Holidays of a lifetime for under
Get married in Vegas, sail down the Nile, visit
Mayan temples, go birdwatching in Africa or laze on
tropical beaches - Jane Knight, Tom Templeton and Jacqui
MacDermott show you how to make your money go further
Sunday February 2, 2003
Unless otherwise stated, holidays are based on two
Cruise the Med
It costs less than £500 to drift around Europe
aboard the Mediterranean Essence, starting from Palma
and dropping in at Mallorca, Civitavecchia (for Rome),
Portofino, Nice and Mahon. Island
Cruises (08707 500414) promotes an informal atmosphere,
with relaxed dress codes and dining times.
At each stop you can wander on your own or pay extra
for shore excursions with a difference. In Nice, for
instance, take a helicopter flight over the Maritime
Alps, followed by guided tours of Monaco and Monte Carlo.
The price of £499 includes return flights from
one of 14 UK airports, port taxes, accommodation, entertainment,
meals and even basic tipping.
Streetcars and desire
Cheap transatlantic flights mean now is the time
to take a California fly-drive holiday with accommodation
for little more than people used to pay for the air
Fly to Los Angeles to see everything from Disney to
where the stars hang out, before driving up the coast
to San Francisco with its island prison of Alcatraz
Trailfinders (020 7937 5400) has a fly-drive break with seven
nights' accommodation, six days' car hire and flights
from London to LA and back from San Francisco for £495.
You have to go between 1 February and 31 March, which
may seem a cold time in the UK, but is pleasant in California.
They say that in Jamaica the three Rs mean reggae,
reefers and rum, but the island has lots more to offer.
There is the renowned Dunn's River Falls, where tiers
of limestone lead 600ft down to the beach in a series
of cascades and pools. Head for the hills of the interior
to see how Blue Mountain coffee is processed, or swim
with the dolphins at the beach.
(0870 550 2575) has seven nights, departing on 25 February
from Gatwick or 4 March from Manchester, both for £459,
with accommodation allocated on arrival from a selection
in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril.
Thai this for size
Get measured for new clothes by a tailor in Bangkok,
then head for six nights at the beach in Pattaya before
returning to the capital to pick up your fresh wardrobe
and maybe squeeze in a visit to a temple or two. The
price of £449 with Travelbag
(0870 890 1460) includes two nights at Bangkok's Asia
hotel, which is near the new Sky train station and the
weekend market, the night bazaar and Patpong Road.
Accommodation in Pattaya is in the English village-style
Woodlands resort, a few minutes' walk from the beach.
The offer lasts from 21 April to 14 June, a period when
temperatures in Thailand are particularly hot, but when
you will find the least number of tourists. The price
includes travel from Heathrow and transfers by bus to
Pattaya, but not from the airport to Bangkok.
Head off on a slow boat
This voyage on the Nile is not on a luxury cruise
ship but on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailing
boat. The seven-night holiday includes two days' sailing,
a night aboard the vessel and visits to Nubian villages,
with dinner at one of them.
The sailing is in the Aswan area, which is reached
by train after a day in Cairo and a visit to the pyramids
of Giza. From Aswan, there is a chance to visit the
temple of Abu Simbel, although it costs extra, followed
by the included excursions to Karnak and an early-morning
donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. Trailfinders
(020 7938 3939) has seven nights' B&B with some
other meals and flights to Cairo for £498. You
must travel before 31 March, which is one of the best
times to visit Egypt.
Fire and ice in easy reach
It's never been more affordable to visit the land
of ice and fire now Iceland
Express (00 354 5 500650) is launching low-cost
flights from London from 27 February. Return flights
cost from £109 per person, with an airport transfer
costing a further £14. Stay in Reykjavik (or Steamy
Bay), with its ocean-fresh seafood, vodka bars and spas
in a luxury
studio apartment (00 354 896 2559) complete with
whirlpool bath from £406 per week.
This leaves a couple £350 to blow on whale watching,
horse riding, clubbing and excursions. Try the £40
Reykjanes-Blue Lagoon tour with Reykjavik
Excursions which covers the Blue Lagoon spa famous
for its healing powers, Grindavík, a fishing
town on the south coast, Reykjanes Lighthouse at the
tip of the peninsula and Hafnarfjördur, 'the town
in the lava'.
When in doubt, try the beach
If you get bored with lying on the beach on the
Malaysian island of Penang, there is plenty more to
visit, including rubber plantations, paddy fields, temples,
old Chinese houses, and a funicular railway to the top
of Penang Hill, though you will probably find the beach
still beckons after all that.
The Copthorne Orchid is not directly on the sand but
its position atop the cliff means all its rooms have
sea views. The hotel is on the island's north coast
where the best beaches are, and it is also near the
botanical gardens and the reclining Buddha. Phone &
Go Travel (0870 990 8292) has seven nights' room only
at the three-star hotel, including flights from Heathrow
or Manchester between 1 May and 15 June, for £499.
A base in Delhi
The Indian capital may be a mind-boggling destination,
but it has fascinating history, bazaars and monuments
and is the perfect base for a 10-day holiday exploring
the Red Fort, Agra, the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. Trailfinders
(020 7938 3939) offers flights from Heathrow with Kuwait
Air from £402, including taxes. Double rooms at
Guest House, New Rajinder Nagar, New Delhi (00 91
11 574 10 89) start at just £8 a night. That means
a couple spending 10 days there would be left with £116
from £1,000 to supplement travel and food costs.
Gamble on getting hitched
Not only is Las Vegas the gaming capital of the
world, it is also the wedding capital of the world -
take a partner and get hitched on the cheap in one of
the city's wedding chapels. Stay at the Sahara Hotel
and Casino, which has live shows as well as gambling,
and is opposite the well-known Circus Circus. Gamble
on a good deal with Bon
Voyage (0800 316 0194), which has seven-night holidays
on a room-only basis for £495. Bookings must be
made by 28 February for departures before 31 March.
Spring is perfect for Petra
Though it's one of the best times to visit in terms
of climate, there are no Easter or May bank holiday
supplements to go to Jordan this year with Aquatours
(020 8398 0505) Springtime is the perfect time to explore
Petra, the city carved from a cliff face and forgotten
for 1,000 years before its rediscovery in 1812.
The price of £499 includes a day's excursion
with entry fee, lunch and guide, to the city that appeared
in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Accommodation
is in a four-star hotel in Amman, Jordan's capital,
bed and breakfast only. Departures can be at any time
before the end of June.
Birds and beaches in Africa
Kunta Kinte, the slave ancestor in Alex Haley's
Roots, is said to have come from a village up the River
Gambia that features on a one-day excursion, along with
the Museum of the Slave Trade and the ruins of the old
fort where slaves were kept on an island in the river.
Gambia is also the place to go for bird watchers (it
has more than 500 species) and for river and sea fishing.
In between all that, there are long sandy palm-fringed
beaches waiting to be flopped on. The
Gambia Experience (023 8073 0888) has seven nights'
B&B in the newly renovated Sun Beach Hotel on the
ocean shore for £498 from Gatwick for departures
in the peak tourist season of March and on 25 April.
Head off on a hike in Morocco
Test those leg muscles in eight days' trekking through
the glorious High Atlas mountains in Morocco. The Slopes
of Toubkal tour starts on 17 and 31 May and includes
a stay at the Neltner refuge, then climbing Jebel Toubkal,
the roof of North Africa, to gasp at the awesome, barren
views. The treks take a maximum of 16 people, with between
four and six hours hiking each day. Stay in a Berber
village, then check out the colourful souk during a
free day in Marrakesh before flying home. The price
of £240 includes two nights in a hotel, five nights
in village houses or mountain refuges and all meals.
Guerba (01373 826611) can arrange flights for £260.
Fall for Niagara
Stay almost on the brink of the Niagara Falls (well,
500 metres away), over which each second the equivalent
of more than a million bathtubs of water plunge 176ft
to create rainbows in the spray. With the change from
this £435 holiday, head to the base of the falls
in the Maid of the Mist boat, a trip where a soaking
is guaranteed but which has to be taken to witness the
enormous curtain of water. Canadian
Affair (020 7616 9185) has trips with four nights
at the four-star Renaissance Fallsview Hotel in Niagara
and three nights at the Days Inn Toronto Downtown for
a bit of city life and a visit to the CN Tower, the
tallest freestanding building in the world. The price
includes return flights and transfers and is available
for May departures.
Gulf with a difference
Oman is the new Dubai, but with the emphasis on
culture in place of shopping. You can still pick up
local souvenirs at the souk in Muscat, but there is
a whole range of other things to do, including wadi
bash ing, visiting the ancient capital of Nizwah and
day trips to the Sawadi Islands for diving and snorkelling.
Seven nights at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort, north of
Muscat, which is on its own stretch of beach and opposite
the Sawadi Islands, costs £489 B&B with Gulf
Air (0871 222 3424) for travel until 31 March. Flights
via Abu Dhabi or Bahrain.
Goan, enjoy it
Sparkling on the western coast of the Indian peninsula,
the exotic former Portuguese colony of Goa offers sand,
sun and saints (of the Catholic variety) in unequal
measure. Eclipse Holidays (08705 010203) offers 14 nights for £473
(seven nights costs £422), including flights,
transfers and B&B at the Resort
Lagoa Azul overlooking the Baga river. It is just
3.5kms from the lively beach resort of Calangute with
its watersports, shopping, eating out and nightlife.
This offer is available for departures from 16 February
to 26 March, with similar prices available for late
Riviera with more
Tour operators are calling the area south of Cancun
in Mexico the Riviera Maya and are opening it up for
those who want a bit more nature and culture than that
offered in Cancun's concrete strip. The Caribbean coast
of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is Bounty bar ad stunning
and historically fascinating, with Mayan temples dotted
around. Playa del Carmen, a lively cosmopolitan coastal
town a bus or taxi ride south of Cancun, boasts long
white beaches and verdant jungle and is ideal for diving,
sportfishing, jungle trekking, archaeology hunting and
Direct (0800 000747) starts flying from Gatwick
and Manchester to Cancun in November. Flights departing
10 November from Gatwick cost £369. Also Cheapflights.co.uk
offers flights from £299 with Air
2000 (0870 757 2757). Seven nights' B&B at the
Caribbean Paradise Resort & Spa in downtown Playa
del Carmen starts at £210 for doubles.
St Paul's escape
Damascus, Syria's largest city and capital, has
been settled since 5000 BC and the old City, penned
in by a Roman wall, is a multi-faceted monument to the
Holy Land's past: the ancient Souq al-Hamadiyyeh covered
market, the Omayyad Mosque (705AD), Saladin's Mausoleum
(1193), Azem Palace (1749) and St Paul's Chapel, which
marks the spot where the disciples lowered St Paul out
of a window one night so that he could flee the Jews.
Trailfinders (020 7938 3939) offers flights from Heathrow with
Turkish Airlines from £254, including taxes, on
selected dates. You must buy a visa from the Syrian
Embassy, 8 Belgrave Square, London (020 7245 9012) for
A double room and breakfasts at the beautiful, occidentally
Majed Hotel (00 963 11 23 23 300), 500m from the
old city, costs from £18 a night. This would leave
a couple with £300 out of £1,000, which
could easily see them through a week's stay.
Follow Tony and Cherie...
If it's good enough for Tony Blair... Sharm el Sheikh
in Egypt is a cosmopolitan town bracketed by the Mount
Sinai mountains and spectacular reef, ranked by Jacques
Cousteau as one of the top three diving sites in the
Holidays (0870 908 4299) offers seven nights' half
board at the Hotel Coral Beach Tiran - which has an
approved diving school on site - from £449, including
flights and transfers, for departures between 16 November
and 13 December (£489 from 27 April to 10 May,
after which the price rises to £499 until 21 June).
A night time hike up Mount Sinai to catch a spectacular
sunrise is heartily recommended.
Mangroves and manatees
Impressive mountain ranges, coursed by spectacular
rivers and waterfalls, and mangrove forests punctuated
by manatee-inhabited saltwater lakes are only part of
the appeal of the Dominican Republic.
On the other hand you could just sit on the white beach
with seven nights' all-inclusive stay at the Hotetur
Villas Doradas costing £499 with Airtours
Holidays (0870 241 5339) departing 2 April. This
small hotel sits in the lively Playa Dorada resort on
the north coast, and comes complete with shopping plaza,
bars and restaurants and 18-hole golf course. The price
includes flights from Gatwick and transfers.
And then there's Disney...
Messing around in the vast Disney
World (0870 242 4911) under the blazing Florida
sun is one of the 'bear' necessities of life as far
as most kids are concerned. It includes four theme parks
(Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's
Animal Kingdom) and two water-adventure parks (Blizzard
Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) so you need at least five
days to do it justice - one of which should certainly
be a day off.
Florida (0870 161 3402) offers a week's trip to
Orlando, departing 15-30 June for £485 per adult
and £249 per child (up to age 11), a reduction
of £114 on the brochure price. This includes scheduled
flights, car hire and room-only accommodation in the
three-star Comfort Inn Lake Buena Vista.
OK, the five-day Hopper-plus ticket costs £189/£155
- taking our adults over the £500 budget - so
'heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to work we go...'