Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring Break Strategies

By DreamFinder Travel agent Kim Merrill

Spring Break Strategies

I recently returned from a Spring Break mom-daughter trip and wanted to share some thoughts about strategy.  Like many of you, my daughter has reached the age where we can no longer take her out of school randomly to travel during off-peak times.  My goal for the vacation was two-fold.  One, I wanted to be somewhere warm.  We have had a colder and wetter winter than most and I needed to get out of here. Two, I wanted to have fun.  I had found some interesting cruises I would have liked to have done, but the airfare to the East Coast was outrageous (as often happens with last minute trips).  I even looked outside of Florida, thinking I could visit friends or family, but airfare was not working out in my favor.  Based on the above, tip #1 would always be to book early.  I usually follow this advice, but I didn’t know that I would be able to actually go until about 6 weeks prior.  I have rectified this for next year and already have our trip booked!

Still hoping for warm weather, I went as far south as I could on the West Coast and decided to do a grand Southern California tour.  It had been a while since I had been there, so in the name of “research” I started planning my strategy.  Tip #2: Be flexible, and consider the travel direction and times/dates where you may be transitioning from one place to another.  I’m a California native, and have a firm respect on how traffic may completely ruin plans.  In light of that, I opted to fly into Los Angeles International Airport the evening that Spring Break started.  This meant that it was going to be a late night: We ended up getting to our hotel near Universal Studios about midnight.  While there was a closer airport (Burbank) to Universal, the ticket price and times worked better for us going to LAX. 

Another part of my planning was to ensure that our day at Universal could be very full.  Park hours were 8am-10pm.  In light of this, I splurged on the VIP Experience at Universal, which gave us many perks (will discuss this in full in another blog) and was a huge time saver for us.  Tip #3 bounces off of this plan: Make sure that park hours fit your expectations. It would be a huge disappointment should you opt to reverse this trip and be at Universal on a weekday and have the park open later and close earlier, thus much less time in the parks to experience all there is to do.

Knowing that we would be tired after a full day in the park, we spent one more night at the Universal-based hotel.  We woke up early, packed up, and headed to Disneyland.  If you’re keeping track of the days, this is a Sunday.  While it is possible to extend a day at Universal Studios Hollywood into 2 days, it can be done in one and I did not want to drive thru Monday morning traffic to Anaheim.  Distance-wise it’s only about 40 miles.  Time wise?  That can extend upward of an hour and a half in traffic.  (Be prepared for traffic in Southern California!)

One of the most common questions we get asked as travel agents is how to save money, or what is the “cheapest” way to stay at resorts.  Unfortunately, the “cheapest” way may not meet your expectations and tip #4 is to consider ALL of the upcoming expenses.  While there are ways to “bundle” expenses and “prepay” some items, you need to consider the big picture.  Having looked at the expenses of this trip, I decided to book a concierge-level onsite room.  Why would I spring for the extra expense?  A few reasons, actually.  The location is a big part of it.  The other?  The lounge perks.  For my daughter and me, the breakfast and evening snacks cut out 5 full meals that we would have otherwise had to pay for out of pocket (and some adult beverages as well!).  If you have big eaters this may not be a cost-saver, but this is an individual decision/recommendation.  Food in California is not cheap, whether inside the park or out.  Another huge perk of on-site concierge is that a close location allows for a mid-day break away from peak park crowds.  If you’re traveling with younger children (or cranky spouses) sometimes a little pool therapy is needed.  We were also able to watch the fireworks from the lounge. 

Tip #5: Other things to consider with a Disneyland trip are ticket type and dates of visitation.  Park hopper tickets are awfully convenient here.  It’s VERY easy to walk from park to park.  Make sure to look at the park hours (just as with Universal) to see if the fireworks are being shown (they aren’t always showing during slower times due to the fact the park is near neighborhoods) and whether the park is closing at acceptable times during your stay.  Tip#6: Have a younger child that still technically fits in a stroller?  Bring your own with you.  Yep, dust that stroller off and check it on the plane (it travels free on most carriers).  Those seemingly never-stopping little feet may tire out sooner than you think and you really don’t want to end up carrying your child all day.  We travelled with a stroller to Disney Parks until my daughter was 8 and it was totally worth it.

We did 2 days at Disneyland before heading down to San Diego.  We had a few friends we wanted to see and knew that we were going to visit one of the local attractions.  We slept in the morning of check out.  Tip #7: Build in some down time!  I make sure that I build in downtime whenever we travel, not so much for my daughter any longer, but for ME!  We had breakfast, checked out, and started the nearly 100-mile drive south.  This was a Tuesday, and by this point the traffic was gone and we had a smooth drive down.  I had booked a hotel that was right by the historic GasLamp District and near the airport for ease of departure on the day we left.  This was a total down day as we had a few hours to waste prior to meeting a friend of my daughter’s.  We ended up going to see a movie!

Wednesday was our last full day of vacation.  I gave my daughter the option of Sea World or the San Diego Zoo Safari park (we did the regular zoo last year).  She opted for the Safari Park, which is actually located about 35 minutes outside of San Diego.  Another tip (#8), that hopefully you have picked up here already: Know your travel times and distances.  This actually worked out exceedingly well for us as the next set of friends to visit lived nearby.

Tickets prices for all the parks we visited are pricey.  There are good ways to bundle some of the attractions, like a Southern California City Pass or the GO San Diego Pass.  It didn’t work for what we were looking to do, but these are great ways to save, and leads to my 9th and last tip:  Use a travel agent.  Your Dreamfinder Travel Agent can help you decide which option may benefit your plans and party size.   We are here to make sure you get the best vacation that fits both your budget and your dreams.

Ready to book your vacation?  Contact DreamFinder Travel today, and you can request Kim to help you out with your planning!