Talk About Travel: Cruise ship advice, Zurich tips, Midwestern road trips and much more

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, June 29, 2009; 2:00 PM

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel Section Flight Crew is at your service. They were online Monday, June 29 at 2 p.m.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions.

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Scott Vogel: Hello, everyone. After the slowest of starts, summer seems at last to be upon us. Which means: Now's as good a time as any to poll the summertime brain trust that is the Travel chat's readership. Okay, guys -- today's question is short and sweet: What, in your opinion, is the very best swimming pool in the world? Best answer cogently argued or otherwise brought to vivid, splashy life wins a grab-bag of goodies from the Travel section war chest.

Oh, and of course we'll also be here to answer any travel questions you might have, not to mention broadcast any travel ideas and suggestions you might have for your fellow chatters. Joining me today are Travel staffers Christina Talcott, Carol Sottili and Andrea Sachs.

All righty, let's go...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Travel crew: As a big cruise fan, I have some pointers for any cruise newbie that writes for advice:

1. Complete all forms in your cruise doc package you receive from the cruise line.

2. Make sure you have a passport, and if you don't have one right now, get one ASAP.

3. Look at your cruise docs w/respect to your cabin's location on the ship. Then, get the cruise brochure out and locate your cabin on the deck plan for your ship. Note how far you have to walk up and down the stairs to and from the dining room, the pools, the spa, the public rooms, bar, casino, etc. For example, if you know how far your cabin is in relation to the pools on the Lido deck, you will know in advance to go early to grab your lounge near the pools: I've seen the best lounge chairs grabbed as early as 10 a.m., and those are the ones closest to the pools.

3. When you check-in, you receive a pass-key containing your dining room table assignment and seating time (late or early). The seating time is important, because that is what you requested when you booked. Of course, if you know that friends are expected to join you on the cruise, you can request a table change when you board the ship. Go to the lounge shown on the daily cruise newsletter and talk w/the Maitre D' about the table change.

4. The card-key is also a way of buying things like beverages aboard the ship, and you can count on the bar servers asking for the card when you ask for a drink. If you think that your Coke, smoothie, or latte is covered by your fare, you're sadly mistaken: the only beverages that are free are juices, iced tea, and tap water.

5. The card-key serves as your means of getting on and off the ship at ports-of-call. Keep it w/you at all times, and when you're in port, accompany it w/a photo ID to re-board the ship.

6. Read the daily cruise newsletter your steward places on your bed: it tells you meal times, events and activities, and other things that are happening on the cruise.

7. If you've never been to any of the places your ship is going to, please consider taking the ship's excursions. One benefit is that they are organized and they take extra measures of doing guest counts and ensuring that you leave and return on-time, which is something many outside contractors are unable to guarantee.

8. Have a great time!

Carol Sottili: And if you are a big soda drinker, check with the cruise line to see if they offer one-price cards for unlimited soft drinks.

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ahhhhhhh: Best swimming pool in the world: the first outdoor one you jump into at the start of the pool season. There's nothing like it.

Well, except maybe that first bite of watermelon in the summer. But this is a travel chat, not a food chat.

Scott Vogel: Here here!

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In the dark: On two transcontinental daytime flights this weekend, United left the overhead lights off for the whole trip. Is this the latest cost-saving measure? I asked the flight attendant about this (my overhead light was not enough to read by) and he said "It gets too bright in here." Really? Years of flying with the lights on and they're just now deciding that the lights are too bright? Is this widespread? I was counting on getting some work done on those flights.

Andrea Sachs: I find that always happens to me as well, sitting in the gloom and squinting so I can read. I have received various responses from flight attendants on this topic: So others can sleep (even though they just woke up and would not be napping at this time if they were at home or work), so they can watch the in-flight entertainment or to help us adjust to the time zone of the final destination. Another popular theory is for safety, so the staff can see clearly out the windows (but then, why do they let passengers drop the shade?) and passengers can clearly find the exit lights/route. Unlike adjusting the temperature, the flight attendants don't seem to have any control over the lighting. But let's keep on asking them to, Please, turn the lights back on!

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Leesburg, Va.: Here's my gripe, I recently purchased airline tickets from Expedia and learned afterwards that I couldn't select seats. The airline assigned my wife and myself center seats in different aisles. When I went online to print my boarding passes I noticed that I could change seats but the airline had keep aisle seats open and was charging $20 per seat to select those. Is this standard practice these days?

Carol Sottili: A few airlines, AirTran most notably, now charge extra for advance seat assignments. But most airlines don't. Some airlines, such as Northwest and US Airways, charge extra for what they call "choice" seats. It doesn't have anything to do with Expedia. Fees are here to stay. They're a way airlines can make money while not raising the base price of tickets.

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Arlington, Va.: I snagged a roundtrip ticket to Zurich in August for $326. Yea!! I'm there for 6 nights and am trying to figure out where to go and what to see. Thinking of spending 3 nights in Bern, but can't figure out what should be my base for the other 3. So many different cities! Leaning against spending it in Zurich. Help from you and the chatters would be greatly appreciated!

Scott Vogel: Congratulations -- a truly excellent deal. I'll throw this one out to our chatters, although I personally would love to see Geneva and Lucerne, both great August destinations. Oh, and I wonder if you're itinerary means you'll be in Zurich on August 8. That's the date for the biggest festival of the year, a truly unique music-and-more thing called Street Parade (anyone out been there for it?) See www.streetparade.ch for more info.

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Annapolis: I enjoyed the piece in yesterday's Travel section about Lewes and the Harvey's Brewery. We went through there on one of our first trips to England, in the early '80s, and I took a great photo of the brewery that I framed and hung up. The beer was good as well - we carried back a six pack!

Scott Vogel: Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

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Anonymous: Friends have asked us to come to the north shore of Lake Tahoe in mid-October, where they have have use of a timeshare. We wonder if there's enough to do there and in the day trip vicinity to fill a week (we're mid-sixties and mobility problems would prevent hiking). We would be willing to drive some place else scenic for a couple of days if it's not too far. We'll be coming from and flying out of San Francisco. Thanks for any tips.

Fairfax

Carol Sottili: Lake Tahoe is geared toward those who hike, bike, climb, etc. But it's a beautiful place. You could drive the lake, picnic, take a boat ride, go to a casino (south side of lake), shop, etc. I'd go. For more info, go to www.visitinglaketahoe.com.

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Bethesda, Md.: My niece and nephew (22 and 20) will be traveling from their home in Oregon to visit me and my husband later this year in South Africa. They have never flown further than visiting us here in the DC area, and this trip will take 30 hours or more. Any advice to this Generation Next pair for their first major overseas travel? And, does anyone know if their iPhones will work outside this continent?

Christina Talcott: Ooh boy, that's going to be a long trip, but there are lots of things they can do to make it more comfortable. Obviously, they should dress in comfy clothes in layers, pack a variety of entertainment (books/magazines/iPods) and bring some big bottles of water to stay hydrated during the flight. Have them choose their seats carefully by consulting seatguru.com and also deciding whether they'd be more comfortable on the aisle or window. (For long flights, I like the aisle so I can get to the bathroom and stretch my legs whenever I want.) They should also consider bringing a pillow, light blanket and noise-canceling headphones. While they'll probably be offered alcohol on the flight since it's international, they should avoid drinking on such a long flight. Anyone else have tips?

I don't know what kind of iPhone service they have but here is something I found from AT&T about using iPhones abroad. Looks like international roaming is REALLY expensive, but it's possible. Anyone have firsthand experience with using iPhones abroad, esp. in South Africa?

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Passport saga: I'm the would be traveler who wrote a couple of weeks ago about trying to get my passport for a trip to Mexico on July 9. I had gone to the DC Passport Agency more than 2 weeks before the trip and was told to come back with or without an appointment 14 days before my trip. I did that last week and was told that only people who needed their passport within the next 3 days AND with an appointment would be helped. So...every time I go there, I get a different story. This goes against what it says on website. And it seems that the right hand doesn't know what the left one is doing...Only consolation is that there were people there with their luggage who needed their passport the same day and apparently were being helped...I have an appointment 2 days before my trip (which may not happen if I was again misinformed).

Scott Vogel: Thanks for your on-the-ground report. Please keep this info in mind, all ye last-minute passport seekers.

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The best pool: An ool with no p in it.

Scott Vogel: Ha!

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Burke, Va.: The greatest swimming pool I ever experienced was at a hotel in Cyprus. I was on business travel there, and after a long day of work, colleagues and I went out for a midnight swim. The pool turned out to be saltwater, which allowed you to float high on the water--a very relaxing experience. To top it off, we were treated to a 15-minute display of shooting stars. An absolutely magical evening.

Scott Vogel: Wow, sounds glorious.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi all,

I'm looking for some advice for an 8-day trip to Costa Rica next January. We are planning to hit Arenal, Monteverde, Puntarenas, and Manual Antonio. Are we better off renting a car for the week, for short portions of the trip and otherwise using buses, or just using buses all the way? We both tend to get a little carsick and want to save as much $ as possible, but with the condition of the roads, can't tell whether we'd be better off in a car or a bus! Also, if you have any favorite, moderately priced accommodation ideas in those areas, we'd greatly appreciate it.

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: The main roads are fine - back roads are often just rutted dirt paths wide enough for one car. Costa Rica has both public and private buses. I wouldn't recommend the public buses - they're cheap, but they stop constantly and they're often very crowded. Take a look at these private bus companies: www.graylinecostarica.com, www.interbusonline.com and www.easyridecr.com.

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Best swimming pool: The best swimming pool was at my old summer camp in Connecticut--in the morning, it was full of shivering, reluctant swimmers (it was cold!), but in the afternoon free swim, it was full of shrieking kids having the time of their lives. The house I grew up in had a pool, which was great, but it was nothing compared to a pool full of friends.

Scott Vogel: Yes, it's the people, not the pool...

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Falls Church, Va.: My wife and I will be flying to Hawaii later this summer. For medical reasons, we will be carrying (in our carry-on bags) syringes and tiny vials, along with a note from our doctor. Will we have any trouble with TSA? Any tips to minimize that problem?

Christina Talcott: You shouldn't have any problems, but I'd try to pack all your medical supplies in a clear bag along with the doctor's note. When you get to security, take the bag out and present it to the screener and follow his or her instructions, whether to put it back in your bag or in a bin or hand it to the screener. Here is what the TSA Web site says about medical supplies.

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DC-Madrid, One-Way: Hi Crew!

Anybody had any experience using 1 800 Fly Europe (www.1800flyeurope.com) to purchase airline tickets? I'm trying to book a one-way flight to Madrid, and they've got by far the most reasonable prices (i.e. less than the cost of a roundtrip ticket, as opposed to all the other sites I've checked). Before forking over any cash, though, I want to make sure they're legit. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I haven't used them, but they've been in business for a long time - close to 15 years. And they have an A rating with the Better Business Bureau.

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Falls Church: We are going to Denver for a week and want to try whitewater rafting with our 10 and 12 year old daughters. How do we judge what is a reputable place to use? Thank you for your help.

Andrea Sachs: Denver and its environs has a slew of whitewater operators who run trips on a variety of river, including the mighty Arkansas and Colorado. For companies, consult the city tourism office, which lists a number of operators, or the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which requires its members to be licensed. Then call around to find the best rapid class, price and outing for your family.

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Rockville, Md.: For the Zurich traveler: why not spend time in Zurich? (Unless it's because you've been there already....). It is my favorite Swiss city, edgier and friendlier than I expected. I would count Lucerne as part of Zurich in terms of travel planning, as it is a 45 minute train ride. Or if you're really anti-Zurich, at least do it as a day trip from Bern. A nice way to structure it is to visit the James Joyce grave, it's at the end of a nice tram ride to the "Zoo" stop so at least you'll see some of the city.

Scott Vogel: Thanks, this is great. And here's another piece of advice:

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For Switzerland visitor: Interlochen?

Scott Vogel: Another idea.

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Hampton Roads, Va.: Hello, travel-savvy people! I'm hoping for a little perspective on airfares.

Two of us may be flying to Boston for a weekend in late July (just found out). We have to leave Friday afternoon and return Sunday (so no cheaper Thursday or Monday fares). We're fine with flying out of Norfolk, Newport News, or Richmond. I priced around a little, and it seems like a round-trip ticket (even for red-eye flights) is running about $200/person.

Is that about reasonable, or should I keep looking and hope prices may come down? I looked using Kayak, as well as Southwest and AirTran's websites. (The train might be another option, but it looks like a 15-hour trip for not much cheaper... yuck.)

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: $200 is a good price. I found a $185 round trip ticket on AirTran out of Newport News for nonstop flights.

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Ashburn, Va.: Help! I asked this last week and I need to book flights (and I'm helpless). How long would you suggest leaving between flights in Honolulu? We land from Dallas at 2:15, but I have to make my own flight then from HNL to Maui, and, having never been to the airport have NO idea what would be a safe time to get luggage, recheck luggage and still make the flight.

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: The standard layover time is at least an hour, since you want to allow for delays. Honolulu is small and easy to get around, so you won't lose much time getting lost. Since you have to recheck (I am assuming you are on another airline), give yourself closer to 90 minutes.

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Former Oak Ridger: Best swimming pool? Oak Ridge, Tenn.. At one point was one of the largest in the country, if not the world. From the city Web page "Originally constructed in 1944 by the Corps of Engineers, the pool underwent major renovation in 1992-1993 and reopened for the 1994 summer season. The renovation included state-of-the-art equipment. The pool is spring water fed and considered one of the largest in the nation. Depths range from zero to 13-1/2 feet. It opens each summer during the first part of June and closes in mid-August. There are 25- and 100-meter courses, an offshore island, and a large grassed beach area. Food and float rental concessions are also available."

Being spring fed, it runs about 76 degrees, even on those 98 degree/98% humidity Tennessee days.

Scott Vogel: I like it.

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Chinatown: Best swimming pool?

One of the highlights of being a stay-at-home mom when my daughter was between the ages of 1 and 3 was setting up her little wading pool in the backyard. It was an after-nap treat for both of us and no need to lug gear somewhere. Bath toys also had a second life in our little pool. I also loved that afterwards I would give her a quick bath and we could go straight from dinner to story time.

I know this is the travel chat, but it's still the best swimming pool in my book.

Scott Vogel: As the parent of a wee one, you won't get any argument from me about that being the best pool in the world.

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Alexandria, Va.: A week or two ago, I think someone asked why car rental rates were so high in California (specifically, Los Angeles) this summer. I am wondering the same thing. I've never paid more than $20/day when I've gone out there, no matter the time of year or day of the week. But for a trip in mid July, I can't find anything near LAX for under $50/day, and it's no cheaper to book for a longer period of time. I've tried every online travel site I know of. For a week-long trip, this is going to be quite a bite out of my wallet! Any ideas what's going on with rental car prices??

Scott Vogel: This question is coming up more and more. It appears that the culprits, at least in part, are the rental car companies themselves. It's true that with the recession, car rental bookings are down, but it also appears that companies have responded by reducing their car stock (selling used vehicles, etc.) Demand is down, but supply (at least in some areas) is down even further.

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Washington, D.C.: The Yucatan peninsula is made up of a thin layer of dirt on top of porous limestone. The holes in the rock can be large, creating the famous cenotes - naturally forming swimming holes - and extensive underground caves.

But if you fill some of the holes in with cement, you can create the perfect swimming pool, which is mostly limestone, with a few gentle underground lights so that the surface shimmers slightly. The water cool enough to moderate the evening's heat but warm enough so you can settle right in. We enjoyed that pool on our honeymoon, in a motel near Chichen Itza, just a few steps from our room.

Scott Vogel: Another wonderful entry.

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Albany, N.Y.: To Arlington, VA, interested in Zurich: First, congratulations on a great fare!! We paid $390 from Newark in April, so you did well.

We rented a car at the Zurich airport and spent a week happily cruising from town to town. Our favorites were Interlaken and, most particularly, Lucerne, which was just magical. From Interlaken, be sure to visit the nearby mountain villages like Grindelwald. We did not make Basel or Berne.

Try to stay at the small family-run hotels that are all over the country. A much better experience than the chain hotels.

Enjoy! It's a wonderful place.

Scott Vogel: More for the Switzerland-bound.

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Bethesda: We're heading to a family reunion in Chicago this August by car and would like to break up the roadtrip back with a stop or 2 along the way, probably in Ohio. No kids involved. Do you have any suggestions for interesting places to spend anywhere from a few hours to a day?

Christina Talcott: My first thought was Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, where my grown-up sister and I spent a couple of fun days last summer riding roller coasters and splashing around the water park. If that's not your scene, you might prefer exploring the islands nearby via the ferries from Sandusky. If you want an earlier stop, consider a swing through Ligonier and/or a visit to some Frank Lloyd Wright houses, including Fallingwater. For a more urban escape, try Pittsburgh (especially the impressive Depression-era Cathedral of Learning at U Pitt) or Cleveland (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!). Closer to Chicago are the Indiana Dunes, for a little beach getaway... Anybody have other suggestions?

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Cruise advice: If time is tight on a particular port stop, getting a cruise line-arranged tour can be a good idea since they will make sure you're back on the ship in time (or the ship will wait), but you will nearly always pay more (sometimes a lot more) than you would with a tour arranged at the port. And if you arrange, and pay for, a tour in advance, and the weather turns out to be poor that day, you're stuck. We had gone on two cruises; hardly seasoned experts, but we are often surprised at just how much extra the tours arranged through the cruise ship line were (and they were not conducted by the cruise line, just contracted).

Carol Sottili: They are more expensive, but some people feel safer going on a trip offered by the cruise line.

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Alexandria, Va.: Best swimming pool?

OK, picture this. I am 8 months pregnant and living in Bangalore, India. It is hot. And when I say hot, I mean it is over 100 degrees, all day, every day for over a week that summer. And we only have air conditioning in the bed room, which is one of those teensy jobs not built to fight the heat and humidity of mid-summer India.

So yeah, I am miserable. Sweating, uncomfortable.

Did I forget to mention the power cuts? Oh yes, for at least 2-3 hours a day, there was no electricity because of rolling brown-outs throughout the city. That means no overhead fans, no machine to purify the drinking water, no internet or TV to distract me from the searing heat.

And did I also mention that the water tank for my apartment was on the roof? meaning that if you tried to take a shower to cool off, your water was about the same temperature as it was outside. Sometimes hotter!

So what was the best swimming pool? My friend in a different apartment complex had a much coveted bathtub. Most people in India do not have bathtubs, but she had one installed after living in the US for 3 years. So I would go over there, fill up the tub with water from the fridge and sit until it warmed up.

BEST SWIMMING POOL EVER!

Scott Vogel: Best FRIEND ever too!

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The very best swimming pool in the world?: In Portugal's Azores Islands there are a few natural sand beaches, but also numerous "Zonas balneares" (literally, bathing zones) that have been created along island coastlines.

Each "Zona" consists of a narrow inlet of sea-water from the ocean, thus replenishing the water supply at the natural rate. Most "pools" have a concrete bottom (like an artificial swimming pool), an adjacent concrete deck for sunbathing, volleyball, and the like, a diving deck or board, and changing houses/showers/rest-rooms.

Blue Flag has awarded certification to 28 beach areas and 4 marinas in the Azores this summer, for fulfilling "environmental, safety, comfort, information and environmental awareness-raising criteria."

These Zonas Balneares are safer than swimming in the ocean. Thus they afford the best qualities of both worlds -- the natural sea and a manmade pool.

Scott Vogel: More great ideas from the pool poll.

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Logan Circle, D.C.: Thanks for all your informative chats.

My partner and I are thinking about a trip to Spain through the Smithsonian. The trips look great and we enjoy history. Do recommend the Smithsonian Journeys? Is there a way to research the quality/reviews of the trips?

Thanks.

Carol Sottili: It's an upscale tour company with a very good rep. You should have fun.

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Road trip through Ontario (the one in Canada, not California): We plan on driving through Ontario either right before or after a conference taking place in Montreal that takes places Oct. 18-22. Would we likely encounter Fall colors, and generally better weather, if we do the road trip in the earlier time frame (about Oct. 8-15)? We realize that most of the colors will likely be gone by the end of October, but don't know if the earlier dates would gain us much in terms of color and weather.

Andrea Sachs: It is so hard to say when the leaves will peak, since so much depends on the weather of the months prior. Last year, it seems Ontario peaked around Oct. 14, though some areas still had only 50 or 70 percent change. If you go later in the month, you will get some splash of color, but it's hard to say if you will get the real explosion.

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Advice please...: cheapcaribbean.com: yay or nay? Online reviews are mixed, but they seem to be really cheap!

Carol Sottili: According to the Better Business Bureau, they've had 25 complaints lodged against them in the past 12 months, and almost all were resolved. No one on the staff has first-hand knowledge.

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Mt. Pleasant, Mich.: For the person renting a car in California. If one rents offsite (not at an airport) rates are cheaper. I did also read that compact cars are the ones requested most, and if you request a larger car, you may get a better rate. Rental car companies have not purchased new cars and have reduced inventories, thus higher prices, or so they say.

Scott Vogel: Thanks for your insight.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband and I are thinking about taking a Rick Steves tour next year, has anyone done one and if so would they recommend it? Also is there a range of ages or is it all retirees? We don't want to be the only 30-somethings on the tour, but we like the idea of having an expert guide and having things planned out for us.

Carol Sottili: You'll be two of the youngest people on the tour, although that depends somewhat on destination.

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Mt: Sorry to post again so soon. For the person asking about Smithsonian tours. We went on one to Italy last year and it was fabulous. we were thrilled with our trip, and exhausted as we saw nearly every art object in Italy in ten days. It is professionally run and worth the money. Great accommodations and food and great guides.

Carol Sottili: Thanks for the info.

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Arlington, Va.: I am headed to NYC for the weekend. I decided to use the Tripper Bus from Rosslyn since it is most convenient to my home and sounds like a nice service. Anyone used it lately? Apparently there is some giant fireworks display set for Saturday night up there. But it may be too much work to get close to it. However I am staying in (nominally) SoHo on the west side so maybe it will just be a matter of getting close to the river.

Andrea Sachs: Never used it before. I am a Megabus/Bolt bus rider. Any chatsters use Tripper?

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Arlington, Va.: The beer-filled pools at the Starkenber Beer Myth resort in Austria.

Scott Vogel: Another country heard from!

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Advice for the Vertically Challenged: Hello - I recently went on a trip from DC to London. I am 5' 3" and although I travel all the time, this was the first trip where I used a portable foot rest on both the inbound and outbound flights. The foot rest made a tremendous difference in my comfort level on the flights and I think it was the reason I was actually able to sleep on the way there. I purchased it because I had a credit for an on-line travel store and am so glad I did. I will likely use it for all but the shortest (1 hour) of flights from now on and wanted to share how helpful it is for someone who has short legs. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for sharing!

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Washington, D.C.: Hey gang,

In late August, two friends and I are heading to Costa Rica to explore the country for several days. We plan to stay one night in San Jose when we arrive, at the Hotel Grano de Oro and leave very early the next morning.

Are there any other hotels in or around San Jose that you would recommend if you only had one night? Also, just to see if our itinerary is as good as we think, what would be the "must do" experience in that country? Lastly, what's up with Costa Rica's relatively cheap airfare (about $350 or less)?

Carol Sottili: I love the Bougainvillea Hotel.

As for what to do, depends on your interests. I'm a nature person, so can tell you about those hot spots, but not about beaches.

And airfare to CR is always cheap.

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Arlington, Va.: I've had several good experiences with cheapcaribbean.com.

Carol Sottili: Good to know.

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Chantilly, Va.: My wife and I might be heading to Venice in November. We've been before and are set for that part of the trip. But partly inspired by Scott Vogel's article last month, we were considering a side trip to Ljubljana while we were there. It looks like the train ride is about 5 hours, so we could probably spend a couple nights there. Would that be enough to take it in? Is November a good time to go? I guess the weather won't be much different than in Venice.

Scott Vogel: I'm never gonna say not to go to Ljubljana, especially if you can get there that quickly. As I recall, my train experience was more protracted. That said, I think that a 2-night stay would make for a fine trip. Bring us back some of Lasko beer!

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Traveling with baby: My husband and I are traveling to Japan soon with a 4-month old infant on ANA, and I wonder if you have any advice on flying with a baby? We're seated in a bulkhead row and have reserved a bassinet. Any tips you could provide would be most helpful.

Andrea Sachs: Since the baby is so young, he/she won't need much in terms of distractions. Just be sure you have all of her/his comforts on hand (pack compact), such as enough formula/bottles, blankets, change of clothes, etc. The baby might have problems with the air pressure and her/his ears, so be sure to bring a pacifier or something that helps baby swallow to pop his/her ears. Also, at check-in, see if you board first, so you can set up your domain. And if you have a baby sling, bring it, as you both will need to walk the aisles for exercise during that long flight.

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Washington, D.C.: As I mulled over your best pool question, several choices immediately came to mind. Perhaps it was the pool at the Marmara Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey, perched on a hill top overlooking the Aegean, where the sparkling water seemingly flowed over the edge of the pool to the streets below. Or maybe it was the pool in Grand Turk, surely one of the largest pools I've ever seen, incorporating waterfalls, bridges, tropical flora, and the all important swim-up bar. Then again, maybe it was the pool at La Roseraie in Val d'Ouirgane, Morocco. A simpler, smaller pool, but one where I happily lazed away an afternoon after a grueling cycling trip in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. But as lovely as all those places were, the best pool would be the one that was in my backyard when I was a kid. It was a free-form pool, so it had an undulating shape that mimicked the natural movement of water. The concrete was not painted white, but instead kept its natural color. The sunlight would catch the reflection of the water against the shimmering, multi-hued tiles, creating a lagoon-like effect. Then there was the landscaping, much closer to the water and less manicured than one might expect. All of this created a most serene environment where I floated away the summers of my childhood, as yet unaffected by the concerns of adult life.

Scott Vogel: And we thought WE were pool connoisseurs!

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Native Californian: Best swimming pool was actually an old-fashioned swimming hole, a deepish spot below riffles on a creek that ran through my grandparents' property in far Northern California's Redwoods region. The water was clear and utterly unpolluted. After growing up with that as my gold-standard, I can't STAND chlorinated pool water!

Scott Vogel: I hear you!

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NY: How does on go about planning a day or two in CA Wine Country? I haven't come across a good, 'unifying' itinerary. :( Most guides simply list the neighborhoods/towns individually - same w/the wineries. There doesn't seem to be any way to get around reading the descriptions one by one.

How do we even know if it's for us? How do you separate the worthwhile from the gimmicky/touristy?

Christina Talcott: Boy, if you know of an easy way, let me know! I think the wine-country part of my last trip to San Francisco was the most time-consuming of all the other portions... I used a book that I can't for the life of me recall the name of, which had wonderful one- or two-day itineraries mapped out for Sonoma and Napa, some of them based on type of wine (big reds, say, or bubblies), some focused on other factors like biodynamic wineries... E-mail me (talcottc@washpost.com) and I'll dig up the name of the book and let you know.

In general, there are so many wineries in CA that you'll have to restrict yourself to just a handful in a two-day trip, anyway. I'd pick a town as your base (Calistoga, Napa, St. Helena, etc.) and read up on what's nearby. Any guidebook will be honest about what places are cheesy and which aren't. And ask around: Anyone who's been to California's wine country will have lots of opinions and suggestions.

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Kaneohe, Hawaii: Last week a poster asked about needing a car to see Honolulu and Waikiki, I would suggest that anyone staying in the Waikiki area seriously think about NOT renting a car. You can walk throughout Waikiki pretty easily and the public transportation to the downtown area is easy and reliable - much easier than finding a parking space. Most attractions outside of Waikiki/downtown (luaus, Polynesian Cultural Center, Sea Life Park, dive/snorkel tours, etc) provide shuttles from hotels and sometimes it is included in the price of admission. If you want to tour the island on your own think about renting a car for just the day, most major hotels have rental car facilities onsite, or leave the driving to someone else and hire a driver/limo for a day. There are so many other was to spend your money than paying for a car parked in a garage for $25 a day.

Scott Vogel: Thanks for the heads-up.

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iPhone abroad: I just returned from Iceland and used my iPhone without any issues. So yes, if AT&T's website says it will work then it will. Depending on how long the generation next pair will be staying it is probably more cost effective to purchase a short-term SIM card form a local South African carrier. I believe AT&T's website also indicate what local carries work with the iPhone and the level of support (voice only, voice and data, etc).

One of my travel companions also went to the Apple store for a tutorial by the Mac Genius on what the phone was capable of doing.

Christina Talcott: Great suggestions. Thanks!

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South Africa Travelers: My husband and I flew the long trek to South Africa last year, and it truly wasn't as bad as it seemed. Hopefully they will be flying South African Airways as the food is great, and there are personal TVs on every seat (even in coach). They will have the option of watching as many movies as they can fit in during the flight. I assume they will have a layover on the East Coast somewhere before crossing the Atlantic, so make sure they walk around as much as possible before they head overseas. Safe travels!

Christina Talcott: I agree, SAA is terrific! Thanks for the recommendations!

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Washington, D.C.: I am going to Crete this summer. In addition to Greek olive oil, I understand they have wonderful honey. Do you know of any Customs/USDA restrictions bringing honey back to the US?

Andrea Sachs: According to US Customs: Condiments such as oil, vinegar, mustard, catsup, pickles, syrup, honey, jelly, jam, etc., are generally admissible.

Just be sure the bees aren't still attached, and pack it in your checked luggage (along with the olive oil) so TSA won't take it away as a "liquid" item.

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Adams Morgan, D.C.: Going to Dulles today, but driving by myself. Just realized 66 is HOV at the same time I'm going (around 4:30). How do I get to Dulles without using 66? Never had this dilemma today! Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: How about Route 28?

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Washington, D.C.: For the TSA liquids carry-on requirement, is each traveler allowed to have only one clear plastic Ziploc bag? I thought the answer was yes, but then my husband said that there is no limit. Please let me know who is correct!

Christina Talcott: You're correct - one one-quart baggie per person is the limit.

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Bethesda, Md.: Have any of you been to Cameroon? I have to go there for work but know absolutely nothing about the country.

Andrea Sachs: Never been, but want to. Any chatsters have Cameroon suggestions?

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Fairfield, Conn.: A family member will be receiving an honor in Venice next April. I'd love to go, but money is tight. I'm trying to decide if it's worth it to spend the time hunting for hotel/flight deals, or if there's no way I'll be able to spend a long weekend in Venice for under $1000. What do you think?

Christina Talcott: A quick search on FareCompare.com turned up flights for under $600 in April, and I bet you can find a hostel or other inexpensive lodging in Venice, or you could split a rental or something with other family members. Sounds like a terrific opportunity!

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Scott Vogel: Okey-doke, another hour come and gone. Not that we typically need any more encouragement to go out and take a dip, but now we're positively aching for one. Thanks for all the great pool ideas. We were really charmed by that hotel pool in Cyprus where the chatter swam under a sky of shooting stars. (Which hotel was it, anyway?) Anyway, if the writer would e-mail me at vogelsi@washpost.com, I'll send out your prize right away. Thanks for a great chat, everyone, and we'll see you next week...

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