After a long winter that stretched into spring in some parts of the country, travelers are planning to make the most of Memorial Day.
The national holiday travel forecast from AAA calls for the upcoming long weekend to be the busiest Memorial Day period for travel since the recession, with 36.1 million Americans expected to travel 50 or more miles away from home. That’s a 1.5 percent increase over last year.
South Florida could welcome a good number of those travelers: Based on booking data, Travelocity ranks the combined Miami/Fort Lauderdale area at No. 2 on its list of the top 10 Memorial Day destinations.
Courtney Scott, Travelocity senior editor, said that late May is an especially attractive time for visitors to head to South Florida because the weather will be warm but not quite as hot as in July or August. Although after this year’s “brutal” winter, she said, she doesn’t think even the possibility of extreme heat would be a turnoff.
“Everyone’s just really dying to take to the beach and put a bikini on and feel the sun and warmth,” Scott said.
Nationwide, travel during the period between Thursday and Monday is projected to be the second highest since 2000, after 2005.
Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA, The Auto Club Group, said the anticipated increase can be attributed to a combination of pent-up demand after winter and improved economic conditions.
“You still have a lot of people who are ready for the sun, and this is the first summer holiday, the unofficial start of summer travel season,” she said. “We are seeing households doing a bit better. When that is the case, we always see people getting out there and traveling.”
According to AAA, the number of Floridians taking to the road, rail and sky — but mostly road — during the long weekend is expected to increase 2.3 percent to more than 1.87 million.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport expects about 447,000 passengers between Wednesday and May 27 — an increase of 3 to 5 percent from last year, an airport spokesman said. Miami International Airport, where traffic for the year is up 2 percent, anticipates “a typically busy” holiday weekend.
In Miami Beach, where crowds flock for Urban Beach Week, hotel occupancy is expected to top 76 percent. That’s about 5 percentage points higher than last year. Countywide, hotels are expected to be about 78 percent full, on par with last year, said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
At the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, resort president Steven Hurowitz said the hotel expects a busy Memorial Day to lead into a solid summer.
In addition to visitors from South America and Europe, summer at the 355-room resort is full of Floridians getting away for a couple nights.
“Everyone wants to take a vacation and they all want to save money,” Hurowitz said. “They don’t get as much time off, so they sneak away for a staycation. We see a lot more of that in the summer when the rates are more attractive.”
This Memorial Day will bring a new attraction for visitors to the area, he said: A restaurant, Beach Bar @ Newport Pier next to the resort. While the Newport Fishing Pier at 16501 Collins Ave. has been open since last summer, the restaurant is set to start serving this week with grand opening activities over the holiday weekend.
“It’s another draw that locals will find attractive about the Newport this summer,” Hurowitz said.
In Broward, the all-day Great American Beach Party is expected to draw thousands of families to Fort Lauderdale beach on Saturday for a holiday weekend kickoff.
Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that event along with increased air service, stabilized gas prices and promotional programs are making for a strong holiday. While gas prices are higher than they were at this time last year, a gallon of regular unleaded costs about 13 cents less than a month ago in South Florida.
“As long as gas prices don’t surprise anybody and as long as the weather’s good, people will make it here,” Grossman said.