Arthur Frommer: Cruises top list of 20 best vacation bargains

BY Arthur Frommer

Chalk it up to fear of hurricanes. Add the mild weather that usually prevails in the places from which passengers come. Whatever the reason, Sept. 1 to mid-December is when cruises plummet in popularity and cruise lines frantically discount their rates. The cheapest vacations of the year are the one-week cruises scheduled to sail the Caribbean from ports in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral) in September through mid-December. I start this week’s listing of “best bargains” with the remarkably low rates for those weeklong idylls, then go to two other cruise categories where bargains are found, and proceed from there to various land packages for autumn departures.

(1) Cruises of the Caribbean: $349 to $479 per person for autumn cruises of seven nights’ duration from Florida, on board glamorous ships. Prices plummet for most departures from Sept. 1 to mid-December, when the cheapest cruises are those offered by Carnival on its Destiny, Miracle and Liberty cruise ships for as little as $349 to $419 per person in inside cabins on numerous dates within that period. Most ships of Norwegian Cruise Line charge almost as little; a ship like the Norwegian Pearl, sailing from Florida through the Caribbean, discounts rates for inside cabins in October, November and early December to $359 to $429 per person. MSC Cruises are only slightly more expensive. A ship like the MSC Poesia, sailing from Florida into the Caribbean during these months, charges as little as $479 per person in an inside cabin for a seven-night cruise. And finally, many Royal Caribbean departures are priced as low as $459 to $602 on many of the dates I’ve cited. To book your own cruise at those rates, go to, click on “Caribbean,” specify a seven-night cruise from September to December, and there they will be unprecedented cruise bargains.

(2) Repositioning Cruises, Trans-Atlantic: $799 to $1,699 for 14 to 20 days. October and November are “repositioning months” for the world’s cruise lines, when cruise ships need to be transferred from European waters, where they are no longer needed, to Caribbean waters, where the high season is about to begin. The ships cruise for several days in the Mediterranean on their way to Gibraltar, making several stops, then cross the South Atlantic, spending several days simply at sea (six or seven nights) before reaching the Caribbean, where several more days are spent stopping at ports—a total, usually, of 14 to 20 days. Because of the lengthy time at sea, these itineraries are unpopular and rates need to be lowered to as little as $50 a day to sell out the ships. Go to (800-338-4962), click on “trans-Atlantic,” and you’ll find no fewer than 49 different sailings of the world’s top ships, leaving from such ports as Barcelona, Rome, Venice and London (Dover), etc., and ending mainly in the Caribbean, Florida or New York.

(3) Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: $816 or $1,076, via a glamorous, nine- or 10-night ocean cruise from Quebec City, including airfare from Toronto to Quebec City to board the ships. In October, all airlines flying from Toronto to Quebec City charge $177 for the one-way flight, including taxes. In Quebec City on Oct. 6, the upscale Eurodam of the Holland America Line embarks on a 10-night cruise to Fort Lauderdale, stopping in Gaspe, Prince Edward Island, Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbor and Gloucester, among others, and arriving in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 16. In Quebec City on Oct. 23, the modern MSC Poesia sails to Fort Lauderdale over nine nights, stopping in Sydney, Boston, Newport and New York City; spending three days simply at sea; and arriving in Ft. Lauderdale on Nov. 1. (800-338-4962) sells the Eurodam cruise, in inside cabins, for $899 per person. White Travel Service (800-547-4790 or 860-233-2648) sells the the MSC Poesia cruise in inside cabins for $639 per person; children sail free. Add Toronto-to-Quebec airfare, and you reach a total of either $816 (MSC Poesia) or $1,076 (Eurodam) to Fort Lauderdale.

(4) Beijing & Shanghai: $884-$984 per person for 10 days and eight nights in China, including round-trip air to China (on Air China) from San Francisco (including all air taxes, fees and fuel surcharge), air transportation within China between Beijing and Shanghai, all transfers, high-quality hotels in China (Marriott Courtyard Beijing for five nights in Beijing and the high-rise Holiday Inn Vista for three nights in Shanghai), and full buffet breakfast each morning. These stunning prices for an air-and-land package to China are brought about by the elimination of meals other than breakfast (you are free to choose your own restaurants for lunch and dinner) and the decision to exclude escorted sightseeing (you are offered optional full-day tours in each city for $60 per full day). As such, the program is particularly well-suited for travelers who have been to China before and want to dine and tour on their own. People choosing to fly round-trip from New York can do so for only $129 more. The $884 price is for the departures of Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 6; $984 is charged for the departures of Nov. 2, 8, 15 and 22; and the package (which must be booked prior to Aug. 27) is available from Smartours (, or phone 800-337-7773), which accepts payment by check only.

(5) Orlando, Fla.: $617.80 per person, including round-trip air on Air Canada from Toronto (all taxes and fees also included) and seven nights at the 200-room Clarion Hotel Maingate (they are large rooms) in Kissimmee, less than 10 minutes by free shuttle bus from most Walt Disney World theme parks, of which the closest is a mile away. This price, reduced from summer levels, is for Monday departures (and Monday return flights) throughout the months of September and October (and then rises significantly in November). Your hotel has an outdoor pool, a hot tub and a separate children’s pool, and is especially proud of Crabby Joe’s Seafood Restaurant located on the premises, serving an all-you-can-eat Seafood Buffet from 4 p.m. daily; the tour operator is Air Canada Vacations ( operating daily to Orlando. Its website will efficiently book you for both air (on Air Canada) and hotel.

(6) Cancun: $832 to $892 per person for round-trip air from Toronto (including all fees and taxes) and seven nights of all-in arrangements (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks) in a four-star hotel, oceanview room. From mid-September through October, Thursday departures, Sunwing (, 800-761-1711 or 416-620-3380) will place you in your choice of numerous four-star, beachfront hotels of Mexico’s Cancun, offering all-inclusive stays at the above air-included, taxes-included rates (much lower rates are available for hotels of lesser quality). Simply access the website, select “Cancun” and “Thursday departures,” scroll down and choose the grandest of beachfront properties. The reason for these discounted prices for high-quality, all-inclusive hotels? Drug-related violence in Mexico’s non-resort border cities has sharply reduced tourism (and therefore rates) in resort locations, despite the fact that Mexican resorts have remained calm and safe for tourism.

(7) Cuba (Holguin): $523 to $635 for an all-inclusive seven-night air-and-land package (three meals daily, unlimited drinks, sports and also all air taxes and fees), round-trip between Toronto and Holguin on Saturday, Sept. 11, 18 and 25, and Oct. 2 and 9, in an eastern area of Cuba whose residents seem less jaded by mass tourism than in other locations, and are known for their friendly reception of the foreign visitor. The September stay (at $523) is at the 530-room Sirenis Playa Turquesa (formerly the Occidental Playa Turquesa) on a stunning natural beach, an hour from Holguin Airport, 15 minutes from the town of Guardalavaca; the October stays (at $635) are at Club Amigo. You buy the package from Flight Centre (, phone 877-967-5302) and fly to Cuba on Air Canada.

(8) Panama: $760 per person for an all-inclusive, air-inclusive package (that’s with air taxes and fees, too) departing Toronto every Wednesday in September. On arrival, you’ll have a seven-night stay at the pleasant, four-star Playa Blanca Beach Resort in Panama City—and for a middle-class, 216-room hotel that provides all meals (with unlimited drinks), you receive excellent value for the price; the hotel is a moderately priced property, comfortable but without glitter. Panama is a relatively new entrant to the tourist scene, with much to explore and see (especially the large and well-preserved colonial section of Panama City, known as Casco Viejo; see also the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo). Book the package from (phone 866/324-2883).

(9) Paris: $781, including all government taxes and fees, for a round-trip flight on Transat (, phone 877-872-6728) between Toronto and Paris starting mid-October and for the rest of that month. Beginning around Oct. 15, you’ll find numerous dates when Transat will fly you to the “City of Light,” round-trip, for $419 plus $362 in taxes, for a total of $781. Once in Paris, you’ll purchase all other elements of your stay with a newly devalued Euro, now trading at a rate of about $1.26. Your hotel in Paris? Go to for all sorts of bargain prices at decent hotels.

(10) London: $704.76 for weekday flights throughout the month of October, including all taxes and fees, round-trip between Toronto and London on Air Transat (, phone 877-872-6728). The well-known charter carrier drops its rates to $299 (plus $405.76 in taxes) on weekday dates in October, raises them to $349 (plus $437 in taxes) in November and early December, then sharply increases them for pre-Christmas and post-Christmas/New Year’s flights until mid-January. The weekday rates return to that bargain level of $299 in the frigid period of late January and all of February, meaning that you are able to vacation in London during the decent-weather month of October for the same amount you’d pay in late January and February. Smart vacationers go to London in October, and take advantage of the new lower $1.50 price of the English pound.

(11) Rome: $714, for weekday flights from mid-September throughout all of October, including all taxes and fees, round-trip between Toronto and Rome on Air Transat (, phone 877-872-6728). Remarkable as it may seem, Air Transat flies you to faraway Rome for almost as little as it charges to London, during a time of year when the weather in Rome is often more pleasant than in summer. At the new bargain exchange rate for the euro of approximately $1 to 1.25 euros, you are then able to enjoy a moderately priced vacation in the Eternal City.

(12) Eight European Capitals: $105 a room, on average, for four-star hotels. Having launched the giant a decade ago, and now in competition with his former creation, travel entrepreneur Bob Diener has surprised the travel world with specially negotiated low rates at quality hotels that would normally rent for far more. Not all the dates in the 90 days ahead are available at these special prices, but enough of them are to justify a careful scrutiny of (Diener’s latest website) in advance of your European trip. In it, he presently is offering the following minimum rates at the following standout hotels: The four-star Hesperia Hotel Madrid for $99 a room; the four-star H10 Universitat Hotel Barcelona for $92 a room; the four-star Residence San Nicolo Florence for $102 a room; the four-star De Roode Leeuw in Amsterdam for $105 a room; the four-star Eurostars International Palace in Rome for $108 a room; the four-star Best Western Villa Mapaba in Venice for $114 a room; the four-star Normandy Hotel in Paris for $118 a room; and the four-star Millennium Bailey’s in London for $124 a room. Visit or phone 800-468-3578.

(13) Cuba with Air Canada: $602 per person, including all fees and taxes, for round-trip air on Air Canada to Varadero Beach from Toronto, and all-inclusive arrangements (room, meals, drinks, entertainment) for seven nights at the large, four-star, beachfront Sirenis La Salina Veradero, all for Saturday and Sunday flights from Aug. 28 to Sept. 26 — the availability of that price for popular weekend departure dates is what makes this offer particularly attractive. Contact:

(14) Dominican Republic: $725 for a totally all-inclusive beachside week (in September) in the D.R. (rising to $825 in October), including round-trip air transportation (with all taxes and fees included). That near-miracle of pricing is offered by Canada’s Sunwing ( on Tuesday departures from Toronto in September and October, non-stop to the resort of Punta Cana, for a week of all-inclusive arrangements (transfers, hotel for seven nights, three meals daily, unlimited drinks) at the Tropical Princess Beach Hotel on a wide stretch of sugary sand. Go to, or phone 800-761-1711 or 416-620-3380. For a more popular departure day in September, the well-regarded Nolitours (a subsidiary of Transat,, or phone 866-556-3948) will fly you every Friday to Punta Cana and put you up at the high-quality, 447-room VIK Hotel Arena Blanca & Cayena Beach for seven nights of all inclusive arrangements (room, meals, sports), including fees and taxes, for a total of $748 per person. Also in September, Sunwing’s partner, Signature Vacations, offers Saturday departures to the Tropical Princess for seven nights of all inclusive arrangements (air, room, meals, sports) for slightly more ($795) per person, including all taxes, an excellent price for a weekend flight. Go to (or phone 866-324-2883).

(15) Dominican Republic (Samana): $836 per person, for vacationers preferring a somewhat quieter area of the D.R. and a haven for nature lovers. A total outlay of $836 brings you an all-inclusive beachside week in either September or October (Saturday departures) made up of airfare from Toronto (including all taxes and fees), accommodations (garden-view room) for seven nights in the beachside 420-room Grand Paradise Samana, three meals daily, unlimited drinks and non-motorized sports. Contact or phone 877-737-7001.

(16) Toronto to Montreal: $193 on WestJet, round-trip, including all taxes and fees. On occasional departures in July and August, on numerous departures in September and October, WestJet’s round-trip fare between Toronto and Montreal is a tax-included $193 (for that price, go to, setting the stage for an always delightful and moderately priced stay in Montreal, where a number of acceptable hotels (consider LeNouvel Hotel, Hotel le Cantlie Suites, Maritime Plaza Hotel) charge as little as $102 to $109 to $116 a room per night (see for those reduced hotel rates).

(17) Las Vegas: $602 (July) to $802 (September), and $662 in August, for round-trip air from Toronto (including all taxes and fees) and three nights at the ultra-luxurious Vdara Hotel, leaving Toronto on Sundays throughout those three months and returning late on Wednesdays. While air-and-land packages to Vegas can be had for considerably less than the above amounts (when using lesser hotels), this package places you at a hotel of extraordinary luxury, the 1,495-room Vdara in the six-month-old Las Vegas “City Center” development of futuristic high-rises. Given the remarkable quality of that brand-new property (offering rooms that were designed to sell for more than $300 a night), this package deserves to be called a bargain. It comes about only because of the current glut in luxury accommodations in Vegas, particularly in the new City Center.

(18) Bali: $1,099, including round-trip airfare via Cathay Pacific Airlines from Los Angeles or San Francisco (free stopover in Hong Kong), and five nights in your choice of locations on the island of Bali. You’ll need to furnish your own airfare to Los Angeles or San Francisco to take advantage of this remarkably priced package operated by one of the longest-established tour operators to Bali, Escapes Unlimited (, phone 800-243-7227). For $1,099, it provides round-trip air to Bali (via Hong Kong, where you can stop over free) on midweek departures from LAX or SFO, five nights in your choice of Bali locations (Sanur, Legian or Ubud), round-trip airport transfers, breakfast daily, half-day village and temple tour, hotel taxes and service fees. You can extend your stay in Bali, if you wish. Please note that there are substantial government taxes to pay on your airfare. Finally, the package is available at this price only from Aug. 16 to Dec. 9, 2010.

(19) Buenos Aires: $999, including round-trip airfare, via COPA Airlines from Miami, five nights at the boutique Art Hotel in the Recoleta area of Buenos Aires, breakfast daily, round-trip air-to-hotel transfers, half-day city tour, and hotel taxes. You will need to provide your own transportation between Toronto and Miami, and you must anticipate government taxes and fees on the air-transportation portion of your package. Prices at this level are for departures from Aug. 16 to Dec. 14, 2010. Consult or phone 800-243-7227.

(20) Turkey: $1,419, plus round-trip airfare, for a 12-night, all-inclusive motorcoach tour from Istanbul to Istanbul, called “Turkish Delight,” that explores every major location of that country: Ankara, Cappadocia, Antalya, Pamukkale, Ephesus, Pergamun, Troy, Canakkale, Gallipoli and more, enjoying first-class hotels and three meals a day (except for dinner in Istanbul), in addition to escorted sightseeing and all admission charges. Operated by the long-established Pacha Tours (, 800-722-4288), this is a tour regarded as one of the top values in travel. Operated at this price mid-September to Nov. 6, departing six days a week (daily except Friday).

NOTE: The prices cited are per person for each of two people traveling together, and do not include government taxes and fees (unless those taxes and fees are specifically listed as included). Airfare is often included in the price, but only when specifically mentioned. Prices are subject to change, and new listings will periodically be substituted for those that are no longer valid.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer’s blog at

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