The bright days of summer aren’t the only time to take to the road, water or the sky. In fact, for some travelers, summer isn’t even the best time at all.
The road less traveled can be the fast lane to fun. The cheaper air fares, attractive cruise ship deals, lower hotel rates, sparser crowds and shorter museum lines in the off-peak months are great lures. For the best balance between tranquility and activity, nothing beats the shoulder season.
“Shoulder season’’ is travel industry jargon for the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, and again between Easter and Memorial Day. Whether you’ll really enjoy shoulder season, “depends on the type of traveler you are,’’ says Chris McGinnis, head of Travel Skills Group. “If you want a getaway, a leave-me-alone trip, this is the absolutely perfect time. This is the best time of year to take a cruise; prices are lower, the ships are sailing and everything is open. Also, you’ll have many resorts to yourself.’’
However, if you want a wide range of activities and people to share them with, shoulder season travel isn’t for you, says McGinnis, who blogs about business travel for youmustbetrippin.com, a Web site sponsored by Best Western International hotels.
“Museums have shorter operating hours, and at hotels, one of the two hotel restaurants may be closed,’’ he says. “This is quiet time, when hotels are regrouping, a time when they’re renovating.’’ McGinnis advises checking with your hotel ahead of time to see if renovations are under way. If so, “When you check in, ask for a room as far away from the construction as possible.’’
Wendy Harvey, who heads public relations for the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, says her resort hotel did some renovations as summer wound down to the slower off-peak time. The Kea Lani built a new business center, but Harvey says disruption for guests was held to a minimum.
Harvey says shoulder season can be good time to visit Hawaii too.
“For Hawaii in particular, I find the slowest months have some of the best weather. The warm, but not hot weather is perfect. I find October has the most consistently colorful sunsets. Because Maui is always going to be a popular destination, visitors will find virtually everything is still open,’’ she says. “There may be fewer hours a day that activities are run or a restaurant is open, but it’s still available.’’
Of course, shoulder season activities – and affordability - differ from place to place.
“With the U.S. dollar so low, we are recommending areas where the dollar is still okay, such as South Africa and Latin America, where it’s the opposite of our seasons,’’ says Terrence Regan, owner of Northside Travel, a travel agency in Berkeley, Calif.
“Often hotels in Europe will have deals in the off-season and on weekends - you might get a 300 euro room for 150 euros - and some sights like museums and theatre/music are not affected by weather,’’ Regan points out. “And weather is not always a factor, with global warming. I was in Como (Italy) after Christmas a year ago, and there was no snow.’’
Moreover, says Regan, who sits on the board of directors of the American Society of Travel Agents, “I discovered that the bars in Paris now have “happy hours’ where the beer is less than 4 euros. Most European cities also have lots of low-cost concerts in churches.’’
“But stay away from Christmas – Dec. 15 to Jan. 15,’’ he warns.
In shoulder season, travel companies rewrite their game plans. Cruise ships forsake the waters of Alaska for the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Although fall is hurricane season in the Caribbean, mega cruise ships can sail around troubled waters and high winds.
McGinnis recommends consumers consider hitting the road during “dead weeks’’ – the two weeks just before and after Thanksgiving, a very slow time in the U.S. travel industry.
One notable exception: Manhattan. The sidewalks of New York are apt to be jam-packed. “People love to go to Manhattan and window-shop and watch the snow fall,’’ he says. “That’s a busy time.’’