You can save money and avoid the crowds by visiting popular vacation spots at unpopular times.
Traveling during the off-season is in. And no wonder: Off-season travelers are rewarded with shorter lines, lighter crowds and lower prices—as well as activities that didn’t exist several years ago. As crowds swell in major destinations during the high season, “these places are getting creative, beefing up experiences and transportation options to attract visitors during the low season,” says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, a deal-finding website. Tour operators such as Globus and Insight Vacations offer programs dedicated to fall, winter and spring travel; travelers can typically save 20% to 40% compared with peak-season itineraries to European and other hot spots.
But no one wants to spend a vacation indoors, even if the price is right. Because not all off-season getaways are created equal, we found five ideas for summer, fall and winter trips that deliver good value and great experiences— and often better weather than you might expect.
HIT THE SLOPES WITHOUT THE SNOW
Ski resorts are fast becoming hubs of year-round activity, especially for avid hikers and bikers. But the mountains can suit anyone seeking a tranquil vacation. “You can find almost anything you want in a mountain town,” says Evan Reece, CEO of Liftopia, an online seller of lift tickets. “Activities can be as simple as riding the chairlift to the top of the mountain and hiking around, or as varied as attending music festivals or zip-lining.” Nearby rivers and lakes beckon those who want to fish, boat or swim, and night owls can join an astronomer for star-gazing. You’ll likely pay a fraction of the cost for accommodations compared with peak season, even at upscale hotels.
Vail, Colo. In the summer in Vail, you can slide down the tubing hill, zoom through the forest on a raised alpine coaster, soak up views from a gondola or try your hand at white-water rafting in the Eagle River. For something tamer, visit the weekly farmers’ market and art show, stroll the highest botanical garden in the U.S., or catch a performance by the visiting New York Philharmonic. In summer, you can also take advantage of deep discounts at luxury accommodations. For example, rooms at the Sonnenalp Hotel start at about $350 per night for a weekend in mid June, but they jump to $500 or more for a midweek stay in February.
Stowe, Vt. The village of Stowe in the Green Mountains is a skiing hot spot on the East Coast, and crowd-wary travelers might also want to avoid the summer and leaf-peeping seasons. Those are even busier times to visit, says Scott McIntosh, director of sales and marketing at Topnotch Resort in Stowe. But if you come after Columbus Day, the autumn crowds will have died down and colors will still be present (if not as vibrant). Take in the scenery by hiking or mountain biking. When temperatures dip, you can hop around the area’s craft breweries or sample flavors at the nearby Ben & Jerry’s factory. Topnotch Resort offers discounts of up to 50% off rooms and deals on activities—such as buy one spa treatment, get one free—in November and April.
St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria. This is one of Austria’s most popular ski areas in the winter, but it is relatively quiet in the summer, says Liftopia’s Reece. You can traverse more than 180 miles of walking paths, passing a variety of alpine flowers that grow only at high altitudes, and stop for a snack at a mountainside hut with a stunning view. Grab a free St. Anton Summer Card on the first day of your vacation from your hotel or guesthouse owner, which rolls together one day of unlimited cable car rides, a two-hour e-bike rental, a torchlight hike and more.
CRUISE WHEN OTHERS REFUSE
The height of hurricane season in late summer and early fall coincides with some of the best cruise deals of the year. As families settle back into the school year and ships return from Europe, cruise lines lower prices and throw in perks to help fill cabins. If you’re flexible about which islands you visit, don’t let the risk of storms deter you. Cruise lines monitor the weather and can easily circumvent oncoming storms. Keep in mind that you will probably get a credit or partial refund if your itinerary is drastically changed, but there is no guarantee. In extreme situations, such as returning to a different port city, you may be on the hook for flight changes and extra nights in a hotel.
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