For $100,000 -- or the price of five new cars -- a couple can marry during the millennium weekend at one of the District's ritzier hotels. And for $20,000 -- or what could be a down payment on a house -- a party of four can dine on a lobster dinner with century-old wines and aged cheeses.
As the end of the century approaches, and hotels and cruise lines use the millennial hype to hike up already pricey packages, area locations are also cashing in on the trend. From the lavish St. Regis Washington to Sam & Harry's steakhouse, local businesses are making the most of the biggest night of the year.
"It's really taken on a life of its own," said Mary Alice Kellogg, executive editor of Delta Air Lines' Shuttle Sheet magazine. "If there's an event to hype up, this is certainly it, but what I question is whether these extravagant packages are being bought by people."
According to Rich Casale, area managing director of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.: "Not yet."
But, Casale said, the sense is that "people will want to come together with their friends more this year than any year before and they'll want to spend it at a special place." Like St. Regis Washington, one of Starwood's properties, where up to 12 people can ring in the new millennium for $110,000. Or a 21-day African safari by private jet, which is $34,800 per person and organized by St. Louis-based operator Intrav.
"A lot of people see the prices and say, `That's hysterical. Charge what you want and see who shows up,' " Kellogg said. "And I think we'll see a lot of places backpedal a bit because people are not wanting to snag the deals. The prices will come down, and people will get a better deal if they hold off."
But for one local resident, New Year's plans are already sealed. Andy Makowka, a Fairfax consultant, will spend the millennium weekend at the Hay-Adams, a local hotel, with his wife and another couple. For $3,000, the group will drink hundred-year-old wines and dine at a caviar breakfast buffet.
Makowka said he and his wife sifted through numerous packages, hoping to find the right one. He admitted that $3,000 per couple is pricey, but it is affordable for him.
"We usually do something small, like go to a small restaurant," he said. "But we're looking for something special, a way to bring the new year in and have a great time."
So far Sam & Harry's has three confirmed reservations, which means 12 people will dine at its $19,999.99 lobster dinner. Those three meals alone will bring in about 35 percent more revenue than is typically brought in on a night in high season, said Bill Wernick, vice president of the restaurant. But "we won't be making much off of it because of all the money we spent on the wine," which is "some very expensive wine," he said.
That people will spend that much for a dinner doesn't surprise some analysts. "It comes down to the fact that people don't want to be left out," said Dante Bellini, vice president of the RDW Group, an advertising agency in Rhode Island. "It's an amazing phenomenon to see just how much people will spend."
A hook in the costly packages is the old, expensive wines each of the hotels and restaurants boast of. But Barbara Seager, a wine-broker consultant in the heart of Sonoma Valley in California, said that just because a wine is old does not mean it is good.
"Expensive, yes, but you could just as soon drink a really good $30 bottle," she said.
Bottles of wine from the last century can sell for at least $1,000 for a less-known brand, Seager said, adding that the price for fine red wines has topped $40,000 a bottle. At Sam & Harry's, such wines to be offered include a 1900 Chateau d'Yquem, which is considered to be the most costly wine in the world to produce, an Armagnac Castarede and a Martell Cognac, both also of 1900 vintage. But for the less indulgent, the restaurant is also offering wine by the glass, rather than the bottle, for up to $200. One bottle typically serves seven to 10 glasses.
Bellini said the marketing hype stems not so much from the hotels as from the consumers.
"It's completely consumer-driven," he said. "The hotels respond to what the people want, and if they can figure out what they want they'll give it to them."
Casale said the packages at the three Starwood-owned D.C. properties were made available after a possible audience was targeted.
"We just saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we think that, like everything else, it just makes sense to address those that might be out there," he said.
"People really feed into the hype because it's a big deal to them," Bellini said. "I think they think that the worst thing that can happen is that they won't be involved in the special night. And that makes it all worthwhile to them."
But Kellogg said she thinks more people will spend New Year's Eve at home. "There is still one thing that will prevail for most people," she said. "And that's common sense. What people can save by just staying in, they can spend on like five vacations in the new year."
Going Out, and Going All Out
Here's what you'll get with these millennium celebration packages, available locally:
A $110,000 package for 12 people at the St. Regis Washington (one block from the White House) includes:
Round-trip air fare on a private jet from anywhere in the United States
One suite and five rooms with 24-hour maitre d'etage service for three nights
Three chauffeur-driven limousines for four days
A seven-course dinner on New Year's Eve
A champagne breakfast on Jan. 1
Box seats for the National Symphony Orchestra's Millennium Concert at the Kennedy Center New Year's Eve
A spa treatment or in-room massage
A private trolley tour of Washington, D.C.
A $100,000 wedding at the Westin Fairfax (on Embassy Row) includes:
Three suites and 10 rooms for three nights
A designer bridal gown that the bride can keep
A bridesmaid's luncheon for 25 guests
Rehearsal dinner for 60 guests
Chauffeur-driven limousine for the weekend
Spa packages for 20 people
Candlelight wedding for 100 guests with live music and a reception (all in the ballroom)
Round-trip air fare and hotel accommodations for the bride and groom to their honeymoon destination in either St. John, Maui or San Francisco.
A $19,999.99 dinner package for four at Sam & Harry's, 1200 19th St. NW, includes:
Century-old wine, including a Chateau d'Yquem, an Armagnac Castarede and a Martell Cognac, all from the 1900 vintage
Hors d'oeuvres including Beluga caviar, Scottish smoked salmon and scallops
Cheeses and desserts
For the less indulgent, the restaurant is offering $150 and $200 glasses of wine with its regular dinner menu.
A $3,000 package for two at the Hay-Adams Hotel (across from the White House) includes:
Two nights in a deluxe room
Afternoon of cocktails and tea
Five-course dinner at Lafayette Restaurant
A view from the hotel's terrace to watch the fireworks
A 2 a.m. caviar breakfast buffet
Limousine service to all local New Year's events
NOTE: Other items or services may be included in some packages.