Live Talk: Planning an inexpensive, hassle free vacation
Executive Editor Pauline Frommer answered your questions on Tuesday, January 11 at noon ET
Three major US airlines are teetering on the brink of annihilation and airfares are at a 20 year low.
The biggest cruiselines recently imposed a "no discounting" rule on cruise agencies, but despite all predictions shipboard vacation prices are not soaring (yet).
The Euro has become the Arnold Schwartzenegger of currencies, with the dollar a 90-pound weakling...and Americans are crossing the pond in record numbers (2004 was the second biggest year for European tourism, after 2000).
It's been an odd year for travel, to put it mildly. But despite the upheaval in the airline industry (with its attendant holiday meltdowns), the weak dollar, rising fuel costs, and virus-plagued cruise ships vast numbers of Americans have caught the travel bug and are setting off to see the world in ever increasing numbers. The question is: are they doing it smartly? Are they getting the most for their money?
Today, we'll have a broad-ranging discussion on planning vacations (and doing it well!). From using the Internet effectively, to hot destinations, to insurance and safety issues...Let's talk travel! I'm also happy to answer any questions you might have on traveling to Paris or New York, two cities I've written on extensively.
Pauline answered your questions Tuesday, January 11, at 12pm EST.
Pauline Frommer is Executive Editor of Budget Travel Online and like many of our editors, grew up on the road. She started traveling at the age of four months, dashing about Europe with her guidebook-writing parents. Pauline is the former Editor in Chief of Frommers.com and was at its helm when it won the coveted "People's Voice" Webby award. She is the co-author with her father Arthur Frommer of the book "The New World of Travel" and a recipient of a Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers for her magazine articles. Married to photographer/actor Mahlon Stewart, she is the proud mother of five-year-old Veronica and one-a-half-year-old Beatrix, both terrific travelers.
Pauline Frommer: Good afternoon to all! I've oiled my keyboard, am strapping on the old thinking cap and am going to try and answer as many questions as I can in the next hour.Post again there and either I or one of our staff or best yet, one of our brilliant and well-traveled readers, will help you out.
Okay, bring on the grilling!
Houston, TX: My 14-year-old daughter and I plan to visit the Czech Republic this June. She wants to buy a good Czech violin while we are there. I know that many luthiers work in and around Luby, but since I cannot figure out how to get to Luby or where to stay once there, I wonder if going to the source is advisable. What would you recommend for a 10-day sightseeing/violin buying/cultural experience vacation to the Czech Republic?
Pauline Frommer: There are actually two main violin companies in the Czech Republic: Amati which is located in Karslice and Strunal which is in Luby (Amati is slightly larger). Both towns are very close to the famous spa town of Karlovy Vary, which in turn is a two-hour train ride from Prague. If you're determined to buy a violin on this trip (and you can certainly get one made to your specifications there for less than you could here), you could overnight in Karlovy Vary and either hire a driver or take a taxi from there to one of these two towns. There also will be public buses between these towns and Karlovy Vary, though translating the schedule could be a bit tricky. Still, this is doable, and Karlovy Vary is an interesting place to visit in its own right (be sure to take the waters).
If you want some help in setting up this itinerary you may want to contact the very knowledgeable Czech expats who run Summit International Travel (http://www.summittravel.com/). They have terrific and inexpensive air/hotel packages to Prague (which you could use for airfares and hotels in the capital) and also can arrange custom itineraries.
You're going to love the Czech Republic--a fascinating, beautiful country, which is especially friendly to music lovers (there are classical concerts in Prague nearly every night of the week).
Pittsburgh, PA: Was Australia affected by the tsunami?
Pauline Frommer: No, not to my knowledge.
Philadelphia, PA: Vegas or Orlando: which is will be the least expensive to travel to this year? I like to find best bargains.
Pauline Frommer: Vegas and Orlando are the number one and number two most popular US destinations for both domestic and international visitors. They both have an outrageously large number of hotel rooms, and--except during huge conventions (Vegas) or at the peak of school holiday periods (Orlando)-- a good number of those rooms are going to be empty at any one time, and discounting to attract guests. In Orlando, it's possible to stay at any number of faceless, but clean and comfortable motels along International Drive, for as little as $19 a night; you'll find the same kind of pricing in Vegas at Terribles Casino and periodically at the Westward Ho and Stratosphere hotels (on my last visit, I stayed at Harrah's--right on the strip and next to the chi chi Venetian--for just $39/night).
Both destinations are also tops for "packages". Currently, e-LeisureLink.com is selling five-nights' hotel in Orlando, with airfare from a few East Coast cities and rental car for just $353. Southwest Airlines vacations currently has a deal that will lower the cost of a two night hotel stay in Vegas--with airfare from California--to just $79/person. Many other gateways are available on both deals and are similarly discounted.
This is a long way of saying that, if you do it right, you can have a budget vacation at either place. Vegas may be slightly cheaper because the cost of theme park admissions keeps going up and up and up in Orlando (just last week Sea World raised it's rates to $59.75/person; last month it was Universal; and the month before that Disney "restructured" its rates.) It's very difficult to get a discount on DisneyWorld, though the "lesser" theme parks do often farm out admissions coupons to the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau (look for their "Magic Card") which can cut costs substantially.
But heck, if you gamble in Vegas, there go any savings you might have gotten on the hotel or airfare (since the house always wins in the end. Yes, they do. Don't fool yourself about that.)
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