Hostels are no longer just for backpackers and scruffy transients. You’ll discover families, seniors, newly married couples, even traveling business people looking for a deal at the newly named Hostelling International (HI) properties. For example, the HI-Toronto just across from St. James Cathedral at 76 Church Street, offers a night’s accommodation in a four-person dorm room for only $24. Internet access and laundry facilities are part of the package, while the obligatory chores that you may remember, such as clean-up duty and evening curfews, have been replaced by such perks as airport shuttles and luggage lockers.
The family suites at the Toronto hostel are an especially good deal. A couple with child in tow could have a double bed and single bunk, private bath and enough room for a desk and cupboard all to themselves. Cost? $70 (member price). (Kids under 17 sleep free.) In a city where nondescript hotel rooms can cost a couple of hundred bucks a night, that’s a steal.
Also a great deal are the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and the Banff Alpine Centre hostels. Both are listed in Hostelling International’s Top 10 in the world; they offer ski packages, digital photography workshops and even women’s wellness retreats. Further afield, check out HI’s six top international recommendations: Sydney, (rooftop pool), Santa Monica, Calif. (two blocks from the beach), London (restaurant on the premises) Paris (café and free cinema), Amsterdam (breakfast included) and Auckland, N.Z. (5-star backpackers’ rating).
For private and family rooms or special needs, book ahead. To find out more and to become an HI member ($35 for adults, kids 17 and under free), call 1-877-848-8737 or visit www.hihostels.ca.
Flight to freedom
Booking a winter vacation in the sun for your entire family can turn into a hugely expensive endeavor. A week at Club Med’s Punta Cana resort, for instance, would cost you at least $2,080 for each adult and $1,345 per child. The solution? Spin the wheel and take a chance on Club Med’s Family Escape program. It lets families with kids buy travel weeks at big discounts. The tab for an all-inclusive week, which includes all meals, drinks, entertainment and unlimited activities, starts from $1,090 per person (under twos are free) from Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. The catch? You won’t know exactly where you’re going until one week before you leave. You might be sailing catamarans in Ixtapa, Mexico, perfecting in-line skating at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic or riding the waves on a windsurfer at La Caravelle, Guadeloupe. You must travel between Nov. 1 and Dec. 13 or Jan. 3 to April 10. Call your travel agent or visit www.clubmed.ca.
Rocky mountain high
One of the most time-honored pieces of advice for value-hunting travelers is to schedule your trip so you hit destinations outside of high season. You not only save money, you also avoid crowds. For a great demonstration of that wisdom in action, consider the deals available to folks who are prepared to ski in the months just before and after prime time. In so-called value season (which runs from the slopes’ opening to December 12 and from March 29 until the snow is gone), Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains offer a three-day package (including hotel, two-day ski lift pass and transfers to and from Vancouver airport) for prices as low as $375. You can even ask for a room with a kitchenette so you can save on restaurant meals. The same package would cost from $555 in high season. Five and seven-night packages are also available. Call 1-800-WHISTLER or visit www.mywhistler.com.
Fidel’s two faces
You yearn for a cross-cultural adventure; your spouse just wants to lie on the beach. Now you can both get your wish with a Two-in-One combo vacation in Cuba. Unlike most Caribbean vacations, this week-long deal allows you to savor two different worlds. You’ll spend three days in historic Old Havana, where you can experience the faded grandeur and gritty reality of Fidel Castro’s socialist paradise up close; then you’ll move on to a Varadero beach resort, where you can sip a tall, cool drink after cavorting in beautiful blue waters.
Love it or hate it, your three days in Havana are sure to be memorable. As you watch a wedding party roll by in vintage Chevrolet Impalas or have your official photo taken outside the Capitol building by a photographer with a 1914 pinhole camera, you may feel as if you’ve tumbled back in time. But you can always fast forward to the 21st Century by dropping into the Café Taberna for an impromptu salsa lesson and a dose of the swinging Cuban music made popular by the Buena Vista Social Club. By the time you move on to Varadero, you’ll welcome the chance for four nights of rest and relaxation by the ocean. Prices for the combo week depend upon where you stay. The most economical option combines three nights at the ’50s-era Hotel Riviera (where gangster Meyer Lansky held court) with four nights at the beachfront Villa Cuba resort. This combo costs $1,129 from Ottawa, Halifax, Toronto or Hamilton.
Alternatively, fans of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana may want to bunk where many scenes from the novel were set, in the Moorish-style Hotel Sevilla in Havana, then continue on to the Coralia Playa de Oro resort in Varadero. The price for this plan, including hearty Cuban breakfast in Havana and full meal plan at the beach, starts at $1,219 in December. Both combinations are available from November through April from Signature Vacations. Visit www.signaturevacations.com, then book through your travel agent.
All prices, in Canadian dollars unless otherwise specified, were accurate at time of publication.
From the November 2003 issue.