Feeling like a New Year's loser? Here's a rundown of last-minute millennium deals and packages that were still available as we went to press late Thursday.
Some New York hotels that claimed to be booked solid for years suddenly have rooms available, making a last-minute millennium trip cheaper than it would have been a month ago. Many hotels have cut their minimum stay to two nights. A reasonably priced bet for lodging: On the Ave (212-362-1100), a bright new hotel on the Upper West Side with a two-night minimum; doubles are $219 a night when booked through Quikbook (1-800-789-9887, www.quikbook.com). Celebrate at the Jazz Standard (212-447-7733), a hip music joint offering a New Year's Eve soiree including dinner and a concert featuring pianist Tommy Flanagan for $295 a person. It would be hard to justify a New Year's visit to New York without at least attempting to squeeze into Times Square, but plan to arrive early in the evening to get a view of the legendary dropping ball.
For other New York lodging possibilities, try a hotel discounter such as Hotel Reservations Network (1-800-96HOTEL, www.hoteldiscounts.com), a k a HRN, or Quikbook. As of Thursday, Quikbook had New Year's Eve rooms at 24 hotels, starting at $219 a night. For a list of restaurants and other establishments holding parties, contact the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau, 212-397-8200, www.nycvisit.com.
It's about a 4 1/2-hour drive to New York City. At press time, seats were still available on Amtrak, but reservations are recommended (202-484-7540, www.amtrak.com). The fare from Union Station starts at $145 per person, round trip.
A serendipitous foray to London is still possible. As we went to press, British Airways had seats available on its Dec. 30 flight from Dulles for $467 round trip. For lodging, the Mountbatten, a centrally located member of the Radisson chain, still has rooms available; a double room is going for $189 a night for every day except Dec. 31, when it goes up to $329 (1-800-333-3333).
Every restaurant in town is throwing a party, but to avoid the exorbitant champage prices most are charging, stop in at a local pub for dinner and a pint or two. A spectacular fireworks display is planned for midnight on New Year's Eve along the Thames. Find a spot on the bank (somewhere near Waterloo Station, for instance) for a good view. The much-debated Millennium Dome, the new architectural monument in the suburb of Greenwich, opens Dec. 31, but this is one case where procrastination doesn't pay off: At press time, the earliest vacancies to tour it were on Jan. 5. Tickets, which cost $33 a person, must be reserved in advance (011-44-870-606-2000, www.dome2000.co.uk).
For other London accommodation possibilities, try HRN at 1-800-96HOTEL. As of Thursday, it had rooms available at four good hotels, starting at $145 a night. For a thorough rundown of availability at London parties and shows, visit www.londontown.com/millennium or call the British Tourist Authority at 1-800-462-2748.
If it's fin de siecle poignance you want, it's hardly possible to beat Paris. You can fly there on Dec. 29 on Air France from Dulles for a week for $515 round trip.
Finding a hotel room will be much harder, but it can be done. As we went to press, HRN had a few rooms available at the Cayre St. Germain hotel, near the Eiffel Tower. It requires a minimum stay of five nights and charges $170 for three nights and $140 for the two others. Utell International (1-800-44UTELL), a booking agent, also has rooms in several Paris locations. The starting rate is $400 a night and minimum stays are required, according to an agent. The Paris tourism office (telephone 011-338-36-68-31-12 or 212-838-7800) keeps close tabs on which hotels have rooms and is worth checking.
For a rundown of celebrations in the City of Light: 410-286-8310, www.paris.org.
No lack of choices here:
* Volendam, Holland America's newest ship, has availability in nearly every category, including popular veranda cabins. Its millennium sailing departs Dec. 29 from Fort Lauderdale and returns there on Jan. 5. Ports include Grand Cayman, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel and Key West. Fares, based on two people sharing a cabin, include air fare from Dulles and range from $5,042.50 (per person) for a veranda to $3,470 for an outside stateroom. Call Anne Scully at McCabe-Bremer (703-762-5040) or a travel agent.
* Six months ago, Carnival claimed its shorter-than-seven-day New Year's Eve cruises were the millennium's hottest commodity. But suddenly it has lowered prices on the Imagination's five-night cruise. The voyage, departing from Miami Dec. 28 and returning Jan. 2, calls at Key West and Calica/Cancun. Inside cabins that were priced at $2,500 (per person, double) have been slashed to $919. Keep in mind that the cruise begins and ends on some of the dates most difficult to book flights.
Carnival's Paradise, heralded for its strict non-smoking policy, is offering a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise that departs Miami Dec. 26. Ports include San Juan, Virgin Gorda, Tortola and St. Thomas/St. John. The price has been reduced from $3,235 (per person, double) to $1,239 for an inside cabin. Air fare is not included. For details on both cruises, contact Cruises Only (1-800-777-0707) or your travel agent.
* Voyager of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's new 146,000-ton behemoth--the only ship with its own rock-climbing wall and ice- and in-line skating rinks--is offering inside cabins for its seven-night western Caribbean voyage. Cost is $3,304 (per person, double) for an inside cabin. Air fare is not included. The ship, departing Dec. 26 from Miami and returning Jan. 2, stops in the ports of Labadee, Ocho Rios and Nassau. RCL's Sovereign of the Seas departs Dec. 27 for a seven-night swing through the Bahamas; the cost is $1,404 (per person, double) for an inside cabin. Call Belair/Empress Travel & Cruises (1-800-638-0827) or a travel agent for both.
* Windstar's Windsurf, cruising's only upscale line of (electrically) sail-powered ships, has space on its 12-day Caribbean trip, departing from Barbados on Dec. 29 and returning there on Jan. 11. Ports include Tobago, Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, Venezuela and Grenada; the cost is $6,680 per person, double, for outside cabins. Air fare is available through BWIA (if ticketed by Dec. 22); nonstop from Dulles, the fare is $641.45. Call Anne Scully at McCabe-Bremer, 703-762-5040.
Still fantasizing about an indulgent spa getaway for the millennium? It can be done. We found four regional resorts with New Year's Eve availability, all within a few hours' drive of Washington, but there's a catch. Actually, two: In most cases, you have to sign up for a multiday package--no one-night stands available, except at Coolfont (see below). And even though you can get a room, you won't necessarily get a massage to go with it; at some resorts, spa appointments have been booked for weeks. But don't sweat it too much--half the fun of going to these places is soaking up all the cushy non-spa amenities.
At the Greenbrier, the tony five-star resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. (about a five-hour drive from D.C.), there were about 20 rooms available for the three-night, four-day millennium package when we went to press Thursday night. Rates start at $3,500 per room for the Dec. 30-Jan. 2 event, which includes three gourmet meals daily per person, lots of speakers and entertainment, movies, tours and such outdoor activities as golf, horseback-riding and skeet shooting. On the eve itself, there'll be free-flowing champagne, dancing to live bands (including the Drifters), fireworks and balloon drops. Kids and teens get separate parties. Alas, the spa is booked, but there's a waiting list. Details: 1-800-624-6070, www.greenbrier.com.
Another West Virginia resort, Coolfont, does have plenty of openings in its spa, plus you can stay for only one night--and it's close enough to Washington (about a two-hour drive) that this is doable. As of Thursday, four lodge rooms and one Alpine chalet were still available over New Year's. Massages, facials, mud wraps and the like can be had at varying prices (a hour's massage runs about $65). Lodging starts at $195 per person per night for a lodge room, $235 per night for the chalet. A special New Year's Eve dinner is $75 per person; there'll be dancing, live music, a deejay, noisemaking and a champagne toast at midnight, plus a separate party for kids. If New Year's Eve glitz puts you off, note that the atmosphere at Coolfont is down-home rustic. On New Year's Eve, says marketing director Jodie English, "you'll see everything from blue jeans to glitter." Details: 1-800-888-8768 or 304-258-4500, www.coolfont.com.
Those even more firmly in the anti-glitz camp can check out Yogaville, an alcohol-free "spiritual retreat" in Buckingham, Va. (about an hour from Charlottesville), which offers a two- or four-day millennium program. Most private rooms are sold out, although men's and women's dormitory space is still available, says reservations manager Prakash Capen. "They're very pleasant, but they're dorms. It's like sharing a college room with a few people." But there's a waiting list for private rooms, and cancellations are expected. The four-night program includes a silent retreat Dec. 29 and 30; the somewhat more festive two-night program runs Dec. 31-Jan. 2 and includes classes and workshops in yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques, and a special vegetarian dinner on New Year's Eve. "We'll do some special chants and prayers for world peace," Capen says, "and then right before midnight we'll go into the main shrine and have a silent meditation and later, some refreshments." Dorm rates start at $495 per person for the four-night program, $350 for two nights, and include meals. Details: 1-800-858-9642, www.yogaville.org.
Closer to home, the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg still has plenty of space available in its two-night millennium package, Dec. 31-Jan. 2. Festivities include a cruise-themed New Year's Eve party with ballroom dancing to live music and champagne, gourmet meals, fitness classes, a casino, variety show, comedy show and more. Bonus: All attendees are eligible to win a seven-day cruise that will be raffled off. Cost is $1,299 per couple, double occupancy, and covers meals and activities. Spa services are available at varying prices for those staying at the resort (but book early); an hour's massage runs about $75. Kids up to age 20 (!) stay and eat free as part of the Resorts Rascals program. Details: 703-729-8400 or 1-800-541-4801, www.lansdowneresort.com.
Plan on spending big bucks just getting to the glittery gambling oasis. If you're lucky, you may nab one of the few $450 round-trip tickets we found on several airlines. Otherwise, the best we could do was $643.50 on Southwest out of BWI (departing Dec. 29 and returning Jan. 2), via Nashville, and seats were at a premium. Air fare aside, you shouldn't have a problem finding a room, though the tab for New Year's Eve is likely to dwarf the other nights.
Though many of the Motel 6s and Super 8s have long been sold out, we found rooms at all the mega-resorts, with many relaxing the minimum-stay requirement. We liked the deal at centrally located Bally's (1-888-742-9248, www.ballyslv.com), where the total tariff for four nights starting Dec. 29 is about $575 double, including tax, with the big night alone costing $282. That compares quite favorably to the rates being charged by its neighbors along the Strip, including the Flamingo Hilton (1-888-308-8899, www.lv-flamingo.com), which quoted $839.10 for the four nights, with New Year's Eve clocking in at $539. If you want a taste of the new, four nights at the just-opened Paris Las Vegas (1-888-727-4758, www.paris-lv.com) are going for $700.
The tidy, well-groomed Budget Suites of America (3684 Paradise Rd., 1-888-915-5656, www.budgetsuites.com) is off the Strip, but its rooms include a separate sitting area and a full kitchen. The quoted rate of $719 is not cheap, but you can cook your own meals if you feel so inclined.
For more information on Las Vegas: 702-892-7575, www.lasvegas24hours.com.
As expected, many rental-property owners have come to their senses and are now offering partial-week rentals at off-season rates for the millennium, according to the Dare County Tourist Bureau. Hotels were at 50 percent capacity at press time, with a large number of houses--many of them oceanfront--still up for grabs. Depending on the size of the home required, a partial week (three or four nights) at an off-season rate should set you back about $200 to $600. The tourism bureau is expecting less congested roads and smaller crowds at Y2K events, including fireworks in several municipalities.
At last count, about 30 restaurants plan to stay open for revelers, and most other services (grocery stores, gas stations) should be available. For a list of events, hotels and realty companies, contact the bureau at 1-800-446-6262, www.outerbanks.org.
By calling Disney World's main reservation number (1-800-828-0228) early last week, we could have booked a four-night package for a family of four for $1,681, including room and tax at the Port Orleans resort, park admissions and trip insurance. Not bad, except that when we called back an hour later, nothing was available. A helpful reservationist suggested we keep trying, as a few spots are opening daily. This is somewhat problematic, as only guests staying in Disney hotels or partner properties will be guaranteed admission into the Disney parks on the big night--and huge crowds are expected. So, the earlier you get to the parks, the better.
To find a room on your own, head to the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site (www.go2orlando.com); click on "Where to Stay," then "Rooms for the Millennium." A map divides the city into sections; by clicking on the area you desire, you have access to a list of hotels, availability and the rates being charged. Though many hotels haven't updated their listings for weeks, phone numbers and Web links are provided for most. Using the site, we found rooms in several dozen hotels. For example, a room for four nights (Dec. 30-Jan. 2) at the Radisson Inn Lake Buena Vista (407-239-8400), a 10-minute drive from Disney World, will cost $728, including tax. At the less-flashy Days Inn Maingate West (1-800-327-9173), just outside the park, the same four nights will cost $423.
Our advice: Forget staying in Disney World and opt for an off-campus hotel. Just be ready to shift your New Year's Eve plans if the parks fill up. Other attractions, including Universal Studios and Sea World, will be ringing in Y2K, and the city's official celebration will be at downtown's Lake Eola. For information, use the visitors bureau Web site or call 407-363-5872.
Getting a good air fare at this late date may be a problem; planes are packed for the millennium weekend, and many post-New-Year's flights are sold out as parents rush to get the kids back to school. Still, late Thursday we were finding round-trip fares as low as $267 (US Airways out of Reagan National). You could (gulp) drive, thus eliminating the need to rent a car. Expect to spend about 17 hours behind the wheel.
If big cities and turn-of-the-millennium air and train travel are a turn-off, it's not too late to consider having your big time in a smaller city. You can get to Norfolk in about four hours via Y2K-compatible I-95 and I-64, and the city has planned a series of all-day, neighborhood-centered celebrations that culminate with the city's largest-ever fireworks display and street party at Town Point Park. There's a Y2K Bug costume contest and a "Regrets Bonfire," wherein personal regrets collected throughout the day go up in smoke at 10 p.m. (757-441-2345 or www.festeventsva.org for details). Few hotels in town have space, but at press time, Marriott's Fairfield Inns in both Hampton and Virginia Beach (1-800-228-9290) each had more than a few $65-a-night doubles, with no minimum stay. Half an hour from Norfolk, the imposing but friendly Founders Inn in Virginia Beach (1-800-926-4466) has either standard rooms starting at $125, or (if you'd rather spend your First Night indoors) a $299-per-couple New Year's Package that includes room, dinner, dancing, champagne and a breakfast buffet at the hotel.
Four hours the other way, in Atlantic City--where you can safely assume that most computerized devices have been immunized to the Y2K bug--the Trump Marina (1-800-777-8477, www.trump.com) is still offering a two-night couples package for $3,364 that includes room, robes and slippers you can take home, a bottle of champagne, a dinner dance at the Harborview and a Jan. 1 brunch. (Or you can choose from five other shows at the hotel for an extra $150 to $200).
Or a low-key Mountain State getaway might be enough. In Elkins, W.Va., about five slow-speed hours from the Beltway, the rooms and cabins at the Cheat River Lodge are booked, but you can join the lodge's public party at the Cheat River Inn restaurant next door (304-636-6265). The $100-per-couple ticket (includes tips but not drinks) gets you a four-course gourmet dinner and all-night appetizers, a show by comedian/guitarist Jim Truman, and champagne in an etched flute you can take home. And home, for the night, would be at the Elkins Days Inn (304-637-4667) and, in Year 2000 dollars, would set you back another $58 plus tax.
Though most of its Colonial-era inn and B&B rooms are booked, Colonial Williamsburg presents a still-easy opportunity to those looking to see in the next thousand years by going back about 250. Its First Night ($8 now, $12 on Dec. 31, 757-258-5153) features 53 musical and other performances at 18 indoor locations in the restored Colonial village from 6 p.m. to the fireworks at midnight. No-frills, decidedly 20th-century rooms are still fairly open via the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association at 1-800-999-4485. (Example: Days Inn Downtown, about a mile from the pedestrian-only town, $79 double.)
Yes, you can still find some New Year's deals on the Internet. Two places to start:
* Click on www.11thhourvacations.com/hotdeals.htm to find, at least for this New Year's Eve, a handful of modestly priced getaways. Among them include a three-night hotel package at the Hotel Riviera in Las Vegas for $195 per person, double (air fare is additional) offer. A seven-night package at the Bahamian Princess, which includes round-trip air fare from BWI and departs Dec. 28 (returning Jan. 4), is $1,154 per person, double.
* Skyauction.com offers more than 1,000 auctions a week, most lasting about two days. Current millennium auctions, found under "Hot Deals," include a seven-night package at Walt Disney World's Swan Hotel (along with a three-night deal). There's also a seven-night trip to Cancun, staying at the all-inclusive Oasis, departing Dec. 26 and returning Jan. 2. Charter air fare is included. Surf around for other deals; additional airline auctions, for example, can be found under "London & the U.K."
Washington Post staff writers Carolyn Spencer Brown, John Deiner, Gary Lee, Roger Piantadosi and K.C. Summers contributed to this report.