Holly Bowne 2016-01-21 15:17:54
Remember how exciting it was when those first magical snowflakes fluttered down back in November? Well, right about now that magic has passed, and many West Michiganders are dreaming of lounging beachside with a tropical fruity drink in hand. If you didn’t plan your vacation ahead of time, not to fear! We’re sharing five great last-minute options that not only include dreamy sun-drenched destinations, but require minimal planning and—believe it or not—won’t cost you a fortune. Tropical Tranquility “Send me someplace warm!” is a common refrain heard by travel agents this time of year. When that happens, Teri Yonker, CTA, ACC, DS, Senior Leisure Agent at Witte Travel, typically asks two questions: “Are you flexible?” and “Do you have a passport?” Last-minute flights to warm-weather destinations on traditional airlines can be expensive and difficult to find. Yet if travelers are flexible on departure dates, and don’t mind flying out of Detroit or Chicago, they might be in luck. Travel agents can sometimes secure seats on an international charter flights to hot spots such as Punta Cana, Cancun, Jamaica and Puerto Vallarta, while simultaneously saving people thousands of dollars. “If all the seats on a chartered plane haven’t sold, you may spend only $1,200 per person for an entire week at a very nice all-inclusive resort—with all your meals, drinks, flight and transfers included,” said Tami Lemson, Manager Vacation Sales at Breton Travel. “With a traditional airline, you may pay $1,200 for the airfare alone.” Road Trip to Florida's Panhandle For travelers who don’t have passports—or who prefer to stay in the United States—a spontaneous road trip to Florida’s celebrated Emerald Coast may be in order. Visit off-season in April or May to experience Florida’s glorious sunshine and warm Gulf of Mexico waters, without the crowds or high costs of peak-time traveling. You could rent a condo on the Gulf and spend your days collecting seashells on deserted beaches, hiking beautiful parkland trails, golfing at award-winning courses, and dining on fresh Apalachicola oysters at nice restaurants without reservations. Make it a European Vacation An ideal time to book a spontaneous European vacation is during “shoulder season,” the period just before peak season begins. Prices are good, as it’s not when everybody else is going. “Shoulder season for Europe is May,” said Yonker. “We can put together a nice independent travel package or an escorted tour.” Another advantage of fewer crowds is the opportunity to interact more with locals, providing a more immersive experience. Last-minute shoulder season European favorites include Italy, Germany, London and Paris. Once again, departure-date flexibility is key. “Monday through Thursday departures offer the best airfare prices,” said Lemson. There could even be big price swings among different weekdays. “Sometimes, just switching your departure by a single day can save you hundreds.” Northern Michigan's Island Getaway Peak season for Mackinac Island is from late May to October, but the beautiful island is open all year, making it a great last-minute getaway option during its off season. Visit at the end of April to witness the island’s Grand Hotel staff preparing for its official opening. Stroll through the hotel’s blooming gardens, and take a tour with hotel historian Bob Tagatz to learn the fascinating stories behind this beautifully preserved 19th-century building. The island also offers more than 70 miles of biking and hiking trails that run through boreal forest and alongside the gently lapping waves of its postcard-perfect coastline. Make an Altitude Adjustment Travelers can head to the mountains for a unique last-minute spring break option. High season for North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park doesn’t hit until summer—so in April and May, you could rent a mountain cabin and trek along crowd-free trails that wind past sweeping mountain vistas. Bring your camera to catch the swooping acrobatics and 200-mph dives of the Park’s famous Peregrine Falcons. When you tire of hiking, visit nearby Asheville to tour Vanderbilt’s renowned historic Biltmore Estate and winery. STAY SOCIAL: One final tip for last-minute vacation wannabes: Keep an eye on your favorite travel agency’s social media accounts. “We have a media team that will post travel deals and suggested getaways on our Facebook page,” said Yonker. “And from time to time, we’ll do an email blast to our repeat customers.” Breton Travel provides an additional option. “We have a huge sign in front of our office on the corner of East Paris and 28th Street,” said Lemson. “We change it every week and sometimes post last-minute deals there, too.”
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