Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, three nights' hotel accommodations, seven nights aboard a small ship, meals, land transportation, and shore excursions, from $2,295 per person—plus taxes and port charges of about $457.
When: Depart Feb. 1, 15, 22, 29, 2008.
Gateways: Boston, Detroit, New York City, and Newark; add $100 for Washington, D.C.; $200 for Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami; many other U.S. cities available for a low additional charge.
The fine print: Ten group excursions and activities, the services of an English-speaking tour guide, airport-hotel transfers, 25 meals (10 breakfasts, seven lunches, and eight dinners), and fuel surcharges (which tend to be in the $200–$400 range) are included. Taxes and fees of up to 10 percent and a flat $225 port charge are extra. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is 25 percent. See for details on additional discounts, such as up to 10 percent off your remaining balance (after your $500 deposit) if you pay in full by check or cash within two weeks of making a reservation; a 5 percent discount on your next trip with this company, as long as you depart on your next trip within a year. Read these before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), Reservations are made over the phone only, using the code INET350: 800/873-5628, .
Why it's a deal: According to a recent search on Sidestep, the lowest round-trip multi-city fares—arriving in Zagreb and departing from Dubrovnik—in early February are: $895 from Boston (multiple carriers); $969 from New York City (multiple carriers); and $1,115 from Los Angeles (multiple carriers). The three-night hotel stay is valued at about $323 per person, which would bring the DIY total to $1,218-$1,438, not including the cruise portion of the trip. In comparison, for about $1,000 more, the OAT package includes the airfare and three-night hotel stay as well as a seven-night cruise, most meals, guided excursions, and all land transportation. Also, by choosing to travel in the winter, you're saving about 50 percent off the high-season price of this package.
Trip details: The allows you to explore, crowd-free, the rocky cliffs, the tiny harbor, and the thousand islands that dot the coast of this increasingly popular vacation spot.
You'll set off on your journey by flying Lufthansa to Frankfurt and then catching a connecting flight on Croatian Air to Zagreb, where you'll spend two nights at the 266-room , located on the main city square, Trg Bana Jelacica, close to major cultural attractions and a five-minute walk to the main shopping district. You'll take a sightseeing tour that includes the historic monuments of 19th–century Lower Town, the medieval streets of Upper Town, and the lively open-air market, Dolac.
Next you'll begin traveling toward the coast. You'll stop in Trogir, an ancient island city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site first settled by the Greeks. After a sightseeing stroll through the city's Old Town, you'll proceed to the coastal town of Split, where you'll board your ship.
You'll spend the next seven nights aboard theAthena, one of OAT's two new small ships, with room for only 50 passengers. The ships, designed to cater to Americans over the age of 50, were built in Split. Decorated in the style of a 1930s yacht, each ship has 26 outside cabins with rooms measuring 140–170 square feet), a sundeck, a dining room, and a salon with a bar. The package price is based on a main deck cabin, but you can upgrade to an upper deck cabin for an additional $400 per person.
You'll stay two nights in Split aboard the docked vessel, which will give you time to explore Split, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the most well-known Roman ruin in Southeastern Europe: the Imperial Palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. There is also an optional tour of Sibenik, a town about an hour from Split, and Krka Falls, a series of waterfalls by a national park.
On the seventh morning, you'll wake up in Brach, the largest island in the Adriatic Sea off the Dalmatian coast, with the highest peak of all of the Croatian islands. You'll spend most of the day exploring Brach, famous for its stone quarries and numerous sanctuaries. The marble used to build the White House in D.C. originates from this island. After a lunch hosted by local families, you'll set sail for Hvar.
Since 3,500 B.C., rule over Hvar, the longest of the Croatian islands, has passed from the Greeks to the Romans to the Ottomans to the Austrians to the French. You'll tour the Old City (Stari Grad) and its surrounding farms, vineyards, and olive groves before you sail to the medieval town of Korcula, on the island of the same name, for an evening of traditional klapa music, sung in four-part harmony.
After a day of sightseeing in Korcula, you'll sail to Ploce and then take a three-hour ride by private bus to the city of Mostar in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia. The city was named after a four-centuries-old bridge linking its Christian and Muslim quarters. The bridge was destroyed by a bomb in 1993 during the civil war, but it was rebuilt in 2004.
You'll have lunch in the 9,000-year-old village of Blagaj, famous for its Byzantine fortresses. Then you'll return to your ship in Ploce, where you'll stay one final night before disembarking.
After a short bus ride, you'll arrive in the medieval city of Dubrovnik situated at the country's southernmost tip and offering breathtaking views of the Adriatic. Also known by the Latin name Ragusa, the former city-state once rivaled Venice. You'll check in for one night at the 147-room , steps away from the walled Old Town (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). The Sponza Palace, the Rupe Ethnographical Museum, and a Franciscan Monastery (St. Blasius Church) are nearby. On the final morning, you'll be transferred to Dubrovnik's airport to catch your flight home.
For an additional $445 per person, you can add three extra nights to your vacation either before or after your trip. The pre-trip option includes three nights in Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital city famous for its Old Europe charm. The post-trip extension covers a three-night stay in Dubrovnik. Single supplement is $245 for Ljubljana and $195 for Dubrovnik. The add-on includes accommodations, daily breakfast, one dinner, a city tour, and transfers.
For more on tips on what to see and do, visit the .
The package's valid travel dates are during the winter, when temperatures average at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Before you go, check the , the , and the at .