The next few weeks are peak holiday booking time for individuals and families – a time when travel agents and tour operators make hay while the sun isn’t shining.
But picking the right holiday isn’t as straightforward as it used to be back in the days when it was a choice of a home holiday or two-week package break on the Costas.
The last few post-recession years have seen a surge in bookings to far-flung destinations, while cruising has become mainstream.
Next Friday afternoon (January 24) sees the Holiday World Show kick off in Dublin’s RDS, and while the choice of destinations is dizzying (over 550 exhibitors in all), it’ll give you plenty of opportunities to talk with representatives from cruise lines, airlines, cities and country destinations.
Here are some of my top choices for the ideal break from what’s on offer at the show:
European sun breaks
The big tour operators like TUI, Sunway and Topflight will be at the show, and it’s worth shopping around for discounts and looking to book when low deposits are on offer.
If you’re travelling with the family, it’s always worth booking in advance if you’re looking for a family-friendly hotel of your choice in the resort you want. The advantage of booking a package is peace of mind if anything goes wrong, plus, guaranteed transfers to and from your resort from the destination airport.
For solo travellers and couples wishing to do their own thing, this year sees a host of new flights to sun destinations.
Aer Lingus’ new summer route to the island of Rhodes in Greece starts on May 23. The island is a beauty in its own right, with historic sights, and is also convenient for day trips to bustling Marmaris in Turkey.
The flight to Brindisi opens up one of Italy’s most interesting, but lesser known regions, of Puglia (also from May 23). And finally, it’s Italy again, with flights to Alghero in Sardinia, home of Italy’s best beaches, starting on May 24.
Ryanair have been no slouches either, with new routes to Verona (a beautiful city in its own right and gateway to stunning Lake Garda), Podgorica in unspoilt Montenegro, and five flights a week to Marseille, which opens up the Riviera resorts.
The big exhibitors, as ever, will be the Spanish and Portuguese contingents. And it’s worth aiming away from traditional parts of Iberia, with the north of Spain more accessible with the return of the overnight Brittany Ferries sailing from Cork to Santander.
My choices? For a brilliant short break, I’d definitely recommend the lesser-visited Spanish cities, such as Seville or Valencia. Both have tons of history, good-value tapas bars and buzzing city life. TUI’s resorts get the thumbs up for family fun, with of all the usual destinations, and some of my fondest memories are from Lake Garda in the north of Italy.
Surrounded by a dramatic mountain range, towns such as Riva are picture-perfect, with great shopping, bars and restaurants. One exhibitor, Travalue.ie, had a week there in the three-star Poiano Apartments from €399pps, based on two adults and two children sharing and flying out on May 23 (and includes checked-in luggage and transfers).
With new ferries launched in the past year and deals available (Brittany Ferries has 20pc off holidays booked before February 11), camping is an ever popular option, especially for families with younger children: there’s the ease of not worrying about luggage limits, airport delays and car hire.
If you’re not too pushed about guaranteed scorching temperatures, I’d opt for Brittany. It’s close to the ferry ports and hs amazing medieval towns, such as Dinan and St Malo.
The south of Brittany around the resort town of Carnac is gorgeous, and definitely recommended. Further south, you’ve got better chances of warm weather.
The Vendee region is flat and fairly dull, but it has a great selection of campsites (and some great higher-end options such as the Pin Parasol). Make sure not to miss a side trip to the beautiful seaside city of La Rochelle.
The Holiday Show hosts dozens of campsites around France and beyond, with good bargains available.
If you want to book all-inclusive, check with Irish Ferries and Stena Line for the full package, either direct or via Britain. One good deal is with Brittany Ferries, with return crossing and a stay at Brittany’s Village Les Mouettes in Carantec, from €210 per person.
El Al’s non-stop service to the beach city of Tel Aviv starts this spring, so expect more convenient packages to the Holy Land areas.
Further afield, Chinese airline Juneyao will be linking Dublin (via Helsinki) to Shanghai from March 29. Meanwhile, United Airlines will be taking on Aer Lingus on the Dublin-San Francisco route, operating a Dreamliner service from June 6.
With plenty of capacity on that West Coast route, expect to see the big operators like Tour America, American Holidays and Sunway competing with Aer Lingus’s service. It’s best to look at San Francisco as a package, as it’s an expensive city for a DIY trip, and you’ll get better value with a fly-drive or twin-centre trip.
Also exhibiting will be Emirates Holidays, with destinations in the UAE plus further afield, as well as other specialists, including the Travel Department and Hayes & Jarvis.
If you’re adventurous, other stands to look out for include reps from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina and Malaysia. Not forgetting the US – it’s the biggest non-European area, with exhibitors including the Hotel Beacon in Manhattan, ever popular with the Irish – and far-flung cities and states, including Portland, Oregon and Wyoming.
If you’re a newbie or seasoned traveller, there’s always something new in this area, with the big lines like Royal Caribbean and MSC exhibiting.
Keep and eye out for Princess Cruises too. It’s newish to the Irish market and keen to do business, so it’s offering some great deals to capture sales. The operators will be offering cruises too.
My best bets? Sailing the Eastern Mediterranean out of Venice and around the Greek islands live long in the memory, as does the Eastern Caribbean, where I holidayed last year on the MSC Seaside as the deals were good.
Tour America is offering an eight-night Miami and Eastern Caribbean fly cruise from €1,019pp, including flights, a night in Miami and seven nights on board Royal Caribbean’s enormous Symphony of the Seas, based on two adults and two children sharing an oceanview cabin (September 4).
Cheaper still is a Scandinavia fly cruise from €865pp on September 19, ex Southampton on the Crown Princess.
Way too much to write about here, but I would say to check out lesser-spotted places like Donegal and Leitrim. There are scores of deals available, especially for a spring or early summer break, and home holidaying is rising in fashion due to the lower carbon footrpint, ease of access to the west coast and that guaranteed warm welcome when escaping from the city.
For more, see holidayworldshow.com
Holiday news and travel deals
It’s good news for football fans, families holidaying in Britain or taking the landbridge via Wales and England to French campsites, with the launch of Stena Line’s newest ferry, Stena Estrid, this week.
Herald Travel will be checking her out soon, but it looks a big improvement on Stena’s former ferries, boasting a crossing time of three hours and 15 minutes, a new Sky Bar, two ‘Happy World’ children’s play areas, a relaxing reclining lounge, Stena Plus lounge, two movie lounges, a bigger Truckers lounge, Taste restaurant, and larger shopping area. (stenaline.ie)
Tropical Sky is offering deals for long-haul luxury trips when booked before January 31. The best offer is for €950pp off a five-night B&B stay at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel on the beachfront Palm Jumeirah area of Dubai. The price comes in at €879pps, based on a May 6 departure from Dublin.
Further afield, it’s got seven nights’ B&B at the Mai Samui Hotel in Thailand’s Koh Samui resort from €1,229pps (departing April 19), and a seven-night all-inclusive trip to the five-star Haven Riviera in Cancun from €1,499pp (saving up to €550pp). The lead-in price for Mexico is based on a departure on November 8, but there are other dates available for all the resorts. (tropicalsky.ie).
Online travel agent Alpharooms has expanded from booking just hotel rooms to full packages in the Irish market. To coincide with the launch of ie.alpharooms.com it said it’s offering up to 60pc off hotel room prices this month.
NB: This feature originally appeared in The Herald.
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