By Beth J. Harpaz
AP Travel Editor
(AP) — Spring break isn’t just about “fly and flop” anymore — heading to a beach where you lie in the sun all day drinking pina coladas.
These days travelers want to balance relaxation with experiences, whether it’s tours that offer cultural immersion, yoga retreats or hiking adventures. Beach destinations remain popular, but travelers are also using spring break to explore Europe, Asia and other part of the world. And while college students and 20-somethings love their March and April getaways, families with young kids and baby boomers are shaking off winter blahs with trips, too.
WHAT TRAVEL AGENTS SAY
The Associated Press sought input from the American Society of Travel Agents for a spring break snapshot.
Misty Ewing Belles at the Virtuoso Network said in an email that she’s “seeing families trade traditional ‘fly-and-flop’ vacations for more active/adventure trips.” Many other agents agreed.
“The big trend is that clients are looking for unique adventures,” said Rob Karp with Miles Ahead . “Travelers are interested in becoming global citizens in places like Vietnam, Costa Rica, Italy and Nicaragua. Parents are taking their kids all over the world and immersing them in many different cultures. Spring break is also a chance for families to take trips globally, like Japan for the cherry blossoms, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Vatican for Easter or the Temple Mount in Israel for Passover.”
Ann Petronio, with Annie’s Escapes , said she’s seeing family trips outside “the usual Caribbean destinations. This year’s trips are more adventurous. For example, I have two sisters traveling together to Iceland. And a father-daughter headed to Dubai and the Maldives” on the daughter’s college break.
Dana Storr, with TravelStore , says they’re seeing interest in Belize “for those seeking tropical climates. These clients are looking toward transformative getaways. They want a culturally enriching experience while also having the opportunity to scuba dive/snorkel, take yoga classes and spa treatments. Disconnecting is of utmost importance. Another area is Europe. They are interested in city escapes to Paris, Florence and Venice. Aside from enjoying what these fantastic cities have to offer, they are all day-tripping beyond the city centers to experience local food purveyors and winemakers.”
Patti Gallagher, with Vacations by Patti , says she’s had requests for “family friendly all-inclusive in the Caribbean,” like a Nickelodeon resort in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, or the Beaches Turks and Caicos resort, which has Sesame Street-branded activities and an Xbox Play Lounge for kids plus water sports and gourmet dining for all ages. “Families seem to be looking for that Disney-type experience in the Caribbean without the massive crowds and exhausting schedule,” Gallagher said. Nickelodeon opens its first property in Mexico in 2019 about 20 minutes from the Cancun airport.
Laurel Brunvoll at Unforgettable Trips says “tropical destinations such as Costa Rica and Belize have seen an increased demand as families look to broaden their horizons” by experiencing nature, adventure and authenticity.
Helen Prochilo at Promal Vacations says “our spring break clients are booking Mexico. … The pricing we are finding in Mexico for Cancun, Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen has resulted in a 24 percent increase in our Mexico bookings year to date.”
Despite Mexico’s popularity and affordability, the country is plagued by violence, mostly related to drug-trafficking outside tourist areas popular with Americans. The U.S. State Department blacklists some regions of Mexico as no-go zones, but Quintana Roo, where Cancun and Cozumel are located, and Baja California del Sur, home to Los Cabos, were rated 2 under the State Department’s new travel warning system, which means “exercise increased caution.” The State Department’s warnings about Mexico also refer to reports of tainted alcohol at some resorts that have resulted in visitors getting sick or blacking out.
Tiffany Harrison, U.S. marketing manager at STA Travel , which specializes in student and youth travel, says outside traditional beach destinations like Cancun, South Padre Island in Texas and Panama City Beach, Florida, they’re seeing a surge in interest in Europe, with London, Madrid and Dublin as the top three.
Other trends from STA: “adventure-focused, off-the-beaten path destinations,” with mountain trekking, sailing and island-hopping; road trips, as evidenced by a 25 percent surge in campervan rentals since 2016, and “endangered destinations” like the Arctic, on trips that emphasize sustainability.
Booking.com found that spring break 2018 is going to be 2 percent more expensive than 2017 but three places are showing lower prices compared to last year: Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 20 percent lower than 2017; San Diego, 17 percent lower and Panama City Beach, Florida, 4 percent lower.
According to Fareness.com , the average cost for a round-trip fare from the U.S. to Cancun, March to May, is $368.
While Norwegian Air, Wow and a few other discount airlines have been running extremely low fares this winter to Europe and other places in the $300-$400 range, airfares are rising as spring and summer approach. Book now if you haven’t already and be flexible if you’re not locked into Easter week or March college breaks.