Martha Melvoin loves her in-laws. She just didn't want to spend $3,000 for her family to fly across the country to share a too-big holiday dinner with them.
Instead, she and her husband, Jeff, took their boys out of school a few days early and jetted off from Los Angeles to Hawaii for Thanksgiving week.
"As the boys get older, we've got to fit in vacations when we can," explains Melvoin. One son is going to Washington at spring break with his sixth-grade class; both boys are busy all summer with camp and sports.
"This was perfect timing," she continued. Even better, there were still some bargains. "Every once in a while," she said, "It's OK to do without the big turkey. We need this time together."
Resorts are booked
A lot of families clearly agree. Ski resorts, cruise lines and tropical destinations say they've never been so booked for the holidays.
Good luck finding a hotel room in New York, dinner reservation in Colonial Williamsburg or room at the Las Vegas casinos. Even the Sierra Club's family Hawaii camping trip sold out.
The crowds -- and the aggravation they cause -- aren't dissuading anyone, though.
Take the Rosensteins. They typically ski at Christmas. This year they went to Taos, N.M., at Thanksgiving. After some deaths in the family, no one wanted to face what would have been an especially emotional gathering.
Henry Gault's family found it was the only time all of them could manage a vacation together because of work commitments the rest of the year: Thirty-four of them, from a 5-month-old to his 80-year-old aunt, are coming from Florida and Ohio, New York and Maryland, taking a cruise together. Ironically, his mother, who initiated the trip because she felt the family didn't get together often enough, died a few weeks ago.
"She would have wanted us to go," said Gault, a Chicago child psychiatrist.
An added bonus: The first night of the trip is the first night of Hanukkah.
Jewish families, in fact, say they frequently schedule Christmas vacations to avoid being overwhelmed by a holiday they don't celebrate.
"We just like to escape," said Kate Schweiger, who lives in Pennsylvania and now travels every Christmas with her husband and 6-year-old son.
"The kids are out of school. Employers are more flexible, and people can grab a few extra days. They're going for it," says American Society of Travel Agents spokesman James Ashurst. Hot spots include cruise ships, Mexico and Las Vegas.
Boost from economy
Of course, the economy helps. People feel more comfortable splurging, travel industry observers say. Don Lansky, spokesman for the large cruise discounter Cruise Line Inc., says families already have started booking for Christmas 1998.
The Beaches family resorts in the Caribbean was 100 percent booked for both holidays before Thanksgiving and could have sold 60 percent more rooms, said a spokesman.
"The numbers are growing every year," said Melissa Gullotti, a spokeswoman for Mount Snow in Vermont. Some families now come for Thanksgiving and Christmas. "You sleep in, take a few ski runs and have a great dinner you didn't have to cook," she said.
"I just can relax a lot more in the country where the snow is white, not black," joked Jay Fluck, who lives in Rhode Island but wouldn't miss his Christmas in Vermont. "It's a totally different environment and a tremendous break."
Any harried working parent will tell you how badly they need that. They certainly don't want to spend their precious few days off cooking for hordes of company or sitting around at the grandparents' house.
In some cases, the grandparents don't want them either. They'd rather take the whole family on vacation so they don't have to cook or make extra beds.
"We're such a mobile society now that when we do go back home it's not the same," explains Bennett Leventhal, chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago.
He is going to Mississippi with his family as he does every year -- to help in his in-laws' store.
"It doesn't matter where you are," he says. "It's being together that's important."
Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053 or e-mail to eogintol .com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in future columns.
Pub Date: 12/14/97