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On a Budget

Mexico, Disney Magic, Club Med Megasavings

October 11, 1998|ARTHUR FROMMER

Three rather important reductions in travel costs have come about in recent weeks, and each one could be the basis for a pleasant and thoroughly affordable vacation.

Mexico: Although the fall of the Russian ruble and a similar decline in most Asian currencies has gotten major attention by the media, those eager to find a travel bargain closer to home should keep in mind the ongoing fall in the value of the Mexican peso. Since the end of summer, the peso has declined in value by approximately 25%. While the U.S. dollar bought eight Mexican pesos until recently, it now buys more than 10.

But be forewarned: The American tourist who continues to flock to the famous seaside resorts of Mexico--Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and the like--may fail to reap the benefit of that plunge. In areas where U.S. tourists account for most of the travel business, hotels tend to quote prices in dollars, and leave their dollar rates unchanged. Or if they do quote in pesos, they hastily raise the price.

It's an altogether different matter for those more adventuresome travelers who patronize those interior locations of Mexico--San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Oaxaca--that also receive large numbers of Mexican visitors. Prices there have to be stated in pesos, and costs have therefore declined dramatically for U.S. visitors. The same applies to seaside Acapulco, which also caters to a considerable clientele of Mexican vacationers.

I'd seriously consider Mexico for a winter vacation this year. The increase in crime that has frightened many potential visitors seems mainly confined to Mexico City and certain border locations. No one, to my knowledge, has pointed to any serious outbreak of trouble in the standard tourist locations, which have taken major steps to protect their tourist visitors.

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The Disney Magic: After months of implying that its rates were set in stone, Disney Cruise Line has announced a dramatic reduction in price for "selected sailings" of its brand new ship, the Disney Magic, from Jan. 1 to March 12, 1999 (obviously, it will charge its standard rates for President's Day weekend). In that dead-of-winter period, it will offer prices starting at $795 per adult, double occupancy, and $399 per child sharing the parents' cabin. These are about half the price levels appearing in Disney's elaborate, four-color cruise catalog for its seven-night packages combining three or four nights in Disney World with three or four nights on the spectacular Disney Magic.

But again, a warning: The new sale prices do not include round-trip air fare to Orlando (as they do in the catalog), nor do they include transfers to the passengers' hotel in Orlando or to the port from which the ship departs. Adding back the cost of those items, the effective discount is about 30%--still a major reduction.

It's obvious that Disney has come up against that bugaboo of family travel: the inability to travel when children are in school. Though no one doubted the appeal of the Disney Magic during school-vacation periods, a large number of skeptics felt that Disney's child-oriented cruise ships (a second one will be launched this winter) would have difficulty filling up from September through mid-December and January through May (except for short school breaks). "Difficulty filling up" (my phrase, not theirs) is undoubtedly what has caused Disney to announce the sudden discounts.

What's the answer? Maybe it's to announce a new policy of mainly adult sailings during periods when school is in session. Though Disney creates magic in its theme parks and movies, it obviously has no magical powers to overcome the problems that other travel companies have encountered in attempting to operate family travel programs throughout the year. For Disney Cruise Line information, call (800) 951-3532.

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Club Med: Finally, Club Med (under new management) has expanded and speeded up its new policy of offering sharply competitive rates at its Caribbean and Mexican resorts. From now until Dec. 12, Club Med's adult village on the Pacific Coast of Mexico at Playa Blanca costs as little as an astonishing $799 for a full week from Los Angeles or San Francisco, including round-trip air fare and three meals daily (and unlimited wine or beer with meals).

Even more significantly, the rejuvenated organization has extended its "Family Escape" and "Wild Card" programs to six major gateways, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. From those cities, travelers who permit Club Med to choose the resort at which they'll stay will pay a remarkable $799 to $849 (per person for a family of four), or $999 to $1,049 depending on city (per adult, double occupancy), for a Club Med week, including round-trip air fare to the destination. That's throughout the autumn and winter season, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas surcharges. For information, call (800) CLUB-MED.

Obviously, there's a nice budget breeze blowing through the venerable resort chain, similar to what's happening at Disney Cruise Line and in our neighbor to the south.

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