Plenty of parties for Dec. 31, '99

Seven members of the Tetreault family will be gathering from two continents to celebrate the year 2000.

"My sister and her husband will be coming here from Stuttgart, Germany, with their son and daughter," reports Trudy Tetreault of Irvine, Calif. "Then they, my husband and myself, and our daughter will all fly to Maui. It's important to us for all of us to be together for the millennium, and Hawaii seems like a wonderful place to be."

Like the Tetreaults, many Americans are making special travel plans to ring in the next thousand years. While the real start of the millennium won't be until 2001, most places on the globe are planning mega-celebrations for Dec. 31, 1999.

New York's traditional countdown in Times Square will be enhanced by giant television screens chronicling celebrations around the world as the clock strikes midnight in different time zones.

Gisborne, New Zealand, will host the Pacific Tall Ships Festival 2000. A fleet of four-masted sailing vessels will gather at the International Date Line on Dec. 31.

In Fiji, the first country to see the new year, celebrants will be able to straddle the date line. Samoa, the last country to greet the new year, will celebrate with traditional Polynesian songs and dances.

In Nazareth and throughout Israel, special church services will be observed on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Greenwich, England, site of the prime meridian, will open the Millennium Dome, a giant exhibit hall with reputedly the largest roof in the world.

Cruise lines are offering millennium cruises, and tour companies have packaged an array of special trips. You can usher in the new year at the pyramids in Cairo, in the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru, from the Taj Mahal in India, or atop Mt. Kilamanjaro in Kenya.

But the hype that greeted the announcement of such offerings six or eight months ago has quieted.

"We originally came out with 32 special millennium tours," says Carol Snyder, a spokeswoman for Lawrence, Kan.-based Maupintour. "We've dropped eight of them, among them trips to Munich and Dresden, for lack of interest."

Price also has been a factor. "We put together a lot of millennium trips, but we've canceled several of them," says Bill Sharp Jr., who plans tours for the Ambassadair Travel Club in Indianapolis.

"Most of the trips are, of necessity, at least slightly more expensive than our normal trips because there are special one-time-only events, and because it is, after all, the millennium," he says. "But some of the trips were being offered at double what the normal price would be. Most of those did not sell well."

There's also been price resistance to millennium cruises.

"Most lines are charging at least 30 percent more than the normal fare," reports Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruise Week, a publication geared to travel agents. "Some lines are also giving you more, in the way of special activities and amenities on those cruises, but some are charging up to 200 percent more and not offering a lot more. It's my understanding that those cruises are not selling well."

And hanging like the sword of Damocles is the dreaded Y2K problem.

"Nobody really knows what will happen," says Mr. Sharp. "Maybe nothing. But some of our members have told me they didn't want to be on the road at the time, in case of airport delays or communications difficulties."

Despite such concerns, some millennium tours are proving popular. "Our 18-day trip around the world via private Concorde costs $75,000," says Liz McQuinn of St. Louis-based INTRAV. "There are 96 spaces on this tour, and we've already sold 81."

Sharp reports that Ambassadair's trips to London, Paris, and Rome are selling well. "And our East African safari is very popular," he says.

Ms. Snyder reports that Maupintour's Vienna Ball trip is sold out. "But you can always put your name on a waiting list," she says. "In general, our customers seem drawn to cities known as festive party places. Trips to New Orleans, Monte Carlo, and Paris are selling very well. And our year 2000 trip to the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena is a huge hit."

After all, she says, "the millennium only comes around once every thousand years. A lot of people want to be in a special place to greet it."

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