March 3, 2010 -- Do the short days and the long break in between big holidays have you down? Fear not because spring break is almost here, the perfect excuse to get away and get rid of those winter blues.
Whether it's a tropical beach, ski trip or urban escape, there are plenty of vacation options for travelers this year, many still deeply discounted because of the struggling travel industry.
"Last year, the deals were so ridiculously cheap that they set a new baseline," said Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel. "This year, they are still low but it doesn't seem as crazy because it's a continuation."
Don't expect rock-bottom airfares this year, as the airlines have cut back on the number of flights and available seats and some business travelers have slowly returned to the skies. Still, fares are not outrageous, and hotels are offering giant discounts to fill vacant rooms.
Banas said big U.S. cities are down sharply from their normal prices, especially Chicago, New York and struggling Las Vegas, which has plenty of new rooms but not enough guests.
"If you want a cheap vacation, the hotel deals are insane even at some of the nicest hotels," she said.
Volunteer vacations are an option for those looking to give something back with their time off.
"You're working in a sense, but you're working for a great cause," Banas said.
Programs let you teach, build homes and even clean up in a disaster zone. SmarterTravel has published a guide to some of the volunteer opportunities available this year.
Relax on a Warm Beach
But for those who want to just sit on a beach and relax, don't worry: there are plenty of great deals still out there.
"We're still seeing a great buyer's market when it comes to last-minute decision making," said Gabe Saglie, the senior editor at Travelzoo.
There are a significant number of deals specifically in Florida, Mexico and on cruises. All of those markets have had particularly slow winters, he said, and now they see spring break as their next big chance to lure in travelers who are debating a trip.
"If consumers are flexible, this could be a spring break with more deals than you have seen in a while," Saglie said.
Travelzoo put together a list of 10 destinations for ABC News that are either offering great deals for 2010 and why they are so special.
Hawaii: A slowdown in travel from both the mainland and Asia has resulted in a very soft Hawaiian hotel market, leading to rock-bottom pricing and huge values in vacation packages, especially from the West Coast.
Mexico: Travelzoo sees great values from all-inclusive resorts in typically popular hot spots like the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. U.S. spring breakers are a huge market for Mexico, and resorts are coming up with aggressive pricing to lure them.
Caribbean: Some of the destinations that offer budget alternatives should get some nice attention this spring, like the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. In addition, the cruise industry to the Caribbean continues to see higher availability and super-low pricing, even for last-minute bookings.
Florida: A soft winter season, which is typically high season for Florida, has led to big savings in late winter and early spring, including family-friendly resorts in Orlando and resorts that cater to youth and older adults in the Florida Panhandle and the South.
The Best Spring Break Deals
Las Vegas: There's no denying that this remains the top domestic travel value these days, and the luxury resorts may get the most play this spring, thanks to rates that are as low as they've ever been. Air-inclusive packages, hotels and shows are all way off regular rates and, in some cases, impressively discounted.
Southern California: Winter has meant unusually high availability in the last few weeks in popular southern California destinations, especially San Diego and Orange County -- both are home to attractions like the San Diego Zoo and Disneyland, as well as great beaches. Hotel rates are way down, even for beachside stays, and the area's proximity to Los Angeles makes it extra attractive.
Europe: The continent tends to be on the spring break radar of students and couples, and with a slightly stronger dollar against the Euro and British pound, people might have greater reason to go. Airfare sales are numerous, hotel rates are dropping in Paris and London, and packages to spots like Ireland and Italy are unusually low.
Vancouver/Whistler: With all the hoopla the Winter Olympics has brought, this area is on people's radar more than ever before. Fortunately, once the throng of ski fans go home, rates here are already dropping dramatically for travel from March 1 onward.
Ski Resorts: Spring break is the last big push for many ski resorts, who see the season end come during early- to mid-April. These include resorts in Colorado, Lake Tahoe and ski towns in the Northeast, like Vermont and New Hampshire. Late-season packages, which often come with added extras like ski lift passes, can offer big value.
South Padre Island, Texas: South Padre Island can relatively inexpensive and easily accessible. It is laid back and teeming with water sports, party options and good weather.