Talk about travel: Travel staffers help you plan great escapes
Monday, October 26, 2009; 2:00 PM
Got 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, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m.
Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.
Andrea Sachs: Greetings, Travelers. This Monday, we have a full house, including our newest staffer, Becky. In addition, I am onboard for Jamaica queries (per Sunday's lead story), or ask Becky about Cape Cod off-season (or honeymoons--congrats, Becky!).
For our query of the day: In the spirit of Halloween, have you ever been to a hotel or a destination that totally creeped you out. Whether it was spiders in your bed or psychotic hotel guests next door.
Rockville, Md.: Cruising out of Baltimore in January and going to Charleston on the way to the Bahamas. I've never been to Charleston; what do you recommend doing there? And how will it be in January?
Zofia Smardz: Take a walking or carriage tour of downtown and the Battery, go to the Charleston city market, visit Fort Sumter, check out the nearby plantations -- Boone Hall (grounds only, but the drive up to the house is said to have been the model for the one in Gone With the Wind), Magnolia and Middleton, and my favorite, Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved (as opposed to restored)early American plantation home in the country -- and eat! January temps average in the high 50s during the day and probably around 40 at night, so it's nippier than usual, but still pleasant enough for strolling and touring. Check out this recent Travel article that might give you more ideas.
Silver Spring, Md.: Perfect topic for my needs! We have frequent flyer miles that can take us to the Caribbean this January, but don't know where to choose. We tend towards more city-based, foreign travel and do far less of the relaxing beachy type vacations. Where can we go that will still allow us to get out and about experiencing a new culture - shopping, restaurants, museums, etc. - but with affordable hotels and some pretty beach time here and there? (We've been to Puerto Rico and Mexico and we'd like to try something new). Thanks!!
Joe Yonan: Well, Mexico is a pretty big country worth many visits -- where there have you been? When it comes to the combination of things you mention, Puerto Vallarta came to mind. I had a great trip there several years ago. Granted, it's not on the Caribbean, but ...
Otherwise, if you're looking for more urban and don't want to do San Juan again, what about one of the non-island coastal cities, such as Caracas? I haven't been, but it's on my list.
NoVA: We're planning a trip to Britain next spring. We want to use London as a base, taking day trips. One trip would be easier if we went to Bath, then to Cardiff overnight. Our travel is by train. Is there any place in Bath to check luggage and leave it while touring?
Zofia Smardz: You can usually check luggage or leave it in lockers in the train stations, though I don't have personal knowledge of the Bath station. Anyone out there been to Bath recently who might know the answer to this one?
Boston: My parents are planning a 40th anniversary trip to Ireland for a week this coming April and I promised I'd help them plan. They'd like to rent a car and visit a few areas, possibly staying at B&Bs along the way. Any advice on where they should go? Should they fly into Dublin? Cork?
Carol Sottili: They'll want to fly into Dublin or Shannon because Aer Lingus flies there nonstop from Boston. Perhaps they should fly into one and leave from the other. Ireland has an excellent tourism Web site that will help you plan it out: www.discoverireland.com. Another good Web site is www.goireland.com. I'd probably start in Dublin and head south toward Cork, and then fly home from Shannon. Anyone have favorite places in Ireland to share?
Minneapolis: Submitting early in the hopes you all can help! I am heading to Tokyo and Kyoto in 3 weeks with my two toddlers, ages 1.5 and 4. I have started planning what to do in Japan and am running into some roadblocks about interesting activities for kids that age. My default option is Disneyland, but I'd prefer to use that as sort of a last resort. Any tips on good places to go, good food, etc.? I have one super-adventurous eater and one who, if pressed, would subsist entirely on rice for 2 weeks. Tips on good day trips from Tokyo? Because of a national holiday we'll be spending more time there than we had planned (8 days).
Also, we'll be traveling between the cities by train and I will be doing all the schlepping, so I am curious about any packing tips you and the audience might have as well. I'm happy to wear the same pair of pants 14 times, but I'm not likely to soil them like little kids do.
Joe Yonan: When I went to Tokyo and Kyoto, I wasn't with toddlers, but I think you'll have a blast. Tokyo is very active and amazingly interesting visually, so they'll be entertained -- if not a bit overwhelmed at times. Take them to see the I'd bet that both of them would enjoy a great bowl of ramen. Besides countless temples, there's the department store food halls and many museums I bet they'd like: a doll museum, kite museum, children's castle, and so much more. Kyoto is quieter but with plenty to see. Check out the possibilities at Travel for Kids.
As for day trips, the Web site above doesn't mention, but I'd consider taking them to the
Washington, DC: Question about when to buy plane tickets - I am getting married at the end of April in Mexico - so we are 6 mos. out. Some family members are anxious to buy their tickets, but I think it might be better to wait a month or two. Thoughts?
Also, is faretracker now bing? I tried to look to see what they thought about the trend in prices, but they only went to March and I couldn't find the faretracker website.
Christopher Elliott: Congratulations! If you see a fare that you can afford now, I would book it. Airlines are trying to raise their fares in advance of the holidays, and there's no telling if they'll succeed.
Personally, I think they won't. But I've been wrong about this kind of thing before. And you don't want the fate of your destination wedding to be on the line.
Regarding Faretracker -- did you meant to say Farecast? Yes, they changed their name to Bing Travel. They use advanced fare forecasting technology to tell you if they think a fare will go up or down in the future.
I did a Q&A post on my blog with Bing's general manager, Hugh Crean, when it relaunched back in June.
Its airfare predictions are 74.5 percent accurate. Not bad, but I don't know if I'd bet my wedding on it.
Cumberland, Md.: I have to take a week off in March; would a trip to London, in your opinion, be worthwhile? (I've already been there and would maybe like to take a side trip to France or Italy - how do I tap into a bargain fare from London?) Thanks!
Zofia Smardz: A trip to London is *always* worthwhile! Granted, the weather in March may be a bit miserable, but there are so many indoor things to do -- palaces! museums! churches! restaurants! -- that you should have a great time anyway. As for popping over to France or Italy, check out Web sites such as edreams.com (I found a March fare London to Paris out of Luton Airport for about 50 euros roundtrip) or cheapflights.co.uk. If you want to pop over to France, remember also there's Eurostar train service that can cost as little as 59 euros roundtrip if you spend a Saturday night in the city of light.
Hatteras, NC: Has anyone stayed @Fourways Inn, Paget, Bermuda..If so, would like opinion..Thanks
Andrea Sachs: We have not stayed there. Any chatters been a guest?
Bristow, Va.: Hi Travel Crew! Had a question regarding overbooking flights. I have a nonstop flight to IAH, TX on Continental and I was able to get assigned seats going there; however, on the return flight, the comment said unable to assign seats at time of booking, will assign seats at check in. Does that mean there's possibility of an overbooked flight? I booked it through cheaptickets.com. I do plan on checking in online as soon as possible, just wondering what else I can do to help my situation. Don't want to get bumped! Thanks!
Christopher Elliott: I wouldn't be too concerned -- yet. There can be any number of reasons why you're unable to get a seat assignment on a flight. (On a flight to Mexico last week, for example, I couldn't check in because my name was misspelled by my travel agent.)
I'd give Continental a quick call to see if there's something in your reservation that's raising a red flag. You might be able to address it with one of the airline's agents. Also, I'd arrive at the airport a little early and talk to a ticket agent.
If you can't get a straight answer, try emailing one of these contacts.
Remember, if you're denied boarding, you are entitled to compensation under Continental's contract of carriage.
Alexandria, Va.: Do you still run the funny vacation photos in the Sunday section? I tried to find an address online to send one in but couldn't find anything, nor have I seen the feature recently. If you are still running them, can you please tell me how to submit one?
Joe Yonan: We do run them periodically. Just had one a few weeks ago. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zofia Smardz: You can also mail a copy of your photo to Travel Sign Contest, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington DC 20071. Be sure to include your name, address, phone no. and a brief comment on where, when and why you took the pic on the back.
Baltimore: Hi flight crew,
I've asked this question before and not gotten an answer. What are some easily packable gifts I can take to some folks I am visiting in India? I'd like to take something that is not readily available there and that expresses my part of the country. I also like to travel with only 1 suitcase, so they can't be too heavy or bulky.
Zofia Smardz: How about some Balmer t-shirts?
Other ideas, chatters?
Charlottesville, Va.: My husband and I are going to Sicily next month for 10 days. Any suggestions?
Carol Sottili: We just addressed Sicily in our first Going Our Way column Sunday: go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and scroll down to find it. You have a much longer time that we discussed in the column, so I'd also add Agrigento and Siracusa to the itinerary. You may also consider staying in a rural hill town on a working farm: go to www.agriturismo.it/enindex.asp for choices.
Washington, D.C.: My 70-year old mother has never been to any of the National Parks. Which ones (and what time of year) would you recommend? Though she is in good health, she cannot do much walking, so parks with good scenic drives or short walks (on boardwalks, preferably) are best. I think Yellowstone and Grand Canyon are must sees, but not sure what others.
Becky Krystal: Having just returned from a week there, my vote would be for Cape Cod National Seashore. The beaches and visitor centers are easily accessible by car, with great views mere steps from where you park. If you want to get really close to the action, the park does allow some off-road driving. Fall is a great time to go -- thinner crowds and colorful foliage.
Rockville Md.: I am a U.S. citizen. I received a visa to visit Brazil in late 2006 for a trip to Brazil that I took in 2007. My passport has since expired and I now have a new passport. I still have my old passport with the visa that is valid until late 2011 Can I use the visa in my old passport and bring both passports when I visit Brazil in January, 2010?
I have sent three E-Mails to the Embassy of Brazil requesting an answer to this question and received no response. I have followed up with a letter to the Brazilian ambassador and received no response.
Christopher Elliott: I'm sorry the embassy hasn't responded to your request. Normally, when your passport expires but your visa doesn't, you can still travel with the old visa. Just bring your old passport along, in case any questions are raised at the border.
You might have more luck with this email address: email@example.com
Have fun in Brazil.
Washington, DC: There seem to be security issues associated with my passport (or maybe it's just bent) but am I entitled to know what these issues are? I travel constantly but I really am trying not to crossborder due to hassles.
Christopher Elliott: I can see why you'd be worried.
Last year, you'll remember the State Department Inspector General report about unauthorized access to the passport files of high-profile Americans by contractors and State Department workers.
There have also been questions raised about the outsourcing of the manufacturing of electronic passports to overseas companies, and possible security issues related to it.
I have one of the new passports, and I share your concern. I recently reviewed a data-safe passport travel wallet from a company called Kena Kai that might bring some peace of mind to your next trip: http:/
I'm not sure if there's anything else you can do, short of stay home. I think passport security is a work in progress for our government.
San Antonio, Tex.: Hi Flight Crew! In mid Nov. my brother and I am going to Egypt for 3 weeks--Cairo, Luxor, Nile River Cruise plus Aman and Petra. Mine is a clothes question. How chilly will it get in the evening? Also what is considered inappropriate attire for women because of local ethnic & religious customs? I'm a 71 year old widow so obviously we aren't talking bare midriffs. But are slacks okay? Sleeveless blouses? Sandals? If there are swimming and exercising on the ship, what can be worn? What has to be covered? In brief, what is a no-no? Thanks for the help. Pat S
Nancy Trejos: I love Egypt. I went to Cairo a couple of years ago and fell in love with it. It looks like you are also going to Jordan? Petra is one of the most amazing sights to see. Egypt definitely cools down in November. Expect it to be warm, but not too hot, during the day. It'll cool down at night. Luxor will probably be warmer than Cairo. As for attire, I would go with conservative clothing. I wore pants and felt comfortable but I made sure they were not tight. I also covered my arms. I saw some female tourists in tank tops and the locals looked surprised. Long sleeve, loose-fitting cotton or linen shirts are the way to go. I would bring a jacket because the evenings will be cool. Also, don't forget to take a headscarf with you. You don't have to wear it on the street but women cannot enter mosques without a scarf. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking a lot. Egypt is extremely polluted and the traffic is awful so crossing the street is a challenge. Sturdy shoes are important. That said, you'll love it. Enjoy!
Buckhannon, W.V.: Do you have any suggestions for people to people (cultural) activities in the Montego Bay area? Thanks for taking our question.
Andrea Sachs: Definitely sign up for the Meet the People program through the tourist board. They will match you with locals of similar interests. Other places of interest include the Rastafari Indigneous Village Rastafari Experience, the hummingbird feedings at Rocklands Bird Sanctuary and a plantation tour of Croydon, plus lunch. For live music, skip the Hip Strip (canned music)and ask someone at your hotel for non-touristy suggestions. I passed by some rockin' clubs in town.
Denver or Chicago: Hi! I'm a relatively new chat reader, and I love them! I have my first question for you: I will be traveling for business to either Centennial, CO (near Denver) or Schaumburg, IL (near Chicago) on 11/11 for a meeting on 11/12 and returning to NYC on 11/13. I get to choose which city I go to, so which one do you recommend? I've been to Denver and Chicago for short visits. I will have very little time, so I'm wondering which one will give me more things to do (that I can't do in NYC) in a short time? I looked at the Web site for the Village of Schaumburg, but I couldn't tell if there is public transportation from Schaumburg (near Ohare Airport) into Chicago - do you know? I also looked at a map of Centennial, and it seems that I would need a rental car to get into Denver, but do you know if there is public transportation there, as well? I like parks, museums, farmers' markets, anything "local" that you can't find elsewhere. Thanks for any help you can give me!
Joe Yonan: Well, to tackle the public transportation question first, you can indeed get from Centennial into Denver: Just hop on the light rail at Dry Creek Station: Take the F line to downtown Denver. Looks like it's about a 40-minute trip. Here's the schedule.
You can also get from Schaumburg to Chi-town on the train. You'd take the Milwaukee District West line on the Metra train.
Now, which city should you choose? I've spent more time in Chicago than in Denver, and I love Chicago, so I'd personally go that route. But both cities certainly have plenty to occupy you for a day. Chatters, want to chime in? Let's vote!
Washington, DC: My boyfriend and I are interested in spending a weekend in Atlantic City in December. Neither of us have been before so I would appreciate any recommendations on the best places to stay. I did a quick search and found that hotel room prices were a bit higher than I expected.
Andrea Sachs: I like Borgata; it's the most Vegas of the AC resorts. Midweek rates start at $99 but escalate for the weekends. Look for specials online. You can also find deals at www.atlanticcity.com. Tropicana is a good choice (it has a new entertainment area), for example, with rooms from $53.
Park and ride: Does the Union Station garage fill up on holidays? Are there reliable nearby overflow options? I am thinking of Thanksgiving day. Would I be better off leaving from BWI if I have to drive (handicapped passenger) to the train station and leave a car there? Thanks.
Joe Yonan: I talked to the operations manager at the Union Station garage, and he assures me that you shouldn't have a problem, barring any extraordinary circumstances. After expanding the garage three years ago, he said, they have never hit capacity.
San Juan again...: Also, is $700 a good fare for a flight from National Airport to San Juan?
Carol Sottili: No, that's way too expensive. You don't say when you're traveling, but unless you're restricted to the Christmas holidays, you should do much better. Connecting flights in early November on AirTran, for example, are $256 round trip. I'd probably go to BWI (American) or Dulles (United) and get a nonstop - costs about $100 more round trip, but so much easier than connecting.
Creepy Hotel: A friend and I were driving from Hartford, CT to Newport, RI and came across this town or shall I say, a place that used to be a town. Broad daylight and I got the creepy crawlies! There was a gas station that was abandoned with 2 ft high weeds growing everywhere and across the street was what looked to be a former insane asylum. It was a huge red brick building, all boarded up with landscaping growing haphazardly. It looked like something right out of a horror movie.
Andrea Sachs: Creepy. Hope your tank was full!
Creeped out: Yes, in fact sometimes I think my husband and I like to get a bit creeped out based on some of the places we choose. Best example: Outside of the Italian city of Perugia, we stayed in an old 13th century monastery inn at the top of a hill far away from anything...By the time we found it the first night it was pitch black, and we had to drive up a switchback dirt road and get out of the car to open a gate just to get on the property, arriving to find that we were the only guests staying there...It was October, so the nights were cold and dark and foggy up on the hill. Thankfully the young guy from Transylvania (seriously!!!!) working there was nice.
Now that I think about it, we've had a lot of similar experiences in Europe. I think because we seek out unique, out-of-the-way places. It lends a little sense of excitement to a vacation.
Andrea Sachs: Nothing like a bit of spine tingle to add to the adventure.
Baltimore: When will Passenger Rights ever be finalized? The airlines are too out of control!
Christopher Elliott: When you say "passenger rights" I'm assuming that, like most people, you're referring to tarmac delays.
I'm not sure if we'll ever have a three- or four-hour turn-back rule. My understanding is that the bill is on hold until the end of this year, at the earliest. I don't think it has much of a chance.
If you mean passenger rights as it applies to a variety of concerns, including codesharing, consumer protections, passenger refunds and many, many other important issues ... well, that's a work in progress. I'm hoping for the best. I think we'll need to see if we can get the passenger rights advocates to focus on what really matters, as opposed to an issue that only affects a fraction of air travelers.
Baltimore: Hello, Love the quiz which island is for you? I assumed the choice concerning children on the quiz was for kids under 13? What islands would you recommend for teens that has good shopping and great beaches?
washingtonpost.com: Which Caribbean island is the best fit for you? (Post, Oct. 23)
Andrea Sachs: Bahamas, Old San Juan (Puerto Rico), St. Thomas, St. Martin (definitely French side, for European fashions!) and St. Barts.
Help! Help! Help!: I missed you last week and waited a whole week to ask this question.
We're trying to go somewhere fun where there's some culture and lots of music for New Years eve (Dec. 30-Jan. 3). We've sort of settled on San Juan, PR because we only have a few days and don't want to spend a lot of time on a plane. Any recommendations for where we might stay and what we should see? We're not into roughing it on a vacay and I have cleanliness issues...
Nancy Trejos: I stayed at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan in June. I thought it was great. It had a private beach, a few restaurants, a Starbucks, a couple of pools, and the rooms were comfortable and clean. The Hilton Ponce and Casino is also supposed to be nice and fun. I've also heard that a more affordable option is to stay at a guest house in Condado. They're supposed to be nice. As for what to do and see, definitely go to Old San Juan for mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty. I had great mofongo at a restaurant called Raices. It's very well known. For a bit of history, tour one of the two forts on the island. I went to the Castillo deSan Cristobal. Great view of the city. Aside from hitting the many beaches, you should take a day trip to the rainforest El Yunque. Definitely worth seeing. Enjoy!
Washington, DC: We're planning to go to the Caribbean for our honeymoon, but it's unfortunately in high season (February). Given the state of the economy, might there be any deals? And, if so, are there any sites that would offer them? Mostly we've just been looking at resort web sites, and I'm guessing we're unlikely to get the best deals doing that directly--am I wrong? Thank you!
Carol Sottili: Going directly through the resorts can be a good strategy. You can sometimes find deals that are offered only on their Web sites. But you need to shop it around. Call Liberty Travel or any other travel agent to see what they can come up with. Compare those prices to ones you find at www.applevacations.com or www.vacationexpress.com. Then look at third-party booking sites, such as www.expedia.com or www.travelocity.com. And don't forget the airlines - most offer vacation packages.
Creepy Halloween travel story: Here's a travel destination that creeped me out on a Halloween night: Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
My boyfriend and I had been scuba diving as part of a cruise that stopped in Cozumel, Mexico. To make a very long story short, he had a serious diving accident and after the (limited) treatment in Cozumel didn't help him, we had to be airlifted via jet ambulance to Miami. After a 12-hour ordeal from the time he came out of the water, we arrived in Miami around 11 pm and he was wheeled unconscious into the emergency room entrance, with me running alongside the stretcher.
As we entered the ER, I looked up to see Frankenstein and a werewolf hurrying over to help him...quite a shock, until I realized it was Halloween night and all the ER personnel were in costumes! I nearly had a heart attack myself...
(Happy ending to the story: they took great care of him and he recovered with no after-effects.)
Andrea Sachs: That is scary on so many levels.
Silver Spring, Md.: This isn't really about my travel plans, more sort of an idle question. I just got back from my first visit to Vegas - I was there for an event - and I hated it. It was such a fake, steal-all-your-money, cigar-smoke-filled, icky place. But I know many people love it.
So my question is, what am I missing? Is there a way to have fun there if you are not a person who also enjoys lighting your cigarettes with $100 bills? I mean, I'd love to go to a show, but at $70 for the cheap seats...ok, maybe I could afford to go to one and be entertained for a few hours, but then what?
Andrea Sachs: I love Vegas but hate to gamble (what a waste of money). However, I love the spectacle, and there are so many free activities, such as CBS Television City at the MGM (you get to play critic for TV shows). Check out Vegas.com for cheap ideas. The shopping and dining are also top-level. And there are many natural venues nearby, such as Red Rock Canyon and the Spring Preserve. Basically, you have to go with a sense of humor, and laugh at all of the money that you still have in your wallet.
Alexandria, Va.: My husband and I are looking to get away with our 4 year old son somewhere sit on a beach, relax and have a simple stress free vacation. Can you suggest some family friendly islands or specific resorts in the Caribbean that are easy to get to from DC? Oh, and please don't suggest Atlantis - that isn't our kind of thing! Would love something smaller and simpler but still welcoming and easy with kids. We don't need a "kid program" at the resort since we are looking forward to spending time with our son and not putting him in the resort "camp".
Thanks for your help!
Nancy Trejos: Check out the Franklin D. Resort or Starfish Resort in Jamaica, Beaches Turks and Caicos, and Breezes in Curacao. St. Lucia, Barbados and Barbados are also easy to get to and have great beaches and activities for kids.
for the London baggage question: There may be lockers. However, if you're using a London Hotel as a base and will return to it after Bath and Cardiff, just take a smaller overnight bag with you to Bath and Cardiff and leave the bigger bags in storage at the London hotel. We do this often on our travels. Left our luggage in Tokyo while we went to Kyoto for 3 nights; left luggage in Zurich for 10 days while we went around Switzerland. (My spouse works in middle east, so I transport stuff from US he needs in his life in middle east, when we meet up. But we don't need these items with us on our fun travels. Hotels will do this if you are going to be a return customer in the near future. Having a gold or platinum status on their affinity programs may also help, but doesn't seem necessary
Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the info!
Central VA: We are traveling to France in April. We will leave IAD and fly into Paris. On our return we will leave Nice and fly into IAD. Currently air fares are in the mid 800's per person. I know that last year fares dropped after the holidays were over. Do you see this happening this year? Thanks!
Carol Sottili: If you were going round trip from Paris, I'd say you could do better, but throwing Nice into the equation will bring the price up. I'd probably start tracking it at www.kayak.com or www.bing.com/travel and strike as soon as fares drop. But I wouldn't expect it to drop much lower than $700.
Washington, D.C.: I'm looking to plan a 2 week vacation that begins the day before new years. I'm trying to find affordable flights from the Washington, D.C. area. Are there any websites that allow you to search by departing airport, dates, and price range and give you a list of destinations that you could fly to? Looking for foreign and domestic. Any ideas?
Zofia Smardz: FareCompare.com has a couple of features, "Deal Finder" and "Cheap Travel Deals" that help you find sale-price flights originating from your home airport. And Voyij.com lets you search for flights, hotels and package deals from your home airport. Also check out individual airlines' Web sites, which also often feature sales and deals.
Oklahoma: I just got back from Portland, Oregon. I would recommend this city to anyone! I don't know if it's because I'm familiar with DC's Metro, but I found it easy to travel near the airport to downtown.
Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the recommendation!
Rockville, Md.: (posting early -- meeting)
8 hour layover at JFK....what's the fastest/easiest/cheapest way to get into Manhattan and back. How much time should I leave for my departing international flight (bag will have already been checked through from previous flight) I'll just have my carry on. Thanks!
Joe Yonan: I'd take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station for $5, then transfer to the Long Island Rail Road for the 20-minute ride into Manhattan's Penn Station. Fares are cheap ($7.25 at peak), and the LIRR runs every few minutes. You're right that you're saving a lot of hassle by having your bag checked through, so I'd just make sure to be back at JFK by about 90 minutes before departure, just to be safe in case there are lines getting through security.
Charlotte, NC: Hi Travel Crew! For the traveler wondering whether to go to Denver or Chicago - the answer is obviously Chicago! Between the new wing of the Art Institute, the fabulous food, the cool architecture and Millennium Park, not to mention the shopping, lakefront and frequent weekend festivals, Chicago has it all.
Joe Yonan: It's my kind of town.
Sarasota, Fla.: For the poster whose mother seeks Natl Parks with less walking: Glacier National Park in Montana has wonderful old-fashioned open-top red buses (the park has a cutesy name for them that I can't recall) that travel through the park, particularly across the Going to the Sun Road (I think it's called), that give a gorgeous overview of the park. Not open during winter months, though...
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestions!
Washington, DC: For the folks going to Sicily: Villa Romana del Casale, just outside of the small town of Piazza Armerina, is a must-see for anyone interested in ancient Roman history. A huge collection of colorful mosaics, still in their original place after 1,600 years. It's about an hour or so west of Siracusa. The little baroque towns of Noto and Ragusa are very special as well.
Joe Yonan: Great -- thanks!
Rockville, Md.: Is there an equivalent to seat guru to cruise cabins? I'm at a loss trying to select an indoor cabin.
Christopher Elliott: Not that I'm aware of.
For now, one of the best resources is a competent travel agent -- preferably someone who specializes in cruises.
The closest I've come to finding a site where cabins are actually rated are some of the cruise discussion boards, like Cruise Critic (owned by the same company as SeatGuru) and Cruisemates. But there's no formal rating system that can help you make a quick decision.
Washington, DC: Any opinions of the Hix Island House in Vieques, Puerto Rico? Considering staying there in January, but it's a bit pricey...is it worth it? (btw, found airfare for only $240 from DCA!)
Andrea Sachs: I am a fan of the Hix Island House. I wrote about it last year, following around the manager who lived "the dream." It's very different than the typical resort, though. The hotel is very eco-advanced, with architecture that is more modern-industrial than lush (though the setting is very fertile). For an unusual stay, I say book it (and grab a loaf of homemade bread for me).
Annandale VA: For the folks going to Bath, it doesn't look like there's any Left Luggage at the station.
Becky Krystal: A definitive answer on facilities at the Bath train station. The Bath YMCA and Bath Backpackers hostel both have luggage storage, so it might be worth looking into whether you can throw down a few pounds to put up your bags even if you're not staying at them.
70 Year Old & National Park: I went to Yosemite in Mid May and it was perfect weather and the perfect time of year since the snow was still melting and the waterfalls were beautiful. It's easily drivable from the valley floor, where you can see El Capitan, Bridle Falls & other great views. There's a tram that takes you to a lot of other places. The walk (all paved) to Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls is short and worth it. Also, the best part was driving up to Sentinal Point and than further up to Glacier Point and watching the sunset on Half-dome.
Joe Yonan: A first-person account: Thanks!
Arlington, Va.: For the Bostonians going to Ireland in April: Take a look at buying the Heritage Card. The card, which costs 21 Euros for adults, I believe, covers your admission at LOTS of sites in Ireland: Kilmainham Gaol, the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, Newgrange, etc. If you are going to visit several of these places, then you can save quite a bit of money (we saved about 40 Euros with the Heritage Card). They should check out the excellent Heritage Card website, www.heritageireland.ie to see what places are Heritage Card sites, the admission fees (if any), and the opening hours as some of these places are not open until after April.
Joe Yonan: Great tip -- thanks.
CPDC: I'm looking for tickets to Telluride sometime from January to April. Right now I'm seeing close to $600/person. Any idea what travel days/weekends might be cheaper or what is a great price? I could also fly into Durango, which can be cheaper, but the shuttle is $100/person each way so it would have to be much, much cheaper to be worth it. Thanks!
Carol Sottili: It's usually cheaper to fly Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But I believe United and Frontier are the only airlines that fly between here and there, so there's not going to be much competition. And I don't think Durango is ever going to be at least $200 cheaper. Just start tracking it now, and look for a systemwide sale that may include Telluride.
Phoenix, Ariz.: For the Ireland traveler I'd also recommend flying into Dublin and out of Shannon or vice-versa (whichever is cheaper) and don't miss County Kerry and the city of Killarney. Take a day to drive the Kerry Ring and don't miss Dingle perhaps the most charming town in southern Ireland.
Carol Sottili: Thanks!
National Parks: For the chatter looking for parks to visit with Mom, I'd highly recommend Arches and Canyonlands in Utah. Both of my parents walk with canes and they were able to see a good bit of both parks from the car or with a short walk to a viewing area. Gorgeous scenery at both, and they're close enough to be able to do both in one day (if you don't linger) or to stay overnight and spend more time at each one.
Joe Yonan: Many thanks!
London and side trips: We do this often, usually combining a roundtrip to London with an EasyJet (or similar) ticket elsewhere. But for our last trip a couple of weeks ago, a multiple destination ticket on BA was cheaper than separate tickets, so make sure to check it both ways (also would cut down on travel time if you don't have to go back to London). Yes March weather in London is less than ideal, but it is a great time to go to some of the more southern European destinations because it will be warm but not totally crowded (Rome, Barcelona, Nice, etc.).
Zofia Smardz: Good points here for our London traveler. Thank you!
To the Atlantic City Traveler: Go to White House Hoagies for the best sandwiches you will ever have!!
Andrea Sachs: Good tip. Thanks!
Warrenville, IL: Your article on Jamaica yesterday deeply troubled me.
Like you, I want to escape holiday reservations to see and even meet real locals. (Can't stand Club Med-like retreats.)
But Jamaica is different. It's a super dangerous place for gay people. In justice you should have warned your readers that Jamaicans consider bashing and killing gay men to be a sport, an amusement. (Killing gay men in Jamaica is sort of like stepping on cockroaches in Miami.)
Failing to warn gay people to stay away from Jamaica is in effect inviting them to their own destruction. Not a friendly act.
Andrea Sachs: Thank you so much for your note. You made a very good point. While I personally did not see or experience any anti-gay sentiment, I did contact J-Flag for more information. (The organization works toward equality and fair treatment of lesbians, gays and all-sexuals.) I was told that the country's homophobia stems from its conservative roots, but that standards vary according to nationality, gender, etc. The country has a large gay population, but tourists are advised to be discreet. However, organizations like J-Flag are working hard to make Jamaica welcoming to everyone.
Del Ray, Va.: I'd love to take advantage of that sale fare to Madrid. Question - how hard/easy is it to get around Spain sans car? Can we easily/cheaply get from one city to another via train? Which ones?
I went to Spain when I was twelve (yikes - 26 years ago!)it was amazing!
Joe Yonan: You sure can -- all the major cities in Spain are connected by high-speed rail. You can buy a pass that lets you take three trips within 2 months, starting at $115.
Herndon, Va.: Gurus: My wife and I just got back from a three-week trip to Turkey - two weeks on the Aegean coast and one week in Istanbul, and would highly recommend a visit. The off-season had started, so there weren't any huge crowds (unless you're at a port, such as Bodrum, when a tour ship off-loads). The temperature on the coast was low 80s for a high, with lows in the mid-sixties, perfect for sunning and swimming, or visiting the historical sites (back to pre-Alexander through the Ottoman empire)which cover the area. I understand July/August are a lot hotter, with much bigger crowds, but we had a great time, and expenses, while not what I'd call low, and far better than any of the "Euro" countries. Istanbul was fantastic too - a great cosmopolitan city. Go!!
Nancy Trejos: I can't agree with you more. Turkey is one of my favorites countries to visit. And yes, Istanbul is fantastic. Great food, great views, lots of history to explore. Glad you enjoyed it!
Lyon Flight Prices: I've found Air France fares for about $700 from Dulles to Lyon. Is that a good deal? This will be a ski trip. What can I expect in charges for flying with my equipment? Thanks!!
Carol Sottili: Yes, that's a good deal. I believe you can include a pair of skis and boots as one of your baggage items (two maximum per person), but check with Air France first.
Charlotte, N.C.: Do you have any recommendations for a good family hotel (I have a 4 year old) on the Upper East or the Upper West side of Manhattan? He's been begging to go to New York and I thought it would be fun to stay near Central Park. Also, your query brings back memories from my childhood of a wonderfully creepy hotel in Bruges, Belgium. I do not even know if it still exists, but I was traveling in Europe with my parents when I was 8 and we stayed in this funky, old hotel in Bruges that was decorated with taxidermied animals, full coats of armor, orange shag carpet and other oddities. It was also dark and dingy and had lots of narrow hallways. It would have made a fabulous haunted house. I loved it!
Nancy Trejos: Those are definitely family-friendly neighborhoods. In the Upper West side, there is the Hotel Beacon. Rooms have kitchenettes, there are laundry facilities and bigger than normal rooms. Loews Regency New York on the Upper East Side is also family-friendly. If you have the budget for it, try the Lowell on the Upper East Side. It is pricey but the rooms feel like residences. You can also try renting someone's apartment on Craigslist. Some of my friends have done that and have been quite pleased because they get more space for less money.
Winter in North Carolina: Hello!
I'm going to be traveling to the Outer Banks for a week over Christmas Break/New Years. We're renting a big house and are looking forward to hot tubbing and relaxing, but would like to plan a couple day trips so we don't all get cabin fever. Can anyone recommend some fun destinations about an hour or so from Nags Head?
Thanks! Love the chat!
Zofia Smardz: Oh you won't get cabin fever on the Outer Banks! I just happen to have spent 5 days there recently at a wedding where the bride and groom rented a big house and even though the weather was less than ideal, no one was bored for a second! If you get tired of the beach/swimming pool/hot tub, there's plenty on the Banks themselves to see and do. Start at the northern tip and go searching for the wild horses that live on the beach there, then visit the historic restored village of Corolla and be sure to check out the Whalehead Club and climb the lighthouse steps. Then head south to Duck for some primo shopping and dining. Further south, don't miss Kitty Hawk national monument, where the Wright brothers made the flight that changed the world forever. Finally, down in Roanoke Island, visit the Lost Colony of Sir Walter Raleigh and the Elizabethan Gardens, and in Manteo, take a walking tour and don't miss the famous recently reopened Christmas store.
Any other thoughts, chatters?
Chicago or Denver: Given your short time there I would choose Chicago for 3 reasons:
1. Shorter travel
2. Less likely chance of weather issues playing a role. Higher odds of a November snow storm in Denver.
3. O'Hare!! is connected to the subway, and I recall your place is along the route so it's an hr ride into downtown from the airport. Denver doesn't have a connection between airport and their subway/light rail system.
Joe Yonan: Plus, there's Rick Bayless's restaurants in Chicago.
Am I crazy?: Ok, I just need a little re-assurance here. I just put down a deposit on a house in rural/mountainous Angeles, near Utuado, Puerto Rico, for the month of July. I want to take my kids 6 and 3, there for the month but my husband will only be able to join me for ten days or so. I have done my share of solo traveling (Asia, Europe) and am adventurous compared to my friends, but by no means am a lonely planeteer. I also am not normally a solo parent. Between the roads, isolation, etc. etc., I'm beginning to wonder if my family is right and I've lost my mind. Please tell me it will be fun...or let me down easy!
Andrea Sachs: It will be an amazing experience. Keep an open mind and remember, the month will fly by. Bet you add August to your stay!
Haunted hotel: I worked with a contractor (who doesn't in DC?) to schedule regional trainings. We had one in San Diego at this nice hotel in the gaslamp district. Turns out the place is haunted but I had no idea until we got there. Participants at the training were telling us about the ghost and one was even staying in the haunted room and telling us the creepy things that were happening. Lights staying on, noises, that sort of thing.
A few years ago I stayed at one of the most haunted hotels in Savannah. I realized the first night that I shouldn't have done that b/c I had scared myself silly after hearing about all the stories. I even had to sleep with a washcloth over my face b/c I was afraid of what I might see. What made it worse was the first night, after hearing all the stories, in the middle of the night I heard a loud noise, screamed bloody murder thinking it was the ghost and it was my boyfriend at the time. Next time, I'll stay at a place that isn't as well known for its ghosts.
Andrea Sachs: boo.
Ft Lauderdale, Fla.: re: creepy hotel stay ... my husband had decided that he wanted to see Three Mile Island (shortly after the reactor leaks). We were living in West Virginia at the time and drove up (saw some of the biggest veggies I had ever seen on sale from street vendors there!), deciding to stay in the area overnight. Obviously, not a lot of hotels in that area so we drove on into Hershey, PA, not knowing that there was some sort of conference there causing most of the hotels to be completely booked. We finally found a small motel that said they had one room left so we took it. They directed us down to the end of the hall, through a fire door, down another short hallway and in through an unmarked door (no room number, no 'hotel key' lock, etc). When we got in, we seemed to be in a room belonging to Norman Bates' mother! The 'room' was set up to be an apartment, complete with huge four-poster bed, very old furniture, small kitchenette and bathroom, and lots of family pictures on the dresser, crucifixes on all four walls, even elderly ladies clothing hanging in the closet and in the dresser drawers! To top it all off, there was no phone in the room, and this was way before everyone had cell phones. We found a secret entrance that actually went to a short stairway outside - the whole thing was so creepy, I went to a phone booth to call my sister & tell her exactly where we were so, if she never heard from us again, she could notify the authorities! We were so sure 'Grandma' must have just passed away and they were trying to raise money for the funeral (that, actually, was our 'good' thought - it also crossed our minds that the room was a hidden spot in which murders took place regularly).
Andrea Sachs: Did you dare to take a shower?
Thank You Sir Richard!!!: I just wanted to give your readers a heads up about something I've just found while looking up a flight on Farecompare.
Virgin America is selling flights from DC to all their west coast destinations for $49 to $69 each way; that's $145 to $165 round-trip, with the taxes and fees included. These prices are good to mid-May and at least some other airlines are matching the fares so if you need to go to LA or San Francisco or Seattle or San Diego between now and then I'd suggest jumping on it!
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for sharing. We owe you one!
Re: Baltimore gifts: Old Bay and Berger's cookies!
Andrea Sachs: Great ideas. Thanks!
Telluride: I was in Telluride and it appears the economy has hit that place hard.
Another option is to fly into Grand Junction, though I don't know if they have a shuttle but the drive is easier than it is from Durango.
I would look at other destinations in Colorado for ones that fit your budget.
Carol Sottili: I haven't seen many sales into Grand Junction, plus it's a 2.5 hour drive, but it is an option to consider.
RTW travel: A friend at the Post gave me the Sept 13th Travel section with the round the world travel tips. My spouse and I did an RTW in 40 days, but used frequent flyer miles to do it. For doing an RTW with frequent flyer miles you can't 'backtrack'; and a few other rules like only 6 stops and no more than 3 per continent. Asia is a huge continent. And of course, only the airlines know where the 'free seats' are so, it pays to be VERY FLEXIBLE. We had only a few hoped for destination for the trip (Japan, India and Kenya). Because we had to go where the free seats were and the air alliance partners flew, we ended up doing Hawaii, Japan, Korea, India, Russia, Kenya and Tanzania. AND had no glitches and had a fabulous time. Airline had great staff that do nothing but help figure out these RTW with frequent flyer miles. We only had 2 nights in Hawaii, everything else was at least 6 days. Definitely a trip of a lifetime.
Zofia Smardz: Sounds whirlwind! Thanks for sharing!
Andrea Sachs: We are so impressed, RTWer.
For Alexandria, VA: The person wanting a place for a laid-back vacation with a 4-year-old. We had a great time a few years ago at Akumal, about 60 miles south of Cancun on the Caribbean coast. We had rented a condo but there's also a small hotel and an all-inclusive. Very family-friendly vibe. Nice beaches, lagoon, several restaurants, grocery store, you can go other places but don't have to.
Joe Yonan: Sounds perfect.
Gifts for India: When we traveled to visit a friend there a few years ago, honestly, the family asked for good chocolate and liquor that we bought duty-free on the layover in Amsterdam.
The chocolate in India was awful (tasted like cocoa powder mixed with sunscreen) and I think that good scotch or gin was either rare or expensive or both.
We brought some DC t-shirts too, but the chocolate was the most welcome item!
Zofia Smardz: And more. Thank you!
For the Baltimore souvenir: Berger cookies, of course! I bet they're very hard to find in India.
Zofia Smardz: Great idea, thanks!
Arlington, Va.: My fiancé and I are considering Turks and Caicos for our April honeymoon. It seems that there are fewer guidebooks, and information in general, about these islands than neighboring ones like the Bahamas or the VIs.
We like the upscale, quiet vibe of T&C but we're worried about getting bored being there for a week. Do you have any tips on these islands? Or do you know of a good resource for travel information (other than T&Cs own tourism site, of course). Thanks very much!
Becky Krystal: Check out former staffer Cindy Loose's article from a number of years back.
Joe Yonan: Here it is.
Washington, DC: I am hoping you will consider not using this Q&A any more to answer questions as to when is the best time to book airfare to some location. It's an important topic so perhaps your staff could prepare a separate article on the principles of how to evaluate this, and you could just cite the article at the beginning of each weekly Q&A. But please save this wonderful opportunity to consult with your experts and get advice from fellow travelers for questions such as where and when to go, what to see, where to stay, etc.
Zofia Smardz: We haven't done a major article about airline pricing, but just a few weeks ago, we did publish an item in Coming and Going regarding airfares. But it seems that it doesn't matter how many times we answer this unanswerable question, people keep asking!
Washington, DC: My creepiest hotel destination was in Amsterdam. I was 14 when my family traveled to Europe. Amsterdam was the third city on our vacation. After being followed for several blocks by a man who seemed intent on stealing my mom's purse, we arrived at our hotel. When we arrived in our room, we realized almost immediately that the floor was slanted - so much so that if I stood on one side of my mom, I was about 5 inches taller, and if I stood on the other, we were the same height. The walls were filled with cracks. My parents slept on murphy beds, while I had the sofa behind which were two rat traps!
Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night!
Andrea Sachs: You did not happen to visit the Bulldog, did you?
NWA flight: Just an observation that surprises me. How did none of the passengers not wonder what was going on? If I was on that plane I would have wondered. Were that a different Delta aircraft....the ones that have the TV screens on the back of the headrest where you can see where the plane is flying over at that moment I am sure the pilots would have woken up with the passengers yelling and screaming.
Joe Yonan: I wondered that, too...
National Parks : that are drive through or you can see everything with little hiking. If any hiking its short and very flat.
2. Grand Teton
3. Grand Canyon
5. Bryce Canyon
Becky Krystal: This list will keep the mother-daughter duo occupied and well-traveled!
Columbus, Ohio: re: creepy destinations. After learning that an ancestors is the central character in a Catonsville ghost legend (i.e., the ghost), I decided to investigate. On the night of the August 2008 full moon, I showed up at the elementary school parking lot where his farm once stood. I stayed until a little after midnight but noticed nothing unusual...until I left for home. I drove down the street that had once been the carriage drive. At the end of the street, I saw what appeared to be a long black hearse. Its engine was running and its headlights were on--after midnight! I didn't stick around to investigate.
Andrea Sachs: Whoa.
Island finder fail: not enough options! I want a place with our own kitchen--that is always where we stay, so a suite/condo/rental place. Next, we like to bike or walk. How about hiking and cultural activities? You make this too limited. Plus, your recommendations were really off.
Nancy Trejos: Hi. We tried to offer as many options as we could. I'm sorry we didn't get as many as you would have wanted in there.
Andrea Sachs: Our Scary Hour is over. Thanks so much for your submissions, suggestions and back-and-forths.
For the scariest story, we chose the girlfriend whose boyfriend was saved by Dr. Frankenstein. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address, so you can receive your non-creepy prize. See everyone next Monday, if you survive Oct. 31 (insert demonic laugh).
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