Travel Q&A

Bubbly in Berlin

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006; 11:06 AM

Q. We're meeting friends in Europe for New Year's Eve. Do you know of any cities in Belgium or Germany with festive events?

Christine Newman, Derwood, Md.

A. In Berlin, a million revelers gather on New Year's Eve for "the biggest party on the continent, if not in the world," says Kirsten Schmidt, spokeswoman for Berlin Tourism Marketing North America ( ). The bash stretches nearly 1 1/4 miles, from the Brandenburg Gate to Victory Column. The all-night affair includes food stands, live acts, an open-air disco and a giant fireworks show. Admission is free. Info: .

"If I wanted to be wild, crazy and hip, I'd go to Berlin," says Victoria Larson, spokeswoman for the German National Tourist Board (212-661-7200, ). "If I wanted to be Cinderella, I'd go to Munich."

In the southern German city, locals attend the "Die Fledermaus" performance at the Bavarian State Opera ( ), then party at Hotel Bayerischer Hof, which throws a legendary shindig with 10 bands, DJs and fireworks (tickets available through the hotel, ). Whether you're in Berlin or Munich, at 12:01 a.m., grab a doughnut -- if your pastry has mustard inside, you'll have a year of good luck; if you get jelly, you now have breakfast.

For a mellower scene, head to Belgium. Belgian Tourist Office spokeswoman Liliane Opsomer says New Year's Eve celebrations usually involve eating and drinking till midnight. It's also a night to splurge, and Brussels, for example, has a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. And go ahead and swill that champagne: Partyers can ride the buses for free. Info: 212-758-8130, .

Is there a cruise that goes to and through the South Pacific, excluding Hawaii?

Mary Raitt, Washington

Most cruise ships that depart from the United States swing through the Hawaiian Islands en route to the South Pacific, mainly to let vacationers stretch their land legs. "The majority of cruises that leave from the West Coast will stop in Hawaii first," says Diann Smith, travel consultant with Cruise Experts (800-625-5139, ), a travel agency. "It's a long itinerary -- that's why they stop in Hawaii, to give people a break." So if you want to skip Hawaii, step aboard the ship in Polynesia.

When deciding on a Polynesian cruise, there are a few factors to consider: length of trip, number of at-sea days and air travel preferences. For a cruise from San Diego to such islands as Tahiti, Rangoroa and Moorea, the sojourn can last anywhere from 23 to 28 days; for just Polynesia, the trip is usually 10 or so days. Sea times also greatly differ; you'll spend eight or nine landless days for the former, two or three for the latter. As for flight times to the departure port: Expect five hours to the West Coast vs. 12-plus hours to Tahiti.

If you choose Polynesia without Hawaii, Smith recommends Princess Cruises (800-774-6237, ) and Regent Seven Seas (877-505-5370, ). Princess, for example, has a 10-day cruise on the Tahitian Princess with seven stops, including Bora Bora; 2007 brochure prices for an inside cabin start at $1,345 per person, double occupancy. With Regent, a week on the Paul Gauguin, sailing round trip from Papeete, begins at $1,995 per person double. Check for specials. Regent, for example, is offering free nonstop air from JFK in New York to Tahiti on Paul Gauguin sailings through November, and a third-guest-free promotion on the same ship through Dec. 13, and January to March.

Three friends would like to spend their special birthdays in Big Sur, Calif. Can you recommend a resort?

Linda Rosendorf, Rockville

With its bluffs and boundless Pacific views, Big Sur is an ideal setting for a party. But venues are limited. "In Big Sur, you have low end and high end; there's no middle ground," says Diane Allen, who runs Elegant Events (831-625-3523, ), which organizes special events in the area. "If I were planning this, I would spend two nights in Carmel and one night in Big Sur."

Of the Big Sur resorts, Allen recommends the Ventana Inn and Spa (831-667-2331, ), which has a full slate of diversions: dining, yoga, spa treatments, etc. For three adults, the hotel recommends a superior fireplace room for $595 per night, plus $50 for the third person.

Heading north to Carmel, you'll find more lodging options, including Pebble Beach Resorts (800-654-9300, ) and its Inn at Spanish Bay, Lodge at Pebble Beach or Casa Palmero. Nightly room rates range from $535 to more than $2,000. For more info on Monterey: Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 888-221-1010, . For Big Sur: Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, 831-667-2100, .

Send queries by e-mail ( or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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