Eric King initially was not planning a spring break trip. But, like many from the Pittsburgh area, he and his wife plan to take advantage of the opportunity to take their three children on a quick trip in the coming months.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” said King, 43, who works in information technology sales and whose kids are all 10 or under. “My wife is a schoolteacher and the kids have spring break, so we found a five-day window to get out of Pittsburgh and find someplace warm.”
The family is flying to Tampa, Fla., in late April and staying in Clearwater. The Kings visited Disney World two years ago, and this time they’re considering Universal Studios.
While they’re in Clearwater, they might want to visit the best beach in the United States as named by TripAdvisor, which just released its annual list of the top 25 beaches in the country. You can also catch nonstop flights to No. 4 (St. Pete Beach, Fla.), No. 6 (Siesta Beach, Fla.), No. 8 (St. Augustine Beach, Fla.), No. 9 (Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fla.) and No. 10 (Driftwood Beach, Ga.)
“You have families with school-age children looking to get away from the winter, and the fact we have the charter programs from Pittsburgh make it easy,” said Ambassador Travel’s Bob Thompson, who worked with King to set up the trip. “It’s a huge selling point because you can get on a plane in Pittsburgh and be in ‘summertime’ in a few hours.”
The King family is among the hundreds of thousands of people from the Pittsburgh region who will look to escape the Northeast winter in the coming weeks. Travelers fan out in all directions, with Orlando the most popular destination for folks flying out of Pittsburgh, according to Bryan Dietz, Vice President of Air Service Development.
“Airlines add service based on demand, and that can vary from day to day and week to week,” said Dietz. “Airlines are very demand-responsive, so I would say of all the industries, it is the one that can match supply and demand the quickest.”
Thousands of college students call Western Pennsylvania home, and their “spring break” trips may be top of mind for most who hear that term. But Dietz emphasized that the airport sees an increase in people of all ages taking trips this time of year.
“I think of spring break as more than just college students,” Dietz said. “I think of it as people who are looking forward to a little bit of an escape, to try something new and different. I think that’s why we see that travel demand with additional flights to Florida and to the West Coast.”
For individuals looking for the Caribbean spring break experience, Cancun, Mexico, and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, are the top destinations. Four different airlines fly directly to Cancun from Pittsburgh.
Vacation Express expanded its nonstop Punta Cana service from Pittsburgh International in January. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)
This is also the second year that Pittsburgh has offered direct flights to Puerto Plata, a Dominican city on the north side of the island.
Charters and all-inclusive trips are specialties for travel agent Steve Lange of Pittsburgh’s Travel Sharks agency.
“It makes the experience really easy because it’s basically point-to-point service,” Lange said. “That’s not to say that scheduled air doesn’t work, but for first-timers, the charter experience to your destination transfers from the airport property to the front door. It’s probably the best value in the marketplace.”
Cruises are also “bigger than ever,” added Lange, with Royal Caribbean, Disney and Carnival lines among the most popular choices.
The King family took a Disney cruise several years ago and considered another cruise this year before deciding on Clearwater.
“(The kids) actually preferred the Disney cruise to Disney World,” Eric King said. “It’s easy, all the characters are there, and you get to go to the beach at the ports.”
It might seem counter-intuitive as a spring break option, but some people eschew the beach and head to the mountains. Many folks in the coming months flee the region for spring turns in the snow of the high-altitude Rocky Mountain resorts of Utah and Colorado. Delta offers nonstop service to Salt Lake City while United and Southwest fly nonstop to Denver, giving travelers still more options than traditional warm-weather spring break destinations.
“The beach might be for some people, skiing might be for others,” Dietz said. “We just want to make sure we help get people there.”