Operators say bargains are available

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NEW YORK -- Tour operators specializing in Scandinavia say travelers can still find bargains this season, especially for trips departing later in the summer.

And although early bookings have been strong, there is space available later in the summer, operators said. Moreover, new airline services, such as Northwest Airlines' nonstop flights between Minneapolis and Oslo, Norway, are adding more transportation options and promotional fares to the mix.

Graham Medhurst, president of Bennett Tours here, said travelers this year are getting an "8% to 10% advantage over last year" in purchasing power during their trip. And although tour prices for this year's season were locked in long ago, Medhurst said that "they are basically the same as the year before."

The company's best-selling packages are its Norwegian fjord tours, which come in several variations. The shorter tours tend to be popular because they can be combined with other expeditions, he said. For example, a four-day Viking fjord cruise tour, which includes three nights spent at small "fjord hotels" in coastal villages, costs $1,040 per person, double, from June 15 to Aug. 24.

"The only negative trend we see is that there seems to be less demand for tours including St. Petersburg and Moscow than in the past," he said, a likely reflection of concerns about Russia's economic troubles.

Meanwhile, other operators are promoting the attractions of the Scandinavian coast. Nordique Tours this year introduced an eight-day escorted tour of Oslo, Bergen and the fjords. The trip begins in Oslo and continues with a cruise along the Sognefjord, concluding in Bergen. The price is $1,345 per person, double, land-only.

Also new this year are a three-night cruise from Helsinki, Finland, to Visby, Sweden, and Riga, Latvia, with prices beginning at $390 per person, double, and a three-day excursion to the Aland Islands, a part of Finland where Swedish is spoken, for $349 per person.

The company is also offering a 12-day "value" package at $1,555 per person, land-only, with stays at Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Oslo and Lillehammer, Norway, and other points. Another tour operator, Norvista, is offering air-inclusive packages for independent travelers with flights on Finnair out of New York.

A nine-day Kinds Road West package, combining Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Turku, Finland, is priced at $1,689 to $1,989, per person, with accommodations at superior tourist class hotels or above. Travelers also can opt for an extension from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia, with tourist-class hotels, for $659 per person.

In addition, Norvista has launched a series of inclusive weekend packages to selected Scandinavian cities, operating from June through October. The packages include three nights' accommodations, with a choice of first-class or deluxe hotels; transatlantic flights on Finnair, and discounted prices at sightseeing attractions in each destination.

Prices range from $899 per person (off-peak) to $1,299 (peak) for Helsinki; $829 to $1,329 for Stockholm; $939 to $1,499 for Copenhagen, and $799 to $1,179 for Oslo.

Cruises are a perennial staple in Scandinavian tour rosters, and Bergen Line this year is offering an unusual add-on -- a whale-watching "safari" -- to its 12-day Norwegian Coastal Voyage sailings, which covers the highlights of the entire 1,250-mile west coast of Norway. The two-hour whale-watching excursion begins at the town of Harstad, departing from the cruise ship by express boat, and sails through thousands of small islands to the habitat of Norway's indigenous whales.

The excursion costs $80 per person and is offered in conjunction with five sailings departing Bergen Aug. 12, 13, 19, 29 and 30, and from Kirkenes, above the Arctic Circle, on Aug. 18, 19, and 25, plus Sept. 4 and 5. Fares for the entire 12-day sailing range from $1,796 to $2,615 per person, double.

Borton Overseas, meanwhile, is expanding its tour roster to include some regional tours of Sweden, including a four-day escorted tour of Dalarna, "the Province of Folklore," including time in the Lake Siljan area, which is famed for its handicrafts.

For Norway, Borton is also featuring a line of historic hotels, most of them built before the turn of the century and located in either the fjord country or the Telemark region. Nelson's Scandinavia, meanwhile, has several new packages that take visitors into less-traveled areas.

The new seven-day Cultural Driving Tour of Sweden offers independent, aesthetically inclined travelers a leisurely ramble through far-flung regions of the country. Among the highlights are visits to the 12th-century cathedral in Trono; the Erik Anders farm and furniture factory in Soderala; the Anna-Karin Asbrink basket painting studio, and Sundborn, the birthplace of Carl Larsson, Sweden's most famous folk artist. The prices is $650 per person.

Another new tour is the six-day Bike Adventure in Denmark. The company describes the nation as "bicycle friendly" with plenty of bike paths and quiet country roads. The itinerary takes in Copenhagen and a number of castles, such as Hamlet's own, Kronberg, in Helsingor.

The trip is priced from $650 per person, and includes five nights' accommodations, half-board, bicycle rental, and a detailed route description with maps.

Meanwhile, Ivar Fiskaa, president of Scand-America International, said there is still space on his company's Aug. 3 departure on a new 14-day tour program to southern Norway. The trip includes a voyage in a coastal steamer and other activities.

The trip is priced at $1,825 per person, land-only, and includes 12 nights' accommodations; daily breakfast and eight other meals; touring by motorcoach, and city sightseeing in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim.

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