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TRAVEL Q&A

Liftoff in T Minus 10, 9, 8 . . .

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 24, 2008

Q. I want to fulfill a long-standing wish. Please suggest a package plan for hotel and transportation to see the Cape Canaveral, Fla., shuttle launch in October or November. I do not want to rent a car or to drive. I can stay for three or four days in case of launch postponement.

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Margaret Roberts Drucker, Washington

A. We weren't able to find a tour operator selling comprehensive shuttle launch package tours from Washington, but it's a relatively simple matter to put a trip together yourself. First, monitor the Kennedy Space Center Web site, http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com, for launch dates and ticket sales. The next scheduled launch is Oct. 8, and tickets go on sale tomorrow at 9 a.m. You can buy viewing tickets on the site or by calling 321-449-4400. Various packages are available; for access to the closest viewing area, six miles from the launch pad, you'll want the Launch Transportation Ticket (LTT) at $56. (For $78.99, they'll throw in lunch with an astronaut.) Tickets also give you access to visitor complex exhibits, shows, Imax films and tours of the center.

But because you won't have a rental car, it might make more sense to buy your ticket from one of the space-center-sanctioned companies that offer round-trip transportation from Orlando hotels, such as Gray Line Orlando/Gator Tours (800-537-0917, http://www.gatortours.com or http://www.grayline.com). For the Oct. 8 launch, which is scheduled for 1:34 a.m., pickups begin at 5 p.m. on Oct. 7. Two types of tours are offered, at $89 and $115; the latter gets you into the LTT viewing site, where the company says you'll be able to hear the countdown on the public address system and see the liftoff.

Launch postponements are where it gets tricky. Gray Line's refund policy is on the Web site, but basically, full refunds are given only up to 72 hours before the scheduled launch. After that, if the launch is scrubbed, you can either settle for a tour of the space center or reschedule for the next attempt. The company charges $30 additional for the second trip.

Once you've bought your shuttle viewing tickets, you can work backward and reserve your airline ticket and hotel room. On Kayak.com, for example, an air-hotel package that includes a round-trip flight from Reagan National and three nights at the Ramada Orlando International Drive Lakefront hotel (we added a day for a possible launch delay) costs $462.

A buddy and I are planning to travel to Egypt in May. Our flights are taken care of (we're flying into Cairo). Can you recommend a reputable tour company there that could provide a thorough overview of Egypt's ancient sites?

Richard Georgen, Round Hill, Va.

Viatour, which specializes in booking destination activities in 75 countries, has a selection of Cairo tour operators at its Web site, http://www.viatour.com. For a list of your fellow travelers' favorites, check TripAdvisor ( http://www.tripadvisor.com): From the home page, click "Africa" on the map, then "Cairo," and choose "Things to Do." Scroll down to "Tourist Guides Recommendations" for 15 preferred companies. And for an officially sanctioned list, contact the Egyptian Tourist Authority (877-77-EGYPT, http://www.egypttourism.org).

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) 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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