This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site MarketWatch.
Cheap travel abounds in the spring, experts say. The difficulty is more in finding locales that aren't catering to, or overrun by, visitors looking for a nonstop party.
The first consideration is timing. If you look at college break schedules, the week of March 10 is when many of the "party schools" aren't in class, says Courtney Scott, a senior editor for Travelocity. "If you can avoid that week, you'll be doing yourself a service."
Play it even safer by going later. "April generally will be a cheaper month than March for some of the popular spring break areas," says Andrew Young, the Web editor for deal site Travelzoo. "You definitely lose the college crowd by then."
Picking the right location is even more important. Based on booking data from STA Travel, a travel agency specializing in student deals, Cancun, Mexico, is the No. 1 spot for spring breakers, a distinction it has held for several years. Rounding out the top five are Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Panama City Beach, Fla.; and all of Jamaica.
In all five locations, consumers looking to avoid college crowds may fare better with high-end properties and adults-only all-inclusive resorts, says Young, but there's no guarantee that strategy will be effective.
A safer bet: Avoid those locations. Experts say the following four destinations have plenty of spring deals, but less appeal to the college set.
Fort Myers, Fla.
College crowds make a beeline to Florida cities like Miami and Panama City Beach; families head for Orlando. Fort Myers and nearby Sanibel don't get the same crowds, despite having excellent beaches, says Young. Travelers can find plenty of hotel deals, especially for higher-end properties. The 4.5-star Westin Cape Coral is currently offering a complimentary room upgrade, the fourth night free and a $100 dining credit. (Rates regularly start at $299 a night.)
Spring travel to Fort Myers can also be a win for baseball fans. The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins are among the teams conducting spring training there.
Atlantic City, N.J.
Although there's a boardwalk worth wandering, it's still too cold in March and April to attract spring breakers looking for a beach. But resorts have dropped spring prices in a bid to entice travelers after Superstorm Sandy damaged the region, says Taylor Cole, a spokeswoman for Hotels.com. March rates for the four-star Harrah's Resort Atlantic City start as low as $30 a night.
That gives travelers more cash to use for gambling, shows and spa appointments, she says -- and most resorts have well-reviewed indoor pools, too.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Spring break is more about sun than snow, so there tend to be fewer students at ski resorts, says Scott. By March, new snowfall isn't a sure thing, so there tend to be plenty of hotel deals and travel packages at resorts across the country. A good bet: Jackson Hole, Wyo., which has had more than 24 feet of snowfall this year. The 3.5-star Grand View Lodge currently has an offer for 20% off two nights or 30% off three nights or more, with rates starting at $134 per night. Packaged with a flight, a five-night stay in early March could cost as little as $600 per person, she says.
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, Calif.
There's a lot of drinking here, to be sure, but more sips than shots. "With the tasting rooms, there's by nature a 21-and-over atmosphere," says Young. Although vineyards are in bloom this time of year, the wine-trail crowds tend to be thin compared with peak summer season.
Bed-and-breakfast packages offer some of the better deals. Through Travelzoo, the Geyserville Inn near Sonoma Valley currently has rates starting at $99 for a one-night stay and a $25 dining credit, which represents a 53% discount off its usual price.
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