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Big Destinations for 2015 (Including Cuba!)

President Obama’s opening to Cuba will soon make visiting easier for many more U.S. visitors. But it’s far from wide-open tourism. You still have to go through some official red tape.

Before the Castro revolution, Cuba was one of the most popular island destinations for North American travelers. Havana featured colonial charm and lively night life, Varadero was (and still is) one of the world’s great beaches, and gambling and commercial vices were pretty much wide open. Remember in Guys and Dolls that Sky Masterson’s bet with Nathan Detroit was that Sky could induce Sarah Brown to accompany him to Havana.

When Castro took control, he confiscated U.S.-owned property, including hotels and vacation properties. The U.S. retaliated with an embargo that has loosened a bit over the years. Meanwhile, Cuba has built up a substantial tourist infrastructure at its major beach resorts catering to Europeans and Canadians.

The current opening allows more U.S. visitors to visit Cuba, but they still need to be “licensed” for some specific purpose that does not include just plain tourism, and U.S. airlines are still not free to schedule regular flights to Cuban destinations. Presumably, the U.S. travel industry would like to see a complete end to the restrictions, but that move would require congressional action, which isn’t likely in the next year or two: Politicians of both parties are already complaining that President Obama has given in to a totalitarian regime without receiving any concessions. Still, the big political power behind the adamant anti-Cuba sentiment is fading: A survey last summer found that half of Florida’s politically potent Cuban-Americans now favor ending the embargo completely. You may yet see tours to Cuba before too long.

Where You Should Go

If you don’t want to wait for Cuba, the good folks at Kayak have mined their database of actual hotel sales to suggest a diverse list of European destinations for you to consider.  

Kayak’s first list is of cities where the average nightly price for a five-star hotel is less than $250: Warsaw ($134), Thessaloniki ($139), Bucharest ($156), Athens ($166), Lisbon ($180), Budapest ($182), Brussels ($195), Prague ($220), Berlin ($231), and Madrid ($246).  

Kayak’s second list is more of a warning: the top 10 cities where a five-star hotel will set you back $300 a night or more, all of which are the “usual suspects” in Western Europe: Copenhagen ($305), Amsterdam ($334), Munich ($394), Rome ($394), Nice ($404), Milan ($485), Paris ($490), Florence ($511), and, of course, London ($513).

My takeaway from these lists is what you might expect: Prices for less-than-five-star accommodations tend to follow the same patterns. You can find comfortable accommodations for less than $100 a night in the first list. And at any star level, Warsaw, Bucharest, Lisbon, Budapest, Brussels, Prague, Berlin, and Madrid are great cities to visit just about any time of the year, offering a diverse smorgasbord of history, culture, night life, gastronomy, and sightseeing to satisfy almost any wanderlust. (I’m not so high on Greece right now, but that’s a personal bias.) I’ve been to most of them; I’d love to go back to those I’ve seen and to explore those I haven’t seen yet.

Even the expensive cities aren’t out of reach. I just returned from London and found some perfectly comfortable accommodations, with good transportation access, in the $150 a night range, and dedicated budget travelers can do even better than that. I’ve never recommended that you visit any destination just because the airfares or hotel rates are low. And I’ve especially never recommended destinations on the basis of “most popular,” which Kayak also lists: usual suspects Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, Cancun, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Juan, Denver and Honolulu, in case you’re interested. I’d like those places better if they weren’t so popular. But at either end of the price range, the 20 European cities Kayak lists are easy winners.

As to the “most popular,” I’m with Yogi: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

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Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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