Arthur Frommer: On fake villages, high oil prices and a stronger dollar

01/09/2011 12:00 AM

01/09/2011 12:40 AM

Because the fake village at Falmouth, Jamaica, will not be completed until April 2011, Royal Caribbean Cruiseline has substituted the fake village of Costa Maya in Mexico (not a real town but an artificial, recently constructed shopping mall) for what would have been a stop at the fake village of Falmouth in February and March by Royal Caribbean's much-touted Oasis of the Seas cruiseship and its new sister vessel, the Allure of the Seas.

Earlier in their weekly itineraries, both Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will disembark their passengers at the closed-in private beach of Labadee in Haiti, fenced off by barbed wire from the rest of the island. During the same week- long cruises, the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas each will devote three full days (after an overnight sail from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) to simply cruising at sea.

So on the six days the ships spend after departing and sailing overnight from Fort Lauderdale, three will be spent simply at sea, two at fake villages or closed-in beaches, and one day at Cozumel, Mexico. Except for Cozumel, both cruises will be totally bereft of the foreign travel experience, and passengers will meet only other passengers and have virtually no contact with residents of the Caribbean.

Starting in April, the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will then substitute a fast day at the fake village of Falmouth for the fake village of Costa Maya.

Oil at $90 a barrel hurts

The big news in travel is the current price, recently announced, of $90 for a barrel of oil. Who would have dreamed that fuel would surge so high so soon? What this means is an inevitable rise in airfares and fuel surcharges, and the consequent need to economise on all other costs of vacationing — accommodations and meals, in particular. Living modestly when one travels has been the predominant theme of this column, and that approach will now be more necessary than ever.

The dollar holds its own

It's been quite some time since we last commented on the exchange value of the U.S. dollar. The major news is that the value of the euro has receded from a worrisome recent rate of $1.40, uncomfortably close to its historic high of $1.48. It is now selling for about $1.30 and $1.31, which makes far more reasonable the cost of what you purchase on the continent of Europe.

The British pound remains at a decent rate of about $1.55 per pound, a far more favorable exchange than the $2 or $2.10 that prevailed a couple of years ago, and the cost of hotels, meals and transport within Britain is now far more reasonable than it earlier was.

An equally important development (for travelers, not for the U.S. economy) is the continued weakness of the Chinese yuan. Back in April, the Chinese government responded to almost universal demands that it permit its currency to rise in value by announcing, with much fanfare, that it would let the yuan "float" — meaning, it would let the yuan rise in value according to the demands of the currency markets.

What a bit of hokum. The Chinese government has permitted the yuan to rise by a little less than 3 percent (meaning no rise at all), and the traveler still receives a handsome 6.65 yuan for one U.S. dollar.

The result is that all the tour operators to China are not simply maintaining their earlier U.S. prices, but are offering hefty cash discounts off those prices. In terms of what you get for what you pay, a tour to China remains the least expensive product of international travel in the world today.

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