Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Millennium Madness

From small money to gigantic, from local spots to international, options for the Big Night abound.

By Paul Gerald

NOVEMBER 29, 1999:  So what are you doing New Year’s Eve? If you’re thinking of going somewhere out of town, you’d better get started on those reservations — and keep a firm hold on your wallet.

Memphis travel agents report higher-than-normal prices nearly across the board for airfares, hotels, and cruises as people pick their special places to ring in 2000.

“Prices are tripled and quadrupled,” says Beth McCarty of McCarty Travel. “Ordinarily, at this time of year, it’s doubled at most.”

As evidence, McCarty points to hotels near Time Square in New York that are charging $280 to $300 a night for December 27th or 28th but $1,000 each for the next three nights. Then she states the Law of Economics that drives the prices up: “They’ll get it,” she says. “People want to be in New York for New Year’s Eve.”

Likewise, a four-day cruise in the Bahamas — nomally $450 per person — is about $1,500 per person if you want to spend the Big Night on the high seas. Many cruise lines are planning to have several of their ships rendezvous for big blowout parties; otherwise it’s a normal cruise with an abnormal date.

Still, if you have some money and a yearning for the dramatic or luxurious, there are some options. McCarty says one of the best values she’s found is the Ritz Carlton Laguna Negal, just south of Los Angeles; their all-inclusive package for two people over three nights — lunch and dinner daily and champagne at the right time — is $3,500 plus airfare.

Barry Fuller at Regency Travel reports insanity, such as a $2,200 dinner in London — “Sorry, you just can’t eat and drink that much,” he says — and also that one problem people will face is availability on domestic flights. For example, airfares to Denver (should you want to go skiing) are in the $450 range, but only if you leave Memphis around 6 in the morning. And even those seats are filling fast.

On the positive side, both agents report fares to Europe are only marginally higher, around $600. There’s more availability, and hotel rooms over there aren’t too much higher than usual. “I think a lot of people just decided they aren’t going to be out of the country on January 1st,” Fuller says.

Fuller says Regency still has room on trips to Italy (spend the Big Night in Rome) and Austria (dance in 2000 at a castle in Vienna). Both of those trips run less than $3,000 per person.

If you’ve got bigger money, cruise for 16 days around New Zealand for $11,000 per person or in the South Pacific for about $12,000; sure, it’s a lot of cash, but some of those cruises cross the International Date Line, which would give you two New Year’s Eves to celebrate.

If you’ve got gigantic money, there’s a 28-day round-the-world flight on the Concord. Spend Christmas in Hawaii and New Year’s in Hong Kong, and stop along the way in Fiji, the Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Paris, Rome, New York, Las Vegas, etc., with a private limo wherever you land. It’s a smooth $150,000 per couple, but McCarty says there are only 6 seats left, out of 100. I refer you to her above-stated Law of Economics.

Assuming your money is more in realm of reality but you’d still like to spend the Big Night someplace special, call a travel agent about the myriad options and packages still out there. Meanwhile, here are some options:

Bed-and-breakfasts are putting on special meals and offering music and other enticements. Bonne Terre in Mississippi, for example, has a five-course meal with music and a celebration in the restaurant. The meal is open to non-guests, and rooms are $275 with a two-night minimum.

New Orleans, McCarty reports, is “doing very well, not particularly outrageous, but pretty full.” One thing that’s helping with New Year’s Eve plans is that the Sugar Bowl football game, traditionally on January 1st, this year is on the 4th. The city will be its usual berserk self, with a four-and-a-half-hour jazz funeral winding through the streets, a free concert in Jackson Square, a ball dropping at the Jackson Brewery, and the town’s biggest fireworks display ever, over the Mississippi. Naturally, every place in town has music, some of it free and some of it coming with high price tags but various add-ons. Highlights include the Neville Brothers at Harrah’s Casino (price TBA), the $200 Radiators show at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World (includes dinner, all-you-can-stand crawfish, and an open bar all night), and the $150 Funky Meters/Subdudes show at Tipitina’s Uptown. If you’re real flexible with dates, Northwest can get you down there for as low as $325. Amtrak still has seats available for as little as $117 round-trip, but the ones around the 31st are going fast.

Most Colorado ski resorts (find them all at www.skicolorado.org) have packages available, and airfares — though filling up quickly — aren’t too nuts. For example, Winter Park has five nights and four skiing days with dinner and breakfast each day, plus a spa session, dogsled ride, and snowmobile tour, for $2,000 per couple. Steamboat, a fantastic ski resort with a real town and lots of activities, has a package that includes five nights in a condo and a four-day lift ticket for as little as $513 per person plus airfare. Starting December 17th, Northwest offers nonstop service from Minneapolis to Steamboat, Vail, and Aspen, with fares running from roughly $430 to $521. Fares to Denver are at the low end of that same scale. For more information on Colorado skiing, call 1-800-265-6723.

While most Tennessee State Parks are closed for the holidays, Paris Landing State Park has just announced its Countdown 2000 Party, with per-couple packages of $75 (dance, snacks, party favors, and breakfast), $125 (add a prime rib dinner), $200 (add a night at the Paris Landing Resort Inn), and $300 (two nights at the inn, with dinner and breakfast each day). Call 1-800-250-8614 for more information.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast, with its 13 casinos and countless hotels, offers packages galore, ranging from $100 to $350 a night, some of them with helicopter rides and other craziness. Biloxi is ending its Tricentennial celebration with a ball-dropping. Farther south and east, all the Orlando, Florida, theme parks and resorts offer packages and still have room.

And finally, I had to get this in for personal reasons: Deadheads may finally have something to look forward to. The Grateful Dead always held that whoever was left would play 12-31-99, and just as this column went to press, the announcement finally came. Word is that drummer Mickey Hart’s band Planet Drum, along with guitarist Bob Weir’s band Ratdog, have booked San Francisco’s small, ornate Warfield Theater for the Big Night. The other surviving members have no announced plans, so anticipation of a reunion is extremely high. Stay tuned to www.dead.net for details. Fares to San Francisco won’t be much less than $500, you can bet.

So, since I asked what you’ll be doing, that’s probably what your humble travel writer will be doing. Normally I skip New Year’s — Amateur Night, you know. But this one, no matter what calendar nerds say about it not being the actual end of the millennium, is special. So unless Ole Miss wins the rest of its games and plays football on New Year’s Day, I’ll hopefully be at the Warfield, dancing in the millennium to what promises to be an absolutely massive midnight version of “Sugar Magnolia.”

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