family cruise leader Disney Cruise Line has been generating excitement for a return to big-ship cruising with the recent reveal of the newest ship in its fleet, the Disney Wish. The new ship sets sail in 2022 and includes first-ever features for the cruise line like a Disney attraction at sea, two-story royal staterooms, a Star Wars-themed lounge for adults, and Marvel- and Frozen-themed dining experiences.
Always a popular bucket-list destination for family and multi-generational travel, Hawaii has maintained and even enhanced its testing requirements, giving reassurance to travelers and locals. Maui has even added a second Covid test requirement upon arrival for Trans-Pacific visitors which will “further provide peace of mind to enjoy the island life,” said Leanne Pletcher of the Maui Visitors & Conventions Bureau.
For a multi-generational home away from home, the ‘Ilikai Villas at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort feature 19 brand-new two- and three-bedroom luxury villas and include a gourmet Bosch Kitchen, expansive lanai, and direct access to the resort’s VIP concierge team. Support the local community by shopping for produce and wares and enjoying live music at the Thursday night Sunset Market at Wailea Village.
For families looking for the ultimate kid-friendly Hawaiian escape, Aulani a Disney Resort & Spa on the island of Oahu has recently brought back two of its most popular offerings, a character breakfast at Makahiki Restaurant and the KA WA’A traditional luau. The resort features traditional hotel rooms as well as sprawling Disney Vacation Club villas with full kitchens, washers and dryers, breathtaking island vistas and easy access to Oahu attractions like Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park filming location Kualoa Ranch, and surfing off Waikiki Beach.
One major shift both Bowman and Thornton noted is that even seasoned travelers are turning to travel advisors because of so much uncertainty around future travel. Virtuoso, a leading host agency in the travel industry, has reported significant increases in the number of consumers seeking out travel advisors for trip planning. Thornton said despite more flexible cancellation policies, her team has had to work 24/7 advocating for refunds and/or future credits for clients who have had to cancel trips due to the pandemic.
More from Better:
- Disney Cruise Line Shares a Stunning First Look at its Newest Ship — the Disney Wish
- How to Get a Boarding Group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland
- The Best Outdoor Dining at Walt Disney World
Brooke Geiger McDonald is the editor in chief of Make It Better Media Group. A Chicago native, she has worked for publications like O, The Oprah Magazine and SHAPE Magazine and her work has appeared in Parents, TravelPulse, Attractions Magazine, MSN, Disney Food Blog, and more. At home, she is outnumbered by her husband and two sons, and the four of them are certifiable Disney and Star Wars fanatics, always counting down the days to their next Disney vacation. Her favorite nonprofits to support include The Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago and organizations focused on environmental conservation and combatting climate change, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and Shedd Aquarium. Follow her on Instagram @brookegmcdonald and Twitter @BrookeGMcDonald.