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 The Brancatelli File

joe ARE YOU READY TO PARTY
LIKE IT'S 1999, UH, 2000?


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

November 25, 1999 -- Despite a torrent of publicity about Y2K computer problems and attempts by the travel industry to jack prices into the stratosphere, experts say one in four Americans will travel for this year's Millennium New Year's celebration.

So here's the question: What are you doing New Year's Eve?

Want to party on a plane headed to Hawaii? You can do it. Perhaps you and 200 of your closest friends want to take over a London hotel and party like it's 1999? You can do that, too. Or maybe you and your significant other want the best suite in the best place in town complete with a butler who'll pour French champagne into crystal glasses? You can even do that, but it could cost you more than a year's salary.

THE SAFETY ISSUE
Still worried about Y2K issues? Travelers driving or flying around the United States shouldn't be nervous. As far as anyone can tell, the fears about Y2K-related glitches seem totally unfounded. Gasoline stations and roadside automated-teller machines will be working. So will airports and airlines.

Overseas, however, a few developing nations and economically stressed countries like Russia are struggling with Y2K snafus. If you're considering traveling internationally for the New Year, check the website maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation http://www.fly2k.dot.gov/). It assesses each nation's readiness and the state of their airlines and airports.

THE PRICE ISSUE
Still worried about the price of your Millennium celebration? Don't be. Unless you're looking for one of those once-in-a-lifetime packages, prices should be in line with what you'd pay any New Year's Eve. Most hotels, resorts and cruise lines found they couldn't sell products with outrageously high Millennium premiums, so they have been slashing prices as New Year's Eve approaches. One example: More than 180 Sofitel, Novotel and Mercure properties in 13 European countries have cut holiday room rates by 50 percent. The discount is offered New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and January 2.

What are they charging for New Year's Eve accommodations around the United States? Here's a representative sampling: At the Grand Hyatt Washington, it's $325 for a New Year's Eve room, a magnum of champagne, two keepsake crystal flutes, and a New Year's Day brunch. In San Antonio, at the new Westin La Cantera Resort, $999 buys a three-night package of accommodations, souvenirs, New Year's Eve dinner and champagne brunch on New Year's Day. In New York, at the Regal U.N. Plaza, rooms start at $399 a night. In Chicago, at the Palmer House Hilton, the Millennium room rate is $349 a night. And in San Francisco, at the Hotel Vintage Court, prices start at $250 including wine and coffee.

PARTYING ON THE FLY
If you must do something different this New Year's Eve, call Pleasant Hawaii Holidays. On New Year's Eve, they've got flights to Hawaii leaving from Los Angeles or San Francisco. The trip to paradise will feature an in-flight party, games and prizes. After an overnight stay at the beachfront Outrigger Hotel on Waikiki Beach, you fly home on New Year's Day. Prices start at $349 a person and include roundtrip airfare, hotel-to-airport transportation, lodging, and a lei greeting in Hawaii.

NEW YEAR'S AT THE 'HOME OF TIME'
No city is promoting the next century quite like London, the self-described Millennium City. It has built a gigantic Millennium Dome that straddles the prime meridian in Greenwich, the London suburb which now calls itself "the home of time." The new Dome is outfitted with an elaborate, multimedia, interactive exhibition and there's also a theater to screen a new edition of BlackAdder, the 1980s sitcom that lampoons British history. The $1 billion Dome opens on New Year's Day. So does the London Eye, a 443-foot-high Ferris wheel erected on the south bank of the River Thames. The 30-minute ride will offer dramatic views of London.

The best way to experience the hoopla in London may be with 200 of your friends. And if you actually have 200 friends, you might as well take over the Sheraton Belgravia Hotel for New Year's Eve. Rooms normally run about $315 a night, but buy up the whole hotel and you receive a special Millennium Package. It includes two nights of accommodations for 200 people, a welcome reception, snacks and an elegant buffet dinner. The cost? A comparatively modest $88,000--or just $220 a night per person.

PUTTING ON THE RITZ
If you really want to put on the Ritz this New Year's Eve, the swanky Ritz-Carlton chain has put together an outrageous, over-the-top New Year's Eve package. The Ultimate Experience--only one is available at each Ritz-Carlton hotel or resort--offers three nights in the hotel's best suite; his-and-her 18-karat gold Bulgari watches; use of a chauffeur-driven Jaguar; 24-hour private butler service; a magnum of champagne and two keepsake Baccarat flutes; a daily massage for two; and customized special amenities and gifts. The price? A staggering $100,000. Think no one would pay that much? Guess again. Ritz-Carlton says four properties have already sold their Ultimate Experiences.

But there is good news for the rest of us: If you want to put on the Ritz without squandering your savings, the more reasonably priced Millennium Experience package at each Ritz-Carlton starts at $350 a room. That price includes accommodations, a bottle of champagne and a pair of those Baccarat flutes.

This column originally appeared at Mapquest.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.