With only 96 days left until the night we ring in 2000, it's time to make a commitment. If, like many people, you're going to stay home, go ahead and make your plans to burrow in, hunker down or amuse yourself at a local celebration. But if you want to be someplace special for the Big Night, it's time to quit talking, pull out your credit card and make your travel plans.
It's true that some of the finest perches for watching the dawn of 2000 are already spoken for. At the Marriott Marquis, smack in the middle of Times Square, the last room for the big weekend was snatched up several years back. The Ritz-Carlton resorts in the sun-splashed vacation areas of Cancun and San Juan, Puerto Rico, have also long since sold out. But there are still plenty of choices available--and some are quite affordable. Continental Airlines can get you to London the day after Christmas and back after New Year's for $501 (1-800-231-0856 or try www.travelocity.com). In Miami's South Beach, the oceanside Cavalier (305-604-5000) has rooms for about $175 a night (if you book the entire holiday week). Inside cabins on the Norwegian Majesty for an 11-day cruise from Acapulco to Guatemala, Costa Rica and Aruba are going for $1,499 per person (Norwegian Cruise Line, 800-327-7030).
Many of the over-the-top millennium packages that tour operators have been pushing have turned out to be a bust. Even in Dallas, where materialism has long been elevated to an art form, the $211,111 millennium wedding gala crafted by the Hotel Crescent Court has attracted no takers. "Lots of people have inquired about some of these packages, but they shy away when they hear the inflated price," said Allen Walden, an agent with Gay Travel Plus, a Baltimore travel agency.
While finding a low price may be hard, simply snagging a place should be a cinch. One intriguing option for spiritually inclined celebrants--which still has a couple of hundred places open --is a six-day celebration organized by Inner Voyages on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The activities, centered on the ancient gathering place of Hawaiian royalty, range from workshops with Hawaiian elders and healers, a flora-and-fauna jungle trek and the inevitable New Year's Eve dinner party. Rates start at $1,639 per person, including all meals and outings but not air fare (Avalon Travel, 1-888-552-7375).
For those who fancy entering the new year in one of the trendiest of destinations, San Francisco-based Global Exchange, an educational tour group, has space on its nine-day trip to Havana and other locales in Cuba. The cost, including air fare from Mexico City, is $2,000 per person (415-255-7296, www.globalexchange .org).
The Internet is a useful resource for tenth-hour turn-of-the-century planning. Arthur Frommer, the self-styled budget travel guru, has set up a special Web page (www.frommers.com/millennium) listing end-of-year vacation tips and deals. It includes a chat line for the public to share woes and advice. Another site, www.vacationspot.com, also has a millennium page with advice on resorts, packages, family-oriented holidays and housing swap. The big three online travel agencies--Expedia, Preview Travel and Travelocity--all have New Year's areas bulging with live offerings.
Obviously, with all the fuss concentrated on the days surrounding New Year's, the best deals are popping up in the shoulder weeks before and after the big holiday. The cheapest rate I could find for air travel from Washington to San Juan at the turn of the year was $847 on American Airlines. One month earlier, the same trip on the same carrier is going for half that cost. At Bellagio, the splashy resort in Las Vegas, rooms in early December are listed at $179 a night--compared with the $6,000 three-night millennium package it's pushing. On Celebrity Cruises, a week-long trip through the Caribbean during New Year's costs $3,055 per person. The Dec. 19 sailing of the same ship is $935 per person.
Here are a few examples of millennium options available as we went to press:
New York City
Yes, you can still be in New York's Times Square for Y2K--but you'll pay. Estimated costs for a four-day celebration are $1,850, including hotel and transportation (but not meals or champagne). Amtrak is taking reservations on the Metroliner for New Year's at the rate of $230 round trip from Washington. The average rate for hotel rooms in Manhattan is $400 a night, according to hotel agents in the city.
A sampling of New York hotels still available, with New Year's rates:
* Ameritania, 54th and Broadway: $425 per night (212-247-5000).
* Cosmopolitan, downtown at West Broadway and Chambers: $295 (212-566-1900).
* Edison, 47th and Broadway: $425 (212-840-5000).
* Time Hotel, 49th and Broadway: $450 (212-246-5252).
Restrictions apply. Many hotels are taking only cash payments and requiring four-night stays. Hotel Reservation Services (1-800-522-9991) and Central Reservation Services (1-800-548-3311), both recommended by the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, are keeping tabs on rooms available.
Those who plan on a dinner out in New York City on New Year's Eve--or any of the surrounding nights--should book now. Lots of nice Manhattan restaurants still have some places open. To find out the best of the dining and entertainment events still available, you can get a newsletter that keeps track of who has openings and who doesn't. For a subscription, send $20 to NYCVB, 810 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019.
For high rollers, the all-night soiree at the Jacob K. Javits Center, featuring entertainment by Sting and Aretha Franklin, dinner and a front-row seat for the fireworks along the Hudson River, are going for $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000. Reservations: 877-332-3119, www.celebration 2000.com. The NYCVB (212-397-8200, www.nycvisit.com) keeps a list of other millennium happenings.
Even at inflated prices, cruises are turning out to be popular millennium options. But some berths are available in just about every category and on many liners, according to Patty Perry, owner of Cruise Holidays of Rockville (301-217-9474). A Royal Caribbean sailing from Baltimore through the western Caribbean has inside cabins at $2,284 per person. A comparable option on Holland America costs more than $3,000. On its Web site, Travelocity is offering a number of options on Carnival, starting with an 11- day jaunt from San Juan and through the Caribbean for $2,499 a person. "The openings are narrowing for a millennium cruise," Perry said. "If you don't book in the next few weeks, it will probably be hard to find a place."
For careful shoppers, a few good cruise options beckon. A seven-night trip on Premier's Seabreeze, departing Dec. 26 from Fort Lauderdale, Cozumel, Honduras, Belize and Key West, is listed at $999, not including air fare. That trip and similar deals are available through White Travel (860-233-2648).
For those in search of a quiet nearby getaway, the 14-room Bailiwick Inn in Fairfax has put together a mellow celebration. The elegantly appointed bed-and-breakfast is offering a two-night millennium gala, including a room for two, a gourmet New Year's Eve dinner and a champagne New Year's brunch. For two, the rate starts at $650 (1-800-366-7666).
Other B&Bs are hosting similar arrangements. The Village Green Inn (1-800-237-1119) in Falmouth, Mass., a popular Cape Cod town, is featuring a three-night weekend, with breakfasts, New Year's Eve dinner and a blow-out party for $450 per person.
The Honeysuckle Inn (1-800-441-8418), a five-room B&B in West Barnstable, also on Cape Cod, has a three-night package at $600 per room. Dinner is not included in the deal, but several local restaurants will be hosting celebrations.
For other B&B millennium deals, check out www.bandbchannel.com on the Internet.
Several special-interest tours still have some spots open:
* Elderhostel's end-of-year arrangements, taking place all over the United States, are a good bet for senior citizens. They include a New Year's Eve gathering, lodging and several excursions, but not air fare. Many are sold out, but here are three places with availability: St. Simons Island, Ga. ($400); near Providence, R.I. ($441); and San Francisco ($480). It's possible to book additional nights for an extra fee. For details and reservations, call 877-426-8056.
* Agents at Golf Travel Online say there's limited space available on its Hawaii golf packages. They include a 10-night minimum stay in a hotel on the island of Maui and a round of golf a day. Air fare and meals are not included. Rates start at $213 per night per person. Details: 1-888-486-4653, www.gto.com.
* One of the hottest millennium tickets for gay travelers is to the Pacific island of Fiji, according to Allen Walden of Gay Travel Plus (877-845-1660). An all-inclusive, week-long Fiji vacation organized by California-based Above and Beyond Travel is "our biggest seller," he said. A good mix of men and women have signed up, Walden added, but places remain available at $3,000 per person, including air fare from Los Angeles.
Above and Beyond Travel is advertising a wide range of other packages tailored for gay men and lesbians, including four days in London for $820, not including air. Reservations can also be made through Gay Travel Plus.
Gays who want to stay a bit closer to home can try the celebration at the Brass Key, one of the leading gay resorts with locations in Key West and Provincetown, Mass. The package, which includes a champagne cocktail party on New Year's Eve and brunch the next day, costs from $1,625 to $3,275 for a five-night stay. Details: 1-800-842-9858, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If no other venue seems quite right for ushering in the new era, my own foolproof recommendation is Paris. A city whose glittering lights and joyous ambiance make just about any Tuesday feel like a holiday, the French capital would be hard to beat for celebrating this special occasion.
At last check, United Airlines was offering round-trip tickets from Dulles to Charles de Gaulle for $668. And rooms at the centrally located Citadines Apartment hotel, a modern facility with kitchenettes, are going for $210 a night (telephone 011-331-410-57997).
Once you're on the ground, finding a party in Paris shouldn't be hard. Dinner reservations are highly recommended, though. The city's tourism office (www.paris-touristoffice.com) has a list of several dozen celebrations taking place, from a light show atop the Eiffel Tower to a parade along the grand Champs-Elysees.