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Top five off-peak destinations for summer 2006

If you’ve started planning your summer vacation, you already know that it can be hard to find great deals for popular destinations. This year, record gas prices will drive up the cost of road trips and air travel, making the already expensive travel season even worse.

However, if you visit destinations that aren’t traditional summer hotspots, you can save money and have a unique vacation. Our top picks for summer travel offer everything from beaches to skiing in the U.S. and abroad. Read on to find out how you can save in the Cayman Islands; New Zealand; Phoenix; São Paulo, Brazil; and Thailand.

Next>>Cayman Islands: Summer specials, new flights, and 16,000 turtles

Cayman Islands

After last year’s active hurricane season, you may hesitate before booking a Caribbean vacation this year. Consider, then, the Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac), located in the far Western Caribbean, which have been hit by only one hurricane (Ivan in 2004) since 1932. Summer weather is pleasant, usually around 85 degrees with brief afternoon rain showers. While there’s no guarantee that this summer will be hurricane-free in the islands, it’s a good bet that your vacation plans won’t be interrupted.

Summer events include the annual Taste of Cayman (complete with local and international dishes and a chili cook-off) on Grand Cayman during the first weekend of July, and Cayman Brac Family Week with island tours, hikes, family snorkeling, a beach cookout, and a sand-sculpting contest later in July.

Popular attractions on Grand Cayman include the Cayman Turtle Farm, home to more than 16,000 green turtles raised for conservation, and the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, a 65-acre park with flowers and wildlife. You can save on these attractions and two others by purchasing a Heritage Passport. Diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and other water sports are also among the islands’ main attractions.

Travelers who venture beyond touristy Grand Cayman to its sister islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, can dive, snorkel, bird watch, and explore without crowds.

The Cayman Summer Splash promotion is a good option for families and includes discounted hotel and rental car rates, reduced-price diving and other water sports excursions, half-off kids’ fares on Cayman Airways, and enrollment in “Sir Turtle’s Sea School” kids’ program.

The islands are easily accessible from the U.S., as most major carriers serve Grand Cayman. This year, you have more options for reaching the islands. Low-fare carrier Spirit introduced non-stop service from Ft. Lauderdale in February, and connecting flights are available from major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and Washington, D.C. Cayman Airways is offering half-off kids’ fares to Grand Cayman.

We searched for hotel rates in the Cayman Islands to see how much you can save by traveling in the off-peak fall season and we found savings of up to $150 per night.

Room type Hotel Off-peak rate Peak rate
Two bedroom, pool view Plantation Village Beach Resort, Grand Cayman $185 (July 1 to December 15, 2006) $335 (December 16, 2006, to April 15, 2007)
Beachfront studio suite The Reef Resort, Grand Cayman $175 (April 22 to December 21, 2006) $245 (January 7, 2005, to April 21, 2006)
Triple room (price includes three meals) Sam McCoy’s Diving & Fishing Lodge, Little Cayman $115 (June 1 to October 15, 2006) $125 (October 16, 2006, to May 31, 2007)

To find more information about visiting the Caymans Islands, refer to CaymanIslands.com. For more tips and strategies for saving money in the Cayman Islands, visit the SmarterTravel.com Cayman Islands Travel Guide.

Next>>New Zealand: Film festivals, winter sports, and a dog-barking contest

New Zealand

While New Zealand is never considered a cheap getaway, June, July, and August are the most affordable times to visit. Summer in the U.S. is winter in New Zealand, and the cooler temperatures draw fewer visitors. However, the weather remains mild in most regions of New Zealand, with temperatures in the 50s.

July kicks off film festival season in New Zealand, with events in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, and a handful of others. Winter sports, including skiing, snowboarding, and heli-skiing, are popular in Queenstown and Wanaka. Queenstown also hosts the 10-day Queenstown Winter Festival, with live music, comedy shows, hockey games, a dog barking contest, and a “Frisbee golf” tournament.

Adventure travel isn’t limited to winter sports, as weather in most areas is mild enough for year-round hiking, cycling, and other adventurous pursuits. New Zealand’s popular wine trails are also year-round attractions.

[% 292704 | | Qantas %] and Air New Zealand are offering New Zealand summer sales. Air New Zealand has increased flexibility in its fares by eliminating minimum-stay requirements and surcharges for weekend travel. It has also introduced a lowest-price guarantee.

We found vacation-package savings of up to $220 by traveling in the summer months.

Package Provider Off-peak rate Peak rate
Airfare from Los Angeles, flights within New Zealand and Australia, and 12 nights’ hotel Virgin Vacations $2,069 (July 24 to September 21) $2,289 (September 22 to December 9)
Airfare from Los Angeles, nine nights’ hotel, meals, transfers, sightseeing tours Gate1Travel.com $1,999 (August 9 departures) $2,199 (October 11 and November 15 departures)
Airfare from Los Angeles, eight nights’ hotel, transportation between cities Go-today.com $1,869 (May 11 to September 30) $1,919 (October 1 to December 9)

Prices do not include taxes and fees.

You can find a wealth of information about planning a trip to New Zealand at 100% Pure New Zealand. Or, visit SmarterTravel.com’s New Zealand Travel Guide.

Next>>Phoenix: Art, spas, and “dry heat”

Phoenix

Phoenix is sweltering in the summer, but remember, as the saying goes, “it’s a dry heat.” Temperatures in Phoenix can reach triple digits in the summertime, but as temperatures rise, prices fall. In fact, you save as much as 50 percent on accommodations, or take advantage of off-peak rates for vacation packages.

Phoenix and neighboring Scottsdale feature unique summer arts events. First Fridays Artwalk in Phoenix takes place on the first Friday of every month this summer, and is the country’s largest artwalk. More than 80 galleries and “art-friendly” businesses participate, and there are five shuttle routes that bring art enthusiasts between sites. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation offers Thursday and Friday “Night Lights on the Desert” twilight tours of the architect’s unique Taliesin West complex of buildings (including his personal residence and architectural studio). In addition, there are more than 10 concerts in Phoenix this summer, including Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Clarkson, Santana, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Spas in Phoenix and Scottsdale are increasingly popular, and can offer much-needed respite from the summer heat. Three spas in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area are 2006 Mobil Travel Guide four-star properties, and Travel + Leisure named two Phoenix spas in its “World’s Best Hotel Spa” category. One of those spas, the Arizona Biltmore, is offering special summer rates on VisitPhoenix.com from $129.

Phoenix is easily accessible from most major U.S. cities, and is served by low-fare carriers Southwest and JetBlue. In fact, JetBlue recently ramped up its service to Phoenix, adding flights from Boston in early May. You can find discounted hotel rates and summer packages, including AAA, family, spa, and golf specials, on VisitPhoenix.com.

We compared vacation packages from Travelocity, and found savings of as much as $132.

Package Off-peak rate Peak rate
Airfare from Boston and five nights in Scottsdale $730 $862
Airfare from Chicago (O’Hare) and five nights in Phoenix $429 $503
Airfare from Oakland and five nights in Phoenix $379 $464

Off-peak rates are based on travel from July 15 through 20, 2006, and peak rates are based on travel from January 13 through 18, 2007. Prices include taxes and fees.

For additional details on summer travel specials and events, check VisitPhoenix.com or SmarterTravel.com’s Phoenix Travel Guide.

Next>>São Paulo, Brazil: Expanded flights, Degas, and dining

São Paulo

(Editor’s note: Given the recent civil unrest in São Paulo, most travelers are probably not thinking of visiting in the near future. However, many of the activities and events mentioned are available during any summer. If you are interesting in going, be sure to read the [% 1247444 | | latest news %].)

Rio de Janeiro gets most of the attention when people think of cities in Brazil, but São Paulo, the largest city in South America, deserves a visit of its own. The city has the hustle-and-bustle feel of a city like New York, and features an impressive selection of fine restaurants, galleries and museums, and shopping.

While June, July, and August are wintertime in São Paulo, only June and August are considered off-peak. July sees a pick-up in tourism, with an increase in travelers and prices. Temperatures in the winter months are generally between 45 and 65 degrees; pleasant enough for exploring the city on foot.

São Paulo has more than a dozen museums. Perhaps the most popular is the Museu of Art of São Paulo (MASP) (the website is in Portuguese only), which is holding a Degas exhibit through August 20. The museum also features works by Monet, Picasso, Renoir, and Van Gogh. The State Art Gallery (Pinacoteca do Estado) is also a popular museum, and is home to exhibits by Miró and Rodin.

Dining is a central part of any visit to São Paulo, and the city has nearly every type of restaurant, from Brazilian to Vietnamese to Scandinavian. Visitors who enjoy sampling a variety of different foods should check out the Mercado Municipal de São Paulo, a huge indoor market filled with local and imported products, including fruits, vegetables, and cheeses.

Several U.S. airlines have been expanding in Latin America, which makes finding a flight to Brazil more convenient. Delta, for example, is introducing service to São Paulo starting June 16, just in time for summer travel. Also, hotel rates drop by as much as 20 percent during the off-peak season.

We compared peak and off-peak airfares and found savings of up to $214 in the summer.

Route Off-peak fare Peak fare
Chicago (O’Hare) to São Paulo $1,067 $1,137
Orlando to São Paulo $953 $1,026
San Francisco to São Paulo $889 $1,085
Washington, D.C. (Dulles), to São Paulo $1,022 $1,236

Off-peak fares are based on travel from August 21 to 25, 2006, and peak fares are based on travel from January 8 to 12, 2007. Prices were found on Travelocity’s website and include taxes and fees.

Planning a São Paulo vacation can be somewhat challenging because many attractions’ websites are only in Portugese. However, you can find information in English on the São Paulo government website, and in SmarterTravel.com’s São Paulo Travel Guide.

Next>>Thailand: An anniversary, plus festivals and shopping deals

Thailand

Although by appearances Thailand has mostly recovered from 2004’s tsunami, tourist levels are still lower than they were before the devastation, particularly during the off-peak summer months. July, August, and September make up the country’s rainy season, though rainstorms only occur for a few hours per day, and most often the weather is hot and sunny.

In February, the Thailand Grand Invitation 2006 was launched to commemorate the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej taking the throne, making him the world’s longest-reigning monarch. There are several major events, including the Candle Festival in Ubon Ratchathani in July and the nationwide celebration of the Queen’s birthday on August 12. Also in July is the Tak Bat Dok Mai festival in the Saraburi province, which marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent.

Summer also brings the annual Thailand Grand Sale, a promotion in June and July that features shopping discounts of up to 50 percent and designated “shopping streets” in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and other popular areas.

Low-fare service in Thailand has increased in recent years, which makes getting around the country easier than ever before. Nok Air and One-Two-Go airlines fly within Thailand, while several airlines serve Thailand and other Asian countries.

Hotel prices during the off-peak season drop significantly, and we found savings of up to $39 per night.

Hotel Provider Off-peak rate Peak rate
Amari Atrium Hotel, Bangkok Hotels.com $75 $114
Riverview Point Resort, Chiang Mai Expedia $40 $65
Holiday Inn Resort, Phuket Priceline $74 $98

Off-peak rates are based on the average daily rate from August 21 to 28, 2006, and peak rates are based on the average daily rate from February 19 to 26, 2007.

Visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand for assistance in planning your vacation. SmarterTravel.com’s Thailand Travel Guide also features seasonal information and travel deals.

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