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Packages are simply a way to buy the airfare, accommodations, and other elements of your trip (such as car rentals, airport transfers, and sometimes even activities) at the same time and often at discounted prices.

One good source of package deals is the airlines themselves, including Air Canada, which offers an array of package deals specially tailored to trim the costs of your vacation. Collectively, these packages come under the title "Air Canada Vacations." This term covers a whole series of travel bargains, ranging from city packages to fly/drive tours, escorted tours, motor-home travel, and ski holidays. For details, pick up the brochure from an Air Canada office or follow the links at www.aircanadavacations.com.

Other airlines offer Canadian package holidays, including American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Delta Vacations (tel. 800/800-1504; www.deltavacations.com), Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/829-7777; www.covacations.com), and United Vacations (tel. 888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com).

Several big online travel agencies -- Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Lastminute -- also do a brisk business in packages. Travel packages are also listed in the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Or check ads in national travel magazines such as Budget Travel, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Ask Before You Go -- Before you invest in a package deal or an escorted tour:

  • Always ask about the cancellation policy. Can you get your money back? Is there a deposit required?
  • Ask about the accommodations choices and prices for each. Then look up the hotels' reviews in a Frommer's guide and check their rates online for your specific dates of travel. Also, find out what types of rooms are offered.
  • Request a complete schedule (escorted tours only).
  • Ask about the size and demographics of the group (escorted tours only).
  • Discuss what is included in the price (transportation, meals, tips, airport transfers, etc.; escorted tours only).
  • Finally, look for hidden expenses. Ask whether airport departure fees and taxes, for example, are included in the total cost -- they rarely are.

Escorted General-Interest Tours

Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation.

Collette Vacations (62 Middle St., Pawtucket, RI 02860; tel. 800/468-5955; www.collettevacations.com) offers a wide variety of escorted trips by bus and train, including several in the Atlantic provinces, the Pacific Northwest, and the Rockies. A 10-day Fall Foliage tour of Nova Scotia focuses on the stunning colors of Cape Breton Island. Shorter trips explore the Toronto/Niagara area, and some combine scheduled VIA Rail service with bus travel.

Brewster Transportation and Tours (tel. 877/791-5500; www.brewster.ca) offers a wide variety of tours throughout Canada, both escorted and independent. Their offerings include motorcoach and train excursions, ski and other winter vacations, city and resort combination packages, chartered day tours by bus, and independent driving tours. Highlights include a visit to the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park, Alberta, and one to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to view the aurora borealis.

Travel by train lets you see the Rockies as you never would in a bus or behind the wheel of a car. Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (tel. 877/460-3200; www.rockymountaineer.com) bills its Rocky Mountaineer as "The Most Spectacular Train Trip in the World." During daylight hours between mid-April and mid-October, this sleek blue-and-white train winds past foaming waterfalls, ancient glaciers, towering snowcapped peaks, and roaring mountain streams. The Rocky Mountaineer gives you the options of traveling east from Vancouver; traveling west from Jasper, Calgary, or Banff; or taking round-trips. The company's Sea to Sky Climb train links Vancouver with Whistler while travel to/from Whistler and Jasper via Prince George is a fourth route. There are also packages that include links to the Inside Passage from Prince Rupert to Victoria. Tours range from 2 to 12 days, with stays in both the mountains and cities.

John Steel Railtours (tel. 800/988-5778 or 604/886-3427; www.johnsteel.com) offers both escorted and independent tour packages, many through the Rockies and the west and a few in other regions, which combine train and other forms of travel. VIA Rail operates the train portions of John Steel tours. Packages run from 5 to 12 days, at all times of year, depending on the route, and combine stays in major cities and national parks.

Despite the fact that escorted tours require big deposits and predetermine hotels, restaurants, and itineraries, many people derive security and peace of mind from the structure they offer. Escorted tours -- whether they're navigated by bus, motorcoach, train, or boat -- let travelers sit back and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about details. They take you to the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle. They're particularly convenient for people with limited mobility, and they can be a great way to make new friends.

On the downside, you'll have little opportunity for serendipitous interactions with locals. The tours can be jam-packed with activities, leaving little room for individual sightseeing, whim, or adventure -- plus, they often focus on the heavily touristed sites, so you miss out on many a lesser-known gem.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.