Something to declare: Cruises to Antarctica; Strikes in Italy; Dublin to America

The best deals, the latest hot spots and what's new in travel


Destination of the week: Spitzbergen

Destination of the week: Spitzbergen

Prices for cruises to Antarctica are falling, making the fringes of the southern continent increasingly mainstream. This process is likely soon to accelerate when BBC1's Holiday 2005 screens a two-part report on an Antarctic voyage.

Inevitably, the travel industry is already talking about the "new Antarctica" - and the leading candidate is Spitzbergen, the Arctic island jointly administered by Norway and Russia.

"It's got the same sense of remoteness and some extraordinary wildlife, yet it's only a few hours' flying time from the UK," says Paul Goldstein of Exodus (0870 240 5550; www.exodus.co.uk). Exodus offers midsummer trips to Spitzbergen. You fly via Oslo to the capital, Longyearbyen, and board a Russian icebreaker for a 10-day circuit. Prices range from £2,345 to £2,995, depending on departure date, and include flights and all meals. Exodus also offers Arctic scuba-diving.

Spitzbergen features in five of the new "Pole to Pole" expedition cruises from Discover the World (01737 214 250; www.pole-to-pole.co.uk). The cheapest is a 12-day trip from Aberdeen through the volcanic islands of northern Europe to Spitzbergen. The price of £1,937 includes meals and the flight home.

If you insist on a trip to Antarctica, Discover the World is offering an 11-day cruise in late February and early March for £2,056 plus air fares to South America.

Warning of the week: go slow in Italy?

This week has seen strikes by flight crew on Italy's national airline, Alitalia, and by airport workers in Milan. The Foreign Office warns that "there is currently a risk of unannounced wildcat strikes by transport workers in cities across Italy" and says that air-traffic controllers are set to walk out next weekend. This could affect travellers flying to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, where flight paths cross Italy.

Bargain of the week: fly to Dublin, to connect to America

For many years, Irish travellers to the US have been able to clear US immigration at Dublin airport before boarding the transatlantic flight, saving time and stress on arrival. But Aer Lingus (08459 737 747; www.aerlingus.com) also offers good connections from a wide range of UK airports.

The other advantage of going to Dublin en route to America: cheap flights with no minimum-stay restrictions. You can fly Manchester-Dublin-LA for a three-day return in mid-February for £351, or from Birmingham to Boston for £264. Open-jaw flights are allowed, eg out from London Heathrow to Chicago and back from New York for £315 all in.

Simon Calder

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