Talk About Travel
Monday, October 8, 2007; 2:00 PM
The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of ... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions -- but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.
We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.
Christina Talcott: Hey there! Thanks for joining us today. It's my first-ever time hosting this chat, and I can't wait to get started! Andrea and Gary are off on assignment, but the rest of us are eager to tackle your questions and hear your stories.
Today in Washington, we're expecting to break the record high as temps rocket into the 90s. I hope the tourists around town had the foresight to pack their shorts and Ts, not just their cool-weather clothes. Which brings me to the question of the day: Have you ever been blindsided by unseasonable weather on vacation? Best response (keep 'em short, please!) wins a goody bag from Skype, the Internet phone service that allows you to talk for free over the Internet or for a low rate when you call from a computer to a cell phone or landline. We're giving away a Skype installation CD, a headset and a voucher for 30 free minutes.
Seatbelts buckled, chairs in the upright position, tray tables stowed? Off we go!
Falls Church, VA: How secure is the parking area at the Philly cruise terminal? We were planning to meet family in NJ, then hire a car service. We're cruising to Bermuda in a few weeks. Thank you!
Scott Vogel: I was very impressed by the security in the Philadelphia terminal, especially as it's on the grounds of the old Navy Yard and you can't get into the place without proceeding through a security checkpoint. Having said that, I suppose anything is possible, but it certainly gave the impression of being secure.
Day Trip via Amtrak: I'm car-less, and am planning a day trip on the train. The 2 front runners are Richmond and Philadelphia. Interested in history, arts/culture, lunch out. A hip scene though, fitting for a young single gal. Thoughts? Other suggestions?
Christina Talcott: I vote for Philadelphia, though both are great destinations. Last time I went to Richmond I took the train, and I found the area around the station interesting, with the farmers market and the redeveloped Shockoe Slip area right there. The White House of the Confederacy is a 10 to 15-minute uphill walk from the station, but you have to take the bus to get out to the museums clustered around Broad Street in the Fan area. As for Philly, I love its public transportation system, which includes commuter trains, light rail, subway and buses. You can walk to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum from the 30th Street Station, then take the Market-Frankford subway line to 5th Street to visit Independence Hall and Old Town, or transfer to the Broad Street line at Market East to get to South Street/Little Italy, where shops and tattoo parlors and cheesesteaks abound. Anybody out there have specific Philly suggestions, or are there any votes for Richmond?
Vienna, VA: If I were to plan a trip to Mexico or the Carribeean for the first weekend of December, could I get a passport in time for that trip? My passport expired in 1994.
KC Summers: Hi Vienna. You'd be cutting it pretty close -- the State Department says things are back under control and that they've caught up with the backlog of applications, but it's still giving estimates of six weeks for regular applications. So just to be safe, you might want to pay the $60 fee for expedited service -- that should reach you in three weeks.
Washington, DC: Hello. Last week someone asked about long-term parking at the airports. So I can park at Dulles for 24 dollars per day??? BWI is 8 dollars per day.
John Deiner: Hey, DC. We told you it was $24 a day? You can park at the economy long-term lots at Dulles and take the free shuttles to the terminal for $9 a day.
Alexandria, VA: The new cruise terminal in Baltimore has an adjacent parking lot for passengers. Is the lot secured (24-7) such that returning passengers aren't in for a surprise upon their return?
Cindy Loose: We are told that the lot is secured. If it were me and I were worried, I'd call them for info on exactly how many guards they have and whether they've had break in problems.
DelRay, Va: Good afternoon! Last week Cindy mentioned Hanoi. I'm thinking about a vist next year and would appreciate recommendations for reasonably-priced accomodations. I've checked places like TripAdvisor and ThornTree and there are plenty of places available, but for every positive comment there's someone complaining about something or other. Any tips?
In addition, as a follow-up to last week's mention of things to do in Thailand, for shoppers I strongly recommend the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, where scores of thousands of Thai, expats and tourists go every weekend, and the Sunday market near Thapae Gate in Chiang Mai. Prices are often WAY below what you will find at the Silom or Chiang Mai night markets. Chatuchak is easy to get to via SkyTrain or subway and has several shipping services available so you can send the stuff back home. Also, those looking for clothing bargains may want to check out the Pratunam area, which is Bangkok's garment district.
Cindy Loose: I went to the Chatuchak weekend market this summer, and it was a blast. My teen daugther loaded up on cool t-shirts that were about $1.50 each--in fact I'd taken out $150 from an ATM for the shopping day, which was my last in Thailand, and now I have about $100 worth of bhat I have to cash in.
As to hotels in Hanoi--sorry, but I don't remember the name of the very modest place where I stayed. The big brand name hotels charge U.S.-style prices, but I recall lots of options for clean but basic places that middle class locals might stay. I've asked our Webmaster to put up a copy of my story because I'm pretty sure it included at least a couple low-priced hotels.
Can anyone else out there help on Hanoi hotels?
Alexandria, VA: Great story! How right you are about driving to the pier for cruises--and you forgot one of the glories of having your car right there: the express disembarkation process. On a recent cruise, my cabinmates and I had the option of rolling our suitcases down the gangplank at 7:45 am, ahead of the flight-time dominated groupings. Instead of sitting in our cabin waiting and waiting and waiting, we rolled off quickly and were on our way home. Another bonus: we got to keep our luggage in our cabin Saturday night!
Scott Vogel: Thanks for the compliment! You make a good point about the relative speed with which travelers can leave the boats. In fact, I could see the relief on the faces of passengers in one port -- Baltimore -- and I heard several comments from them about the efficient disembarkation procedure.
Sunshine MD: On a spring vacation to Grand Canyon it was lightly snowing when we entered the greatest wonder but 80 degrees when we left later that day!
Christina Talcott: Yup, the Grand Canyon has the craziest weather, doesn't it? Thanks for writing!
Washington, DC:"Have you ever been blindsided by unseasonable weather on vacation?"
In January 2004 we went skiing at Tremblant. Based on prior experience we expected a proper Canadian winter (read: cold) and prepared our ski clothing appropriately so as to be prepared for weather ranging from about -30 F up to about 10 F. The first day out on the slopes the temperature was absurdly warm and exceeded the freezing mark (high 30s F). Proper ski clothing was almost too warm....but on the plus side, after I changed so as to wear nothing but long underwear under my ski suit, I found it to be so comfortable that this is now my standard way to dress while skiing. Just got to hope I don't split my pants on a wipeout or something (two years earlier, also at Tremblant, I had been wearing an old ski suit, and the crotch split when I wiped out....air conditioning your boys when it's 0 degrees F outside isn't something I recommend).
Christina Talcott: Haha, that's a good one! Sounds like a comfy ski outfit to me!
Washington, DC: Hello! My wife and I have a 2 year old son and planning extended trips is a little tough. We have a family member babysitting for an upcoming Saturday and Sunday and I was thinking of an overnight stay somwhere within 2-3 hours drivefrom DC. Just me and the missus. Preferably more than a relaxing B&B time. Ideas?
Cindy Loose: I don't know your budget, but if it's good enough for a resort, I'd recommend checking out some resort options since you seem to want activities. Nemocolin has numerous activities, and if touring Frank Lloyd Wright houses appeal you could do that at the same time. Bedford Springs doesn't have a ton to do, but is a beautiful resort, close and reasonably priced for what you get, and great for hiking around.
If you don't want to go the resort route, believe it or not Baltimore has alot of offer, and Annapolis is a nice town for walking around shops and dining. I love the beach in the fall. As I spout on and on I realize I need to know more about what you consider fun activities.
Vegas in Winter: I got an offer from the Bellagio for free accomodations for several nights mid-January. Of course I'll do some gambling, but I'd like to fit in as many non-gambling things as possible. I'm planning on going to the "O" Cirque du Soleil show, and a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. I've already done Hoover Dam. Anything else I should consider fitting in, keeping in mind it will be January?
John Deiner: Hey there. That's actually a great time of year to sneak into Death Valley National Park --you can hike and drive around without fear of frying to a crisp. I love the drive between the Strip and the park; the difference is just wonderful (from throngs to nobody). It can be cool and rainy in Vegas in January, though, so keep in mind the pools won't be in operation, but consider buying a daypass to the Bellagio spa (I'm assuming guests can do that, but lemme know out there if I'm wrong). Also, don't forget about Red Rock, and consider skiing if that's your bag: You can do that atop Mt. Charleston, just outside of town.
London, U.K.: I had to switch my return ticket on British Airways from LHR to BWI for an earlier date (December instead of January). The airline is charging me a $200 change fee, plus a 25 fee at the airport (not sure what that is for), PLUS a $125 charge to change the "class" of my ticket so I can fly on the date I need (still an economy/world traveler ticket, but apparently there are 11 different classes within BA!).
Is this standard? I'm changing my flight more than 2 months in advance!
Carol Sottili: I tried to find the airline's fee schedule on its Web site for changing flight times/dates, but it seems as if the fare rules vary by class of service. I understand the $200 change fee, and even the $25 airport service fee, but I'm stumped by the extra $125 class change. The site says:
"Each fare type has conditions attached which may include it being restricted, non-upgradeable or non-refundable (any taxes paid are refundable). Generally the lower the fare the more restrictions there will be."
Try calling BA's customer relations number 347-418-4395 for a better explanation.
Philadelphia, Pa.: My wife is a cruise-aholic, which can lead to some significant hits on the credit card these days. She normally sails from Miami, but decided to try a "bargain" out of San Juan... only problem being (other than the higher airfare) finding a first-night hotel that is reasonable and safe. Any suggestions?
KC Summers: Hi Philly. There are tons of hotels in all price ranges in San Juan -- your wife should be able to find reasonable rates ($100-$150) by logging onto Expedia or the like. I've stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott San Juan Miramar, about a mile from the cruise-ship piers, with rooms currently at $149.
But here's a thought. Why not splurge for that one night in San Juan, allow some time to explore the Old Town, and stay in one of my favorite hotels of all time, El Convento? It's a gorgeous space, a centuries-old convent with Spanish antiques, marble bathrooms, a fabulous bar, atrium dining area, etc. And the neighborhood is great for walking, shopping and eating. Just a suggestion!
Weather: I went to Paris in late March. On weather.com, their "late March" looked a lot like our "late March" and so I took only long sleeve shirts to layer with a sweater, plus a pair of gloves. However, I had forgotten how cold "late March" could be - it was rainy and windy on the first two days, and the wind blew through me as I climbed the Eiffel Tower. I froze, and was envious of everyone with a coat. But I didn't have time to waste, so I continued hitting all those tourist attractions, freezing with every stop. Of course, by the fourth and last day of my trip, it was so hot I had the sweater off and my sleeves pushed off. Moral - their late March is like our late March, with the same unpredictability!
Christina Talcott: You're right! As depressing as it may seem, it's always a good idea to pack a winter coat for springtime in Paris. Good for you for soldiering on!
Burbank, Calif: Your discussion is one of the highlights of my week, thanks!
An observation about traveling. In no way am I defending the chaos at most airports these days, but I flew into Vegas last week and noticed that most of the delays or issues were caused by people not being prepared, wearing shoes that needed to be untied and removed, etc. Those of us that had our liquids in bags, wore slip ons, had our id ready, etc. sailed on through. As a society, we always want things our way, but that also adds to the complications, imho.
Cindy Loose: You are absolutely right; drives me crazy when people walk through with belts and jewelry then act all surprised when the buzzer goes off, and it takes them forever to take their stuff off. Maybe there should be a new requirement: Before you're allowed in line, you have to show a printout of the part of the Web site www.tsa.gov which lists the rules. Random passengers would be given a short quiz as they stood in line, and if they flunked, they'd have to go to the back of the line to study their printout.
Washington, DC: A couple of years ago my then boyfriend and I went to Paris in June. Unfortunately Paris in June isn't quite as lovely as say, "April in Paris" as we had fairly cold weather and rain. Unfortunately I had packed only skirts and sandals. Layers, as well as spending time in the fantastic department stores, restaurants, and museums kept me warm. That and the lovely engagement ring I received!
Christina Talcott: Yup, there's plenty to do indoors in the City of Lights - especially with someone you love. Thanks!
Alexandria, VA: Sort of a mundane question, but I was wondering if your esteemed crew or knowledgable chatters had recommendations for hotels in Dallas. We'll be going to a few games at the American Airlines center, so ideally close to that & nightlife. Thanks for the chats!
KC Summers: Alex, we don't know Dallas hotels, so let's see if any of the chatters can help. A lot of folks are off work today so we need everyone to pitch in... Help a fellow traveler out!
Doozy of all weather stories...: At the end of a 2-month trip all over Thailand with a good friend, we desperately needed some down time before returning to our lives in DC. We were travel weary, both bearing some unusual travel... um...infections, and wanted nothing more than to lay on a sunny beach.
In the interest of saving money we decided to head to Ko Samet, the closest island from Bangkok, for 5 days of R&R. We booked ourselves a closet-like room that REEKED of sewage (from a constantly backed-up communal bathroom next door) thinking, Hey, we'll be on the beach all the time anyway.
Not so much. A typhoon blew in from the South China Sea and we had 5 days of nonstop horrid downpours with zero visibility and never a break in the rain. To top it off, somehow we'd ended up on a strip of beach that was the sole destination of a bunch of German sex tourists, so our only company for the week was a bunch of gross old German men and their very young Thai escorts. We were totally depressed to see how the young women were treated, but we literally couldn't get anywhere because the roads were washed out. We finally had to leave in the rain and take a ferry through typhoon-y seas back to the mainland. It was MISERABLE. I have never been so excited to come home from a vacation.
Christina Talcott: Wow, that sounds truly awful! It would have been bad enough just with those "unusual infections"... (I don't even want to ask!)
Alexandria, VA: I saw Mr. Deiner's blog item about the shared toilet facilities in the New York hotel. I don't know much about those sorts of hotels other than what you see in the movies (think National Lampoon's European Vacation). How realistic are those movies? Do you really bump into the opposite sex in the "facilities" in these places? I've used unisex public restrooms in Europe where it seemed like I was one of only four or five men in the sink area, but that wasn't all that weird because they had the booths set up for privacy as to both sight AND sound. But a hotel seems like it would be a different animal.
The reason I ask is because if they're that much cheaper, perhaps it might be something to look into depending on how weird the experience is.
John Deiner: Hey, Al.
Good question. As far as the two hotels I stayed in, no problem with regards to bumping into members o' the opposite sex. Both places featured single loos, that is, only one person could use the facilities at any one time. Just be sure to lock the door. And the Pod Hotel includes a little grid inside your bedroom door that tells you which bathrooms are occupied and which ones are waiting for you. I'm glad I brought flip-flops though for the hallway and bathroom floors. I'd go back in a heartbeat, though.
Bring your coats to Maine!: When my husband and I first visited Maine before moving here, it was a balmy, sunny April day in Pennsylvania. We didn't even consider bringing jackets with us and boy, were we wrong! The cold, foggy drizzle that greeted us in Portland gave way to slushy snow in a matter of hours. We spent the weekend running from car to hotel to restaurant, huddled together. We got a lot of funny looks from the locals and were seriously considering a trip to the nearest LLBean. Since then we've learned not to put away our winter coats before May!
Christina Talcott: Yikes! These days you'd be ok, because there's an LL Bean outlet downtown near the art museum. Perfect placement for chilly tourists.
Reston, VA: Can anyone recommend a travel agent in the area that specializes in cruises? Trying to plan a cruise for next summer and really need the expertise of a TA to answer all my questions!
Scott Vogel: One place to look is an interesting new site called Tripology (www.tripology.com). You put in your requirements, as specific or as general as you want, and then the site matches you with travel agents in your area who might be able to help you. I think that'd be a great place to start.
Ruth in Alexandria: I'm looking for a Thursday - Monday Pre-Xmas Island getaway for me and my husband. Historically during the run up to the holiday travel season, am I better off waiting for the last-minute deals or look for the 21 day advance purchase options.
Who flies direct to the "hot-spots" from DCA - or, am I better off going out of BWI or IAD?
Any suggestions for a no-kid, beach-y, with some local-flavor destination?
Cindy Loose: As to no-kids, that has more to do with choosing a particular resort than choosing a destination. A travel agent could be helpful once you zero in on a place.
As to when to buy---I'd start shopping now, especially if you're set on going, cause who knows what last minute deals may or may not arise. If you find what seems a good price, grab it. The further pre-Christmas you can go the better, since prices start inching up as the 25th grows closer. If you can go first weekend in Dec., try that first.
For local color, Mexico is your best bet--it's a big country, and thus it's unique culture has had a better chance of surviving the onslaught of American culture. There are direct flights to Cancun, and while that is a very Americanized place, you'll find local culture if you travel an hour or so away from the Cancun resort strip.
Given your criteria I'd also check out Puerto Rico. An American territory, true, but Old San Juan will give you a great sense of Spanish colonial culture.
Naples, Fla: Hello Flight Crew,
Last Spring we read in What's the Deal that Hertz had repositioning rates from Florida up North after the season. There were great rates like $3 to $4 a day for up to two weeks. Is there an equivalent rate/offer to move cars, by any of the companies, from DC down to Florida this Fall? We are looking for the best rate for a car from Washington (DCA/IAD/BWI) CA to southwest Florida (APF/RSW) after the 27th of October for about a week.
Carol Sottili: I don't believe any rental car company has offered this deal going north to south. They apparently have enough people doing this without offering incentives. Cheapest I could find is about $48 a day. For that amount of money, you could easily fly.
Naples, Fla: Kudos for your article The Big Story: 5 Ships to Watch For. We cruised on the Norwegian Pearl on its inaugural cruise out of Miami last December, it was our first cruise and it was great. We would not have found it had it not been for a tip on the bargain last minute rates on offer in your Travel Flights and Deals
KC Summers: Glad that worked out for you, Naples. Thanks for letting us know.
BA change fee: The poster asking about BA noted "11 different classes." Those are actually known as "fare buckets" and they denote how there are different fares within the same class of travel (example: fully refundable economy, mileage award ticket, non-refundable ticket that must be purchased 21 days in advance, etc.). It sometimes makes a difference as to what service you get--on Virgin Atlantic, for example, a J class ticket gets you a complimentary chauffeured car to take you to the airport, but a D or Z class ticket (discounted Upper Class or award Upper Class ticket, respectively) doesn't get you the car.
I'd suggest that the poster go to the British Airways Executive Club forum on FlyerTalk.com and check the three sticky threads posted there, as they have a lot of info about the different fare buckets and the like. Someone there will know the answer to the question, since several BA staff routinely contribute to the threads.
Carol Sottili: Yes, economy fares are broken up into different categories, depending on cost of ticket. But I have not heard of an airline charging extra to change that.
Re: Day Trip via Amtrak: Philly, Philly Philly! I haven't been yet, but it's my agenda for next year. In researching cities to visit near DC, I found that Philly has much more to offer than I realized. Art Museums, the Franklin Institute (science museum), all kinds of cultural stuff, great restaurants... I've heard good things about the Sofitel and the Omni, but I'm thinking about staying at a small boutique hotel called Rittenhouse 1715 (not the luxury Rittenhouse hotel). I cannot recommend anything I haven't done yet, but this is where my research has led me so far.
Richmond is cool, but I don't think it has quite as much to offer.
Christina Talcott: None of us has been to Rittenhouse 1715, but it does look nice, and Rittenhouse Square is really charming. Thanks for writing in!
Boston, Mass: I was just reading your blog, and John, I agree with you about that Southwest T-shirt. What's the big deal? And why are so many people upset about it.
washingtonpost.com: Travel Log
John Deiner: Hey, Boston. I'm continually amazed and agog at the response the Southwest actions has generated.
As I said, I wouldn't wear the T-shirt myself, but if someone else wants to (no matter how dopey he looked), I wouldn't tell him to take it off. And I've seen a lot worse out there.
I've seen the T-shirt in question flashed all over TV the last few days: Where are the complaints about that? Why is it okay to air it on CNN 50 times a day, but some guy sitting in an airplane can't wear it? I'm just very uncomfortable with airlines (well, Southwest) dictating what's offensive and what's not.
Bethesda, MD: I was surprised to read in COGO that a traveller had trouble dealing with British Air. We have had amazing experiences with them. When my wife broke her hip on a BA tour, they arranged for her hospitalization, visited her daily, waived the usual change of flight penalties and gave us full use of 6 facing seats on the flight home so that she could be comfortable. More recently, when my daughter and her husband had to postpone a flight due to illness, they gave them vouchers for the full cost of the flights good for 2 years. My family uses them whenever we can and hope the COGO person's experience was simply an aberration.
Cindy Loose: I hope so too, although we've had a lot of complaints about BA luggage during the horrendous problems at Heathrow with luggage. BA says they have a better handle on that now, and that the problem will be solved when a new terminal opens in March.
I just got a complain from someone about BA, but I have an email out to them for details cause I'm thinking maybe they were just expecting too much. For example, BA misplaced their luggage and told them they could buy necessary items while awaiting word, and the family of four spent $4,000 and is now surprised BA will pay a max of $1,200. I'm thinking I'd be surprised to get $1,200.
Richmond, VA: I guess my "unexpected" weather story has more to do with my lack of research than any unusual weather patterns -- a few years ago in October, I flew to Albuquerque and rented a car to drive along portions of old Route 66 (East to Amarillo, then west to Gallup). At that point, everything I knew about New Mexico had been learned from a Bugs Bunny cartoons, so I was expecting warm/hot desert climate. Except that one day when I was driving somewhere between Tucumcari and Santa Fe, I ran into several snow squalls. Wow, mountains. Who knew?
Christina Talcott: Hahaha, that's great! Yes, sometimes you need a more reliable travel source than Looney Toons. That's what we - and this chat - are here for!
Columbia, SC: Seven years ago, my husband and I traveled to the Swiss Alps (near Interlaken) in mid-June. While we thought it might be cool, and perhaps rainy, we were not expecting snowfall! But - it snowed, and while we did have jackets, we did not have boots with us. Thankfully the weather moderated fairly quickly, and we enjoyed a few beautiful days there.
Christina Talcott: Unexpected snow seems to be the theme here, as perhaps it should be - sometimes nothing's more shocking than a snowstorm.
Washington, DC: Can you steer me straight on a hotel for our gang in Waikiki?
I feel like we've sacrificed our love of independent and
boutique hotels for ease of travel with children. We are us
two, our baby and preschooler, and my parents in two
ajoining rooms or a suite. Right now we have reservations at
the Hyatt Regency, ($620 for both rooms for 3 nights, 4th
night free) but would rather stay somewhere with more
personality or sense of place. Beach proximity not
necessary, but pool and room service a plus. I miss small
KC Summers:"Small and charming" isn't what comes to mind when you think Waikiki, is it? And yet you know these places must exist. We can't recommend any from personal experience (chatters, please feel free to chime in) but if you go to, for example, a site called Oahu's Best Bed and Breakfasts, Private Inns and Vacation Rentals (http:/
Anonymous: is there anyway to guarantee that my bags are going to be on my plane and will get to my destination when i get there?
i am flying to Denver on either December 22 or 23 so i figure a pretty busy time to be flying. Im going there to ski and ill be taking my ski's in a seperate bag and my boots and clothes in another one.
Just asking because the last time i have flown southwest to go skiing they have either lost my bag or someone i was with for the last 3 years. It is not a fun experience.
Carol Sottili: You could ship your luggage ahead of you. Company contacts include www.firstluggage.com, www.luggagefree.com and www.carrymyluggage.com. If that's too expensive, best bet is to fly nonstop.
Herndon, VA: I am interested in taking a cruise, probably out of Baltimore. I will be traveling alone and not overly fond of sharing a cabin with a stranger. I have cruised alone before (Royal Caribbean) and enjoyed myself. The single supplement is a pain but something I am willing to pay for a good cruise.
Do you have a recommendation of a cruise line that would work best for someone looking to relax, visit some interesting locations (culture, history) BUT not be looked upon as someone looking for a "hook up"?
John Deiner: Hey, Herndon. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are the two lines sailing out of Baltimore these days, and I'm thinking that you can take either of those lines and avoid the "hook up" tag. I'd give the edge to Royal Caribbean in terms of quality.
Fairfax, Va: Hi Crew! Am hoping you and/or fellow chatters can help me out. I'll be transiting through Doha, Qatar later on this year -- my stopover is about 6 hours in the evening (7 pm onwards) outbound and then 4 hours in the morning in bound. I've never been there before and would like to get out and explore. Is it feasible to do that -- are there things to do at those times of the day? Any suggestions for things to do and places to see would be much appreciated! Thanks!
Christina Talcott: Boy, I'm afraid you've stumped us. Any chatters have suggestions for what to do in Qatar?
Bethesda, Md: Hi: loved the whale watching article...could you guide me towards East coast trips? I heard Cape May and Norfolk have whale watching trips...is that true? what is the season? and who do you recommend? thanks
Cindy Loose: I'd start by looking at www.whaleguide.com for info on whale watching cruises. The list numerous places around the world, and you can click on U.S., then East Coast for much of what's offered. They don't include every boat going out, but have some in just about every area and list the season, which would be the same for any boat.
I took a whale watching cruise out of Virginia Beach, operated by the marine science museum, a couple years ago but unfortuntely we didn't see any whales. There are locations where whales are more numerous than other places--if I were you I'd pick a place then call the operator and ask what's been happening that season vis a vis seeing whales.
One more tip, from experience: If you get to a cruise and find the seas are rough and it's raining--as when I was at Va. Beach--ask yourself carefully whether you really want to go. Even if you don't get sick, seeing other people getting sick isn't a good way to spend time.
San Francisco, Calif: We San Franciscans can easily play Spot The Tourist with ill-prepared visitors. They're wearing "SF"-labelled fleece jackets they've just bought, having missed or ignored the warning that it can be really, really chilly here in the summer.
When travelling anywhere, I follow our advice to others: layers, layers, layers. And always pack a bathing suit, no matter the forecast. You may not get to use it, but wouldn't you hate to miss even a slim opportunity to do so?
Christina Talcott: I feel like I need a science degree to figure out what's up with the weather in San Francisco. The "Bay effect"? Whaa? Anyway, thanks for the packing advice - great suggestion about the bathing suit!
SE Washington, DC: I like the convenience of departing from Baltimore, but what's up with the inflated cruise prices? It's almost cheaper to fly down to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale anyway. Don't they want volume? If so, why does it cost so much more?
Scott Vogel: You hit the nail on the head with the word "volume." Don't mean to sound like a capitalist pig, but at this point, while there is a respectable number of ships leaving from area ports, it's not yet enough to create competition in pricing. But stay tuned. As more and more ships leave at full capacity or near-full capacity from these ports (which is the case), cruise lines will undoubtedly add departures and prices should get more competitive.
Fairfax, VA: Crew and Chatters - Please tell me about your destination weddings? Best places, best advice, how many is too many people? I think I want to do this - Help!
Carol Sottili: I wrote several stories about honeymoon travel back in May that touched on destination weddings. I'm getting the story links and will send them along. Meanwhile, anyone out there have experience with destination wedding? I know they've got supporters/detractors. I personally think they work best with small groups of people.
Unexpected Alaska weather: I went to Alaska in June one year, and was pleasantly surprised by the very warm weather. I thought it was going to be cold. I was walking in Juneau one day and wished I'd brought shorts, it was mid-upper 70's. But when we took the tram up the mountainside, there was snow on the ground and it was a tad chilly.
Christina Talcott: Wow, 70s and snow - what a combo!
Changing BA ticket "class": Must be referring to the "fare class," ie pricing level. Even within first, business, economy "classes," there are still "fare classes" denoted by letter codes, that let the computer know how much the ticket costs and what the restrictions are. It's just a more confusing way of saying that the passenger has to pay the difference between the old and new fares.
Carol Sottili: That is a likely explanation!
washingtonpost.com: Return to Vietnam, (March 11, 2001)
Christina Talcott: Here's the link to Cindy's 2001 Vietnam story.
Originating out of....: My husband and I live near a major airport. We want to travel at Chrismas--Caribbean or Europe. So what is stopping us? We "might" be moving to another city about 800 miles away before the end of the year. When should we even think of booking? I don't want to originate out of an airport in a city we dont live in anymore. What does the Flight Crew recommend?
Cindy Loose: Wow, tough situation. However, if you're not interesting in returning to a previous then hoofing it onward to your new home, then I don't think you have a choice except to wait until you'll know where you'll be living. At that point you might be faced with leaving from one place and returning to another,which can make ticket buying more complicated.
Are you willing to be tentatively traveling at Christmas time? I hope so, cause I think you're best bet is to wait until you know where you'll be living, then checking to see if there are any tickets left at a reasonable price for where you might want to go, but being prepared for disappointment. Traveling during Christmas is mega expensive under the best of circumstances. How expensive I found out last year when I checked out going to Mexico over Christmas. Not only was I competing with hordes of tourists, but on airfares I was competing with Mexican nationals who live in the U.S. but go home to visit family over Christmas.
Even though I'm recommending waiting, I'm also recommending that you check out prices now so you know what you're dealing with. Price tickets roundtrip from where you live now, from where you mgiht be living, and one-way from where you are now and where you might be living later. That way, you might give up the idea right now and get on with your life. Alternately, when you shop later, at least you'll have some means of comparison.
Richmond, Va: I'd just add re: touring Richmond--
Yes, you'll have to take a city bus from the train station area to the biggest cluster of museums, but don't forget that the hip commericial area, Carytown, is in that same museum area, so you'll combine those tourist destinations in one bus trip.
Christina Talcott: Great, thanks for the advice!
Christina Talcott: Links to last year's destination wedding stories.
Laurel, MD: First time poster. I kept the entire Travel section yesterday as my boyfriend and I are thinking of a cruise for his 30th b-day November 29. I'm new to the game so will we need passports? If we do how long will it take to get them? We were thinking of a cruise out of Balitmore like the article suggested.
KC Summers: Ahoy, Laurel, welcome aboard. That's a very good question. You should be okay without a passport in November, but you'll need a birth certificate (a legal one, not the hospital one) and a government-issued photo ID like a driver's license. Note that the rules are changing and things are a bit up in the air after that. Starting Jan. 31, you're going to need either a passport or a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID to get back into the U.S. from the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico. And in summer, the rules will be tightened to require passports, passport cards (under development)or "trusted traveler" cards (see www.dhs.gov for examples of these). We'll keep our readers posted on these developments, of course.
Really, as we often preach, it's just a good idea to hvae a passport. It's the best ID to have and you'll be ready for anythign that comes up.
For passport info: http:/
Rockville, MD: Worst weather on a trip that I was unprepared for? Paris in August 2003, when there was the excessive heat wave that killed thousands and caused the French to hose off their nuclear reactors to avoid a meltdown. I went for a daytrip to Versailles, and waiting in line was brutal--sun just beating down on me. When we finally got outside to the gardens, I saw tons of people just dipping their hands in Louis' glorious fountains. Even the French grannies with their pearls on were eyeing the fountains. I finally took the plunge (literally) and jumped in. It was amazing. People actually started clapping for me, and then they joined in, too. Louis might have been rolling in his grave, but it was such a relief to play in that fountain and get a brief respite from the 104+ temperatures.
Christina Talcott: Wow, that must have been a sight!
Airport Security Lines: I have to agree with the earlier poster. I travel about every other month, and am always frustrated in security lines. Even when I am wearing tennis shoes, I can slip them off quick; I've also gotten used to carrying my liquids in the baggie in my purse, for easy access. I hate waiting behind these people, who have to untie their shoes, then pull out their computers, then pull out their liquids, then remove their belts, etc. It would be great if TSA would create some kind of lane designation for those who need more time to get ready to go through versus those of us who can slip through quickly. I understand the problems (with people thinking they can go quickly but take longer), but I still think there would be SOME time savings for those of us who know the shoes have to come off.
Cindy Loose: Not sure how that would work out cause the most clueless people are also the least likely to know they're clueless. Some airports have adopted the registered flyer program, where you pay so you can get in a faster line. One feature of the program: You agree to be fingerprinted in advance or have an eye scan done. But really, you still have to go through security. Thing is, the people who sign up tend to be frequent flyers who know what to do. D.C. area airports don't have programs yet, but are considering them.
Alexandria, VA: Hello Flight Crew, Do you know of any sights in Kingman, AZ? I'm traveling through on a Route 66 tour and I'm wondering if it's worth a stop.
Cindy Loose: None of us has been there----Anyone in chat world been to Kingman, Az?
Burtonsville, Md: Why is Southwest discontinuing non-stop flights between BWI and LAX?
Carol Sottili: My guess is that load factors have something to do with it. If they're not filling those flights every day, they're not making enough money.
re: destination weddings: Yes, work best with small groups, and also: don't work if you have elderly family members who want to share you ceremony with you. Transportation can be difficult and expensive for retirees.
Carol Sottili: Thanks.
Re: whale watching: Great whale watching from Provincetown, Cape Cod. We went in late August and saw lots of humpbacks, plus minke and a fin whale.
Cindy Loose: Thanks. I noticed the Boston sites say whale watching there is May thru Oct, and I did my no whale watching in Va. in early Oct., so I'm guessing the whales are getting out of our immediate reach at this point.
Pittsburgh, Pa: Before moving to DC I'd lived all my life in a mild climate. One year just before Christmas we decided to drive up to the Buffalo/Niagara area for a few days' off-season vacation before heading to the Midwest to spend the holidays with my inlaws.
When we left DC it was seasonably lovely for mid-December. However, a few days later, the morning we left Buffalo for the Midwest the weather had turned wintry with a vengeance, and we had no snow-tires or chains for our car, either. We hit a lake-effect white-out en route to Cleveland along the Interstate, where we unintentionally got ahead of the snow-plow (not a great move). It took us hours to get to where we could turn inland toward Columbus.
By late afternoon we finally gave up and spent the night at a motel in Ashland, Ohio. Since it was cold we thought it would be a clever idea to leave our sliced deli meats and cheeses in the backseat of the car in order to keep them refrigerated overnight. The next morning the TV news reported it was 3F and sunny in nearby Mansfield (coldest weather I'd ever experienced in my life!), and when we went out to the car to retrieve our food, the meats, cheeses and French rolls were frozen hard as a board! Fortunately, the food quickly thawed so we made sandwiches from them for breakfast, then hit the road, which by then had been plowed to a passable degree.
Christina Talcott: Wow, sounds like quite an adventure!
"Before you're allowed in line, you have to show a printout of the part of the Web site www.tsa.gov which lists the rules.": The TSA wouldn't like that. It makes it harder for the screeners to make up their own rules on the spot if they decide they don't like you.
Cindy Loose: It used to kill me when at some airports they'd say that taking off your shoes was voluntary, but it was clear from their actions that if you didn't take off your shoes, you'd get the third degree. So much for voluntary.
London, England: Hi! Does anyone know a good website (besides gumtree) to find travel partners? I'm not a fan of travelling alone, and none of my friends are up for leaving the city.
Scott Vogel: As it happens, Companions 2 Travel, one service, is based in the UK. They specialize in just what you're looking for and, according to the Web site, there are more than 16,000 travelers registered, and thus 16,000 potential travel partners. You can find them at www.companions2travel.co.uk. (By the way, the site is not restricted to British tourists; travelers anywhere in the globe are encouraged to register.)
Blindsided by Weather: My husband and I are plagued (blessed?) by hurricanes. We met while evacuating from one, starting dating during another, and just missed one (by 24 hours) for our wedding day.
Luckily, when we got engaged, no hurricane. We took a weekend trip in late May to Virginia Wine Country and had a freak snowstorm instead.
Christina Talcott: Boy, a hurricane curse is pretty dramatic, but snow in May in Virginia is pretty bizarre, too.
Philadelphia, PA: How does one manage to save their miles for a little bit longer, before they expire in December? I don't mind using a couple of them to keep them current, but don't feel like rushing to find a place to fly, just to use them up.
Cindy Loose: Depends exactly what type of expiration you're facing. If the deal is that you simply have to keep your frequent flyer account active by doing something within a given time frame, then you can keep you're account active by spending miles--and you can buy something small like a magazine subscription--or by acquiring miles. Acquiring miles is more difficult without taking a flight, but see if your airline is hooked up with a hotel or car rental company and maybe you'll have occassion to spend miles that way. You could also spend miles by giving away any you can spare---usually you have to give in increments of a couple thousand.
But if you have miles that actually expire, then it's use or lose.
Silver Spring, Md: Just got back from a trip to France - though I flew through Brussels because US Airways had frequent flier availability. Definitely inferior to BA, which I ended up on for the outbound after my connecting flight got cancelled. I find myself really puzzled, because the folks I actually dealt with were quite pleasant - the friendly even though clearly overworked and frustrated customer service desk, and the reservations woman who stayed on the phone with me for an hour until we got me rerouted from National to Dulles - but really can't make up for the constant delays, poorly handled cancellations, and lousy planes. Is the problem at the very top, or middle management, or what? Because it's not the ground folks.
As an aside, however, my flight from Brussels to Philly was almost empty, so if you're going the frequent flyer route and can't get one to London or Paris, try Brussels. Obviously you put up with a lot more for a free ticket than a full fare.
KC Summers: Hey SS. Good point about Brussels, an interesting city to explore in its own right.
As for the ground crew staff, I'm not surprised they were pleasant. These poor guys are just doing their jobs, coming to work every day and facing all the frustrated, abused, lied-to passengers -- while the corporate types never have to deal with the results of their price-cutting and mismanagement.
Deep Valley, USA: Unexpected weather: back in the early 60's we had a family vacation to Yellowstone, with a cabin that had a woodstove.
It snowed. In July. We were cold. My mother decided to warm up her nylon nightgown by hanging it over the stove. It got too close, and melted.
Who knew? We were from California.
Christina Talcott: Yikes! I've never heard of a melting nightgown! The things you learn while traveling...
Re: unseasonable weather: In September 2003 my mom and I traveled to the Netherlands, where we expected it to be cool and rainy and packed accordingly. Instead it was warm and beautiful, with no rain until the final day, while back home, my husband and sons had to face Hurricane Isabelle alone.
And a question: We are now planning a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs for September 2008. We have never been before (and may never get another chance) and have a week plus travel days on each end. What is the best way to break up the trip? If we fly in and out of Jackson Hole and therefore get at least a drive through Grand Teton at each end, is a day or so additional enough for that park? We want to see as much as possible and want to walk quite a bit, but mountain climbing is probably not in the cards.
Carol Sottili: Definitely use Jackson Hole as your airport. It's expensive, but worth it because you're close to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons. I liked Grand Teton NP better than Yellowstone. Probably had something to do with the accommodations. Signal Mountain Lodge (www.signalmountainlodge.com) was lovely - get a unit right on the lake if possible. Favorite part of Yellowstone was the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We didn't stay there, but I will next time. Roosevelt Lodge price was right, but I wasn't all that thrilled with clientele.
Saint Lucia (formerly DC): We live in Saint Lucia and see a lot of destination weddings on the beach first hand (and speak with the brides and the grooms while they are enjoying the island).
You can find some good information on it at http:/
Carol Sottili: Thanks!
Pittsburgh, Pa: Another Buffalo/Niagara story. One year we went up there with the intent of cross-country skiing on Washington's Birthday weekend, when one could reasonably anticipate lots of good snow, especially in New York's Southern Tier.
But they had a record-setting heatwave that weekend instead, so after one trying afternoon using the softest gloppy wax, we gave up on our plan, and instead visited Niagara Falls (which are spectacular when frozen) and whatever attractions were open at the delightful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
As a plus, there are hardly any tourists there, since Americans tend to prefer warmer weather, while historically Canadians aren't exactly big on George Washington!
Christina Talcott: Way to make the most of a slushy situation! Thanks!
Unexpected weather: Snow in August at Mt Rainier National Park (not climbing the mountain.) It may be business as usual but was a hoot for this Texan. Great evening to hang by the fire at the lodge.
Christina Talcott: More snow stories! Great for this hot and humid day!
Silver Spring, Md: Looking for a nice (quiet, safe, luxury not required) hotel in San Juan PR for a short break. Something in Old San Juan would be great, otherwise something on the beach with good public transportation to Old San Juan.
Money matters, alas.
KC Summers: Hey SS -- see my previous answer to the cruiser looking for a safe place to stay. Would love it if the chatters could help us out on this one with recommendations for quiet hotels. As I said, I LOVE El Convento and it's certainly quiet, with those thick convent walls. But it's luxurious, and you might not be up for that.
Baltimore, Md.: I am having my first baby in June. My husband and I have
been planning to spend a week at a villa in Italy with friends
and their teenage son -- relaxing by the pool, strolling in the
village, cooking dinner at night -- and wonder if it would be
insane to follow through on these plans. We are pretty laid-
back but of course have no idea what our then-two-month-
old baby will be like. And, of course, there's the plane ride.
We imagine ourselves tucking our tot under our arm and
exploring the world, but are we crazy? Does it have to be
Rehoboth from here on in?
Cindy Loose: I absolutely, positively do not think you are condemned to years of Rehobeth. But two months after delivery---I wouldn't recommend it. Three months, I'd say maybe. Six months, go for it--I started dragging my child around the world at an early age with much success and joy. But two months--you're still recovering from something pretty physically and psychologically major, and you're still getting to know one another, and knock wood if you're baby has cholic you'll be lucky to have the energy to get to the supermarket.
And that's not even thinking about the other couple. Much as I love children, there's no way I'd want to be traveling with someone with a new baby. Your friends would be really exceptional people if they honestly felt better.
How about a nice big trip next year, but this summer---I'm thinking no.
FOR KINGMAN AZ: Havasu Waterfall/Canyon hike
Christina Talcott: Thanks for the suggestion!
Belair Md: I love you guys and now I really need your help!
I just earned a sales- bonus trip for my wife and 6 young children traveling the first couple weeks of December. The good news; I get about $4000 to spend and can choose the destination. The bad news; with it being so close to Christmas, we really need the trip to be all -inclusive and we don't know the best way to stretch it-- someplace warm or someplace embracing the season with snow! Can you make some suggestions?
Cindy Loose: When I first saw $4,000 for the family I was thinking you're options were endless, but then I saw the six kids thing. More limits, but still, you should be able to find with $4,000 something nice to do.
You're now talking eight airfares, so that's going to be your first big challenge. You're in luck that you're talking the first two weeks of December cause that's before the big rush. Also, does it have to be two weeks, cause if you went for only one week or even 10 days, you could do a lot more with the money than if you stretch it over two weeks.
I'm thinking you should first talk with your wife about which appeals more, warm or cold, then start your search after that decision has been made.
Hotel in Hanoi: We stayed at the DE SYLOIA HOTEL and really liked it. IT was simple, clean, and the staff was friendly. On our last day (we stayed 5 nights) the bellman (who we had tipped for a special facor) gave a present -- apparently he was an artist and this was one of his creations. It's one of our favorite pieces from the trip -- something with a nice stroy behind it.
Cindy Loose: Thanks.
Fairfax, VA: Surprise weather: About 20 years ago, when I was in my teens, I went on a Boy Scout camping trip near Annapolis in January. Cold-weather camping isn't really that big of a deal, but at one point my feet were cold and I stretched out my legs close to the fire to warm my feet. What I didn't think about was that the fire was built inside this reflective metal thing designed to help spread warmth, and the heat was concentrated enough that it promptly set my hiking boots on fire. D'oh.
Christina Talcott: This week is all about melting nightgowns, boots on fire and snow. Love it!
McLean, VA: A couple of weeks back, Mr. Deiner made some very unkind comments about families with small kids trying to sit together on an airplane. It has taken me a bit of time to cool down, and I would now like his expert advice on the following real-life scenario.
Last year, we flew to Minneapolis for a family reunion/vacation. Since we have three children under age 10, we made every effort to reserve our seat assignments in advance so that we would be seated together. While this was not a problem for our DC-MSP flight, Northwest refused to allow us to make advance seat selections for the return flight, and insisted (in response to numerous efforts through various channels) that we must wait until we checked in for our return flight for our esat assignments. Please note, Mr. Deiner, that our efforts included e-mails, telephone calls, and again at the ticket counter during our initial check-in.
When it was time to head home, we arrived at MSP airport well in advance of our scheduled flight time in an effort to get seats together. First, we could not get checked in due to an apparent computer systems problem. Then, Northwest "customer service" reps took us (and dozens of other passengers) to a separate counter for "special expedited handling" so that we could make our flights. All of us were promptly ignored, and received service only after a near riot threatened to erupt. When my family was finally allowed to check in, we were told that they could not give us seat assignments at the counter and we would have to get them from the agents at the gate.
At the gate, the agents first said that they couldn't give us seat assignments, then tols us we would have to wait until most of the other passengers had boarded (reminder - we had purchased our tickets two months before and had arrived early). Twenty minutes later, they assigned us five individual seats scattered all over the airplane, none of them within 5 rows of any other. We were then told that we would have to ask the flight attendants if we wanted to sit together (even in a two/three grouping). Upon boarding, the flight attendant angrily chastised us for asking her about this and said that it was the job of the people at check-in. I was seriously in danger of losing my temper and exploding at her when some fellow passengers who had overheard the whole thing -- both at the gate and at the cabin, jumped in and voluntarily swapped seats around so that my wife could sit next to our youngest and I could sit a few rows away next to the other two.
These people were kind, generous, and far more human than any airline employee we had dealt with the entire day.
Mr. Deiner, we had done everything we could possibly do, and we still got screwed with our seating. After reading your comments, I would like to ask what more we could have, or should have, done, other than not to have kids in the first place. You revealed a very cold, insensitive, and elitist side that has ruined my ability to appreciate any insights you may be able to provide on travel, let alone on how to get along with your fellow travellers.
John Deiner: I'm sort of puzzled at this one, inasmuch I remember saying I give up my seat in these instances. And if memory serves me right, I was talking about Southwest -- where you have to check in as early as possible to snag the best seats (and seats together).
I'm sorry you've stewed about this for several weeks, and I'm even sorrier you don't trust my insight -- because sometimes I actually have some. I really am a nice guy, though, and if you've seen the way I travel, it's about as far from "elitest" as you can imagine.
KC Summers: I have to come to the defense of my colleague Mr. Deiner. You've got it all wrong. He's about as far from elitist as they come. And he's a very sensitive soul as well. He's Everytraveler!
Scott Vogel: With regard to the above: Now hold on! I can personally attest that Mr. Deiner is none of the things you accuse him of. Okay, he can be a little cruel, but ONLY when we're on deadline.
Christina Talcott: John, elitist? I beg to differ...
Christina Talcott: Thanks for all your great Qs and As, and I hope you had as much fun as I did! For Richmond with the Route 66/mountains/Bugs Bunny story, please e-mail your name and address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get your Skype kit in the mail. Don't forget to visit our blog all week long, and see you next Monday!
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.