Lots more travelers expected for holiday

Daily Sun illustration

Thanksgiving travelers will find it harder to make it to their turkey on time this year — especially in Florida. Attractions, and Florida’s warmer weather, help explain why three Florida cities are the most popular with Thanksgiving travelers. And this year, travel industry groups expect more travel — not just to and in Florida — but also nationwide.  AAA, the Auto Club Group expects more than

55 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday, including about 3 million Floridians. That would mark the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since AAA began tracking it in 2000.

AAA expects the greatest Thanksgiving road trip traffic since 2005, while the airline industry trade group Airlines For America anticipates record air travel.

Robert Paluszak, president of the Worldwide Foreign Travel Club, said most Villagers he’s talked to about traveling for Thanksgiving told him their families plan to travel to them.

“They’ll be the tour guides for their family,” he said.

He even offers members lists of day trip ideas for entertaining visitors, but it was a plan to take a dinner cruise on the St. Johns River during Thanksgiving that made him realize just how popular traveling to Florida is this time of year.

The Village of Mallory Square resident called too late to make a reservation. The cruise sold out in March.

Traveling To Florida

Three Florida cities are among the most popular destinations for the holiday based on AAA’s booking data: Orlando at No. 1, Fort Lauderdale at No. 6 and Tampa at No. 7.

One reason why these Florida cities attract interest from holiday travelers is they’re warm weather escapes, said Deborah Breiter Terry, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

But the interest in Orlando and Central Florida is greatest because of its reputation as a family travel destination, she said.

The presence of theme parks and attractions helps, Breiter Terry said. But so does the presence of lodging options like vacation homes, which may allow large families to stay in one place and prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

The draw of each is the same — to bring families together.

“It’s one of the things Thanksgiving is all about,” Breiter Terry said. “And it’s not just blood relatives, but also friends you consider family.”

For many families, part of their Thanksgiving traditions involve kicking off the holiday season that leads up to Christmas.

Some holiday attractions at the theme parks, like Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays and SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, mark their debut Thanksgiving weekend.

Others, like Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom, have already started.

“This is when Santa’s going to make his first appearance, and it’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit,” Breiter Terry said.

Outside of the theme parks, those spending Thanksgiving weekend in The Villages can also enjoy early an Christmas celebration.

The first of three tree-lighting festivals in the community, Brownwood’s Sugar Plum Christmas, starts at 4 p.m. Nov. 30 at Brownwood Paddock Square.

Hitting the Road

More than 49 million Americans and 2.6 million Floridians plan to take road trips for Thanksgiving, both figures marking about a 3% increase from last year, according to AAA.

Strong economic factors like increased consumer spending and wages are driving this positive outlook, AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said.

Motorists should expect major delays next week as they travel on highways.

Transportation analysts think the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the busiest travel day with trips taking as much as four times longer than normal.

The heaviest congestion that day is expected from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. as commuters mix with travelers, Jenkins said.

“AAA recommends drivers plan ahead, identify alternate routes in case there are backups, and leave early,” he said. “Driving on Thanksgiving Day may not be ideal, but there are much fewer people on the road.”

Jenkins also thinks gasoline prices remaining low through November helped as travelers finalized their Thanksgiving weekend plans, he said.

AAA analysts think gasoline prices this Thanksgiving will be similar to last year’s average of $2.45 per gallon.

Gas prices in The Villages dropped Thursday morning to the lowest level since early February, according to a Daily Sun review of golf cart-accessible convenience stores in the community. Prices averaged $2.21 per gallon of unleaded regular, 22 cents below the average year-to-date price.

This time last year prices in The Villages averaged $2.22 per gallon.

Typically, gasoline prices increase around the Thanksgiving holiday because of increased demand from seasonal travelers.

However, prices may go down even more because of a continued increase in crude oil supplies and decrease in consumer and business demand, according to data released Wednesday by the federal Energy Information Administration.

Taking Flight

The skies may be as busy as the roads.

Airlines For America, a trade group representing the U.S. airline industry, expects about 31.6 million passengers to fly on U.S. airlines for the Thanksgiving holiday.

It marks about 4% more passengers than 2018 and the highest recorded Thanksgiving air travel volume, said Sharon Pinkerton, Airlines For America’s senior vice president for legislative and regulatory policy.

“Airlines will operate 859 more flights per day over last year’s Thanksgiving travel period, while adding 108,000 seats daily across their global networks to accommodate the record demand,” she said. “Airlines are adding extra staff, from check-in to baggage claim, to accommodate the record-setting number of travelers this holiday season.”

Airport traffic during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period, Nov. 22 to Dec. 3, will range from 1.8 million passengers on Nov. 28 to a peak of 3.1 million passengers on Dec. 1, according to Airlines For America.

During that same period, Orlando International Airport’s overall traffic is predicted to increase by 6% to more than 1.75 million travelers, the airport announced Monday.

“In anticipation of this historically busy holiday travel season, Orlando International has been upgrading the nation’s busiest TSA checkpoint,” said Phil Brown, chief executive officer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, in a statement. “We have remodeled the West Checkpoint, maximized the use of space and added more lanes for TSA agents to process more passengers.”

Orlando International expects its most heavily traveled day will be Nov. 30. Airlines For America anticipates that the next day, Dec. 1, will not only be the busiest travel day of the season, but the busiest day ever for the U.S. airline industry.

Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com. David R. Corder, a Daily Sun senior writer, also contributed to this report.