Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - New Year’s Eve is a day away, and given that people are booking leisure travel closer to the last minute than ever before in human history, I’m guessing there are at least a few of you out there who have not made plans yet.
Don’t wait much longer.
Some folks will choose to ring in the New Year as the ball drops in Times Square, others have packed up the family for a winter escape to the Caribbean – where prices are inflated just for this week – while at sold-out major ski resorts across the country it is the busiest week of the year. But the good news is that if you are a procrastinator, there are still plenty of great choices.
I asked my friend Alison Buckneberg of Delta Vacations what the best spots with availability for last-minute New Year’s trips were, and in many cases they are not just available, they are also bargains.
As an expert traveler who has been planning trips around the world for as long as I can remember, I used to pooh-pooh the package vacation. Not anymore. Despite the ease of internet transparency and comparison shopping, I’ve done a lot of analysis in the past couple of years and package vacations often beat anything you can put together yourself, especially packages from the airlines themselves, which have the advantage of below market seats and also purchase discounted hotel rooms in huge blocks.
Just last week, a friend called me looking for advice. She was trying to book a February family vacation to a popular all-inclusive resort in Mexico’s Yucatan, the Iberostar. She had tried all the travel sites (Expedia, Kayak, etc.), Jet Blue, the resort’s own site, everything she could think of. I told her to check the site for Delta Vacations, and she called back and told me, "I can’t believe how much cheaper the same trip was." She booked it that day.
This is not just true for budget travelers – first and business class flyers opting for 5-star hotels still usually save through the likes of Delta Vacations, United Vacations, etc. Plus, for last minute trips like New Year's, what could be easier than pushing one button for air, hotels and transfers instead of trying to line them up individually? And for mileage junkies like me, you not only get your full frequent flier credits, you usually get bonuses and miles for the non-air portion as well. Since airline vacation companies pre-block rooms, they often have them even in otherwise sold-out destinations.
In 2010 when I went to cover the vastly oversubscribed 200th anniversary edition of Oktoberfest and flights were scarce and I could not get a room within a hundred miles of Munich, I simply used Delta Vacations, who still had timely flights and blocked off rooms in key downtown hotels.
More good news for travelers: while the federal government has set a deadline of January 24, 2012 for airlines to meet new stricter standards for showing actual ticket prices including all surcharges and fees, Delta Vacations was the first entity among US carriers to actually do it (the only other carrier I know of who has done it is Lufthansa), in place right now with "No Surprise Pricing."
These are Buckneberg’s picks for the best party spots for the New Year that are available today.
Mexico: "With all of the chilly weather, who wouldn’t want to ring in the New Year on a warm, sunny beach?" Buckneberg asks rhetorically. "My top pick is Mexico. There are festivities in the streets with firecrackers, fireworks, and sparklers. At midnight everyone shouts ‘Feliz año nuevo!’ It’s fun to participate in the local traditions and superstitions, such as eating twelve grapes as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st – and you get a dozen wishes for 2012 as you eat each grape."
I’m a huge fan of Mexico, and the popular beach spots in Mexico, namely the Riviera Maya on the east coast and Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos on the west are easier to get to and less affected by weather than most spots in the Caribbean, and they are full of great hotels. Example of packages now available: depart on December 30th, with air and 4-nights at the Krystal Resorts in Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, including all taxes, fees, and even fuel surcharges from $961 per person.
Hong Kong: Asia’s answer to New York, this hustling bustling city grows even more charming during the holidays when they have many celebrations and fancy parties throughout the city. "Last year, venues lured in guests with party themes ranging from 1920’s Paris to Andy Warhol.
On the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbour, a $1 million (USD) fireworks display will help ring in the New Year. Buildings along the waterfront will light up and fireworks will resemble a dragon dancing along the skyline." Delta has an "Exotic Destinations" New Year’s sale, priced for arrivals into Hong Kong on December 30th that runs $2,075 for air and 5-nights at Marriott Hong Kong Sky City.
Las Vegas: Vegas is already an extremely popular spot for midnight revelers, world famous for its New Year’s Eve parties and over the top celebrations. "But this year, the Venetian and the Palazzo Las Vegas are encouraging people to see another side of the holiday season. They have put together a spectacular, 50-day Winter in Venice celebration, complete with a first-of-its-kind ice skating rink atop the famed outdoor gondolas, larger-than-life snowflakes, and a signature 65-foot LED holiday tree centerpiece.
Festivities kick-off with an inaugural tree lighting ceremony, and guests will enjoy warm apple cider while being entertained by strolling candy cane stilt walkers, Santa, puppets, jugglers, magicians, and more. Winter in Venice packages bookings all come with family-friendly extras like skate rentals, free hot chocolate at Café Presse, $40 off facials or massages at Canyon Ranch, and discounts on shopping at food within the resorts. There are many additional bonus inclusions for those booking the pricier Prestige Suite at Palazzo packages. Air and three nights at either property begin at just $327 per person.
Disney World, FL: Even though the last day of the year is also the year’s busiest in the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney still has availability. "The parks stay open late and in addition to the regular nightly fireworks, they have a special New Year’s Eve show at midnight."
Long the official Airline of Disney World, Delta offers a slew of deals of every taste and budget, but is currently offering a 35% discount on all its packages here, which include air, hotel, transportation, and a choice of "Magic Your Way" park tickets!New Year's Eve celebrations in Puerto Vallarta are as diverse & exciting as the population of this magnificent & vibrant city. Fireworks exploding all over Banderas Bay provide an excellent backdrop for the festivities, and wherever you turn, the city is one huge party. Click HERE to learn more.