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Special Europe Issue | On a Budget

Spring Bargains Are Blooming Abroad

April 28, 2002|ARTHUR FROMMER

A friend recently purchased an airline ticket on a major carrier for a mid-May departure from New York to London for $385. Despite claims of a comeback in transatlantic travel, such offers suggest that the European travel market remains slightly depressed, with passenger numbers running about 10% below 2001 figures for the same period.

When you also consider that the U.S. dollar is trading strong against the Continent's euro (one euro costs about 89 cents), you might agree that 2002 is the time to go.

Short trips in May are a particular bargain this year (they haven't always been), starting as low as $125 a day, including air fare from the West Coast. That's the per-person price from Internet tour company Go-Today, (425) 487-9632, www.go-today.com, and from Gate 1 Travel, (800) 682-3333, www.gate1travel.com. Through May, both are offering six nights in either London or Paris and round-trip air fare from New York or Boston for $599 plus tax. Air fare add-ons from Los Angeles range from $150 to $200 per person.

This year, some vacationers will undertake their European tours by cruise ship, stopping at city harbors along the North Sea or Mediterranean coast. Royal Caribbean's giant Splendour of the Seas, a swank, late-'90s vessel, will be sailing round trips this May from Barcelona, Spain, at reduced per-person rates from such discounters as Cruise Direct, (888) 407-2784, which is pricing its May 5 sailing as low as $767 per person, including port charges but not round-trip air fare to Barcelona. Sailings later in May will range from $899 to $1,044 per person. In an active week, the Splendour will dock in Villefranche (for Nice, France), Livorno (for Pisa or Naples, Italy), Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples and Malta before returning to its home port in Spain.

You also can tour Europe on its inland waterways; large swatches of the Continent are connected by canals in use since the Middle Ages. Though most of the barge lines on these routes are upscale and costly, a smaller firm called 4Winds Tours, (509) 967-3448 or www.4windstours.com, is building its reputation with sailings on which the amenities and prices are modest. The company offers many sailings through Holland and Belgium on cozy, simple vessels sleeping no more than 20. Activities vary by departure, but on many trips the participants drawn to this type of boat spend their days biking from fortified medieval town to town, meeting up with the barge at night for meals. Because this is the year for the renowned Floriade (the world's foremost flower show, held every 10 years in Holland), several canal trips include it.

Among the many products of 4Winds Tours is an eight-day Southern Holland route (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Delft, Leiden, Haarlem, Amsterdam) for $670. As with most of the company's offers, a rental bike is included, as are all meals (bikers put together a sack lunch at breakfast), private bath and the services of a multilingual guide.

Finally, for travelers touring Europe by train, several recent price concessions make a springtime trip attractive. Best among them is Eurail's 40% off sale for its popular "Selectpass Drive" program, which, for as little as $162 per person, allows you to travel by train for three days anywhere between three adjoining countries and to enjoy unlimited mileage in a compact car for two more days. Purchase by May 31. The same pass also allows access to certain ferries and entitles the bearer to discounts on the Eurostar train, which connects Britain with the Continent via the Channel tunnel. For more information, call Rail Europe at (877) 257-2887.

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