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Coming and Going: Last-Minute Tripping, Cruising Green

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

ROOM KEYS

Book Now, Go Much Later

Is it time to kick the last-minute habit?

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Last week CoGo met with Bob Diener, co-founder of Getaroom.com, a new booking site that specializes in hotel deals in 20 cities in North America and Europe. The former president of Hotels.com sketched out the changing lodging landscape for us. "Until 2 1/2 weeks ago, the rates were much better closer to check-in," he said. "Now, there is a steady rise in rates in major cities closer to check-in. You can still get bargains, but you must book a month or two in advance." Advance booking? How very pre-meltdown.

The shift is due in part to an improving economy and a public ready to travel again. The Northeast market, for example, is filling up for fall; New York is already tight. But you're not locked out yet.

Diener suggests jumping on special sales and allowing yourself a significant lead time -- at least four weeks -- when rates are still in the basement. "Don't procrastinate. This is the time to take a vacation," he advised. For lower prices, he said, know the visitation patterns of your destination. For example, in Chicago, rates drop on weekends, after the business travelers have left town; in Las Vegas, the best prices surface Sunday through Thursday.

In addition, not all cities are storming back at the same speed, which means cut-rate deals in upcoming months. Diener's top three picks for bargains are Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando. In Vegas, for example, most hotels on the Strip are running $17 to $99 a night. In New Orleans, you can snag a three- or four-star property for $55 to $130, and in Orlando, two-star hotels range from $25 to $40 and hotels with twice the star power are going for $60 to $150. Europe's recovery is even slower: As proof, Diener points to $99 rooms in London's Paddington and Kensington. "When we look back from 2010 or 2011, we're going to kick ourselves and say, 'I should've taken that trip,' " he said. Or hug ourselves for being savvy bookers.

SHIP TO SHORE

Polluters on the Sea

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group with an international grass-roots network, recently released its first Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card, grading the cruise lines on their greenness. To sort the eco-good from the eco-bad, the organization studied the environmental impacts of 10 major cruise lines, judging them on sewage treatment technology, air pollution reduction and water quality compliance in Alaskan waters. So how did the lines score?

None received a solid A, although Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Cunard did win a top grade for sewage treatment, and Carnival nabbed an A for water quality compliance. In the category of air pollution reduction, all but two deserve suspension, garnering F's and a D; Holland America, however, should get detention for its C-minus. (Princess excelled, with an A-minus.) Overall, Holland America placed highest, with a B for its final grade; Royal Caribbean and Disney failed. Shame on you, Mickey.

The study also breaks down the environmental impact of each ship, assigning a grade to each vessel. To see the report card: http://www.foe.org/cruisereportcard.

TRAVEL TICKER

The Walt Disney Family Museum opens Oct. 1 in the Presidio of San Francisco. The exhibits (cels, storyboards, Disneyland model, early drawing of Mickey, etc.) explore the life, times, innovations and inspirations of the master Mouseketeer. Timed-entry tickets cost $20. Info: 415-345-6800, http://www.waltdisney.org . . . On Oct. 3, Washington Dulles holds the 16th Plane Pull, in which teams try to drag a FedEx jet 12 feet. The free event and Special Olympics fundraiser also features a school bus pull for kids, an aircraft display, music, food and more. Rain date is Oct. 4. Info: 703-359-4301, http://www.planepull.com. . . . Tomorrow the California Travel & Tourism Commission unveils the California Fives, a travel-planning aid on its Web site. The tool features favorite hikes, golf courses, eats, etc. around the state, submitted in units of five by Californians both famous and unknown. Categories include post-surf eats by Surfrider Foundation exec Jim Moriarty and markets and food festivals by San Francisco chef Charles Phan. You can also add your own fab five. Info: http://www.californiafives.com.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


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