Dear Deal Detective:
We're planning a trip to Austria and would like to see the castle in Germany that Disney was modeled after. We'd also like to see Venice, Italy. Is this possible in 10 days? Also should we rent a car or take a train? We are on a budget and were wondering if we should book a package with hotel and air then use the concierge in our hotel for tours. Please give me any tips possible.
Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria may or may not have been the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle, but either way it's not to be missed.
I'd steer you away from trying to squeeze Austria, Germany, and Italy into a 10-day trip and suggest instead that you pick two countries and savor them at a slower pace. While it is possible to see all three, I think you'd come away feeling rushed by trying to do so. Practically speaking, Austria and Germany are the easiest of the two to fit into a single vacation, and right now your options are plentiful.
If you're looking to maximize your savings, consider Austrian Airlines' "Love, Austria" package starting at $879 per person. It includes round-trip airfare between New York and Austria, and three nights each in Vienna and Salzburg. You could easily add a few extra days on your own, pick up a rental car, and visit Neuschwanstein Castle before heading home.
A more German-centric option is Go-today's "King Ludwig II Trails Self Drive" package. This includes round-trip airfare and fuel surcharges, a seven-day car rental, daily breakfast, road maps, hotel taxes, one night each in Bad Aibling, Oberammergau, Nesselweng, and two nights in Munich. The package starts at $1,259 and is available at or near that price through October, with some fluctuations up and down based on tourist seasons.
Before I close the book on this case, I'll tackle your more general questions as well. The first was should you rent a car or take the train? Generally speaking the most economical solution is the train, but then you're bound to the train's schedule and route map, and there's less room for off-the-beaten path exploration. (In your specific case, there is no direct train service to Neuschwanstein Castle, but you can take a train to the town of Fussen and catch a bus to Hohenschwangau from there.) You should weigh how important freedom of movement is to you against the higher cost of a car rental, which tends to outpace the costs of a train pretty quickly when you factor in collision insurance and fuel prices.
You also wondered about the value of airfare-hotel packages, and again there are pros and cons related to freedom versus cost. You can usually save more money by bundling the flight and hotel components together, whether it's with one of the pre-packaged trips I mentioned above or the more dynamically priced do-it-yourself packages you can find on sites like Expedia, Travelocity, or Orbitz. The downside is you're essentially locked into a set vacation without the freedom to change your itinerary on the fly once you arrive.
All that said, if price were the overriding factor for me, I'd opt to bundle the flight and hotel, and I'd enjoy my vacation knowing I saved a good bit of money by doing so.
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