SIDNEY — “For Christmas, you want to be sure there are rooms at the inn,” joked Chris Creamer, travel agent at The Shelby County AAA. In this business, “availability is always the guiding light.” (As opposed, perhaps, to a shining star.)
Despite the looming threat of the Omicron variant, Christmas travel bookings have increased. An estimated 122 million American adults plan to travel this holiday, a 42 percent increase from last year, according to a survey conducted by The Vacationer.
Holiday travelers are finding out, much to their dismay, that some of the most popular Christmas season getaways will need to be crossed off Santa’s list either due to travel restrictions or because many flights, hotels, cruises, and getaway resort packages are already fully booked.
Domestic versus international travel
On Dec. 1, 2021, the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant was publicly reported by Anthony S. Fauci at a press conference held at The White House. The infected individual was a fully vaccinated U.S. traveler (without a booster shot) who returned home to San Francisco, California after traveling to South Africa.
Understandably, most travel from Sidney is domestic travel, Creamer said. Much of this has to do with the international travel testing and travel restrictions in place.
The U.S. Department of State issues travel advisories using a tiered travel warning system. Level 4 is the advice “do not travel.” Current Level 4 travel warnings for many popular tourist destinations this year due to COVID-19 unfortunately includes such popular tropical vacation destinations as: Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Costa Rica.
Level-4 warnings have also been issued for some of the most often visited Western European cultural destinations, like Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, and the United Kingdom (Britain/Ireland/Scotland).
Nevertheless, plenty of people in Sidney are still migrating beyond city, state, and national borders for the holidays.
“Having been in the business 38 years, from my experience, regardless of the times, the desire to travel remains strong, people are resilient, adapt to change, realize life is short, and continue to travel,” said Debi Pulfer, Senior Travel Advisor at Creative Vacations in Sidney.
Hometown hotpots: Favorite destinations for Sidney residents
Some of the favorite domestic Christmas season destinations for people in Sidney include Florida, Hawaii, and New York City.
Florida offers plenty of family friendly opportunities in Orlando with Disney and Universal Studies. Individuals and families seeking fun in the sun might consider a beach house rental in the Tampa area. For those who enjoy fishing trips, there is Florida’s panhandle as well as Key West. Arizona is a top spot for desert vacations.
“Travel in the U.S. is extremely strong with many taking bucket list trips to Hawaii,” said Pulfer.
Worth a trip at least once in a lifetime, says Creamer, is Times Square in New York City for New Year’s Eve. He has made the trip several times himself.
Popular international Christmas destinations for Sidney residents include Mexico, Mexico (Cancun), the Southern Caribbean (Jamaica, St. Lucia, and the Bahamas), Dominican Republic (Punta Cana), and Australasia (Australia, New Zealand).
The Cancun resort zone in Mexico offers beaches, snorkeling, surfing, diving, and cruises, along with inland excursions to explore pre-Columbian historical sites like the ancient Mayan, Aztec, and Tulum ruins. Mexico offers an added benefit that it currently does not require testing before entering the country from the U.S.
Both the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas currently require testing and are listed as having a “Level 3” travel advisory, which advises to “reconsider travel.
The downside to popular warm cruise destinations is that it is usually needed to book one to two years in advance.
Planes, trains, and automobiles: Sidney’s most popular modes of travel for the 2021 Christmas season
The Vacationer’s survey indicates nearly 35 percent plan to travel at least 100 miles for Christmas, and 33 million American adults want to travel by plane.
With this increase in demand, planning is important, and staying up to date with the most recent travel information from a reputable source, like a travel agent, is more important than ever.
Given the unpredictability of COVID and related travel requirements, Creamer joked, “‘subject to change’ is going to be the title of my autobiography.”
As of Nov. 24, 2021, the CDC recently requires all non-vaccinated individuals flying into the U.S. (including U.S. citizens returning from abroad) to present a negative test result within 24 hours of departure. Fully vaccinated individuals may present a negative test result within three days of departure. However, beginning Dec. 6, 2021, “all international air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel to the United States,” the CDC announced Friday.
“Most of the resorts are simplifying the process of getting back into the U.S. by offering the necessary COVID-19 test onsite and complimentary. As cruises have started back up, many of the cruise lines are also offering the test,” Pulfer said.
Creamer offered the following summary and current advice about the most in-demand modes of travel for the upcoming holiday.
• Motor coach – The AAA annual Christmas shopping trip to Chicago for shopping is booked for this year but booking for next year is still open.
• Air travel – As of right now, there are no change fees at airlines, but be prepared to pay a fare differential and limited seat availability when changing plans. Currently, there are neither COVID-19 testing or proof of vaccination on domestic flights, but passengers are required to wear a mask. International travel testing requirements vary by destination and airline.
• Cruises – The most popular winter cruises through AAA in Sidney are “all-inclusive,” meaning an air, hotel, transportation, and activities package.
• Car rentals – Availability remains an issue, but the largest number of locally available automobile rentals can be obtained at the Dayton International Airport.
Ohio light shows and Christmas activities
For those wishing to stay in Ohio, or for those who were unable to secure their vacation plans, there are popular destinations in the state offering holiday light shows and fun family activities.
Cliffton Mill (Clifton) offers a light display featured in “Midwest Living” and “Ohio Magazine,” and claims to be “one of the country’s finest light shows.” Additionally, there are horse rides, and a “working” Santa’s Workshop. The cost is $10 per person and children three and under free. Nearby Ohio light shows worth visiting include Lost Creek Reserve (Troy), and Scioto Mile (Columbus). The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Wildlights offers a three million light display coupled with activities that include getting up close and personal with the zoo’s reindeer and sea lions. The Cincinnati Zoo (Cincinnati), ranked as the best zoo in the country in 2021 by “USA Today,” offers two million lights and a train ride on the North Polar Express.
For unique getaways, spend Christmas in a castle at Landoll’s Mohican Castle (Loudonville, Ohio) feasting like a king on prime rib, salmon, or honey Dijon roasted pork entrees. Get away from it all by hibernating in a rustic Christmas Cabin, equipped with a hot tub and fireplace in Hocking Hills State Park (Logan).
To plan your next trip, call or visit The Shelby County AAA at 937-492-3167, 920 Wapakoneta Avenue in Sidney, or
Debi Pulfer at Creative Vacations, a Division of All-Travel, at 937-498-7448, 16264 East Mason Road in Sidney.