Thanksgiving week is shaping up to be a busy one on the Vineyard, as visitors appear to be coming early and staying longer, advance booking data from the Steamship Authority shows.

Many have shifted travel plans to Saturday, Sunday and Monday, rather than traditional mid-week days.

While overall vehicle bookings appear to be up by about two per cent from 2019 for the entire Thanksgiving Day week, there has been a much larger increase in travel on the weekend before the holiday. And the traditionally busy mid-week travel days, such as Wednesday, Thanksgiving Day and Friday, have seen a notable decline in advance traffic.

The advance booking data is current as of Friday, Nov. 19.

State public health officials and Gov. Charlie Baker have been strongly recommending for weeks that people avoid traveling this year and refrain from holding large Thanksgiving gatherings, as case numbers surge around the commonwealth and around the country. The Vineyard has also been seeing a surge cases in the last few weeks.

According to SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll, the increase in weekend travel ahead of the holiday at the expense of weekday travel suggests a change in patterns due to the pandemic.

“While we are slightly up overall, traffic is down in the middle of the week. That suggests to us that people are coming over for the week and there is less short-term travel to see family either on or off the Island,” Mr. Driscoll wrote in an email to the Gazette.

The overall increase in expected travel over the Thanksgiving weekend represents a marked departure from other holidays since the pandemic began. Labor Day, Fourth of July and particularly Memorial Day weekend all saw sharp declines in vehicle and passenger travel to the Island this year.

According to data provided by Mr. Driscoll, overall advance booking numbers on the Vineyard route show a 51.8 per cent increase in Saturday travel when compared to 2019, a 60.5 per cent increase in Sunday travel and a 29.8 per cent increase in Monday travel. In total, the advance booking numbers show that 1,094 more vehicles made reservations on the Vineyard route those days than in 2019.

The difference was slightly larger in the Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard direction, with 657 more trips booked between Saturday and Monday. Saturday was the busiest travel day, followed by Sunday and Monday respectively. The Martha’s Vineyard to Woods Hole route saw 437 more trips than in 2019, with Sunday the busiest travel day.

But the rest of the week saw dramatic declines in advance booking numbers compared with 2019. While Tuesday travel appears relatively flat, Wednesday saw a 7.3 per cent decline in reservations, Thursday a 36.2 per cent decline, Friday a 19.7 per cent decline, Saturday a 15.1 per cent decline and Sunday a 4.1 per cent decline, the numbers show.

The overall decline accounts for a reduction in travel by 893 trips between Wednesday and Sunday of this week compared to 2019, with a reduction of 671 trips coming in the Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard direction. Thanksgiving Day, which according to Mr. Driscoll is a traditionally busy travel day, saw the single largest reduction in traffic, with 316 fewer advance bookings in 2020 than 2019.

But in sum, 240 more advance reservations were still made in 2020 than in the same period in 2019.

“People aren’t hopping out to Grandma’s house for the night and coming home. They’re staying at home,” Mr. Driscoll said. “So the difference you are seeing because of Covid is that the length of stay is longer, and people aren’t getting in their car Thanksgiving morning and coming back that night.”

Mr. Driscoll also noted that fewer people were likely going off-Island on Friday for Black Friday shopping, potentially accounting for a reduction in Friday travel numbers.

The overall two per cent increase in advance vehicle bookings aligns with vehicle traffic data reported for the month of November, which has been either slightly higher or on par with 2019 numbers. Anecdotal evidence also signaled a busy Island Monday, with traffic at the Triangle in the morning and long lines at grocery stores.

When the pandemic struck in the spring, the SSA saw a dramatic decline in both passenger in vehicle traffic. But traffic numbers have steadily picked up since, with passenger traffic still lagging about 20 per cent behind 2019 rates while vehicle traffic has gotten back to normal, much like Thanksgiving week numbers show.

Normal, however, remains a relative term.

“The whole dynamic is different this year than in previous years,” Mr. Driscoll said.