When people think of vacation, they picture images of summer. But if you're not working anymore, and you're no longer tied to a school schedule, September and October can be the best months to get away from home. Why?
The weather is better. Thinking of going to Disney World? In Orlando, Fla., the average high temperature in July and August is a blistering 92 degrees. But by October the average high has simmered down to a more bearable 85, and night-time lows dip into the 60s. Meanwhile in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Florida State University Climate Center, ocean temperatures hover around a comfortable 80 degrees well into October.
It's still relatively warm in vacation spots father to the north as well. Cape Cod boasts an average daytime high of 70 degrees in September, the same as in June. And as a bonus, the water is warmer in the fall. In Cape May, N.J., where September highs average 78 degrees, it's still getting up close to 70 during the day in October.
Rates are lower. Last winter we rented a place in San Diego that we found on Cyber Rentals. It was the downstairs of a two-unit house one block from the Pacific Ocean with two bedrooms and two baths. It was beautiful. We're thinking of doing it again this year, but when I recently looked up the rates I was shocked. We paid around $1,500 for the week. Now the rate was posted at $2,300. Then I realized, that's the summer rate. The “fall deal" goes for $1,299 a week, starting after Labor Day. The place is already booked up for September, but there are still weeks available in October and beyond.
Meanwhile, we've been looking to take a quick visit to Cape Cod. I saw a beautiful, old-fashioned but updated hotel right on Nantucket Sound. In August, they wanted $235 a night. I asked, but there was no AAA or AARP discount. But now that it's after Labor Day, the same room has dropped to $189 a night, and after October 1 the price will drop again to $164. Guess when we're going?
It's not just the summer season. A nice but modest hotel a block from the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, with a good Trip Advisor rating, goes for $110 a night in February and March. It's $75 a night in July and August, but only $65 in September.
The crowds are gone. In summer, beaches in the Carolinas and Florida, where temperatures hit the 90s almost every day, are mobbed with kids off from school. But by September the crowds have thinned enough so you can find a spot for your chair and umbrella. According to the website Dad's Guide to Walt Disney World, the park is jammed from the beginning of June to mid-August, but then the crowds drop off precipitously. The best time to go, according to the Dad's Guide, is after September 1st.
There's still plenty to do. Many vacation destinations put on special events during shoulder times to extend their seasons. Cape May, N.J., for example, offers the Food and Wine Festival in September, the Lima Bean Festival in October, and the Jazz Festival in November. Other places use their off-times to make interesting changes. According to the Dad's Guide, "If you go to Disney World the first week of November, you get to see the Halloween decorations come down and Christmas decorations go up."
And for those who prefer the urban vacation, September is often the beginning of a new season. New York has Fashion Week, the St. Gennaro Festival, the Columbus Day parade, the New York Marathon, as well as football games and the baseball playoffs. Chicago and San Francisco offer festivals, fairs, plays, parades, and also football and baseball teams headed for the playoffs.
And Phoenix? Forget Phoenix in the summer, when average daily highs top 100 degrees. But things start to moderate in September, and by October the average daily high is below 90 degrees, as the festival and football seasons kick into high gear.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.