Thursday, November 29, 2012

Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Winter 2012/2013

Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Winter 2012/2013
Menlo Castle, Ireland (Photo: Eoin Gardiner via flickr/CC Attribution)

Lots of people swear by low-season travel for two big reasons: crowds are shrinking and deals are plentiful. Moreover, during colder months many destinations feature special events, from Christmas markets to winter festivals, in addition to those alluring off-peak bargains. Ready to plan your trip? Here are five destinations that are offering exceptionally affordable low-season bargains—plus some cool happenings—this winter.
Montreal High Lights Festival (Photo: Tourisme Montreal/Jean-F.Leblanc)


Montreal makes an easy winter weekend getaway for the heavily populated northeastern U.S. It's a cinch to skip the airport security line (plus any possible winter-weather flight delays) and drive or take the train from the Northeast to the Canadian city. (Montreal is about a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Boston.)
Plus, nightly hotel rates at many properties are significantly more affordable during colder months. We spotted winter rates at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal starting at $380 CAD (about $383 USD) on weekdays in January, February, and March. In comparison, in July and August, the lowest weekday starting rate jumps to $435 CAD (about $439 USD) per night. Seeking more affordable accommodations? At La Terra Nostra, a B&B near the St. Lawrence River, rates for the cheapest room drop from $149 CAD (about $150 USD) to $129 CAD (about $130 USD) during the winter season.
On top of those low-season rates, travelers can snag additional savings with this very comprehensive deal from Tourisme Montreal. Dozens of participating hotels are offering half off on second-night stays, in addition to a special welcome gift, for travel through the end of December.
Here's even more incentive to visit this season: There's tons to do in Montreal during winter, fromNuit Blanche a Montreal (an all-night event that takes place in February) to the annual family-friendly Fete des Neiges de Montreal winter event. There's also the Montreal High Lights Festival in February and March, one of the largest winter festivals in the world.
Artesa Vineyards and Winery (Photo: Jim G via flickr/CC Attribution)


Flash-sale sites are good bets for travelers seeking deals to Sonoma (as well as many other California Wine Country destinations). At time of publication, our sister site SniqueAway is featuring deeply discounted rates for Hotel Les Mars, a Sonoma Country property. Rates for travel from November through March were slashed from $435 per night to $299 per night.
We also saw some enticing Sonoma flash-sale deals on Jetsetter (discounted winter rates at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn) and Groupon Getaways (47 percent off low-season rates at Best Western Plus Sonoma Valley Inn). Although flash-sale offers come and go quickly (and the deals mentioned here may no longer be valid), it's a good idea to sign up to receive regular emails if you're interested in a winter trip to Sonoma, as now is the time to snap up those off-peak bargains.
So, is the low demand for hotels due to bad weather? Not at all. According to the New York Times, "There isn't really a bad time to visit Napa and Sonoma valleys. By going in December, when the weather is wet and mild, you avoid the heat, crowds and prices of the summer season." Plan your trip to coincide with Sonoma's annual Winter Wineland festival (January 19 and 20) to taste rare wines and sample delectable food and drink pairings.
(Photo: Irish Cottage via Shutterstock)


First, the bad news: During winter, many attractions in Ireland shut down until the tourist season picks up again in spring. But that doesn't mean you should forgo a low-season trip. Winter weather on the Emerald Isle tends to be fairly mild: Temperatures don't often drop below 32 degrees. But when it gets chilly, the island's a fantastic place to stock up on hand-knit Aran sweaters. And in Ireland, enticing winter deals are as plentiful as woolly sheep, so we think the crisp air is a fair trade-off for a bargain-priced vacation.
Flights, for one, are worlds cheaper than those in the high summer season. A recent search on Irish budget airline Aer Lingus turned up direct flights from Boston to Dublin starting at $599 round-trip in January and February, including all taxes and fees. Compare this to airfares in July, which, according to TripAdvisor Flights (SmarterTravel's sister site), start at $825 round-trip for travel in 2013. (Note that those prices could easily rise as summer nears. Last summer, we saw high-season flights to Europe selling for more than $1,000 round-trip.)
Vacation packages, which are often a very cost-effective way to travel the Emerald Isle, become even cheaper when winter arrives. So cheap, in fact, that a traveler can easily finagle an entire trip for less than a grand per person. Go-Today's Amazing Ireland package, which includes five nights' accommodations, a car rental, and round-trip airfare, starts at $949 during winter; the same package costs as much as $1,799 during the high season.
(Photo: Prague via Shutterstock)


Prague's immense popularity makes the city a year-round destination, without a doubt. Still, prices for travel to the Bohemian capital tend to drop with the temperatures, and this year is no exception. Consider local hotel rates: A quick look at prices at Arcadia Residence, the number-one rated hotel in Prague on TripAdvisor, shows significantly reduced low-season prices. A studio apartment costs €65 (about $83) during low season and €110 (about $140) during high season. A two-bedroom apartment goes for €110 in low season but €180 (about $230) in high season. You get the idea—and you'll find similar pricing structures at many Prague hotels.
Airfares are also comparatively cheaper in winter. On, we spotted February flights from Chicago to Prague for as low as $743 round-trip. In May, L.A.-Prague flights jump to roughly $1,000 or more round-trip. For an East Coast route from New York to Prague, our Kayak search turned up flights as low as $616 in February; prices range from $853 to $956 for this route in June.
While winter brings fantastic off-peak prices, there are plenty of new and interesting attractions to keep you entertained during the season. This December, Prague is celebrating 20 years as a World Heritage site. Also in December, Prague's famous twinkling Christmas markets open their doors for festive travelers. Grab a cup of mulled wine, breathe in the crisp winter air, and spend that extra money you saved on some unique gifts to bring back home.
(Photo: TLPOSCHARSKY via flickr/CC Attribution)


While winter is low season for travel to Sedona, visitors will nonetheless find authentic Southwestern cuisine, colorful red-rock vistas, and dramatic sunsets no matter when they visit the popular Arizona destination. Winters tend to be mild in the area, and it doesn't snow too often. The heavy crowds of visitors that frequent Sedona's galleries, cafes, and turquoise-jewelry shops thin out during low season. Plus, there are all those off-peak deals.
At Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas, nightly rates in January start at around $170. In June, the lowest best-available rates jump to around $240. We saw similar low-season price drops at many other Sedona properties, including Canyon Villa Bed & Breakfast Inn and Boots & Saddles Bed and Breakfast.
Flights to Sedona are also wonderfully affordable during winter, especially when fare sales break. We found flights from New York to Flagstaff starting at $354 round-trip. In July, however, the lowest fares we found for the same route started at $576 round-trip. (Flagstaff Pulliam Airport is one of the closest airports to Sedona; it's about 25 miles away. Flyers can also arrive in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which is about 120 miles away.)
November 10, 2012 by Caroline Costello, SmarterTravel Staff

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Happy Honeymoon Clients - Thailand

Hi Debby!

Everything went smooth as silk -- flights were basically on time, they picked us up for tours, the tour were well run with guides that spoke excellent english ... we had a blast.

Phuket --

we picked Kata beach to be out of the hustle and bustle. It was still plenty busy with lots of stuff to do. We did not venture to Patong (supposedly the crazy area) so we cant compare. Had an excellent massage at Kata day Spa. Really liked Metadee Resort. We saw some of the other options while walking around and we were happy with our choice. The front desk was helpful, breakfast was plentiful with a lot of variety. It is not on the beach (which was fine with us - they have a shuttle) - but you'd want to warn your clients.

Phi Phi Island Tour - highly recommend. Take a speed boat to the islands. See viking cave, monkey beach, the beach from the movie "the beach"  have lunch on phi phi, snorkel, see bamboo island, swim in a lagoon. Really couldnt have made this trip any better.

Sea canoe -- defn recommend the lunch and dinner time cruise. you get to see some lagoons in daylight, you get to make an offering to the water spirits (really pretty), go in the caves at night and see the water light up (bioluminescence!). Food was great for lunch and dinner. Very well run. All the guides said it is way better to do afternoon cause the lagoons are really crowded in the AM.

Chiang mai - our favorite (and everyone else that Ive talked to's favorite)
Its hard to explain why its everyones favorite. its a slower pace, more in the countryside. no one is in a hurry. We only had a 3 days there and 2 were with the elephants. Night market was awesome - make sure all travelers are there for a sat or sunday night (we just got lucky!). The elephants were my favorite part and not just cause I got to ride elephants. The guide was great, by staying overnight you get to talk with him and really hear about life in Thailand. We also heard about the Burman's that handled the elephants and what their lives were like. They have a surprise camp fire, lantern release, made sticky rice, just went above and beyond to make it a wonderful experience beyond anything I expected. If ppl have time have them stay the night. 2nd day -- hiking to waterfall, rafting, seeing a Thai village -- packed day!

Joys house - great place. Feel like we didnt really get to know everyone cause we were in and out. They treat everyone like family. I would recommend it if ppl are up for a B&B type place.

Bangkok - its like a big new york city. 2 days was plenty for us

tiger temple -- very good cause I touched and walked tigers. They do NOT limit the AM breakfast tour to 12 ppl (would be soooo much better if they did). We prob had 40 ppl there. We felt pretty rushed -- they would drag you next to a tiger and then start snapping pictures. They had to cause they had to get everyone through but I just wanted to pet the tiger and sit with him for a sec ;) overall have everyone do the am tour. You have to drive 2.5 hrs to get there - might as well stay a few hrs. you get to see babies, play with teenage tigers and then see the handlers play with the big dudes.   I was hoping for more out of the tour because i thought it would be more intimate. From a vet perspective I think someone is going to get hurt one day. They promote it as a sanctuary, i think they do care for the tigers but not as more as the elephant folks cared for the elephants. Just felt rushed -- they need to limit the ppl and make it a little slower paced and more safe.

That's it for now -- trip of a lifetime -- thanks for all your help.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

African Safari Anyone?

One of our preferred suppliers, G Adventures offers tours of the most exotic places on earth. They eliminate the stress and questions of planning an adventure overseas. Give us a call and we'll help you plan the next item on your bucket list!

Exploring the Masai Mara and incredible game reserves, photographing countless flamingos at Lake Nakuru, taking in views of Mt Kilimanjaro at Amboseli, enjoying the experience at comfortable lodges and luxury camps.

If you’re of the opinion that ‘safari’ doesn’t have to be synonymous with ‘roughing it’, have we got an adventure for you! Designed for travellers who long to get out into the thick of Kenya’s game parks and reserves by day and sleep in a cozy bed by night, this trip maximizes both wildlife access and creature comforts. Witness thousands of flamingos stopping for a drink in Lake Nakuru, explore the vast plains of the Masai Mara National Reserve and gaze in awe at the peaks of Kilimanjaro in the distance from Amboseli National Park. Maximum Africa—minimal sweat.

Starting at $2799                      8 DAYS,NAIROBI TO NAIROBI

What's Included

  • Arrival transfer, Entrances and game drives in Masai Mara Game Reserve, Lake Nakuru National Park and Amboseli National Park.
  • 7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 5 Dinners. (Allow USD85-100 for meals and drinks (including bottled water) not included.)
  • Comfort hotels (2 nts), safari lodge (1 nt), classic tented camp (4 nts).
  • 7-seat 4x4 safari vehicle(s).
  • Chief Experience Officer (CEO) throughout, certified driver/guide.
  • Small group experience; Max 12, Avg 10

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An island you may not have heard of..


October 15, 2012By: Susan YoungTravel Agent

Admiralty Bay
Luxury and niche cruise ships drop anchor in Admiralty Bay, just offshore from Port Elizabeth, Bequia’s main village.

When clients step ashore on Bequia, they’ll discover a laid-back isle that conjures up images of the Caribbean of yore. Only 5,000 people live on this sleepy island that’s part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the southern Caribbean.
Called “island of the clouds” by the Carib Indians, Bequia has a small-town feel, even today. Locals say hello to travelers on the street. Fishing boats are dragged by hand out of the water and rest quietly on the beach at Port Elizabeth, the island’s main village. The seven-square-mile island has stunning natural beauty with swaying palm groves, mountainous vistas and lovely sandy beaches.
Port Elizabeth
Tenders from cruise ships dock along this jetty at Port Elizabeth; just beyond the jetty’s gate, safari-like touring vehicles await cruisers.

Small Isle, Smaller Ships
Bequia has a strong seafaring and whaling heritage, and boat building and repairing are still important to the island’s economy. Cocooned within Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth is both picturesque and a working harbor where luxury yachts drop anchor. 
Cruise-wise, the island attracts many small-ship, niche or luxury cruise lines, such as Seabourn Cruise Line. If clients want the thrill of sailing off Bequia combined with snorkeling, Seabourn’s “Caribbean Sail and Snorkel” trip begins with a catamaran ride past Bequia’s Moon Hole area, which is filled with unusual, natural rock formations and arches. 
Then it’s on to the snorkeling site, where Seabourn guests might spot shellfish, sea fans, sponges and schools of tropical fish. Rum punch is served onboard. Seabourn Spirit will call at Bequia this winter and in late 2013 during the 14-day “Exotic Caribbean In-Depth” voyages, among other cruises. 
During the 2012-2013 winter, SeaDream Yacht Club will call at Bequia with SeaDream I and SeaDream II. And Windstar Cruises’ Wind Spirit will also operate voyages to Bequia this winter.
Travel Agent was onboard Silver Spirit of Silversea Cruises when that luxury ship called at Bequia last winter. This fall and winter, Silver Spirit, Silver Whisper and Silver Cloud will call at the island and several of those ships plus Silver Explorer, the line’s expedition ship, will call at Bequia in late 2013.
Among the shore excursions? Silversea’s “Bequia Sailing Tour” via catamaran is $99 per person, while a six-hour “Magical Mustique” shore option that’s essentially transportation to Mustique and a self-guided visit to the playground for the rich and royal—costs $239 per person. Last winter, Travel Agent opted for an island overview of Bequia itself—booking Silversea’s three-hour “Scenes of Bequia” shore excursion; it’s $69 per person this winter.  
The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary
The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary is a popular spot on a round-island Bequia tour.
It’s important to note that this same itinerary is essentially provided by island operators for most lines coming to Bequia, including Seabourn and Windstar. Windstar’s around-island tour, called “Bequia and Scenic Sightseeing,” is $79 per person. While tourism is becoming increasingly important in Bequia and many high-end lines call there, clients shouldn’t expect a fleet of luxurious limos or huge modern buses when they disembark a tender at the small Port Elizabeth cruise pier. 
Rather, typical tourist transportation consists of safari-like, non-air-conditioned vehicles. These are small pickup trucks with covered seating on cushioned benches in the truck bed. Most cruise lines caution guests that the trip is not recommended for those with physical disabilities or anyone with back or knee problems. Guests must climb into the truck bed and hold on tightly as the vehicles bounce around the island. The ride is open-air and bumpy, but a fun adventure.
The safari vehicles are essentially a caravan. After picking up guests at the cruise pier, they typically motor through the north side of Admiralty Bay and the fishing village of Hamilton to a hilltop that was once the site of the 18th-century Hamilton Fort. The original structure is gone, but a few French and English cannons are displayed. The main attraction, though, is the stunning view of Admiralty Bay. 
Guests then reboard the vehicles, which backtrack through Port Elizabeth and head up a hill on the other side, ultimately reaching Mount Pleasant, the island’s highest spot. Guides talk about the geology, ecology and history of the island as cruisers admire gorgeous scenic views—this time to the neighboring island of Mustique. 
Then the vehicles briefly take guests to another lookout spot—great for a photo of their ship in the harbor below—before heading on to a mid-island handicraft shop and bar for a restroom break and rum punch refreshment. Finally, the caravan winds through the island’s agricultural interior to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary.

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit
Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit joins luxury yachts in anchoring at Admiralty Bay, Bequia.

Outside, palm trees sway in the breeze along the sanctuary’s Atlantic Ocean beach setting. Inside, cruisers can view turtles of all ages. Cruisers can learn how the organization removes young hawksbill sea turtles from nests to avert poaching, and then later releases them at three years of age back into the wild, when they have the best shot at survival.
Overall, the three-hour tour offers a revealing taste of island life and sites. Before your clients take any tour, though, they might access St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) newly upgraded mobile app. First launched in 2011, the free app is newly updated with more detailed information on the eight inhabited islands, including Bequia. 
The new app has a more user-friendly interface, updated iPhone and iPad versions (via the Apple iTunes Store) as well as the Android, and a web app version for all handheld touch devices such as BlackBerry available at 
For those exploring independently, Princess Margaret Beach is a popular spot; snorkeling hot spots include Friendship Bay, Northwest Point and Spring Bay; and two local PADI certified shops—Bequia Dive Adventures and Dive Bequia—will rent scuba equipment and set up scuba or snorkeling trips. 
Cruisers may get information about Port Elizabeth’s sites at a tourism information office close to the cruise pier. Those walking around Port Elizabeth will learn that the village consists primarily of two main parallel streets and just a few short streets connecting those. It’s not a big place. 
Local bars serve rum punch and island concoctions, while Port Elizabeth’s restaurants cook up such specialties as West Indiesbarbecue, pumpkin soup and Creole-style lobster. If your clients’ ship happens to be in port late on a Thursday, the outdoor bar, barbecue and steel band music at Port Elizabeth’s Frangipani Hotel are legendary; clients are likely to encounter fellow cruisers, yacht enthusiasts and the locals.
Boutiques sell local crafts, clothing, spices, tea, batik fabrics and miniature model boats, a vestige of the island’s seafaring past. The Bequia Tech Internet CafĂ© & Technology Center offers Internet access near the ferry dock.
While many small, niche and luxury lines call directly on Bequia, your clients also might visit the island on a shore trip from nearby St. Vincent. For example, Star Clippers anchors off the sheltered side of Young Island near St. Vincent, which is just a 10-minute ferry ride from Bequia. 
Oceania Cruises is among the lines that offer a catamaran shore excursion to Bequia from St. Vincent; Oceania’s day trip to Bequia is priced at $169 per person.