Winter in Budapest, though chilly, offers great bargains. The Hungarian National Tourist Office (www.hungary.com) is running its second Budapest Winter Invasion promotion (www.budapestwinterinvasion.com) through March. Book clients for three nights at any of the 60 or so five-, four- or three-star hotels, and they will get a fourth night free. A full list is available on the promotional web site.
If you think it might be hard to sell a client on a winter vacation that doesn't involve ski slopes, try mentioning that during the off season of November through March, they can expect to pay only $400 for a roundtrip coach flight, instead of the in-season $1,000, allowing them to pocket the savings or put it towards a business- or first-class upgrade.
Getting There: Various airlines go to Budapest, but Hungary's own carrier, Malév (www.malev.com), flies direct from New York. Such flights tend to fill up quickly, and though it will require a connection, flying Malév's Oneworld alliance partner American Airlines (www.aa.com) gives clients a chance to check out American's new lie-flat seats in business class, which will be rolled out across the airline's fleet by the end of this year.
Hotels: On our most recent trip, we stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace (www.fourseasons.com/budapest). Its Danube Premier rooms (be sure to book one with a balcony) provide the basics—albeit the basics in high style and comfort. Rooms are decorated in Art Deco fashion, with marble bathrooms that offer deep soaking tubs and separate glass-walled showers.
Though there are larger suites at the hotel, the best to book are the Park Suites, located on the third and fourth floors. Note that these are not the two-room suites Americans might be used to. Park Suites are made up of one large room, with several sitting areas and a desk. What makes them standouts is the positioning of the bed—directly facing a window that opens up to a fantastic view of the Danube. It's quite a sight to wake up to each morning, and a daring change from the positioning of most beds, which tend to face flat-screen TVs. For more information, agents can contact Sherryn Bates, the hotel's director of marketing, at +36-1-268-6000 or [email protected]
Le Méridien Budapest (www.starwoodhotels.com) is much more opulent than the Four Seasons and tends to have a lot of people roaming around it. Le Méridien's lobby offers abundant velvety cushioned seating, which guests obligingly take advantage of: On a Saturday morning, Le Méridien's lobby, which is partially dedicated to food and beverage services, bustles like a popular sidewalk café.
At Le Méridien, guests who prefer easy access in and out of the hotel should opt for rooms on the third floor, since they're closest to the lobby. If clients want a view, ask for a room that faces Erzsébet Park and St. Ste-phen's Basilica—there are a few on each level of the hotel. The best vista, however, is to be had from the balconies of Le Méridien's Diplomatic Suites, on the top floor. These are the most spacious as well. Contact General Manager Adrian Gray at +36-1-429-5670 or [email protected] for more information.
Both the Four Seasons and Le Méridien are participating in the Winter Invasion promotion and are located on the Pest side of the Danube River, not far from the famous Gerbeaud Ház café ( www.gerbeaud.hu).
Tour Operators: In the colder months, it may be best to sign clients up for a custom tour, such as one offered by Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com). The company offers two independent and budget-friendly trips to Budapest, which include flights and accommodations. Clients can opt to spend six days, priced from $629, over Thanksgiving, departing the U.S. on November 19. Custom six-day trips are also available November through March 2008, with prices starting at $649.
On a customized tour, recommend clients visit during a festival, when the city's markets showcase original goods. Upcoming festival info can be found on the Budapest Winter Invasion web site.
During the peak season of June through September, Exeter Inter-national's (www.exeterinternational.com) "Eastern Europe through Closed Doors" tour is a dream for art lovers. Recommend your clients set up a guided visit to the Spanish Masters Collection at the Fine Arts Museum ( www.szepmuveszeti.hu), hosted by a curator. For music lovers, book a private backstage tour of the Hungarian Opera House (www.opera.hu).
Central to Exeter International's itineraries are Budapest and Prague, and clients have the option of adding on Vienna or St. Petersburg, Russia. The trip, which can last between eight and 13 days, depending on extensions, spends three nights in Budapest, visiting such landmarks as the Royal Palace, Matthias Church and Parliament, and includes a dinner at Gundel's, which is Hungary's most famous restaurant. At press time, 2008 pricing was still being finalized, but departure dates for next year are June 16, July 21, August 18 and September 15. Exeter's Hungary specialist is Gwen Kozlowski, who is based in Tampa, FL. She can be reached at 813-251-5355 or [email protected]
Cruises: Also during the peak season, clients can get a different view by taking a river cruise with Avalon Waterways (www.avalonwaterways.com), a division of Globus (www.globustravelagent.com). In all, in 2008, the company has five cruises operating on the Danube, with stops in Budapest. The 20-day "Jewels of Central Europe" sails from Budapest to Paris; guests can also travel for 18 days from Paris to Budapest. Stops along the way include Nuremberg, Passau-Linz and Vienna. Departure dates are June through October. Prices for the 18-day tour begin at $4,049 and at $4,689 for the 20-day tour. Avalon pays commissions between 10 and 17 percent depending on an agent's sales volume. Contact Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, with questions at 877-797-8791.