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Early Christmas Travel Season Begins

With 63.5 million people expected to travel this  Christmas season, many are trying to get a head start on their plans.  Many school districts have ended their classes till the new years, and families are using the time to get out and visit relatives or take vacations.

Orlando and other winter hot spots are bracing for big crowds.

“We are expecting a very busy travel weekend,” said Carolyn Fennell, spokeswoman for Orlando International Airport.

Christmas Day and the start of Hanukkah both come next Sunday.

AAA South spokesman Randy Bly said Orlando is the nation’s No. 1 travel destination for the final two weeks of December this year, based on AAA.com hotel bookings. Las Vegas is next, followed by Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco.

“The highways and airports will be busy,” Bly said, as AAA predicts 63.5 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home during the Christmas-New Year’s travel period, up 1.7 percent from last year.

“More people are traveling, despite the spike in costs of gasoline and airline fares,” Bly said.

Travel expert Gary Sain said the holiday calendar this year is a definite plus for the industry. With Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays, travelers will be more likely to stretch out their travel plans and extend stays, Sain said, giving a boost to hotels, rental-car companies and the tourism industry overall.

“Orlando is such a strong market, a consistent market, that the calendar doesn’t make quite as much difference as it does for other markets, though,” said Sain, a partner at Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown and Russell in Orlando. “I think it will make more of a difference and have a positive impact on travel to places such as Chicago and other winter destinations.”

The Travel Industry Association of America predicted Friday that winter travel will increase 2 percent this year. With an estimated 251 million trips, people will head for ski slopes, scoot South for warm weather or scatter to visit family and friends.

The TIA projects that leisure travel will be up 2.4 percent this winter and business travel 1 percent.

Orlando International Airport also is expecting about 1 percent more passengers during this year’s holiday stretch, from Monday through Jan. 3. The two busiest days, Fennell said, based on airline reservations, will be Friday, Dec. 23, with 97,336 passengers booked and Monday, Jan. 2, with 96,031.

While in-state Florida travel will probably get a boost from the closing of most schools on Friday, some districts in other parts of the country are still in session next week, noted Justin McNaull, travel specialist with AAA in its Washington, D.C., office.

“It’s all over the map,” McNaull said of school calendars. “Here in the D.C. area, schools don’t get out until Thursday, making for a very short travel period.” AAA, the nation’s largest nonprofit travel association, has its national headquarters at Heathrow in Lake Mary.

Orlando’s big theme parks are looking for huge, festive crowds during the next two weeks. They each have special decorations and events.

“It’s always one of the busiest times for us. We’re certainly expecting a strong holiday season,” said Becca Bides, spokeswoman for SeaWorld Orlando, which is wrapping up a record profit year. Via The Orlando Sentinel

If you are planning on travel, remember that the roads will be crowded. So drive safely or be patient.

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