GO with the trends

Hot spots: Up, down and all around the world there are big things to look for in 1999. Adventures and bargains abound. And FYI, aloha means good buys.

January 24, 1999|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,Special to The Sun

The end of the millennium brings undiscovered nug-gets and new twists on old travel favorites, plus some great deals on places where the dollar is especially strong.

Here's a look at 10 hot spots and trends for 1999.

Great values

Think north and south of the border -- plus a long haul west to the Hawaiian islands for some of the best buys in travel this year.

The U.S. dollar has risen to more than 1.5 times the value of the Canadian dollar -- its highest level in 140 years -- up 37 percent since 1991, when the Canadian dollar was strong. But prices have not gone up accordingly, meaning bargains whether you're catching a hot play or Blue Jays baseball action in Toronto, a proper English tea in Victoria on Vancouver Island or having a tres French experience in Montreal.

An example: Yankee Holidays (800-225-2550) is offering a $130 per person package in Montreal that includes preferred access to the fabulous Monet exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (which runs Thursday to May 9); two nights accommodations with full American breakfast at top hotels such as the Marriott Chateau Champlain, Le Centre Sheraton or Renaissance Hotel du Parc; dinner at the Montreal Casino; and discount coupons. Collette Tours (800-832-4656) offers a similar package, including round-trip airfare on Air Canada from Reagan National Airport for $289 a person.

Mexico, the top foreign destination for U.S. travelers, gets cheaper almost by the day. The dollar has zoomed up 30 percent against the peso in the last year -- current rate is 10 pesos per $1. For the best deal, call a Mexican resort or hotel directly, especially small hotels outside those big tourist resort areas where prices may be pegged to the dollar.

Particularly good values can be had in old charming colonial towns such as Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, where you'll find top-rate lodgings at less than $100 per room per night, according to Cecelia Morfin, director of public relations for the Mexican Government Tourism Office in Los Angeles.

For example, in Guadalajara, the pleasant Hotel de Mendoza (800-221-6509), in the heart of the historical area, charges about $70. In Merida, famed for its colonial and archaeological sites, the Hotel Casa del Balam (800-624-8451) charges $80. A big breakfast will set you back just $6; dinner out can be as little as $10 for a four-course meal. Also, good buys are souvenirs, clothing, arts and crafts, and taxis -- always quoted in pesos. For help in planning, contact the Mexican Government Tourism Commission at 800-446-3942.

Hawaii is suffering its worst tourism slump in ages, to a large extent because of the economic crisis in Asia, which usually provides a third of the state's visitors. That means big bargains at hotels trying to fill empty rooms by discounting or upgrading. The average room rate at Hawaiian resorts is less than $130, the same as two years ago, and hotels are throwing in free meals, rental cars and free extra nights, bringing that figure much lower in reality. Contact the Hawaii Visitors Bureau at 808-923-1811.

Other bargain destinations: Hong Kong, Australia and Thailand, all suffering from the currency woes of Asia and the Pacific.

Park it here

On the domestic front, national parks have never been hotter -- attracting families eager to see the strongholds of America's vanishing wilderness. Rooms at national park lodges in the heart of these wildlands can be great deals.

For example, accommodations in Florida's Everglades National Park (800-600-3813) start at $95 a room during the winter high season, now through April; $65 May through Oct. At Montana's glorious Glacier National Park (602-207-6000), $60 to $85 gets you a room or cottage with bath at the cozy motel-like Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge deep in the wild eastern section of the park. You can walk right onto a slew of great trails from your room, chow down at the lodge's reasonably priced Italian Gardens restaurant and listen to the sounds of nature at night.

For information on national parks, check out the park service's Web site: www.nps.gov. Reservations for campsites at 23 of the most popular parks can be made up to five months in advance online (reservations.nps.gov) using Visa, MasterCard or the Discover card; or call 800-365-2267.

If you would rather not do it yourself, join a group park tour. Backroads Tours (800-462-2848) runs more than two dozen six-day hiking, cycling and rafting trips (with camping or inn stays) to national parks, including Acadia, Great Smoky Mountain, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and, in Canada, Banff and Jasper. Many departures are specifically designed for families or solo travelers.

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