Travelers Heading Off in All Directions

Nancy Jo Hill is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

What's popular and what's not in this season's vacation destinations for Orange County travelers? Well, that really depends on which travel agent you talk to.

Some agents say Hawaii and Mexico are still their most popular destinations, while another agent says those locations are somewhat passe.

There is a consensus that travel to Europe in general is up this year, but there's divided opinion on Eastern Europe. Some agents say travel to Eastern Europe is up, while others say the travel boom that was expected in the wake of sweeping political changes in communist countries has failed to materialize.

Some travel agents say their clients prefer the convenience and savings of packages and tours, while others say independent travel is increasing.

But whomever you talk to, it is clear that Orange County residents are doing some globe-trotting.

Mexico, Hawaii, Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, France, the British Isles and Disneyworld/Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla., were all identified as popular destinations by Orange County travel agents.

Jean Knaup, owner of Sunny Hills Travel in Fullerton, and Margaret Jones, owner of Country Hills Travel in La Habra, say they have seen an increase in bookings to Eastern European countries such as East German, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

"I think Eastern Europe is really picking up," Knaup says.

"A lot of our people are from those countries, their heritage is there," says Jones. "I have several people that are going to Czechoslovakia for four or five days," she says. "It's difficult to get anything because they're so booked. . . . They can't get more than four or five days, and that's a problem."

Kathy Tortora, owner of Travel Agents International in Fullerton, says her company's bookings to Europe this year have increased "four to five times as much as in the past two years" and that Yugoslavia, Poland, East Germany and Russia are "taking on quite a bit of interest at the moment."

She says the cost of these trips varies, depending on the level of luxury that vacationers desire, but a 10- to 14-day stay might run about $2,400 per person, including air fare.

Tortora has also noticed an increase in what she calls "yuppie adventure travel." She says this includes: white water rafting in California, Arizona and Colorado, hot air ballooning over France, barge trips down rivers, and other theme vacations.

Knaup agrees that clients are "looking for something off the beaten path."

That search for the unusual is sending Orange County residents to Australia and New Zealand for two-week tours that start at $1,655 plus air fare, according to Knaup. And they are going to Kenya, Africa, for photo safaris and hot air balloon trips over the Masai Mara.

"We have quite a few right now that are going to see the 'gorillas in the mist' in Botswana," Knaup says. An African vacation package that would include all of the above activities would be about $8,000 per person, according to Knaup.

Windstar Cruises' sailboats that glide into Mediterranean ports of call are also popular, according to Jack Cosand, president of La Habra Travel Agency and president of the Orange County American Society of Travel Agents. He has sold quite a few of these cruises to people who fly to France or Italy and embark on a leisurely seven-day voyage. The cruises start at $2,400 per person. Air fare is extra.

Hawaii and Mexico have always been major destinations for Orange County travelers, and this year is no exception, according to Cheryl Mahayni, manager of On the Go Travel in Orange. She says Maui is probably still the most popular Hawaiian destination, though Kauai is also popular. Packages start at $599 per person for seven nights, including accommodations and air fare, according to Mahayni.

The most popular Mexican destinations for Orange County travelers are Cancun and Ixtapa, she says. Attractions in Cancun, which is on the Yucatan peninsula, include white sand beaches, the clear waters of the Caribbean, water sports and touring Mayan ruins. Packages start at about $600 per person, including air fare and accommodations, according to Mahayni.

"It's good for families and couples" and is "a close destination for a quick getaway," Mahayni says of Ixtapa, which is north of Acapulco on the Pacific Coast. Packages start at $400 per person. Attractions include snorkeling, scuba diving and white sand beaches.

"The best bargains are through packages," Mahayni says. Wholesalers, she explains, can get cheaper air fares and cheaper hotel rates through contracts.

"First-time travelers are keen on being on a package," Jones says. "They feel they want to be sure they have covered all the things they really want to see." More seasoned travelers, she says, are more likely to strike out on independent travel.

Tortora says her agency has noticed a significant increase in independent travel. "Probably the only group that is not necessarily true of would be senior citizens," she says.

Meanwhile, honeymooners are favoring all-inclusive resorts that offer such activities as windsurfing, volleyball, tennis, scuba diving, snorkeling and golf, according to Tortora.

Upscale Orange County honeymooners, she says, currently favor a resort called Couples, which is in Negril, Jamaica, in the Caribbean. The resort caters to honeymooners and offers the choice of dressing up for dinner or being casual. Prices depend on the time of year, but Tortora says a package for a weeklong stay at Couples might average $4,000 to $5,000 for a honeymoon couple.

Tortora says many of these couples already have established careers. "People are getting married at a little bit later age," she says.

"They have a bit of money saved. The 'thirtysomething' group perhaps already has a home," she says. "They've already furnished that home. They've already done their single-nesting syndrome or whatever, and now they have amassed a bit of money and they want to do something really special that they will remember for the rest of their lives."

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