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Posts Tagged ‘Mediterranean Sea’

Oh my Greek god! An Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise for $1,249

The whitewashed houses that cling to the cliffs in the Greek Isles

Friendly Planet blogger Lucy has been giving you a first-hand look into our Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise she embarked on in March. What sparked her interest in the tour was the incredible discount we were offering in July 2009.

Take a look at your calendar. It’s almost July and we decided to bring the discount back for 2010. You can book the Athens and three-day Greek Isles cruise for $1,249 until July 30. It’s an epic eight-day journey through Greece. If you read Lucy’s posts, you’ll find out how we fit so much of Greece into just over a week.

The tour first takes you on a voyage through the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Aquamarine or Calypso, docking at the islands of Mykonos, Patmos, Crete, Santorini, and Kusadasi, Turkey. Then you return to land to explore Athens, the birthplace of western civilization.

A sea-side cafe in Mykonos

Pairing a journey to Athens with a cruise around the Greek Islands gives you the best of both land and sea. Your ship is your floating hotel, delivering you to islands full of history, myth, and vibrant towns.

But if you’ve taken a few cruises before, you’re probably accustomed to large, luxurious ships appointed with every possible amenity. Cruising the Greek Isles is different. Ships (including those of Louis Cruise Lines) are generally smaller and more agile, better suited for navigating the shallow waters and small ports of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

These mid-sized ships are practical, comfortable, and equipped with all necessary modern conveniences. So as Lucy mentions, don’t over pack. A basic cabin has all the amenities, but it’s not overly spacious. Think of these ships as good three-star hotels, offering convenient and comfortable transport through the Greek Isles — which are the true reason for your cruise.

But there’s more to our Greek tour than the cruise ship. You’ll spend most of your days exploring the different islands. The first stop is the island of Mykonos. Here you walk its winding alleyways and whitewashed buildings, and relax by sipping ouzo in a café overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The next day you find yourself in Kusadasi, Turkey. Its close proximately to Mykonos makes it an easy detour to experience one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis.

Later in the afternoon, you head back to Greece to the island of Patmos, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. Then it’s on to Heraklion on Crete. It’s home to the ruins of Knossos, the palace with an intricate collection of over 1,000 interlocking rooms.

And we saved the most celebrated of the islands for last, Santorini. There you can catch the spectacular views of the sunken caldera and still-active volcano off the coast before you head back to Athens.

The Acropolis of Athens

Your remaining days are spent in Greece’s capital where you drop your bags in the Divani Palace Acropolis hotel. It is located in the heart of Athens, under the shadow of the sacred rock of the Acropolis where ancient Greek civilization meets modern life.

Step outside and you’re in the Plaka. It’s the historical district of Athens, known for its narrow streets, contrasting old buildings, boutiques, outdoor markets, and more. Traditional Greek music is heard from the taverns lining the streets. Walk inside and you’ll likely find locals and tourists singing, dancing on the tables, and partaking in the celebratory throwing of plates.

There is more information on Athens and the islands in Lucy’s posts, as well as our podcast with Judy Poliva, Friendly Planet’s resident expert on Greece. They’ll both teach you how to say some common phrases in Greek and give you tips on what can’t be missed when sightseeing.

We pack a lot into the tour, and the price as well. Included in the $1,249 price tag are round-trip flights from New York (other gateways available at low fares); three nights in superior hotel accommodations in Athens; three nights aboard the Louis Cruises’ Aquamarine or Calypso; daily buffet breakfast in Athens and all meals aboard the cruise; all group transfers; professional, English-speaking tour guides; and more.

There are only two departure dates available at this low price, so book the Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise for $1,249 by July 30 before it sells out. And if a three-day cruise isn’t long enough, why not consider Friendly Planet’s Athens and four-day Greek Isles Cruise, which includes a stop at the island of Rhodes.

After both programs you can take advantage of the already included airfare and enjoy a four-day Classical Greece extension. You’ll see more ancient cities, including Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, and Delphi for $699. Plus you get breakfast and dinner daily, great hotels, and all touring.

We have a lot of Greek tours to choose from, so if you need any help deciding, write to me or give Friendly Planet’s reservations teams a call at 1-800-555-5765. We’ll get the right tour picked out for you.

Four steps to choosing the travel package that’s right for you

You know how everyone always writes in their travel ads to book now, because space is limited? Well, sometimes it’s actually the truth, especially when the space is for an awesome holiday travel deal that features gorgeous destinations and incredibly low prices. Even though we released our two December holiday deals just last week, they are already sold out.

To be perfectly truthful, there were some in the office who said it was too late to offer our special December holiday cruises in October. After all, that would leave only about four weeks to fill our allotments before having to release our blocked space. How wrong they were.

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We released our Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coasts cruises on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and as of this morning, both the Dec. 18 Mediterranean Highlights cruise and the Dec. 26 Iberian Coasts cruise are sold out. It isn’t really surprising to me, though.

So, while the December space is no longer available, departures later in 2010 still have plenty of space, including a Feb. 11-22, 2010 sailing of Iberian Coasts, which starts at just $1,399 including airfare, transfers, an eight-night cruise, and two bonus nights in Rome. Dare we say, book now, because space is limited?

But what if you can’t decide which cruise is right for you? They both sail through the Mediterranean Sea. They both stop at ports of call in some of the most beautiful coastal towns. And they both pamper vacationers with all the luxuries of the M/V Louis Majesty. How do you compare vacation packages that seem similar but have different prices?

People always ask me how to best make price comparisons of various vacation offerings. Sometimes, the trips seem identical, and yet the prices are vastly different. What can a traveler do to properly compare two or more trips, and determine which one offers the best value for the money?

Too often, I see travelers simply comparing the number of days of travel and the selling price. But these two details – while important – are very far from telling the real story of how one trip differs from another, and which is the one you should book for yourself.

I’ve put together four surefire steps that guarantee you’ll always be able to tell which package is the best deal.

1. Make a list of package features and line the list up feature by feature. Check items such as included flights, transfers, hotel nights, included meals, included touring, and hotels. Typically, the price differential has to do with any one, or a combination of these features. For example, Friendly Planet Travel usually includes all transfers if possible, while our competitors frequently do not. Sometimes, companies include no transfers at all, which could easily add a hefty sum of money to your trip’s bottom line.

Hotels can also make a big difference in the price of a tour, so be sure check the hotels by name. If the hotels listed for each tour differ, visit a site like TripAdvisor.com to see if you can ascertain differences in the service. Our hotels are always well-located. Hotels that are situated far from the action are typically less expensive than those with better locations, for obvious reasons. FP_vacancy.jpg

On TripAdvisor, you can see rates of hotels, and while you might not be paying those precise rates as part of your tour, you’ll certainly be able to figure out that one tour, using Hotel A, costs less than another tour, using Hotel B. If you see that Hotel A is selling on TripAdvisor for $50 per night, and Hotel B is selling for $200 per night, you can conclude that the cheaper tour is using cheaper hotels. And if those cheaper hotels are upgradable for a price, don’t forget to calculate the cost of the upgrade into your comparison. A tour that starts out hundreds less than the competition can end up being hundreds more, just by upgrading to an acceptable hotel.

Tours included in the vacation package can also make a big difference in a tour price. For example, a typical "trick" in pricing for tours with river cruises, such as the Nile or Yangtze River, is to sell the shore excursions as optionals. So, while the basic tour price includes the cabin and meals, the tours — the reason you are taking the cruise in the first place — are excluded from the price. These excluded shore excursions can add hundreds of dollars to the tour price, too. Be sure that the tours in your comparison group all have the same amount of included tours and shore excursions, and add the cost of these excursions where needed to get a realistic price comparison.

2. Call the company selling each tour and ask questions. How many people typically are included on a departure? If the group fails to reach the minimum number required for the tour to operate, when will the company advise those already booked, and what options does the tour company offer the travelers? If you find that the agents who man the phones are too busy to talk to you, look elsewhere. If you’re planning a tour, you’ll need to ask questions and service provided is the No. 1 value-added component. No service, no sale, is how you should view it.

3. Are you being charged extra for credit card payments? This is different from getting a reduction for cash payments or early bookings. Some companies advertise extra-low prices and then add fees for using a credit card. Your credit card payment provides a layer of protection to you as a consumer. You can decide later if you wish to take advantage of a cash discount if the agent is someone you know and trust, but if the advertised price requires you to pay by check or else pay a surcharge for your credit card payment, look elsewhere.

4. Ask for references. Any good company that operates ethically will have plenty of previous travelers who are willing to provide references and talk to (or e-mail) prospective passengers about the tours. If you are greeted with an incredulous "we don’t provide references" reply, look elsewhere. It’s your right to know that others who have worked with the company can attest to their service and the quality of their tours. And any company in business to sell travel should be delighted to share those references with potential future travelers. It’s actually part of the service you deserve to receive.

Special pricing alert for Mediterranean and Iberian Coasts cruises

As I mentioned already, we have some pretty special deals for travelers for our Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea and Iberian Coasts cruises, and I wanted to go into a little bit more detail on what those savings entail.

FP_kids.jpgOn both cruises, children up to age 18 (maximum two children per cabin) can share with two adults for free. The only additional costs are the already discounted airfare and airport taxes, as well as port fees. That’s the lowest price ever available for children on a Mediterranean cruise.

If you’re considering booking a family trip, call the Friendly Planet Travel office at 800-555-5765 or send an e-mail to mailto:questions@friendlyplanet.com with the departure date and ages of the children on the cruise of your choice to determine the exact price of child passengers.

We’ve also struck a deal for our single travelers, who often get slammed with hefty supplemental fees when cruising alone. We’ve negotiated discount rates for them, so the supplements will be lower than cruises usually charge.

And finally, the basic tour price includes a free upgrade to a superior inside cabin aboard the M/V Louis Majesty, rather than the usual standard inside cabin. Further upgrades to higher categories with windows and balconies are also highly discounted, if you choose to upgrade.

Hot new holiday tour: Cruise the Iberian Coasts!

If the idea of icy roads, frigid temperatures, and chapped lips doesn’t appeal to you for the holiday season, take heart. Along with our Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea cruise, we’re also christening an Iberian Coasts Cruise this upcoming holiday season!

FP_France.jpgOn the Iberian Coasts Cruise, travelers will visit fascinating ports of call in France, Gibraltar, Morocco, Spain, and Italy, while enjoying superior accommodations aboard the cruise ship M/V Louis Majesty.

Let’s get the nitty gritties out of the way first, shall we? The package includes roundtrip flights from New York, an eight-night Iberian Coast cruise, a two-night bonus stay in Rome, all meals aboard the cruise, and daily breakfast in Rome. Vacationers can explore the ports-of-call on their own, or take inexpensive optional shore excursions. For all of this? $1,399.

FP_Barcelona.jpgNow for some of the juicy details. After arriving in Genoa, Italy from New York, travelers board the M/V Louis Majesty and head for Marseilles, France. Vacationers can enjoy all the splendor of Marseilles by visiting independently its must-see sites, including the Old Port, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, Phare de Sainte Marie lighthouse, the Centre Bourse, and the adjacent rue St Ferreol district (the main shopping district in central Marseilles), just to name a few.

After a day at sea, the M/V Louis Majesty will then dock at the British colony, Gibraltar, and then continue on to Tangier, Morocco. Outside Tangier’s bustling port, vacationers can take in the city’s stunning environs: hills surrounding a broad bay with a long stretch of beach.

For travelers interested in learning more about Morocco’s diverse cultural heritage as the closest major African city to Europe, a visit to Tangier’s Museum of Moroccan Arts and Antiquities would be a fascinating stop. Another not-to-be-missed experience is a visit to the Grand Souk, where  bargaining skills are put to the test while shopping for treasures such as brass, leather, rugs, and silver.

The next morning, the ship docks at Casablanca, Morocco, the largest city and main port of Morocco. And a city that I have a feeling travelers might feel to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. ;)

After Casablanca, it’s back to the European side of things with Málaga, Spain. Málaga is one of the liveliest cities on the Costa del Sol, a 100-mile stretch of gorgeous Mediterranean coastline which boasts some of the best beaches in Spain.

FP_Barc2.jpgMálaga is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and home to the renowned Picasso Museum. There’s time to explore independently, as well as an array of optional shore excursions. But of course, travelers must be sure to sample some of Málaga’s sweet wine and tasty tapas.

The cruise continues along Spain’s coast with two more stops at ports of call at Alicante and Barcelona, before finally arriving back in Genoa on the tenth day of the journey. From there, vacationers will be treated to two more bonus nights in Rome at absolutely no cost to them.

The season’s first Iberian Coasts cruise takes place Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, and promises to be a culturally rich, historically fascinating, and scenically beautiful holiday trip. There are four other departure dates throughout 2010, running from February to December.

Christmas in September: Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea

It might be September, but it certainly feels like Christmas here at the Friendly Planet Travel office. That’s because I’m thrilled to announce the release of two new cruises: Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea and the Iberian Coasts Cruise. Not only are the prices on these trips incredible for the outstanding quality of travel, but they both have departure dates over the upcoming holiday season.

Want to do something with your family during the holidays that no one will ever forget? Leave the details to us. Today, I’m going to tell you all about the seven-day Mediterranean Highlights cruise for only $1,299 (and stay tuned for all the details on the Iberian Coasts Cruise).

How about spending Christmas Day exploring the ancient coastal town of Trapani, Sicily? Although most of the city has been modernized, much of Trapani’s architecture still reflects its medieval past and ancient heritage. Some of Trapani’s best preserved structures include the Annunciation Sanctuary, the Pepoli Museum, the Spedaletto Palace, and the Church of Saint Augustine. In additional to its rich history, Trapani’s westward position on the Sicilian coast affords some of the most spectacular views of the beautiful Mediterranean sunsets.

FP_Spain.jpgBut that’s just one day. Our Mediterranean Highlights cruise is a fantastic celebration of the cultural riches and natural beauty of the Western Mediterranean aboard the M/V Louis Majesty cruise ship, Louis Cruise Lines’ newest, completely refurbished addition.

Our journey is an exotic living mosaic, where every port recalls another magnificent era of castles and fortresses, ancient cultures, exotic art, and architectural treasures and grandeur. We’ll visit fascinating ports of call in Spain, France, Italy, Tunisia, and Malta while enjoying superior accommodations every night aboard our cruise ship.

Travelers are free to explore themselves throughout the day in destinations such as Marseilles, France; Sicily, Italy; and Port Mahon, Spain (to name a few). Or, take advantage of some of the inexpensive tours we’ll be providing.

This is one of those Friendly Planet Travel packages that not even everyone at Friendly Planet can believe. I’ve told you about how our good relationships with our suppliers often translate into savings for us, which we of course pass on to you! Well this is the perfect example of that practice at work.

The $1,299 price includes roundtrip flights from New York, a six-night Mediterranean cruise, all meals aboard the cruise, and group transfers. Not only have we been given very special rates for Friendly Planet travelers, but we’ve gotten a free one-level upgrade in our pricing from our cruise supplier. That means when a passenger pays the lowest price (for an inside cabin), they’re getting an upgrade to the next level of inside cabin for free. This same upgrade policy applies when booking the already heavily-discounted outside cabins. If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you know what a great deal this is!

FP_Italy.jpgAnd it’s affordable for the whole family. Children up to age 18 (maximum two children per cabin) can share with two adults for free. The only additional costs are the taxes on the cruise and their cost at the hotel in Rome.

We’ve also struck a deal for our single travelers, who often get slammed with hefty supplemental fees when cruising alone. We’ve negotiated discount rates for them, so the supplements will be lower than cruises usually charge. Stay tuned for more information about both the singles and children deals.

FP_Rome.jpgAnd finally, after the cruise docks at its final port-of-call in Genoa, we’ve included an optional, free two-night extension in Rome. The flight to Rome is, of course, also included, as well as all transfers. While in Rome, travelers will stay at the centrally located, 4-star Hotel Genova.

This year’s Mediterranean Highlights cruise takes place Dec. 19 to Dec. 28, with six additional departures throughout 2010. As I said, the perfect holiday trip for you and your family! And keep in mind that December in the southern Mediterranean is gloriously temperate; perfect for taking in the view from the ship’s deck, enjoying the full spa, and spending days touring.
 

A step through time: Classic Israel

Last week I told you about our customized tour options through the Holy Lands. Well, we also have a set tour through Classic Israel. On this nine-day vacation, travelers can see, touch, and experience the land of the Bible, as it was in ancient times, and as it is today.
This trip’s itinerary features all of the most important Biblical sites. And unlike many of our other vacation packages, there aren’t any optional tours on Classic Israel, because everything “must see” is already included in the program and part of our low price of $2,199.
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Every tour is escorted throughout by a certified Friendly Planet Travel teacher-guide who knows and loves the land and will make the Land of the Bible come alive. Every hotel has been selected for its location, comfort, and service. And every day of the program has been carefully designed to be sure that our vacationers’ experiences in Israel is the best.
The journey begins in Tel Aviv, and travels north along the Mediterranean Sea to Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea. There, travelers have a chance to explore the beautifully restored theater and extensive and ongoing excavations of the ruins of the ancient town, its harbor, and aqueduct.
Next is Megiddo, Biblical Armageddon. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Megiddo’s 20 major strata contain the remains of around 30 different cities and holds a central place in the biblical narrative. Continue to Mount Carmel, where Elijah defeated the priests of Ba’al then on to the Sea of Galilee.
The next morning, set sail through the Sea of Galilee aboard a wooden fishing boat built to represent vessels used during Bible times, and arrive at Capernaum, once a simple fishing village, where Jesus was often a guest of his disciple Peter. Here, vacationers can visit the ruins of the ancient synagogue and house of Peter, then continue to Tabgha, site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the Mount of Beatitudes, site of the Sermon on the Mount.
Travelers will drive south via the Jordan Valley to Beit She’an, an extraordinary excavation of an ancient Greco-Roman city. Located some 30 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee, Beit She’an was one of the major cities in the land of Israel, due primarily to its location at the intersection of the road to Jerusalem and the road to Transjordan. Next is Qumran and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.
Next, travelers can enjoy a cable car ride over the historic fortress of Masada. After a tour of the extensive excavations at Masada, continue to Ein Gedi, David’s waterfall and a pristine nature center.
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On to Jerusalem and everything the fascinating city entails, including the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, Mount Zion, the site of the Upper Room, the Kidron Valleyn and the Garden of Gethsemane. Within the walls of Old City lie the Via Dolorosa, the restored Jewish Quarter, the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Rabbinic Tunnels under the Wall, the Temple Site on Mount Moriah, and the Garden Tomb.
The final destination of the nine-day journey is the new city of Jerusalem, outside the walls of Old City. Here, travelers will find the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed, the Memorial to the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, and a model of the city during the Second Temple period.
If you’ve ever dreamed of understanding and experiencing more about the origins of faith — whether that be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim — this journey of Biblical discovery and spiritual renewal in Israel, Land of the Bible, will be an unforgettable adventure. For more information or to book now, please visit the Friendly Planet Travel Web site.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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