Minnesota Lakers

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 15, 2006

Q. We'd like to take our kids to Minnesota next summer. We'd like an area with hiking, biking, swimming, etc., and be car-free or have much within walking/biking distance. We'd also like to take an overnight trip into Minneapolis-St. Paul. Any suggestions?

Gina Ponticelli, Leesburg

A For a summer vacation in Minnesota, head for the water -- natural and manmade. "The Brainerd Lakes area is a premier lakes resort destination for families," says Chuck Lennon, spokesman for Explore Minnesota Tourism (800-657-3700, http://www.exploreminnesota.com/ ), "and all of the activities are right there."

Before cruising to Brainerd, a 2 1/2 -hour drive north of Minneapolis, Lennon suggests spending a day or two in the Twin Cities region, where your kids can splash around the quickly proliferating water parks. In addition, if you want to sleep-and-swim, you can overnight at a water park hotel, such as the Grand Rios Indoor Water Park Hotel (866-GRAND-RIOS, http://www.grandrios.com/ ), which is in Brooklyn Park, about 11 miles from the airport.

Brainerd is known for its clear, blue lakes and its Paul Bunyan Trail, a 70-mile paved route that ribbons through forests and along water. Resorts line most of the lakes; Gull Lake, for example, offers Cragun's Resort, Grand View Lodge and Madden's. All three have loads of activities -- boating, hiking, waterskiing, spas, tennis, golf, etc. -- and on-site dining. Kids' clubs are also common; Grand View Lodge (800-432-3788, http://www.grandviewlodge.com/ ), for one, has clubs separated by ages (3 to 6, 7 to 12) as well as thematic kids' nights out.

Since the area is so self-contained, you can avoid renting a car. To reach the district, fly into Minneapolis, then catch the Northwest Air Link to Brainerd, where a resort shuttle will pick you up. For off-site dining, Grand View will even take guests by van or pontoon boat to its chop house about four miles from the resort. However, Lennon cautions that you "might feel constrained without a car, because there are so many beautiful lakes to explore." For more info: Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, 800-450-2838, http://www.explorebrainerdlakes.com/ .

We're invited to a wedding on Martha's Vineyard in May. What is the most economical and fastest way to get there?

Ann Marie Boland, Springfield

To reach Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod, you must have either a fat wallet or loads of time. "Unfortunately, the most expensive option is the fastest," said Dave Donald, information specialist at the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Those most flush with cash can fly. For about $350 round trip, you can hop on a commercial carrier, with a connection in Boston or Providence and a plane change to a commuter line. You can book straight through (see above fare) or in pieces, which, depending on the seasonal sale fares, can save you some money. For example, you can fly Southwest from BWI to Providence from $117 round trip, then jump on Cape Air (800-352-0714, http://www.flycapeair.com/ ) to the island from $150 round trip.

Swapping a train for a plane, you can take Amtrak from D.C.'s Union Station to Boston's South Station, then a Peter Pan Bonanza bus to Woods Hole, Mass. From there, catch a ferry. The train starts at $76 one way, and from Boston, the bus-ferry combo will run about $50 round trip. Even cheaper: Take a bus to New York City ($35 round trip), then Bonanza to Woods Hole ($91.95 round trip; 888-751-8800, http://bonanzabus.com/ ), then a ferry ($13 round trip). That option is kind to the piggybank, but, says Donald, "it would be a long day, and you would have to leave D.C. early enough to catch the last boat to the Vineyard." Plus, you will have to change buses twice -- not so easy if you're transporting wedding attire.

You can also drive, which, depending on your gas mileage, could be one of the more economical options. Woods Hole is about 460 miles away, and daily ferry parking runs $8 to $10. For more information on Martha's Vineyard, contact the chamber of commerce at 800-505-4815, http://www.mvy.com/ .

My son is renting a house near St. Remy, Provence, in February and has invited me to visit. What sort of weather can I expect? I have heard nasty things about the mistral.

Betty Sekhri, Kensington

The Provence weather report from the French Government Tourist Office: calm, nice and quite sunny, with temperatures averaging 41 to 55 degrees. Expect mild winds, but none of the strong mistral gales that blow night and day in March and September. It will also be dry, as the Southern France region receives about three days of rain for all of February.

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