washingtonpost.com
Cruising for Bargain Berths

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 3, 2009

Q. Before the economy went south, I'd resolved to go on a cruise before I start business school in the fall. I don't want to go back on my plans, but I want to get the best deal possible. What do you suggest for a single female who has an open schedule and is willing to travel anywhere?

Kim Johnson, Alexandria

A. You might just be able to pull this off, given your flexible schedule. Many lines offer last-minute deals so they can fill empty cabins; check individual Web sites or Google "last-minute cruises." Also check such discount booking sites as Expedia (http://www.expedia.com) and Travelocity (http://www.travelocity.com), which offer weekly deals, and take a look at CruiseCompete (http://www.cruisecompete.com), which lets you request quotes and receive competing offers.

Another good resource: the independent site Cruise Critic (http://www.cruisecritic.com), which has a good section on deals and recommendations for budget lines. You can also check with a travel agent who specializes in cruises; to find one, go to the Cruise Lines International Association's site, http://www.cruising.org, and click on "Take a Cruise."

As you shop around, keep these budget tips in mind:

-- Forget the private balcony and book an interior cabin. You won't be spending that much time in your room anyway.

-- Book shore excursions separately, not through the cruise line.

-- Keep the pricey cocktails to a minimum -- those bar bills really add up -- and stay away from the onboard spa.

-- Use the line's roommate-pairing service to avoid paying the dreaded single supplement.

My children have surprised me with a trip to Ecuador for my 60th birthday. We'll have a couple of days to explore Quito. What can you suggest for day trips? Is it safe for us to hire a taxi to take us places, or should we contact a travel agent?

Susanne O'Neill, Manassas

Quito has enough 500-year-old churches, markets and museums to keep you occupied for days, but my advice is to take a quick look and then get out of town.

First choice for a day trip: Cotopaxi National Park, about 1 1/2 hours from the capital, where you can hike, mountain bike or ride horses amid spectacular scenery (including one of the world's highest active volcanoes). A close second: the fabulous Otavalo market, a mad whirl of textiles, pottery, leather, artwork and more, about a two-hour drive north. Any travel agent or hotel concierge in Quito can book those trips for you, but to avoid tour groups, ask your hotel to arrange for a driver. It's a very safe way to get around, at about $60 to $75 round trip.

Your Turn

Regarding transporting human ashes on an airliner [Travel Q&A, April 26], Philip Doerr of Rockville said that in addition to a death certificate, it's important to bring a certified statement from the mortuary, even if the airline doesn't require it. Doerr, who took both his parents' ashes aboard a flight to England last year, also noted that there are strict laws about spreading ashes in England.

Several readers had additional suggestions for the couple planning a bicycle trip through Holland (April 26). Linda and Roger Lark, among others, recommended the bike-and-barge trips offered by Cycletours (http://www.cycletours.com): "You bike with a guide during the day, then park on your barge at night, eat marvelously, enjoy grand camaraderie, perhaps an evening tour of where you're berthed." Susan Ogden of Silver Spring loved her self-guided tour designed by Tulip Cycling (http://www.holland.tulipcycling.com), but she advised watching out for the strong winds.

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.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company