Trip to Wonderful

Thursday, March 10, 2005

It's all about timing...

As I move between my computer and the 50" x 40" laminated map of the US which now adorns the wall of our dining room, I'm slowly but surely creating a winding path of red marker, from New England to the Rockies, back to the Upper Peninsula, down to Southern Appalachians, etc., etc. Each of the points in the path are only placed if they fulfill two criteria: First is the expected temperature during the proposed visit, second, and somewhat related, are the expected crowds.

Now, some destinations have such small windows of opportunity that filling the first criteria means that the second criteria is bound to fail. Yellowstone National Park falls into this category. Camping in the park is essentially limited to three months. Those months also fall in the middle of summer vacation, the peak of the travel season for most families. So while that doesn't knock Yellowstone off the list, we know we're going to have to look at ways to mitigate the crowd factor. Visiting mid-week, camping at one of the lesser-known campgrounds, or even in one of the national forests which border the park may alleviate some of issues, should they even arise. I mean, let's be honest - it's a huge national park, not Disney World, so is being "crowded" at Yellowstone just relative?

But speaking of Disney World... This is one of those times where it is in fact possible to fulfill both criteria. You do, however, have to be willing to thumb your nose at your school's calendar, which we have never had a problem doing.

The least crowded times at Disney are in the Fall, after Labor Day and up to Thanksgiving, then in early December, and again in January and early February. In the latter, the weather tends to be a bit cooler, which may not actually be a problem for a heat-sensitive autistic child, but it does mean a lot of the water parks and pools, much beloved by autistic kids everywhere, are closed. That leaves the Fall, and frankly, near perfect weather.

I've been to Disney in mid-September (immediately following 9/11/2001), early October, and early December, and every time, the crowds have been so light that the lines where almost non-existant. Granted, it doesn't really count in September 2001, when we could actually remain on any ride we chose. Generally, there are still crowds, some days more than others (weekends and Columbus Day holiday, in particular), but they are so much more managable than during peak season. Even with the Guest Assistance Card for ride entry (which has changed slightly, from what I understand), just the crush of the crowds in the common areas during peak season would be enough to frazzle many autistic kids.

There are economic benefits as well to travelling during slow seasons. Rates at hotels, campgrounds and home/condo rentals drop dramatically during off season. With the savings, most families can upgrade to a larger living space, including those with cooking facilities, and remove one other potential stressor, dining out. At Disney, between the off-season discounts and other potential savings devices, such as annual pass rates or renting DVC "points" (both of which I'll explain in the near future in another post), families can save more than 50% on Disney "Home-Away-From-Home" properties.

Off seasons are often surprising as well. While Googling for information on the Florida Keys this morning, I learned that their high-season didn't begin until December 1st. For those of us who live in northern climes, November seems like a pretty nice time to be basking in the sun. Most vacationers don't really think of tropical destinations until they can't take winter any longer, and by that time, all their neighbors feel the same.

It pays to do a little research on air and water temperatures (if applicable.) While the both the air and water temperature on the North Carolina Outer Banks drop off in early October, both are still above 70 degrees for a few more weeks, and housing prices are at their annual low. Head south through South Carolina and Georgia, and comfortable weather, and prices, extend a little longer.

On our travels, we expect to run into times when we can't satify both crowd and climate control. In some cases, we'll settle for slightly cooler temps and fewer people. In others, particularly next winter, weather will tip the scales. But a little research and planning, and willingness to shrug off school administrators, can mean the difference between surviving a vacation, and truly enjoying it, for both parents and kids.

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