Spring brings tempting travel deals in Europe

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It’s been a long winter here in the North, but as spring approaches, those of us who love to travel start thinking about Europe. April in Paris, sun-kissed days on the Mediterranean Sea … there’s no place like it. Problem is, the  continent can be expensive — but not so much this year. In fact, travel experts say this could be the year of great travel deals in Europe.

There are exceptional bargains available for European travel this year, says Roberta Westwood, a travel agent with Expedia CruiseShipCenters in British Columbia. And while the reasons are unfortunate, we’re the beneficiaries, as travel companies cut prices far and wide.

Some tourists are cautious about going to Europe this year due to the refugee crisis and the terror attacks in Paris and Istanbul, Westwood says. “There are people who are freaked out by the turmoil. Even if you tell them you know someone who just came back from there and the security wasThe Stroget pedestrian mall, Copenhagen, Denmark excellent, they’re still nervous.”

As well, for Canadian travellers, the low-flying loonie has made foreign travel a pricier prospect.

The result is that cruise lines and tour companies are left with empty cabins and coach seats. In the case of cruise companies, the ships are ready to sail and mostly booked, so they don’t want to cancel the sailings. The only alternative is to trim prices and offer extras.

That’s created good values. Westwood says some real bargains have come across her desk. Here are a few examples (prices are the lowest available per person, based on double occupancy, and in Canadian dollars, making them an even better deal for Americans):

  • A 10-night Mediterranean cruise on the brand new Carnival Vista in May, from Barcelona to Piraeus (Athens), Greece, for $1,004 plus $162 taxes.
  • A seven-night Norwegian Fjords cruise, round-trip Copenhagen, on the Norwegian Star in May, for $768 plus $162 taxes.
  • A 14-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise from Athens to Venice in August on the Cunard Line’s classy Queen Victoria for $1,426 plus taxes – that’s about half the regular price.
  • A 12-night cruise from Venice to Barcelona on the Norwegian Spirit in May for $849: even with the $260 in fees and taxes, that’s still less than $100 a night.
  • A 12-night British Isles cruise on the Caribbean Princess in June for $1,618 plus $304 taxes.

As well as the lower prices, many of the cruise lines are offering onboard credits, free drinks packages and things like free wi-fi and pre-paid gratuities to sweeten the deal, depending on the cabin you book. And importantly for Canadians, who often find themselves facing the mighty U.S. dollar when booking a cruise, some lines —  Norwegian, for example — are taking Canadian dollars at par for selected cruises.

Some of the best deals are appearing on cruises that visit Turkey, where there has been unrest, says Westwood. In fact, some lines are substituting other ports rather than stopping in Istanbul. However, there are still lots of cruises going into the historic port.

There are also some good values in European river cruises, though the prices haven’t dropped as dramatically. But you can get a seven-night cruise Viking Odin mooredon AmaWaterways’ AmaCerto from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam this summer for $2,332 plus $226 taxes. That’s a good deal in river cruising, where your fare typically includes a daily excursion and beer and wine with most meals.

In general, river cruise lines opt to give out more perks, like two-for-one deals or free air fare, rather than slashing prices, says Westwood. Viking, for example, is offering risk-free booking with free cancellation, and free air fare in some cases. (The river cruise companies now also provide Canadian pricing, a boon for Canadian travellers.)

The good travel deals in Europe extend beyond cruising, as well. In a rare move, tour companies have cut prices at least moderately, even for tours going to the more peaceful parts of Europe. Trafalgar’s 15-day Wonders of Britain and Ireland tour is going for $3,698 per person rather than the usual $4,350. Its European Cavalcade, a 20-day jaunt through Holland, Germany, France and Italy, is now $3,252, down from $3,825.

And there’s something for us solo travellers, too. More companies are dropping or reducing their solo surcharges for travellers going it alone. For example, Insight Vacations has done away with the surcharge for its Turkey tours if you’re intrepid enough to take one, and reduced them by 40 to 75 percent on tours in Italy, Spain and Portugal. River cruise companies are using that as a perk to attract passengers, too, says Westwood.

“It used to be hard to find ‘no single supplement’ offers on a river cruise,” she says. “Now I can find one from almost every river cruise company.”

You can find a lot of these deals by scouting out the travel booking sites. But Westwood argues that it’s worthwhile using a travel agent right now, since they know where the biggest discounts and the best perks are. They can negotiate with the cruise and tour companies to get them, and also actcruise ship railing as your advocate if you have any problems.

As well, she says, companies like hers buy trips long beforehand, and she sometimes has cabins available at last year’s prices. (If you want to contact Roberta, you can do so here.)

Finally, if you do decide to visit Europe this summer and want a novel way to get there or back, there are some good deals available in transatlantic, or repositioning, cruises: those are the ones that bring the ships from the Americas to Europe in the spring, and back again in the fall for winter sailing in the Caribbean.

How about a 16-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Copenhagen on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas on April 29, for $835 plus $212 taxes and fees? And unlike the traditional repositioning cruises, where the only thing to look at is the sea, this one stops at several ports along the way, including Ponta Delgada, Portugal, Cobh, Ireland and Amsterdam.

For some, Europe may still be a no-go proposition this summer. But in most cases, the troubles that make the headlines have little or no effect on tourists, except for a little tighter security here and there. I’m going next month, with no misgivings.

“If you want to go to Europe, now is the time,” says Westwood. “It’s not busy, security is good and the prices are low.”

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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