Planning for the Next Y2K Blowout

Forget about the millennium. It's time to think about the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
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It may be slim pickings for millennium hot spots and decent fares to get there, but there's another blowout to pencil in on your Y2K calendar and start planning for

now

: the

Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, slated for Sept. 15 to Oct. 1. Scandals, budget shortfalls and committee in-fighting aside, these summer games are being billed as the biggest doozy in Olympic history, with 10,000 athletes from 198 countries competing in 28 sports and 296 events.

At this point, planning is not too complicated. Travelers have basically only one source for air reservations or game tickets:

Cartan Tours of Manhattan Beach, Calif., the official ticket-seller in the U.S.

Ticketing is mostly a random, computerized process in which three batches of requests are handled before Feb. 1, 2000. The first batch is now being processed, says Bob Vasily, Cartan group sales manager. The first deadline was April 30, but some die-hard Olympic enthusiasts have had deposits down for two years, he says. Coming submission deadlines are Sept. 15 and Jan. 31. After that, it's first come, first serve. Those interested can call Cartan at (800) 841-1994 for ticket forms.

Prices for the actual Olympics vary widely by event and seating choice. A top seat for the swimming finals, for example, costs $347. Viewing men's preliminary soccer from the nosebleed section, meanwhile, is a mere $8. Tickets to the opening or closing ceremonies are $1,054, $752 or $385, depending on seat selection. (Be forewarned: Sydney organizers have mandated that for each ticket purchased to a hot event, one must also be bought to a second-rate venue.)

Cartan also is booking complete tours -- coach air and six-, 12- or 18-night hotel stays. Packages start at roughly $5,200 a person for six nights at lodgings 90 minutes from central Sydney and climb to $17,500 a person for an 18-night stay at a downtown luxury hotel. Cartan is planning on 12,000 takers with seats set aside on

Air New Zealand

, Vasily says. Clients will depart from Los Angeles and can tack on another $5,500 for business-class or $9,300 for first-class upgrades.

You can, of course, cobble together your own travel plans. Along with Air New Zealand,

Qantas

and

UAL's

(UAL) - Get Report

United Airlines

fly from the U.S. to Australia, but you must wait until October or November to reserve plane seats.

Airline ticket systems can only handle bookings 11 months out, explains Gary Atchison of

DFW Tours, a Dallas-based ticket wholesaler. He expects fares to Sydney for the games will be close to this fall's rates ($1,330 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Sydney), with a possible 3% to 5% rise in price.

Don't plan on using frequent-flyer miles. Travel agent Janet Dicker predicts a blackout for the Olympic game dates. Dicker, an ex-Aussie and owner of

Boomerang Travel

in Dallas, says she will opt out of the Olympic fray and refer any travel requests to Cartan.

But she does have advice for prospective game attendees: Deal only with reputable travel agents and read maps carefully to ensure enough time is budgeted to get from one sporting event to another.

Sydney, a city of 4 million people, will groan under the weight of the hundreds of thousands of tourists projected for the games. Most events will be in an area called Homebush Bay (home to a new $690 million stadium), while others are scattered at various sites an hour or more away. (Game-goers will largely rely on public rail systems.)

And, crikey! Before you go, elevate your Aussie vernacular beyond the tired "G'day, mate" with

www.koalanet.com.au or

www.webdog.com.au/slang (still under construction). Bo-peep these sites so you don't sound like a boofhead.

Susan C. Schena is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer. She previously worked as an editor at the Albuquerque Tribune and as a reporter for the New Mexico Business Watch and the San Diego Business Journal.