photos of vacation locationsBy Dawn Papandrea
Your savings may not seem robust enough for you to visit your fantasy destination, but a travel agent may think otherwise. "Travel professionals love finding special deals for clients with value-added amenities," says Stephanie Turner, president of Brentwood Travel Service, Inc., in St. Louis, MO. "And we know where to go to get the best value." In fact, she explains, travel agents often learn about bargains before the public does, so they can snag the best offers for clients before they book up. Here, three groups of travelers on a budget and the agents making their dream journeys a reality. Photo by Thinkstock
Northern California Family Vacation: The Big Dream
Travelers: Shannon Mariani, singer/songwriter, Jeff Gangemi, writer and marketing director, and their one-year-old Maya
Dream trip: The Burlington, VT, couple met and fell in love in California, so they'd like to visit San Francisco, wine country and outdoorsy Marin County. "This would be our first vacation since we had a baby," they admit, and they prefer to go the last week of February.
Trip wishlist: "We want to stay in the heart of San Francisco to be near relatives who want to see Maya and also so we can hop out of the hotel and eat, drink and walk to our hearts' delight." Other to-dos: a wine tour and activities for young kids.
Budget: $3,000 for the whole family
Related: Discover 10 things you'll never have to pay for.
Northern California Family Vacation: The Exciting Reality
The travel agent: Turner, who's been in the business for 40 years
Departure flight: United Airlines from Burlington, VT, on February 22 at 4 P.M. with a 1 hr 40 min layover in Chicago
San Francisco hotel: Three nights at the Sheraton ($219 per night) or Hyatt Regency ($259 per night) in Fisherman's Wharf. "There are lots of places to walk to from here and street entertainers for the little one," says Turner. Plus, there are many waterfront restaurants, and the cable car begins and ends there. The hotels are fairly priced for San Francisco, and Turner's relationship with these vendors could lead to free breakfast or a room upgrade.
Ground transportation: Hertz charges about $350 per week for a compact car, but "San Francisco parking is pricey, and they can get around easily without a car." So she suggests they rent a vehicle for four days after the San Francisco portion of the trip.
Wine Country hotel: Two nights at the Sonoma Creek Inn ($115 or $155 per night for a queen or a king room, respectively). "This quaint hotel's a good buy for the time period," says Turner. And Sonoma's less expensive and closer to San Francisco than Napa.
Marin County hotel: One night at the Holiday Inn Express Mill Valley ($150). It's near the Redwoods, the Marine Mammal Center, hiking and biking trails and the beach. Complimentary breakfast makes it an even better deal.
Return flight: United Airlines from San Francisco on February 28 at 10:50 A.M. with an hour layover in Cleveland. Roundtrip airline tickets: $440 per person.
Total cost: Without meals and hotel fees, the trip is just under $2,250 (with the more expensive hotel options), which leaves budget for upscale restaurants, winery tours and other outings.
Related: Check out 9 bad habits that are good for you.
Girlfriends' Trip to Europe: The Big Dream
The travelers: Chris Nicols, school counselor; Dori Cannella, nurse; Sharon Dua, administrative assistant and Dawn Allcot, writer
Dream trip: These Long Island, NY, girlfriends have been talking about a summer trip to France and Italy for a while.
Trip wishlist: "Shopping at the finest boutiques, learning about fashion and enjoying great regional food. I've also dreamed of seeing the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower and other tourist hot spots," says Allcot.
The budget: $2,500 per person
Girlfriends' Trip to Europe: The Exciting Reality
The travel agent: Margie Jordan, Travel Consultant at Jordan Executive Travel, Jacksonville, FL
Departure flight: Air France from JFK to Paris on June 10, taking off at 7:30 P.M. with one stop, arriving the next day. "I selected less expensive midweek flights as early in the summer season as possible since June is a popular time to visit Europe," says Jordan. This particular week not only had less expensive flights but also shorter layover times. In general, fares on weekends, Thursdays and Fridays are much higher.
Ground transportation: Included in the package: "a shuttle driver to take the women to their apartments in Paris and Rome," explains Jordan.
Paris accommodations: Four nights in a two-bedroom apartment, which Jordan can book through one of three travel-agent-only sources, near many popular neighborhoods and attractions, like the Louvre Museum and Centre Pompidou ($301 per night). Centrally located Paris hotels can be expensive and small, says Jordan, and an apartment allows the women to save even more by cooking with local ingredients in their rental.
Paris activities: A behind-the-scenes Eiffel Tower tour ($32), with skip-the-line access and private guides, and the Sex and the City Fashion Tour ($200), which visits Carrie's favorite shoe and couture shops, led by a stylist. "I included this since fashion was important to them."
Flight to Rome: On Air France on June 14 at 11:35 A.M.
Rome accommodations: A three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment ($267 per night), near the Baths of Caracalla, the Roman Forum and the train and bus station for easy access around town.
Rome Activities: The Full Day Tour includes entry and skip-the-line access to the famous Colosseum ($66). And a Rome Food Walking Tour ($88) includes nine regional food tastings.
Return flight: On Air France on June 19, leaving at 12:50 P.M. with one stop. Roundtrip flights cost $1,441 per person.
Total cost: $2,547 per person for everything except meals, shopping and activities not mentioned above.
Related: Learn the best body language for any situation.
Multigenerational Cruise: The Big Dream
The travelers: Retiree Violet Engelhuber, her three children, their families and some extended family. All live in the Plymouth, MI, area except one relative, who lives in New York City.
Dream trip: A seven-day cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship with family activities onboard. "We'd like to go during a holiday when the children are off from school," says Engelhuber. Their last family cruise together was in 2006 (pictured here).
Trip wishlist: Dining all together, snorkeling, beach days and the option to go on excursions
The budget: $1,100 to $1,200 per person for the cruise
Multigenerational Cruise: The Exciting Reality
The travel agent: Amber Blecker, CruiseOne - The Blecker Group, Aurora, CO
Itinerary: A seven-night Western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, sailing from Port Canaveral, FL, on November 24. The ship includes a family water park, rock climbing wall and ice skating rink, with Broadway-style shows, ice shows, parades and character experiences. "Cruising is popular for family groups, as different members have separate budgets and preferences, yet they may all still come together at meals or ashore for quality family time." When you compare the costs and inclusions to a land-based vacation, a cruise ship offers tremendous value, says Blecker.
Total cruise cost (not including airfare): Depending on the preference for inside or oceanview cabins and the number of guests in each cabin, rates range between $1,000 and $1,130 per person. This doesn't include optional shore excursions, which are typically under $100 per person. Because agents have access to exclusive shore excursion providers, they can often get lower prices than the cruise line can. "I also personally vet independent vendors," Blecker adds. Booking under a group reservation with the cruise line allows Blecker to offer an additional $50 per cabin credit for things like premium beverages and spa treatments. A group reservation also simplifies dining reservations, so they can eat together.
You Might Also Like:
Best Work-at-Home Jobs
10 Beauty Products You Don't Really Need
10 Sexy Tricks That Actually Turn Him Off
photos of vacation locationsBy Dawn Papandrea