With each new wave of polar vortex-induced temperatures we've endured this winter, there has been one silver lining to cling to: Spring is on its way. Though spring breakers can drive prices up in warm-weather destinations like Miami Beach and Cabo San Lucas, there are still plenty of deals out there for those in need of a post-winter vacation. U.S. News talked with Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, to pinpoint the best value destinations for this spring. We also took a look at Hopper.com's latest spring break travel report and used the site's interactive price flight map to find the best round-trip airfare deals from John F. Kennedy International, Los Angeles International and O'Hare International airports to provide a balanced estimate. These eight destinations may not be the typical spring break hot spots (no Florida beaches or Caribbean retreats), but they'll pull you out of your winter hibernation with their diverse attractions, mild temperatures and budget-friendly itineraries.
Note: These prices were correct as of February 25, 2014.
In Pictures: The Best Spring Vacation Deals
For a more exotic spring fling, consider a trip to Istanbul. You can soak up some of the city's milder temperatures (expect low 60s) before the summer humidity hits; the pleasant weather lends itself well to touring some of the city's most iconic sites, like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Depending on the weather, you may also be able to catch the beginning of Istanbul's Tulip Festival in early April. Last year, about 13 million tulips were planted (that's almost one flower for each resident), blanketing the city in colorful blooms.
Why it's a deal: During March and April, you'll still be able to seize some winter airfare deals -- flights from New York City to Istanbul can be found for less than $650 (and for about $700 from Chicago) if you're willing to travel in the middle of the week. Those traveling from L.A. will have to fork over a bit more -- more than $850 -- but the hotel prices will be at a seasonal low. Travelzoo's sister site, Fly.com, shows four- and five-star hotels offering rooms for less than $100 a night through March.
If you're intent on stealing away to the Sunshine State, Orlando is a better bargain than many of Florida's beach destinations. Temperatures are at their most pleasant compared to other times of year (picture mid-70s during the day), and if you time it right, you can catch hotel prices during their sweet spot.
Why it's a deal: Hopper lists flights from JFK International Airport to Orlando International at less than $230, while airfare from the Windy City is a little more than $250. However, you'll likely need the cash you save on airfare to pay for some of Orlando's more expensive to-dos, like entrance to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort. Save on theme park prices by buying a ticket package combo like the one offered by Orlando Flex Tickets, which include admission to up to six theme parks. Saglie also warns that although you'll be able to avoid rowdy college students, you'll have to contend with vacationing families filling up the area's hotel rooms. Take a look at the Orlando Visitors Bureau's hotel deal round-up for the best weekly bargains.
There's a reason Vancouver is runner-up on our list of the Best Spring Vacations for 2014: The temperatures are just right, and so are the prices. You can keep your travel budget in check thanks to the variety of free things to do like visiting Stanley Park, Granville Island and Spanish Banks Beach. And don't be afraid to explore beyond Vancouver's borders: Vancouver Island offers pre-summer deals while Whistler's rates drop after its wintertime peak season. Plus, spring is prime whale-watching season, so you'll have the opportunity to catch a spectacular nature show.
Why it's a deal: East Coasters will have to pay a bit more in airfare (around $500 from JFK, or a little more than $300 if you're willing to drive from Seattle). But if you can get over the initial sticker shock, you'll find more agreeable hotel prices during the spring than you would if you waited until summer to visit. Travelzoo is reporting up to 35 percent savings on four-star hotels in the downtown Vancouver through select weeks in March and April.
A value destination for both coasts, Denver isn't your typical spring getaway; you won't find any beaches, and sunshine isn't guaranteed. But if you don't mind cooler temps (we're looking at you, skiers), you can save quite a bit of coin with an early March trip to the Mile High City. Though the snow won't be quite as crisp as it is during the peak winter months, you can still expect quality skiing conditions (and thinner crowds) at the nearby resorts surrounding Denver. When you need a break from the slopes, crack open a cold one at the Coors Brewery or take a road trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park before peak summer season starts.
Why it's a deal: Travelers flying from the East Coast can book flights starting at $230, while West Coast spring breakers can score tickets for $176, according to Hopper. Saglie adds another incentive: Ski resorts offer deep discounts for those willing to forgo a spot on the beach for a run on the slopes.
If you're itching to hop across the pond, you may want to consider Dublin. The weather will be anything but balmy (winter weather tends to linger with temperatures remaining in the 50s), but you'll have the city to yourself before summer tourists invade.
Why it's a deal: According to Saglie, a visit to Dublin is the best way to make the most of a European jaunt before peak summer season begins. Hotel rates are agreeable, as are the airfares: Hopper reports that travelers from NYC can get to Dublin for around $660 on mid-week flights throughout March and early April, while globe-trotters from the Midwest can fly to Dublin for a little less than $700. And you won't have to spend too much to keep yourself busy: Many of Dublin's top attractions are free, including Trinity College, St. Stephen's Green and Phoenix Park. You should expect to see prices rise a little around St. Patrick's Day in mid-March. Saglie said some hotels offer holiday packages, but you'll have to have the luck of the Irish to find a good deal around the city's most popular celebration.
Plan a spring visit to Charleston before the summer crowds invade the city. You'll be greeted with temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees -- perfect for exploring the city's outdoor sites like Folly Beach, Old City Market and Sullivan's Island.
Why it's a deal: Hotel rates may be higher in Charleston this time of year thanks to the agreeable weather, but it's hard to resist the alluring flight deals. Travelers leaving from New York can score flights for as low as $150 throughout March and April, while those flying from Chicago can fly for around $280, according to Hopper. Bypass inflated hotel prices by staying at one of the city's smaller inns: They're cozier than some of Charleston's brand-owned hotels and often include additional perks like complimentary breakfasts and evening happy hours, as well as free bike rentals.
Though it's not often seen as a value destination, San Francisco (and other big business cities like New York, Chicago and Dallas) often empties out in the spring, leaving hotel rooms ripe for the booking. You'll have an easier time sticking to your budget by avoiding some of the more touristy to-dos, like taking a ferry ride to Alcatraz or renting bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead, use your own two feet and walk around some of San Fran's neighborhoods, like the Castro and the Mission District.
Why it's a deal: Saglie says this lull in business travel causes a significant reduction in room rates. (And airfare isn't too shabby either -- flights from JFK to the City by the Bay are less than $300.) Normally, you'd find the best deals on San Francisco lodging with independent hotels or bed and breakfasts, but during the springtime shoulder season, you can grab some deals at brand-backed outposts. For example, Travelzoo reports a 40 percent discount on rooms at the InterContinental San Francisco for select dates through May 16. You can also find rooms for less than $100 a night through home-sharing sites like Airbnb.
If you're hoping to play on the Las Vegas Strip before the desert temperatures get too steamy, you should plan to visit in early March. Though Sin City is always bustling with tourists, Vegas in the spring is less congested. Plus, the city is still recovering from its New Year's Eve hangover, meaning hotels are looking to fill rooms that were recently vacated by holiday travelers.
Why it's a deal: Saglie says that Las Vegas can be a steal if you avoid holiday weekends and big convention dates (you can find Vegas' convention calendar here). You can also save big on airfare if you're willing to travel during the week. According to Hopper, departing on a Friday can increase your ticket price by 22 percent on average. Follow these rules and you can get to America's Playground from New York City and Chicago for around $300 (and about $130 if you're coming from Los Angeles). Check the Las Vegas Visitors Bureau for the most up-to-date hotel specials and attraction deals, and be careful not to leave too much cash on the casino floor.
In Pictures: The Best Spring Vacation Deals
-- Ann Rivall