One benefit of being retired is the luxury of time. Many seniors enjoy a fair amount of flexibility, which means ample opportunity to save big bucks on travel. By vacationing during the off-season and pouncing on limited-time specials, savvy seniors enjoy discounts on food, lodging, transportation, attractions, and events. With so much incentive, why sit at home? Here are some of the best places to explore in 2017.
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Soak up some Southern charm in genteel, antebellum Charleston. Attractions such as the American Military Museum, Fort Sumter National Monument, and Gibbes Museum of Art offer senior discounts, while strolls along the waterfront and past gracious homes are free. One big draw is Spoleto Festival USA, an annual performing arts event (May 26 to June 11, 2017) offering 10 percent off senior tickets for select performances. Save more by booking early or attending Piccolo Spoleto, a companion festival featuring regional artists. Accommodations in spring and fall -- the best times for avoiding the sweltering summer heat -- start at about $70 a night.
In between Orlando and Tampa is quiet, quaint Plant City, a prime destination for the 55-and-over crowd where the motto is "embrace the future while preserving the past." It's small, walkable, and easy to navigate, and offers antique shops, a flea market, and good food at mom-and-pop restaurants. Visitors can indulge in homemade ice cream, candy, and locally produced blueberry wine. Walt Disney World and the beaches are within driving distance. The RV crowd can take advantage of the Sundial Campground's modest prices -- $175 a week in the April-to-September off-season.
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There are entertainment and outdoor activities galore in this vacation town deep in the Ozark Mountains. Take in country music shows and concerts, hit the links for a round of golf, cruise the lakes, explore the History of Fishing Museum, and just plain relax. Elvis fans should plan a July visit for the annual Elvis festival. Coupons and discounts for shows, restaurants, and activities are available with the Branson Premium Coupon Package. Senior discounts on lodging also are available at local resorts and hotels.
Hendricks County, a western suburb of Indianapolis, has become a popular place for senior travel and empty nesters. Visit Hendricks County, the local destination marketing organization, specializes in planning affordable package tours, demonstrations, and workshops for senior groups. They're typically organized around themes such as glass blowing and local history. Prices range from an optional donation to $30 a person, depending on the activity. The county also boasts arts and cultural activities, recreational options, and attractions such as the Oasis Diner, a 1954-era eating spot that was recently restored to its original luster.
Seniors have a soft spot for the Azores, an archipelago that lies 845 miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. According to tour operator Azores Getaways, 45 percent of its clients are older than 65 and more than 8,000 of them have visited the islands since the company launched in 2013. Visitors come for the whale, rare-bird, and dolphin watching, and the remote location far from Europe's big cities. Seven-day packages in December are as low as $599 round-trip from Boston.
The Maritimes are Canada's eastern provinces: Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. The region is a frugal choice for seniors on a budget; the strength of the U.S. dollar gets visitors a 25 percent discount on listed prices. Take a ferry from Portland, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia ($31 for seniors during the off-season) or drive north to New Brunswick. There's no shortage of outdoor adventure, from whale watching at eye level on a Zodiac boat to a narrated tour on board. Historic hotels like the Algonquin Resort or Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa may take seniors back to childhood vacations, and Halifax's Pier 21, the Canadian Ellis Island, stirs memories for immigrants. Summer is the best time to visit, but that's when prices are at their highest.
Yakima was selected as one of "America's Best Small Cities on the Rise" by SmarterTravel in 2014. It boasts plenty of craft breweries downtown and more than 80 wineries (many award-winning) in the surrounding areas. Seniors will enjoy the small-town prices, farmers market, and "u-pick" farms. The White Pass and Chinook Pass are about 30 minutes away and offer hiking trails for beginners to pros along the back side of Mount Rainier. There's white-water rafting on the Tieton River, fly fishing and tubing on the Yakima River, biking along various trails, and opportunities to spot wildlife in their native habitats. Accommodations start at about $70 a night.
With downtown Wilmington and three nearby beaches, city and seashore fun are rolled into one. Wilmington's Riverwalk, with shops and restaurants, has been hailed as "America's Best Riverfront" by USA Today readers. Go at sunset for a memorable view of the Cape Fear River and walk down memory lane with visits to historic homes, museums, and the Battleship Carolina. There are six public golf courses and fishing off public piers. Many attractions are free, including two nearby state parks, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, the Hanover County Arboretum, and the North Carolina Azalea Festival in April. Attractions that charge admission usually offer senior discounts. Shoulder-season rates on accommodations are available in spring and fall for about $110 a night at budget hotel chains.
Plymouth and the surrounding county are a choice destination for senior history buffs, especially in the spring before the crowds arrive. Pilgrim Hall Museum, the oldest museum in the country, displays artifacts that arrived with the Mayflower as well as a piece of Plymouth Rock that visitors can touch. Historic walking and ghostly tin-lantern tours are available April to November, and 17th-century houses that belonged to some of the original 101 Mayflower passengers are now museums and charge no or modest entry fees. Outdoor adventures include whale watching, harbor and lobster cruises, and journeys through the 100-year-old Cape Cod Canal. Nightly accommodations at budget hotels start at about $100 in the spring.
The Spanish island of Tenerife attracts seniors with year-round warm weather, an outstanding diversity of landscapes, and excellent value given the strength of the dollar against the euro compared with a couple of years ago. With good hotels, roads, and medical facilities, the island is an appealing European alternative. Prices generally are lower here than on the continent, and travelers can reach the island from more than 180 cities. Round-trip packages from New York City, including four nights at a 5-star property, start at $1,500 a person. Go in spring and fall to avoid the crowds.
There are reasons why Roanoke, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, was named one of the South's "Best Places to Retire" by Southern Living magazine: the temperate climate, easy hikes through lush forest, and farm-to-table cuisine to name just a few. Antiques and art are plentiful and local wineries are making a name for themselves. And then there's the lower-than-average cost of living, which commends the locale as a place to vacation as well as to live. Off-season lodging rates start at about $70 a night.
There's plenty to keep active seniors busy at the YMCA of the Rockies, which stretches over more than 800 acres surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park: archery lessons, swimming, a rock climbing wall, ropes challenge courses and zip lining, a craft and design center for making ceramics, jewelry, basket weaving, fishing and fly fishing, ice skating in winter, miniature golf, horseback riding, and campfires and s'mores. Seniors can volunteer to work at the property as a laundry attendant or sales clerk, for example, in exchange for room and board and access to most activities. A current promotion for three-night stay in mid-January (including two free breakfasts for each night booked) costs $99 a night; YMCA members get a discount.
Ditch the big-city excitement downstate and head upstate to the serenely magnificent Adirondacks. Whether seniors are active or sedentary, winter and summer sports, cultural events, shopping, and more can keep them busy for days on end. Several communities host winter carnivals, and miles of scenic byways and country roads beckon adventurous drivers. Unparalleled leaf peeping in the largest publicly protected area in the continental United States draws crowds in the fall. Hop aboard a Trailways bus and save 10 percent on the fare just for being 65. Lodging discounts for seniors are available as well; Blue Mountain Rest in Adirondack State Park, for example, shaves 4 percent off the tariff for a three-night stay Monday through Thursday.
Cancún may attract the party crowd, but word is that snowbirds and seniors are starting to seek out the sun in Mazatlán. The beaches are beautiful and there are historic attractions to explore, as well as hiking, bird-watching, and all sorts of water sports. It's a good fit for budget-minded seniors. All-inclusive resorts are plentiful and even some of the rooms with two beds start at about $90 a person a night. Off-season here is spring and fall, specifically April and May and October and November.