The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, November 16, 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. 16 at 2 p.m.
Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.
Andrea Sachs: Welcome Travelers.
We are 11 days away from the biggest travel weekend of the year (the Wednesday before Turkey Day)so we are dying to know: How many of you have booked your plans already? How were those holiday fares? In my case, I am paying twice as much as normal to fly 55 minutes north. Ouch. Share with us your turkey tales and the one who suffered the most wins a prize. (No need to thank us; we feel for you.)
Also, send us your travel questions, holiday related or not.
DC: Posting early since I'll be in a meeting:
We are looking at taking a 3-4 day cruise out of California next spring for a family reunion, hopefully one that will be affordable for a large number of people. Any suggestions for good resources?
Andrea Sachs: You are in luck, because short cruises are quiet affordable these days. You have a host of departure ports to choose from: Los Angeles, San Fran, Long Beach, San Diego. It all depends on which ports you want visit, though with only a few days, you most likely will head south to Baja California or the Mexican Riviera. For example, Carnival has a four-nighter that departs from Long Beach and visits Catalina Island and Ensenada; inside cabins are less than $200. If you have a large family, also inquire about group rates.
I would start with a main cruise outfitter, such as Cruise.com or Cruise411, which can tell you about the different lines and itineraries. Locally, I rely on Pete Peterson at Cruise Planners (www.storybookcruises.com).
Washington, DC: We're driving to Ohio for the holidays, and are looking for some good food (non-chain) or possibly a place to overnight. Any suggestions? We take 270-70-68-79-70 right on through, but don't mind a little detour if it breaks up the trip well. Oh yeah, we have two young children and a dog with us.
Joe Yonan: Have you looked at RoadFood.com? It's a beautiful compendium of just that, by the kind and queen of the subject: Jane and Michael Stern. Anyway, once you register (free!), you have access to this cool feature that grafts restaurant recommendations onto maps -- and even can interface with your GPS...
As for a place to overnight, how bout Pittsburgh? That's a teensy bit of a detour, but not much. You should get a
sandwich. We had other ideas for places to stay and eat and what else to do in a recent
Washington, DC: I am looking for advice for a weekend getaway for a group of girlfriends in January. We are looking for a pretty, wintery place to stay in a cabin/lodge. Half of us would be coming from NYC and half from DC so somewhere easily accessible for both would be great (the DCers have a car but the NYCers don't). Also we're in our twenties so looking for something cheap! Thanks!!
Becky Krystal: Are your New York friends amenable to popping down on the train to meet you here? If so, I'd say you could then venture out to the Shenandoah Valley, which is probably a bit more reasonable than other areas in peak winter season. Have a look at some places here.
Reston, Va.: Hi
Re: Your vacation in lights... I actually have several I could submit to you.
Is there a word limit, and how many years back could one go? If I were to submit say, ten to you all at once, do you save them for possible use in later months or ONLY in the month you receive it? (I.e. should I only submit one per month in the hopes that you'd eventually like one of mine?).
I take a lot of photos and have them on my own blog, do you also post the blog online if it's provided (especially if said blog post expanded on the story of the trip)?
washingtonpost.com: Your Vacation in Lights
Andrea Sachs: We would love your submission to our monthly feature. We suggest sending the most recent trip(s), since so many places close, change, etc. We try to vary the authors through the year, so pick your favorite with the strongest photos and anecdotes. Eyeball past Vacation in Lights for length and style.
Arlington, Va.: Looking to take my wife to New Mexico for her first taste of the Southwest (she's a recent arrival from Eastern Europe). Any recommendations for a 5-6 day trip that will focus on outdoor adventures and grand vistas?
Becky Krystal: Any recommendations, chatters? If you're not totally set on New Mexico, you might want to consider Arizona, featured in this week's Going Our Way.
BWI on Thanksgiving: We are flying to New England out of BWI on Thanksgiving morning, coming from Arlington. Other than driving and parking our car at the airport, what other options do we have that are either more economical and/or less hassle?
Andrea Sachs: You can try SuperShuttle, or I usually take the MARC train. However, it does not have service on holidays and weekends, but you can still take Amtrak, then catch a shuttle to the airport. Fares that day start at $12 from Union Station.
Midwest: My boyfriend and I are thinking about going to San Francisco the week before Christmas. We have not been there before and don't have much knowledge about the city. We like shopping, parks, short hikes, good food. We aren't opposed to touristy things. Should we stay in Union Square or the Wharf? Any ideas on not-miss activities if we only have a few days?
Becky Krystal: I had the same dilemma last year at the exact same week. Not enough time! It was my first trip there too, and if you're OK with being touristy, you really have to take a boat ride under the Golden Gate bridge and hop on the trolley. And just make time to walk -- a lot. As far as food, lucky you. Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema recently filed a Postcard from the fair city.
Becky Krystal: The where to stay question probably depends on what kind of experience you're looking for. Sticking with the touristy theme, you can't go wrong with Fisherman's Wharf, which puts you within spitting distance of Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, the bay cruises and the infamously crooked Lombard Street. Union Square probably has a more slickly urban feel. But keep in mind that it won't be hard to get between the two if you're torn.
Lansing, Mich.: I have a question about year-end planning regarding frequent flier status.
So, in my case, having added up the expected miles from my remaining trips this year, it appears I'm going to be between 1,000 and 2,000 miles short of Platinum Medallion status with Delta.
And my question is whether it is worth trying to get those extra miles (and, let's assume I do it creatively with a fun weekend in some town for which Delta's got a sale going in December).
Reading the Skymiles program rules, it appears the difference in benefits between Platinum and Gold is small. Also, in off years, the programs often waive folks into the higher level if they come up just short, as I would.
So, what's the right strategy here?
You'll find one answer there.
My answer is somewhat different. I think frequent flier miles are something of a racket, and am on record as saying that loyalty programs do more to help the bottom line of the company than the customer.
I mean, you're talking about doing a mileage run -- making a trip to nowhere just to get elite status. What's more, you'll be giving Delta a lot of business next year in order to requalify for Platinum status ... even when there's a cheaper flight or more direct route.
I'll get off my soapbox now.
Boston Bound!!!: Headed to Boston for one special night five days before Christmas. We've only ever stayed downtown (Copley Square, Back Bay, near the Garden, etc.)
This time, we need a clean, affordable, safe hotel near Fenway Park. The area looks pretty industrial & I'm not familiar with it at all.
Can you recommend some good options? Thanks!
Joe Yonan: The Fenway neighborhood actually has some nice residential areas. How close to Fenway Park do you need to be? Did you know that it's actually only a 20-minute walk from, say, the Charlesmark Hotel in the Back Bay, which I've recommended before (and do again)? It has rooms starting at $119 on Dec. 20. Boston is pretty compact, and the Fenway neighborhood is right in the midst of things.
If you want something even closer, you might check out the
, right there in Kenmore Square -- just up the street from the park. It has rooms starting at $179 on Dec. 20.
T- day travel: When I lived in DC I experienced the annual DC to Philly bumper-to-bumper pre-Thanksgiving I-95 drive. And it was awful. Now that I live back in PA, my Thanksgiving Day commute is literally one mile. It's one of the perks of living near your family!
Andrea Sachs: One mile! You could saddle up a turkey and drive it to dinner.
Waynesboro, Va.: My husband and I would like to come to D.C. for a couple of days during the holidays, Dec. 23-24-25-26, sometime in any of those days. Could you give us some suggestions for where to look for good hotel deals and theater performances,( not necessarily Xmas related) Have seen the Nutckracker too many times. Thank you.
Joe Yonan: For hotel deals, beyond the usual (Hotels.com, hotwire.com, Priceline.com), have you checked out the new W? It's going gangbusters, I hear. There are some end-of-the-year specials going on there, too. I'd also keep an eye on the Kimpton properties -- the Palomar in Dupont Circle is charging $190 on Dec. 23, which is a good price for such a central location.
For theater performances, nothing could be further from the Nutcracker than
don't you think? It's at the Kennedy Center during that time. You could also browse through our own
to see if anything else appeals.
Security Line, DCA: This is more of an observation question. This past week-end was the first time that I had flown since the airlines started asking for middle names. When I made the flight reservations several weeks ago, I included my middle name and birthdate, etc. but I noticed that when I checked in online on Thursday night for my flight on Friday, that my middle name was truncated on my boarding pass. Now, my understanding is that the name on your boarding pass is supposed to match your identification. Well, I have a long last name but not a super long and fairly common. I realize that the name is right in the airline computer but the TSA agent looking at my boarding pass doesn't see that. Am I just destined to forever be lastname/firstnamemid?
Christopher Elliott: Ah, the joys of Secure Flight!
The good news is that you'll be able to get through the security screening. TSA personnel know that this new rule (look for more on that in a future Navigator column) is a work in progress. They'll let you through the checkpoint even with a truncated middle name.
The bad news is that airline reservations systems, some of which are still based on old mainframe-based computer systems, can't all handle your middle name. So you may be stuck with a truncated middle name for a while.
I feel your pain. I have a few boarding passes with the first name "Christophe" -- minus the "r."
Reston, Va.: Are there any particularly good websites that you search for travel packages? It's hard to tell which ones have good deals and also which ones are reputable!
Andrea Sachs: I am a fan of Travelzoo and SmarterTravel. Budget Travel's magazine also has a slew of deals online. You can always double-check a company's reputation with the Better Business Bureau or ask for names of past customers.
Arlington, Va.: I'll be visiting Atlanta for New Year's Eve. What do folks in that city to celebrate the New Year, especially if they're a visitor and have no tickets for NY eve parties?
Becky Krystal: Watch the Peach Drop!
Chicago: As a frequent traveler I enjoyed the security screening process that was enabled by having a frequent business-traveler lane (CLEAR). I dread the thought of the next two months of travel where business people get mixed with infrequent travelers. Is there not a way the airlines and TSA can come to some agreement on separating the masses to support businesses in speeding up the security process? I have waited for 15 - 30 minutes at O'Hare and SFO in recent weeks even though I have the highest level status with both United and American.
Christopher Elliott: They already do.
TSA has self-select lanes at more than 50 airports.
If you're a skier, you'll recognize the designations (black diamond for "experts" and blue squares for occasional travelers).
It's not the same as CLEAR, but technically, it should be separating frequent travelers like you from the rest. Around the holidays, however, it can become a free-for-all.
My best advice is to get to the airport early and to pray for a return of CLEAR at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Philadelphia: In Manhattan Dec. 16th for a day trip with girlfriends (4 of us). I'm looking for some kind of tour or activity that will give us a focus, rather than us just walking around (although the city is beautiful at this time of year, this is a group that needs to be told what to do, where to go......). Any clever ideas?
Becky Krystal: Four girls in Manhattan? This screams "Sex and the City" tour to me, if you're fans of the show. Can't say I've been on one, but check out some more information here.
Courthouse, Va.: Hi Flight Crew,
My mom and I want to go to NYC for a long weekend. Ideally, we'd like to go between Christmas and New Years, but we can be flexible. Is there any time when rates would be particularly reasonable? We'd like to stay at a relatively nice place at a central location.
I noticed that Kimpton hotels are offering a 20% discount if you take Amtrak: http://perks4seniors.blogspot.com/2009/11/kimpton-hotels-20-discount.html. (This is a really cool blog that posts some great travel-related deals. It's geared towards those 50+, but most of the deals can be used by anyone.) Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: That time period is one of the most expensive of the year. Everyone and their mother (oops, that's you!) wants to go for the holidays. Check the tourism office's Web site for deals at www.nycgo.com. Also, use those discounts: AAA, AARP, etc. I know you want to stay central, but hotels across the river in Jersey are less but have easy access to the city (via train or ferry). The W just opened a property in Hoboken. Also look in Jersey City.
Longtime Pittsburgher: I know whereof I speak: Those famous Primanti Brothers sandwiches are a culinary abomination. French fries and cole slaw actually IN the sandwich? The fries get cold and soggy, the slaw gets warm -- revolting! There are plenty of decent places to eat in and around the "Burgh," but Primanti's is definitely NOT one of them.
Joe Yonan: Plenty of people would disagree with you on this one, including food writer Scott Reitz, who loved his Primanti sandwich so much he wrote about how to make your own. But of course it's not the only thing in the Burgh, which is why we mentioned so many other places in that piece I linked to.
re: thanksgiving travel at YYZ: I was flying back to the US on the Sunday after thanksgiving, so really, I shouldn't have been surprised or horrified or petrified about the tribulations Toronto presented me. I had an hour to get through US immigration and grab my next flight--I sprinted quicker than a mountie chasing a moose-poacher toward immigration but I was stymied by the masses of people in a disjointed blob near some duty-free shops. After some investigating, though, I learned that they weren't just idle groups of people. They were all in a rough queue. For immigration. Probably a quarter-mile from where the actual immigration control was located. So I waited in this line for more than eight hours before I was able to present my passport and continue on my way. Needless to say, just about every flight to the US was delayed, including mine. But, sitting in my seat 9 hours after it was originally due to leave, I was thankful for one thing: another thing to blame on Canada.
Andrea Sachs: Ugh. No thanks, Canada!
Thanksgiving Travel!: I'm leaving to Beijing & Shanghai during Thanksgiving week. I'm a solo traveler and got an excellent deal and I don't mind changing Turkey for Beijing Roast Duck!
Andrea Sachs: You are one lucky, er, duck.
Not going home for Thanksgiving: I hate to have to type this, but this year I'm not going home (Boston) for Thanksgiving because of the prices and difficulty of finding adequate transportation. I can usually scrounge a round-trip ticket out of Reagan for under $150 but couldn't find anything out of Dulles or BWI for less than $289 (don't ask about non-stop out of DCA). The worst was thinking maybe the train was an option and seeing that the Saturday and Sunday trains from Boston to DC were booked except for $230 one-way fares on Acela. My girlfriend and I just decided we would spend the holiday here and go up to Boston some time in January. We're going to see her folks for Christmas in San Francisco and only paid $310 for round-trip tickets. Why is it almost cheaper to go to CA than Boston from here? I'm still upset, but thanks for letting me rant. Turkey-in-a-can is good, right?
Andrea Sachs: We completely empathize and don't understand either why some routes are cheaper than others (an economic prof would talk about supply and demand). But you will have a lovely dinner for two, and turkey in a can is divine if you chase it with some whiskey.
Omaha, Neb.: Celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary in late March. Prefer warm temperatures, but not sure any place in Europe is warm enough at that time. Any suggestions for a warm weather destination for a week to 10 days?
Joe Yonan: How 'bout Buenos Aires?
Washington, DC: To Waynesboro and anyone else thinking of Washington at the holidays, I say COME ON DOWN! (Or up, as it were.) This town CLEARS OUT come holiday season and you can easily get reservations at restaurants, seats at performances, etc...
We rarely have bad weather at that time of year and while it may be a bit nippy out, it should still be nice for sightseeing.
Come visit, enjoy crowd-free sightseeing, and have a great time!
Becky Krystal: Do you happen to work for the tourism office?
City of Fairfax, Va.: (Submitted in advance) Driving to West Point on a Sat. in early Dec., and back on Mon. One passenger will not travel along I-95. We'll be leaving from Northern Virginia or Baltimore. Any suggestions for a drive up that avoids I95? (My suggestion was a Valium, but my older sisters never listen to me.) (No, we don't want to fly to take the train.)
Joe Yonan: Wow, that's a tough one. Hmm. How bout a cruise?
OK, seriously: How bout something like 83 North to Harriburg, then smaller roads northeast to Allentown, then picking up 78 to 287, to 87, to 6? Chatters, please help me out here: I don't have a car, but do drive my Zip from time to time, but I usually am looking for the most direct way, not the avoid-95 way...
Columbia Heights, DC: My friend and I found $244 flights round-trip from NY to Lima in May. We had to book them at the price, but now we're trying to figure out what to do. We have 7 full days there, with one on either end for travel. Is that enough time to travel to Cusco and hike the Inca Trail? Does anyone have any other suggestions for how we should best use our time? Thanks so much for any help you can give us!
Becky Krystal: Take a look at this story Andrea wrote last year about a couple heading to Peru. They had a little more time, but I bet you can tweak the itinerary to work in a week.
Germantown, Md.: Hi Travel Crew! Last week someone wrote in wondering about Great Wolf Lodge. We've been to their Williamsburg lodge several times, and trust me, no 7 y.o. will be bored, even if he's not much of a swimmer. Most of their slides and pools are not deep, and parents can always use one of the life vests there if they are worried. GWL-W has the MagicQuest game, too (will cost about $25) that kids will enjoy - running all over the hallways trying to earn their runes. Some other tips I can offer: Be aware that their buffets are expensive - but there is a super Walmart and a Sonic right by it. Rooms have fridges and microwaves, so take your own breakfast foods, snacks, even lunch items if you want to save (I bought a $10 toaster and took it with us). They serve Pepsi products, so pick up some 20oz bottles of Aquafina or Pepsi on your way there and you can take them into the pool area without anyone noticing (I know, bad guest!). There is an arcade, and a video-game room, too. If you use Facebook, become a fan and you will get discount codes sent to you periodically. You can begin using the waterpark as early as 1pm the day of check-in (they have a changing/locker room for use), and can pretty much stay at it all day on the day you check out. Oh, and if you book one night but really want two and can gamble a little - on checkout morning, you may get an offer to stay that night for a reduced rate if there are rooms available. Happened last two times we went there. Hope this helps anyone planning a trip there. We love the place and can't wait to go back next spring.
Becky Krystal: A few pointers in case last week's chatter inquiring about Great Wolf Lodge is joining us again.
Lost ID: Flew to NYC for a fun weekend getaway and had a brief panic when I noticed at dinner that my wallet was not in my purse. Ends up I had left it in the hotel, but it raised the question: if I had lost my ID, what should have been my steps for getting through TSA? Overseas my first stop would be the US Embassy. Domestically, I was thinking I should file a police report and then take it to the airport to have a face-to-face chat with someone high up in the TSA food chain. Do you know more about what the protocol is?
Andrea Sachs: Excellent idea. Contact the cops to get a police report but also contact your airline. They are pros in these situations, as you would not be the first to have your ID stolen or lost before a flight. Also, think about making a copy of your ID as a back-up. Any proof is helpful.
O'Hare: Hey Flight Crew! I need your opinion/advice. I'm flying into O'Hare the Wednesday before Thanksgiving- flight lands at 6:53. My husband flies in with our 7- month-old son at 7:50. I'd like to be able to meet him at his gate, but am worried about my luggage. I will be checking one piece of luggage - do you think it'll be fine on the carousel for that hour? Should I mention anything to the airline? (US Airways. He's flying United)
Christopher Elliott: If you're worried someone might walk off with your suitcase, you should be. You probably heard about the luggage theft arrests in Phoenix earlier this month (I blogged about the case and who's responsible for the losses) and understandably, you don't want to become another statistic.
Don't let your luggage out of your sight. If possible, don't check any bags. Not only will you save money (unless you're flying on JetBlue or Southwest) but you could also prevent your personal belongings from being stolen. Or getting "misplaced" as the airline industry likes to euphemistically put it.
To quote my colleague Peter Greenberg, there are two kinds of bags: carry-on and lost.
Herndon, Va.: I'm sure you've answered this before, but this winter will be the first that we'll be taking our family (12 year old, 8 year old, and 6 year old) skiing/snowboarding ... what are the best family ski resorts in the area?
Becky Krystal: How fun! We're currently in the thick of preparing for our Nov. 29 ski issue, but for now, you can check out our map from last year. Based on that round-up, you might want to take the kids to Pennsylvania's Liberty Mountain, Canaan Valley in West Virginia or Massanutten in Harrisonburg, Va.
Auburn, Ind.: Why were the only "Gulf Islands" thought to be worth mentioning those at and near Siesta Key? What about the "10,000 Islands", including Marco Island, several hours to the south? If you were limiting geographical scope, the headline should have so stated.
Andrea Sachs: For the sake of space and time, we had to stop our island hop at a certain point, or else we'd be hopping all the way to Cuba. According to the area's tourism office, the Gulf Islands incorporate that chain of islands. We tried to go as north and south of Siesta as we could, envisioning a traveler who had only a week to explore. But we will definitely keep Marco Island and the other specks of land in mind for future pieces.
Native Bay Arean in exile: One of my favorite holiday season childhood memories of San Francisco was the multi-story decorated tree in the rotunda of the City of Paris department store across from Union Square (southeast corner of Geary and Stockton Streets). Nowadays the store's a Neiman-Marcus, but I understand they've maintained the tree tradition -- well worth seeing.
Becky Krystal: For the couple considering San Francisco.
Brookeville, Md.: My husband and I are planning our first visit to Europe next year for our 15th anniversary. We plan to be there about 8 days and would like to go to 2 cities, with one of them being Rome. I know this is highly subjective, but would you suggest Paris and Rome, or Venice and Rome? We will be there the week before Easter, if that makes a difference (especially with respect to crowds and prices in Italy). Thanks for your thoughts!
Joe Yonan: As much as I love Paris, I'd keep it easier and do Venice and Rome. For one thing, you can take the train from one to the other. (Although, now that I think of it, you can also do that between Rome and Paris, on a sleeper train, which might be kind of fun.) But Venice is quite possibly the most romantic place I've ever seen, so there's that. Although Paris is no slouch in the romance department.
OK, this is hard. I still think I'd say Venice and Rome, just to do an all-Italy trip. Save Paris for another time -- you could do a week in Paris and then a weekend in the Loire Valley.
Durham, N.C.: We want to travel from Durham, NC to Eugene, OR next summer to celebrate our daughter's graduation from high school. She has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair for mobility as she can not walk. We're concerned about identifying airlines and specific flight routes that provide wheelchair accessible bathrooms on the plane. An in-flight wheelchair is fine to get her to her seat and to the bathroom, but the standard airplane bathroom is impossible for her to use as she can not step into the space and turn to sit without assistance and there is no room for one of us to do that without leaving the door wide open for all to see her. Can you help?
Christopher Elliott: When you book your flight, pay close attention to the type of aircraft. You'll want to stay away from smaller, single-aisle planes, or regional jets.
Normally, these planes are used between smaller and medium-size airports, although increasingly, airlines are using RJs on some more heavily-trafficked routes.
Lancaster, Pa.: Re: New Mexico
If you can wait until summer, go to Santa Fe for Indian Market (third weekend in August). The weekend event has grown to include gallery openings and more in the days leading up to it.
The jewelry and art is stunning. Fly into Albuquerque, drive up the Turquoise Trail (stop in Madrid), do Santa Fe for a couple days and continue heading North to Taos, where you can visit Taos Pueblo, which is a World Heritage site.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the great NM suggestions.
To Omaha for Anniversary Trip: Buenos Aires is a wonderful idea! Better yet, this is what we did - 3 days in BA, fly to Iguazu Falls for 2 days, onto Rio for 3 days. What a wonderful trip!! AND THE FOOD!!!
Becky Krystal: That's a ringing endorsement if I ever saw one.
Columbia, Md.: My husband and I usually take a post-Christmas Christmassy feeling trip, leaving around the 26th and coming back Jan 1. We've done short once city Europe trips (Prague, etc.), but this year we have a then 5 month old. With H1N1, we're scared to get on a plane. The kid has already been to the beach, to Seattle, and actually does pretty well being carried around, looking at things, and falling asleep in restaurants.
Any suggestions for Christmassy feeling trips within driving distance with an infant? The obvious answer is New York City, but since 50% of our family lives there, and we will have just seen them for the holiday, we would like to avoid it.
We did go to Williamsburg one year after Christmas, and that was fairly fun, but it might be too outdoorsy for an infant.
Becky Krystal: How about charming Bethlehem, Pa.?
Cruisin'??: I like the idea of a cruise - Bahamas, Europe - but don't like the boozing and partying. Are there cruises for those who don't want to drink and party non-stop??
Andrea Sachs: Not all cruises are boozers. You need to find a cruise line that has more sophisticated bent, such as Costa, Cunard and Holland America. You also better off with smaller ships. And stay away from Carnival.
San Francisco tips: No trip under he Golden Gate Bridge for me, due to potentially rough seas, but I've quite enjoyed taking the ferry between SF and Sausalito or Oakland. Great views of SF from both, and on the ferry back from Sausalito, we passed close by Alcatraz at night. Eerily quiet. I'd like to take the nighttime tour of Alcatraz sometime. Lots of historic buildings, museums, restaurants and hotels in SF. Good idea to read up on it in advance. And, if the poster has the time, a day trips to Muir Woods would add a bit of nature and tranquility.
Becky Krystal: All good tips. I really enjoyed Muir Woods too. Awesome banana slugs!
Thanksgiving travel at YYZ: Sorry, I don't get it. Blame Canada? For US Immigration lines? They are run by the US government...
Andrea Sachs: Good point! They are just hosting us. Canada is reinvited to our dinner table.
Mileage Run Defender: I'm just back from spending the weekend on an overnight trip to Seattle -- the airplane ticket cost $89 each way (plus taxes), and I spent $45 to stay in a cheap motel near Sea/Tac.
For that approximately $250 total, I'll obtain Executive Platinum status in American Airlines' AAdvantage program. Which means a free upgrade to any available first class seats on all my domestic flights with them from now until the end of February, 2011. And eight system-wide upgrades that will convert cheapo coach fare purchases into business class tickets when flying internationally.
"You mileage may vary," as the (appropriate for this discussion) saying goes, but it sure seemed like a worthwhile expenditure of time and money to me.
Andrea Sachs: You are the ultimate Smart Traveler.
Washington, DC: My parents are looking for a program in Italy where they can take cooking classes--anywhere from 3 days to a week. (They live in Europe, so jet-lag isn't a factor for the short courses.) Any recommended programs? Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: Start with Shaw Guides (www.shawguides.com). The site lists a slew of programs. Another good source is www.foodvacation.com.
Headed to Peru: I don't think the traveler has nearly enough time to do the Inca Trail (requires a lot of planning, and there are times the trail is closed), but flying to Cuzco, and taking the train to MP, should be doable, though not cheap. With such a small amount of time, they could either do MP as a day trip, or, if they can afford it, stay overnight in the hotel next to the ruins. Getting to MP from Lima could be expensive, however.
Becky Krystal: See, I knew someone would have something more enlightened to say than I did.
Takoma Park, Md.: My husband and I are headed to Paris and Madrid next week for business/vacation. I haven't been able to find much information about traveling in Europe in November. Everything seems to focus on the high tourist season and then Christmas. Are there any special sights or events we shouldn't miss at this time of year?
Andrea Sachs: Check each city's tourism site. They should have listings of special events.
D.C.: I am thinking of taking a long weekend to escape the cold weather over the New Years (4-5 days). I do not want to spend the entire time in the airport. Any suggestions?
Joe Yonan: Cold weather? What cold weather? I guess it's coming, but today it seems that people would want to escape TO our neck of the woods, not from it, but I suppose that won't last.
Anyway, to your question: Fares are pretty pricey right around those dates -- say, 12/30-1/4 -- but I'm seeing less-than-as-awful-as-it-might-be fares to Fort Lauderdale ($383 on US Air), which means you could tool around Miami for a few days and soak up the sun.
For Fenway: When we make our annual pilgrimage north for Sox games, we stay at the Newbury Guest House. It's probably a fifteen-minute walk, or five-minute T ride, from the Park, and Newbury Street is a destination in its own right...
Joe Yonan: Yes, people love NGH. It's just a couple blocks from the Charlesmark.
Rockvlle, Md.: Any favorite hotels in Paris?
Andrea Sachs: Gosh, I am ashamed to give you the name of a hostel. So, any chatsters have a fave Paris hotel?
Springfield, Mass.: Hello. This question may be a little outside the scope of the chat but I'm hoping you will know the answer. We travel several times a year to NYC and often spend the night. When looking for the best hotel room rates on a hotel's website, the lowest rate available is often not even an option. Most often this happens on the Hilton site, a quote of say $239 for your travel date at the Waldorf. So, you think that's a great rate and you click on it to book it and then you get a rate quote of $350 for the same date. I have called Hilton customer service before, asked about the rate, they tell me it's an error on the website but give me the rate. The customer service people tell me the problem will be fixed right away. We are planning to book a room for February and the website does the same thing - shows a rate for the date requested and then if you click on the rate it is not available. Is there a travel group that regulates hotels and keeps them from sucking you in that way? Thanks for taking the question.
Andrea Sachs: It sounds like a Web snafu. Perhaps they are not inputting or updating the prices correctly? If you are finding this on other hotel sites, however, we might have a good investigative piece on our hands.
Mt. Pleasant, Mich.: You can't go wrong at the Meurice in Paris.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks. Mt. P.
Mt. Pleasant, Mich.: More about Santa Fe. It is truly a wonderful city to visit. We went in July and had the time of our lives visiting the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, various historical museums, many art galleries, and the magnificent Santa Fe Opera. Other travelers we spoke to had visited in the fall and winter and spoke of how beautiful the city is at those times. There is also a central plaza where one can hear free music nearly every week night in the summer. It is about 30 miles to Bandilier National Monument.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks much!
Atlanta: Thanksgiving memories:
Was just reminiscing to my husband about the semester I spent in France. Of course, we had classes scheduled for thanksgiving day. We the students were asked if we wanted our classes to be canceled (to be taken another day) and after about 3 mins of discussion pretty much unanimously agreed that we'd have classes. it was strange, but fine. We all went out to dinner and had a fabulous thanksgiving/french dinner.
Andrea Sachs: Are your parents reading this?
European Easter: For the 15th anniversary folks--I found it a huge surprise that tourist attractions closed for Good Friday through Easter Monday in Northern Europe. Don't know if this is the same in Italy, but worth checking. To go so far for a limited time and have fewer days than expected to see the sights because of culturally defined closings would be hard.
Joe Yonan: Yes, good point.
YYZ: If the person who dealt with the ridiculously long U.S. customs line was in the old Terminal 2, I completely understand. Now U.S. customs is part of a renovated Terminal 1 (yay!). The biggest issue I've had since the renovation is the long wait for Air Canada to get my bag on the carousel so I can go through customs and hand it right back to them. Trudeau Airport in Montreal is much better.
Andrea Sachs: Wow, do you live in the airport?
Arlington, Va.: re: hotels near Fenway Park
There just aren't many. Your best bet if you want to get a little further away from the Back Bay, South End, Beacon Hill, etc. but not going in the directions of the Financial District, Waterfront or North End would be to find a place in Brookline. There's a Holiday Inn near the St. Paul St. stop on the T Green Line C Line (Beacon St.) that's a short walk from Coolidge Corner, which has a great brunch and lunch option in Zaftig's Delicatessen, along with a bunch of other stuff (I used to live in that neighborhood).
Joe Yonan: I love Coolidge Corner, and know that Holiday Inn well. Indeed, it's right near Fenway park. Not exactly much style or personality to it, though.
Turkey travails: Awful holiday travel: I'm here in DC and most of my family is about 10 hours away, in South Carolina. Now, I hate- and I mean HATE- highway driving. Panic attacks, the whole nine yards. But I agreed to come home the year after college (when I was broke and waiting tables) to please the fam. Booked a ticket, then my dogsitter fell through and I had no one to take the puppy. Had to absorb the lost $$$ of the air ticket ($300) and make the drive with the dog. I-95 on the Wednesday before meant that 10 hours turned into almost 16... I have never been more panicked and frustrated, ever. And then I got to turn around a day and a half later and do it all over again!
Becky Krystal: I feel your pain. I can testify to the nightmare that is I-95 at holiday time.
Cape Town bound: Do you know if there are luggage trolleys available for passengers changing terminals at JFK? I've tried their website but can't get a straight answer. I will be changing terminals and will, unfortunately, have large, bulky luggage. Thanks.
Joe Yonan: There's gotta be Smart Cartes, right? They're everywhere.
Arlington, Va.: I am looking for ideas for an Alaskan cruise to appease myself (28 yrs old) and my grandmother (73 yrs young). She has always wanted to go on one, as have I, and our husband's couldn't be less interested.
I'm thinking August 2010, b.c that's when I can get off of work. She and I are very close, so I'm less concerned about sharing a small room and more concerned that there will be enough for her to do during the day and me to do at night after she turns in. She has had a rough year, playing care giver to my great-grandmother who passed away at age 101. We've both cruised before (with our spouses), but I think a "girls trip" is just what she needs. Also, what are our chances on seeing whales at that time of year?
Thanks for any help you can offer!
Andrea Sachs: What a lovely idea. I think you can find a ship that meets both of your needs, especially since there are so many land excursion options for Alaska and on-ship activities. I would recommend working with a cruise specialist who can match you and grandma with the perfect ship. You can find a good travel agent through ASTA. Or as I wrote earlier, I work with Peter Peterson of Cruise Planners. As for whales, many types summer in Alaska, so you should catch some blowholes in August.
5A vs. Washington Flyer: I head to Dulles for a 10:30 flight next Monday. Thoughts on the bus options?
Andrea Sachs: I am a fan of the bus: It's cheap and stress-free. Just be sure you are the correct pick-up stop (that's from personal experience).
Arlington, Va.: re: great hotel in Paris
Hotel St. Anne in the 1st arrondisement. Smaller boutique hotel, very friendly and helpful front desk staff, centrally-located, reasonably priced.
Andrea Sachs: Merci.
Just back from the Azores: Took a week's vacation in Portugal's Azores islands following a conference there recently. Was pleased to discover how pleasant the weather still was in late October/early November -- yes, some rain a couple of days, which were a good time to go to museums, libraries, etc., but the other days were lovely (think of San Francisco), with high temperatures in the mid-60s to low-70s. Practically no tourists now (only met a few Finns and Germans), and accommodations have deep off-season discounts. A shame that more folks don't take advantage of the opportunity.
Joe Yonan: Nice!
Alexandria, Va.: Carnival still has some booze cruises, but once you get into the 4+ star ships like the Carnival Spirit, they're nice and compare to lines like Princess and Celebrity. We had a great cruise with them on an 8-day out of San Diego to Mexico.
Joe Yonan: Cheers!
Paris hotels: Two faves:
Hotel des Grands Hommes (next to the Pantheon) and Agora St. Germain which is down the hill from the Pantheon and a block west. The Agora is cheaper with smaller rooms but newly refurbished.
Becky Krystal: Merci!
Herndon, Va.: Good afternoon!
I have a question about cruises. My family are trying to take an eastern Mediterranean cruise next year. Two cruise lines offer basically the same cruise, RCL and NCL. I have heard good things about RCL, however NCL is significantly cheaper (S200 pp)than RCL. Can you provide some recommendations.
Andrea Sachs: For insights on both ships, check out Cruise Critic.com.
I have been on both but, for the life of me, can't remember the contrasts. Any Websters have a good comparison?
For Family Ski-Tripper: If this is the first time skiing for your kids (or if they've only been a couple of times), I highly recommend Liberty Mountain, which has one of the best (and most affordable) kids' instruction programs in the Eastern US. All three of our daughters have gone through it, and it's amazing how much they learn and can do in just a few hours!
Separately -- I don't care who is running the immigration lines at the Toronto airport. After my own experiences there, I refuse to ever fly to or through that city again. Worst airport experiences ever.
Becky Krystal: Good to know about Liberty.
re: YYZ: (I'm the original poster). The knowledgeable commenter is correct--it was the old terminal 2. The new layout is much better. Which shows that at least part of the reason for the miserable lines before was the layout of terminal 2. Which was designed by Canadians. Which means that, indeed, Canada is partly to blame for my eight-hour line. QED.
Andrea Sachs: A-ha. And back to blaming Canada.
Arlington, Va.: We have stayed several times at the Hotel Montalembert in the St. Germain area - no inexpensive, but a perfect location. Just came back from a 5 night stay last week, they are offering some deals for early booking and longer stays (3+ nights).
Andrea Sachs: Thanks, Arl.
Paris Hotel: If you're looking for an economical option, we had a good experience at Hotel Place des Alpes on the Left Bank this summer. (They didn't have A/C, but presumably that's not a problem this time of year.)
Andrea Sachs: Think Picasso ever needed A/C/? I think not.
Turkey travel: This year we're taking the Amtrak up to NYC to spend the holiday with some extended family. We booked our tickets literally three months ago and my husband and I are heading up Wednesday afternoon, back Sunday afternoon for less than $200 for the both of us. I'm sure the trains will be packed, but it will be MUCH better than flying!
Worst turkey travel? My sophomore year of college when I flew from Tallahassee, Florida (and their tiny airport) to Minneapolis, MN by way of Memphis. Long story short: got stuck in Memphis for two days coming back because I got bumped off my original flight and they couldn't get me on another one. Unfortunately, my bag made it to Tally on my original flight. Missed a lot of clothes and a lot of classes for that trip (Too bad I wasn't the seasoned traveler I am now to know my rights when I was bumped!) My then boyfriend picked me up at the airport on Tuesday evening in Tallahassee, took one whiff of my three-day old clothing and took me straight home for a shower!
Andrea Sachs: Very smart, and very sweet BF (at the time).
Turkey Day Rule: Hi Crew -
After trying to get from DC to Albany NY for Thanksgiving by plane, train, bus & car for so many years, and suffering many, many horrors, I finally wised up. I will cook turkey for anyone, I will volunteer at soup kitchens, I will go out for pizza, I will do a Turkey Trot for charity in any weather...but I WILL NOT TRAVEL on Thanksgiving. And you can't make me!!
Andrea Sachs: And we won't. You can travel all you want after Nov. 26.
JFK luggage carts: Yes, but I don't know if the machines take bills, or only coins. You can take them on the inter-terminal tram (AirTrain).
Joe Yonan: Don't they usually take credit cards, even, these days?
Anonymous: I think that 7 days is certainly enough time to get to Cuzco--it's only an hour flight from Lima--and see Machu Picchu, but you should book your train tickets from Cusco to Agua Calientes (where you get the bus to Machu Picchu) ASAP as only a handful of trains go per day and they fill up.
As for actually hiking the Inca trail, you can do 4 day excursions.
I agree with the earlier poster that said this can require a lot of planning and the trails may be closed, but I would check with an outfit that plans trips like these -- they can take care of all the details for you. I used BargainPeru when I went on a last-minute trip to Lima and Cuzco last July. It was 2 weeks before I left, which wasn't enough time to hike the Inca trail, but they arranged for everything else -- inexpensively, too.
Becky Krystal: Columbia Heights, are you taking notes?
Follow-up to question last week re unmade hotel rooms: Not that this excuses any hotel for sending its customers to unmade rooms (or in our case, to two successive ones before finally finding us a clean room), but I wonder if the problem at airport hotels might be that some flight crews arrive in early morning after a red-eye, sleep during the day, then check out in early evening. Still, I'd think that any competent chain hotel operation would know to have some housekeeping staff available to clean such rooms at odd hours, since they could presumably more-than-recoup the expense by potentially renting out the same room twice in a 24-hour period.
Joe Yonan: Interesting.
Traveling to Borneo: I'm going to Borneo for 2 weeks next month, yeah! Is there anything that Borneo, Malaysia or Indonesia is known for? Some places are known for pearls, emeralds, leather etc but I can't find info on what I should look for. I'd like to get a souvenir so I'm hoping or the chatters can offer any suggestions. Thanks!
Joe Yonan: Well, you could get a tattoo.
Maybe that's not your thing. So you could shop for spices: Malaysian food is glorious (at least what I've had of it here in the States, which is probably nowhere near as good as there, of course).
Reston, Va.: My Thanksgiving will be in Belgium!
I posted a query here last week about where is a great place to eat in Bruges for that dinner - especially one hospitable to solo travelers. Ambiance is as important as food and I'm not above sitting at the bar to eat - just not "bar food" if that makes sense. Any ideas?
I'm also the "Reston" who just queried about "Your vacation in lights" so maybe I'll write about it...
Joe Yonan: I haven't been to Bruges, but I find that Europe in general is much more welcome to solo diners than the US is. Chatters, have you eaten in Bruges and seen something that would work here?
Bethesda, Md.: Is this a legit airline offer? Received in the mail last week an offer "as a thank you for being a loyal VISA card holder" an invitation to participate in a 2 for 1 airfare program -- "unlimited free companion airline tickets for 12 months" with one-time enrollment of $29 by December 31. Good for domestic, coach free companion fares on 19 major airline partners and 110 US destinations with 14-day advance booking. Must book through special website provided on enrollment. Though I think the offer is not by my VISA provider, the notice came on the provider's letterhead. What's the catch?
Becky Krystal: Funny, I got the exact same letter. And subsequently pitched it. I'd do some more research, but often those things are so restricted they end up being worthless. Chatters, pipe in if you've had a different experience.
multi-city flight: Since you can't do a fare predictor on multi-city flights I'm hoping your expertise can help me out. I am looking to fly from D.C. to San Francisco (Dec. 29) and from L.A. back to D.C. (Jan. 2). I'm getting fares close to $600. This seems crazy! Is it? Priced as multi-city, or two, one-ways doesn't make much difference. Ideas? Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: The problem is that you are flying during peak holiday times. Fares won't drop till after the New Year's revelers have sobered up.
Primanti and ABQ, NM: I've done the drive. The sandwich and an eight hour drive is not advisable. It's just too much.
ABQ - Hit Frontier, right next to the UNM campus, about a mile from ABQ airport.
Carne Adovada is heaven on earth.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks!
Turkey Day Travels: When our son was a year old, we went from LA to Santa Fe, NM, for Thanksgiving with friends. We stayed in Santa Fe in a hotel--the friend's house was 1k feet higher!! Loved the trip...until we got to the Albuquerque airport on the return...the year that the fuel farm next to Denver-Stapleton caught fire and we were flying United. My husband got on the phone (pre-cell phones) and got us one of the few remaining hotel rooms in Albuquerque and another rental car, since we'd turned in the one we had to go to Santa Fe. Extra day in NM, which was interesting. No more Thanksgiving travel after this!
Andrea Sachs: Yikes! Yes, definitely safer to order in.
YYZ redux: Nope, I don't live at the airport, but I fly to Canada enough that I know too much about the subject. I'm a fan of connections of 2 hours or more. Case in point: a few years ago I flew here through Minneapolis, with customs in Edmonton. My plane into Minneapolis was at C14, and the plane to DCA was at C15, right next to the first plane. I had a 45-minute connection. Did my checked bag make it? Nope. TSA examined all the bags from the first plane that were connecting through to other destinations and therefore my bag showed up the next day. Sigh.
Andrea Sachs: Sigh indeed.
No I-95 to West Point: We often use the Tapanzee bridge to avoid I-95 when driving from Hartford to D.C. We drive through Harrisburg and go to Allentown. There are only a very few miles between Harrisburg and Allentown that are not a four lane thruway. Its much less stressful than I-95. We start in Hartford on I-84 west. That said, you can get from D.C. to north of NYC with no I-95 headaches - just not sure what road north of NYC to Westpoint - although I know it is a parkway.
Andrea Sachs: Great suggestion. Thanks!
RCL versus NCL: If your family cruise includes anyone under 18, then go with NCL. We did an 8-day Western Caribbean cruise with our family on NCL last January and it was fantastic.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks, Cruise Expert.
Fairfax, Va.: What is a good airfare to Kauai for spring? We are seeing rates close to $1000.
Andrea Sachs: That's high season, but I think you can shave $100 or so off it. Have you looked into flying to Honolulu then catching a commuter flight to Kauai?
YYZ Terminal 2: Glad to know I was correct. Being from western Canada, I wish to blame the Terminal 2 mess on the fact it was Toronto. No need to implicate the rest of the country.
Andrea Sachs: You are so right.
(Disclaimer: I was born in Canada and love my country of birth.)
Deep Valley, USA: The value of frequent flier programs lies in not getting treated with quite as much contempt as the rest of the passengers get.
Waiving of bag charges, being able to board first, having a shorter wait on the phone, etc. IF and ONLY IF you can feasibly concentrate on one or two airlines it's worthwhile.
Or you could just fly Southwest and enjoy reasonably good treatment all the time.
Andrea Sachs: So true.
Lancaster, Pa.: Girls weekend suggestion... I know they want something woodsy, but I'd invite them to consider Lancaster County PA. Besides the Amish, we have 100 B&Bs that range from farm stays to spas. Our new Marriott in center city is very nice, as is the boutique-inspired Arts Hotel. The first Friday of the month is First Friday and all the galleries (we're aiming to replace Ashville as the Santa Fe of the East) and quite a few stores stay open late. Lots of good restaurants -- again anything from smorgasbords to upscale -- and a growing number of wineries (we even have a wine trail). Maybe we could arrange for some snow.
Andrea Sachs: Great idea, GF. Thanks!
SF sidetrips: We did a day trip in September down the Peninsular to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero -- marina in the former, historic lighthouse (with accommodations at a B&B/hostel) near the latter, plus delicious local food at Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero!
Andrea Sachs: Thanks!
Thanksgiving Travel: I always know it's going to be LONG, so I always mentally prepare for it. When I lived in NYC and took the train back to Phila, I knew it would be crowded, so tried to make the best of it talking with my seatmate. She tells me she's spending the holiday with her best friend, who turned out to be my high school drama teacher - one of the biggest b--ches I've ever known. Now THAT was a long trip - having to make up lies and be enthusiastic about that horrible woman!
Andrea Sachs: Can you say, "Uncomfortable?"
Alexandria, Va.: We were in Kuching in Borneo for a few days last year, and my wife kicks herself for not having gotten more of the pearl earrings for sale at the Sarakraf Pavilion there. Cheap and pretty. Other hand-made jewelry is pretty too, although it doesn't have precious stones.
Andrea Sachs: Lovely. I will take two.
Ellicott City, Md.: Please take my question! I am leaving on a cruise to the Bahamas on 11/29, and I'm not sure if it will be warm enough to swim in Nassau and Freeport. I've been to both ports several times, so I've done plenty of sightseeing already. I need some alternate activities that don't involve shopping, excessive drinking, or gambling. I am traveling solo, so a group activity would be good. I've considered horseback riding on the beach, but can you guys offer any other ideas? THANKS!
Andrea Sachs: Yes, the water will be warm enough for a dip. And peruse the ship's land excursions but also do a Web search on island adventures offered through private operators. I, for example, have gone diving there (no drinking allowed; fed the birds and saw a flamingo show at Ardastra gardens; and hung out at a fish fry joint (and even helped cook).
San Rafael, Calif.: Hi Travel Gurus,
I have RT tickets from San Francisco to Madrid on UAL. We have an hour and a half between landing at Dulles and catching the connecting flight which is on Aer Lingus. That short connection time makes me nervous. If we miss the connecting flight we'll then miss the flight we're taking to Barcelona a few hours after arriving in Madrid. We are going to try (I said try!) to do carryon only for this 3 week vacation.
Do you think I should call UAL and ask to be rebooked on a flight leaving the night before (we will pay for a hotel near Dulles), and would UAL accept responsibility if we miss our connecting flight and the domino effect it will create?
Thanks - loyal reader on the left coast
Andrea Sachs: I would feel confident with a 90-minute layover time, since you are not going through Customs. You just have to change terminals. Plus, no checked luggage is involved. If you miss the connection, the airline should take care of you and help you rebook the flights.
Andrea Sachs: The hour (plus 12 minutes) is up.
Thanks for the great questions and Turkey tales. To the couple missing the holiday in Boston because of high fares, you made my heart gobble, so please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address so I can send you a prize.
See you next week-- aka three days before Thanksgiving Day!
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