The couple joined with other families to arrange in advance for a block of rooms in a St. George hotel, paying about $80 a night when others who hadn't planned were charged more than $150.
They still had to wait 90 minutes to get a table at a popular pizza place.
Frank Jensen of Sandy was one who waited too long to book a room in St. George. He opted to make the 45-minute commute from Cedar City, where rooms were $58.
"The biggest problem is that it is crowded," he said. "You get a big increase in hotel rates."
Such is life in southern Utah spring-break hotbeds such as St. George, Moab and Torrey, where even finding a room during some March, April and May weekends can be challenging. The same can be said for popular Utah spring-break destinations such as Disneyland.
Disneyland's John McClintock said the park extends its hours in late March and through April in anticipation of a bump in attendance. Travelers going to Disneyland or California Adventure during the busy spring season would do well to buy tickets online at www.Disneyland.com and book rooms through a travel agent or the Walt Disney Travel Co. in advance.
High gas prices will almost certainly make hitting the road more expensive. Part of that is from increased demand. American Express Consumer Data indicates spring travel is up 8 percent over last year and overall costs with lodging are up 17 percent for international and domestic destinations.
Bing Travel's "fareologists" are predicting that the overall per-person price to go to a hot spring-break destination is up 10.5 percent from a year ago. Experts there say Florida is a good deal and Salt Lake residents can find some good deals on flights to Seattle. Fares from some areas are down for Cancun as well.
Planning remains key when going to popular destinations.
Marian DeLay, who heads the Grand County Travel Council in Moab, said Canyonlands Half Marathon and Easter Jeep Safari participants who want to stay in town on the Saturday of those major events book hotel rooms a year in advance.
She said Moab motel rooms can be relatively full on weekends though often not as packed as campgrounds, as mountain bikers, hikers and rock climbers join snowbirds heading north to fill commercial and public facilities.
DeLay said it is often a good idea to check with the Moab Information Center when trying to find a last-minute motel room on spring weekends. Sometimes motels get cancellations and report them to the center. Weekends are the biggest problem times. Rooms are usually readily available during the week.
In St. George, the big Easter weekend crowds of teenagers that once packed the town have subsided in recent years as public schools and colleges have staggered their spring breaks. Still, getting a room on Easter weekend, which features a popular arts festival, can be difficult.
Then there are the youth athletic events that pack motels in St. George and nearby Mesquite during many spring weekends. Add to that the May 7 Ironman Triathlon, the popularity of spring golf, Zion National Park and Snow Canyon, Quail Creek and Sand Hollow state parks, and it's a busy time.
Al Arciniaga of St. George Events said his organization uses a monthly magazine and will soon use a Facebook page stgeorgeevents to help visitors plan vacations, find rooms and get discounts from local merchants. He is working with motels to offer discounts to teams or tournament organizers looking to schedule events on less busy weekends.
Getting a golf time in the St. George area or Mesquite in March, April and May can be challenging, though not impossible.
"We take reservations 120 days in advance," said Kevin Soderquist, assistant pro at the Green Spring Golf Course in Washington. "You should book as early as you want to come down. A lot of weekends are full, but some are not completely full."
Salt Lake couple Tim and Stephanie Harpst come to stay with friends and play golf every Presidents Day weekend. This year, the couple avoided the 4 ½-hour drive and flew into the new St. George Airport, an experience they enjoyed because of the new facility and because views of Zion National Park were incredible.
"Every Presidents Day weekend, it's always crazy," said Stephanie. "You have the Kayenta Arts Festival and the Home Show. And there is golf. We always come to golf."
College students Jamison Metzger from BYU and Megan McCombs of Utah Valley University explored Snow Canyon State Park near St. George in late February.
"It's warmer," said McCombs. "This is far enough away, but not too far."
Maria Werner, a park ranger aide at Snow Canyon, said reservations for the state park's campground are almost a must between now and the end of the May on weekends. She said the park and surrounding area are particularly popular with cyclists who come down for some early season training.
Those traveling beyond Utah's borders during spring break might find the cost of flying or driving a bit steeper due to rising fuel prices.
Travel agent Doug Anderson of Cruise and Travel Masters said Disneyland and Disney World, Hawaii and San Diego remain popular destinations for Wasatch Front residents looking for some spring-break sun and fun. So do spring Mexican Riviera cruises leaving out of southern California.
"A lot of families will drive down," said Anderson about those booking cruises out of Long Beach or San Diego. "Cost is an issue. So if they drive and then do the cruise, they get terrific value because meals, entertainment and lodging are included. Some who drive down will also often go to Disneyland for a day."
St. George spring events
March 18-19 • Spring Home and Garden Expo
April 16 • Kite Festival
April 22-23 • Arts Festival
May 7 • Ford Ironman Triathlon
May 12-14 • WestX Western Festival and Military Expo
Moab spring events
March 12-15 • Skinny Tire Festival
March 19 • 36th annual Canyonlands Half-Marathon and Five-Mile Run
March 26 • Adventure Xstream Adventure Race
April 9 • Amassa Trail Run
April 16-24 • Easter Jeep Safari
April 29-May 1 • April Action Car Show
May 11-14 • Rally on the Rocks UTV Event
May 13-14 • Moab Triathlon Festival
May 28-29 • Moab Arts Festival
Spring break health and safety tips
Limit alcohol consumption.
Plan a successful trip including getting required vaccinations, taking your medications and checking safety of the destination.
Protect yourself from pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases by refraining from sex, using latex condoms or having a monogamous, uninfected partner.
Watch your step by using safety equipment such as seat belts, life vests, knee pads or helmets to avoid injury.
Know how to swim, wear a life jacket and avoid alcohol when boating and take a boat safety course.
Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV ray protection.
Eat healthy, manage stress and avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
If you or a friend has an alcohol or drug problem, has thoughts of suicide or is in crisis for any reason, get help. Call 911 for emergency services, 800-662-4357 for substance-abuse help and 800-273-8255 for the national suicide-prevention hotline.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
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