‘Tis the season when a lot of people realize that they could and should take a few days off, and they throw together a last-minute New Year’s Eve trip. Of course, the New Year’s Eve holiday weekend is also one of those times when hotels in popular destinations jack up their rates.
This year the most popular New Year’s Eve destinations for U.S. TripAdvisor users are New York, Las Vegas, and assorted locales in the Caribbean (the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos), Florida (Orlando, Key West, and Miami Beach) and Mexico (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas)—and we’re seeing substantial price hikes in all these locales. In Las Vegas hotel rates are up 43% compared to the yearly average, in Miami Beach they’re up 60%, and in Playa del Carmen 67%.
Even in pricey destinations at the priciest time of year, though, there are almost always free local New Year’s Eve events. My family sometimes spends the holiday at the Equinox Resort in Vermont, and while the hotel always throws an expensive New Year’s Eve gala dinner, instead we sneak off to nearby Stratton Mountain, where the New Year’s Eve lineup includes free children’s activities plus a ski-jump show by torch light.
Whether you’re bound for a popular resort or still trying to hammer out plans for a New Year’s Eve getaway closer to home, here are tips to make it fun and affordable.
If you haven’t made your getaway plans yet:
Consider cities and hotels that usually draw a ton of business travelers but are empty now because nobody is traveling for business.
Last-minute airfares to sunny resorts may be prohibitively expensive, but there will be late-breaking sale fares to airline hubs and other big cities with frequent airline service. There should also be some last-minute award-ticket availability to these places. Think Los Angeles (LAX) or Washington, D.C. (IAD), for instance. At LAX you can rent a car and drive south to a cornucopia of sunny destinations. Washington, D.C., will still be gussied up in holiday lights and has .
Look up New Year’s Eve hotel deals in a city you can drive to.
Consider a vacation rental.
Many resorts impose minimum-stay requirements during the holiday period, sometimes of seven nights or more. It’s often possible, though, to find a suitably seasonal vacation rental—say, a cozy cabin in the woods, or a city apartment with views of New Year’s Eve fireworks—for three nights or less.
If you’ve got kids, try for a family-friendly New Year’s Eve.
There’s nothing family-friendly about kids staying up past midnight, but our friends at Family Vacation Critic have pinpointed 10 kid-friendly New Year’s Eve events, as well as 17 New Year’s Eve hotel packages for families.
If you’re bound for an expensive vacation spot:
Check local websites and the TripAdvisor Forums to learn about free New Year’s Eve events.
Don’t think your only option is the $150-per-person party in your hotel’s ballroom. The local newspaper’s website should list free local festivities you can check out instead. In New York City, for instance—where New Year’s Eve hotel rates will be 18% higher than usual—free events include not only the iconic ball-drop ceremony and the fireworks over Central Park, but also a party bike ride and a masquerade ball. In Mexico there are often festivities in the streets, with firecrackers and sparklers, and local rituals such as people eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight.
The TripAdvisor Forums are another great resource for travelers looking for affordable New Year’s activities or other travel advice. Browse questions asked by other travelers or pose your own—on average, questions asked in the U.S. forums are answered within six hours.
Suss out where you’ll have the best view of fireworks. Even if you’re not in a big city, there are often local fireworks. Figure out the optimal free or inexpensive spot to watch them from. In New York City, for instance, a lot of people love the spectacular fireworks view you get for free from the Staten Island Ferry.
Throw your own party on the beach or poolside.
Buy noisemakers, streamers, and confetti from a local dollar store, pick up champagne from the supermarket, and order in pizza.
Remember that kissing your loved one at the stroke of midnight costs nothing. And you don’t even have to leave your room for that.
Where will you be celebrating New Year’s Eve?