Heard the horror stories? Dinner in London for $145 each, not counting drinks and tip. Lunch in Venice $65. Hotels in Paris $600 a night.
Yes, Europe is expensive. The euro is worth more than $1.50. Flights cost an average of 7 percent more than they did a year ago. Hotel rates continue to rise. Is Europe worth it, you wonder.
To my mind, yes. Europe is magical at any price, with its history, sights, cuisine, shopping, and festivals. But one way to shave expenses is to take a tour or cruise.
Grand European Tours, which has been specializing in trips to the Continent for nearly three decades, is among companies guaranteeing that once you put down your deposit the price is not going to change, even if airfare, fuel surcharges, and government taxes go up and currency exchange rates fluctuate. For those who want to cover a lot of territory, there is a 16-day Best of Europe at Leisure tour beginning at $4,099 that includes London, Paris, Amsterdam, Lucerne, Switzerland, and Venice, and gives you 14 breakfasts and five dinners. For those seeking a narrower focus, there is the 14-day Grand Tour of Greece at $3,549 from Boston, including 12 breakfasts, seven dinners, and a welcome reception.
Visit getours.com or call 800-552-5545.
Mediterranean cruises grow increasingly popular, and I still have fond memories of one I took a decade ago aboard the Grand Princess. This year the Pacific Princess has a similar 12-day itinerary, visiting Barcelona; Marseille (via Provence); Florence/Pisa; Rome (via Civitavecchia); Naples/Capri; Mykonos, Greece; Istanbul and Kusadasi; Athens; and Venice. Listed prices begin at $1,859. Add to that the price of airfare and excursions, which can range from under $40 for a basic tour to a few hundred dollars for an overnight stay on land between ports.
Visit princess.com or call 800-PRINCESS (800-774-62377).
For young people, there is Contiki, which specializes in vacations for 18- to 35-year-olds. Berlin & Prague, for example, begins at $869 plus airfare and includes six breakfasts and two dinners. Young people seeking something less traditional might consider the 16-day Europe Camping expedition. Travel is by motorcoach and ferry but nights are spent camping. Countries visited are France, Belgium (in transit), the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Prices begin at $1,469 plus airfare and include 14 breakfasts and eight dinners. As with most companies' tours, Contiki trips include a lot of sightseeing, but there are also optional tours at extra cost.
Visit contiki.com or call 866-CONTIKI (866-266-8454).
If my recent trip to Russia is any indication, river cruises are a pleasurable way to travel. Grand Circle Travel, which specializes in trips for those 55 and older, has private small ships, custom built for the company. The 16-day Great Rivers of Europe includes airfare and 14 breakfasts, 14 lunches, and 14 dinners, as well as 11 tours as you visit Amsterdam; in Germany, Cologne, Koblenz, Mainz, Wertheim, Würzburg, Bamberg, Nürnberg, Regensburg, and Passau and, west of Vienna, Melk Abbey. Prices begin at $2,695 from Boston.
Visit gct.com or call 800-959-0405.
Italy is one of the most popular European destinations and Perillo has been conducting tours there for more than four decades. Its 10-day Vesuvius trip covers Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Naples, is fully escorted, and includes all breakfasts and dinners with wine. Land-only prices begin at $2,349.
Visit perillotours.com or call 800-431-1515.
Portugal remains one of the least expensive European nations to visit, and Azores Express has weeklong packages to Lisbon with round-trip airfare from Boston and six nights' lodging. For Tuesday departures, packages range from $899-$1,149 per person depending upon choice of hotel. Friday departures are $80 more. All packages include daily breakfast. You can also stay in Lisbon and São Miguel in the Azores for the same cost. Look for a slight price increase after April 1.
Visit azores-express.com or call 800-762-9995.
If packaged tours or cruises are not for you, you may have to do a lot of searching for good fares and rates, or deal with a knowledgeable travel agent. On the plus side, you can arrange your travel around the festivals and other cultural events that interest you. Also, you can now travel through 24 countries without flashing your passport. Despite the cost, travel from the United States to Europe has increased for four years straight.
Go to visiteurope.com for a list of events and a lot of information.
$10 travel pass
The new Europe Travel Pass, which costs $10, gives discounts on everything from a London City tour to a day excursion from Paris to Giverny and Versailles to a biking trip from Florence to the Chianti district. In all, there are 150 discounts in 24 countries.
Visit europetravelpass.com or call the Lexington-based company at 781-863-0125.
Jolly old England
The Metropolitan London has a half-off offer for families, available weekends March 14-30. For about $750, guests get two interconnecting rooms for two nights, champagne for the adults, milkshakes and cookies for the youngsters, use of a Playstation 2, a children's gift box, two adult and two children's tickets for the London Duck Tours, fresh fruit, and mineral water. The package is still available after March 30 but prices will rise.
Visit metropolitan.como.bz/london or call 011-44-20-7447-1000.
Rentalo.com maintains that renting an apartment can help make London affordable. You do get a fully equipped kitchen to cut down on the cost of eating out and give you a chance to explore London supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's. Among the offers: a one-bedroom Notting Hill Gate apartment for $224 a night (visit rentalo.com/36071/202modern.html) and an apartment in the heart of London for $310 a night (rentalo.com/212033/apartmentintheheartof.html).
For more information, call 877-710-5914.
The Oxford Experience gives you a one-week course at the oldest university in the English-speaking world. With 50 subjects to choose from, the courses run June 29 to Aug. 2, with each program starting on a Sunday. Students study, live, and dine at Christ Church college, with three meals daily included in the cost of $1,946. There are additional charges for excursions and rooms with private baths. Registration deadline is April 1.
A brochure is available at international.conted.ox.ac.uk/oxfordexperience.php or write The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, U.K.
Tickets to some London theater productions are half off at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. Sold on the day of performance only, tickets are usually about $33-$40, including a service charge.
When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.