Summer Vacation Planning

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Spring is here and summer is not far off. Have you started to make plans for your vacation? The world is your oyster. Is your bank account ready for the expenditure? You might want to take a family camping trip right in your own backyard on the Mogollon Rim or perhaps head up to Colorado; or if you have been saving money for two years to take the big one, then maybe this is the summer to live like a millionaire.

Wherever you decide to go, it is important to make firm plans and book your reservations early. Airlines continue to raise fares, so jump in as early as you can to lock in your airfare costs.

Hotels and many resorts are still looking for increased business, so make the best deals you can by shopping around. Your travel agent can be of assistance to you since they are the professionals and stay updated on the best deals available.

Mexico, because of the troubles there, has considerably lower rates at resorts. Stay away from Acapulco, but some of the other resort areas seem to be rather safe and you can book very nice accommodations in Cabo San Lucas and Cancun at bargain prices right now. There are so many other wonderful safe places to vacation I wouldn’t consider Mexico myself, but many Americans still wish to go there. Get on-line with the U.S. State Department and see what they say about Mexico travel before you go.

Europe is going to be very big this summer. Americans have somewhat stayed away during the recession, but are returning this summer. If you plan to travel there be aware that prices are very high against our dollar. The average price is $400 to $600 per night hotels in England, France, Italy and other parts of Europe. Spain, Portugal and Greece are often less.

The South Pacific is not cheap anymore, nor are most locations in Asia. Generally, you need fat pocketbooks to travel in many locations overseas today. As I often say in these articles, cruising is usually the best value for your travel dollar when you add up all expenses.

Here are some ideas for you to consider.

Rocky Mountaineer has begun offering Rail & Cruise packages from Seattle. The 12- to 17-day itineraries available through Sept. 11, begin with a 7-night Holland America Line Glacier Bay Inside Passage cruise, which makes stops in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan in Alaska before going south to Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia. The cruise is followed by two nights aboard the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train from Vancouver to Jasper, Alberta. Rates begin at $2,755 per person based on double occupancy. Phone Rocky Mountaineer at 1-800-665-7245, www.rockymountaineer.com.

Tauck Tours has teamed with filmmaker and historian Ken Burns to create a 10-night Civil War itinerary with departures in September and October.

Beginning in Washington, D.C. the Most Hallowed Ground itinerary visits Civil War battlefields, including Gettysburg in Pennsylvania; Antietam in Maryland; and Petersburg and Appomattox in Virginia.

The tour includes three nights at the Mayflower Renaissance in Washington; one night each at the Wyndham Gettysburg and Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park Hotel in Virginia; and three nights at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va.

The tour is pieced at $3,989 per person, double, and includes accommodations, most meals and admission to sites and attractions. Call Tauck Tours at 1-800-458-2825, www.tauck.com. When I lived in Virginia, I took the opportunity to visit these important sites and found them to be very moving.

Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic is offering a signature Summer Savings program for staying at the resort there. The Family Summer Savings option, valid through Sept. 30, is priced from $295 per night, with a 50 percent discount on a second room. This is a delightful location in the Caribbean and safe. The beaches are great. Phone Casa de Campo at 1-800-877-3643 or go online to www.casadecampo.com.

Here is a rather different vacation option — Friendly Planet Travel offers a 7-night, all-inclusive tour including airfare from Miami to Ecuador visiting Quito, Otavalo, Papallacta and the Amazon region of Banos, Patate and Cotopaxi National Park, site of an active volcano.

The package is priced at $1,299 per person and includes English speaking guides, superior hotels where available and some meals. Departures are Oct. 17, Nov. 14 and Nov. 28. Contact Friendly Planet Travel at 1-800-555-5765. www.friendlyplanet.com.

Many readers inquire about Costa Rica. This is a friendly Latin country in Central America that welcomes Americans. Education is good here and the people don’t seem as poor as in other Central and some South American countries. I have not found problems speaking English in many parts of the country and generally feel rather at home. Tauck Tours offer an 8-day vacation here priced from $2,680 per person plus airfare.

The tour begins at the Alta Hotel located in the capital of San Jose. Mountains surround the city and the climate is almost perfect year around. You will visit Theator Nacional and go for the gold at the Museo del Oro, where everything that glitters in truly golden. The first night you will be part of a fiesta welcome dinner. During the week you will see small villages, sugar cane fields, coffee plantations, volcanoes, lakes, beaches and have fun doing whitewater boating and enjoy a party to conclude your visit. This can be a really fun vacation. Phone Tauck Tours at 1-800-468-2825.

If you want to cruise and stay closer to home, Crystal Cruises, a deluxe cruise line, has planned a West Coast 7-day itinerary sailing from Los Angeles and visiting Santa Barbara, San Francisco, San Diego and Ensenada before returning to Los Angeles. Your ship will be low density with less than 1,000 passengers at 50,000 gross tons. What a way to go! It is all-inclusive. Dining is flexible with reservations and free air. Give them a call at 1-866-210-1594. wwwcrystalcruises.com/pac. Crystal will also be sailing to Alaska this summer.

Another fine, deluxe cruise line is Oceania Cruises. It is offering an interesting cruise departing July 1 on the new Marina, which sails from Copenhagen on a 15-day voyage visiting Kristiansand, Bergen, Flam, Gudvagen in Norway and continuing to Torshavn in Denmark’s Faroe Islands, then it is on to Iceland for visits to Isafjordue and Reykjavik before cruising to Belfast, Northern Ireland and Douglas in the Isle of Man, U.K., then to Dublin, Ireland ending in Dover, U.K. The ship Marina is Oceania’s finest ship and again, low density with fine dining and many extras. Free air is included with fares beginning at $5,799. Phone 1-800-531-5658. www.OceaniaCruises .com.

Another Oceania cruise that may interest you departs Venice, Italy Aug. 2 on a cruise adventure calling at Split, Croatia, Corfu, Greece and in Italy stops at Taormina, Sorrento/Capri, Amalfi, Rome, Florence, and Portofino, plus Monte Carlo, Monaco, Saint Tropez, France, Provence and ending in Barcelona, Spain. What a great itinerary — the best of the Mediterranean.

Fares for the 14-day cruise begin at $5,299 with free air per guest. Airfares to Europe are no longer bargains so free air is a major savings.

As we say, planning a vacation is almost as much fun as the experience, so enjoy.

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