Counting down to summer fun

With just 300,000 traditional package holidays on the market this year — down from over a million at the height of the boom — tour operators are encouraging summer holidaymakers to book as early as possible.

The above figures don’t tell the full story, however. While it’s certainly true that fewer Irish people are taking overseas holidays, those that can are also booking in a host of new ways.

Aer Lingus and Ryanair now run scheduled flights to the Canaries, Malaga and Majorca. Ferry links to France and Britain are chock-a-block with family cars in July and August. Dynamic packages sold by the likes of clickandgo.com and lastminute.com allow you to self-assemble flights, accommodation and car hire on a single website, giving greater flexibility with travel dates and durations.

The summer holiday is being re-invented, and here’s our choice of ten of the best.

The Prince of Package Holidays: Turkey

Turkey is the package holiday success story of recent years, thanks to its cheap cost of living, reliable sunshine, and the increasing familiarity of Irish holidaymakers with the lively Aegean Coast resorts of Kusadasi and Bodrum.

Wings Abroad is a big player, with seven nights at Marmaris from €549pp on a June 17 departure.

Or why not look beyond the resorts, with a stay at Princes’ Islands? The cluster of nine islands are 50 minutes by fast ferry from Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara, totally traffic-free, and bursting with walks, woodland and beach clubs. Seven days with flights starts from €619pp.

Details: 01-8719444; wingsabroad.ie or istanbulislands.com.

The Activity Break: Spain in the Saddle

‘Shabby Chic’ isn’t just an interiors term, you know. It’s also how Irish equestrian holiday specialist Zara Stassin describes these riding holidays in Spain.

Based north of Barcelona, guests spend their days horse-riding or mountain biking, gathering to eat at a long oak table in the evenings before bedding down in renovated 17th century barns. It’s not five-star by any stretch, but there is a pool, a good selection of wines, and Girona and Barcelona are nearby if you fancy a day away from the trails. A week’s riding, with full-board and drinks with meals, costs €880pp (flights excluded).

Details: 01-4407477; zarasplanet.ie.

The Single Parent Special: Lanzarote

Parents with more than two kids often complain they don’t fit the standard 2+2 package holiday format, but spare a thought for single parents, who are overlooked entirely. There’s cause for hope, however, in Antrim-based Friendship Travel’s new website, holidaysforsingleparents.com. The site does what it says on the packet, offering tailor-made breaks for single parents and their children — such as a seven night trip to the 3-star Lanzarote Gardens, departing Cork on July 26, from €1,495 for one adult and one child. The price includes flights, half-board, and there are communal dinners and children’s entertainment on select nights, so adults can relax with other single parents.

Details: +44-871-2002228; holidaysforsingleparents.com.

The Flight-Free Holiday: Brittany by Ferry

The Pont-Aven setting sail from Ringaskiddy to Roscoff is one of Cork’s quintessential summer sights — crammed with camper vans, buckets and spades and families waving from the promenade deck. Brittany Ferries’ flagship sails once a week, departing Cork at 4pm on Saturdays and arriving in France the following morning.

Going to press, a dummy booking in June for a family of four with a car and two inside cabins came in at €1,078. That’s not including accommodation once you get to France, obviously, but you can also book campsite, villa or apartment holidays on the Brittany Ferries website, or browse options on the official Brittany tourism site, brittanytourism.com.

Details: 021-4277801; brittanyferries.ie.

The Euro 2012-friendly holiday: Royal Caribbean

Which do you love more, your family or your football? You can spare yourself the decision by taking a cruise with Royal Caribbean this summer.

Eleven of the company’s ships will be sailing in Europe during Euro 2012, and all promise to show every game live in their bars and cabin TVs. The championships, during which Ireland play Spain, Italy and Croatia in crunch group games, take place from June 8 to July 1. Trailfinders has an eight-night Western Mediterranean cruise on Liberty of the Seas during that time from €799pp, including flights. The trip departs weekly from Barcelona, and ports of call include Provence, Nice, Florence, Rome and Naples.

Details: 021-4644948; cruises.trailfinders.ie.

The cheap ‘n’ cheerful alternative: Couch-surfing

There are several ways to keep costs down on a summer holiday — from home swaps to travelling off-peak or teaming up with friends to bag a group discount. But nothing beats free, and that’s exactly what couch-surfing offers — a free couch (and heck, sometimes even a bed) to crash on in over 230 countries worldwide. Sure, joining CouchSurfing.org mightn’t be the best plan of attack for a family of four on the hunt for summer sun, but independent travellers get to live like locals in fascinating cultures on as low or high a budget as they choose. “Our goal is nothing less than changing the world,” they say. And they’re doing it one couch at a time.

Details: couchsurfing.org.

The US Holiday: Self-catering in Orlando

Irish holidaymakers love to let the Big O flow. Orlando is one of our most popular long-haul package destinations, and for three good reasons — sunshine, beaches and theme parks. Departing June 20, American Holidays has 14 nights at the Sheraton Vistana Villa Resort for €3,499. That’s a hefty price tag, but then it is for a family of four, it does include flights, villa and car hire with fully-inclusive insurance, and the villas are just two miles from downtown Disney. Seven nights at the same property starts at €640pp (ie, a total of €2,560) so there’s better value booking the fortnight.

Details: 01-6733840; americanholidays.com.

The Solo Adventure: Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai

Here’s a chance to visit China with flights, accommodation, half-board and daily excursions included. The 11-night trip departs Cork on September 13, starting with five nights in Beijing. Whilst there, you’ll take in a full day excursion to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, a day at the Great Wall of China and visits to the Imperial Summer Palace and the famous Pandas in Beijing Zoo. Next up is Xi’an and the famous terracotta warriors, before rounding up your trip with a hotlist of Shanghai highlights. Accommodation is five-star all the way, with evening meals included, and a single supplement of €349 brings the total price to €2,258pp (including tax).

Details: 01-6371600; thetraveldepartment.ie.

Toddler-friendly Holidays: Three of the best...

Disneyland Paris is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with a host of special offers — Magic Vacations currently has a ferry crossing plus six nights in the Davy Crockett Ranch, for instance, including seven days park access, from €1,650 for a family of four.

Sunway has an offer from baby-friendly operator Sunsail (it caters for babies from four months with baby clubs, safe pools and babysitting). Beach holidays with Club Vounaki in Greece start from £649/€793pp, reduced from £900/€1,100, on a June 17 departure. Several activities are included.

Thomas Cook Cruises has all-inclusive Royal Caribbean cruises featuring on-board nurseries, high staff-child ratios, babysitters, and activities like Crayola workshops, baby gymnastics and music for the under threes. The cruises start from €799pp.

Details: magicvacations.ie; sunway.ie; thomascook.ie.

The Big Blow-Out: Glamping in Tanzania

June to October is the best time to safari in Tanzania, with dry weather drawing animals towards dwindling water supplies. Peak periods also bring peak crowds, however, so why not splash out on space as well as spectacle? You’ll get both at the Selous Safari Company’s camps in Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve. The wildlife is superb, and both camps cater for just a handful of guests, so you won’t be sharing it with squadrons of other jeeps. Afterwards, wind down at the Indian Ocean resort of Ras Kutani, just like Amy Huberman and Brian O’Driscoll did on honeymoon in 2010. Africa Odyssey has seven nights from €4,000pp, including transfers and park fees.

Details: +44-20-74718780; africaodyssey.com.

NB: All prices correct going to press, but subject to availability.


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