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Top 10 bargain destinations for summer 2003

SmarterTravel

If you want to take a summer vacation but haven’t planned one yet, you’re not alone. Due to recent world events and a slowed economy, many people aren’t sure where to go or how much they want to spend. So, to help you make up your mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best bargain destinations for this summer.

We made our selections by matching the information we gather about destination trends with the deals we find.

Top 10 bargain destinations
1. Disney World 6. Cancun
2. National Parks 7. Buenos Aires
3. London 8. Paris
4. Las Vegas 9. The Caribbean
5. Hawaii 10. Canada

1. Disney World

Orlando is the number one U.S. destination this year, according to a recent report from the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). Disney World is particularly popular with families, so a deal that coincides with kids’ summer breaks is a fantastic find. This summer, Disney has released its “Fairytale Vacation package” with hotel and all-inclusive admission to the parks where you stay seven days for the price of four.

From July 4 to October 30, seven-night packages are available from $499 per adult, $266 per teenager, and $212 per child, with an average $729 savings for a family of four. Read SmarterTravel.com’s Fairytale Vacation package offer for dates, specific prices, and hotel types.

US Airways has a similar offer that combines the Fairytale Vacation package with airfare starting at $689 per person, and Continental Airlines also has a variety of air and hotel packages in conjunction with the current Disney offer.

2. National Parks

National parks are a top choice for a budget vacation this summer because they are easily accessible and always a good value. Camping or staying in park lodging minimizes accommodation costs, and park activities tend to be free or reasonably priced. Plus, in the last year, the National Park Service has seen a slight drop in visitation, and predicts lower-than-usual numbers for this year. In response, lodging and concessions providers, as well as restaurants in national parks, have lowered their prices to lure prospective visitors. There’s also a National Parks Pass that offers lower entrance fees.

For $50 ($48 with the AAA discount, or $45 with the AARP discount), you receive free entrance into all national parks, which includes admission for a spouse, parents, and children. The pass is valid for one year from the date of the first use. So, if you visit multiple parks, the savings can really add up. Park entrance prices at some of the more popular national parks like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion all have $20 entrance fees, not to mention the smaller parks closer to home that often charge up to $10 per visit for admission.

For an additional $15 you can buy a Golden Eagle hologram to attach to your pass, which covers entrance fees at sites managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

3. London

If England appeals to you, but you want to escape of the bustle of London, why not head up to the Lake District for some quality time with nature? Just four hours by train from London’s Paddington station, a wealth of B&Bs, inns, and hostels make choosing a place to stay easy and economical. Many sites offer detailed information about the various walks and hikes around the region, so you can plan an inn-to-inn ramble, or hike closer to your home base. Reasonably priced organized walks are available throughout the region, and if you don’t want to carry your own pack you can rent a pony to carry your things and accompany you on your walks.

Summer is not normally the cheapest time of the year to visit London, but if you travel early this year it’s budget vacation central, with special offers cropping up all over the place. Most years, summer airfare between the U.S. and England can easily top $750 for economy class. Last year, the lowest sale rates averaged $500 from the East Coast (not including hotel accommodations, which can cost upwards of $100 per night for a basic room). So far this year, you can fly and stay at a fraction of the usual cost.

When we looked in mid-May, we found the following exceptional deals. Although some expire before the height of summer, our air and vacation sections keep up on the latest and lowest England and Europe fare deals.

Virgin Atlantic has launched its London Budget June Fling, in which round-trip air and six nights’ hotel accommodations start at $369 from New York for travel between June 1 and June 15. Or, fly from from Boston or Washington, D.C. from $399 . For travel between June 16 and June 30, the prices rise slightly to $499 from New York or $529 from Boston or Washington, D.C.

As if these air-and-hotel deals weren’t enough reason to pop across the pond for a summer holiday, the mayor of London has declared May 17 to June 15 Totally London Month. This means that many shops, restaurants, theatres, museums, and hotels will be offering special offers. Public transportation in the city is also discounted during this time: Hop London’s double-decker buses for just $1.50 for unlimited daily travel during five weekends, or take advantage of the “kids ride free when accompanied by an adult” deal on the London Underground and all buses.

4. Las Vegas

We chose Las Vegas as one of our top bargain destinations because we’ve been seeing a lot of good deals in the last month. Yes, it’s bound to be hot in summer, but that’s what air conditioning is for. And realistically, while some people travel out of the city to see the Hoover Dam, most of what draws people to Las Vegas happens inside. The deals we’ve found offer round-trip airfare and a variety of hotels in different classes, all at rates well below the norm.

Southwest is offering a vacation package that includes airfare and hotel accommodations. Sample rates include $74 per person for two nights at the Westward Ho with round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, or $139 per person for two nights at the Golden Nugget with round-trip airfare from El Paso. The postings vary so check Southwest vacation packages for specifics.

Expedia also currently has a variety of offers that combine airfare, hotel, and more through June. Stay for two nights at Caesars Palace with round-trip airfare from Phoenix for $224. Combine two nights at the Luxor, round-trip airfare from San Francisco, and tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere for $289. Or, stay at the Bellagio for two nights with round-trip airfare from San Francisco from $292. Prices are for midweek rates; weekend rates tend to be slightly higher.

Additionally, SmarterTravel.com’s roundup of Las Vegas vacation deals offers a broader look at some of the lowest-priced packages. Deals start at $99 for airfare from Los Angeles and two nights’ accommodation.

5. Hawaii

This summer, the surf is up and the price is down in Hawaii, but only if you book smart. We found great deals through Pleasant Holidays and Expedia that combine airfare and hotel accommodations. And while a great rate on hotel and air won’t make Hawaii a less expensive place to eat, paddle, dance, and dive, it does mean that you can at least spend the money you’ve saved enjoying all that the island has to offer. So if you want a $1,500 vacation on a $600 budget, you’re in luck.

Pleasant Holidays has a variety of deals, including a round-trip air, hotel, and transfer package. Sample rates for summer include six days in Waikiki with round-trip airfare for $513 from Los Angeles available through August 15; or six days in Maui with round-trip airfare for $637 from Los Angeles. You save $892 by buying the package; when we checked the cost of a flight on United and six nights at the hotel, it added up to $1,529 for a stay in June. Pleasant Holidays also offers air-only and hotel-only prices.

Expedia’s package deals to Hawaii start at $476 for airfare from San Francisco and a four-night stay in Oahu at the Castle Waikiki Terrace. Airfare from San Francisco and four nights at the Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas in Maui costs $599. In contrast, when we calculated four nights in June at the Aston Maui and round-trip airfare from United, it totaled $1,541.

6. Cancun

Cancun, situated on the Caribbean in the Mexican Riviera, is close enough to be convenient but far enough to feel exotic. And with the Cancun Visitors Bureau launching a campaign to woo budget travelers to the city during the traditional low season, you can save on airfare, accommodations, and vacation packages while you sunbathe.

Expedia is offering a four-night package from $537 that includes round-trip airfare from New York and four nights’ accommodation at the Hyatt Cancun Caribe, an oceanfront hotel. If you are looking for a good deal on a hotel, check out Travelocity’s rate for three nights at the upscale Fiesta Americana Condesa from $147.

SmarterTravel.com’s Vacation editors have found more great deals for Cancun this summer. Prices start at three nights from $387 with airfare from Phoenix, or three nights and all meals from $573 per person from New York.

7. Buenos Aires

If you aren’t interested in going to Europe this summer but want something a little farther away than the U.S. or Canada, why not head south? Buenos Aires is a favorite with tourists for its beaches, museums, and nightlife. Americans benefit from a strong dollar, and the time change of only one to four hours (depending on which time zone you are coming from) reduces jet lag, which adds more value to your trip as a whole. We’ve been seeing good deals in Buenos Aires in recent weeks, a few which offer airfare and five nights’ accommodation for less than the price of a typical flight to Buenos Aires. OffPeakTraveler.com adds new discounted trips regularly to their site. Here are three that we found when we looked:

The Buenos Aires Special includes airfare, a five-night stay at the four-star Hotel Nogaro, and a daily continental breakfast. Prices start at $529 per person from Miami, or $549 per person from New York.

The Buenos Aires Week package includes airfare and a five-night stay at the Hotel Nogaro. This is a more flexible package, as you can fly out of any of 27 gateways, and you have until March 31, 2004, to travel. Fares start at $592 from Boston, $709 from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and $751 from Atlanta.

Finally, if being pampered is your idea of a dream vacation, you might enjoy the Buenos Aires Spa and Ahh. Stay at the Castelar Hotel and Spa and enjoy a full day of spa services, dinner, theatre or ballet tickets, and a room upgrade. This package includes airfare and is offered out of 27 gateway cities and runs through March 31, 2004. Sample prices include $719 per person from New York, Washington, D.C., or Miami.

8. Paris

Summertime in Paris is full of free festivals and events. “La fete de la Musique” is a citywide music festival, which occurs on the evening of June 21. “Paris Plage,” which runs for about a month in mid-summer, transforms the lower quais along the river into a long stretch of beach with cafés, sand, lounge-chairs, and activities. The tourist office has an English-language website with events listings and other useful information.

Although not usually a contender for a bargain vacation list, especially during the tourist-heavy summer months, Paris has become affordable this summer. Because fewer tourists have booked in advance, or aren’t considering a European vacation, travel discounters are slashing prices. Whether you go for the museums, the food, the wine, or the caf&eacte; life, you can go for less in the coming months.

When we looked in May, we found that Go-Today.com is offering Paris specials from $309 for six nights’ accommodations, continental breakfast daily, airport to hotel transfers, and a river cruise on the Seine. Although you can travel anytime between May 16 and December 20, you must book by May 29. Or, if you plan to travel in September, you can take advantage of their “France Fall Fly and Drive” package, which blends round-trip airfare and seven days of car rental from $439 per person. Even after these deals expire, Go-Today is still an invaluable resource for any budget vacation to Paris.

Europe Hot Deal is offering a package that includes three nights’ accommodation, daily breakfast, and round-trip airfare from Boston or New York from $399 for a two-star hotel, $459 for a three-star hotel, and $569 for a four-star hotel.

9. The Caribbean

Since May through October is the low season for the Caribbean, summer is the right time to find bargains. This summer, with the war and SARS outbreaks, many cruise lines have repositioned their ships to the Caribbean, and are cutting prices to fill the extra cabins. Vacation companies have also jumped on the bandwagon.

SmarterTravel.com keeps up on the best and most current Caribbean cruise deals from all the major lines. Whether you prefer a shorter escape aboard a Carnival Fun Ship, or a longer, more luxurious cruise aboard a Crystal or Holland America ship, we can help you decide how, when, and where to sail the Caribbean. Current sample rates include a four-day cruise and airfare from New York from $419 on Carnival, or Holland America seven-day sailings from $459 per person.

If you’re more of a landlubber, there are plenty of great air-and-hotel packages to various islands hotspots. US Airways has a summer saver deal to the Virgin Islands, with five nights’ accommodations and round-trip airfare from New York for $533. With these deals you also receive an American Express gift check for $50, and a coupon booklet with up to $1,000 of savings. SmarterTravel.com has found good deals from CheapCaribbean.com to the Bahamas from Ft. Lauderdale for $399 for seven days including airfare, and Pleasant Holidays to Jamaica from Miami for $466 for five nights’ accommodations and airfare.

10. Canada

According to a recent TIA survey, Canada tops the list as the international destination that Americans are most interested in visiting this year, making the wealth of deals we’ve seen from Alaska Air and Air Canada extremely valuable. It’s an appealing bargain destination because it’s close no matter where you are in the U.S., and there are many regions to choose from.

With Alaska’s Canada Spring Fling sale, booking in spring means saving in summer. Book by May 31 and travel by September 30 and you could pay as little as $69 each way between San Francisco and Vancouver, or $89 between Vancouver and Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Tucson. The Spring Fling sale will most likely be followed up by other savings opportunities, so check the Alaska website often.

Air Canada is offering air packages to many cities in Canada. Stay three nights in Montreal and pay from $409 per person from Philadelphia for airfare and three-star hotel accommodations. Or, head east and spend three nights on Prince Edward Island from $722 per person from Newark including airfare, accommodations, and car rental. There are many other cities and gateways to choose from.

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