While celebrities are shown frolicking on tropical beaches, the real vacation trendsetters are seniors. They're more interested than ever in exploring the globe, trying new resorts and adventurous getaways, visiting eco-friendly bed-and-breakfasts and timing their vacations to coincide with festivals and other special events in a locale.
This past April, during the week of the Antigua Regatta, large numbers of yacht enthusiasts who were 50 or older descended upon Antigua and the private island resort Jumby Bay, traveling as couples and as groups of friends.
Seniors are not only traveling for enjoyment but also scouting locations for future family getaways.
"At Jumby Bay, we have many seniors who travel to the island for couple time, then return with their entire family for a multigenerational trip," says MaryAnne DeMatteo, sales manager for the Rosewood Resort Jumby Bay.
The concept of the multigenerational vacation, otherwise known as a family reunion, is becoming a big trend at hotels and resorts, with many establishing special discounts and perks for family vacations. At Caneel Bay, an award-winning resort on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John, the Greatest Generation package gives grandparents their room for free with the booking of three rooms for the rest of the family.
Seniors are willing to spend more on their vacations. According to a recent Trip Advisor survey, 80 percent of U.S. travelers who participated in the survey say that they will spend the same, if not more, on leisure travel in 2012 than they did in 2011.
*What Seniors Want in a Travel Destination
Here are the most alluring elements of travel packages for seniors right now:
--Fine dining. Resorts with more than one restaurant are their choice, and they read travel review boards, websites and magazines voraciously to find out where the most gourmet dining is on a particular island or city. They're looking for local cuisine mixed with healthy food, keeping with their dietary guidelines.
--Luxe accommodations. Seniors love to find resorts that have undergone renovations on their suites, as well as luxury villas and even estate houses on property for an indulgent stay, with the comforts of air conditioning, chic decor and especially a spectacular bed.
--Easy access. "As a plus for seniors, our guests do not have to drive to get to and from the beach or restaurants," says DeMatteo. "I know a lot of our senior guests feel uncomfortable in an unfamiliar setting, having to rent a car or take taxis. There's none of this on Jumby Bay."
In fact, there are no cars on Jumby Bay. This resort, like so many others, will shuttle guests via private carts anywhere they'd like to go, even just a few dozen yards away. Resorts with a shuttle bus loop are also popular for seniors who never need to wait more than a few minutes for the next ride to the restaurant over the hill.
--Adventure. Safaris have become very popular among seniors who may have spent decades going on the same types of vacations with their kids, and now want to expand their horizons to other continents.
--All-inclusives. Seniors want to feel as if they're getting more for their money, so when a resort, tour or cruise is all-inclusive, they don't have to concern themselves with what each menu item costs, nor do they have to stay out of the minibar. They can, quite enjoyably, forget about money for a while and just enjoy themselves.
--Fabulous shows and entertainment. According to Trip Advisor, two of the top three U.S. destinations for 2012 are New York City and Las Vegas, both hotspots for concerts, Broadway shows and thrilling theater performances. "I surprised my wife with tickets to a Broadway show when we arrived in New York City," says retiree James Gaitano. "She said it was the highlight of our trip."
--Sporting activities. Seniors often put the younger generations to shame with their skills on the tennis courts, and they also consider it a life's goal to play a round on a famous golf course. Some resorts will arrange for access to private golf courses on the PGA tour, which turns a vacation into a dream come true.
--Vacation home rentals. Some seniors would rather have a home, and its pool and private beach, all to themselves, rather than deal with crowds and noise at a hotel. So there is now an upsurge in vacation rentals among seniors. Having your own kitchen could mean prepping some of your own meals at great savings, and seniors might rent a beach home in a town where their friends own or rent homes, as well. So it becomes a group vacation while still allowing the senior couple to enjoy the privacy of their own place -- and likely better sleep, as well.
--Nearby luxury resorts. "Seniors may be looking for a brag-worthy experience, but on their own terms -- they don't want a hassle. They're the original staycationers, opting for luxurious accommodations close to home so they feel farther away than they actually are," says Josey Miller, a travel and lifestyle writer.
Cutting out the burdens of airline travel, limiting money spent on gas and avoiding the hassles of customs in international travel allow them to get to their vacation more quickly, adjust to being on vacation and not lose entire days to travel. A staycation could be the perfect getaway, even if it's just a few towns away.