Winter break typically is the time when people either flee the snow or rush to embrace it like a friend they haven't seen, well, in 12 months. Depending on where you live, this winter so far has been either 1) so cold and snow-and ice-filled and you are ready to go any place where you don't need to wear layers or 2) so unseasonably warm and devoid of snow that you are clutching your skis, opening the freezer door, and inhaling deeply.
While the unusual weather this winter (airport-closing blizzards in Colorado in December, and in January, snow in Malibu, California, and Tucson, Arizona, and 72-degree temperatures in the Big Apple) has meant some setbacks and challenges for the travel industry, it also has opened up some new opportunities and bargains. New federal requirements for airplane passengers also are causing some people to rethink their mode of travel.
The quirky early winter weather did cut into travel bookings and prompt people to do more research before scheduling trips, Skip Fortier of MacNair Travel in Alexandria, Virginia, told Education World.
But at the same time, snow-free forecasts enticed some people who normally do not take winter vacations to travel, said Rob Brown of World Class Vacations in Allentown, Pennsylvania. "Some people are hesitant to travel when it is really cold and snowy because they are afraid of delays," Brown told Education World.
The warmer weather in the northeastern U.S. also made some people less cautious, and fewer people were buying travel insurance, Fortier said. "Everyone has let their guard down because of the mild weather," he added. "But you still should buy travel insurance. We have fickle weather and live in a fickle world. The weather could be milder where you are, but there could be bad weather in other parts of the country. And we have a lot of people who go to Europe, and there still is a threat of terrorism. Heathrow [Airport in London] could shut down at any time."
The big warm-weather winter destinations this year are the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, in part because flights to those countries are relatively easy to book, Fortier said.
Costa Rica often is a popular destination for educators because of all the natural wonders. Riviera Maya, located not far from Cancun, Mexico, also is drawing more visitors, in part because of the opportunity to visit Mayan ruins, he added.
Almost 100 percent of winter cruises are going out full, he added, so people should decide soon if that is their vacation of choice.
On the other hand, Erin Krause, a spokeswoman for Expedia, said late January through February can be a slower season for cruise lines, leading to deeper discounts, and cruises provide plenty of activities for all family members.
Many cruise lines were slashing prices for January and February in part because bookings were down, according to a published report. The new passport regulations that took effect January 23, 2007, also are a plus for cruise lines this year. Now everyone, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda must have a passport or other documents approved by the U.S. State Department (see the link at the end of this story.) Passengers on cruise ships are exempt from the passport mandate until next year.
Getting to those cruises, though, could be a little more costly, because some airlines are cutting down on the number of flights offered. The sooner you book, the less expensive flights will be, Fortier predicted. "There may not be any bargains by waiting until the last minute," he said.
U.S. air travelers also still are adjusting to the regulations for carry-on items that went into effect in September 2006. These regulations limit the amount and type of liquids, gels, and aerosols that can be carried onto planes.
For those who are craving winter fun, the western part of the U.S. has been popular for skiers, but heavy storms have made travel to those areas difficult, according to Fortier.
Up until mid-January, travel agents were telling most people interested in ski vacations to go west. But a return to more seasonable temperatures in the northeast has opened up more options for those hoping to hit the slopes.
"There is plenty of time to book for February break," said Marti Mayne, public relations manager for the chamber.
But even if there is not a lot of snow, or if everyone in the traveling party is not a skier, destinations like the Mt. Washington-area offer a variety of activities, such as shopping, hiking, dining out, museums, and exploring parks.
"It's one of the places you can go, and even if the weather is bad, have a good time with lots to do," Mayne said.
So peel off those layers, or pile more on, slam the freezer door, and reach for that suitcase.
U.S. Department of State: New Passport Rules Go Into Effect for Air Travelers
As of January 23, 2007, all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable.
Transportation Security Administration: Permitted and Prohibited Items
Lists of what you can and cannot carry aboard aircraft, and the permitted quantities.
Transportation Security Administration: 3-1-1s for Carry-Ons
Regulations restrict the amount and types of gels, liquids, and aerosols that can be put in luggage carried on to a plane. Each item must be in a 3-ounce bottle or smaller, placed in a quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, and only one bag is per passenger can be placed in a screening bin.