With summer getaways still a couple of months away, April is an ideal time to find bargains that aren't available during peak season. The trick is to avoid price hikes at spring break hot spots in mid-April. Not every destination featured here is the cheapest in terms of airline tickets and accommodations, but free and cheap events happening in April help travelers stick to a budget. They can also create memories that are more valuable in the long run.
PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
April is a sweet spot for travel to the Caribbean -- the high season goes from the December holidays through March, before the heat of summer sets in, and the hurricane season typically strikes between June and November. Prices for Caribbean hotels and plane tickets generally start to drop in mid-April as it warms up in the United States. After Easter (April 16), the spring break crowds will thin out and rates likely will fall for a beach vacation in Punta Cana.
Boston is a fun place to be in April, as runners converge for the annual Boston Marathon on April 17. It's free to cheer at this major athletic event. The John Hancock Sports and Fitness Expo, where marathoners pick up their numbers the weekend before the race, is also free to the public and features hundreds of exhibitors of health and fitness products.
Sakura season in Japan is brief but beautiful. The cherry blossoms bloom for about a week, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on sites that predict the exact time they will emerge across the country. Getting to Japan is not necessarily cheap. But once you're there, viewing the blossoms is free in most parks, and there are many ways to save on the rest of the trip. For instance, choose the country's efficient mass transit over taxis (and buses over trains) and eat street food or grocery store takeaway instead of sit-down meals.
Cherry blossom fans who can't make it to Japan can still enjoy the sight of blooms popping out in the U.S. capital. The cherry blossoms bring a host of cheap activities with them. The National Cherry Blossom Festival (which includes the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival) takes place through April 16 this year and features events for the whole family, many of which are free to attend, including parades and fireworks.
Travel to spring break hot spots such as Cancún will start to taper off in late April as school resumes, making this the time to take a getaway for less. A nonstop round-trip flight from Chicago starts at $290 for April 21-29, compared with $378 for the same flight a week earlier. The weather should still be in the low 80s. To avoid any wild crowds that remain, head south instead of north from Cancún International Airport to Playa del Carmen, another coastal town on the Yucatan Peninsula.
April 27 marks this year's King's Day in Amsterdam, one of the biggest street parties in the world. Join the revelers in the streets for free live music and get a chance to haggle at a citywide flea market that opens as part of the event. Other cheap, all-ages activities around town include face painting, games, and checking out the boats jamming Amsterdam's canals. April also marks the start of the city's tulip season, which is free to enjoy.
During April, this small town a little over half an hour's drive from Dallas invites visitors to go back in time. The 2017 Scarborough Renaissance Festival starts April 8 (and runs through May 29). The festival features 16th-century fun such as exhibitions, food, games, and performances by actors in medieval garb. Tickets are $26 in advance. Accommodations in town are reasonable -- the Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, and Comfort Suites are recommended choices for festival-goers, making this unique getaway a budget-friendly choice.
ST. THOMAS, VIRGIN ISLANDS
If the dream is an island getaway, consider St. Thomas in April. Not only is peak season over (as of March), but it's St. Thomas' month for VI Carnival, a celebration that features parades, fireworks, food, and dance shows, many of which are free to the public. The traditional parade, with calypso music and gaudy costumes, is impressive enough, but the giant j'ouvert party that happens beforehand draws just as many people and twice as much crazy.
April is one of the best times to visit the Grand Canyon, as temperatures are pleasant for outdoor pursuits -- typically hovering in the low 60s but moving toward 70 as May gets closer -- and summer crowds have not arrived. That makes it possible to find a range of accommodations at a range of prices, from the Canyons boutique hotel, where weeknight stays can get down around $125 a night, to the Mather Campground, where campsites start at $18 and offer access to fresh water and flush toilets. While visiting, check out the free Kolb Studio art exhibits and be sure to walk the Rim Trail near the South Rim visitor center.
A number of major cruise lines move some of their ships to new locales when seasons change, and April is when ships typically move from Caribbean locations to Europe for the summer. That makes it possible to find spring cruise deals. Keep in mind that repositioning cruises tend to be on the long side -- at least a week -- and are typically one way, meaning travelers must pay airfare for the return trip. The start of "shoulder season" is also a good time to look for last-minute bargains on Caribbean cruises. We recently saw prices starting at $499 a person for 7-night voyages on Norwegian throughout April.