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North Hills Monthly

Start Planning Now For Your Summer Vacation

Jan 30, 2015 04:09PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Travel agents across the country often recommend Pittsburgh as a great summer vacation destination, but those of us who live here would rather vacation somewhere else… preferably with a beach.

“We coordinate a lot of wedding trips and family travel in the summer,” said Pam Deller from Allison Park Travel in Hampton Township. However she noted that all-inclusive trips, which bundle together the costs of roundtrip airfare, hotel accommodations, roundtrip airport/hotel transfers, meals, drinks, entertainment, tips and more, have become a popular alternative to East Coast beach weeks.

“For the same amount of travel time and money, $4,500 will get you so much more for a family of four at an all-inclusive,” Deller explained. “At the beach, you pay for transportation, house rental, all your food and other activities. It can really add up. Also, beautiful weather is practically guaranteed if you go somewhere tropical, like the Caribbean or Mexico.”

The best deals are the Punta Cana and Cancun charters, which are nonstop. “You could be sipping complimentary daiquiris on the beach faster than the time it would take you to drive to the Jersey Shore,” said Deller.

Last minute deals abound, but Deller advises that travelers should make their summer reservations right now. “Last year, the charters sold out quickly,” she warned, noting that the months of June and July go first. “Groups of friends or families should be especially mindful of booking early.”

For those who end up waiting until the last moment, Deller said that it’s important to make reservations at least three days in advance. “If the charter is leaving tomorrow, we can book you on it, but your name might not be on the manifest, and things could get a bit sticky,” she explained. “If you want to get up and go, that’s possible, but three days advance booking could make a lot of difference.”

Summer is peak travel time in Europe so bargains are rare, but escorted tours can be a good option, according to Deller. “European river cruising is the trendy thing to do these days,” she said.

The accessibility of travel sites on the Internet may make it look like there’s an easy alternative to using travel agents, but a closer look at the process reveals too many choices and possibilities to get it wrong. “I can book you the same property you can get on your own, but I can warn you if the property you’re considering is not what it seems to be on the Internet,” Deller explained, adding that she can also do what you can do in a fraction of the time.

A 20-year veteran in the travel industry, Deller has seen family vacations ruined because of misleading Internet ads. “We have people who do hours and hours of research, and we actually go look at these properties every year or so to see for ourselves how good they are. We also get tons of feedback from our clients,” she said.

Those who decide to drive to their summer vacation destination would be wise to take advantage of travel services, too. AAA membership offers peace of mind and travel discounts along with advice about routes to take and places to stay.

According to Tracy Edwards, managing director of travel sales for AAA East Central PA, travel agents are experienced and knowledgeable about finding the best values at reputable hotels and resorts. “AAA travel agents do this every day, and they know where the deals are,” he said, noting that new deals come out every day.

Among the most popular destinations for Pittsburghers in the summer are Myrtle Beach, SC, the New Jersey shore, and shore getaways in Maryland. And then there’s Disney. “Disney World is the most popular destination for Pittsburghers,” Edwards revealed. “Whether we drive or fly, we love Orlando.”

Driving south is a cost-saving alternative to flying a large family anywhere. “Quite a few folks are driving south–especially multi-generational families–because they can all go together,” said Edwards, adding that AAA provides a variety of tips for preparing your car to go the distance. He also advises anyone driving to Orlando make the trip over two days. “Stay overnight somewhere along the way and finish on the second day, so you’re fresh and alert and not falling asleep at the wheel.”

Short drives to Washington, DC or Niagara Falls are also popular destinations, but Edwards still advises travelers to make reservations well in advance. “From a driving standpoint, you don’t have to worry about transportation, but as far as making room reservations, try to do this early in order to get what you want and lock in your price, because things do book up quickly in the summer,” he said.

And if you do nothing else, have a AAA Tour Book in the car. “The tour book has a listing of the different properties, including diamond ratings in various areas of the region you’re in, so you’re not locked into one city,” said Edwards. “It’s your best friend when it comes to finding something on the way.”