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St. Lucia: Mommy and Me

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Q. I am 10 years old. My dad and brother want to go to St. Lucia for a cricket match in June. Can you suggest any excursions for my mom and me besides the beach?

Nishka Patel, Maryland

A. There are lots of non-beachy things for you and your mom to do in St. Lucia.

Here are three of the coolest:

-- Visit Mount Soufriere, an active volcano near the little fishing port of Soufriere. It's known as the "drive-in volcano" because you drive right into the crater, then walk to observation platforms where you can see and hear the bubbling sulfur and hissing steam. Entrance fee is about $3.

-- Take an aerial tram tour of the rain forest. You ride an open-air gondola through and over the treetops, past colorful flowers and birds, bats and jungle animals. If you're lucky, you might spot St. Lucia's indigenous and endangered parrot, the Amazona versicolor. The cost would be about $72 for your mom, $62 for you. Tour companies also offer zip lines and jungle hikes.

-- Get wet! Kayaking, sailing, snorkeling and water-skiing are just some of the water sports available.

You can also go horseback riding, biking, hiking and turtle- or whale-watching. And if you want something less adventurous, there's a public market where you and your mom can shop for fruit and crafts.

Your hotel can arrange any of these activities for you. More info: St. Lucia Tourist Board, 800-456-3984, http://www.stlucia.org.

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Europe. We've been told that a lot of hotels don't have private baths and to stick with the American chains. We've also been told that we'd be doing ourselves a disservice by not choosing a locally run hotel. We don't want to come back tired from sightseeing to find a dirty bathroom, unavailable shower or lumpy bed. Can you offer first-time overseas travelers a little guidance?

Toni Miller, San Diego

If you want a squeaky-clean room with no surprises, then stay in an American chain hotel that you know and trust. But many travelers think that staying in small, locally owned hotels adds to the enjoyment of a trip, letting you interact with locals and experience the culture more fully.

That doesn't mean you have to stay in some awful two-star with a lumpy mattress and shared bath. It's possible to have an authentic experience and stay in clean, comfortable, affordable lodgings with private bathrooms. A good travel agent can help you find them, and guidebooks and Web sites are full of recommendations. Budget Travel magazine (http://www.budgettravel.com), for example, has well-researched articles listing bargain accommodations with character; search "secret hotels." Europhile Rick Steves (http://www.ricksteves.com) also specializes in the small and quirky. Karen Brown's World of Travel (http://www.karenbrown.com) is another good source for independent hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts, from inexpensive to luxe.

Basic travel advice applies: Cross-check prices and recommendations on such sites as Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and TripAdvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com).

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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