Making Up for a Lost Summer

September 12, 2003


RAIN, some 22 inches of it from June through August in the New York City area, was the uninvited guest of summer. It chased vacationers inside the confines of their weekend shares or summer rentals and held them hostage there, as they stared out at an empty beach or a swimming pool pelted by raindrops.

Then rain's co-conspirator, Labor Day, came along early and overcast and cruelly slammed the door on the summer-that-never-was. Feeling shortchanged, many New Yorkers seem to have developed a desperate need to get away, a desire to indulge a pent-up demand for a vacation that they thought they were going to get back in July and August.

"We're seeing a lot of last-minute trips out of frustration and a desire to relive some of the summer," said David Feit, the chief executive of Travants, a company in New York that matches travelers and agents through its Web site (

"We deal with 300 agents in the country, many in the New York area, and they're definitely seeing more people than usual booking trips after Labor Day, people who don't want to let summer go," he said. "You hear about people saying, `It was a short summer, and I want to go back to it.' They're still trying to keep it alive. I have a friend that just went off to Puerto Rico, and he said, `We've been treated so unfairly in New York.' He just had to get away."

Officials at Travelocity, the online travel agency, say that there is an increase in post-Labor Day travel bookings this year compared with 2002. "Usually there is a 30 percent drop-off in last-minute bookings after Labor Day," said Amy Ziff, an editor at large for the Web site, "but this year, there has been little drop-off in last-minute vacation deals for weekend getaways. The sales patterns look more like July, which is hardly traditional for post-Labor Day travel."

In August, Royce Pinkwater, 42, a senior vice president at Sotheby's International Realty, made plans to go to Paris in October with a group of friends because, she said, "everyone still wanted a little more party." Then in November she is headed to Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos. Neither trip would have been in the cards, she said, if the summer hadn't been pre-empted by precipitation.

"If the summer was longer and better, we wouldn't have needed to go," she said. "We'd be good till January."

KEVIN BIRNEY, 31, an insurance agent from Massapequa, N.Y., will seek his summer compensation in Florida, tarpon fishing and tailgate partying before attending a New York Giants game with his buddies.

Mr. Birney's string of rain-drenched disappointments this summer began with a Memorial Day party he planned that was rained out. He rescheduled it for three weeks later, but that also ran afoul of foul weather. "The third time we scheduled it, it was overcast," he said, "but we decided to just go through with it because it wasn't pouring."

Mr. Birney is a big Giants fan, and when he heard around Labor Day that some of his friends were booking a trip to Tampa, to watch the team play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 24, he jumped at the chance to join them. "The weather this summer was so brutal, so it made it more intriguing to get away somewhere where the weather wouldn't be terrible," he said.

The group booked the trip through Big Blue Travel, a Manhattan agency that plans trips for Giants fans to attend away games. Each member of the group is paying roughly $800, including flight, hotel and game ticket.

Sonia Russomanno, a creative director for Avon cosmetics who lives in Edgewater, N.J., is planning a trip to Paris in October and just returned from a quick getaway to Las Vegas. Ms. Russomanno, who calls herself an "impulse traveler," said she took four last-minute vacations this summer to dodge the rain. There was one to Las Vegas and three to South Beach on Memorial Day, Labor Day and another in late June (yes the June whose 10.27 inches of rain in Central Park shattered a century-old rainfall record).

"I had to get out of here because the summer was pretty nasty," she said. "It was too depressing."

Coming back to New York with a dark tan, a smile on her face and stories from sunny South Beach was enough to make her weather-beaten friends and co-workers jealous. The many other New Yorkers seeking refuge in South Beach made it feel like high season. But so did the prices.

"I was spending $500 a night to stay at the Shore Club," Ms. Russomanno said. But the last laugh came in toasting the soggy New Yorkers back home. "We drank to the rain," she said.

It is an opportune time to chase summer. Leisure travel typically enters a slump after Labor Day until Thanksgiving, and the travel industry is hoping to lure travelers with discounts on resort hotels and air fares.

Already there seems to be a spike in postsummer travel, compared with years past, and anecdotal evidence seems to point to the summer-that-never-was phenomenon. Marie C. Quinn, a travel agent at Personal Concierge International in New York, which arranges high-end trips, said she had gotten a surge of calls from clients seeking to book Caribbean vacations.

"People are calling saying they feel shortchanged by the rainy summer," she said. "They feel cheated, and they just want to go away somewhere sunny as soon as hurricane season ends, around Thanksgiving."

Officials at the Cruise Line International Association say that reservations are doing well, and the continuing publicity about illnesses aboard several ships seems not to be a deterrent.

Space on the Cunard ships is selling out, a spokeswoman, Julie Davis, said. The Queen Elizabeth 2 is in its final months of trans-Atlantic crossings, and six-day rates from New York to Southampton start at $1,499 a person. "A lot of people are saying it was such a rainy summer, and they just want to get out of here," Ms. Davis said. "But we also have people who are seafaring types and don't get seasick. They actually pray for foul weather because they like the rocking and rolling and pitching of the ships."

MARK EPSTEIN, an interior designer in Manhattan, spends much of his summer at a house in Water Mill, in the Hamptons, but much of his time there was spoiled, he said. "Every place I turned this summer, it was raining," he said. "The first six weeks were such a washout, I wanted to surprise myself with a trip."

He said he consulted an almanac, and it predicted more rain for the fall, so he planned two trips for October, one to Paris and one to New Orleans for Halloween.

He wanted to head to Tuscany or the South of France but did not want to set up a vacation that could be rained out. "Rain can't ruin Paris," he said.

Muffie Potter Aston, the philanthropist, and her husband, Dr. Sherrell Aston, a plastic surgeon, are going on a 12-day vacation to Bulgaria, Romania and Berlin. She said the weather made them do it. "One weekend in August, we were sitting inside watching another downpour," she said, "and we said: `That's it. We're out of here. Let's make reservations, because anywhere's better than this.' "

"The summer really got to us, weekend after weekend of rain," she said. "I don't know how those Londoners do it."