20 Best: Winter sun sizzlers
Who says you have to do without a holiday this year? Pól Ó Conghaile has tracked down the best-value escapes from a long weekend in Vegas to a last-minute dash to the Canaries.
Holiday homes in the sun
Package holidays aren't the be-all and end-all of winter sun escapes. Sometimes, by combining a shrewd flight booking with an off-season apartment or villa, you can make considerable savings -- especially when families or groups are involved.
During February and March, for example, Holiday Homes Direct has a week in a one-bed apartment in Fuerteventura, sleeping four, from just €175. A week in a three-bed villa, sleeping six, starts at €350. Going to press, Ryanair had Saturday flights from Dublin to Fuerteventura from €39.99. Do the math.
Details: 01-284 6653; holiday homesdirect.ie; ryanair.com.
Viva Las Vegas
Temperatures in Las Vegas can hit 21°C in February and March but, let’s face it, you’re not going to Sin City for the sunshine.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of place, with OTT hotels, spectacular shows, kooky wedding chapels, outlet malls and Grand Canyon excursions all vying with the casinos for a slice of your kids’ college fund.
Prices are good at the moment, though, because there’s such a glut of hotel rooms. This American Holidays offer includes flights and a free night for less than €550pp.
Details: American Holidays (01- 673 3840; americanholidays.com) has this offer for travel in February, including four nights’ accommodation in the three-star Circus Circus Hotel, from €545pp.
Hot deals in Dubai
Dubai has a reputation for bling and outrageousness — you only have to mention the city for visions of man-made islands, indoor ski slopes and Armani hotels to come to mind.
But while the Emirate loves to spend recklessly, you don’t have to. By staying in a budget hotel, TravelMood.ie allows you to sample all that Dubai has to offer for close to €600pp.
Temperatures in March should hang in the mid-20s, making walkabouts along the creek, heritage areas or beaches a much more pleasant prospect than the scorching summer months, when Dubai can hit 40°C.
Details: TravelMood.ie has this five-night break, with accommodation on a B&B basis, in the three-star Ibis Deira City Centre Hotel, from €
Looking for a cheap sun hit this spring? Then Malta is your man. Plonked in the middle of the Med, temperatures hover in the high teens through February and March -- a welcome respite from Ireland's arctic experiments, and the perfect climate in which to explore highlights such as Mdina, Fort St Angelo and the ridiculously atmospheric capital of Valetta.
The scenery is first class, the crowds are at a minimum, and history buffs will be seduced by a story stretching from the Crusaders to Churchill's Second World War exploits and beyond.
You can get there for less than €400 a pop, too.
Details: Concorde Travel (01-775 9300; concordetravel.ie) has prices from €384pp (three-star), €419pp (four-star) and €503pp (five-star) for a week in Malta, departing February 18.
Fly/cruise to Morocco and the Canaries
Cruising has been on a roll right throughout the recession, largely because new ships have flooded the market with capacity at a time when holidaymakers are cutting back on trips.
The result is a wave of discounts like this one, a nine-night tour for which flights, an interior state room and all meals and entertainment ring in at just under €700pp.
Norwegian Jade sails from Barcelona, and ports of call include Casablanca, Agadir, Las Palmas, Funchal and Malaga.
Details: Tour America (01-817 3535; touramerica.ie) has this nine-night cruise from €699pp, including flights, taxes and charges. The price is based on a March 18 departure.
An escape to Egypt
Sharm El Sheikh? Shark El Sheikh, more like. The Red Sea resort made headlines last December when shark attacks claimed the life of one woman and injured four others.
Going to press, authorities were pushing to reassure holidaymakers (several sharks have been captured and protective measures have been put in place on popular beaches), and Irish tour operators were keeping Sharm El Sheikh on the ticket.
Even if you don’t swim, you can enjoy fewer crowds, average temperatures of 19-21°C, desert safaris and sailing — plus the resort’s usual club and restaurant bustle.
Details: Over mid-term break, Sunworld (0818 200 400; sunworld.ie) has a week for a family of four at the three-star St George’s Three Corners Resort from €2,449. A two-star trip costs from €1,875. Hotels.com has the five-star Concorde El Salam Hotel from €90 per night if you book by February 16.
Kenya on the cheap
Tunisia and Morocco are one thing, but getting anywhere south of the Maghreb for a sun holiday can cost serious bucks. That's why this offer from Tropical Sky stands among the usual January sales dross.
The holiday is for a fortnight, with flights from Dublin (via Gatwick) to the four-star Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa on Bamburi Beach, Mombasa.
Set within 22 acres of landscaped gardens on the Kenyan coast, the resort boasts five freeform swimming pools, a variety of watersports and the option to take island excursions on traditional dhow boats.
Details: Tropical Sky (01-807 7996; tropicalsky.ie) has this 14-night holiday including flights, taxes and half-board accommodation, from €1,269pp for select departures in February.
A slice of the action at Alton Towers
You don't have to maul your wallet getting to Disney World or Universal Studios to give the kids a theme-park treat, you know. This mid-term special with Irish Ferries Holidays centres on a buy-one-get-one-free ticket to Alton Towers.
For thrillseekers of all ages, the package includes a return car-cruise ferry crossing, two nights in the three-star Holiday Inn Express (in a shared family room) and a full day's pass to Alton Towers. It rings in at just over €100pp -- Orlando is six times the price.
Details: Irish Ferries (0818 300 400; irishferries.com/alton towers) has this two-night trip for departure between February 19-25, from €421 for a family of four.
Bargain-basement beach holidays
Flashy, online sales often feature lead-in prices that lead to pretty ordinary savings once you start clicking through the links.
They can be worth persisting with, however -- as is the case with the January sale running until Monday on ebookers.ie. We were quoted €550pp for seven nights in a three-star hotel in Majorca, followed by a staggering €2,502pp for seven nights in a three-star hotel in Ibiza.
But, just as we were about to give up, we returned the clincher -- €239pp for seven nights in a three-star aparthotel in Marbella, including direct flights with Aer Lingus. Nice price, if you can get it.
Details: Ebookers.ie (ebookers.ie/ travel-guide/Beach-Holidays) has a sale on beach holidays to the Algarve, Costa del Sol, Canaries and Balearics. It runs until January 31.
Sparkling in Sicily
Sicily can feel like an oven in summer, but April sees the mercury hovering around the low 20s — the perfect temperature to get out and explore one of the great Mediterranean gems.
This package is based in Taormina, a medieval town viewed as one of the most beautiful on the island. Set on Monte Tauro, it offers intimate piazzas, an ancient Greco-Roman theatre, views towards Mount Etna and the surrounding bays and a hotel room on the town’s main street.
Details: Citalia by TravelMood (01-433 1023; travelmood.ie) has seven nights at the three-star Hotel Isabella in Taormina from €712pp based on travel based from May 4. Availability limited.
Golden opportunities in Gran Canaria
The Canary Islands are Ireland's most popular winter sun destination. Decent beaches, temperatures sailing into the high teens and low 20s, a rash of theme parks, tasty seafood and a surprisingly diverse interior all combine to make the islands a safe bet. Gran Canaria is the third-largest, but also where most Canary islanders live, which gives Las Palmas a nice buzz in the off-season (in summer, it can all get too hectic).
Springtime is also good for hiking, horse riding and day tripping.
Details: Sunway (01-288 6828; sunway.ie) has seven nights in a two-star self-catering set-up in Gran Canaria from €349pp.
Lastminute.com has seven nights in three-star self-catering from €499pp, for departures on March 12.
Argus (arguscarhire.com) has car hire in the Canaries from €15 per day in February and March.
Fly solo on a Nile Cruise
Up to one in 10 leisure travellers is now single, according to the US Travel Industry Association -- a market comprising of older people, free spirits, holidaymakers looking for romance and like-minded souls travelling in groups.
Could the stigma of solo travel finally be set to change? Belfast-based Friendship Travel is one of growing number of companies catering to singles. This Nile Cruise on the MS Troy features seven nights with full-board and sole occupancy of a double cabin.
Details: Friendship Travel (0044 489 446 2211; friendshiptravel. com) has a Nile Cruise, departing on February 14, from €1,350pp including flights, transfers and full-board.
Hit the loungers in Lanzarote
There's no shortage of offers to Lanzarote this winter -- a Canary Island that has become a firm favourite of Irish winter sun-seekers over the years.
While people who haven't visited tend to dismiss the Canaries as a homogenous holiday hot-spot, connoisseurs know that each island has its own charms and identity -- in this case, a stark, volcanic landscape that cossets away the fascinating architecture of César Manrique and, of course, a shedload of Atlantic beaches.
Details: Panorama (0818 202 020; panoramaholidays.ie) has seven nights at the four-star Sol Lanzarote Hotel in Matagorda on a half-board basis from €579pp, departing February 12.
Over the mid-term break, GoHop.ie has a week's three-star self-catering from €1,185 for two adults and one child.
Savour the Sunshine State in Orlando
Orlando is one of the top family-friendly destinations on the planet -- not that Irish holidaymakers need to be told, of course. We can't get enough of Florida's laid-back attitude, year-round sunshine (expect the high teens in February and March) and child-friendly attitude.
Orlando is known for its theme parks -- Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Discovery Cove are just the tip of the iceberg -- but don't forget the city offers great shopping malls, nightlife and a surprisingly good downtown scene too. Plus, the coast is less than an hour away.
Details: Tour America (01-817 3535; touramerica.ie) has seven nights at the Radisson International Drive in Orlando from €539pp. Departs March 8.
We all know Bermuda is a tropical paradise. But did you know it’s just a seven-hour flight from Gatwick, and that average winter sun temperatures hover around 21°C? That’s warmer than the Canaries, and pretty much the ideal climate in which to enjoy the luxury island life. Bermuda ain’t cheap, but we’ve found a $500 (€370) discount if you book with Project Travel by February 28, and an upgrade to BA World Traveller Plus if you book by January 31.
Details: Project Travel (01-210 8391; project-travel.ie) has seven nights, including flights, taxes and full-board at the three-star Grotto Bay Beach Resort, from €1,942pp.
Seaside paradise in Portugal
By now, Irish holidaymakers know the Algarve inside out. Despite the recession and the dive in confidence following the abduction of Madeleine McCann, we continue to travel there in numbers, utterly won over by the golden beaches, harbour restaurants, whitewashed villages, exuberant Aquaparks and easygoing nature of a population now so familiar with us as to shout 'Sláinte' as we crack open our wine. It's the Costa del Sol with more charm and better beaches, and you can expect springtime temperatures to rise from the mid-teens to the low-20s.
Details: Concorde Travel (01-775 9300; concordetravel.ie) has a week of four-star self-catering at the Luna Alvor Village from €485pp, departing February 21.
Or try searching on lowcostholidays.ie, a new holiday website where you can play with flight and accommodation combinations.
Crash out in Cannes
and the Côte d’Azur Think of the Côte d’Azur and images of exclusive beaches, ritzy hotels and Mick Jagger prancing about on mega-yachts spring to mind. A trip to the French Riviera doesn’t have to break the bank, however.
Based out of Cannes, this threeday break includes full-day guided excursions to St Paul de Vence and Aix en Provence, complete with a tour of Cezanne’s Studio. It’s short and sweet, and temperatures on the Côte should be flirting with the 20s in springtime. Details: The Travel Department (01-637 1600; thetraveldepartment. ie) has this three-night trip, based on February 13 departures, from €285pp plus tax.
Make for Madeira
Set 300km off the African coast, Madeira is the quiet kid of Irish package-holiday destinations, at once exotic and manageable for even conservative holidaymakers. In February and March, temperatures should be in the high teens -- ideal for exploring its dramatic coast, the capital of Funchal, and a spread of gardens (the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Laurisilva is the world's largest evergreen forest).
Details: Lastminute.com has seven nights in a three-star B&B from €499pp, departing February 13. Topflight (01-240 1717; topflight.ie) has a 'Stay & Explore' break with gardening excursions from €799pp. It departs on February 27 and March 13.
Marrakech and Agadir enjoy average temperatures of 21°C throughout winter — not bad if you’re looking to escape the frostiness of an Irish February. Morocco has been on the up and up in recent years, offering a combo of beaches, mountains and desert excursions that led to a place in ‘Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries to Visit for 2010’. The ‘Sex and the City’ gals were wowed when they filmed here too (Morocco doubled for Abu Dhabi). Temperatures do drop at night, but by then you should be tucked up in a buzzing restaurant.
Details: Sunway (01-288 6828; sunway.ie) has a three-star selfcatering package to Morocco from €299pp in February and March. Over mid-term, the total price for a family of four is €2,216.
Dreaming of the Dominican Republic
There are some pretty impressive all-inclusive prices coming from the Dominican Republic this year; this GoHop.ie offer is just one. It includes seven nights on a full-board basis at the Ocean Blue & Sands Resort in Punta Cana, a five-star resort fronting on to one of the idyllic, white-sand beaches for which the Caribbean country is so famous. Throw in a bowling alley, two pools, 24/7 services and private Jacuzzis and you've got some of the best long-haul value available this winter.
Details: GoHop.ie has this seven-night package from €1,155pp, valid for travel in February; must be booked by January 31.
NB: All prices include flights, accommodation and taxes, except where stated otherwise. Details correct going to press, but all holidays are subject to availability.