Talk About Travel
Monday, December 3, 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, chatters! Thanks for joining us on this windy afternoon after the rainy weekend. Hope you're all staying warm and dry today. Here with me today is KC, Andrea, Scott and Cindy, and we're all ready to answer your travel questions, whatever they may be. As usual, we have a question for all of you: When the weather outside is frightful, where do you fantasize about vacationing? Most creative response wins a pack of PicoPad Wallet Notes, a little packet of sticky notes and super-slim pen so you can jot things down, wherever you are - no more writing notes on receipts or napkins. But for now, take to your keyboards, and let's chat!
Herndon, VA: I will be in Las Vegas in March on business. My husband will join me and we're planning to leave Las Vegas on March 17 for a trip to Kanab, Utah to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, then on to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We're also considering a trip to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, but understand that it's a good distance from the South Rim. Given this general itinerary, does it make sense for us to backtrack and fly home from Las Vegas, or would it make more sense to fly out of Phoenix? We will fly home on March 22, so we don't have a lot of time to accomplish the itinerary. Thanks!
Cindy Loose: Hey--I drove from Vegas to the Skywalk and it was a lovely drive. However, it is on the west rim, and I'm not sure about whether your itinerary works. I'm wondering if it works to go from Vegas to the Skywalk then to Kenab and the south rim, but here's what you need to do:
Get the names of the closest towns, then map them out at mapquest.com or googlemaps.com.
Washington, DC: I can't believe your letter writer this Sunday complaining
about the $2 curbside bag check fee in her letter about
Thanksgiving travel. That fee has been around for a long
time, and has been well-reported, by your fine travel section
and elsewhere. "Needless to say" she tipped the skycap less?
? Don't let the airline fees effect how you treat others. If you
are in the position to take your family to the islands for
Thanksgiving, I'm guessing you won't miss an extra $10 you
should be tipping on a family's worth of luggage. For
KC Summers: Yes, it's a bit surprising that some people haven't gotten the word on this. We've always emphasized that the skycaps don't see a cent of these fees, so it's important to tip them over and above the $2 charge (at least $2 per bag).
Cruise for 17 people: I am interested in taking my children and grandchildren on a cruise in mid-July. Some are in college-the grandchildren -and some in High School.
It could be 5-7days and depart from the East Coast. Baltimore or Virginia Beach would be good.
I have no idea of where to begin.i guess I should tell you I would like it to be less than 1000$ per person.
Scott Vogel: Wow, that's quite a crew. A departure from Baltimore is definitely possibly, particularly if you're interesting in taking an Norwegian Cruise Lines sailing to Bermuda. (www.ncl.com) Published rates for inside cabins start at $848 a person, but discounts may be available through other sites.
Royal Caribbean Cruise lines sails from Norfolk in July 2008 too. 5-night Bermuda cruises and one 9-night Caribbean cruise all offer published rates at $1000 per person or less, and again, discounts may be available. (www.rccl.com)
Washington, DC: Flight Crew, I'm sure this questioned has come your way numerous times, but I have to ask again. Why do airlines schedule connecting flights so close to each other? I'm flying to California tomorrow, leaving from National and connecting at O'Hare. I only have 30 minutes between my scheduled arrival in Chicago and the departure from Chicago to the west coast. I'm really afraid that any slight delay could make me miss my connection - can't they give passengers a little more room for error?
Christina Talcott: I'm afraid it's up to you, the customer, to decide how much time is enough to make a connection. Thirty minutes does sound like a really short connection time, unless your gates are right next to each other. I'm sorry - it sounds like it'll be tight. If you're really concerned about getting to CA at a particular time, can you call and try to get on an earlier flight to Chicago?
Washington, DC: Thanks for putting together the ski guide. It is very helpful. I was wondering if any of you had travelled to Whistler, BC and, if so, what your impressions were. Is it mostly for advanced skiers or will intermediate skiers enjoy it as well. Any help would be appreciated.
Cindy Loose: Whistler/Blackcomb have over 200 trails, some for every ability level. It's a beautiful area, but I've been there only in summer. I'd be guessing it's blue skies but quite cold----who can personally shed light on skiing Whistler?
re: dream cruise: I was so happy to see the follow up about the Alaska cruise. thanks for a heartwarming story.
Cindy Loose: Thanks for mentioning it---the response was amazing to me. And not only will McKan get her trip, but she's inviting a long a 70-year-old friend who still works for a living, by necessity, and can't believe this is happening to her.
Alexandria, VA: In the recent issue of Barron's there was a mention that Ryan Air plans to start offering BWI/Stansted flights once the "open skies" rules are in place. Is there any infomration on when this service will start? Lori
Cindy Loose: I don't have that at the moment, but was going to look into it for this coming week's CoGo. Will report if there is a date; if not yet, I might hold off until there is more info.
Reston, VA: Research & Investigating tour companies.
I'm planning a 18-21 trip to New Zealand in Nov/Dec 2008. I've found websites for a number of tour companies (hike/bike/kayak type tours). But, I cannot find much information or reviews about any of them other than their own website, and of course they make themselves sound great.
Any tips on how to get less biased reviews? The companies are based in NZ, USA, Canada and UK. All sell directly in USA and charge in US $.
KC Summers: Funny you should ask, Reston. We're preparing a special story for next February's "Way to Go" section on this very subject, since we get asked it a lot. In the meantime, we'll publish a link to a piece we did in 2000 on choosing a tour operator that may be helpful, even though the specific recommendations are obviously dated.
Also, there are several things you can do:
* Contact the embassy of the country you're visiting to see if they keep a list of recommended tour operators.
* Check the country's official tourism office either online or by phone to see if they have any vetted lists.
* Consult guidebooks for their picks.
* Check travelers' forums and message boards on sites like Lonely Planet, Frommer's, etc.
* Ask the chatters! That's the best thing about this forum -- you can hear about firsthand experiences and recommendations from unbiased sources. Maybe someone has a good N.Z. outfitter for Reston?
France: I am taking a short-notice trip to Paris next week and was just wondering what is the status of the transit strike over there?
And do you have any suggestions for cheap chic hotels there?
Scott Vogel: Good news, the transit strike ended last week so you should be in the clear. Word is that more strikes are possible, but probably not until the end of negotiations just before Christmas, according to AP.
Anonymous: I live in Haymarket VA. On an 20 day trip to China/Tibet in May, I leave from Dulles, but my air miles award ticket returns me to Baltimore Airport at 9:30 pm. We are trying to figure out the best way get back home to Haymarket from Baltimore that night, without begging friends to come all the way to Baltimore to pick us up at that late hour. We have also considered getting a hotel for the night in Baltimore the night of our return. But still have to get from Baltimore to Haymarket. Should we drive an extra car up to Baltimore the day before we leave and pay for parking for 20 days, or are there public transportation connections that can get us closer to home? We do have a place we can park in Fairfax, which is almost home. What would you do if you had no really good friends or family in the area you could impose on to drive to Baltimore to pick you up??
Andrea Sachs: I would drive to Dulles, then when you return catch a shuttle from BWI to Dulles and drive yourself home. No friends needed. Or, to save on parking, just catch a shuttle that departs from the airport and offers doo-r-to-door service. (If the shuttles don't go that distance or it is too expensive, maybe you can see how far you will go, and have your pals take over from there.)
Bethesda, MD: My husband and I are looking to go on vacation around March or April and were considering an all-inclusive resort (like Sandals). Are these resorts a good way to enjoy the islands (thinking someplace like Bahamas, Virgin Islands, etc)? Are there any hidden fees?
Christina Talcott: You'll be happy to know there are few hidden costs with all-inclusive trips, as long as you read the fine print. Generally, any scuba/snorkeling or other excursions off the property cost extra. As to whether or not all-inclusives are a good way to enjoy the islands, I'd say it depends on how you like to travel. If you enjoy hunting around for a good restaurant or exploring destinations on your own, you might prefer doing things a la carte. But if you like the idea of having everything paid for up front, and having all your meals and drinks provided for you, you might like an all-inclusive. Check out Andrea's guide to how to book an all-inclusive vacation, which ran in our Islands issue in October.
Fairfax, Va.: Okay, a question close to home: heading to Annapolis (never been) this weekend. Where can I find a good place for breakfast, close to the Capitol? And what can I do in the evenings that is charming and "Annapolis" that won't break the bank?
Cindy Loose: Anyone have an Annapolis breakfast place? I'll know more next week, cause I'm headed there for a story this weekend as well.
As for cheap entertainment, you're in luck---so happens that Saturday night is the annual parade of boats, when sailors cover their boats with lights and Christmas decorations. It's also a great town for simply strolling, or check out a tour at the Naval Academy. Other suggestions, readers?
As for where to stay--I haven't yet booked but notice that prices seem to be higher than usual next weekend, probably cause of people coming in town for the boat parade. The waterfront choice is advertising winter rates of $189, but when I checked on reservation I was getting more than $300. But there are loads of B&Bs both in and near Annapolis, and chain brands that are inexpensive if you don't mind driving a couple miles into town. I plan on making my reservations today----act soon or I might beat you to the last room in the place you decide you want.
Arlington, VA: What can be done about Dulles airport? International arrivals there is a total disgrace. I arrived Friday morning after a 12 hour flight from Asia. There were only 1 or 2 agents on duty at passport control at 9:30 AM. There were hundreds of people in line and it was basically not moving. Finally a little after 10 AM, 6 or 7 more agents decided it was time to start working so the US passport holder line started moving relatively quickly. However the non-US line was still long and not moving. Welcome to America and the Nation's Capital! Those of us in line were dumbfounded that this was the situation. On my arrivals at Bangkok there were always many passport lines open and while they sometimes moved a little slow it seemed to be mainly due to passengers not having filled out their forms properly. Arrival in Cambodia was swift, mainly due to its small size. The immigration lines at Narita were frankly just as long, slow and unfriendly as they are at Dulles for foreign passport holders, but at least they had all the lines open and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when some new lines were opened. I can't imagine anyone from overseas ever wanting to return to the US after having to suffer through arriving at Dulles.
Cindy Loose: Good point---we should address this question to customers and border patrol. Anyone notice other entry points with similar problems?
washingtonpost.com: All-Inclusives Made Easy, (Oct. 28, 2007)
Christina Talcott: For the island-bound Bethesdans.
Downtown D.C.: I often fantasize about visiting my family in southern California when the weather here gets miserable. Somehow, though, 9 times out of 10, the times I do go there, the weather is freakishly hot (it hit 100 when I was there trying to escape the miserable DC heat once - it's only that hot on the CA coast a few days a year) or cold and rainy (as it was one February - I think it was colder there than it was here that weekend).
Nonetheless, I keep fantasizing about it because when I'm not there, the weather is usually much better there than here!
Christina Talcott: Wow, too bad about the freakishly hot weather! I don't blame you for California dreaming - thanks for writing in!
Raleigh, NC: We're in the process of booking our second annual family ski trip. Last year we went to the Canyons, this year we'll be in Snowmass. My children are 5 and 3. I'm interested in hearing from others who've taken their young children skiing as to the most family-friendly places, best places to stay, etc. Also interested in hearing about family friendly European ski resorts. Thanks!
Cindy Loose: Hi--So, who has taken young children skiing recently? I know lots of resorts have good ski schools and babysitting, but don't know which ones in particular to recommend.
Re: dreaming of: When the weather gets this cold and windy, I dream of a trip to Southeast Asia where it is hot and humid most of the year. I've been all over, but I haven't been to India yetso I think of a trip there, and then I light the fireplace, make popcorn with tandoori spices and Glogg (Swedish mulled wine which has Cardamom in it - transported from their trips from India) and put on one of the Bollywood or recent India related movies (like Namesake, or Mansoon Wedding, etc.) and imagine myself there. Generally with the music and the colors I am able to get myself out of the mood of dark and gloomy Washington and be in hot and brigt India...
Christina Talcott: That sounds amazing! I can't wait to try popcorn with tandoori spices.
Please help with Hawaii tix!: I've been invited to stay at a friend's lovely time share in lovely lovely Hawaii, but have been appalled at the non-lovely tix prices to get to Hawaii from the DC area. I'm seeing 4 figure prices per person for travel around 4th of July! Are there tricks about when the prices come down? Or at least cheaper days on which to fly? I'd hate to turn down a free week in Paradise, just because I can't afford to get there!
Scott Vogel: I can't vouch for the Web site Air to Hawaii, which just launched in October, but I'd at least check www.airtohawaii.com, as their entire mission involves finding discount airfares to that island destination. Also, consider flying out of Baltimore, which has nonstop flights in the $800 range. Less expensive, but more of a hassle, are flights out of New York, which are currently running a few hundred dollars less for that time period.
Winter escape for non-skiers?: Dear Flight Crew,
My birthday is in Feb., and this year my husband and I would like to take a long weekend to celebrate. Do you recommend a nearby resort (within 3/4 hours driving of DC) where one could enjoy great food, get a spa treatment, and enjoy some outdoor activities? The only catch is that I'm terrified of downhill skiing. I'd be interested in maybe cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, as long as I could get a lesson and/or a guided tour. I also don't want to feel like I've left civilization completely--the thought of being isolated in a cabin out of the woods is unappealing to me.
I'm looking at staying at the Homestead resort, but I wanted to get more input. Thanks!
KC Summers: I'm with you on the non-skiing thing. So Homestead sounds great to me, and also take a look at the Greenbrier. They're not cheap, but great for a birthday splurge -- the settings are gorgeous and there excellent trails for cross-country skiing, as well as lots of other fun activities, both indoor and out. I've stayed at both and they're both really good places to curl up in (great afternoon teas and indoor shops, plus fabulous spas) as well as recreate outside.
Other good options: Wintergreen resort and Keswick near Charlottesville; Nemacolin in Pa.
Once More Good Holiday Travel Story: Hi Crew,
Just wanted to add one more GOOD holiday travel story. Trying to get back from the Midwest to Washington on Monday after Turkey Day, my partner and I got voluntarily bumped twice and made $1200 in vouchers off the deal. Yippee!
The outcome of that is a trip to plan for late January, early February. How is Costa Rica that time of year?
Cindy Loose: Congrats--good to hear that overbooking works out in a positive way for some travelers.
Costa Rica in Jan or Feb? Great. In fact I feel like going out and trying to get bumped so I can go too. Costa Rica is warm-hot all year, December to April is the dry season, so no rain to spoil the holiday most likely.
RE: Whistler/Blackcomb: W/B has one the most developed, family friendly resorts. I've been there several times. It's best to fly into Vancouver and take the shuttle from the airport because everything in the town is within walking distance. There is NO reason to rent a car. If you check whistlerblackcomb.com you will find lots of deals. Two Aprils ago a friend an I paid less than $500 for airfare, lift tickets, and lodging for four days of skiing.
Cindy Loose: Hey--two answers in one. Whistler great for intermediate skiiers--family friendly too. Thanks.
re: connecting flights: it's not always up to the customer. I recently looked to book a flight on Southwest through Oakland. They would not let me choose the BWI--Oakland leg and gave me the one closest to my connecting flight. So I'm taking the other risk and booked two separate flights----first one of the day BWI-Oakland, then the only flight of the day Oakland-Lihue.
question: someone suggested that I could lock my luggage at Oakland (since I'll have about 6 hours to kill between flights in a perfect world). Does Oakland really still have lockers in the airport?!?
Cindy Loose: I don't know of any airports with lockers. But you could check in for your second flight early and get rid of your checked baggage that way. Make your carryon easy to carry.
Airline Responsibility?:"I'm afraid it's up to you, the customer, to decide how much time is enough to make a connection."
I am not sure I uagree with this. When one makes a reservation for a flight options come up to get you from point A to point C. Yes, you may have to stop at point B but you have very little control over where and when layovers occur. If a connection is impossible or highly unlikely it should not be possible to book. It should never come up as an option. Airlines could easily put parameters in their search engines so only flights with layovers of more than an hour were possible to book. Or they could hightlight the layover time with the tickets informaiton. Making things more transparent will lessen the number of people making these booking mistakes.
Christina Talcott: You're right - there's a lot airlines could, or should, do to make things easier for passengers.
Jessup, MD: What are your thoughts on grabbing the best deals on international travel? My girlfriend and I are looking to travel extensively and I've read some information on international volunteerism, etc. to cut back on travel costs. Do you recommend these types of programs or do you have other suggestions?
Andrea Sachs: If you are looking for a deal, I am not sure volunteerism is the way to go. Many organized volunteer groups, such as Earthwatch, charge a couple thousand or more to participate--airfare not included. The less expensive programs charge a nominal fee for housing and food, but you will be spending more of your time working, with only a day here and an afternoon there to sightsee. I am a strong advocate of this kind of travel, but I think you need to sign up because you want to contribute to the culture and land, not because you want to save money.
To keep costs down, go the shoestring route: Fly low-fare carriers, stay in hostels or monasteries, eat a lot of picnics, etc.
Washington, D.C.: Re: Whistler. I took my family to Whistler for vacation last winter. I'm a mid-50s female returning to skiing after 30 years, and managed to come home alive. My novice teenagers also survived. Our expert cousins had a great time. We had some harrowing descents but eventually found the thrilling, but not daunting intermediate slopes all over. Sometimes snow conditions closed our preferred route down, and it was harder, but there are lots of trails to work with, especially on Whistler. I found the village to be a little contrived, but with a rental house, we could do our own thing. The zip-line tour in winter is pretty awesome. Too bad your U.S. Dollar is now less than the Loonie!
Cindy Loose: Everytime I read something about the current exchange rate I am sorry all over that I didn't travel Canada more when the exchange rate made it an incredible bargain. It now takes $1.04 Canadian to get a U.S. dollar--hard to swallow for someone how clearly remembers, not that long ago, getting $1.50 Canadian for every hard earned U.S. buck.
Washington, D.C.: I, personally, did not enjoy the Sandals vacation my husband and I took last year. "Everything included" does NOT keep them from constantly upselling for spa services, wine, etc. The food was plentiful but not impressive. Unless your idea of a good time is drinking all day, there isn't a lot to do in the resort.
We did take advantage of the scuba, which Sandals includes in its package (at least for Jamaica).
But overall, it's not a vacation I'll take again.
Christina Talcott: Thanks for weighing in! I firmly believe that all-inclusives are not for everyone. For me, there's something so satisfying about the challenges of finding meals, the surprises you encounter out wandering, that's nearly impossible on an all-inclusive resort.
Fortaleza, Brazil: But formerly Silver Spring. What is frightful weather? It is in the high 70s here now. But then, it always is. Last snow we saw was in Silverton, Colorado durng a trip to the States in October. We fantasize of going places cool and green. Not cold, mind you, just cool. Being down here in warm weather is not all fun and games. I cannot find peanut butter here to save my life.
Christina Talcott: Ha! That's a very good point - that bad weather depends on what you're used to. Sorry about the peanut butter!
formerly silver spring, now NYC (part 2): Of course, I should admit that whenever it gets cold my wonderful but lunatic back-country snowboarding hubby starts dreaming of Silverton CO, Jackson Hole, and any other place guaranteed to be even colder than it is here - your ski issue has put quite a smile on his face!
Christina Talcott: So good to hear! Thanks for writing!
Washington, D.C.: I'm one of those odd birds that loves all types of weather. So, my vacation fantasies are pretty consistent no matter what the weather is like here in DC. Right now, I'm dreaming of Ethiopia. BUT, on those super-freezing gray winter days with no crisp white snow to brighten the landscape, I'll probably be dreaming of Puerto Rico. Went on a six day trip about a month and a half ago and I was blown away by how much there is to see and do between San Juan, the coasts and inland on an island so close to us and so affordable. it'll be my new go-to spot for fun in the sun!
Christina Talcott: I guess a vacation's a vacation, right? Glad to hear you enjoyed Puerto Rico - I'd love to go there myself.
Paris Hotels: I've stayed in three different Paris hotels, two of them in the 14th Arondissement (on the south side of town but close to the Metro). Hotel Beaunier was dirt cheap, but the room was spotlessly clean and comfortable (and tiny). Hotel Virgina was nicer and a little more money. In the center of town, I stayed at Best Western Jardin de Cluny, very nice and convenient to everything. I could see the spire of Notre Dame cathedral from my window.
Christina Talcott: Great recommendations!
Alexandria, VA: What to do in Buenos Aires if you're boring? Can two people who prefer to be in bed by 1am instead of out at a club have fun in BA?
Scott Vogel: You don't have to be a club-hopper to enjoy Buenos Aires, and you don't need to be a night owl to enjoy the tango. From afternoon lessons to late afternoon performances, be sure to take in one of the city's signature experiences. Another thought: tour or take in a performance at Teatro Colon, an enormous and well-regarded performing arts venue. Travelers also try to hit the Calle Florida for shopping...
Food at all-inclusives: I think all-inclusives would probably work well for my family, especially the not having to figure out the restaurant and keeping track of a budget part. But I am a bit of a food snob, and I also don't like buffets. Do you have a sense of the quality of the food at all-inclusives? Are there any with really good "cuisine" or that are food-focused?
Christina Talcott: None of us know of any particular resorts with great food, though Scott points out that there are specialty cruises that are food-focused. Any chatters out there know of resorts for foodies?
Travelling on Airplanes with Pets: I'm moving to the West Coast from DC at the end of the month and will be bringing my 15 pound, 3 year old dog with me. While he's light enough to come on board, he's a bit tall so I don't think he'll be comfortable under the seat in front of me (hell, -I'm- not comfortable in my own seat these days --great article in today's Post on that). Looks like I'll have to check him as baggage. Any tips? How cold does it get in those airplane cargo sections? And does he count against my two-bag checked luggage allowance if I have to pay extra to bring him? I called United in the middle of the day, ended up talking two separate times to a call center in India where the reps clearly did not understand what I was talking about.
Cindy Loose: You will have to pay extra to check him as baggage.
He isn't a pug-nosed dog, is he? Baggage flights are particularly hard on pug nosed dogs.
It can get cold in cargo, particularly is there is a long delay on the tarmac. I'd consider taking a non-stop flight, and I'd fly in the warmest part of the day. In fact, if he's small enough to take in a carrier that fits under your seat, that's what I'd do, cause it's not like he's going to be enjoying the flight in baggage either. You can find rules about taking a pet on United at www.united.com. Oh and by the way, the dog shouldn't count against your two bag check limit since you'llbe paying separately for the pet.
last week's cruise discussion: I read through your discussion last week re cruises, and I have to say that I think cruise lines need to do a MUCH better job with dealing with non-repeat customers. I took my first cruise last summer (also to Alaska) and I found the process mystifying -- although I am a very experienced traveller and pretty internet savvy. One small example -- I didn't realize that when they say the boat departs at 5:00, that means you damn well better be on board at 4:00 and at 4:30, the gangplank will be up and they will be pulling up stakes to sail away. This would be relevant information for someone booking a cruise, who is likely to buy the airplane tickets soon thereafter.
Scott Vogel: You make a great point. Considering that a huge percentage of travelers who take cruises need to fly to their ports of embarkation, the lines often take a head-in-the-sand approach to the airline industry, which as everyone knows has been having terrible troubles with on-time arrivals. Your comment reminds me too that first-timers MUST check the "if you've never cruised" pages on the lines web sites (they're usually called something to that effect). Also: Keep in mind that some countries may have visa requirements for entry by Americans (Brazil, for instance), and for some reason the cruise lines don't telegraph this information.
Bora Bora on my mind...: I absolutely fantasize about a trip last year to Bora Bora - we had one of those amazing over water bungalows. In hopes over never forgetting the view from our room, I took a picture of the view looking out from the beach chair, with my feet as part of the photo. I can sit back in my desk chair, look at my screen...and it's like I'm there with the full perspective!
Christina Talcott: That sounds like an amazing trip, and a fun screen-saver.
Bowie, MD: A great place for breakfast in Annapolis is the Boatyard Bar and Grill. It's on the other side of the bridge in Eastport at Severn Avenue & 4th Street. www.boatyardbarandgrill.com
Cindy Loose: Yum, I'll try it, and maybe see the other Annapolis chatter.
Arlington, VA: Love the chats, hope you can take my question. My husband and I have started a new tradition to help make the holidays more
relaxing--taking two weeks off instead of our usual one. So we spend the first week preparing for Christmas and traveling to visit family. The idea behind the second week is to spend it back here at home, doing things we need to do around the house and doing some fun things we don't often get to do because of work. So last year, we did a couple of decadent weekday lunches and one day we went to Baltimore for the day and visited the Aquarium and had cupcakes at the Baltimore Cupcake Company. It was a lovely day. I'm trying to plan this year's "second week" and while we have plenty of things we need to do around the house, we don't have any "fun" ideas. If you could go anywhere for the day, where would you go and what would you do? We'd prefer not to go too far, since we will have just returned from a long trip to see family. We also prefer that it could be done in a day (no overnight stay). Any thoughts would be appreciated.
KC Summers: Good question, Arl -- and an excellent survival strategy. I'd head straight for New York -- either to Chelsea/Gramercy Park, where I'd walk around and shop and go to the Rubin Museum, or to Brooklyn, where I'd ... walk around and shop and go to the Brooklyn Museum. Here's where the rest of the gang would go for the day:
Christina: Another one who loves NY. She'd get up early and take the train, hit the museums (the Met's at the top of her list) and walk around Central Park.
Scott: Charlottesville. It's beautiful right now -- the pedestrian mall is decorated for Christmas -- so he'd walk around downtown, then go to Monticello.
Andrea: Philly, to the World Cafe (a restaurant with a stage that she keeps hearing about on NPR) to see one of their great programs or concerts.
Cindy: Baltimore (I realize that doesn't help you, but these are our gut reactions), to walk around the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, and then Little Italy and buy dessert at an Italian bakery.
Other one-day wonders for Arl?
Re: All Inclusives: You might want to try the new Club Med. I've never been a fan of Sandals and wasn't crazy about Club Med until a friend of ours went to the one in Cancun and raved about it, it didn't sound like anything I remember from the old days. So we bit the bullet and booked a trip and it was very pleasant and much more upscale than what I had in mind. The food was also great, not the typical buffet, but many things cooked to order, and plenty of activities we didn't have to pay a dime for. I woudl like to check out the other Club Meds now.
Christina Talcott: Terrific, thanks! Something for the foodie trip-planner to chew on.
Falls Church, VA: Does "viarail", the Canadian equivalent of Amtrak, have a rail one-way, fly the other way arrangement with an airline similar to the Amtrak-United (I believe) partnership? Is it perhaps a seasonal deal in the warmer months?
Andrea Sachs: VIA Rail itself does not run rail/air vacations, but it does work with companies that do offer such combo holidays. To see list of operators, go to www.trainpackages.ca/en_site_map.html, and pick your desired destinations.
what i'm dreaming of...: is being at home in utah. when i lived out there, winters were my favorite season. but after being here for six winters, i find DC just has pointless winters. pointless because, what's the point of cold if it's not snowy and beautiful!? NO POINT!
Christina Talcott: LOL!
Anonymous: Today's Post article "Passengers Are Less Free to Move About the Cabin," about crowded airplanes, certainly hit home. But it failed to mention one aggravating factor that is the fault of both the airlnes and passengers: the increased amount of carry-on baggage, leading to overhead bins that are filled before all have boarded, and increased time required both for boarding and deplaning. Airlines made a big show about cracking down on the amount and size of carry-on bags, but I have seen passengers board with bags the dimensions of medium-size suitcases (sometimes larger). On a recent trip from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale, some passengers had Disney World souvenirs the size of symphony orchestra trombones. But the airlines feel they would get more complaints if they adhered to their own rules. And, of course, the article only alluded to one other factor: the increasing obesity of Americans in general. As seat space declines and passenger size increases, the discomfort level rises. Amtrak, anyone?
Cindy Loose: This is the second time in a week I've heard the same complaint. One more and I'll talk to the airlines and do a Cogo item.
Tipping a skycap: I always tip the skycap when I do curbside check in. I understand the sense of this when they have a large cart filled with luggage from one or more groups of passengers. However, several airports have added conveyor belts to the skycap area. With these, other than potential weather conditions, the skycaps are pretty much in the position as the inside check in people, who don't get tipped. (BTW, before it gets overemphasized, the weather thing goes both ways. I guarantee the inside counter people would want to be outside getting tips on a nice day.)
KC Summers: Interesting point, but I have a feeling their salaries are not commensurate.
Rockville, MD: In days like this I just fantasize of being under the tropical Sun where I was born and raised, where you never experience temperatures lower than 70 degrees or strong winds like today (unless you are in the middle of a hurricane!!!!)
Christina Talcott: Sounds like a lot of people dream about where they're from, whether it's snowy there or hot. Does anyone who's left DC fantasize about it, I wonder??
Washington, DC: I'm surprised by the people saying they have no control over their connections. I fly about a dozen times per year for personal and business reasons - and I never book a flight with a connection of under 1 hour. Do I often get the option - yes; is it sometimes significantly cheaper - yes - but I know (from experience and reading/hearing reports) that my odds of making a 30 minute connection are low and that the odds of my trip being delayed - because I have to wait a long time for another flight - are high.
Travelers need to understand to check the times and be realistic - not just pick the cheapest flight all the times. Do I "waste" some time in airports - sure - except I use to reas/shop/eat - and I don't have run over other travelers in my race to make a plane.
Cindy Loose: In fact I just heard from someone whose flight time was changed after she bought tickets, making a bad connection, andthe airline won't budge on putting her family on an earlier flight. I'm checking into that one.
But you make a good point---the cheapest flight isn't always the best deal. Paying attention to connection times is a good bet.
Herndon, VA: Inclement weather? Just booked my trip to Jackson Hole for the end of January this morning. Heading to Mammoth Mountain, CA at the end of February.
Bring on the snow!!!
Christina Talcott: I love that I-just-booked-a-trip feeling!
Phoneix, Ariz.: When I fly, I always go past the $2 curbside check and check my bags and get my ticket indoors. I have to admit, but I don't even know what curbside check-in of bags is and whether it is worth an extra $2 a bag or not. Is it?
KC Summers: Sorry, we should have explained this. It allows you to bypass the frequently horrific lines of folks checking theri bags at the check-in counters and go directly to your gate. Of course, if you followed our advice you'd be taking only a small carryon and you would've checked in online the night before, so you would've gone straight to the gate anyway!
washingtonpost.com: Specialty Tour Operators, (Oct. 28, 2000)
Christina Talcott: Here's a list of tour operators.
Washington, DC: I'm flying to Ireland over spring break to visit my boyfriend, who will be studying there for the semester. I'll be flying from Dulles to Shannon Aer Lingus via Dublin. Thing that I noticed was that I only have a half-hour layover in Dublin--and there was no other flight to Shannon! My boyfriend's flight, also through Aer Lingus, also only has a half-hour layover. Is this common for flying in Ireland? Will a half-hour be enough time?
Cindy Loose: That doesn't sound good to me, especially since I assume you'll need to go through customs, as it sees Dublin is your first stop. I'd be mentally prepared for missing the flight, with contingency plans for where to stay, then hope for the best. I'd also go online and see if there are empty seats on the flight the next day, and if the plane looks pretty full, see if there are going to be alternative flights that Aer Lingus might put you on.
Orlando, FL: Hi Flight Crew! I'm going to be a football widow in Orlando on New Years Day. I've never actually been to Orlando, so what should I not miss? I'll have at least five hours to do whatever I want by myself. Thanks!
Scott Vogel: I'm assuming you're looking for an Orlando for adults, or at least don't need anyone telling you any more about the theme park scene. Others may have good ideas, but I'd vote for the Mennello Museum of American Art, which is indeed open on Sundays, and could be a nice introduction to the city's emerging art scene (www.mennellomuseum.org).
Children's Ski Schools: I'm child ski instructor. The rankings used for best ski instructors for men, women, and children in the ski press are essentially paid advertising by the sponsor ski school. There is considerable pressure by the sponsor school towards the press to include so an so. This allows the ski school to claim "best" ski instructor on their promotional literature. What you need to ask when evaluating a ski school is of the three levels of certification (I, II, or III) what percentage of the schools instructors have attained each level? And how much time do these instructors spend teaching at the level you require. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region you will find lots of experience teaching fledgling skiers because that's who we see. While at Snowmass and the Canyons (which is fantastic from talking with my local clients) you will find people who get more time teaching advanced lessons. All that said I've heard great word of mouth recommendations regarding Tremblant in Quebec, Deer Valley, and Steamboat.
Cindy Loose: That is terrific advice. Thanks!
Reston, VA: It may be counterintuitive, but when it gets chilly, I want to be in Vermont, specifically the West Mountain Inn in Arlington. The only TV in the place is in the bar and there are no phones in the rooms, so it's a real getaway. There's nothing better than curling up by the fire with a mug of cocoa and that book I've been meaning to read for ages.
Christina Talcott: Sounds lovely! Especially this time of year, when things are getting hectic, getting away from it all can be blissful.
McLean, VA: Where do I daydream of vacationing when the weather outside is frightful? Anywhere that doesn't require me to use the cattle cars in our air transportation system. Mooooooooooooooo!
Christina Talcott: Haha, good point!
LeDroit Park, DC: re: good food at all inclusives--I am picky about food too and not a fan of buffets for all meals. The best all-inclusive we have stayed in was the Royal Hideaway Hotel near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. They offered a la carte meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus, you could make all your dinner reservations with the concierge the day you checked in. Another nice place that is a la carte but not as fancy is the Hotel Azul in Puerto Morelos.
Christina Talcott: Nice recs, thanks. Did you have to pay extra for the a la carte meals?
Arlington, VA: Fantasizing...I have two pictures on my desk at work. One of some beach chairs facing out to sea, the other of a cafe and a rocky shoreline. Both are shots of Hydra in Greece, and that's where I fantasize about on days like this! I know it's not warm there year-round, but in my mind it is.
The yummy food, the lack of cars and mopeds, the gorgeous water. Sighhhh...
Christina Talcott: Sounds fantastic!
Washington, DC: I'm booking 2 tickets on EasyJet from London (luton) to Barcelona and am trying to decide if it's worth the extra $16 per ticket for the priority boarding when the tickets themselves are only about $28 each. It's a mid-day flight on a Tuesday in February, so I don't know how full to expect it to be. Do I pay up for it, risk the chance of not sitting together, or split the difference and get one early boarding so that person can save an extra seat??
Cindy Loose: Hmm, hard to say. But the huge problem I've seen involving EasyJet and other low cost carriers is the lines to get to the check in desk. I'd definately pay $16 to avoid those lines, but I don't think the extra $16 helps with that.
As to having one person get priority boarding--I'm thinking maybe one person could save the seat next to him before the hordes appear, but I see no hope of saving two or more seats. The person who tries will not doubt be in for loads of grief, and probably won't be successful.
If you don't care about sitting together, save the $16. Otherwise....
Rixeyville, VA: The lady whose Alaska trip fell through and is now back on track would enjoy going on a small ship if she's interested in seeing the glaciers.
I (age 81 at the time) went with a friend on a Tauck tour of the Inside Passage, and as the ship was small (100 passengers or so) we were able to come very close to the glaciers, something the larger cruise ships cannot do. She would love being so close to the wildlife, glaciers, whales and other marvelous attractions and I'm sure she'd be much happier on a small vessel rather than on one with "2000 of her closest friends". The food is superb, too, and the staff wonderful.
Elizabeth R. Carmichael, MD
Cindy Loose: Sounds nice, makes me want to go.
PR quest: am heading to the other coast--near Aguadilla in two weeks. Will have a few free days. What do posters suggest? And if I go to Fajardo to kayak the bioluminscient bay...how long will it take to drive across the island to get there?
Andrea Sachs: Since you can only see the bay at night, it will be quite a trek to take after dark. A better idea is either to overnight in San Juan and sign up for a tour there (the trips usually include transporation from select San Juan hotels), or kayak the bay in La Parguera, on the southwest coast.
Falls Church, Va.: I want to thank you for all the great information in the ski guide. I ski a lot and don't need lots of descriptions of how pretty the mountains are. But you guys provided a lot of practical information and recommended some places I haven't tried before. I'm looking forward to trying some of them, and perhaps saving some money.
And thanks for the story on the lady getting her cruise. I'm glad so many people agreed to help out. And I hope that cruise lines -- and all businesses for that matter -- learn to be a little more reasonable and compassionate in the future. I can't imagine that Princess still feels that keeping the refunded airfare was a decision that will add to the company's bottomline. The company got a well-deserved black eye.
KC Summers: You're welcome, and thanks so much for the kind words. Btw, one of our recommended laid-back ski resorts somehow got left off the chart and didn't make it into the paper: Jay's Peak in Jay, Vt. All you eastern U.S. skiers, email email@example.com if you'd like that part of the chart emailed to you.
Also: We were very, very gratified and touched by all the offers from readers who wanted to help the woman who missed her cruise. As we made clear, it wasn't about whether she did or didn't plan the trip wisely -- she was a novice traveler -- but whether she was due the money refunded by the airlines that the cruise line kept, on top of the cost of her ticket. We lost that one, but the generosity of our readers more than made up for it. Thanks again to all who responded.
Midwest: The question about weather prompting vacation fantasies made me laugh. My parents took our family on trips to the Oregon coast when I was a kid, where it was often cool and rainy but unfailingly beautiful, relaxing, and fun. So now, gray rainy days make me feel like I'm on vacation! I suppose it goes to show that you can have good vacation fun in any weather (as long as you prepare, of course)
Christina Talcott: That's one way to enjoy crummy weather - to associate it with something you loved as a kid. Thanks for sharing!
Sri Lanka: A friend who will be in India invited me to join her in Sri Lanka in March. I ahve read the travel advisories. Do you think it's safe to go? Worthwhile? I love to travel but just don;t know much about Sri Lanka.
Cindy Loose: A family friend from Sri Lanka has convinced me it's a great place with much to see, but I would be a little leery about the unrest there.
Anyone else have more first hand info?
oversized carry ons: You can count my post as the third complaint. I fly quite a bit and am always amazed at the nerve of some people, taking carry ons that are obviously too big or at least too stuffed to count as carry ons. And don't get me started on the people who take 2 huge carry ons on a regional flight with limited size overhead bins. While most of us try and comply with rules, there are always the ones who think they can get away with bending them.
Cindy Loose: So, I'll send out emails to major carriers asking them why they're letting things slip.
Native New Jerseyan: For Annapolis bound: If it's still open, Chick and Ruth's Deli is a tiny old fashioned spot, right off State Circle. Maybe someone who's been to the state house can verify. As for "Annapolis" things to do, check the Baltimore Sun on Thursday (sorry, Post-o-philes) and see if anything is listed. Try the website for St. John's College. Google the Ram's Head Tavern to see if there's some live music you'd like. Otherwise, I'd stroll the downtown district, Naval Academy area, and surrounding neighborhoods
Christina Talcott: Great suggestions. I like Chick and Ruth's Delly, too, and never fear - I just called and they're still open.
Arlington, VA: Re: Baggage storage. I don't know about Oakland, but it is possible to store luggage at SFO at the Airport Travel Agency in the Int'l Terminal. Pricing is based on number and size of your items. It's proven handy to me when I scheduled an early morning flight from IAD to San Francisco, connecting to a night fligh to Sydney, leaving me about a 10 hour layover to get out and stretch my legs.
Cindy Loose: Hey, good to know. I think our reader needs to call the Oakland airport and ask about storage.
Re: New Zealand: I can't believe you didn't mention working with a travel agent in response to the question. There are are many agents that specialize in various destinations and their job is to match your interests and the tour operator that will be the best fit for you. Some Tourism boards have Travel Agents (which they call "specialists") that have completed training for that country and are certified in the products and tour operators, and they will take the time to match not only your interests but also the budget to the right company. Plus they send people to these regions often, so they know what works and what doesn't, who delivers and who doesn't etc. Plus with their experience, they make the changes that may be right for you saving you time and money to go back and forth. We had a such a travel agent who planned our trip to New Zealand, we found her through the New Zealand Travel board or something like that, and she was close to where we live as an added bonus. It worked out really well since she was more objective than working directly with tour operators telling us where we coudl save money and where it was worth the splurge. I hope you'll mention this option in your article.
KC Summers: Of course you're right -- that was one of the tips I had in my head that didn't make it onto the keyboard before I hit "send." Some tourism offices and embassies will recommend travel agents the same way they do tour operators, and they're a great resource.
Washington, D.C.: I'm heading to Istanbul, but I have to change plans in Amsterdam. As long as I'm not leaving the airport, I won't have to go through customs in Amsterdam, will I?
Cindy Loose: I don't think so--someone correct me if I'm wrong.
Fantasy vacation during bad weather....: Bora Bora (specifically the Hotel Bora Bora, the deck on my fare (beach house), having just had room service of french press coffee and french fries...it was my dream meal in a dream location)...best vacation ever!!!!!
That's where I am mentally when we get drizzling/sleeting rain.
Christina Talcott: Hmm, coffee and french fries sounds like an odd combo, but if it makes you happy...
Alexandria, VA: Question:
You're newlyweds (next July 1) and have exactly seven days and $5,000 to travel on. Where do you go? Relaxation, food, scenery are all among top priorities, sightseeing and doing a lot of physical activities, not so much.
KC Summers: Tuscany.
Do people dream of DC?: Yes!!
I grew up here, went to New England for 19 months, and then was able to secure a job to come home.
I thought about Dc most in the spring, when the azaleas and dogwoods and lilacs are blooming, and I missed the crepe myrtles of July terribly!
So yes, some of us do miss home (DC) and come back!
Christina Talcott: Ah yes, you're right about springtime here. Glad you're close enough to make it back here for visits!
Hermosa Beach, CA: Hi Travel Crew -
Resubmitting from last week. My extended family - around 15 people - are planning a trip to Munich for Oktoberfest next September. I was curious about recommendations for places to stay - even home rentals - as well as nearby trips, like Poland or Czech. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Cindy Loose: WE have just a few minutes for others to help:
Sorry, I don't know offhand where to stay in Munich.
I would add that you should take a look at Lake Constance, or what the Germans call the Bodensee. As to Poland, I'd say Krakow is a nice city to visit; Warsaw not so much unless you want to see the continuing aftermath of World War II. Prague is a great bet.
Fairfax, Va.: Hi, My sister and I would like to take our mom on a short trip to India as a birthday present -- we are visiting family in the region and are planning a 4-6 day detour to visit Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (the "Golden Triangle"). Do you have recommend any tour operators that could arrange our hotels and provide a car/chauffer for 4-5 days. We're looking for something budget-priced yet not backpacker quality since mom will be coming along. Thanks!!
Andrea Sachs: What a great treat for dear ol' mom. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend a tour company of that region (never been, sadly). Can any chatsters help out a desperate daughter?
Central California: Cold Relief: After crunching my way around the golf course yesterday,(we can golf year round but it does dip below freezing) the prospect off walking off the beach, in full snorkle regalia, between the Pitons, the signiture mts on the Isle of Saint Lucia sure sounds good to me. A great walk-off snorkle. Or a long massage on the beach south of the border, with warm breezes and surf noises. But I guess a snifter of brandy and a roaring GAS fire will have to do for now....
Christina Talcott: Nice!
Arlington, VA: I flew from Dulles to Frankfurt last week. When we arrived in Frankfurt, they didn't have a gate for us (a very full 747), but instead had stairs for us to walk down in the rain. This seems to be a little shocking for one of the world's biggest airports. Is this SOP for Frankfurt does anyone know?
Cindy Loose: That's a new one on us; Frankfurt is of course a major transit point, so I'm surprised you got the outdoor stairway treatment.
Fairfax, Va: I'm committed to a New Year's ski trip to Park City, Utah (Deer Valley, Alta, etc). now, I'm looking at the weather reports and wondering- where is the snow? I guess I expected bigger bases by now. Do you know if the resorts out there are on track for a normal snow season?
Cindy Loose: I think it's a bit behind; Whistler has five feet already. Hard to tell what will happen by New Years.
formerly silver spring, now NYC: Zanzibar! I'd dearly love to go back with my husband to retrace our honeymoon in Kenya and Tanzania - 1/2 safari and 1/2 beach. I'd quite blissfully settle for just the beach portion of the trip, though - a little two-room thatched roof cottage with decks opening directly out onto fifty feet of grass, fifty feet of sand, and some of the warmest, shallowest, prettiest water I've ever seen. It quite literally felt like the ends of the earth, and just thinking about it is an absolute antidote to all things cold and stressful.
KC Summers: Oh how nice that sounds. When were you there? Do you know if it's changed much?
Baltimore, Md.: My husband and I are going to the Bahamas in February. We wanted someplace warm enough to sit on the beach but not too far away, as I'll be nearly six months pregnant. For that reason, we've chosen a tiny resort(Compass Point) that is somewhat private but still close to the airport in Nassau.
We've never been to the Bahamas. We are happy to plunk down by the water and do nothing most of the time, but do you have any suggestions for what to see or do while avoiding the cheesiness I've heard is endemic to Nassau? (We will check out the Atlantis one day; I think that is all the cheesiness we can stomach.) We love nature and wildlife, though anything too adventurous is out -- like swimming with the dolphins, alas.
Scott Vogel: I'm not generally a birder, but if you're looking to get up close and personal with Bahamas wildlife without a huge amount of exertion, consider taking a birding tour, especially since -- according to the Bahamas official tourism site -- winter brings the migration of many exotic species of birds to the islands. The site recommends you contact the Bahamas National Trust (www.thebahamasnationaltrust.org) for further information on tours.
Batesville, VA: Today's article, "Less Free to Move about the Cabin" begins with a missed connecting flight. We have found it necessary to schedule larger and larger gaps between flights in the last six years. Now, to make our connecting flight after coming back to the States, a three hour wait at Dulles or Philly is almost mandatory.
We have never flown First or Business class, but have twice recently upgraded to Economy Plus on long flights just to find a little leg room.
Cindy Loose: As the article about the Nightmare flight in our section pointed out a few weeks ago, if a flight that is 85% full is cancelled, as are the flights after it, it will take a lot of planes--I forget my math exactly--to get everyone accommodated. It's a tough time for travelers, except that many fares remain pretty low, considering the inflation of other comodiites and services.
Arlington, VA: When did MaxJet stop serving Dulles? I am planning a trip to London next summer and am not able to fly in coach anymore after having tasted the front of the plane for long-haul flights. Do I need to fly to New York or New Jersey to go by MaxJet, SilverJet or Eos? Are there other options for such service? Those airlines are all cheaper or look more comfortable than comparable business class seats on the big airlines and they avoid the mess that is Heathrow which I would like to be able to do.
Cindy Loose: They scaled back for the winter, far as I know, and will return in the spring. I'm afraid you do need to go via New York for now.
from Washington DC to St. Petersburg, Russia: I am taking a trip next summer with my wife that starts in Moscow, Russia. The tour operator offers "4" days in St. Petersburg before the main tour for $2,500 per person double occupancy, so $5,000 for me & my wife. Hotels are about $400/night; the extension includes all meals, entrance fees, tips, baggage handling, train to Moscow, airport transfers, but and hydrofoil trips. Two questions. 1. Does the extension seem too expensive to you, as it does to me? 2. If I am in St. Petersburg, how hard would it be to do most of those same excursions myself, and would I regret not having the tour do it for me?
Andrea Sachs: St. Petersburg is expensive, but that does seem on the high side. What you get for that price is ease. No hassles, no planning, no language barriers. You could, of course, do it yourself: Book your own hotels, find your own meals, plan your own tours and attraction visits. It just depends on what price you wish to pay for convenience. A good place to start researching is the Russian National Tourist Office, www.russia-travel.com.
Christina Talcott: Thanks for your questions, comments and suggestions. Hope everyone's pumped up about vacations on the horizon, or happy remembering their favorite places. The New Englander dreaming of DC in the springtime, please send your name and address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you your PicoPad Wallet Notes. Have a great week, everyone, and chat with you again next Monday!
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