A good way to handle those distances and enjoy the countryside as well, is by utilizing Romania’s much improved rail system. “Train travel is safe and reliable—not as fast as in western Europe, but it gives travelers the opportunity to see the landscape. Most railways are through villages, through small towns so they can enjoy the architecture and everyday life,” Alb says. “Train travel also gives the opportunity to meet and encounter local people and talk to them and learn what they think about Romania and about the U.S.”
getting around Samina Sabir, spokesperson for Rail Europe, agrees. “Our passes that include Romania would be the Balkan Flexi-Pass—which starts at about $200—the Eurail Hungary-Romania Pass—which starts at about $250—and then we have the Eurail Romania Pass, which starts at about $182. They’ve been good sellers for us…,” she says. “They are one of the few passes—the Eurail Romania Pass and the Balkan Flexi-Pass—that actually offer senior discounts. A Senior Eurail Romania Pass starts at $146 pp, which is really very affordable when you consider that once you get to Romania, your vacation itself is going to be very affordable, as well. So all things combined, it’s a good destination.”
Sabir admits that Romania in the past, “…did have a bit of a bad reputation regarding the trains, but they are improving. The inter-city trains are actually fairly comfortable—not top-of-the-line, but they’re pretty decent.”
Rail Europe offers a variety of bonus discounts with its Romania rail passes, includeing hotel discounts such as 50 percent off at the Hotel Crowne Plaza in Bucharest and 30 percent discounts at the Hotel Alexandros in Busteni and the Hotel Europa and Ana Asian Health Spa in Eforie Nord.
getting there General Tours World Traveler’s president, Bob Drumm, also sees Romania’s potential in 2010 and is more than satisfied with the sales history it’s shown so far. “The notion of experiential travel is very strong there and it’s evident there as well. For people who have done other things in Europe, I think it’s a provocative destination,” he says. “Is it going to go through the roof? Probably not, unless there was some major form of publicity launched. But I think we’re going to see steady growth there.”
One of General Tours’ best-selling programs is a 2-country tour of Romania and neighboring Bulgaria, an 11-day program called Journey through Romania and Bulgaria priced from $2,799 and featuring five-star hotels and most meals. “It’s quite popular with people for a number of reasons. Obviously it’s well-priced, very nice hotels, and we have a marvelous guide who speaks both languages—one is Cyrillic and one is Romanian, he’s Romanian by birth. We have a professor meet with them and talk about life in that part of the world,” Drumm explains. “There’s great sightseeing and there are great traditional views in the countryside of the way Europe used to be. It’s an excellent program and we get excellent results from it. People love it.”
Air connections to Romania from the U.S. should also help business in 2010, particularly with long-time Romania partner Austrian Airlines and its vacation arm, Austrian Airlines Vacations, which also offers a Bulgaria/Romania deal with its 6-night Sofia & Bucharest 4-Star City Steal program. The tour includes roundtrip air from JFK or Washington, D.C. to Sofia returning from Bucharest with three nights in each city and rail transport from Sofia to Bucharest for $1,459 pp from Jan. 2-March 25. On the Balkan Rail Steal program, clients can fly roundtrip from JFK or Washington, D.C. to any of five cities in Romania—Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Sibiu and Timisoara—and set up a rail program with the included Balkan Flexi-Pass that allows five days of unlimited rail travel in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey—all for $1,359 pp dbl from Jan. 4-March 25.
In addition, Alb says, “Delta Air Lines started to Romania in 2007 and they decided to offer nonstop service from JFK. They usually start at the end of May or the beginning of June and they cease operation at the beginning of October.”