Talk about travel: South Africa and the World Cup, destinations that surprised you, Baltimore and Philadelphia attractions, more

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, May 24, 2010; 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, May 24 at 2 p.m.

Don't forget to submit your vacation photos and photos of your pets on vacation to our photo galleries.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.

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Becky Krystal: Good afternoon, one and all. Thanks for joining us for another action-packed hour of travel-related chatter. We hope you enjoyed this weekend's trio of South Africa stories, pegged to the upcoming World Cup. I was fascinated by Christopher Vourlias's take on the change underway in Johannesburg. So here it is, your question of the day: What destination with a less than stellar reputation have you been to that ended up surprising you in a good way? Best answer gets the prize.

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Silver Spring, MD: We're going to San Juan next month (family of 4, 2 teenagers). Any restaurant tips?

Andrea Sachs: The only restaurant that stick in my mind is the Parrot Club. Great food, very festive.
Any other recommendations?

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Vegas: I totally screwed up and waited way too long to book tickets to Vegas. Now it's two weeks away. Any chance the prices will go down?

Christopher Elliott: There's a chance, but it's not a very good chance. Prices normally rise just before your departure date. Here are two options: You can track your fare using Yapta and if it drops, you'll be notified. If you're feeling lucky, you could also try using an opaque service like Hotwire or Priceline to buy your ticket at the last minute. Good luck!

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Boohoo, Virginia: I should be wandering around Lake Como today with my parents.

Instead, I am awaiting unplanned eye surgery (chronic problem that chose a really bad time to flare). I hope to be healed enough in 5 weeks to go for two weeks in early July.

Any crystal ball action on whether airfares might drop or at least stabilize? Right now, the change from late May fares (bought in March) versus July fares (which I cannot buy until I know I am healing properly, IE maybe three weeks before we leave) is staggering. They weren't cheap in May but I expect to spend no less than an additional 1500 bucks for three tickets. Plus the change fees for my parents - mine were waived.

And just how bad is Venice in July? This will be my 4th trip to La Serenissima but my first in July.

Sigh.

Carol Sottili: I'm afraid there is no easy (cheap) way out of this if you are set on going in July. Have you considered going in the fall? Fares may be lower then. Good news is that dollar is stronger once you get there. Haven't been to Venice in July, but I think there are a fair amount of events that go on then. And weather is warm and muggy.

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Baltimore, MD: Hi, Flight Crew. My midwestern parents are flying here next week to help me move to Philly, and when they leave, they're taking my car with them. We all have the month off, so they have no planned departure date. I'm sure we can find plenty to do in Philly, but I think all of us would enjoy a quiet, 1-5 day road-trip away from the city. Any ideas for trips that are a reasonable drive from Philly (maybe less than 4-5 hours)? They've seen lots of NYC, Baltimore and DC. They like waterfronts, but not necessarily laying on the beach. Mom likes gardens. Cost shouldn't be exorbitant. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Hm, how about checking out the New Jersey Botanical Garden? Then head on to Greenwood Lake for a dose of waterfront. There are some lodging options there and in nearby Warwick, NY. Looks pretty.

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Colorado: We will be in Colorado next week, and have a couple of days to do some hiking in the vicinity of Denver. We are thinking Rocky Mtn National Park. Two questions -- any recommendations for good hikes in the park (we would like something 5-6 hours long, relatively strenuous)? Also, any recommendations for lodging near the park? Additionally, we may spend a day or so in Boulder -- any good restaurant recommendations, particularly vegetarian friendly ones? Thanks for any assistance you or other posters can provide!

Nancy Trejos: I was just in Colorado and it was beautiful. I spent an afternoon at Rocky Mountain National Park. I wish I had more time there. Some trails that were recommended to me were the Bear Lake Nature trail for an easy but pretty hike. Cub lake take you to a gorgeous pond. For a more strenuous hike, you can climb up Flattop Mountain for the panoramic views. Or hike Bluebird Lake or climb up Mount Richtofen. Another popular hike takes you to Alberta Falls, which is supposed to be beautiful. As for restaurants in Boulder, I went to Mediterranean, which had a lovely outdoor area and lots of veggie dishes. I've also heard people rave about the Kitchen. Cruise down the Pearl Street Mall for dessert or shopping. I had the best frozen yogurt in a long time at Two Spoons.

As for lodging, I actually stayed in Denver. But you might want to consider the Boulderado, a historic hotel in downtown Boulder. Anyone out there have hotel suggestions?

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BWI: I know Southwest has a policy that large people need to be able to lower the arm rests or buy two seats. I'm a bit perplexed as to what to do when they don't enforce it. I didn't want to be a jerk and report the guy who squeezed himself into the middle seat next to me last night, and it was only a 2 hour (gate to gate) flight. I think he squeezed a bit further in my direction so that the armrest nearest the aisle went all the way down, and it was close on my side (only a slight angle).

What would you do in this situation? Page a flight attendant and ask for them to check (being a jerk, embarrassing the person, and setting yourself up for a worse flight if the flight attendant deems that they "pass")? Or just suffer?

Christopher Elliott: Don't suffer! Southwest Airlines has an open seating policy, so your first step would be to find another seat on the plane.

If it's a full flight, but it hasn't left the gate, get up and discreetly mention your problem to a flight attendant. He or she should be able to determine if the two-seat rule needs to be enforced, and can deal with the issue.

If that doesn't work, you might have to suffer, but I would let Southwest know of your uncomfortable flight. A brief, polite email to the airline should do the trick.

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Alexandria, VA: A few months ago, I was on a Frontier flight from WDC to Denver. I became sick during the flight and spent four hours in the bathroom. At one point, I became dehydrated and chilled. I asked the airline attendant for a blanket and was told, "We don't carry blankets onboard." Don't the airlines have to have a few blankets for the ill? Thanks, cj

Nancy Trejos: I'm sorry you had a bad experience. Many of the airlines are now charging passengers for blankets. It's yet another fee that airlines are increasingly tacking on.

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Formerly from Baltimore: For the chatter with the mom who likes gardens, I would suggest a visit to the Ladew Gardens if she hasn't already been. Beautiful grounds with an emphasis on topiaries. From there you can explore central MD and PA.

Becky Krystal: Thanks!

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DC to Chapel Hill: Hi everyone,

I am headed down to Chapel Hill this weekend for a wedding. Any ideas about where to stop for lunch on the way? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: I say Richmond (particularly if you get stuck in horrible traffic on I-95)! OK, maybe I'm a bit biased since I grew up there. But Tom Sietsema did have some tasty suggestions for the Virginia capital.

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Re: Baltimore, MD: If your parents like nature, they might enjoy a vacation spot in the Poconos or Catskills. One can find cheaper places to stay in both areas, and the locales make for laidback vacations. Also, Cape May, NJ is very beautiful and family friendly with plenty of activities besides laying on the beach that your parents might enjoy.

Nancy Trejos: Good suggestions. Thanks!

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Baltimore, MD: Hi, my parents and younger siblings are flying to the Caribbean in late June and already have airline tickets with AirTran. I tend to keep better tabs on current events than them and recently heard about the AirTran pilots approving the potential use of a strike in the future... Last I spoke with my parents over the phone, they didn't mention anything so I'm assuming they don't know about this (my mom has a tendancy to freak out over things, and this would definitely freak her out). You guys are probably more connected to the news than I am, so is this something I should alert them too so they can take precautions, or is the risk of problems low enough that I can leave them in blissful ignorance? Thanks guys.

Carol Sottili: I don't think a strike is going to happen any time soon. The pilots did approve strike authorization, but most experts see it as a way to put more pressure on the company to come up with a good contract. Keep tabs on it, but you don't need to scare your mom.

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Bronx, NY: Hi Crew! Love the question this week - I seem to specialize in "less than stellar" reputations, when it comes to picking places to visit/work/live. I moved to the South Bronx in 1991, and liked it enough that it's the place I come back to when other places pale. I spent a great summer working in Bosnia not long after the shooting stopped, based in Sarajevo but saw most of the country, including the Serbian territory, and found the entire country (plus the Dalmation coast of Croatia) to be fantastic: incredibly beautiful, good local food and wine, lots of interesting history. Of course, some of the history was very recent and nerves were still somewhat on edge, but I'd go back in a heartbeat. Dubrovnik is one of my favorite places on Earth. More pedestrian, but still well within the "You're vacationing where?!?" category, was my summer vacay last year: a driving tour of off-the-beaten-path Nebraska and Kansas. (Certainly flyover country isn't less than stellar in the same sense as a recent war zone, but I still got a lot of raised eyebrows.) But you know what? Nebraska and Kansas are absolutely beautiful, and I came back from that vacation more relaxed than I've been in a long time, despite logging over a thousand miles in a crappy rental car. The keys to happiness were staying off the interstate, digging deep to turn up local sights (Kansas has a fantastic tourism website), staying in non-chain hotels, and just owning the trip as my time to see things I never would otherwise. Even the tornadoes! And now I'm probably the only person in the Bronx who's ever been to Carhenge, and I'm okay with that.

Becky Krystal: Great answer. What a diverse group of destinations.

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Kingstowne, VA: I thought yesterday's column about the electronic devices was interesting because I know a number of people who simply refuse to abide by the requirement that you put your Blackberry or other similar device in "airplane mode"--they are determined to try to send and receive e-mail anyway. I have a real problem with that sort of thing because we know that a Blackberry DOES interfere with other telecommunications. Anyone who's been on a conference call in the past several years has almost certainly encountered the extremely annoying situation where some jerk on the call keeps his Blackberry next to his phone and it generates interference in the form of that very annoying buzzing or stuttering noise. It seems to me that if it can do that to a telephone, it's not implausible at all to figure it can do the same thing to the cockpit telecommunications.

On the other hand, it seems to me to be stupid for them to ask that devices with an "airplane mode" be turned completely off during takeoff and landing, as long as the device is placed into said mode and as long as you don't have headphones on at those times. (Seems to me that since you're allowed to read a magazine or a book or whatever during takeoff and landing it ought to be OK to play Brickbreaker if you want.)

washingtonpost.com: The Navigator: Cellphones and electronic devices on airplanes: Time to rethink the policy?

Christopher Elliott: As I mentioned in the column, it may be time to update the rules on in-flight electronics. No one wants to interfere with an aircraft's navigation system, of course, but the rules are not consistently enforced and don't make sense to many air travelers. Hopefully, the debate will lead to better regulations.

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi, My girlfriends & I are trying to decide on a weekend getaway within driving distance between Maryland & New York. We contemplated the Poconos but it meant me driving 4-5 hours from MD. We're looking for lots of outdoor activities - horseback riding, hiking, mini golf, canoeing - stuff like that. Any ideas? We're having a hard time finding something similar to what we would have done in the Poconos that's equal driving istance between both states. Thank you

Becky Krystal: The Pinelands National Reserve in New Jersey seems to have a lot of recreation options. Other thoughts, chatters?

Carol Sottili: We had the same situation for many years trying to plan family reunions. We looked at the southern Jersey shore, but that didn't offer the types of activities we needed. We always wound up going to the Poconos, until this year, when we all decided to head to Vermont (we are flying). Anyway, chatters have any ideas?

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Alexandria, VA: Anything to do in Hershey, P.A. other than the amusement park and spa?

Becky Krystal: How about 23 acres of greenery at Hershey Gardens? Or, if you don't mind driving a little out of town, you can do some pretzel tourism.

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Exploring Hawaiian Islands: Help!

My wife and I are planning a trip to Hawaii, both the islands of Oahu and Maui. However, Kayak doesn't allow multiple destinations for flight bookings.

Should we just do a round trip to Oahu and book another separate flight to Maui from Oahu or is there something else we should try?

Andrea Sachs: Kayak is an aggregator, not a booking site. But you can search for a multi-city flight on it (click on Multi-city"), then link over to the appropriate site to make a reservation. For example, on Kayak, I see a flight from Washington National to Oahu to Maui to Washington National on American Airlines for $688. (Book it on www.aa.com).
For more flexibility, you can book round trip from D.C. to Oahu, then fly between islands on Hawaiian Airlines, which has numerous departures. The only caveat: You will have to fly round trip from Oahu to Maui, as the carrier does not fly to Washington.

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Boston: My local paper (The Boston Globe) is touting Europe in general and London in particular as a bargain destination this year. But I haven't seen a lot of hotel or flight bargains in Europe. Should we expect some discounts to come, or are they reading it wrong?

Thanks...the Post travel section and the chat totally rock.

Carol Sottili: They're probably talking about how the dollar has gained on the euro, so your money goes farther there. But I haven't seen any airfare discounts. So far, they are sky high for this summer. As for hotels, probably better chance there of getting deals, but if it costs twice as much to get there, I don't know how it can be called a bargain.

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Northern Virginian in Northern Ireland: We were in Belfast last April to visit my daughter who was doing a semester abroad there. That's one place that I thought I would never be visiting due to its history of violence. Belfast was a lovely city and we has a facinating tour that included both Falls Road and Shankhill Road, "ground zero" for much of the violence. Our guide, whose religion I could not guess by his comments, was very forthcoming about Northern Ireland's history. We had the opportunity to spend some time in other parts of Northern Ireland as well, particularly the Antrim Coast. We thoroughly enjoyed it all and I wouldn't mind going back there again for a longer visit.

Becky Krystal: Sounds interesting. I saw a Rick Steves' episode a few months ago on Northern Ireland, and he made it seem just as engaging.

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Anonymous: I'm living in West Africa and I have a friend living in the Caribbean. We want to celebrate our 60 birthdays together in Brazil in late October - early November 2011. We have about two weeks vacation and want to see nature spots and have nightlife fun as well. What recommendations can you give us that won't break the bank? (We like upscale, but it doesn't have to be posh.) I want to start planning early so that we avoid disappointments and we can start learning Portuguese.

Becky Krystal: This recent Going Our Way had a good mix of what you're looking for. See if that gives you a start.

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Washington, DC: Hi, is $1235 a reasonable price right now for non-stop flight between IAD and CDG for late August? It seems a bit high for flying to Paris, but I haven't seen the price budge much in the past few weeks. Do you think there is any chance the price will drop in the near future? It seems awfully expensive for a flight to Europe.

Nancy Trejos: A friend just paid $1400 for her non-stop round-trip ticket to Paris in mid-August. You might want to check an airfare predictor like Bing Travel to see if prices might drop, but I'm afraid you probably won't get much cheaper than $1235. As Carol pointed out in her story on airfares in our recent Way to Go issue, prices are very high this summer, partly because airlines have cut capacity and there are fewer seats.

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OBX Bound: My wife and I are headed to the Outer Banks for Memorial Day weekend. Sadly, neither of us will be let out early from our jobs on Friday. What do you think traffic will be like at, say, 7 or 8 p.m.? Or do you think we should just leave early Saturday morning?

Andrea Sachs: The rule for holiday driving: leave really early or really late. I think if you hit the road around 8 p.m., you should be able to miss the worst of the traffic. But before you depart, listen to a traffic report. If it sounds snarled, consider departing early Saturday.

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Arlington, VA: The person moving to Philly may also want to go to Longwood Gardens which is in Kennett Square just outside Philly. We used to daytrip there from Allentown. And there are all of those old Dupont estates like Winterthur in Delaware that have beautiful gardens and interesting historic house museums.

Becky Krystal: A couple of votes for Longwood and the Delaware estates. Thanks!

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Maryland: Minor rant -- I wish travel and hotel websites would give people an option of searching for and booking hotel rooms for handicap guests. My mother no longer can get in and out of bathtubs or climb stairs. So I'm always looking for hotels and resorts with walk-in showers and elevators. But you can't search for handicap-accessible rooms from any of the major travel websites or hotel chains. It's a major pain for handicap people to book hotel rooms and I wish it would change. Thanks for letting me rant!

Becky Krystal: I understand your frustration since it might take a little more work to find the options, but there are sites that do allow you find accessible rooms. Often, it's not in the initial search, but after your results come up and you can apply a filter. Expedia, for example, lists seven different accessibility options, including "accessible bathroom" and "roll-in shower" (same with their partner, Hotels.com). Priceline.com also has an option for handicapped rooms.
That information should also be available on the chain sites. Sometimes it's under the advanced search options, sometimes you don't see accessible rooms listed until you see the open rooms for a particular date. It depends. Just be patient, because in a lot of cases the info is there in one way or another. But I agree, it could be more consistent.

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Washington, D.C.: I will be spending the holiday weekend in Cork. Any suggestions for what to see, where to eat, etc.?

Andrea Sachs: Blarney Castle, of course (just air kiss the stone). Also: Fota Wildlife Park, Jameson Heritage Centre, Michael Collins Centre, Ewe Sculpture Garden, Cork Butter Museum. Or you can just hang out at the beach at Dunworely and marvel at the cliffs. For food, I would graze the offerings at the English Market.

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Today's question: We had such a great on a stop-off in Hamilton, Ontario, that we stayed a few extra days and never made it to Toronto! People were amazed when we told them afterwards. We especially enjoyed the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Becky Krystal: I like your ability to trash a plan! I don't know if I could do that. :)

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Rockville, MD: For Philly inquiry:

Spend a day or two in Wilmington DE; the Dupont Mansion has gardens

Nancy Trejos: Yes, beautiful gardens. And Nemours Mansion and Gardens, also in Wilmington.

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Just got back from San Juan: Parrot Club was good, particularly the Pina Coladas. We LOVED La Bombonera in Old San Juan, in fact I'm still dreaming of that coffee and those mallorcas.

We stayed in Condado and really enjoyed Ummo (Argentine grill--most authentic one I've been to outside of Buenos Aires) for meat, cheese, wine, and awesome local micro-brew beer. There was another great coffee shop called Picachus (not sure of the spelling). Ajili Mojili, Jam Rum Bar, and Yerba Buena were pretty good, but pricey.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the great report!

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Weeki Wachee Fl.: Are there any companies that specialize in handicap travel? Having been to Europe several times I know it's not handicap friendly but I was hoping a tour might find their way around these hurdles.

Becky Krystal: I'm pulling this info from a slightly dated list that we ran the other year. But now that I've given you that caveat, see if these help:

· Accessible Europe (011-39-011-30-1888, http://www.accessibleurope.com) is a group of travel agents headquartered in Italy who specialize in accessible tourism.

· Accessible Journeys (800-846-4537, http://www.disabilitytravel.com) caters to slow walkers and those in wheelchairs, offering tours and independent trips. Destinations include Egypt, South Africa and Alaska.

· The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (800-900-8086, http://www.ncpad.org), hosted by the University of Illinois, has recreation resources on outdoor and travel activities (canoeing, horseback riding, etc.) across the country and abroad.

· The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (212-447-7284, http://www.sath.org), a nonprofit membership organization, provides an impressive database of companies and resources that assist disabled folks in all facets of travel, such as scooter rentals, trains and museums.

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Boulder, CO.: We will be spending a week in Austria and are looking for a place that would give us access to the countryside around Salzburg (the Salzkammergut). We are seeking suggestions of quiet and quaint places to stay in, within walking distance to a small town or village. Suggestions?

Carol Sottili: I love the Austrian lake district, which isn't far from Salzburg. Traunsee, Attersee and Mondsee are ringed with villages that offer lodging and restaurants. The town of Gmunden on Lake Traunsee is one of my favorites, but Mondsee is much closer to Salzburg (just 18 miles). Austrian National Tourism Office for more info.

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The marvelous Midwest: I loved the person who mentioned vacationing in Nebraska and Kansas. As a born and bred Midwesterner (specifically - Milwaukee, with summers in Michigan), I wish more East Coasters took the time to discover the charms of the Midwest. I adore visiting family and friends in both Michigan and Wisconsin because I know that I'll be enjoy fantastic customer service in store and restaurants, more reasonably priced meals and lodging, and simple pleasures that we often just take for granted living in a busy, stressed and traffic-ridden place like DC. And some of the scenery in places like northern Michigan (Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula, Petoskey, etc) is just fantastic. So - to all the people who secretly roll their eyes when I say I'm spending vacation time in the Midwest, I say -- check it out for yourself, and you'll start to wonder what you ever saw in Ocean City!!

Becky Krystal: Feelin' the Midwest love.

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Dayton, OH: My wife and I would like to visits friends (from our Army days in '73-'76) south of Stuttgart about 45k, in early August and also visit Prague. I'm considering multi-city tickets to PRA and depart MUC and wondered about: your recommendations for travel between the USA and the gateway cities of PRA and FRG; travel between MUC and PRA (rail, car, plane??); and points of high interest in PRA and its vicinity. Many thanks.

Carol Sottili: It'll probably cost about $1,200 to fly Dayton to Prague with return from Munich. Between the two cities, try the discount carrier Germanwings. Compare price/convenience to the Rail Europe price.

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Colorado: Hiking: I recommend the Bluebird lake hike. Moderatly strenuous, about 4-5 hours, great views.

Boulder: lots of great places to eat. I recommend checking out the local breweries, like the organic Asher Brewery.

Nancy Trejos: These are great. Thanks for the suggestions. Yes, Boulder did seem to have a lot of great restaurants.

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Rockville, MD: What agencies supervise the enforcement of access for the disabled in motels/hotels and restaurants? Is it voluntary? Who checks the motels? I've been in so-called rooms marked as handicapped and found while the bathroom was accessible the arrangement of the room made getting to it in a wheelchair impossible. Grab bars, which I suppose are for the handicapped and seniors, are sometimes placed in hard to reach locations. Shower heads are frequently beyond the reach of many people unless one is six feet. In another motel, also considered accessible, the breakfast buffet was on one level but the tables required going down two steps--no ramp. At the eatery between the two galleries on the Mall the beverage machine sets so far back that as an able bodied five footer I can't easily reach it and my six foot tall husband has difficulty so how can someone in a wheelchair? I have the sense that these places are worried more about limiting access to children than providing access to disabled.

Becky Krystal: We probably don't have the legal expertise to confidently answer all your questions, but the Justice Department seems to be at the top of the food chain when it comes to enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act. You can check out www.ada.gov or try calling the ADA hotline at 800-514-0301. I hope that helps.

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New York, NY: I'm thinking about booking on one of the new Royal Carribean's giant ships after Christmas. I have been on two cruises before with RC and really liked it but I'm kind of scared of onboard with double the amount of people as before. Does it take longer to embark etc? Has anyone done this yet that can tell me the pros and cons? Thank you, Patricia

Becky Krystal: I don't think we can offer any first-hand accounts, but I did read an article in Conde Nast Traveler the other month about one writer's experience on Oasis of the Seas. There are probably other accounts online, but we'll throw this out to the chatters as well. Any experience on the mega-ships?

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For the Colorado traveler: I highly recommend going to Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver for some excellent hiking. Our family favorite is Mills Lake, which is moderately strenuous and has gorgeous views. And if you've never done it, driving Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in north America, is pretty awesome too. Though it often doesn't open till June because of snowpack. Enjoy!

Becky Krystal: The hiking suggestions are rolling in.

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Bowie, MD: For the Family of 4 going to San Juan - Ajili Mojili in the Condado section - authentic Puerto Rican food with the most amazing Mofongo which is a mashed plaintain/ roasted garlic stuffed with skirt steak, shrimp, roast pork, and other fillings (moderate prices but also items on the menu if the teenagers aren't adventurous); Also in the Condado section at the Marriott Hotel is the Tuscany Restaurant - excellent Italian food, great service and a real surprise for a 'hotel' restaurant; in old San Juan, don't miss La Bombonera for lunch - an old time place perfect for a breakfast to start the morning touring the old San Juan area, and finally, in the Ocean Park section (midway between Condado and Isla Verde) is a wonderful Argentine restaurant - Che's, and their specialty - churassacos - grilled flank steak, the best in the city but the seafood is wonderful as well. Enjoy San Juan!

Nancy Trejos: I went to both Ajili Mojili and Che's. Had great meals at both. So I second those recommendations.

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New York: This is not because of the city's bad reputation, but because of my friend's bad/outdated information!

Before I went to Amsterdam in 2001, I talked with my Dutch friend, and she said it was a hotbed of crime. It's NOT, but she hadn't been there in about 20 years (which she neglected to tell me). So I was nervous because I would be spending a full day and night there by myself (after my travel partner left for a business trip). We really enjoyed our time there before my friend left. It turned out that the date I was there by myself was 9/11/01, so it was pretty stressful, and people couldn't have been nicer and more helpful! The woman who owned the B&B, let me stay there several days for free, and she loaned me her cell phone and helped me figure out how to get home.

Nancy Trejos: I love Amsterdam. I spent a day there by myself as well a few years ago before a friend flew in to meet me, and I too had no problems.

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Falls Church, VA: While I've been to a lot of supposedly great places that were crappy (Vegas, Myrtle Beach), one of the nicest supposedly crappy/creepy places is West Virginia. I went to college there and, while the binge drinking wasn't my thing, the beautiful scenery and oddly amazing Mexican restaurant of my little college town were great! Sure, the townies sometimes are missing teeth, but the waterways, wildlife and mountains are amazing.

Becky Krystal: West Virginia -- definitely a place that doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets sometimes.

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Longwood Gardens, Chadds Ford PA: For the midwestern parents helping daughter move to Philadelphia...

Nancy Trejos: Good suggestion. Thank you.

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Maryland: bargain of the week was missing from yesterday's section. Is there a cheap time to go to Spain....southern part like around valencia, but would be willing to fly anywhere and rent a car/bus it down south?

Carol Sottili: We don't do bargain of the week any longer. We have a column called "What's the Deal?" and that was in the paper on Sunday. There is no cheap way to get to Europe this summer. London may be a little less, as there is more competition. But the cost of getting from there to Spain would negate savings. Madrid would probably be cheapest and easiest (nonstop flights from Dulles) in Spain - expect to pay about $1,100 round trip.

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San Juan Restaurants: Tom has a postcard from SJ. It's the first thing I check whenever I travel! :)

Becky Krystal: Of course! Just keep in mind it's a few years old.

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Washington, DC: For Rocky Mountain hikes, one great option is to go up to Chasm Lake. But it's really worth it to spend the 10 bucks and get a hiking guidebook to the park. And of course the rangers will know everything there is to know and can guide you depending on the weather and the season and your abilities and the weather.

Nancy Trejos: More hiking tips. Thank you!

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Burke, VA: Not stellar reputation, but nice:

One of the ports on a Caribbean cruise was Grenada. All I knew of the place was the invasion to free the medical students and the movie "Heartbreak Ridge." It turned out to have lovely rolling hills, lush vegetation, and a relatively vibrant economy. I suppose the 3 hours we spent on a private beach (only 4 other people) with rum punch didn't hurt, either.

Becky Krystal: That does sound nice.

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Silver Spring and NY: Try the Finger Lakes. Watkins Glen has several new resort hotels. Its about 5 hrs from MD. Several other interesting resorts in the Finger Lakes

Carol Sottili: And Watkins Glen also offers a fun racetrack.

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Thanksgiving Gateway: Hi Flight Crew, My sister and I are hoping to plan a trip around Thanksgiving, hoping for a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities. I usually pick a destination based on a low fare and go from there, so previous trips have included Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Budapest, Spain. We are thinking someplace in Europe that won't be awful cold or maybe Turkey. Any two for one flight specials coming up to watch out for? Other suggestions?

Andrea Sachs: Two-for-one specials are pretty rare in the airline industry. Cruise lines are more apt to offer such specials. In addition, traveling over the holidays is especially expensive, even when the holiday is all-American.
That said, if you really want Europe, Turkey is a great option, as is Portugal. However, you won't be toasty warm in either location. If warmth matters, I'd suggest Morocco, which has a great mix of indoor and outdoor activities, no winter coat required.

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Williamsburg, VA: The South Africa article has me all excited for the world cup--it's almost here! Wish I were heading there to watch it, but I still can't wait!

washingtonpost.com: South Africa onstage

Becky Krystal: Glad you liked it!

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Madson, WI: Good afternoon. Any advice for the solo traveler? Are there any worthwhile package deals for travel within the US, or does it still make more sense to ignore packages and organize everything oneself?

Christopher Elliott: The problem you're going to run into as a solo traveler is the single supplement. Most rates quoted by a tour operator are based on double occupancy, and you'll have to pay a surcharge if you're staying in a hotel room by yourself.

That single supplement can eliminate any discount that you would have seen from the tour operator. Here's a helpful article on how to avoid single supplements.

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re: lunch: Probably too early in the trip for lunch, but the Smokey Pig in Ashland (between Kings Dominion and Richmond) is very tasty!

Becky Krystal: It's never too early for lunch in my book.

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Washington, DC: As a lifelong resident of the Northeast, I'm guilty of anti-Midwest bias. So I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed St. Louis when I visited a friend there last year. Yes, there were lots of run-down neighborhoods and abandoned buildings, but there were also grand mansions and yuppified areas with nice restaurants. More significantly, Forest Park is amazing -- several nice museums, wonderful recreational facilities, and acres of manicured laws and ponds. And the City Museum was unique. It combines an outsider art museum, playground, city museum, amusement park, architectural display house, and just all around fun place.

Carol Sottili: I am with you! My daughter went to Wash U there for four years, and I so enjoyed visiting St. Louis. Forest Park is fantastic. And the City Museum is great fun. Clayton is nice. Great baseball park. Good restaurants. I miss it.

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Edgewood, Md: For the people looking for nature near Philadelphia, How about Longwood Gardens in (Longwood, Pa) and the Brandywine River Mueseum in nearby Chadds Ford, Pa? Both are 25-30 miles west of Philadelphia on US 1. It is also relatively close to Winerthur and Simon Pierce glassmaking

Nancy Trejos: Great suggestions rolling in. Thank you!

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For West Africa, with the friend in the Caribbean: For nature, check out Fernando de Noronha Islands, off the Brazilian coast east of Recife (state of Pernambuco).

If you want something culturally more European, there's lovely Florianopolis, on Santa Catarina Island, where immigrants from the Azores (Portugal) settled starting 250 years ago.

Becky Krystal: Brazilian traveler, here you go.

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San Juan again: I know the person asked for restaurant tips... BUT I would also totally recommend the biobay kayaking. We did a rainforest/biobay tour through Kayaking Puerto Rico. El Yunque was great, but the biobay was totally awesome. I think even teenagers would get a kick out of it.

Nancy Trejos: Sounds fun. Thank you!

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to do in Hershey: If the Bears are still playing you could take in the Caps' number 1 farm team playing hockey.

Becky Krystal: Good call.

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Alexandria, VA: Headed up to the fingerlakes area this weekend. Any favorite hiking spots or wineries? Or anything else for that matter...

Becky Krystal: One chatter suggested this a few weeks ago: "Red Newt Cellars on nearby Seneca Lake has a great restaurant... and there's a food/wine institute right in Canandaigua that offers cooking classes and demonstrations."
Also try browsing our New York page. You should find some ideas in there for the region.

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Chicago IL: Just a note about Rocky Mountain NP - I was there 10 years ago and again last year, and all the suburban sprawl that came in during that time is shocking. On our original trip we stayed in Denver and drove, but I would never do that now - the traffic is awful. I would definitely try to stay in Estes Park or otherwise near the park entrances.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for the tips.

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Washington, DC: For Midwesterner moving to Philly from Baltimore, have you considered taking Amtrak or SEPTA commuter trains to any of the Main Line suburbs to see some great homes? You are going to be in Philly for some time, so start exploring the "City of Brotherly Love!"

Becky Krystal: Not a bad suggestion. We had an Escapes not too long ago on Philadelphia-area gardens.

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Edmonton Canada: For the poster last week who wanted a few days in Canada after July 4th in Seattle... July 1st is Canada Day. Both Victoria and Vancouver will be having celebrations. They usually aren't as big as those in the US for the 4th (I've lived in both countries!) but fireworks for both would center around their harbours, I would think.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for following up.

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Tickets to Vegas: Southwest usually has sale fares that only require a two-week advance purchase. They definitely fly to Vegas from BWI.

Christopher Elliott: True, but there's no guarantee the tickets will get any cheaper. Typically, after the 14-day advance purchase period ends, the fares rise. Within seven days, the price is even higher. At the last minute, you're looking at paying a so-called "walk-up" fare, which is the full sticker price.

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Bowie, MD: From the DC area, what's the "best" airport to fly _into_ when traveling to Yosemite NP? The park's directions page at nps.gov lists 8 different airports, 3 smaller but closer (Fresno, Merced, Modesto), and 5 larger but further away (San Francsico, San Jose, Oakland, Reno-Tahoe, Sacramento). Are the (presumably) cheaper fares to the larger airports worth the extra driving time? Does the answer change if you're not planning to spend time in your arrival city but head straight to the park?

Andrea Sachs: Larger airports = lower fares. Therefore, the cheapest air is probably to San Francisco, but the math equation is not over yet: You also have to calculate in gas (and patience) for the four-hour drive. Instead, I would pay the few extra bucks and fly into Fresno, which is still a sizable airport--but much closer at 75 minutes.

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Unplanned eye surgery: Isn't the airline working with you on this? I usually find them very helpful when a medical emergency means you have to change dates.

I guess you don't have travel insurance. I timely reminder to us all!

Becky Krystal: Sounds like the chatter got the change fees waived, but not for his/her parents. But, yes, we hear you on travel insurance.

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less than stellar place?: I'm wracking my brain on this one - I go to a lot of places intentionally that have great reputations (Paris, London, San Francisco) and lots that I go to because of work that one might consider less than stellar (Nigeria, Haiti). But I'm never surprised to find in the latter category something that is fascinating - whether it's nature, food, music, people - that always interest me. I guess I'm just not surprised anymore that any place is interesting if you just try and love it for what it is.

Becky Krystal: Well said.

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For the OBX poster: Consider going down route 301 in Maryland into Virginia, then taking route 17 down to Williamsburg before connecting back up with the interstates. You can't drive as fast and there are occasional stoplights, but there are far fewer cars on the road, which makes for a more pleasant trip!

Becky Krystal: An alternative route.

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Edmonton Canada: When I was living in the US, I was transferred to DC. It was quite a while ago when DC had a violent reputation. They thought I would die here. I had a wonderful time and would come back in a heartbeat. After a couple of years, I phoned to tell them that I was going to Columbia. They were speechless. Totally speechless. Had no idea what to say. But I had a good time there too. Mind you, Columbia SC is not Columbia South America -- where they thought I was moving.

Becky Krystal: Ha!

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San Juan Restaurants: Five star amazing loved them - Pikayo, Marmalade

Nancy Trejos: Yum. Thank you!

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DFW: I am just back from a short trip to Yosemite, which was absolutely wonderful. The weather was stunning, the park gorgeous, etc. However, I discovered something I think would be useful for other potential national park campers. The reservation system opens up 5 months before the dates you want. My entire family was hoping for 2 campsites next to each other for a week. Instead, we ended up with two different campsites, constantly shifting. Every couple of days one or the other of our campsites changed. Meanwhile, at our second to last campsite, the one next to it was empty the entire time and we were told there was no way to find out if (a) those people had cancelled, or (b) we could use it. Upon our departure, we learned that people are reserving as many campsites as possible and re-selling them on craigslist at a huge markup. I checked this myself and saw a two night reservation over 4th of July being sold for $150 on craigslist (regular price: $20/night).

The camp hosts urged us to write our congressman. The campsites are sold out months in advance for spring and summer, and there's no good way to get a last minute cancellation. I wanted to share this with the Flight Crew and see if maybe there's a story here. The National Parks are for everyone, and people should not be able to buy them up and keep other people from using available campsites because they are trying to make a quick buck!

Becky Krystal: This is interesting if it's common. We'll try to do some looking around. Why don't you send us an e-mail to travel@washpost.com with your contact info?

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Washington, DC: I'm planning a two-week trip to Japan in 2011 and I'm trying to decide to go in either early March or early August. There seems to be upsides and downsides to both months, but work will only allow me to go during those months, so it has to be one--but which one? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: You are so right: There are pros and cons for each. Early March still has a nip in the air, but August can be hot and muggy. In March, you have early flowering trees; in August, lots of interesting festivals. It really depends on your interests and tolerance for hot/cold temps. I personally would go in August, as I prefer the heat. However, I don't like crowds, so perhaps March is better.

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Salzkammergut: I'm not sure that it's worth more than a one or two night stay, but Hallstatt is one of THE cutest towns you'll ever see.

Becky Krystal: For Austria-bound.

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Place that wowed: My husband and I spent our honeymoon traveling around England and Scotland. We went to the Lake District, expecting a very bucolic, pastoral landscape with gently rolling hills. Boy, were we wrong! We were completely blown away by the scenery--it was like the Alps in miniature. Impressive, dramatic mountains and vistas. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Andrea Sachs: Sounds lovely. Thanks!

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Arlington: So since the value of the Euro has gone down is this the year to do Europe?

Andrea Sachs: Euro-so-right (did that work?)

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Airline blankets: Actually, the question was about blankets on-board for the -ill-.

They seriously must carry two of three with their first aid. If someone goes into shock, they need to be kept warm.

I'm surprised you didn't address this part of it. It really should be standard to have some they can give out to someone as a medical necessity.

Nancy Trejos: As far as I can tell, they're not required to include that in their first-aid kits, though there has been talk on Capitol Hill to have those kits updated. But you're right, it seems like something they should have.

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Phila Area Ideas: How about driving to the middle of PA and checking out Amish country. Not far, pretty, relaxing, neat.

Andrea Sachs: Great idea. Thanks!

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London Travel: I think the point the articles are making is that it's NOT twice as expensive anymore. Only a few months ago, the dollar was close to 2 pounds sterling. Now it's something much more reasonable like 1.4 - definitely the cheapest London will be for a while.

Nancy Trejos: Good point. Yes, it's a lot cheaper than it was the last time I was there.

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Clifton, VA : Try Southwest for Vegas leaving Sunday and coming back thurs two weeks from now. $509 round trip.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks!

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Philly to Baltimore: Just signed on again... Hope I'm not too late. Thanks everyone, for the Midatlantic suggestions! Mom will be thrilled.

Becky Krystal: You're welcome!

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RC Oasis of the Seas: Just did this cruise this month. It took 10 minutes to board and 20 minutes to disembark AND clear customs. They have this down to a science.

Becky Krystal: Good to know, thanks.

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Becky Krystal: Wow, that hour went fast, didn't it? We appreciate your questions and advice, as always. Today's winner is the traveler whose destinations have included Croatia and Bosnia, so send us your info to travel@washpost.com. Because of Memorial Day, we're off next Monday, so come back for the chat on June 7. Until then, happy holiday traveling!

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