Vacation deals: arthur frommer’s top picks for bargain travel
Travel expert Arthur Frommer says now is a good time to book a trip to the Riviera Maya in Mexico, where you’ll find the fun tourist town of Playa Del Carmen.
Toronto Star file photo
If you schedule your tropical vacation plans for mid-March to mid-April, leaving
Toronto on air-and-land arrangements packaged by a tour operator, you will pay considerably less than in the immediately preceding weeks; prices to Mexico and the Caribbean tend to slump at that time. Such rates are especially low in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and start as little as $585 for a week of all-inclusive lodgings and meals, together with round-trip air transportation, and all taxes and fees. My current choices follow below. They are supplemented by vacations in Central America, London and Paris, which cost a bit more in the mid-March to mid-April period than they did in February (in the case of trans-Atlantic trips) and are not nearly as inclusive as holiday trips to the Caribbean.
From Toronto: $585 to $675 per person, mid-March to mid-April, including round-trip airfare (and all fees and taxes) between Toronto and Manzanillo de Cuba, and seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, all meals, all drinks) at the three-star, 283-room, beachfront Club Amigo Merea del Portillo, with its five restaurants and three pools. This package operated by Sunwing of Canada probably is the lowest-priced all-inclusive air-and-land trip of seven nights in all of high-season (to the Caribbean) travel. Starting Thursday, March 15, and continuing for five successive Thursdays into mid-April, the total cost (including all fees and taxes) amounts to an amazing $675 (March 15), $585 (March 22), $645 (March 29), $605 (April 5), $655 (April 12), and $655 (April 19), per person. Those rates are at least $200 per person less than you would pay to stay in most other Cuban locations or resorts. Air transportation, as earlier noted, is by Sunwing Airlines, and the tour operator is Sunwing of Canada (www. sunwing.ca or phone 416-620-5999 or 800-668-4224).
From Toronto: $741 to $871, late March to mid-April, per person, including roundtrip air (and all fees and taxes) to Cancun on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, all meals, all drinks) at the beachfront (it has two beaches, actually) Celuisma Dos Playas hotel, a budget property but comfortable and well-maintained. Departures from Toronto cost $741 on March 24 and March 31, $871 on April 7, and $831 on April 16. Though a charge in the mid-$700s and high-$800s may not seem of budget level, prices in Cancun have risen greatly for the winter months of 2012, and even $871 is at least $200 to $300 per person less than you would pay for an air-and-land package using most other resorts in Cancun’s hotel zone (where Celuisma Dos Playas is found). The tour operator is Sunquest Vacations ( www.sunquestvacations.ca, phone 877-202-1600 or 800-387-8438) using the airline of Thomas Cook of Canada.
Standard Cuba (Varadero Beach)
From Toronto: $775 to $935, mid-March to mid-April, per person, a package consisting of round-trip air from Toronto, and including accommodations for seven nights, all three meals daily, and unlimited drinks, at the long-established Be Live Turquesa (which was formerly the Oasis Turquesa) on a long and wide beach off crystal-clear waters. A hotel smaller than most (268 rooms) but with many amenities, and a location only eight kilometers from downtown Varadero, the Be Live Turquesa is a key player in air-and-land packages, costing $845 per person for the departure of Saturday, March 14; $805 for the departure of Saturday, March 24; $855 for the departure of Saturday, March 31; $775 for the departure of Saturday, April 7, and a higher $935 for the departure of Saturday, April 14. Contact Sunwing
Mid-March to mid-April: $1,201 to $1,454 per person. A special promotion of Air Canada Vacations places you for seven nights of room, all meals and beverages at the glamorous, five-star Melia Las Dunas Resort, with its six restaurants, two cafeterias, five bars and breathtaking beach near Santa Clara, Cuba. Normally too expensive a hotel to be the subject of a bargain-priced package, this one is priced at $1,201 per person (including all taxes and fees) for the departures of March 17 and 24; at $1,454 for thedeparture of March 31; and at $1,267 for the departures of April 7 and April 14 — all remarkable rates for the quality of this sort. Contact Air Canada Vacations at www.aircanadavacations.com or phone 866-529-2079.
The Riviera Maya
Mid-March to mid-April: $1,042 to $1,162 per person, including round-trip air (and all government fees and taxes) to Cancun. The total price is a low $1,042 for the departures of Saturday, March 24 and Saturday, April 14; $1,092 for the departure of Saturday, March 31; $1,152 for the departure of Saturday, March 17; and $1,162 for the departure of Wednesday, April 4. Participants, in addition to air, also receive seven all-inclusive nights (with three meals daily and unlimited drinks) at the four-star, 480-room Viva Wyndham Maya resort in the popular Playacar area south of Cancun. The tour operator is Sunwing of Canada, flying Sunwing Airlines. (In addition to every amenity, the Viva Wyndham Maya is on a particularly pleasant white-sand beach.)
Budget-priced Puerto Plata
Mid-March to mid-April: $945 to $1,025 per person, including round-trip air from Toronto (and all government fees and taxes) on Sunwing Airlines, via Sunday departures: April 8 for $945, March 25 for $955, April 1 for $985, and March 18 and April 15 for $1,025. Packages also include seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks) at the 170-room Celuisma Cabarete (with four restaurants and two pools), which accepts adults only (over the age of 18). Contact Sunwing Vacations.
A second budget-priced package to Puerto Plata
Mid-March to mid-April, costing $980 to $984 per person, including round-trip air from Toronto (and all government fees and taxes), departing on Fridays. Thus, on Friday, April 13, you’ll pay $980; on March 30 you’ll pay $983; and on March 23 you’ll pay $984, for airfare from Toronto and seven all-inclusive nights (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks) at the Bahia Principe San Juan near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, as well as round-trip airport-to-hotel transfers. The tour operator is Air Canada Vacations.
Late March to mid-April; air and six hotel nights in London: $1,445 to $1,652 per person, including roundtrip air on Air Canada and all government fees and taxes. Departing on three scattered Saturdays in late March and early April, Air Canada Vacations will fly you round-trip to the British capital and put you up for six nights at the centrally-located (an easy walk from the British Museum, a longer but moderate walk from the theatre district) Hotel Royal National, a giant hotel of hundreds of small but comfortable rooms near Russell Square, including breakfast each morning, all for the price of $1,445 for the departure of March 31; $1,498 for the departure of April 7; and $1,652 for the departure of March 17 (including all government fees and taxes and fuel surcharge). Considering the high taxes and fees on trans-Atlantic flights to London, and the high cost of London hotels at that time, this is an unusual value costing less than on most other departure dates in early spring.
Mid-March to early April, air and six hotel nights in Paris: $1,464 to 1,568 per person, including round-trip flights on Air Canada and all government fees and taxes. At a moderate cost, which is approximately equal to what you’d spend for a similar weeklong air-and-land package to London, Air Canada Vacations will fly you round-trip to the “City of Light,” Paris, departing Toronto on Wednesdays, March 14 (for $1,464 per person) and March 28 (for $1,477 per person), April 4, for $1,568 per person, and put you up for six nights at the thoroughly-modern (it was built in 2004), seven-story, three-star Concorde Montparnasse Hotel behind the Gare de Montparnasse (housing three subway lines), including daily breakfast, government taxes and fees.
Decidedly upscale Punta Cana.
In late March and early April: $1,402 to $1,486 per person, including round-trip air transportation on Air Canada (with all government fees and taxes included) and seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks, all else) at the 865-room Occidental Grand Punta Cana Resort, with its nine themed restaurants and three swimming pools, all on a 600 meter beach. A total of $1,402 per person, including all taxes and fees, is charged for the Monday departure of April 9, while $1,429 is charged for the Monday departure of April 2, and $1,486 for the Monday departure of March 26. Contact Air Canada Vacations.
Costa Rica Independently
Throughout March and April: $1,019 for 10 nights in Costa Rica (not including airfare), traveling by Adventure Bus from place to place. An immensely popular, free-spirited approach to touring Costa Rica, as packaged by Toronto’s G Adventures ( www.GAdventures.com, 1-888-800-4100), these well-priced arrangements place you for one hotel night in the capital city of San Jose, three nights in Cahuita on the country’s Caribbean coast, two nights near the Arenal Volcano, three nights in Guanacaste on the Pacific coast, and one remaining night back in San Jose. You are brought from place to place by Adventure Bus, which takes you directly to your hotel in each location. Meals other than breakfast are not included (you are advised to budget $315-$415 for your meals); and the price of $1,019 is per person for each of two people traveling together (single people traveling alone pay $1,619); and for numerous departures throughout the months of March and April, 2012. In the G Adventures website or catalogue, look for “Costa Rica Pass — Route 5 Adventure Bus.”
Escorted Costa Rica
In March and April of 2012: $1,095 per person. On daily departures in March and on 13
dates in April, the long-established Caravan Tours will take you by escorted motorcoach on a 10-night tour of every important sight of Costa Rica, for a total of $1,095, including quality accommodations, three meals daily, daily escorted sightseeing and entrance fees. Airfare to Costa Rica, for which you make your own arrangements, is not included. Go to
www.aravan.com or phone 800-CARAVAN. (13) Orlando for seven nights, mid-March to mid-April: $663 to $862 per person for round-trip airfare from Toronto on Westjet Airlines (including all government taxes and fees) and seven nights of accommodations (but without meals) in Orlando, for as little as $663 (including all government taxes and fees) per person at the Seralago Maingate East for the Saturday departure from Toronto on March 17. One week later, the rate spikes to $810 for the Saturday departure of March 24 and to $801 for the Saturday departure of March 31, $862 for the Saturday departure of April 7. It again declines to $692 per person for the Saturday departure of April 14. You’ll enjoy free shuttle transportation to the Orlando theme parks — and on Westjet, you can check your first bag for free. Note that the Seralago has two swimming pools, a kids’ pool, tennis court, and numerous other amenities Contact www.WestJetVacations.com (or phone 877-733-9724).
Cruises of the Mediterranean
For $87 to $120 a day, in March and April, 2012: Go to VacationsToGo.com, click on “Mediterranean,” then on seven-night and nine- to 11-night cruises, and you’ll discover that cruise prices for those European waters have sharply fallen because of inadequate demand. The main reason? High airfares across the Atlantic, the recent tragedy of the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy and a lingering belief that recent violence in the Middle East has made such cruises dangerous, which is not the case. Cruise prices in the Mediterranean in late winter (most of them offered on ships of Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, scheduled for scattered dates) are among the great bargains of travel, and are particularly attractive on cruises of nine and 11 nights’ duration, when on numerous dates prices are as low as $789 for a nine-night cruise ($87 a day) and $899 for an 11-night
cruise ($81 a day). Minimum prices are somewhat higher on seven-night cruises, when on several dates they can be found for as little as $799 ($114 a day) or $849 ($120 a day). Note, of course, that you’ll need to pay at least $1,200 round-trip (including taxes, fees and fuel surcharge) for a trans-Atlantic flight to the port of embarkation.
Four cities in eight nights: $2,149 in April, $2,299 in May, per person, including round-trip air from San Francisco to Beijing and Shanghai (and all government fees and taxes), hotel accommodations with three meals daily (except on one “free day” in Shanghai), and daily escorted sightseeing including all entrance fees, for departures on April 3, 10 and 17 (for $2,149 per person) and on May 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31 (for $2,299 per person). Reflecting
the steady appreciation in value of the Chinese Yuan, this signature tour of China Focus Travel ( www.chinafocustravel.com, phone 800-868-7244) has risen considerably in price since the winter, but is still a remarkable value that places you for two nights in Shanghai, three nights in Tai’ An (to which you’re brought by “bullet train” from Shanghai, a 430-mile trip accomplished y train in three hours), and three nights in Beijing; you also visit a fourth city — Suzhou (the so-called Venice of the Orient) — but do not stay there overnight.
Prices cited are per person for each of two people traveling together, and do not include government taxes and fees (unless those taxes and fees are specifically listed as included). Airfare is often included in the price, but only when specifically mentioned. Prices are subject to change, and new listings will periodically be substituted for those that are no longer valid.
Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Buy your copies of Frommer guidebooks at www.starstore.ca. © 2010 by Arthur Frommer Distributed by King Features Syndicate
Sources: http://www.thestar.com/Tags: Beijing, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, London, Mexico, Paris, San jose, SHANGHAI