Break from holiday hassles with bargain tour packages

Special to The Times

MANY families decide to spend their holiday time -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year's -- on vacation. No one really wants to cook, clean and stress out during the holidays. And families may bond better on vacation, especially on cruises that put the focus on spending time together.

Here are some voyages during the holidays -- from Norway to China:

* Europe: Most travelers think of cruising in Europe as a summer activity, but there are better bargains in the winter. Granted, it's not beach weather -- in fact, daylight is limited in the far north -- but prices are low. Scandinavia holds many winter festivals and markets, which you can experience from Dec. 14 to 30 on daily holiday departures of the 11 ships of Norwegian Coastal Voyage Inc., (800) 323-7436,

They stop at 34 ports along the country's 1,250-mile rugged west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes, above the Arctic Circle. Seven-day northbound sailings cost $727 to $1,317, including port charges and gratuities. Passengers 67 and older are eligible for senior savings with the single-supplement charge waived for some cabins.

* Antarctica: Keep in mind that our winter is summer in South America and Antarctica. Norwegian Coastal Voyage has 19-day Antarctica and the Chilean Fiords cruises that depart Dec. 3, 17 and 31. The $4,270 fare (per person double occupancy, single surcharge is $785) is pricey but includes meals, excursions, port charges and airfare from Los Angeles.

* China: A late fall cruise worth considering is a Yangtze River package from General Tours, (800) 221-2216,, leaving Dec. 8. For $1,799 (based on double occupancy, single surcharge is $709), travelers get a seven-night tour-cruise package, spending two nights in Beijing at the deluxe Xiyuan Hotel, three nights aboard a cruise ship on the Yangtze River and two nights in Shanghai.

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