The elaborate 100-foot-long table at the newly opened Taj Falaknuma Palace… (Taj )
Not every trip can be a great travel bargain. High-end destination hotels and tours offer something far from the well-touristed path, whether it's visiting an obscure Arctic outpost or sleeping in a re-imagined palace.
Are trips like this expensive? Absolutely. Can the average traveler afford to go? Maybe. Plenty of people save up for a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, even during recessionary times. Why?
Likely because travel sates a basic curiosity that fuels the urge to explore other cultures and other lands. Here are some places with a high wow factor (and price to match) that excite my curiosity.
News junkie junket: Being stranded on the high seas wouldn’t be a heady hardship with this mash-up of NPR and PBS celebs on this Public TV at Sea cruise from Dubai to Rome: political analyst Charlie Cook, NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro, NPR correspondent Jacki Lyden, executive producer of PBS' "American Experience" Mark Samels, NPR host Scott Simon and film critic Rex Reed. Panels, one-on-one conversations and other foreign-policy mingling await aboard the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. You could probably score college credit for this May 4 to 24 sailing. Price tag: $13,499 to $48,999 per person, double occupancy. Crown Cruise Vacations, (877) 283-1114
Bungalow life, elevated: Two newly built Presidential Ultra Bungalows will open mid-February at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a.k.a. the Pink Palace, in our very own backyard. The 5,500-square-foot (inside and out) digs with three rooms and three and a half bathrooms is said to constitute the largest presidential suite in the Los Angeles area, but who’s measuring? Cool extras include a private outdoor shower, a private entrance, a fireplace in every room and one outside, a private lap pool, lush gardens and more. Too much more, really. Reservations taken for stays starting Feb. 15. Beverly Hills Hotel, (310) 276-2251
Ice bucket list: This seven-day trip includes a visit to the dazzling 80-room Swedish Icehotel about 125 miles above the Arctic Circle, which opens in December and then melts in spring. Each year, rooms, furniture, chandeliers and even drinking glasses are shaped from ice. Why endure the deep freeze? It's an opportunity to glimpse moose and reindeer or go dog sledding in a part of the world few ever see. And did we mention sampling Lapland cuisine? The trip, which includes a stay in London, is available for 12 departure dates between Dec. 17 and March 11. Prices range from $2,630 to $3,200 per person, based on double occupancy. Great Canadian Travel Co., (800) 661-3830.
Table for 100, please: Why stay in a hotel that's just like a palace when you can stay in the real thing. The 19th-century Taj Falaknuma in Hyderabad, India, is a renovated former royal residence where Nizam rulers once received the likes of Czar Nicholas II and King Edward VIII. The 32-acre, all-marble palace in the shape of a scorpion opened as a Taj hotel on Nov. 1. The eye-popping feature: an elaborate frescoed banquet room with a 100-foot-long dining table that seats more than 100. Perfect for your entourage. Rooms start at about $761 per night for two. Taj Falaknuma Palace, (866) 969-1825.