Priceless Vacations

 

Vincent F. Orza Jr.

Dean, Meinders School of Business

Oklahoma City University

 

You’re trying to plan your spring or summer vacation. Europe would be nice, but given the prices, you’ll have to sell your kids to afford a hotel. The Euro is declining, but relative to the costs of a trip to Asia or South America, Europe is still expensive.

There are solutions. Cruises to Europe are paid for in dollars, which controls some of the pricing. However, once you disembark, you could be paying $5 for a Coke and $10-15 for McDonald’s. Why someone would go to Europe and eat at McDonald’s is a mystery to me! The best reason to visit a European McDonald’s is they allow you to use their restrooms free, as opposed to having to tip to use the facilities in many local establishments.

The Mediterranean is the best sightseeing in the world for first-time overseas junkets. England and France are also great and easy to get around. The Brits speak English and always treat their cousins from across the pond very graciously, so if this is your first international trip, England is easy. Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Square, London’s wonderful theater district, and close-by visits to Oxford, Cambridge and Leeds Castle – or just to drive the countryside is worth the trip.

Paris and all of France are also a great trip, but the language is a small barrier. France has spectacular sightseeing – castles, the Palace of Versailles, Notre Dame, the Louvre, bookstalls on the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower – many within walking distance of each other. By the way, check out renting apartments rather than staying in a hotel. Years ago, we took our girls and had a lovely three-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, courtyard and all the amenities of home for a fraction of the cost of a hotel.

You could stay in the States and go to Disney World, which is more convenient, but it can make Europe look cheap. Hotels in the theme park can be expensive, meals can be outrageously expensive, parking is extra, and buying four or five park passes may give you a heart attack! There is a side benefit – you’ll be able to sing ‘It’s a Small World After All’ for the rest of your life… whether you want to or not. It’s hypnotic! As I write this, Disney is running a promotion that will give you a $200 gift card and three or four nights free at their hotels if you buy three or four nights and park passes.

Mexico offers some of the best vacation values. Cancun is like the 51st state of our union. English is spoken everywhere, it’s easy to get around, and you can get there in two hours or less from Dallas or Houston. Most of the major Mexican resort communities have every form of vacation entertainment and sports you could want for less than you’ll pay in Hawaii, but the recession also has Hawaiian resorts offering some great deals. The downside to Hawaii is that due to the distance, you waste a day traveling each way.

A large number of Oklahomans own timeshares in Cancun and often rent them through travel agencies. One- or two-bedroom villas with full kitchens provide a great family venue and often cost considerably less than a basic hotel room.

Head further south and the deals get even better. Cruises on the east and west coasts of South America are good values. You pay for them in dollars, and when you go ashore, the exchange rates are very favorable. The dollar can go a long way in Argentina, Chile, Peru and other countries in South America. Brazil can be pricey, but there are deals, and it is beautiful with a lot to see. Keep in mind our winter is their summer, so January through March are good times to visit.

Many of the cruise ships stop or start their voyages in Buenos Aires. Argentine hotels and restaurants offer some of the best travel values anywhere. Famous for its beef and great fish, dinner in a Buenos Aires restaurant will cost a fraction of what you’d spend in Oklahoma. Make sure you see the flamenco dancers. Some perform in the streets, but the real professionals work the nightclubs, and it’s a show worth watching.  Buenos Aires is called the ‘Paris of the South,’ and is a beautiful city to explore. Not too far away is Montevideo, Uruguay. Like Argentina, Montevideo was another Spanish colony with great Spanish architecture. Brazil is further north with Portuguese roots, so the food, language and customs are somewhat different than neighboring nations.

Chile borders most of the west coast of the continent. It offers lovely beaches in the north and breathtaking fjords in the south. Cruise ships sail from Santiago down the coast of Chile, inland to see the ice-covered fjords, occasional whales, and some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. At the southernmost tip of the continent, where Chile connects with Argentina, you arrive in Ushuaia, a pretty but rustic town at the edge of the last place on earth to get supplies before you descend around Cape Horn. The end of the continent is a cold, rough, lonely, rocky and occasionally rough ride, but worth seeing if for no other reason than to say you saw it. Bring an apple to calm your stomach.

Just above Chile is Peru, a wonderful country that is home to Machu Picchu, one of the most spectacular historical finds on earth. It’s not easy to get there – you fly from Lima to Cuzco, then take a two-three hour train ride up the mountains to heights of 8000-11,000 feet above sea level. The ruins were discovered beneath a jungle growth of trees, vines and grasses. The tribe that lived there lasted only one generation before disappearing. They left no language, alphabet or clues as to why they built this spectacular fortress on top of a mountain, or where they went when they left.

We live in a cool world. Patti and I have had the good fortune to visit over 70 nations. Our trips, cruises and tours have included Europe, the Middle East (Egypt is our all-time favorite), North and South America, Australia, Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma aka Myanmar), China, Russia, Japan, a few dozen other countries, and most of the US. We’ve never had a bad experience anywhere.

Whether it’s seeing the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon or some of the great sites across the globe, travel is a great education. If you try to fit in with the locals and learn to say ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language, you’ll do fine. So as you plan your next vacation, be a little adventurous and head someplace exotic. Disney World is fun, but Machu Picchu, the Pyramids of Giza, the fjords of Norway and Chile, the Eiffel Tower or the Vatican are breathtaking!

 

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