£69 -- Central Florence Stay w/Upgrade & Breakfast, Reg £135
Like a Roman emperor’s food taster, it is one of the hallmarks of a Travelzoo job to try out, every year, one of the deals we put out in the Top 20 and other publications. Accordingly, Travelzoo staff jet off all over the world, from Cuba to the Costa del Sol, and report back on what they find. As for me, Zanzibar was sorely tempting this year (it just sounds so wonderfully exotic), as was our deal at the highly indulgent 5-star Irish property Lough Eske, which has also proved very popular with subscribers. But in the end, my inner culture junkie won out and I’m taking me and Ms Publisher to Florence.
I’m excited about the Aladdin’s Cave of Renaissance treasures in the Uffizi Gallery (book online, people, that’s the way to avoid the legendary queues -- even if crowds in the gallery itself have been somewhat reduced, I was amused to hear, by the provision of special Japanese-language exit signs) as well as trying local culinary specialities such as boar steak and naked ravioli (at least, I think that’s a dish). However, I’m also pretty tremulous about our accommodation, namely the Boscolo Astoria -- subject of the deal above -- and not just because of the crazy price. The joint is also very central, overlooking the Duomo, Brunelleschi’s unsurpassed architectural marvel, and the fact that it occupies two former palaces is surely pretty good hotel PR. The hotel itself calls its accommodation "dream-like", which is perhaps ambiguous. Then you learn that John Milton may have written Paradise Lost here, and it all begins to make sense.
£589 -- 7-Night Norwegian Fjords Cruise with Free All Inc
There is an award for "best fjord design" in Douglas Adams’s brilliant interplanetary satire The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which he imagines the Earth to have been crafted by a special planet-manufacturing race. See what he meant on this extremely good-value cruise from MSC. So astounding a landscape are the Norwegian fjords that they encourage mystical reflection in even the most, ahem, world-weary traveller. It’s the kind of experience that would alone make this trip worthwhile, even without a cruise line so keen to fill cabins it has slashed 50% off its brochure price.
£999 -- Cayman Islands Holiday with $100 to Spend, Save £400
And so to a third kind of a of paradise, in the form of the snorkelling heaven that is the Cayman Islands. We were all pretty excited in the Travelzoo offices at featuring this unusual destination this week. It’s not quite your Jamaica, St Lucia or Tobago -- better known Caribbean islands -- but that’s all the more reason to go there to avoid the crowds. And there’s an irony here, too, that the Caymans should be less frequented by UK travellers, for they are that funny colonial vestige, a British overseas territory. So do your bit for the mother country (and for your travel budget -- the price is, astoundingly, shy of £1000) and plant a foot in the golden sand of this tri-island nation.