Here’s the secret to finding a last-minute Spring Break trip that won’t blow the bank: look for a less obvious destination. We found five great options to book now, each with good airfare from Chicago for travel from mid March to mid April.*
Not just for snowbirders escaping winter, greater Phoenix is packed with a happening Spring Break schedule. In Mesa, the Chicago Cubs kick off their spring training season in March at the new Sloan Park, which has rooftop decks, food trucks, and the world’s largest climbing tower at the adjacent Mesa Riverview Park. Opened in January in nearby Old Town Scottsdale, the new two-story Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West tells the story—past, present, and future— of the American West. In Phoenix, do not miss the Musical Instrument Museum, a gleaming, uber-interactive museum with exhibits covering everything from John Lennon and Taylor Swift to how a Steinway piano is made.
The deal: Fly direct from O’Hare to Phoenix on Spirit from $157 round trip. Stay in Mesa, right next to Sloan Park at the new Sheraton Mesa Hotel, set to open in late February with a swim-up pool bar and rooftop lounge (from $269 a night).
2. St. Petersburg
Look beyond Orlando and Miami to Florida’s lesser-trafficked gem, St. Petersburg. Thirty-five miles of white-sand beach on the Gulf Coast would be enough, but there’s more. Check out St. Pete’s 31 museums, including the glass-bubble-topped Dali Museum, home to more works by Salvador Dali than any other museum outside of Spain. Sip a cool one at any of 18 craft breweries. And do take the kids to the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium to meet the stars of the Dolphin Tale movies, Winter and Hope.
The deal: Fly direct for $155 round trip on Frontier from Chicago O’Hare to Tampa, about 25 minutes from St. Pete. Stay right on the beach at the affordable, surfer-chic Postcard Inn (from $169 a night).
Fly on the awesome Porter Airlines and reach Toronto in just an hour-and-a-half, landing in a foreign country for Spring Break. First stop: the Hockey Hall of Fame where fans can see all three Stanley Cups in one serious vault, plus every conceivable artifact from the sport. At the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, 15,000 underwater species swim through what is billed as the longest underwater viewing tunnel in North America. Foodies can get lost in the massive, historic St. Lawrence Market or splurge on an incredible French-Canadian spread at Café Boulud, chef Daniel Boulud’s bright Yorkville restaurant.
The deal: Nonstop flights on Porter from Chicago’s Midway International Airport to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport run from $264. Stay at the InterContinental Toronto Centre with a package that includes overnight accommodations, buffet breakfast for two, and two tickets to Ripley’s Aquarium, just steps from the hotel (from $249 a night). While there, take advantage of a strong U.S. dollar that equals about $1.24 Canadian.
“Berlin is a divided city,” wrote Allessandra Stanley at the New York Times. “Not between East and West, of course, but between serious and fun.” Families with teenagers and history buffs can explore side by side, equally enthralled by remnants of the Berlin Wall and WWII exhibits (see the moving Topography of Terror) as by the city’s vibrant, edgy scene.
The deal: An extended AirBerlin sale pans out to fares from $749 on direct, eight-and-a-half-hour flights from Chicago O’Hare to Berlin, for travel through March 24 ($949 for travel from March 25 to May 15, 2015). Splurge on a room at Rocco Forte’s lux, dramatic Hotel de Rome in Berlin, where programming geared toward teens looks like a graffiti workshop, DJ lessons, and a bike tour along the trail of the Wall (from $377 a night). As in Canada, a strengthening U.S. dollar means one Euro equals about $1.13 USD—a rate we haven’t seen in more than a decade and a savings you can enjoy while touring the city.
Keep it local with a stay at the Radisson Blu Aqua, which resides in the wavy, 82-story Aqua Tower, a modern landmark designed by Jeanne Gang. Download the new, free Art of Blu app for a curated, self-guided tour through the hotel’s noteworthy spaces. Designed by AcoustiGuide (who also designed apps for the Guggenheim and the 9/11 Memorial Museum), the app features first-hand accounts, including Gang. who introduces the Aqua’s architecture, and author Richard Cahan, who talks about the Vivian Maier photography hanging in the lobby. From the hotel, head out to see the Art Institute’s creepy side and Steppenwolf’s Marie Antoinette.
The deal: Rates from $199 a night, when you book three nights at least three days in advance.
* Rates shown were found at time of posting and are subject to change per airline policy.