Older travellers want more options

Sometimes, we gain when the travel industry goofs. Take cruises. A shipbuilding boom in recent years means there are now more ships than ever looking for folks to fill the cabins. And that means fantastic bargains.

Best bet today:

  • The Vancouver-to-Alaska run, one of world’s great spectacles. Five Holland America Line ships alone ply these waters, and offers like two tickets for the price of one are not uncommon. 
  • So-called ‘repositioning voyages’ – when the ships are moved from one part of the world to another between seasons – also offer bargains, especially if you enjoy ocean voyages.
  • In the fall, for instance, you can fly to Italy, take a 12-day voyage across the Atlantic to Aruba, eating sumptuously, and then fly home – all for about $1,700.
  • In spring and fall you can also travel between Alaska and the Caribbean, or for a portion of that trip, at reasonable prices.
  • Smaller, older cruise ships – most of them handsomely refurbished – are also appealing, especially if you don’t fancy the huge new floating hotels.

Of special interest to 50-plussers: Canadian-based Sunquest and Regent Holidays ha chartered some of these fine vessels and, especially with early booking bonuses, offer deals worth checking out. Sunquest operates its ships from Aruba, with an optional one-week stay on that island at a reasonable combination price.

Fly-drive vacations
Traditionally, package tours meant a week or two at a resort down south. Now, says Jill Wykes of Sunquest, more active ‘new seniors’ want to do more than merely lie on a beach. They like eco-tours and soft adventure, such as whitewater rafting, and the industry is responding, says Wykes, a travel wholesaler.

The package companies now use their pricing muscle to get good deals on fly-drive vacations or any other number of variations. Your travel agent helps you build your own package – at a prepaid price (in Canadian dollars) you probably couldn’t match on your own.

‘Down south’ also has new meaning. People are staying a month or more in places like Cuba and Acapulco, often in self-catering suites. Since winter charters ventured to Spain and Portugal, with their mild winter temperatures, more and more people are making extended stays, enjoying the golf, the walking, the culture, the sense of safety – and all for little more than they’d pay for Florida.

Escorted versus solo
An escorted trip has overtones of the aristocratic Grand Tour of the past. Expensive, you say? Maybe not. Janice Rowland of Senior Tours Canada Inc. says the cost of the escort is more than made up by the good deals group tour operators can get for everything from meals to hotels to theatre tickets.

A 10-day escorted trip to London and Paris in fall might cost $2,800, but you don’t have to worry about baggage handling, tips, restaurants or a hundred other drains on your wallet.
Don’t look for sell-offs in group travel, though – how would you like to discover the person in the next seat on the bus paid half what you did!

John Burke of Odyssey Travel in Kingston, Ont., takes the opposite view to Rowland. Group tours are useful, even necessary, if you’re going to a chaotic country like Russia, he says.

“But for many countries there’s no practical reason to prebook,” he says. “Visiting Vietnam, for instance, there’s no good reason why an adventurous older person can’t put together something on the fly. And the savings are enormous because you’ve cut out two middle men.”

An initial hotel booking and a good guidebook are what you need for countries like Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand, he says.

Older backpackers
Adventurous, in fact, describes more and more of today’s older travellers. Rod Hurd, president of Travel Cuts, a national chain catering to university students, says 60-plus travellers are now part of their market, and often grandparents travel with their student grandchildren – usually at very reasonable prices.

In Australia, he says, you’ll see plenty of grey heads among those getting on and off the Oz Experience coastal buses that carry backpackers between hostel stops.

If you’re going to be away long, use another backpacker’s trick to stay in touch with folks at home: set yourself up with a free web-based e-mail address from www.hotmail.com or www.yahoo.com before you leave.

Then you can send and receive e-mails at any one of the thousands of cyber cafes that now dot the world. Another way to dodge crippling foreign phone charges – take along a Canadian calling card.

And don’t fall for ‘duty free’ scams. Most so-called ‘duty free’ stores in the world’s big airports have huge markups. Leaving Canada – where you know the price you’d pay at the mall – duty frees can work; coming home – be wary.