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Let's go to the Games!

With only 109 days until the opening ceremony of this summer's Olympic Games in Athens, is it too late to plan a trip? "Today" travel editor Peter Greenberg offers this advice.
/ Source: TODAY

In keeping with ancient tradition, the Olympic flame was ignited by the rays of the sun in Olympia, Greece and will soon be making it's journey around the world. For the first time since 1896, when the first modern games were held there, the flame will return to Greece. On August 13, the final torch bearer will light the cauldron in Athens and the 28th Olympic Games will begin. With the Games less than four months away, if you're thinking about taking a trip to see them, there are still tickets to be had, rooms available and places to stay that won't force you to mortgage your house. You just have to be a little creative.

First, I'm happy to report that tickets to all of the Olympic sporting events are still on sale; only admissions to the opening and closing ceremonies have officially sold out, but there are still tickets available.

U.S. ticket sales for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens are down about 30 percent and travel packages are down 20 percent compared with the 2000 Games in Sydney, according to Don Williams, head of Cartan Tours, the only agency licensed by the U.S. Olympic Committee to sell Olympic tickets. Cartan sold 180,000 event tickets to the Sydney Games but projects sales of just 125,000 to the Aug. 13-29 Athens Olympics, which would also be less than the 140,000 tickets sold for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. (About 1.7 million total tickets have been sold so far.)Tickets to the opening ceremonies are almost sold out, with only limited numbers of the most expensive seats ($1,170) available. There are still plenty of the least expensive tickets ($14) available to early rounds of sports such as handball, baseball, volleyball, rowing and archery.Cartan also estimates that about 12,000 Americans will travel to Athens for the Summer Games compared with about 18,000 to Sydney. And that translates to good news if you want to go.Part of that good news is that tickets to this summer's Games are actually 35 percent less expensive across the board than they were in 2000. Now the bad news: Housing costs have increased substantially.Cartan Tours' packages offering luxury accommodation for the Sydney Games topped out at $7,500. Accommodation on the most luxurious cruise ships in Piraeus, Greece — eight ships will be docked there — will cost as much as $13,000.How to get tickets?
They're sold in twice-monthly lotteries held by the official designated ticket vendor in the U.S.: Cartan (www.cartan.com).What about accomodations?
Even at this relatively early date it’s hard to find an affordable place to sleep in Athens if you’re planning on visiting for the Games. As with past Olympics in other venues, hotels and other travel providers in Athens are getting greedy and official prices are either extremely high or "not available."

For example, the only hotel in Athens that claims it has space — and  it says it only has a few rooms that it is only confirming on a nightly rate — is the new Holiday Inn at the Athens Airport. They are quoting a nightly rate of 950 euros during the Games. Ouch! The rate they are quoting for dates outside of the Olympic period is 240 euros. The Grecotel chain is opening some new  five-star hotels prior to the Games and they are quoting rates of 698 euros and up. They require a 230 euro per day food budget which puts these hotels in the 1000 euro range. They are also requiring a minimum of 7 nights to 15 nights and are marketing to tour operators and not taking reservations from the general public. The real availability exists with tour companies such as Cartan Tours, Jet Set Sports and other non-official tour operators that have packaged the Games. Apartments can be booked with Filoxenia’04, the Official Housing licensee of the Organizing Committee. Prices for houses and apartments start at about $1,050 per person for a six-night stay and deluxe villas can go up to as much as 10,000 euros per day.

What about a ship?
There are custom-made yacht cruises specially designed for the Olympic Games. Sailing Greece is known to offer a complete, smooth and trouble free sailing vacation. At this time a new yacht cruise package which is designed very carefully, includes all expenses and is tailored to clients that would like to visit Greece and at the same time attend the Olympic Games — from July 29 to September 9, 2004. During the Olympic games from August 12-29 there is a different type of sailing vacation where guests will be able to attend the Olympic games and enjoy sunset sails, cocktail cruises, moonlight dinners and daily island excursions aboard our sailing and motor yachts. For the weeks prior and after the Olympic Games, sailing cruises are scheduled, offering seven-day quality yacht cruises departing weekly, visiting the Argosaronic, the Cyclades and other groups of islands. For all Reservations: 2004tours@anemos.net or contact: tours@anemos.net, 718-777-5050, www.anemos.net/athens2004tours.htm.Then there are apartment rentals:
Olympic accommodations: one-bedroom apartment rentals:To book a one-bedroom apartment during the period of August 13-29, 2004, try visiting this Web site: http://olympics.greece.com . Any property that is on the Web site is available for rent during the Olympics or, if necessary, for a longer period. In order to help you with your search, you can either search based on how many bedrooms you want or else search based on the sports you intend to watch. If you decide which property interests you more, they can provide you with more pictures and information. The price for a single occupancy is 220 euros per day. The price includes the following services: weekly cleaning, weekly change of linens, twice-a-week change of towels, 24-hour call centre, electricity bills, water bills, local phone calls to Athens, all taxes, presentation of the premises, one set of keys per occupant and full insurance coverage.Want to rough it?
Accommodations for camping at BACKHUS in Sounio are being accepted. The procedure for reservations for a camping site at BACKHUS are as follows:For one person, for August 1-31, 2004, with one small tent (tents provided), the total price is 50 euro per person X 31 days = 1550 euro. Additional services include: Sleeping bag, 30 euro per person for the whole duration of the stay and electricity, 5 euro per day. For additional services, you must add them to the total cost. They will supply a credit card authorization form and you need to send it back to them by fax only. The fax number is +30-210-3234548. A full non-refundable payment is required at the time of booking. As soon as you send the fax only of the credit card authorization form with 50 percent of the tota — the reservation is confirmed. You’ll need to send your full postal address and they will send you the voucher that you must present during your stay at the camping site. If you have any more questions or need additional information you can e-mail: g.kopitsas@trekking.gr or visit: http://olympics.greece.com Another option for shoestring travelers is the hostel route, and Athens has a handful of good ones, places where you might be sleeping in a room with new faces, but where you can be guaranteed a hot shower, have access to communal kitchen facilities, laundry and secure luggage storage. Some rates even include breakfast, and at a hostel chances are you’ll pick up some more great money-saving tips. Here’s a short list of where to find Athens’ best budget beds:Greek Youth Hostel FederationOdos Dragatsaniou 4011-30-210-323-4107 or 323-7590Athens International Youth Hostel ($13/night)Odos Victor Hugo 16011-30-210-523-2540www.interland.gr/athenshostel/*It's collecting a waiting list for the Olympic period.Hostel Aphrodite($20-39/night)Odos Einardou 12Email:info@hostelaphrodite.comdocument to make a reservationwww.hostelz.com/display.php/3686+Hostel+Aphrodite*As of Mar. 9, 2004 there's still availability.011-30-210-881-0589YMCA ($20-39/night)Odos Amerikis 11011-30-210-362-4291My bottom line advice:
Don't stay in Athens at all. Instead, investigate accomodations — hotels, private homes — on any one of a number of islands that are within an hour's ferry ride of Athens, and avoid the chaos and higher prices entirely.

And speaking of higher prices, what's the biggest problem? Airfare to get there
Here's the problem this summer: With a very strong euro, America has become the bargain destination for Europeans, with or without the Olympics. As a result, the Europeans are all jetting westbound, and airlines are blocking seats accordingly. They are also blocking the return trip seats, which means not many cheap seats are available to us to head eastbound to Europe. That explains the high ticket prices across the north Atlantic this summer. So it may actually be that your biggest expense in planning an Olympic trip this year is the airfare.

Coach tickets to Athens from New York are topping out at $1,200 right now — definitely not a bargain. My advice: Get the cheapest ticket you can to London, then book a flight on Easy Jet or Europe by Air into Greece, or check with Rail Europe for tickets on trains from London to Athens.

Best tip for accommodations for the Olympics:
There is a great difference between a booked room and a blocked room. At this writing, most of the rooms are blocked, not booked. What that means is that they are controlled by Olympic organizations and sponsors. My advice: Check with individual hotels and ask who controls the blocked rooms. Then contact someone at that company. And then simply wait for the room blocks held by IOC and sponsors to be released, about 30 days before the Games and you will find bargains and reasonably priced hotels.