The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, 14 nights' accommodations, sightseeing tours, most meals, and transportation from $1,795 per person—plus taxes of about $150.
When: Depart on Dec. 2, 2008; add $200 for Nov. 5; $500 for Oct. 21, 22; $700 for June 3, 10, 25, July 1, 16, Oct. 8; $800 for April 29, 30, Aug. 6, 27, 30, Sept. 6, 13, 17, 27; $1,000 for May 6, 27.
Gateways: New York City; add $150 for D.C.; $250 for Chicago, Miami; $300 for L.A., San Francisco $350 for Houston, Minneapolis, Seattle; additional cities available.
The fine print: A $400 per person discount is valid for departures June through December and is reflected in the starting rate of $1,795. Twenty-three meals (15 breakfasts, three lunches, and five dinners), baggage handling with tip for one piece of luggage per person, round-trip airport-hotel transfers, private-bus transportation between destinations, seven guided sightseeing tours, four cultural programs, and the services of an English-speaking program director are all included. Participants will also receive a 5 percent credit toward another Grand Circle trip. Taxes and fees are an additional $150 per person. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $595 from July to December; add $100 for departures from Apr. 1 to June 28, 2008. Read before you book any Real Deal.
Contact: Grand Circle Travel, 800/959-0405, gct.com.
Why it's a deal: According to a recent Kayak search, the lowest multi-city round-trip fares from New York City to Warsaw and from Prague to New York City, departing in early December, start from $673 (Iberia). For an additional $1,272 (including tax)—which breaks down to about an extra $91 a night—GCT will cover accommodations in Warsaw, Kraków, Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague; daily breakfast and several lunches and dinners; and all transportation and transfers, as well as the services of a program director. You also benefit from the time-saving convenience of having so many details arranged on your behalf.
Trip details: The includes flights from New York City to Warsaw and from Prague to New York City on Lufthansa, Northwest, Air France, Austrian Airlines, or another major airline, as well as two weeks' accommodations divided between Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
The journey begins in Warsaw, Poland, where a representative will meet you upon arrival and help you transfer to your hotel. You'll have a choice between the 311-room Radisson SAS Centrum or the 314-room Hilton Warsaw.
While in Warsaw, you'll take a half-day tour of the Polish capital, which was rebuilt after World War II. You'll explore Old Town, located on the banks of the Vistula River and surrounded by walls that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Other stops include the Royal Palace by Lazienki Park and the Heroes of the Ghetto Memorial in the heart of the WWII-era Jewish ghetto. You'll also have a day to explore the city on your own. Be sure to go to the top of the 37-story Palace of Culture and Science to take in panoramic views of the river. A unique highlight of the Warsaw experience is the chance to join a local Polish family for dinner at their home.
Next, you'll board a bus for a 200-mile drive along a scenic route to Kraków, stopping along the way in Czestochowa to visit the 14th-century Jasna Gora Monastery and have lunch. You'll spend the next four nights at either the Radisson SAS Krakow or the Qubus Hotel Krakow.
Kraków was the capital of Poland until 1596 and retains more of its historic charm than Warsaw. You'll tour Market Square, the Draper's Hall market, and the Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral. Also included in the package are trips to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where millions perished during WWII. You'll have some free time to familiarize yourself with Kraków at your own pace, though you can opt to join activities like a group trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, which have been in operation for seven centuries ($85 per person).
On your way from Kraków to Budapest, you'll stop for lunch in Staré Hory, a Slovakian town known for its lace making. The four-night stay in Budapest includes accommodations at either the Radisson SAS Beke Hotel or the Danubius Thermal Hotel Margitsziget.
The included organized excursion in Budapest will cover major attractions in both Buda and Pest (which are divided by the not-so-blue Danube River), including Heroes Square and Matthias Church. You'll also have some downtime for independent sightseeing. If time allows, visit the 19th-century National Museum or stop by Grand Boulevard to admire Herend porcelain and peasant embroidery and perhaps pick up a souvenir or two. As in Kraków, there are several optional tours, such as a full-day exploration of the Danube Bend, a string of small riverside towns north of Budapest ($90 per person) and a Hungarian horse show and tour ($85 per person).
For the final leg of the trip, you'll travel approximately 300 miles to Prague, stopping along the way for lunch in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. You'll check into the 397-room , your base for four nights in Prague. Here you'll visit blockbuster attractions: Wenceslas Square; Staré Mesto (Old Town), famous for its Gothic and baroque architecture and the 15th-century astronomical clock at Old Town Hall; and Hradcany, the Castle District and site of St. Vitus Cathedral.
You'll also be free to sightsee on your own or tack on a visit to Sychrov Castle with dinner ($80 per person) or other optional offerings. The night before your departure, enjoy a farewell dinner complete with polka dancing.
If you're up for more at the end of this whirlwind trip, you might consider one of GCT's four-night extensions starting from $495 per person for Berlin, Germany, and $695 per person for Vienna, Austria.
For more tips on what to do in the region, visit the Web sites of the Polish National Tourist Office, the Hungarian National Tourist Office, the Slovak Tourist Board and the official travel site of the Czech Republic.
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