Volume 92, Issue 54

Wednesday, December 9, 1998

and to all a goodnight


FOCUS
 

Making a holiday getaway - leaving it all behind


Saira Khan/Gazette

BERMUDA, BAHAMA, COME ON PRETTY MOMMA. Dreaming of waves and beaches? Local travel agents have last minute deals that can make your dreams a reality, like on this tropical Cuban beach.

By Ciara Rickard

Gazette Staff

Has the weather's return to seasonal temperatures brought on the blues? Dreaming of warm breezes and pina coladas? Or maybe fantasizing of ski slopes and roaring fires? Well, cry those icy tears no more – here is a compilation of the hottest (not necessarily literally) trip destinations and a slew of tips to help your vacation go smoother and safer.

Laura Alpaugh, a travel counsellor for the Travel Cuts location at Western, says there are a lot of great travel destinations over the holidays, but the price increases over Christmas and New Year's. However, with a little careful shopping, one can turn up some pretty good deals.

"[Las] Vegas and Montreal are really popular for New Year's and most of those packages have been sold out for a couple of weeks," Alpaugh says. "The sooner you book the better. Christmas packages book up pretty fast."

Alpaugh also notes Mexico and Cuba are still the big draws for the student crowd, as they usually offer the cheapest packages.

"That first week when school starts, the prices go down to low season," she says.

Herman Koops, owner of Travel With Herman, a London travel agency, agrees that one would be well-advised to book soon, but says there are more last minute packages left over this December than there have been in past years. He says the cheapest all inclusive packages are for Cuba, Mexico and Dominican Republic.

The prices supplied by Koops for the less expensive packages in Cuba range from about $669 to $1,100, depending on the destination and the quality of the hotel and the package it offers. The most popular destinations in Cuba are Veradero, Holguin and Guardalavaca, the latter being one of the least expensive.

Prices for Mexico and Dominican Republic are a little more expensive, but still reasonable, with prices starting just under $1,000 for all-inclusive packages.

For the ski bums out there, Mont Tremblant offers a reasonable package at a resort with a variety of skiing for most skill levels. Matthew Burdett, who does reservations at Mont Tremblant, explains that the Christmas and New Year's season is the highest time of year, so prices are up somewhat. A weekend trip would cost about $450 for a room for two nights which sleeps up to four and $86 for a two-day lift ticket.

"There's plenty to do with 25 different restaurants, over 80 boutiques, an aqua club, movie theatre," Burdett says. "Any imaginable winter activity you could practice here – it's a winter paradise."

Spending money in the Caribbean is, of course, pretty much a necessity, but being in a foreign country, it's important to be smart. Koops is full of tips on how to have cash at your disposal while keeping it safe.

Use American cash, he says, as it is the generally excepted currency and because the exchange on the Canadian dollar is in a perpetual slump. Koops says to take small bills, preferably $1 and $5 bills, as they are convenient for small purchases and tipping. Also, in many Caribbean countries, local currency is given for change, which is usually worth much less than American money.

"Whenever I go away, I take 50 $1 bills [American] with me," Koops says. "I call the bank a week ahead of time to let them know, since they don't usually have a lot of small bills."

Koops points out that traveller's cheques are handy, automated teller machines are usually available and major credit cards are also accepted most places. If travelling with cash, never take too much unless necessary. Make sure to keep valuables close to your body; many travel agencies recommend using a money belt. Do not keep valuables in a backpack, Koops warns – it makes for a very easy target.

Be particularly watchful at airports – abroad and at home. "To tell you the truth, the worst experience I had was at the Toronto airport, where I was pickpocketed," Koops says.

Another concern for travellers is safety. Although most tourist spots are quite safe, it's still important to use common sense to make sure your vacation is enjoyable the entire way through. Koops agrees Caribbean vacations are among the safest, but still has a few tips for a safe journey.

"Stay away from drugs outside of Canada," he warns. "A couple of people just got out of jail down there after a couple of years."

It's safe to travel off the resort during the day, Koops says, but be sure to use common sense and avoid dodgy areas. Also be sure to take public transport if travelling at night. Keep in mind that the staff at the front desk of the hotel can be very informative about which places are safe, which are not and how to get there.

Do not be afraid to get to know the locals. Koops affirms they are one of the best sources for travel tips, as they usually know about all the hidden treasures you may otherwise never find.


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Copyright The Gazette 1998