Dig deep for the night of a lifetime

Champagne and fireworks, ski slopes and tropical lagoons will be hard to book and harder to pay for at the end of the epoch, reports Jeremy Skidmore, editor of `Travel Weekly'
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The Independent Travel
FANCY SEEING in the new millennium with a sumptuous meal in a top hotel where the finest wines will be flowing freely?

If so, you had better start saving now. As an example of the kind of prices you might expect, one hotel in the small, provincial town of Chester, The Grosvenor, will be charging an incredible pounds 1,500 per head in its top restaurant, The Arkle. If you want to stay the night after the meal, that's an extra pounds 195 plus VAT for a double room. Compare that to a normal New Year's Eve like this year, when dinner in The Arkle with a champagne reception will cost a mere pounds 175 per head, although you would have to pay extra for wine.

Despite the huge hike in price, the hotel is reporting a roaring trade. Already half the 40 places in The Arkle for 31 December 1999 have gone and the hotel confidently expects the restaurant to be sold out. So, one small exclusive restaurant is expected to turn over pounds 60,000 on a single night. Vivien Brookshaw, sales and marketing administrator for the Chester Grosvenor, defends the hotel's prices. "The millennium package includes wines which are worth several hundred pounds. We also have to pay people extra to work over this period. Of course, it is more expensive than usual, but it will be a wonderful experience."

For those wanting to see in the millennium abroad, there's a similar pattern of fast-selling, expensive packages - even if prices are not as loaded as those in some UK hotels. For example, Thomson, the biggest package- holiday operator in the country, claimed to have taken over 20,000 bookings for the millennium period by early December. A typical, two-week holiday in a four-star hotel in the Canaries over the millennium, currently on sale at the company's in-house travel agent Lunn Poly, will cost pounds 1,157 per person. The same holiday this year is just pounds 869.

According to Thomson's managing director, Richard Bowden-Doyle, his clients are not looking for anything adventurous but instead want the comfort of a familiar holiday. "Over 50 per cent of our business over the millennium is for Spain and, in particular, Benidorm," says Mr Bowden- Doyle. "Spain in the winter is one of those places where most business is repeat. People go for the same fortnight with the same friends. They want to see the New Year in with people they know."

Skiing is expected to be one of the most popular millennium packages, with a substantial number of people having already paid deposits to secure their favourite resort. But they too will have to pay a price to be on the piste when the clocks strike midnight on 31 December 1999. First Choice is charging from pounds 735 per person for seven nights' half-board in Meribel, compared to pounds 509 this season.

Inghams, another popular ski operator, will start selling millennium packages by the end of January, but its sales and marketing manager, Laurence Hicks, warns prices will be up to 40 per cent higher than this year. He also says that people who want to go away should not wait until the brochures come out before booking. He urges skiers to put down a deposit now for the resort of their choice.

Inghams has been taking pounds 100 deposits per person for the millennium for the last two years and claims to have over 1,000 pre-registration forms. "These clients will be given priority," said Mr Hicks. "Upon receipt of our "Early-bird" brochure, the popular resorts will have been allocated already and even some who have pre-registered may be disappointed."

Those with a bit more to spend might consider a cruise for the millennium. Although prices are higher than for most package holidays, cruise companies do not seem to be loading prices for the big event like their landlubber competitors.

P&O's flagship, Oriana, is offering a 24-night cruise from 11 December which takes in the Caribbean and crosses the Atlantic to Madeira for a spectacular firework show on New Year's Eve, 1999. Prices start from pounds 3,495 per person, but the cruise line's marketing director, David Dingle, said the average daily rate on Oriana over the period, pounds 231, is just 12 per cent higher than this year, when the ship is in west African waters. Oriana's sister ship, Arcadia, is also having a millennium cruise, taking in west Africa and arriving in Madeira for the firework show. Prices start at pounds 2,695. Oriana can take 1,810 passengers and Arcadia 1,475. Dingle says the company has sold two-thirds of the available cabins. Anyone wanting to book a berth can do so through agents or direct with the company.

One of the most extravagant parties will likely be at Disneyland Paris, although the company is keeping a firm lid on the details until next year. Prices are expected to be high and allocation of beds for the UK market is likely to be tight. Interested parties are advised to register with Disney's preferred operator, Paris Travel Service.

For details, call: The Chester Grosvenor (tel: 01244 324024); Thomson Holidays (tel: 0171-387 9321); First Choice (tel: 01293 560777); P&O Cruises (tel: 0171-800 2345); and Paris Travel Service (tel: 01992 456100).


HOLIDAYMAKERS who lose their bags, or who experience flight delays over the millennium may find they cannot claim any compensation from their insurance policies.

Most policies on the market state that travellers will not be covered for incidents which are found to be due to the dreaded "millennium bug" - the failure of computers to recognise dates after 2000 because they store only the last two digits for each year.

The good news is that medical cover is not subject to the same rules, so insurance policies should protect you if you fall ill during the millennium period, even in the unlikely event that your illness can be linked to the millennium bug.

JS Insurance's managing director, Steve King, says: "The main fear among insurance companies is that there could be a catastrophe, with air traffic control systems failing all over the world, and consequently flight delays on a massive scale.

"If someone loses their bags in an isolated incident, I don't think insurance companies are going to get picky and try to wriggle out of paying compensation," he said. "If the problem is due to the millennium bug, then bags will go missing on a massive scale, it won't be an isolated incident."

Meanwhile, several charter airlines, including Thomson-owned Britannia, have said they will not be flying for several hours before or after New Year's Eve 1999.

Thomson managing director Richard Bowden-Doyle said it was not a safety issue - despite the doom-sayers' predictions that planes will be raining from the skies because of the bug - but rather that passengers and staff did not want to celebrate the millennium in the air.