There was once a time when a bargain-hunter could point with excitement to packaged vacations costing less than a thousand dollars at the height of the summer season, like July. That's pretty difficult now. Though the U.S. rate of inflation is unusually low, the desire of overeas hoteliers to wallop the summer vacationer has never been stronger. Today, an eight-to-ten-day packaged vacation in Europe, or Central and South America, will cost you more than a thousand dollars per person, and won't even include airfare for getting there. That having been said, there are still comparative bargains out there.
Ireland leads the list. Thanks to a brutal recession in the Emerald Isle, travel companies like Sceptre Tours (www.sceptretours.com) are able to include roundtrip airfare to Dublin in a fly-drive package that also brings you 10 nights of accommodations in excellent Irish hotels in Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick and Dublin, and a self-drive car (manual transmission) with unlimited mileage for the entire period. The cost? On several departure dates in July: either $1,699 or $1,718 per person, based on two persons traveling together.
Costa Rica in July is also cheap. The long-established Caravan Tours (www.caravan.com) charges only $1,095 per person, plus $234 in taxes, for an escorted 10-night tour of every important sight and attraction, including motorcoach transportation from place to place, quality accommodations, and three meals daily. While airfare is not included, you can often pick up round-trip fares to Costa Rica, in July, for as little as $450 per person.
And then there are those 8-to-13-night cruises of the Mediterranean. By choosing to sail on one of three low-cost lines--MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, and Norwegian Line--you can find 10-and-11-night sailings selling for as little as $95 to $120 a day per person in inside cabins (and that includes all your meals, and most activities aboard ship). While the airfare to and from the ports will be costly--figure on at least $1,400 per person round-trip in July (for flights making one stop en route, to and from)--the low-cost of the cruise itself will offset the cost of the flight. Go to VacationsToGo.com for comprehensive listings of cruises operated by these three popularly-priced lines.
The best for last. The magnificent Queen Mary 2, that flagsghip of the Cunard Line fleet, will be sailing from New York to Southampton on July 6 and July 27 of this year. The crossing is scheduled for seven days, on a south Atlantic route chosen to minimize the chance for rough seas. On board will be British elegance marked by high tea each day, superb cuisine, evening entertainment of a high order, and serious lectures and other intellectual activities so often absent on other cruiseships. The price for the one-way crossing? $1,302 for the departure of July 6, $1,002 for the departure of July 27. Could anyone imagine a better vacation? And at so low a price?