Make sure you’re flexible when considering the possible vacation options.
1. Australia/New Zealand
We told you to be flexible.
No, it isn’t exactly close to anywhere in the U.S. and there isn’t really a “cheap” flight there, but as the U.S. bundles up for winter, you’ll be in the Southern Hemisphere in late spring to early summer. Granted, this depends on where you go. Northern Australia near Cairns is in the monsoon belt; it has exactly two seasons and is hot and rainy from October to March.
However, if you want to visit the wineries of Adelaide, the museums and waterfront restaurants of Brisbane, the artistic and bohemian enclaves of Melbourne or the big city lights of Sydney, this is a great time of year to go. It can be a bit more brisk in Auckland or Queenstown, but did you think a place that stood in for Middle Earth in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies was going to be a tropical paradise?
The downside is that you’re going to need a tourist visa to get into Australia. The upside? You’re getting an extra 41 cents on the dollar thanks to a particularly friendly exchange rate.
Welcome to off-peak Hawaii, when the kids are back in school, the rains move in and the surfers end their summer jobs to take to the winter’s best waves.
However, just about everyone gets the genius idea to spend Christmas here, so it gets kind of slammed from mid-December through early January. This is why airlines including Alaska, United and Virgin America all get a bit less expensive around Thanksgiving and early December. If you’re willing to forego bustling Oahu for the Big Island and Kona, you’ll get some of the best deals of the year while getting most of the tourist attractions to yourself.
Yes, it’s Toronto in late fall. Yes, it’s a little cold. Yes, folks may still be a little salty because the Blue Jays lost.
It doesn’t matter. Thanks to an exchange rate that’s been incredibly strong for much of the year, you’re getting about 30% more buying power out of every dollar you spend there. You’ll still get all the food, culture and nightlife at a bargain rate, but you’ll also get a deeper discount when The Delta Toronto—the city’s newest and tallest hotel—extends you its Special Events rate that knocks about 25% off the best available rate for visitors attending sports, music or cultural events. For every Maple Leafs fan who’s complained in recent years that their underperforming team should be paying them to watch its games, a hotel guest gets that wish granted just for buying a Leafs ticket.
Even better, there are free downtown walking tours offered by the Royal Ontario Museum and free musical performances (through May) at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the fabulous Four Seasons Centre. Also, for folks who’ve dreaded the trip from YYZ into the city, the new Union Pearson Express train now zips you right in in less than half an hour.
4. National Parks
It’s the 100th anniversary of the National Parks system, and, if you missed the crowds this summer, consider yourself somewhat fortunate.
The bad news is that Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, The Everglades and Rocky Mountain National Park all raised entrance fees this year, largely because Congress can’t see its way to actually funding one of the country’s best ideas. The good news is that all fourth graders and their families get into the park for free under the A Kid In Every Park program.
There are also huge discounts at National Park hotels, including a a winter bed and breakfast package (available November 29 through December 20) at Utah’s Zion Lodge that hacks 70% off peak summer rates, and includes a hot breakfast for two.
5. The Bahamas
You wouldn’t think the islands would be such a hard sell around this time of year, but the Bahamas want U.S. tourist dollars so badly that they’re willing to put up with tourists’ kids just to get it.
New nonstop service on Bahamasair from cities including Baltimore, Newark, and Cincinnati are making the islands and their mild climate a lot more accessible to frozen folks on the East Coast and Great Lakes. However, the Bahamas and their businesses want those frigid folks to bring the whole family along. The Kids Stay Free deal at the Atlantis Coral Tower keeps an open mind by covering accommodations for two children up to age 11. Meanwhile, other deals on boating, fishing, diving, and other family activities are available on the Bahamas tourism board’s website.
6. Brunswick Islands, N.C.
TripAdvisor Vacation Homes ranks North Carolina No. 5 among its most popular Thanksgiving destination states and notes that Asheville, Boone and Bryson City are particularly in demand. Meanwhile, trekking down to South Carolina won’t help, as the No. 7 destination isn’t getting much relief in Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.
However, to the south of the favored Outer Banks and to the north of boisterous Myrtle Beach sites the Brunswick Islands, an underloved — but not undiscovered — stretch of the North Carolina coast. Holden Beach, Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Oak Island and Bald Head Island have 45 miles stretch of of beach among them and are as warm as the water well into fall.
That said, the people tend to disappear with the degrees of temperature, so spots like the oceanfront Winds Beach Club and Resort in Ocean Isle Beach have to start offering deals. Two-night stays start at $299, with a bottle of champagne, dinner for two, a tour and tasting at a local winery (including chauffeured sedan), breakfast and free use of bicycles. Meanwhile it also offers a three-night golf package for play at three nearby courses as low as $259 (down from pre-Labor Day rates of $366) from November 16 through January 1.
7. Sofia, Bulgaria
If U.S. travelers haven’t gotten over their Cold War aversion to Eastern Europe by now, this should help change their minds.
This Balkan capital city sits atop broad, yellow-brick avenues in the historic center to the partially exposed, 1,800-year-old Roman city that lies beneath. There is a free daily walking tour led by students. Dozens of parks dot the city. Most importantly, however, a three-star hotel such as the Hotel Arte, goes for about $60 a night, mid-week, with rates actually dropping on the weekends. A two-course meal for two with wine will set you back $50. Taxis are cheap, museum admissions are low and there’s hiking and skiing on the 7,500-foot Vitosha Mountain all within striking distance.
While round-trip airfares from Boston and New York hovered around $800 in October, fares from San Francisco and Chicago in November dipped into the $700 range. They hit roughly double that in the summer. The high temperature is about 60 degrees in Sofia right now, making it ideal for strolls through the city during the day and mulled wine by the fire at night. Bulgaria doesn’t have quite the same romantic ring to it as its Western European counterparts, but don’t misjudge what you’ve never seen.
8. Along the Eurail
You may not think 91 cents for every dollar sounds like much, but in terms of the euro it’s miraculous. That means a meal that would have cost you $104 on the continent in 2008 now costs $71.50. That hasn’t helped airfare as much as you’d imagine, but it comes in handy for getting around otherwise.
For example, Eurail is lopping 20% of the price of its passes for the fall. A first-class Eurail Select Pass for travel in Croatia/Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia costs about $222 for five days of travel in a two-month period. The same pass for Austria, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy costs about $445, and is also good for travel within a two-month span.
We can state from experience that Eurail typically doesn’t exist to make a tourist’s life easier, so getting any kind of discount from them — on top of the dollar’s newfound buying power — can only help your cause on the continent, especially if you’re willing to stay to the East.
We’ve already mentioned the benefits of that Canadian exchange rate, but enjoying it in British Columbia, where the temperatures still linger in the low 60s for much of fall, certainly has its benefits.
Sure, you can pop in on the Canucks early in the season while they still offer the city some sliver of hope, or you can visit the breweries, distilleries, restaurants, museums, theaters, Stanley Park and other elements of Vancouver that make it worth giving a second thought to spending hours inside an arena. And the local hotels sure want to help you out as much as possible. The Opus Vancouver will is cutting weekend rates 20% fall and will include in breakfast, a welcome drink, loaner bikes and car service to downtown.
10. Las Vegas
Ask any cabbie at McCarran Airport, and he’ll tell you the same: This is Vegas’s low season.
With the pirates stripped off of Treasure Island, the tiger shows and arcade out of the Mirage and the reinvention of Vegas as Orlando with slot machines now almost 20 years in the rearview mirror, this just isn’t a holiday destination. For folks without families or with families they’d rather avoid, however, this is a great time to be in town with hotel rooms in the mid- to low-double digits during that span.
What about airfare, you ask? Depending on where you’re flying from, airfare and hotel packages can run you Harrington Hall start at a none-too-dear $91 a night. Airfare may set you back a ways, but Aer Lingus’s air and hotel packages start at just $599 for a six-night stay.