The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, November 9, 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, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m.
Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.
Zofia Smardz: Good afternoon all! Your Flight Crew is ready to answer all your questions in today's travel chat. We have a full house with me, Joe, Andrea, Becky, Chris and Carol -- and Nancy, just back from a whirlwind road trip during which she made it all the way to the Arkansas border and back on a budget of only $500! You'll be able to read all about it on Sunday. Meanwhile, we want to follow up on yesterday's Florida issue. Tell us about your favorite little-known place in Florida. It can be a town or a beach or a building or anything. My candidate: Winter Park, lovely little town just north of Orlando, home to Rollins College, full of gracious homes and drooping live oaks everywhere, an antidote to the clamor of Disneyworld and all the other parks (which I also love, btw.). Best description of a hidden Florida gem wins a prize.
Okay, let fly with your questions!
How to get to BWI: Hey FC! Need help on getting to BWI on a Thursday, for a noon flight. We'll be coming from Manassas, though wont have a car, though we can get to a metro station. Is there anyway to get to BWI in reasonable time, not too expensive. I think there's a shuttle from a metro station, is that reliable or cost money? Or what are the price ranges and are Super Shuttles reliable? Thanks for helping us with this predicament!
Joe Yonan: There is an hourlong Northeast Regional train between Manassas and BWI that costs only $12, but the timing doesn't quite work out for you: It leaves at 10:20 and doesn't get to BWI until 12:30. You could take an 8:45 a.m. Crescent train into Union Station for $33, but the timing's a little too tight for comfort (and I tend to push these things!); it gets into Union Station at 10:10, and then you'd catch a 10:25 a.m. train for another $12 that gets into BWI at 10:55. The free shuttles to BWI do leave every few minutes, but that still makes me a little nervous... Chatters, what do you think?
The Super Shuttle from your zipcode would be $90 for the first passenger and $12 for each additional one. I'm assuming you could ask for an early enough pickup that the timing would work.
Transatlantic Flight: Transatlantic flight with a 7-month old: Worth it? My husband will be traveling to Europe for business, and may or may not be able to fly with me and the little one if we join him (his schedule is in flux). I'm excited about seeing the sights while he works, even with the little one in tow, but I'm a bit nervous about the airport nightmare and long flight with a baby. I'm a business traveler myself, so it's not the airport or flight that concern me by themselves, just the nightmare of navigating them with a baby and without an extra set of hands. I've done a quick, one-hour flight with the baby, but my husband and mother-in-law were with me, and that was bad enough.
Christopher Elliott: Worth it, definitely.
I was that seven-month-old baby back in 1968, when I took my first international flight. I don't remember much, but my family has lots of pictures to prove I made the trip.
Remember, you'll pay a percentage of your fare for the baby, even if it's a lap child. And if you can afford an extra seat, buy one and use a child seat. It's far safer, given the risks of encountering turbulence.
Portsmouth, NH: Two questions: 1) Do you know anything about StudentUniverse.com, which books airfares at a pretty good discount for college students? and 2) Right now, I'm finding one-way tickets from Vienna to Boston (to bring her home the last week of June 2010 after a semester abroad) running anywhere from $750 to $2500. Do I buy the $750 ticket or wait a while? The prices are all over the map, but we like her a lot and want her to come home!!!
Carol Sottili: Studentuniverse.com is a reputable company that's been in business for a long time. You need a .edu email address to purchase. One-way tickets often cost more than round trips, so $750 is about right. Have you looked at Lufthansa's student discounts? Go to Generationfly.com; again, you need a .edu email address. You may get lucky there.
Buongiorno, Calif.: Bonjour, Hola, Konnichiwa, Hello, Meow, etc :)
I received the book 'Dreaming of Florence' as a gift from you lovely people working for the Travel section. Thank you very much! Honestly I am going to send the book to my mom who lives in Alexandria...opposite coasts but it is really pretty here in Los Angeles if you wanted to know. My mom has been studying Italian for 3 years (she is such an inspiration at 63 years old!) and went on a train tour of Italy 2 years ago with my dad. I know she wants to go back and I think she will be going to Italy sooner than me...I am not as close to retirement as she is. You are all the best. Besides Gene, Liz, and Carolyn this is my favorite chat I tune into.
Zofia Smardz: Hi there -- I remember you! I'm glad the book turned out to be of value to you and hope your mom will like it. Sounds as though she's a real Italophile. And thanks so much for your kind words about the chat. (And I promise to answer the question re my name in your second e-mail as soon as I have a second to breathe!)
Ashburn, Va.: I am getting married in Florida in March. We would like to take our honeymoon in Florida or an easy and cheap flight from Miami since we will be down there already. Any suggestions? We thought we would stay in Florida to save money on airfare.
Becky Krystal: How serendipitous! This weekend was our Florida issue, and Andrea's story on the state's Gulf Islands may give you some ideas.
Washington, D.C.: Hi... I will be going to Finland for a family reunion next August but will first be meeting my immediate family in St. Petersburg. After Helsinki, I'm thinking of taking the ferry to Stockholm and spending a couple days, then flying back from there (back to IAD). In a cursory check of airfares, flying back from either Stockholm or Helsinki, I'm being quoted $1,150-$1,300. Can I do better if I wait?
I would love it if you or fellow chatters have recommendations for hotels in any of the three cities. I will of course be checking Trip Advisor, but all help is appreciated.
Carol Sottili: I can't help with hotels, but hope fellow chatters may have some ideas. Airfares to Scandinavia are often fairly expensive as there's not that much competition from Washington. Are you flying from Washington to St. Petersburg and then returning from either Stockholm or Helsinki? If that's the case, I don't think you're going to do much better that the fares you've been quoted. That said, there is no rush at this point, so I'd start tracking and strike if/when fare drops. I checked having you fly into London or Paris and then taking discount carriers to your other destinations, but that's not going to save you anything.
New York City: Hi, I would like to know more about the home exchange trend since there aren't that many articles on it, from a traveler's perspective. Thank you and I look forward to hearing more about it.
Zofia Smardz: As it happens, the Travel section is planning to do a feature on home exchanges in the near future. We'll be sending a staffer off on a home exchange to report about the up- and downsides. It's not quite off the ground yet, though, so in the meantime, maybe some chatters can chime in on this travel trend. Folks?
Frederick Md.: Read last week's chat after the fact. This summer, my family and I (spouse and 2 teenagers) rented an apartment in the St. Germain district of Paris through Haven in Paris (www.haveninparis.com). It is run by an American and offers studios up to 3 bed apartments. They also rent in Tuscany and Provence. Our 1 bedroom/2 bath was fabulous. The bedroom with its own bath was in a building separated from the main part of the apartment by an 1100 sq.ft. private garden. Our sons each had their own sofa bed in the large living area. The apartment came with a 20+ page instruction manual with info on every appliance as well as local shopping, restaurants and English language services (doctors, etc.). The apartment also had internet access and free phone calls back to the US. Cost was $1900 per week.
Joe Yonan: You had me at 1100 sf private garden. Wow!
Washington, DC: My wife is turning 30 in April, and I am looking for a long weekend escape to a resort for the two of us and our daughter who will be 15 months at the time. We will be driving, so I am limiting my search to MD, VA, PA, and WV. Where would you go?
Becky Krystal: Maybe I'm caught up in idyllic childhood memories of the place, but if I was celebrating a special occasion (cough, hint), I certainly wouldn't mind being taken to the Homestead. My parents went not too long ago and had a great time. I'm guessing April would be a lovely time in scenic Bath County, and the resort is often advertising for some kind of special.
Washington, DC: Perhaps I am an unusual traveler, but I am not interested in shopping tips when I travel (except, perhaps, for some good tips on gifts to bring home). I cannot imagine why I would want to look at light fixtures for sale (as was included in the Miami feature) while I am on a trip. I used to live in Minneapolis and was always puzzled by people traveling there to go to the Mall of America (which is nothing more than a big mall--no unusual shops), so maybe I AM unusual in my non-shopping habits. Do you enjoy shopping when you travel? Other than picking up a few gifts for home (and I try not to spend my travel time looking for presents) and walking through the grocery store in exotic locations (not Miami!) to see what they stock, I just don't understand shopping while on holiday.
Zofia Smardz: As the French say, "Chacun a son gout." Or as we say in English: To each his own.
Some people are just inveterate or compulsive shoppers. It's their sport, their entertainment, their raison d'etre. Joe's fond of saying he travels to eat. Well, some people travel to shop. I personally agree with you re the Mall of America kind of shopping. If there are no unique stores, why make a special trip.
But in many other countries, or even other parts of the U.S., there *are* special and unique stores, and discovering something different and one-of-a-kind, or something distinctive that can only be found in that location, can be a very special kind of travel pleasure. I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Asheville, NC, last year and while he was working, I wandered around downtown and into a shop where I found an incredible, unique chandelier that I promptly bought and brought home. And now, every time I look at it, I remember that trip to Asheville (plus I looooove that chandelier!). Ditto for the lamp I bought in Germany, and the glassware and linens I brought home from Poland and the prints I found in New Zealand -- and much more. My house is a treasure trove of shopping finds from far-flung locales.
What say the rest of you chatters?
Dupont: In a few weeks I'm flying from DCA to LAX to Phoenix to Cabo San Lucas. I've never flown internationally that wasn't non-stop. Since it is the first leg of an international flight, do I need to get to DCA extra early?
Andrea Sachs: If your final destination on that flight is international-- Mexico, for example--then you need to follow the international flight rules, which in most cases is arriving two hours in advance. However, if you can check-in online (I did for Jamaica, typing in my passport number), then you can save yourself some time. Also, if you are not checking bags, you can give yourself some extra time at home.
Andrea Sachs: Have a good trip!
Denver, Colo.: What are your thoughts on the feasibility of a federal passenger bill of rights?
Christopher Elliott: What they're calling the "Bill of Rights" is actually a tarmac delay rule that would force planes to turn back if they've been waiting for more than three hours.
It's a noble goal, though totally unenforceable, given the current state of affairs at the Department of Transportation.
I would love to see a
Bill of Rights that addresses the critical issues for airline passengers.
in my column.)
Transatlantic travel with infant:: YES! It is one of the easiest times to take a baby on a flight this long. The younger my babies were, the easier it was. Pre-mobile babies who are still taking 2 naps a day adjust really well to time-zone differences, and there will be lots to see while traveling that will amuse the little one. But do get a seat for the baby. It will save your sanity when you can strap him/her into it and doze. We bought a sit-n-stroll for a trip to Ireland, and it worked passably well. It can be used as a car seat on the airplane or in taxis etc, but it also converts to a stroller for in the airport or around town (but doesn't do cobblestones terribly well). Also, bring an ergo or mei tai or bjorn (though the others are better) for hands free traveling. Happy traveling!
Christopher Elliott: Thank you. Can I hear an "amen"?
We have three kids, and traveling them before age two was far, far easier than
I could write a whole book about that. :-)
Washington, DC: Doing a romantic weekend in NYC on a budget. Looking to spend 250 a night from 12/5-7. All the B&Bs are full--any suggestions of a secret, awesome place that might have something? In Manhattan?
Or, any boutique hotels that are affordable and sans bed bugs? We really just need a comfy bed and a private bathroom, that's it.
Joe Yonan: A boutique hotel in NYC in December for under $250 a night might be tough to come by, but I'm seeing rooms available at Hotel 17, which is in your price range and seems to get decent "reviews" on TripAdvisor. You should also check out airbnb.com, which Andrea wrote about a few months back. (Note that some of the Airbnb properties you'd have to yourself -- while others come with "roommates.") I've had the luxury of being able to crash at a friend's vacant (on the market!) place the last few times I've visited, but I believe it's in the process of being sold, so I may be in the same boat as you soon enough. And I feel your pain: A NYC weekend can easily become a $1,000 weekend when you have to stay in a hotel.
Rockville, Md.: Hi. My husband and I celebrate our five-year anniversary on New Year's Eve Eve. We'd like to just spend the one night somewhere, but as it's only one night and we have a toddler at home, we'd like that night to be close. Any recommendations for somewhere that will be romantic, close, but under $150/night? Thanks!
Zofia Smardz: I was going to recommend the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va., a lovely Alpine-style Inn just a stone's throw from your backyard, with rooms at around $150, but a quick peek online shows them to be booked except for their $235 luxury rooms (still might be worth it). But you're in luck -- the Kent Manor Inn on Maryland's Kent Island, apparently still has rooms: you can get a room with king-size bed or two doubles for $145. It's a little farther away, about an hour and half drive, but this really is a beautiful inn, very secluded, Victorian (but not stuffy) decor, great food (be sure to make a dinner reservation!).
Other suggestions, chatters?
Washington, DC: I'd like to plan a week-long trip to California for two in May of this year. I'd like to concentrate on Northern California, but I think my husband wants to see some of Southern California too. We don't need top class establishments, but something slightly nicer than Motel 6 would be appreciated. We like the outdoors. We like wine. I want to make sure we see the redwoods and I love the drive up route one. I haven't been since I was a kid, so any recommendations you can give on itineraries and places to stay would be great.
Becky Krystal: I would like to apologize to my pod neighbors Leigh and Lauren for inadvertently overhearing their conversation, but I think I heard them talking about the Treebones Resort in Big Sur and now I totally want to go there. Looks perfect if you like the outdoors, and accommodations range from campsites to yurts and a guest house.
Arlington, Va.: Any tips on getting cheaper airfare to Tokyo in 2010? Prices on United (my preferred carrier, since they have nonstop IAD-NRT) were just under $1k last week, and now they are up to $1400 for spring/fall. Would a travel agent be helpful in this situation?
I don't need to purchase right away, but I'm debating even trying to travel to Japan next year due to the cost, though I really want to go.
Carol Sottili: There are occasional sales to Tokyo, and United is usually the carrier that starts it. You'll probably see under $1,000 again. Travel agents don't get paid commissions for plane tickets, but an agent may be able to find a consolidator fare that is worth the small fee you'd need to pay for his/her services. Japantravelinfo.com, the official tourism site for Japan, has a list of agents, and also features special packages.
Boston: My vote for favorite place in Florida is Perdido Key. It is a small area right on the Gulf in the Panhandle between Pensacola and Alabama. The beaches are beautiful and there are very nice state parks in the area. You are close enough to Gulf Shores, AL for some excitement and my favorite bar in the area: the Florabama but Perdido Key itself is very quite and relaxing. Of course my husband things that it needs at least one roller coaster. Can't please everybody.
Zofia Smardz: Men always need some extra excitement, don't they? :-)
Thanks for this -- one vote for Perdido Key!
Florida gems: You can't get more hidden gem than Ponce de Leon Spring state park, a lovely springs, but more importantly has the Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant where the tables have pancake griddles built into them, and you make your own pancakes. That was a favorite trip when we were growing up in Winter Park.
Zofia Smardz: That sounds like so much fun!
Arlington, Va.: I want to take a mid-late December trip to Ireland for about a week and am flexible on dates. Any suggestions on good flight dates or what I should expect in terms of airfare?
Carol Sottili: Unfortunately, Aer Lingus has stopped flying nonstop out of Washington, which means fares are up. Plus, you now have to connect. Also, Ireland is a big Christmas destination, so you'll pay up for flying around the holidays. If you can fly on Christmas and New Year's Day, you may be able to get a round-trip fare of under $800. But if you fly any time within five days or so of a holiday, it's going to cost closer to $1,000. You won't save anything by flying out of New York.
early submissions: Hi
You know how you always start with the "question for the day"? Any chance you could work it a la Gene Weingarten and before the chat post that question? He did it the night before which I know is early, but, it was nice to have something to look forward to.
Plus you will have a lot more stories I bet...
Joe Yonan: Thanks for the idea. We'll think about it, but doubt we'll go for the night-before idea because that would put us into Sunday. Dealbreaker.
Desperately seeking: A good travel purse. Something with shoulder strap that I can wear across the body and lay flat. Something large enough to carry a travel book or a map and a small camera, but not overwhelmingly huge. Something that is fairly lightweight, but sturdy. Something that doesn't scream "travel purse." I'd like it to be somewhat chic. Any ideas?
Joe Yonan: How bout this?
Arlington, Va.: I'm finally going to take the plunge and attend the Venice Carnivale in February. I see that flights into Venice are running right under $700. Do you think they'll rise a lot in price by next year? Just trying to figure out when to book.
Carol Sottili: If you can get flights to Venice with good connections for under $700, including taxes, go for it.
Florida memory:: This probably isn't exactly what you were looking for but it's my favorite memory of Florida (I've done Disneyworld and Sanibel, etc.)
My freshman year of college, instead of hitting up Cancun or some other co-ed infested, alcohol-laden and nudity rife hotspot, two of my girlfriends and I went to visit one of the girl's grandparents in Florida.
We stayed at their home (in a retirement community) and enjoyed a relaxing week. We were the youngest group poolside, we dined at the clubhouse (great food) and got to drive their golf cart all around the course, spotting alligators as we went.
Even though we weren't of age, my friend's rule-bending Grandma made us screwdrivers one night with the orange juice they squeezed fresh from their trees outside.
We relaxed, listened to great "old" stories and I got to know my friends even more.
I can no longer remember the name of the town and, sad to say, I've lost touch with those friends, but it was such a wonderful and unexpectedly great vacation in Florida.
Zofia Smardz: Sounds idyllic. Florida's so often maligned, but it's a wonderful place in so many ways. Thanks for your story!
Annandale, Va.: Any feedback on Great Wolf Lodge?
We have a 7-year-old who is not a great swimmer but likes waterslides.
Can it get real expensive or boring at Great Wolf?
Becky Krystal: It's a couple years old, but check out this story that former staffer Cindy Loose wrote. The kids she was with seemed to enjoy it.
How many shopping days until Christmas?: I'm finding cheaper fares for transcontinental flights on the 24th than on the 23rd of December. I thought the 24th was THE peak day at that time of year (with Christmas Day itself not nearly as slow as it used to be). Would you expect airports to be appreciably busier on the 24th than on the 23rd? Thanks!
Carol Sottili: No, the 23rd is busier when it comes to coast-to-coast flights because most people don't want to be in a plane for more than five hours on Christmas Eve. The 24th is busy, especially in the morning, on shorter flights. Both days are crazy at the airports.
I have a beef.....: About your trip planning submission site. I've revised and revised and revised about 20 times and the web page still tells me I'm over the word count (100 and 200) for submissions. Even by Word's count, I'm UNDER, but your site will not accept my submission.
I'm groveling. My best friend and I are PERFECT candidates for this feature, but I can't even possibly begin to explain why because of the word count limit.
I realize you don't want to wade through 10-page submissions, but even after paring my submission down to 97 words (per Word), the site STILL will not accept it. "Loves beach, hates mountains" doesn't even begin to describe it for us.
How in the world do I submit something for your consideration? I have it down to 100 words.
Thanks in advance!!!!
washingtonpost.com: Going Our Way: Let us plan your perfect trip
Joe Yonan: Read that form again -- it's 100 CHARACTERS for the short fields and 250 CHARACTERS for the long fields. Not words! So keep editing....
London Ontario Canada: How does a non-refundable hotel reservation cancellation work? The implication seems to be, if I cancel, I pay. Can the hotel now assign this empty, but paid-for room to someone else?
Christopher Elliott: Most hotel room reservations have restrictions, which is to say, you can't just cancel any time and get a full refund.
My advice would be to read the terms of your hotel reservation
carefully before you book the room. Some of them will allow you to cancel 24 hours before your arrival. Some allow no cancellations at all.
"Non-refundable" can mean many different things, in the context of a hotel reservation. Most often, it means that when you click the "book" button, your credit card is charged and there's no way to get your money back, no matter when you decided to cancel.
Hotels typically balk at name transfers. They require the name on the reservation to match the name on your ID and/or credit card.
Gulf Islands article: I liked your article on Sarasota-area Gulf Islands. I'd like to put in a plug for what I think is the best Gulf Island, Sanibel.
We go there every winter and it's such a great, laid back place with a focus on nature. If you stay in the east end of the island you can bike everywhere because there are bike paths on every street! There is a wildlife refuge, lovely beaches and some good restaurants. The island is good for people with or without children. You can also drive an hour to see the sights in Naples, including the Naples Zoo.
People who want a hot night life will not find it on Sanibel, however.
Christopher Elliott: Sanibel is one of my all-time favorite islands. I try to make it out there at least once every other year with my family.
One of our favorite day trips from there is to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Highly recommend it.
Rockville, Md.: I'd like to take my 13-year-old daughter to Ireland next summer. (I'm divorced, and her dad isn't coming along.) I'm not too excited about renting a car and driving on the wrong side of the road. Are trains a good alternative to getting around the country? Or are there any packages/tours that might work for us and wouldn't lend themselves to too much teen-age eye rolling?
Becky Krystal: Based on what I've read, I don't think you can go wrong with taking the train around Ireland. Take some time to explore the Irish Rail site. They even offer some travel ideas by region.
Turkey Day Travel Issues: Help! I have been looking for the past few weeks for a cheap ticket up to Boston but as of this morning I can't seem to find anything less than $280 (no trains to BWI early in the morning and a cab ride wipes out any cheap early flights from there). Even the train seems booked up, with only uber-expensive Acela tickets left on Sunday. I know this is the holidays, but I have been making this trip for years and haven't seen anything like this. Are prices going to go down, or do I have to settle for turkey-in-a-can this Thanksgiving?
Christopher Elliott: It's highly unlikely that prices will go down between now and Thanksgiving, but you never know. If there are some unsold airline seats, you might find them on a Web site that handles distressed inventory, like Hotwire or Priceline.
However, the day of Thanksgiving is one of the slowest days of the season, and you might be able to find an early morning flight or train ticket that lets you arrive in time for dinner.
Christmas in Hershey: Do you know much about Christmas in Hershey? Is it worth it? Thinking about going with my husband and son. And can you recommend somewhere to stay that isn't the Hershey hotel? We'd like something a bit cheaper. Thanks.
Joe Yonan: I've never been -- and I have to admit, this Web site makes me not regret that fact -- but maybe some chatters have, and have ideas?
Mid-January vacation: We are trying to plan our annual January trip. We always go away to relax from the stress of the holiday and escape the cold, dankness of the mid-Atlantic winter. But we are stumped where to go this year. We like the outdoors and national parks, not cities. We have ruled out beaches, the Caribbean, and Mexico as we've done those the past few years. We gave up skiing when we hit 30 (once-a-year skiing becomes much more painful when you aren't in your 20s). And well... that doesn't leave much. We thought about Sedona, and while the temperature seems tolerable (50s-60s), I wonder if we'll get the bright desert sun. Oh, and we aren't feeling Vegas this year.
So a big bunch of "No," but not solid ideas of good places. Budget? Roughly $1500 flights and hotels for two.
Joe Yonan: Sounds to me like you're on track with the Southwest-US idea. Dreamsedona.com says highs there can get into the low 80s in May, so I'd say sun won't be an issue. I haven't been to Sedona, but I spent a few days at Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah, not too far from there, and it was fantastic: early morning hikes followed by calf massages followed by mountain biking followed by healthy-but-tasty food, etc.
Joe Yonan: I'm sorry, I spoke too soon, and misread you -- in January, not May, you'll indeed have highs in the mid-50s. But I still bet you'll enjoy the sun. Another idea: What about Big Bend National Park in Texas? You could do a little art/culture in Marfa and then nature in Big Bend...
Deep Valley, USA: No question, just advice here. If you want to ride trains in England, DO NOT use the national rail website. Find out which train company runs your route, and go directly to its site. It will give you advance low fares rather than the standard single fares the main site gives.
And for the next several months if you're 55 or over, look into the Club 55 fares from London to many places like Bath and various spots in Wales for 25 pounds ROUND TRIP. Amazing bargain.
Zofia Smardz: Very valuable information. Especially that 55 and over bit. Thank you!
Mount Pleasant, Mich.: Just want to say that Chris's column on the passenger bill of rights issue was spot-on, and if you haven't read it you should. And no, we are not related :-)
Christopher Elliott: Thank you. Glad you liked the story!
Washington, DC: We're staying at a resort in Cancun and want to take a number of day-trips. We are considering Chichen Itza, Tulum, Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Sian, and any other recommendations for non-beach activities. There will be 2-4 adults going on each trip. Two questions. What attractions are really the best and shouldn't be missed? What is the cheapest and most reliable way to go on these trips, organize through the hotel? Should we rent a car? Organize a driver with a travel agency? Any recommendations would be very much appreciated!
Carol Sottili: I avoided going through the hotel last time I was in Cancun. Those bus trips take all day. There are too many people involved. Instead, take taxis to your destinations - you save so much time that way. I would also recommend a tour group called Alltournative (www.altournative.com). We took its jungle tour and had a great time. The cenote snorkeling was perfect.
SS, Md.: Three-day weekend trip to the Big Apple coming up in a few days. Haven't been in quite a few years and looking for some not-to-be-missed things to do. Have tickets to two great Broadway shows and a reservation for birthday dinner at La Grenouille. Will definitely do the on-off bus tour and the Met and/or MOMA. Anybody willing to share their best tips? Merci beaucoup!!
Joe Yonan: Grab a sandwich at Porchetta. Buy spices at Kalustyan's. Eat ramen at Ippudo. Get a cheap-but-excellent massage in Chinatown. Gelato at Grom. Donut at Doughnut Plant. Coffee at Ninth Street Espresso.
I don't know if you have been to California before. Getting to the coastal redwoods is a long drive from San Francisco. There are small pockets near San Fran but the main concentration of them are north of Eureka to the Oregon border.
What I would suggest is a loop trip where you drive up CA 1 north of San Fran and then cut over to US 101 up to Leggart and then take CA 1 south to Mendocino where there are a bunch of B&Bs. From there just south you can cut over on CA 128 into Napa Valley and travel onto Yosemite Valley where the falls will be at their peak and then return to San Fran and spend some time there.
Zofia Smardz: Passing along these pointers . . .
Dreaming of Breathing: Thanks Zofia. You rock. My mom is half Greek but her interest in language extends to Portuguese, (a little) Japanese, French, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, and of course English. If only I had her talent. Anyway, I look forward to hearing about your name when you have a chance. And my favorite not-small town is Tampa because my dad worked there for a year while my mom and I were still in VA.
Zofia Smardz: Impressive language skills!
Favorite Florida place: This doesn't really qualify, but my favorite Florida place is the garden of some family friends who live on Marco Island. They just sent us one of the best mangoes I've ever had. It was sublime.
Zofia Smardz: Of course it qualifies! Thanks!
Iceland: My husband and I want to go to Iceland spring/summer 2010, when it warms up again! Question - is it is good place to visit, and how would the economic collapse there potentially (negatively) affect a visit? When should I start booking air fare?
Becky Krystal: Have a look at this story by former staffer Christina Talcott. Rather than negatively affecting her visit, the economy helped her get more bang for her buck.
Club 55 rail fares: Note this is for trains run by First Great Western. Look for the Club 55 thing under Special Offers, then book by Nov 13th for travel well into January. You can pick up the tickets at the station any time including weeks after purchase.
Zofia Smardz: Got it, thanks!
Best place in FL: It's got to be lovely little Amelia Island. I've been going to the beach there every summer for 45+ years! Although back in the day it was just known as Fernandina Beach. Beautiful wide (nearly deserted) beaches, lovely little Centre Street in the downtown area with shops and restaurants. And it's just a 30 minute drive to Jacksonville for the airport.
Zofia Smardz: Wow you have ESP! We have an Amelia Island story slated for the Impulsive Traveler this Sunday. It raves about the place, too.
Reading, Mass.: We are planning a trip to Germany and Austria in June 2010 and are interested in hearing recommendations for inexpensive and quaint gasthaus lodgings ( perhaps a Bauernhof) near Fuessen Germany or Reutte Austria. We are a family of 2 adults and 2 teenage sons.
Carol Sottili: I don't have any specific recommendations, but here are some Web sites that may help (understanding German will be helpful for some). Eurogites.com; Farmholidays.com; Landtourismus.de; Bauernhofurlaub.de
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi there! My husband and I are thinking of heading to Belize for a week or two in late Dec.-early Jan. We don't have a ton of time to do research before booking the trip though (using FF miles). We are not big adventurers (no SCUBA, etc.)- although we'd enjoy a rainforest hike. Is it worthwhile? We want a new culture, beaches/nice resorts, shopping, and some towns to explore. Also, what's a good rate for hotels when we're there (an initial search was pulling up everything as over $300!) and would we need to rent a car? Thanks!!
Zofia Smardz: Aren't you the lucky one -- Going Our Way guru K.C. Summers just last week planned a trip to Belize for a reader that may work for you, too. Or at least portions thereof. Have a look.
Travel Purse: For the chatter looking for a flat cross body bag: Nine West, Liz Claiborne, Coach and many other make similar bags. I can always count on finding tons at the discount stores, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, etc. I like Nine West's, it has a bunch of external pockets for when you need your camera, phone, etc. at a moment's notice. And they're big enough inside for a good book or two, as this reader knows.
Becky Krystal: Advice for the reader ISO a good bag. We seem to have gone off on a bit of a shopping vein today! Not that there's anything wrong with that.
DC to New Orleans: Anxious to hear some off-the-beaten-path recommendations for three couples in our 30's spending next weekend in New Orleans (11/21-24, though some of us will be staying till Thanksgiving Day). We'll be staying in the French Quarter and would love to experience the typical New Orleans sights (most of us have never been), but would also like to get off the beaten path and see some less tourist trap-py sights. We love live music, good food and good drinks, history and art. So, any suggestions from The Flight Crew or the peanuts on places not to be missed in New Orleans? Thanks!
Joe Yonan: You're gonna love it in NOLA. For a double-whammy of great live music and good drinks (especially bourbons), go to DBA in the Marigny. Very lively scene, but seemed mostly local when I was there, not trappy at all. I'm writing soon about favorite cocktail places and breakfast places from a recent trip. For cocktails, you should also get to Cure, which also isn't in the Quarter. Closer to where you're staying, get croissants at Croissant d'Or on Ursuline Street. And make sure to eat at Cochon and/or Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District. As for history, did you see our recent piece on the World War II Museum expansion?
Ireland bound: Ireland bound may want to consider the non-stops from PHL to DUB ($800 in mid Dec. and $1000 late Dec.). Especially if they are in MD - it's not that far.
Carol Sottili: Another option.
Charlottesville, Va.: My husband and I are thinking of taking a short trip out to Pasadena CA for the Rose Parade and Bowl this season. We have a 9 month old infant, and while he did great on our trip to Turks and Caicos this past summer, we don't know if it will be worth it to do a three hour time change with him for a 4 day trip. Are we crazy? Should we go, or should we leave major time change travel for vacations of longer duration?
Andrea Sachs: You should go! The baby will thank you. When my friend from California comes east with her little ones, she just maintains their regular West Coast eating and bedtime schedule, despite the three-hour difference. I think it's so important to start them traveling young. You can all catch up on sleep when you return.
Hong Kong: I'm planning to go to Turkey in mid-May with three girlfriends. We'll have 10-11 days in the country, depending on what time our flight arrives, so we're thinking we can squeeze in three places. Istanbul and Cappadocia are on the must-do list, but we can't decide between Ephesus and somewhere on the Turquoise Coast, like Fethiye. It's 2-2, and we need a referee.
Nancy Trejos: Sounds like a fabulous trip. Istanbul and Cappadocia are great picks. As for Ephesus and Fethiye, you can't go wrong with either one. They're both beautiful. And they're quite different. If you're looking to hit the beach, I would go with Fethiye. It's a resort town. But there are some interesting sights there as well, including rock tombs that were carved into the faces of the cliffs. There are also some important ancient cities around it. If you go to Ephesus, you'll get more of an archaeological experience. Tourists go there to see the ruins. It's also a sacred site for Christians. You'll get a sense of what life was like in ancient Rome. So it really depends on what type of experience you are looking for. Enjoy!
Shopping while I travel: I love to shop when I travel in Europe, especially for shoes (certain countries like Germany carry more of the women's size 10 shoes in styles you can't get here) and for little home decorating items.
Whether it be a street merchant or "thrift" store abroad, I always find unique stuff that have stories to go along. For example, I bought a small alabaster dish at a church thrift sale in Volterra, Italy, a place known for its alabaster. I love the fact that I didn't buy it in a store, but rather at this unique sale and got to interact with little Italian woman as well. So many similar stories like that one...And you don't have to spend a lot!
Zofia Smardz: Exactly! Thank you for sharing!
Washington, D.C.: I have an international flight on South African Air from JFK. I've separately booked a Delta flight from DCA into JFK. Do you think 3 hours layover is enough time? Will I be able to check my bag all the way through at DCA or will I have to claim and recheck? Any tips on navigating between terminals?
Also, we would like to drive the Garden Route in South Africa. Any suggestions on hotels or other tips? Thanks!
Christopher Elliott: Three hours is plenty, as long as you stay at JFK (it's probably not enough time to transfer between LGA or EWR). On your arrival, you will have to pick up your bags and clear customs, then re-check them.
You can travel between JFK's nine terminals on the free AirTrain, which is infinitely easier and more convenient than the old buses. And you can walk between some of the terminals, too.
Travel purse: For a travel purse (well, I really use it as an every day work bag, but I also carry it when I travel), I really like my le sportsac bag. It's this style. It's got enough pockets to keep me organized and their bags are incredibly light weight.
Zofia Smardz: Tres chic!
Adelphi, Md.: Can I get some expert advice re. Mexico City? I've gotten very conflicting reports about safety. Some say it's only the border areas of Mexico to avoid and Mexico City is no worse than Detroit. Others say if we go we will likely be kidnapped. Who to believe? Is it just certain neighborhoods?
Also, this would be an August trip. Too hot?
Joe Yonan: I love Mexico City. Spent a wonderful week there with my sister a couple of years ago. It's a huge city, so of course there are crime problems, and there has indeed been some anti-American violence, but nothing like what's happening on the borders. Keep your wits about you, be particularly careful about traveling alone after dark, and enjoy this amazing city.
About the weather: Mexico City is quite temperate because of the elevation. In August, the highs are in the 70s, lows in the 50s.
Washington, DC: What are some fun things to do in New York during Thanksgiving?
Nancy Trejos: I grew up in New York. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my two favorite times of the year there. But be warned. It will be crowded. Still, you'll have fun. If you want to brave the crowds, you can go to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. If you like shopping, you should be able to find some deals on Black Friday. Tons of places to shop in New York. I would also try to see a Broadway show. There's a discount ticket booth in Times Square. And take the time to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you like ice skating, go to Rockefeller Center, though the tree won't be up yet. If it's warm, take a walk through Central Park (there's also an ice skating rink in there). And make sure to eat! There are so many good restaurants in New York.
Teen in Ireland: Take a Shamrocker tour! Mostly young adults. If they'll let your teen and you join, she'll enjoy it!
Zofia Smardz: Great idea, thanks!
Anniversary, Elmhurst IL: Husband just agreed. Can you now suggest a romantic 25th anniversary 5-day getaway in the Dec25-Jan3 time slot? Warm weather and landscapes preferred. Like hiking, reading, golf. Not in Florida, Mexico or Caribbean. Hawaii? I'd be most thankful for cool ideas.
Andrea Sachs: Your trip might be determined by what's available at that time, since you are traveling during peak season. But I would recommend Panama (just not Panama City), Chile (especially Patagonia) or San Diego.
Silver Spring, Md.: Shopping is easier when traveling for those of us whose resistance is high at home. You're already spending money, so the purse loosens naturally.
That said, I do limit myself to stuff not easy to find at home. From a recent London trip I brought back British books unpublished here, plus some fancy heat-generating thermal underwear and socks. None of it available here.
Joe Yonan: I agree -- why buy there what you can buy here? Uniqueness is everything.
Phoenix bound!: Hey Crew! Love the chats. I am headed to Phoenix, AZ tomorrow and could use some suggestions on places to eat, things to do and see downtown, etc. I'm coming up fairly thin in terms of places not to miss. Suggestions? Also, know anything about the light rail to the convention center?
Nancy Trejos: There are some unusual things to see in Phoenix. And it should be warm so you'll be able to enjoy some outdoor activities. A few miles north in the McDowell Mountains is Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, a memorial to the architect. South Mountain Park and Preserve often supposed to be the largest municipal park in the country and is a good place for hiking. Try the Heard Museum and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. For food, I would try steak, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Durant's is supposed to be a good local steakhouse. Sam's Cafe and El Bravo are good for southwestern cuisine. Have fun.
Washington, DC: My wife and I would like to go to the Caribbean for a week in late January or early February with our daughter and with my parents. Our daughter is two years old, and we need to go somewhere that will accommodate her safely, but we also need somewhere my parents, who are both in their 70s, will be comfortable. My mother, in particular, doesn't get around easily. We'd prefer not to stay at a huge resort. Finally, we can't spend a fortune. Can you help with this, or do we have too many competing needs to make this trip feasible?
Andrea Sachs: With such a range of ages and requirements, I suggest you stay at a resort, so that you have all of the necessary amenities at your doorstep. But it does not have to be a massive monster of a place (that would be a big chain all-inclusive, like Sandals or Beaches.) You mainly want one on a beach, with a pool and a restaurant or two. I would suggest looking into hotels on Isla Verde in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which has a slew of full-service hotels of varying rates. From there, you can explore Old San Juan or venture farther into the country for additional wildlife and culture.
Austin, Tex.: I would like to go to Italy in the spring but I just don't know where to start with planning a trip. It seems really overwhelming trying to figure out where to go and what to do. We'll have about 2 weeks to visit which I know is not enough time to see everything. Where should I start and how do I decide what is the best way to spend the trip?
Joe Yonan: I'd start by going to a bookstore with a great selection of European travel books, and start browsing. See what calls to you. And then at least you'll have a path...
Shopping on Vacation: One reader asked about why people enjoy shopping on vacation, particularly at places like the Mall of America. From my experience, there are always places that are unexplored territory for people. Maybe a lot of people going to the Mall of America have never seen something quite like it. As for me, I love shopping while traveling. Our home is decorated with things from all of our travels, and I am reminded of those travels every time I look at the items we have.
Zofia Smardz: Thanks -- we are of like mind!
The names have been changed to protect the guilty: Flew home from Europe one evening last week, arrived dog-tired in an east-coast city where I had a confirmed hotel reservation to spend the night before flying home the next AM. Had made a reservation at a major-name chain's airport hotel, took their shuttle to the hotel, checked in and got my room key, went upstairs with my bags -- only to discover that even at 9 PM EST (which to my poor exhausted body felt like middle of the night European time) my room still had not been made up since the previous guest.
Returned to the check-in desk, was assigned another room, dragged myself back upstairs -- only to discover that THAT room had not been made up since the previous guest either.
Returned AGAIN to the check-in desk (trying my best to choke back tears of exhaustion and frustration), was assigned yet another room -- plus this time a staff-member to accompany me (what, did they think I was messing up their supposedly cleaned rooms?) -- but thank goodness at least this room was clean and very nice (in fact, worth far more than what I'd reserved online).
The only compensation I received for all my inconvenience under trying circumstances was a free-breakfast voucher, which turned out not to cover everything so still cost me a good $5 for extras (OJ, tea?) + sales tax.
A few days later I received a routine email survey from this hotel chain inquiring re my experience, and I spared no detail describing my ordeal. Really, I don't expect a fancy room, but is it so unreasonable to expect a made-up one in the evening when one has a confirmed reservation? I mean, it's not as though they didn't know I was coming.
What else should or could I have done that night?
Christopher Elliott: I think the breakfast voucher was reasonable, but it should have at least covered the cost of your breakfast.
I just solved a case where a property
for a guest. I cringe when I think about that one.
When a hotel refuses to offer you a clean room, then you've got trouble.
In your situation, I might have spoken with the front desk to ensure that the voucher would cover the promised meal.
Rockville, Md.: House-swapping is always a risk. My aunt and uncle used to do it -- once had people who promised no pets and brought their flea-ridden dog.
I've used SERVAS and hospitality club all over with world and have hosted a few times, too --I'm a single female traveler. Have had great experiences. What I love about hospitality club is that people write reviews of their stays, so I can see what has been written about a host. Most people are surprisingly honest. I've seen profiles that say "enjoy giving massages. Want female guests only." -- I mean, that's pretty up front! On the very pro side...one of my hosts and I became great friends -- he recently re-did my website for me. I've proofread things for him since English is not his first language. Another person and I went hiking for a long weekend in the Pyrenees - spontaneously. Just use common sense.
Zofia Smardz: Ooooh, fleas in the house. So hard to get rid of. Hate those flea bombs. . .
As to the hospitality clubs, very interesting. . . Thanks for passing this info along.
Boston: We have a friend in the Czech republic through May of next year, and are considering planning a trip to see him and the area. It's a pretty spur of the moment plan but there seems no reason not to go. Assuming we will go in April, what might we be looking per person for airfare? Potential stops would include Prague (certainly), and one or more of Vienna, Munich, and Budapest. Would we want a car (3+ people traveling) and what would probably be the best city(ies) for flying in and out? No problems here flying open jawed if it makes the most sense. What should we see that my guidebook might not tell me about?
Carol Sottili: I'd figure out which cities have nonstop service from Boston and go through those if possible (avoiding connections is always a good idea, especially if it doesn't cost all that much more). Go to www.bing.com/travel or www.kayak.com and figure out which airlines go where. April is a shoulder month - sale fare might be about $750 to Munich. You could either rent a car or take a train. Go to www.raileurope.com to see train schedules.
Denver: Hi, Crew. Planning a trip to New Zealand with a friend for next April--very excited to visit for the first time. Dates are somewhat flexible. As of last week fares were in the $1200 range. Is that good, and how far in advance should we buy? If I can fly for even less by breaking up my trip (DEN-SFO, SFO-AKL), is there any reason not to do that? Finally, is there anything I don't know but should about visiting NZ that time of year? Many thanks!
Carol Sottili: $1,200 sounds about right from Denver. Have you priced it out both ways. If you can wait until May, for example, I see a sale fare of $848 round-trip fare out of LAX, including all taxes, on Air New Zealand. But once you add the fare from Denver, could very well go up to $1,200.
Traveling with baby: We flew across country when my son was five months old. Everything went really well, and he slept the entire flight (both ways). I was afraid of encountering lots of grumpy people, but everyone was so nice and accommodating. I realize a transatlantic flight is much more involved, but I think you should go for it. Just make sure you're really organized. It will help.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the encouraging words. Every parent need 'em.
NYC Hotel: We scored a 3rd-night-free special at a 4-star luxury hotel that usually is around $450 a night. That brought the weekend down to $300 a night...not bad for NYC!
Joe Yonan: And you're being cagey about the exact NAME of said hotel because ...?
Germantown, Md.: Fort Walton Beach or Destin, Fla. panhandle.
Zofia Smardz: Okay, but why? The definition of hidden gem is that few know anything about it. . .
go go go go go! And take the kid!: Kids to Europe: 7 month old is the BEST time to take a kid on a long flight. Our 10 month old TWINS accompanied us on a flight from Dulles to the UK several years ago, and it was the BEST flight we have ever taken with them (and they are inveterate travelers). We sat in bulkhead seats and as soon as the flight took off, the flight attendants lowered shelves on the bulkhead, and we put our kids' carriers on the shelf, so to speak. The kids slept most of the way, and when they didn't we gave them a bottle and they sucked happily. It was a wonderful trip! (PS: our kids also went to Europe when they were 4 and ambulatory, and that flight was much more challenging. Definitely go for it!
Christopher Elliott: High fives to you and your kids!
While I've got you here, let me recommend a few sites.
My friend Eileen Ogintz has a great site called
Also, check out my colleague Kyle McCarthy, who has a site called
Studentuniverse: I can vouch for studentuniverse. When I was studying in London in 2007 I got a one-way Boston Logan to London Heathrow for $105 on Virgin. Oh how I miss that .edu email address!
Carol Sottili: Thanks for the input. An aside re: .edu addresses, some universities allow you to keep your .edu email forever, while others take it away. Funny - my son, who went to a state school in South Carolina, got to keep his, while my daughter, who went to a very costly private university in St. Louis, had to give hers up. Go figure.
Travel purse: I use the teardrop-shaped "healthy back bag" in black microfiber (found at LL Bean, Travelsmith, & lots of other places). The medium-sized one will hold a ton and has a lot of pockets. It's not exactly "chic" but in black it's pretty unobtrusive.
Joe Yonan: Unobtrusiveness can be chic.
Metro to BWI: For the earlier question--
I always say the BWI Express/B-30 Metrobus is a great way to take Metro to BWI Marshall Airport.
The B-30 Metrobus runs from the Greenbelt Metro station on the Green Line to BWI Marshall Airport. It's a quick, convenient, and affordable way to reach BWI Marshall Airport via the Metro system.
See this schedule (PDF)
Thank you for flying BWI Marshall Airport.
--Jonathan Dean/BWI Marshall Airport
Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the tips!
Great Gulf island moment:: My husband proposing to me in the mangrove overlook of the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge...
Zofia Smardz: Aww, sweet.
Travel to Finland/Scandinavia: Try SAS and IcelandAir. Then KLM. Finnair has some nice direct flights, cheap, but mostly seasonally in my experience.
Carol Sottili: Thanks.
Massachusetts: Hey Crew,
Have you heard anything current about travel courier programs/jobs? I read articles about this kind of work a few years ago and was wondering if these kind of positions have survived the recession and how to go about getting one.
Joe Yonan: My understanding is that these jobs are nowhere near as plentiful as they were 10 years ago, before UPS, Fed-Ex and others built up their own fleets. A piece on MSNBC.com a couple of years ago quotes Kelly Monaghan, who wrote a highly regarded book on the subject, as saying, "Because of changes in the air freight industry and worldwide concerns about airline security in the wake of 9/11, air courier travel is, effectively, a thing of the past. Yes, there are still places that advertise 'courier' flights, but the prices they are asking are seldom competitive with those offered by airfare consolidators or bucket shops."
Travel shopping: I always bring back tea towels. They are easy to pack and don't break. My mother collected fabric and always bought local fabric when travelling (after 40 years with the State Department, she had quite a collection).
Zofia Smardz: nice idea! I have a collection, too.
Durham, N.C.: I'm getting married next summer, and we're planning to go on a vacation close to home for a few days and then go on a honeymoon in the winter (February or March?). Can you recommend some places that would be good to go that time of year without breaking the bank? We are thinking maybe South America, but are quite flexible.
Nancy Trejos: Yes, I would head south because it will be warm. You might want to consider Central America. You can get decent fares to places like Costa Rica and Guatemala. Also think about Mexico. In South America, Colombia. You can get cheap flights to Cartagena). And your dollars will go far in Argentina.
Arlington, Va.: I want to go to Singapore for an event next September, but I'm not sure how much I need to budget for flights. Looking now, one-stop flights in late September are between $1200 and $1400. I've never bought a plane ticket this far in advance and have never been to Asia. While I know prices are always likely to rise and fall, what is a good ballpark?
Andrea Sachs: It's impossible to know which way airfares are going to go in a year's time, but flights to Singapore usually fall in the low $1,000 range.
Columbus, Ohio: My Florida Gem: Singer Island...about 15 minutes north of West Palm Beach. Stayed there in January 2007 at Marriott's Ocean Pointe Resort. Beautiful grounds, nightly entertainment poolside, boardwalk to white sand beach. Very laid back village adjacent with marina facing the inland waterway. Water taxis available to West Palm but I was just as happy to stay on Singer Island.
Becky Krystal: All these Florida stories are sounding real good right now as I look down at my nearly blue fingers in our freezing office...
Egypt-bound: Thanks for the great article yesterday! Love the recommendations, especially the a la carte tours. Do you think someone who doesn't speak Arabic and make some arrangements on my own? I'm an independent traveler, but so far the places I've contacted only speak Arabic. Also, any ideas for authentic, responsible Bedoiun camps in Sinai? I've done lots of searching -- several use blogs or email as the only contact and do not respond. Really want to help the communities and be eco-responsible. Thanks!
washingtonpost.com: How to pull off a $2,400 pyramid scheme (Post, Nov. 8)
Carol Sottili: Glad you enjoyed it. The companies I mentioned in the article all offer English-speaking tours. For short tours, Viator.com is a good bet. They're typically more expensive than local offerings, but you will get a guide who speaks English. As for your second question, anyone know the answer? If someone does, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pass it along next week.
Re: Mexico City: I've been to Mexico City twice this year--for vacation and work--and didn't find any troubles at all. And I even bucked the wisdom and hailed a cab on the street. As long as you stay in central Mexico City where most of the tourist hotels are, you'll be fine. I felt very safe on the streets, even in the evening as long as you followed the same precautions you'd take in any city of 17M people.
Joe Yonan: Glad to hear it.
Zofia Smardz: Thanks, everybody, for all your comments and questions today -- and apologies for that little Web hiccup in the middle of the chat (not our doing, I swear!. Hope that doesn't happen too often. We're signing off for this week, and the chatter who wrote in about the Florida restaurant where you made your own pancakes gets the prize. Send me your info (email@example.com) and we'll ship it off. Until next week then, happy trails!
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