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Travel Photo The Flight Crew: Back row, from left:
Gary Lee, Andrea Sachs, Steve Hendrix, John Deiner; Front row: Danielle Seiss, Cindy Loose, K.C. Summers.
(Melissa Cannarozzi for The Post)
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Talk About Travel
Hosted by the Flight Crew
Monday, Jan. 27, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew pictured at right will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.

We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions and a list of frequently asked questions.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


The Flight Crew: We're baaaack. Okay, we've only been gone a week, but why does it seem so much longer? This is John Deiner, your captain for today's journey with the Travel section Flight Crew--and every seat is full in the cockpit this afternoon.

With me is the entire Travel staff: KC Summers, fresh from Barbados; writers Cindy Loose, Gary Lee and Steve Hendrix (just off the plane from Burma and eager to answer any questions you may have about his Scotland/Scotch story in Sunday's paper); copy editor Andrea Sachs, who reported on the Westminster Dog Show on Sunday; news aide Anne McDonough; and, of course, Our Fare Lady, Carol Sottili.

Up for grabs this week is a bunch of stuff that would fit into a box I found under my desk, including some Vermont syrup, a couple of calendars, a jar of mustard, a bean-bag pig and a rubber ducky.

Your task: Make us feel warm all over by telling us your favorite warm-weather spot. Doesn't have to be warm there now . . . if it's your favorite spot in the summer, let us know. A beach in Maui? Sipping a daiquiri on a Carnival cruise? Let us know: If you could be anywhere right now sitting in the sun, where would it be?

And on that less-than-chilling note, away we go . . .


B&B report: On another tipster's prior recommendation, my wife and I recently stayed at the Smokehouse winery B&B cabin in Sperryville, VA. It's a cozy, two-bedroom log cabin with wood-burning fireplace and a small kitchen. We loved it, because it had all the benefits of a cozy B&B without the forced morning interactions. Good breakfasts, great to hang out by the fire, and a good location with lots to do in the surrounding towns, including great restaurants. Only hesitation for some might be that one of the owner's cats likes to join guests for the evening, which we found a plus, and while it is generally neat the cabin could probably stand a good cleaning. The owner also had to be reminded a few times to follow up on requests, but is on the whole a nice guy. http://www.smokehousewinerybnb.com/index.html

The Flight Crew: Nice report . . . and having a cat force its way into your cabin would actually be a plus for a lot of folks.


Houston, Tex.: I'm going to Rome for my honeymoon, from March 3-10. I have two questions. One, can you recommend a romantic, moderately-priced hotel, preferably in Old Rome or the Vatican area? Two, what options do I have for day trips out of Rome? Is Florence doable as a day trip? Thanks in advance.

The Flight Crew: From Gary Lee to Houston: When I was last in Rome, I stayed in the hotel Mozart, which I thought was lovely. It was moderately priced, too (about $100 a night) and very well-located, about three blocks from the Spanish Steps. Any other tips for honeymooners in Rome?


Sterling, Va.: I had a small question about travelling to London from D.C. over a three-day weekend. Considering the jet lag and travel time, would you say it's overkill for most people? I'm pressed for free time and was just wondering what your opinion on such travel is. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Depends, Sterling. If you can sleep on a plane (I can't) and shake off jetlag quickly, I say go for it. But having said that, I've done a trip like that to Paris and had a great time--just needed one really good night's sleep the first nite. Four days would be ideal, but we're all in agreement that three in London is better than none in London.

--john


Silver Spring, Md.: I enjoyed the article on Mongolia. A truly fascinating country (although I got to see only the capital during my brief business trip). Fermented mare's milk with voda was, well, an interesting cocktail. However, if the train from Beijing now takes "at least two days," it's slowed down considerably since I went, when it took a mere 30 hours. Comfortable train, nice scenery, and an interesting break at the China-Mongolia border when everyone is supposed to get off the train (wait in a nearby restaurant/bar) while big cranes lift the carriages off of the wheels to put them on narrower ones, as China uses regular gauge and Mongolia (like Russia) uses narrow gauge (at least this used to be the case). One fellow traveler stayed in the train during the process and said it was a wild ride.

The Flight Crew: Hey Silver Spring--I've always wanted to stay on a train while they're changing the gauges but so far, that's one experience that I haven't been able to check off my list. As for the difference between the time it took the writer to get from Beijing to UB compared with your experience, you've got the lovely variation in Chinese trains to blame for that. I took a three-day train ride across China that took a friend only a day and a half; he was smart and looked for an express, while I just grabbed the cheapest ticket available. So you're both right; it can take both 30 hours and two days to choo-choo your way from China's capital to Mongolia's.


Arlington, Va.: I used to live in Australia and I would like to take my family there for a vacation this summer (their winter). A check of United and Qantas showed fares which I thought were too high considering it's the low season there. There are some good packages, but they are aimed toward the first-time visitor (Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns) and I would rather just land in Sydney and drive to some of the lesser-known areas. Would a consolidator be a good source for budget airfares? How reliable are they? Are there any companies you can recommend? Any other ideas on how to take a family of four to Australia and not break the bank just on airfares?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I've been doing some research on consolidators, and I've concluded that many of the firms that have been in business the longest and have the best records do not deal directly with the public; they work with travel agents only. So your best bet may be to go to a "Certified Aussie Specialist" (Australian Tourism has a list of agents that have taken a special course in marketing Australia, go to www.australia.com) and get them to book your flight.


Takoma Park, Md.: Warm spot: I'd like to travel back in time 15 years to my parents' back yard in Los Altos hills, with orchard apricots drying on the roof and that great California eucalyptus smell in the air.

The Flight Crew: Nice, TP. Now everyone take a deep breath and suck in that eucalpytus . . .


Washington, D.C.: I would like to go to Paris over Thanksgiving week this year (two of us). The rates right now are pretty steep I think -- $630 per person. Or maybe that's not steep?? Do you think it's better to wait to buy tickets until much closer (after the fall sales hit) or buy now? Did anyone go to Paris (or other major European gateway) this past Thanksgiving? How much did you spend?

The Flight Crew: Gary Lee, major Paris fan, says that you should be able to get fares much cheaper than that. If you wait a bit, I would be surprised if you had to pay more than $450 a person and may be able to even find something for less than $400.



It seems like longer because: You'be been gone almost TWO weeks.

Normally, you're gone about one week.

The Flight Crew: DUH. I forgot about that coma I was in last week. Thanks for the correction (and for reading the intro!).


Carry-on item?: Does anyone know whether tennis racquets are allowed as carry-on items? They are not mentioned on the TSA Web site.

Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I sat next to a guy last weekend on a Southwest flight from San Diego who walked on with his tennis racquet in a case. You shouldn't have a problem.


Takoma Park, Md.: My favorite warm-weather spot? Easy: my hometown, Santa Barbara. It's almost always in the 70s there. (At the moment, it's 71!) My parents' tile patio has a fantastic view of the mountains, and the tile radiates heat as the day progresses. A good book, some sunglasses, binoculars in case you want to watch the hawks or the hangliders coming down from the mountains, and a cold drink. It's just a wonderful place to relax.

The Flight Crew: Sweet. Watching the Super Bowl last night (I can't help it--I liked the monkey-in-the-polar-bear-pool ad best) made we want to drop everything and head west. Thanks for chiming in.


Chantilly, Va.: Hello, I am going on cruise in July and am starting to look for airfare from the WAS area to Miami. Is there a time frame for getting better airline rates that usually applies? And what i mean by this is, are there certain days where rates are better online? is is better to wait until two months before than four months? Any observations you can provide as to when the best time to look for bargains will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: There is no way to predict what day or time an airline will choose to drop some cheap prices. In fact, I just finished a long an exhaustive search for a flight to Miami next month, and found fares were wildly fluxuating. I finally nailed down something for $238. This if during of course the busiest season. When you fly is usually much more critical to the fare than when you book. For example, I found a non-stop American flight to Miami from DCA for $238 if I left on Thursday, Feb. 13. The ticket jumped to $712 if I left Friday, at the beginning of the three day weekend.

So, go shopping now. If you find something in the neighborhood of $200, grab it now. That's assuming you don't have alot of people going with you, so that a $30-$50 possible savings later isn't being multiplied. Cindy


Silver Spring, Md.: Over New Year's I went on a 10-day Caribbean cruise with Princess. It really was a lot of fun! The ship was nice -- no viruses, and the excursions were fun. I've been to the individual islands many times, but this was a real treat, especially this time of year. We are already researching warm places to visit next year!

The Flight Crew: 10 days! I'm jealous. Especially the no-viruses part. Glad ya had a good time. Any more warm-weather ideas? That maple syrup isn't going to jump on a stack of pancakes by itself, you know.


Rockville, Md.: Stuck at my desk. Fav warm spot. Sanibel Island, sitting on the secluded beach, watching the birds and collecting shells. Then watching the sun go down with a margarita in hand or walking along the white beaches. Aaaahh, don't I wish I was there.

The Flight Crew: Stuck at your desk? Aren't we all! I'm feeling for ya, though....Sanibel is the best. Hope you get back soon.


Casper, Wyo.: Hi -- I'm a first time writer! We want to go visit our son, going to college in Hilo, Hawaii. What good places, medium priced, are there to stay? We want to go in early May. Other activities scheduled May 8-15?
thanks -- enjoy your show.

The Flight Crew: Welcome aboard, Casper. Glad to have you with us. Hilo is a funny place; in spite of building a couple of big resorts and even arranging for some direct flights from the mainland (no longer available, if I'm not mistaken), it never took off a major Hawaiian destination. Being the single rainiest city in the U.S. may have something to do with it. Most people just drive right on over to Volcanoes or Kona on the other side of the Big Island. But that means those big old resorts are available for a decent price. One of them is the Naniloa, I believe, and it has a twin right there on the bay. I didn't pay more than about $90 to stay there a few years ago. And there's nifty little high-end italian/seafood restaurant right downtown, Cafe Pesto's. (But your son will have the local food scene down pat, I'm sure.) Have fun--it's a neat little Hawaiian town. --Steve


Washington, D.C.: Has anyone gone on one of those volunteer trips that arrange for you to work in a village somewhere for a couple of weeks? I'm considering trying one, having not really done any world travelling because of growing up poor. I don't want to be another boring "blah blah I've gone to Europe eight times" person like some of my university classmates, but I also don't have the experience or money to deal with an ill-planned trip. Do you have advice for a company to go with, or a certain program? How much should I expect to pay?

The Flight Crew: I took a week-long Sierra Club trip in Utah, but we helped cows not people (or so I think; I know for sure we did not help the ranchers). They have some great trips, and not very high priced, though they are environmentally oriented. We did however run a piece about Habitat for Humanity, on a woman who helped build homes in Guatemala. So, check them out. There are also tons of books (try Bill McMillon's on short-term volunteer vacations), Web sites et al. about volunteer vacations, which fit any budget and social goals. Just be warned, though, that doing good can cost ya--since the non-profits work on such shoestring budgets, often you are donating time and money. But they are so rewarding. I am still getting thank you notes from the cows.--andrea


Washington, D.C.: Hi Crew,

Any tips to minimize my chances of picking up nasty illnesses from a plane trip? On my last trip, in mid-December, with two trips of coughing, sneezing passengers, I picked up about six different illnesses, which knocked me out for weeks; I'm still not really over them. Now I have to fly this week -- with connecting flights, there'll be four different planeloads of passengers to infect me. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?

The Flight Crew: If they have colds, polite Japanese wear face masks,like the kind you'd use if sanding. (Insiders told me just this weekend that actually they just say they have a cold and don't want to pass it, when in fact they are really trying to avoid getting a cold.)

That would no doubt single you out as looking stranger than you might want to look. I've actually researched this and was told by reliable sources that most illnesses in planes are contacted by touching trays, arm rests, etc, so you can improve your odds by spraying a disinfectant on places you'll touch, or wash your hands throughly before each time you touch your face. (Cindy)


Portland, Ore.: Husband and I want to rent an apartment in Rome, but we've never been there before. I've heard the Stazioni Termini area is central but sort of sketchy and not very interesting. What would be some good, affordable areas for newcomers to Rome? We'll want to do some touristing, of course, but also want to stay somewhere with interesting shops and cafes, so we can pretend we live there for a short while.

The Flight Crew: Gary Lee says: The best place to be in my view is around the Spanish Steps, though it can be kind of pricey. There are some pretty decent and less touristy neighborhoods around the Coliseum and near the Vatican. There are quite a number of budget level hotels, including some apartment hotels, around the Stazioni Termini, but I would agree that it doesn't have a lot of character and does seem a bit shady...


Warrenton, Va.: Hello Crew. I have a couple of Thailand questions. We're taking the overnight train (first-class sleeper) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and wonder what level of comfort to expect, i.e., food options, sleeping comfort,security, etc.? Also, what about day trips from Chiang Mai and Bangkok -- any recommendations? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Hi Warrenton, KC here. The sleeper train from Chiang Mai from Bangkok is an incredible deal at $28, with a three-course dinner included. Our roomette had a sink, a huge picture window and a couch that made up into a bed, plus an upper berth. I slept like a baby -- I love sleeping on trains. It was perfectly safe and secure -- the whole country feels very safe. The lavatory at the end of the car was clean but not anyplace you'd want to spend a lot of time in. Some folks used it to shower in (there's a basin and a hose thing), so it was generally pretty wet in there.

Re day trips from Bangkok, one of my favorites was our boat ride down the Chao Phraya River to Ko Kret, a tiny little island that is known for its ancient Mon (similar to Burma) culture. Had one of the best meals of my trip there, at a little ramshackle street cafe.

Anyone else got day trip recommendations for Warrenton?


Washington, D.C.: I'm totally lost and in need of flight crew advice! I'm planning a two-week trip to Europe in May, flying into either London or Paris. The lowest airfares I'm finding are in the $700-800 range -- should I buy now or wait for a sale? Would you recommend using a consolidator? I've never used one -- how do they work? Can you recommend any good ones? Thanks and sorry for the multiple questions!

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I think that's high, but I'll give you my stock line - if you need to travel on certain days in order to be somewhere at a specific time, you need to book early, but if you're at all flexible, wait and watch. Travelocity.com has something called Fare Watcher where you can ask it to monitor fares between specified cities. As for consolidators, many use them and there are deals, but buyer beware - these companies come and go. Like I told the clickster going to Australia, go through a travel agent in order to find a good consolidator, and use a credit card to pay just in case there's a problem.


Northern Virginia: If I could be anywhere it'd be Aruba for sure. I could use some Aruba.

Any tips on best route travelling to Orlando with two kids (a 4-year-old and 8-month-old)? We're doing "the Disney thing" and am looking into airfares. Any suggestions?

The Flight Crew: Yo, NoVa. Depends on whether you're willing to break up the trip, how good the kids are in the car, what your patience level is. Most of us here don't mind long car drives, and it's a pretty straight run to Disney. The flight down to Orlando is about 2 hours from these parts and the fares are running about $175 right now for nonstop flights--not bad at all.

--john


Bethesda, Md.: I am going to Cancun for vacation around Feb. 18. Do you need a passport or can you use a birth certificate for entry? I know I used a birth certificate on a cruise, but wanted to check the rules. Also, is this timing pre-Spring Break crowds, I hope?

Thanks.

The Flight Crew: A birth certificate is enough, although I always take my passport cause, why not?

You will miss the major spring break time. (If you are taking kids of your own, and their other parent is traveling with you, be aware you need a notarized letter.)


Warm spot: Sitting on the black sands of Kovalam beach in Kerala, India, drinking in the the hippie culture and eating coconut curries after watching the glorious sun set. Nothing like Pink Floyd and a cold beer in the humidity of the approaching monsoon. Have everything you need at the beach so that you don't have to leave (or wear shoes) for a week.

The Flight Crew: Ahhhhhhhhhhh.


Washington, D.C.: I am interested in recommenations regarding travel agents who specialize in New Zealand.

Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Personalized travel specializes in Australia and N.Z. (202 508 8656). The Australian tourism office had given me a second name for specializing in Australia, and I'm guessing they probably know alot about N.Z. too--Aus-Vacations Inc. 202 331 4329. Cindy


Alexandria, Va.: Best warm spot I can think of right now is Kauai -- hiking and snorkeling around the Napali cliffs. Beautiful, unspoiled, and WARM!

Now that your question has made me want to go back as soon as possible, how does one get a good deal on fares to Hawaii? Seems like they don't have an "off-season"!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Al. Rainy season is in April or so, but we're not so sure it equates to lower airfares. You can do what we do to get a good fare: Just sit and wait and sometimes they dive for no apparent reason. If you see one for $500, Carol tells me, you better grab it when you can.

-john


Fairfax, Va.: What can you tell me about the Gites de France? We would be interested in staying in French bed and breakfasts, but I'm unsure about the quality. Can you count on the "ears of corn" ratings like a Mobil or AAA rating?

The Flight Crew: Gary says yes, I think the Gites de France rating system is very reliable and in general have high praise for the quaility of the properties and the way they are managed. Bon Voyage!


McLean, Va.: After reading the article on Thailand a few weeks back my husband and I have made up our minds to visit early next year. We are planning to do a similar itinerary Bangkok, area around Chiang Mai and then some time at the beach. How easy is it to book domestic flights and the train once we get to Thailand? I'm just wondering if we make reservations at a resort in Koh Samui before we leave if we will have a difficult time getting flights on the days we want once we get to Thailand.

Thanks!

The Flight Crew: McLean, you're going to have a blast. I didn't have any trouble booking domestic flights once in the country. In fact, I completely "wang" it and made hotel reservations outside Bangkok on the spot too, and generally didn't have any trouble. (Did have one disappointment in Chiang Mai, when our guest house of choice, the wonderful Gap's, was booked -- but we did eventually get in.) Have a great trip! -- KC


Alexandria, Va.: If I could be somewhere warm, I would choose Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. My honey and I spent Valentine's Day long weekend there last year. It is a state park so it was very well kept. You had the opportunity to rent secluded camp spots on the beach or rent houses on the water gulf side. We rented a house on the water. You could grill out on the porch and watch the sunset and also fish from the porch. The beaches were clean and empty. It was a nice quiet peaceful weekend. There are many beautiful beaches all over the world but I appreciated the privacy, quietness and convenience of this place. Now you have me daydreaming!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Al. We did a story on the park a few years ago, and it sounds great. Believe that's one of the few spots in the Keys with a beach, so it's a good thing it's a winner. Thanks for the warm thoughts.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Crew,

Just wanted to say "slainte" to that great article about the Scotland Malt Whisky tour! I'm headed over in March and that's certainly whetted my apetite. A technical question -- a number of friends and relations have made noises about me bringing a wee dram back for them. How much liquor am I allowed to bring into the U.S.?

The Flight Crew: Many thanks. I've been dreaming of that trip for almost 20 years (I was a precocious Scotch drinker). You're allowed to bring in one liter of booze before you start owing duty on it. But beware: you wan't find any bargains on whisky, what with the dollar where it is against the pound. If you go through Europe, you'll do much better on price. (If you're really lucky, you'll pass through Asia--I was the Singapore airport this weekend and got a big bottle of Macallan's 12-year-old for $30!).

Have a great time. --Steve


Rome honeymoon: Although Florence is a do-able day-trip, why not go to Siena instead. It's closer that Florence and is a wonderful city with a very different charm. It's nice to get out of a bigger city sometimes and go to someplace like Siena that is a little bit slower, and also has a lot to offer. Siena has great shopping, amazing Tuscan views, and wonderful little hole in the wall restaurants. My big advice is to take one night away from Rome and stay at the Villa Scacciapensiere in Siena. It's amazing, romantic and reasonably priced. I don't have the contact info, but you should be able to google it easily! Buon Viaggio!

The Flight Crew: Thanks, says Gary. Good tip!


Washington, D.C.: What's the latest on locking luggage when going out of the U.S.? I've heard that Northwest says if you get to the airport early enough you can lock luggage after it's been cleared by security. If that's not the case, what is the real situation regarding using plastic straps -- if opened will they really be replaced? The question is of concern to a group traveling to and through developing countries with tools, books, and other donated items that we'd really like to see arrive with us.

The Flight Crew: I would check that with Northwest---I think it must depend on the configeration of the detection machines they use. At some airports they check luggage in the passenger area, so you could wait to make sure there are no problems, and unlock for them if there are problems.

There is no question, though: TSA advises that you not lock your luggage, cause if they have to open it, they will, locked or not. TSA is supposed to put a plastic lock around a bag they've opened, and inside a note saying they opened it. Cindy


Washington, D.C.: To your Rome traveler -- recently stayed at the Due Tore Hotel near the Piaza Navona -- wonderful, intimate hotel. Good price. Nice rooms (if small), staff was very helpful. Found it in Cheap Sleeps Italy. Highly recommend it.

The Flight Crew: Much thanks, says Gary. Good tip!


Warm weather and Aussie flight: Warm weather -- Namibia, Africa -- no question! Watch the animals stroll by for a drink, enjoy the sun, imbibe a big, cold beer (everything's bigger in Africa) and then snuggle in your sleeping bag when the sun goes down.

For Aussie flights -- try STA. They have locations in all cities and on the Web.

The Flight Crew: How exotic--and wonderful. (Hey, how come beer plays such a big part in so many beach fantasies? Oh, wait, even I know the answer to that one.)


Washington, D.C.: Paris over Thanksgiving follow-up --

Gary, when might one start seeing rates to Paris in the $400 range? (I realize you don't have a crystal ball, only lots of experience, I hope!)

The Flight Crew: The lower fares often don't pop up until early or mid-October, says Gary, but in my experience it's worth waiting until they do because you end up saving a lot...


Washington, D.C.: Warm spot that I love. Walking down the street in DC and walking over those heat ducts from the metro. Ahhhhh

The Flight Crew: Well, ya can't argue with that I guess.


Bethesda, Md.: I am traveling to London in a few weeks and know that Europe is famous for student discounts. What ID or paperwork do I need to qualify for a student discount? I have an expired ISIC card, and my college ID.

The Flight Crew: Any school ID should work, as long as its valid and has a picture (bring back up ID in case they want two proofs, but my sister is student and she just flashes her college ID). Also, you might want to renew your ISIC card to get even better deals.--andrea


Washington, D.C.: Crew:

I have 55000 miles on Delta and a voucher on US airways for a round trip flight that will expire in year. I plan to take at least one trip this summer-- my question is which should I use first given the state of airlines today? (US Airways seems, of all things considered, in decent shape)

The Flight Crew: Every airline is hurting. Only two have actually taken steps to reorganize under Chapter 11--U.S. Air and United. I'm betting $1.50 that none of the big six goes under, but I'd bet $2 on Delta, since they haven't filed. Cindy


South of France: One of my favorite warm places is Nice, France. I would sit out on the balcony of our apartment hotel overlooking the Baie des Anges and dry my hair in the sun. Sitting in the park at the Musee Matisse, going to Vence to see the Matisse Chapel, just enjoying the wonderful light and water, walking home along the Promenade des Anglais, -sigh- all wonderful memories.

The Flight Crew: Nice, how nice. What time does the next flight leave?


Apartment in Rome: The Oregonians looking for a good neighborhood to "live" in in Rome should check out Trastevere. It's right across the river from the main part of downtown (but on the same side as the Vatican). Lots of fantastic restaurants, neat little alleyways and shops, and an easy walk or bus ride to all the sights and sites. I know they're looking for an apartment, but my family stayed for a few days at the Hotel Via Cisterna when they visited me during the semester I spent in Rome. Also, in Trastevere look for Trattoria Papa Re, on via della Lungaretta. Delicious pesto for a pittance.

The Flight Crew: I think that's an excellent tip, says Gary. I was going to suggest it myself but didn't want to complicate things too much...


Washington, D.C.: Great Whiskey tasting article -- especially as the hubby and I have been kicking around the idea of going on a whiskey tour for the past few weeks -- Thanks for all the research! My question -- Should we go in February/March, or wait for full on spring? Thanks -- Jody

The Flight Crew: The research was my pleasure, WDC. If you need to know anything else, I'd be glad to go back and find it out for you. K.C.?

Even though it can be loads of fun to have an indoors-oriented time in Scotland in the winter (the people are extra delighted to see you, the pubs are welcoming, the hotels cheap), I'd wait for spring if you have the option. It's such beautiful countryside; unless you go all the time it's best to have a chance at some sun. (Plus, one of the great mysteries of Western civilization is why the Brits--living in a wet and cold environment much of the year--are so bad and building cozy indoor habitats. They FREEZE there!). --Steve


Chicago, Ill.: Boy, do I need a warm weather vacation! If I could go anywhere, I would go to Kauai, where my husband and I spent on our honeymoon. If I close my eyes, I can picture being right back in our convertible driving along the coast from the north shore to the south shore looking at the impossibly blue water on one side and the lush green mountains on the other side while the warm sun shines overhead. Mmmm -- let's pull over to one of the roadside smoothie stands for a mango smoothie or some shave ice.

The Flight Crew: Another vote for Kauai. And you probably need it more than most these days, Chicago.


New York, N.Y.: Some friends and I are headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico in a week and a half to escape the cold. (Found a great deal on Jet Blue!) We are just going for a long weekend and plan to spend most of our time on the beach, but I would like to check out Old San Juan and do a little sightseeing. Anything I shouldn't miss? Will be staying in a B&B called Casa del Caribe next to the Marriott Resort. Has anyone heard of it/stayed there? Thanks for the help!

The Flight Crew: I'd say you have it right--beach, and a stroll around Old San Juan. If any frequent P.R. travelers know the exact place they are staying, or have more ideas, feel free to chime in. (Cindy)


Arlington, Va.: Without a doubt, I would be at Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia, right now. It's on the Sunshine Coast, which is significantly less touristy than the Gold Coast to the south, and about an hour and a half drive from Brisbane. The beach is spectacular; the sand is fine and white, the surf is gentle but not-too -- about 5-foot waves, and the water is warm, usually about 23 C (about 73 F). Best of all, the beach has a natural spit that protects it from the rougher pacific currents, and it also prevents bluebottles (stinging jellyfish) from getting to the beach most of the time. Temperatures in the summer are usually in the high 80s or low 90s, and there is always a wonderful seabreeze.

The Esplanade has wonderful coffee shops and restaurants, along with many apartment rental units. There is a lovely trail that runs along the shore; someday, we'll rent bikes and ride up the shoreline. (It's too hard right now with two kids under 3!) My husband and I are already planning our next trip there. There is nothing better than waking up Christmas morning and going for a swim, after presents, of course!

The Flight Crew: Arl, I'd even fight off stinging jellyfish to be there right now. Thanks!


Deep Valley, USA: Siena tip:

All the streets are extremely steep there. Be sure you can handle it.

And don't miss the St. Catherine of Sienna church and relics.

If you're there during the right part of August, you'll see groups of guys practicing for the Palio, a kind of preserved medieval competition between neighborhoods. They dress up in costume and march around and look colorful and whoop it up and wave flags for about ten days beforehand.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, Deep Valley, for the expert added advice, says Gary.


Fave warm-weather spot: Boracay island, off the southwest coast of the Philippines. White sand the consistency of sugar. Clear blue-green waters for leagues. I got a pedicure on the beach while eating ripe mangoes with my hands. Very decadent. There were no other Americans there b/c of the remoteness of the locale - a 24-hr plane trip to Manila, then a 1 1/2 hr flight via a VERY small plane to a neighboring island. Then a jeepney and a boat to Boracay. Once you get to the island, you hop off into thigh-high water while touts carry your bags on their heads.

The Flight Crew: Man, you guys get around. My favorite warm spot is Wildwood, NJ, and here we have someone decadently prowling the beaches of the Philippines. Nice job, clickster.


Seattle, Wash.: My favorite warm weather spot -- and enjoy it while you can, before the embargo gets lifted -- is Cuba. Where else in the world can you go where you're not bombarded with McDonalds, Starbucks and the rest of American corporate consumer culture, and also experience a warm, inviting and fascinating culture? Not many other places, and soon not Cuba either, as reports have congressmen trying to lift the embargo. Cuba will become a very different place when that happens.

The Flight Crew: Stupid Starbucks. Stupid McDonalds. Why do they have to be everywhere?! Nice suggestion, though, Seattle.


re: London jet lag: I had only 4 days in London recently and since I know it takes me a while to recover from jet lag, I tried my darnedest to stay on EST while I was there. That meant dragging pals around until the wee hours of the night and then allowing myself to sleep in until around 11 each morning. It worked great!

The Flight Crew: It's all about the sleep, isn't it? Thanks for the suggestion.


Washington, D.C.: If you had your choice for a two-week trip in October, would you choose Mongolia or Thailand/Vietnam? Not the ideal season weather-wise in either, I gather. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Hi DC,
Anne here. The closest I've been to Mongolia is Inner Mongolia, so any experienced hands should feel free to jump in and say I'm wrong, but northern China starts getting cold in October, and I can imagine the farter north you go the colder it can be. Some days I only needed short sleeves but most nights I swaddled up as much as possible. I spent a November in Vietnam and was thrilled by the weather (with the exception of a two-day monsoon, of course), but have only been to Thailand in the heat of July. My vote would be Vietnam; with two weeks, I'd choose to concentrate on either the north or the south (with the north being my choice; Hanoi alone can capture you for the entire time) and save the other half of the country for a subsequent visit. The author of the Mongolia article from last week seemed to feel two weeks was sufficient. Any posters out there who want to weigh in on Mongolia vs. Thailand vs. Vietnam?


Arlington, Va.: Want to go to Charlottesville for a long weekend. It'll just be me. Do you have a favorite hotel and restaurant? I plan to do wineries and the Monticello. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Arl, I'm extremely partial to the Clifton Inn, a wonderful 1799 manor house just outside of town with antique-filled guest rooms with lots of nice amenities (CD player in the room, sherry, etc.) and gorgeous grounds. Before dinner, there's a very civilized cocktail hour in the drawing room, complete with resident piano player. The chef comes in and announces dinner, which is equally wonderful and prepared with fresh local ingredients. There's a pool, nearby horse-riding, wineries nearby -- it's just heaven. But it's expensive -- I paid $185/night last summer.

As for restaurants, you can't wrong at the C&O -- everybody loves it. I liked the Metropolitain too. Stay away from the touristy Hardware Store. -- KC


-- KC


Ko Samui, Thailand: Pristine beaches, tropical breezes (and drinks), amazing food, diving and snorkeling, and friendly people. Did I mention the $3 massages on the beach?

The Flight Crew: A vote for Thailand.


World Traveler in D.C.: My favorite warm weather spot is Phuket, Thailand. Ignore all the news you've seen about security, etc. It is such a serene, calm and relaxing place. I would go back in a heartbeat, even if I had to fly 50 hours in the middle seat (no, the flight is not that long). People are soo nice, with their wonderful smiles and willingness to help and please. I stayed on a 14 mile natural park beach, where I was the only one in the ocean in the mornings. I had about 5 books to read, but read maybe 30-50 pages total since it was so nice and relaxing to just sit on the beach and watch the waves (and discover the island)... In November it was in the 90s, the flowers smelled so beautiful, the food was fabulous, and everything was so fresh and tasty. Not to mention cheap!!! A honeymoon couple I met had lobsters, shrimp and beer for $12! I stayed away from the major tourist towns (we all have seen those)and discovered the island, talked to people etc. As a woman traveling alone, not for a second I felt unsafe. I could go on forever, but I don't want to take all the space. No matter how the weather is here, I always feel the warmth of the sun on my skin when I imagine myself on the Mai Khao Beach! If you ever get a chance, don't even think twice!

The Flight Crew: And ANOTHER vote for Thailand. Nice job.


College Park, Md.: My vote for warmest place is Tucson, AZ. Anyplace you can wear shorts on Christmas Day is my idea of paradise. It's almost always sunny and even though it gets up to 100 degrees in the summer, it's better than all those muggy DC summer days. In fact, I'm going away to enjoy the warm Arizona weather next month. On American it's only $230, and that's a pretty good deal for a flight straight to Tucson.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, CP--and you even told the crowd how much it costs to get there. You guys rock.


Potomac Falls, Va.: Hi gang. My lovely boyfriend is using his frequent flyer miles to whisk us away to Thailand in March. (This will be my first time in First Class -- woo hoo!)

Anyway, we like anything to do with water, and hiking and I am looking forward to a little spa treatment. We've decided to spend our time on Koh Samui, and I was hoping you or some clicksters would have some advice about what to do, where to stay, eat, party, etc.

Thanks so much!

The Flight Crew: PF, I did my beach segment at a remote little island called Koh Chang (Turtle Island) so have no first-hand experience with Ko Samui, though it's certainly popular, and less touristed than the dreaded Phuket. Anyone have Samui specifics to share? -- KC


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hello Travel Crew --

I'm planning on getting married at the end of May, but the threat of activation looms over my fiancee's head since he's in the reserves. Here's where I need your advice -- we've been dreaming and saving for two years for a honeymoon in Venice, Italy. But we're not sure what the best way to lessen the financial impact if we have to postpone the trip? I'm guessing refundable tickets is the safest, but I was wondering if there's a less expensive option? Can we wait until April to get reasonable priced plane tickets? Is there any type of travel insurance that would cover this type of situation? Thanks so much for your opinions. Also, if you have any suggestions about Venice or the surrounding area, we'd greatly appreciate it.

The Flight Crew: You raise a great question, and I'm going to ask the airlines if they've considered giving extra consideration to reservists who are called up. At the moment, my guess is no.

One thing to remember about nonrefundable tickets, is that MOST of them aren't really nonchangeable. You'll normally incur a $100 change fee, as long as you tell the airline before your flight is due to leave. I'd say you should make sure that your ticket can be changed with a $100 fee, and gamble on not having to pay it, cause war will be averted and we'll live in peace and happiness. (If you do run into trouble, I'd appeal to the airlines to waive the fee, in case someone wants to be nice and patriotic or whatever.) In this case, though, I wouldn't prepay for hotels and other stuff. That way, the worst is that you'll have to pay $200 extra in change fees.

You can also buy insurance, but be very careful---don't listen to anyone's words about what is covered. Look to see it clearly spelled out in writing. Cindy

or the airlines being nice if your guy is shipped out. oppd' Your cheapestthey arent' really aryaThe difference in price between a refundable and non refundable ticket is usually huge. Unless you can find a nonrun bigauuserved adn noneI'


Pregnant in Vienna, Va.: Greetings, Travel Gurus! You guys gave me some good advice a couple of weeks ago about TWP (Travelling While Pregnant). Now I have a Spain question. We've been once before (Seville, Cadiz, Grenada, Malaga) and are taking my inlaws to Estepona (on the Costa del Sol) for a week. I'm looking for an "escape hatch" overnight for my husband and I. I was thinking about the Algarve in Portugal, but the lit. on it doesn't read much different than Spain's. Any suggestions? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Oh, Pregnant one, I don't have a good escape hatch idea on the tip of the tongue, says Gary, but I do recommend madridandbeyond.com. They're an excellent resource for English speaking travelers in that part of the world. If you e-mail Nigel at that address he will surely have a good suggestion in mind.



Arlington, Va.: Warm weather spot -

Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas...one of the outer island. Quiet, warm, beautiful beaches, friendly people. Check out the Peace and Plenty Hotel...

Great memories here - we got married on the beach!

The Flight Crew: Boy, it's heatin' up in here. Thanks, Arl.


Arlington, Va.: Hello Flight Crew,

I'm planning a cruise this summer to St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea with stops in Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm, Oslo and Copehagen. Cruise starts from Norwcich, England. Any words of advise from you or readers would be appreciated.

The Flight Crew: I think we need some help on this one. Copenhagen is a great city to stroll around--your ship will probably dock along a cobblestone street with lots of restaurants and such. Don't know how much time you'll have there, but if you have enough time, the Louisiana art museum is worth a ride.

As to the other destinations, anyone have ideas?


Arlington, Va.: Anywhere in the sun...no question it's Sorrento, Italy. Trees line the strees with lemons as big as softballs, the water is a gorgeous emerald-turquoisey see-through wonderland full of fish and swimmers, and the breezes cool you as you sit at a cafe drinking a the freddo and enjoying the best pizza or pasta in the world. It's absolutley, unavoidably PERFECT. Plus, there are the days trips to Naples, Capri, you name it.......

But even more importantly, HOW WAS BURMA?!?!? I've been tortured about whether or not I should go. I am planning a trip to the Andaman Islands, and I will be sooooooo close. Should I do it? Give me a little preview.....PLEASE!

The Flight Crew: Oh to be in Sorrento in late January, Arlington. Let's have pasta tonight and just pretend.

BURMA WAS GREAT!, to borrow your inflection. Exploring whether or not conscientious travelers should go there was the point of my trip and will be the focus of my story. The fact is, more tourists are going every year, including more Americans, and the human rights community is split on whether that traffic will offer more aid to the Burmese or to the repressive military government. Nobel laureate Aung San Su Kye has repeatedly called for a tourism boycott, although the spokesman for her opposition party gave me a more nuanced answer and there are reports that there is some debate within her circle. I'll tell you this: in literally dozens of interviews with Burmese people, I didn't meet one who supported the government or one who didn't welcome tourists and their dollars. Stay tuned for a more thorough report. As for the appeal of Burma as a destination: in my view, it blows Vietnam AND Thailand away. --Steve


Arlington, Va.: I am trying to plan a European trip for my family for this coming August. Researching airfares using the major online resources does not appear to yield any bargains eight months before the intended travel. When do you suggest is the best time to start shopping for fares? (Or is it expensive because we are traveling in high season?)

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Europe in August is expensive. Looking at Fly Buys from last summer for August travel, fare ranges were $670 to $750 to London; Madrid $840 to $919; Paris $680 to $860; Frankfurt $747 to $900. Prices are even higher now for travel this summer, so I would wait. A consolidator may be able to do better. As I said in earlier responses today, a travel agent may be your best bet to locate a good consolidator.


Sequim, Wash.: How will the rise in the value of the EURO affect the upcoming travel season to the European Continent? I have a trip planned to Germany in April 2003, with non-refundable airline tickets in hand.

Any comments would be appreciated.

The Flight Crew: At the moment I think you're looking at about a 10% difference from six months or a year ago. You can probably go, have fun, and cut 10% out of your spending plans and still have an equally good time, for an equal amount of money. Cindy


Re Mongolia or Vietnam: I was in Beijing in May and I was freezing. Opt for Vietnam.

The Flight Crew: Another vote for Vietnam...


Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon! Heading to Orlando this weekend for some (hopefully) warmer weather and two separate days of theme parks. Tuesday is EPCOT, but can't decide between Disney MGM and Universal for Monday. Which would be a better bet for a single day, does the Flight Crew have a preference? Travelers are two 30-something adults. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hi, SS. My favorite Disney park is MGM. Personally, I don't think Universal Studios can hold a candle to it. The rides are great (Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith coaster are among the best in Disney). Always leave Universal Studios (not neighboring Islands of Adventure, my fave theme park) thinking it should be better.

-john


Falls Church, Va.: For me the archtypical warm-weather destination is a beachhouse on an island on the Outer Banks (in summer, of course) -- probably because that's what my family did when I was a kid. Hot weather, warm water, nice soft sand, half-deserted beach -- ahh, it's like you have the whole beach to yourself.

I am also a big fan of Southern California. I should move there!

The Flight Crew: Thanks, FC.


Washington, D.C.: Warm spot: A tie between St. Lucia and Cabo de Gata (essentially the southeastern coast of Spain).

Now I have a question about a very COLD spot in February--Chicago. My fiancee and I are traveling there in a couple of weeks for a weekend, and I'd like some advice on restaurants. We're not trying to break the bank or anything--just something fairly affordable with good food. Any recommendations?

Thanks very much.

The Flight Crew: Foodie Gary Lee says you're in for a treat as Chicago is one of the best eating cities in the country. If you like Mexican food, the Frontera Grille, downtown is a must, probably the best Mexican restaurant I have been to north of the border. A colleague who knows both food and Chicago well also recommends Francesca's. Any other clicksters have Chicago restaurant tips?


Norfolk, Va.: Ahhh, counting the days til I can be (warm) there again. I will, on the very first sunny weekend that it tops 60, be on the beach at MP 11 in Nags Head, N.C. Grew up camping every chance my family could get on the Outer Banks, and now live 74 miles from an awesome public beach with restrooms and ample parking. We go down and back on the very best beach day of every single weekend between April and October-ish, and besides the beach, have serious rituals set up on the trips. We do Carol Merrill to selected sites like Mel's Diner, Pot's on N' Kitchen (I hate the name, so we have to hash that out every time), a sign for Aydlett, N.C. (say it out loud), and the best of all, GraveDigger, the monster truck in residence on the way down! We stop at the Exxon Stop N'Shop, where we load up on deli sandwiches, bait, lures, magazines, beverages, T-shirts, beach chairs, etc., etc., and to the beach! On the way home it's trying to find a farm stand that really sells FARM stuff, or fresh fish, and deciding whether or not to stop at the Cotton Gin (I always lose my husband in there, and it's 45 minutes just trying to connect and get out!). And I mean every single opportunity every single weekend - that's where you'll find us, and we can get home and feed the cats before dinner! It's now so essential to our well-being that we can tell what the weather's been like by the mood in the house -- and it's getting a bit dark. Counting the days!

The Flight Crew: Oh, yeah...more Outer Banks. Can I amend my fave? It's not Wildwood, NJ. It's Duck, N.C. What was I thinking?


Alexandria, Va.: Not sure if the couple planning to honeymoon in Rome is interested in this, but newlyweds can get special up-close seating at papal audiences, and a special papal blessing. The catch is that brides have to wear their wedding gowns. (When I was in Rome, I saw a few smart women who had obviously purchased easy to pack white dresses for this.) You need to make prior arrangements for this. Check with your diocese if you're interested.

The Flight Crew: I like that tip, says Gary. Much thanks!


things to do in denver when you have to work: Hi FCs! My co-workers and I have to go to Denver in two weeks for a big meeting. We were wondering what there is to do there (besides skiing). We won't have time for a lot of fun things during the day, but is there any night life that we shouldn't miss? Any bars or restaurants that are authentically Denver-y?

Thanks so much!

The Flight Crew: In Denver, head to lower downtown(LoDo), where you can wander from bar to bar to pub to pass out (more than 70 establishments, including restaurants, comedy clubs, etc.). For jazz or blues, head to Market Street (i.e. El Chapultepec) or Court Place; for Latin, try Alley Cat on Glenarm. For techno that goes on till breakfast: Amsterdam on Walnut. For culture: Denver Performing Arts Center, with nine different venues for dance, drama, theater, etc. There is also the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and, for indie movies, Chez Artiste. And the list goes on and on and on. Also, I am fond of Boulder, if you can take a side trip. Head to Pearl Street or the area around the unversity. Raise a Boulder brew and breathe in that clean Rocky Mountain air!--andrea


Costa Del Sol - escape: I'd suggest Ronda as a day trip from Costa Del Sol. Dramatic scenery in a beautiful little city.

The Flight Crew: Muchas Gracias, says Gary.


Favorite Warm Spot: Would have to be Isla Margarita, Venezuela. Despite the political situation, I'd still love to be there now. Wide white sand beaches, perfect Caribbean water, and plenty of activities if you want. Or it's just as fun lounging on a beach all day with a good book. The food makes your mouth water and the people are amazing. Not a real touristy spot either, so it makes you feel like you have the whole place to yourself.

The Flight Crew: Mouth-watering food? Amazing people? White sand beaches? What more could ya want?


Washington, D.C.: Favorite warm weather destination: Austin, Tex. The endless blue sky, rich hill country, great music, even better food, Shiner Bocks, and the people, are SO nice.

I need your two cents please: I'm trying to make a trip to L.A. the first weekend in April. Have found RT, and NS, tickets online from SW for about $250. Ideally though I'd really like to fly out of DCA, but I doubt it'll happen for that price. Does that seem like a decent fare, or should I hold off and hope for something better? My dates aren't really flexible and I'd consider a JetBlue deal but Dulles is a long haul for me. Any suggestions?

Thanks for the chats and great travel info!

The Flight Crew: Try America West. I just checked Orbitz.com and they are offering a fare of about $290 to LAX out of DCA. Also, if you're flexible with airports, always check fares into Burbank, Long Beach and Ontario - sometimes there are better deals.


Washington, D.C.: Fave warm weather spot:

Samos Island, Greece. If it hadn't been for a relative of my hubby's stationed there in the Army, I never would have had the opportunity to go. Not popular with the American tourists, which made it real popular with me. Very Greek. The best wine on the face of the Earth--and I'm not kidding about that. Water so clear you can see fish swimming by your feet. The island features two mountains and a valley that has thick forests and a spring-fed river running through it. Heavenly.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, DC. "Heavenly" is definitely what we're after here.


Europe in August: Try Iceland Air. Last year I got my trip to London for about $500.

The Flight Crew: Yes, Icelandair often has good deals.


Fairfax, Va.: Going to New York for a few days to celebrate our first anniversary. Can you recommend a nice, romantic (if possible) hotel under $200/night? Something near the theater district, perhaps? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Fairfax, I'm a big fan of the famed Algonquin Hotel, right off the theater district on 44th and well within the $200 night range. I spent my tenth anniversary there (and so, coincidently, did my wife) and found quintessentially New York in all the best ways. One of the best caberets in the city, for example. Website is www.thealgonquin.net, but also see what quickbook.com has to offer on it.


Washington, D.C.: I would like to go to Vietnam (and possibly Cambodia) for my honeymoon in late May. Do you have any recommendations on finding the best rates for transportation and/or hotels in Vietnam? Went to Thailand last year and founf the Internet was the best way to book hotels and was wondering if there was anything similar for Vietnam. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: The internet is a good way to go. I'd also get a good tour book for ideas. Most businesses there can be emailed, so you can get info and make reservations that way.

I'd definately suggest you check out north Vietnam, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in particular. I also spent some time in Da Nang---there is a beautiful resort, with developed world standards, called the furama (www.furamavietnam.com). It lists at, for Vietnam, a ridiculously high rate of $140 a night. But it would cost twice that or more anywhere else, and besides, I'd email them and ask their best price. Given the drop in tourism, you might get it alot cheaper. If you don't mind roughing it a tad, lots of Europeans find themselves happy at a nearby place that shares the same beach, for $25 a night, called the Tourane. For a honeymoon, though, I'd go with class.

For my money, you can skip Ho Chi Minh City and go direct to Hanoi and Danang/Marble mountain area. Cindy


washingtonpost.com: At Wit's End, (Post, Nov. 20, 2002)

The Flight Crew: Here's a link to a recent Escapes on the Algonquin hotel. thanks Kim.
--Steve


Laurel, Md: I will be taking a Royal Carribian cruise Mar 1 to Mardi Gras and Pregresso Mex. Has anyone ever done this? Will I be able to walk to the French Quarter and how far is the shopping district in Pregresso from where the ship dock?

The Flight Crew: What sayeth thou, Clicksters? Anyone take this cruise?


Washington, D.C.: Do you have a Web site or phone number for London's Victoria Rail Station? I want to inquire about the times and rates for their "left luggage" office, but can't find this info, or the contact info, in any guidebook or Qeb site. (Though I have found Victoria Coach station and Tube station Qeb sites.) Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Save yourself the hassle and call the British Tourist Authority at 800-462-2748. They should have it for you, in a snap.--andrea


Kingstowne, Va.: Hi Crew!

I'm planning a weekend in New York City, and I need some good resources for finding a hotel (looking for ideas like unique places, inexpensive but nice, etc.). Do you know of any great Web sites that have New York City hotel suggestions? I'm sure they're out there, but I just can't find them. The large travel sites (Expedia, Travelocity) aren't getting me anywhere, and even the New York City tourism site isn't helping. Anyone have suggestions?

The Flight Crew: Hi Kingstowne, not to worry. We really like Quikbook.com for that very purpose. You can search by price range and neighborhood, and can find some incredible bargains. The other major hotel site, hotels.com, has some good NYC deals too. As for Web sites, epinions can be fun, but I'm really wary of Web reviews; there are a lot of idiot reviewers out there. Try going to the Post Travel site and looking under New York, then checking out the "Details" boxes that go with the stories -- there are usually lots of good, unbiased recommendations there. -- KC


Washington, D.C.: A girlfriend and I want to get away from the cold, and have found a three night four day package to Jamaica-- Montego Bay. Is it safe? People keep telling us its not, and most important, what should I be wary of with all inclusive resorts-- this one looks fine on the web, but I can tell it's not four star. (and wouldn't expect it for the price). Mostly just want sun and beach... what should I expect?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: DON'T DO IT!! Okay, so maybe I'm overreacting, but after being stuck in an all-inclusive dump in Montego Bay for several days last winter, I'm just a little gunshy. Do your homework first. Go to www.whereto stay.com and read the reviews. And pay a little more for a nicer place. About the cheapest one that I could find that looked decent was the Holiday Inn Sunspree. The Wyndham often has good deals, and is a cut above. Most tourists stay at the resort at night - Montego Bay can get dangerous for outsiders.


Germantown, Md.: Close your eyes...hear the surf pound the soft sand, breath deep and feel your lungs burn from the salty air, burrow your fingers into the sand and feel the coolness, smell the scent of cotton candy, french fries and popcorn drift from the boardwalk, open your eyes and see uhhhh Ocean City Maryland! So close yet so far away. And one more reason to make OC the best warm weather spot, you can get the Washington Post everyday and pretend to read it as you check out whos sunburn, whos reading what, whos got too much flesh and whos got too little swimsuit. Can't wait!

The Flight Crew: Okay, I'm closing my eyes ... alfalkjafl afajla kaa. Okay, I just opened them again. And you had us at "you can get the Washington Post everyday."


Alexandria, Va.: Of all my warm-weather traveling, I'm still partial to New Mexico in the summer.

Gorgeous sunsets, incredibly nice people, amazing architecture, delicious food. Nothing like sitting on the deck watching the sun make the sky look like it's on fire.

The Flight Crew: New Mexico in the summer sounds wayyyy hot, Al. Thanks.


For Europe in May: You might consider flying into Amsterdam and then going on to your final destination. Also, I've found that checking fares on Thursday morning (and again Thursday afternoon if they're high in the morning) often results in very good prices. I found a flight to Amsterdam last week for $495 in Mid-May....later in the week it was $1100.

The Flight Crew: Worth a try.


Rosslyn, Va.: Three warm places: Phoenix, Ariz., in March, when the orange blossoms are blooming and the weather is perfect. Hawaii (particularly the island of Kauai). And Iguacu (sp) Falls in Argentina. Absolutely spectacular.

The Flight Crew: All winners, Rosslyn.


Volunteer Trips in the UK: I'm thinking of doing a few of them myself. In the UK you've got a few organizations that organize volunteer holidays:

National Trust - http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/

Thistle Camps (National Trust of Scotland) -
http://www.thistlecamps.org.uk/

BTCV - http://www.btcv.org/

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the tips.


Washington, D.C.: Re Charlottesville: We go every few months (UVa grads) and we think staying closer to campus is preferable--the Omni on the downtown mall is only 1 mile from the main campus, it's really nice, and it's close to about a hundred great places to eat, drink, and shop. The C&O is OK, but a little stuffy. The locals all go to Continental Divide (no reservations--show up at 6:00pm) which is right between the Downtown mall and campus.

The best sandwiches in the WORLD are, believe it or not, at the Belair Market, which doubles as a gas station. No joke, though; they use only the best ingredients, and the food's cheap. Other, more casual eateries, are Northern Exposure and Michael's Bistro, both on the corner.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for those ground-level tips, Wash. I did hear a lot of locals rave about the Continental Divide, but I was put off by its appearance -- now I know better! I've also stayed in boring chain hotels close to campus, but I like getting out in the country better. I think the C'ville countryside is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. -- KC


Washington, D.C.: My favorite warm spot is one of the warmest spots period -- Death Valley. The scenery is awesome, and there is nothing quite like driving, with the top down, no shirt on, and air as hot as a hairdryer blowing on you. It very peaceful and relaxing.

Oh, yeah, the cold beer works here, too.

The Flight Crew: See, cold beer works everywhere!


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Flight Crew! I desperately need your help. My husband will turn 40 this summer -- and we want to take a two-week trip to a continent where he has never been before. This means Asia, Africa, or Australia (we'll save Antarctica for the big 5-0).

We generally like to visit cities, and we love walking around city streets just getting the feel of the place we're visiting. Good public transportation systems (including buses) are a plus.

Basically we're easy to please -- and just like to travel. That's what makes this hard. I know we'll have fun wherever we go -- but I'd really like this trip to be particularly memorable. I know this is an awful question -- but can you help me anyway?

The Flight Crew: I'm heading for a first time to Australia, and I'm excited. But I might be even more excited to return to favorite places in Asia. It is a terrifically personal question. So think more about what you want. But if you want to know what I'd do---I'd go to Asia. I'd do Vietnam. I might try to include Hong Kong on the way, but not stay there long, instead using it as a base to spend a few days on Macau, which is a fascinating combo of China with Portuguese influences.

I'm expecting to really enjoy Australia. But that's another developed world experience. For just walking around savoring new sights and feelings, I don't think you can beat Asia. (Cindy)


Rosslyn, Va.: I've been conjuring up memories from a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., in May when it was 108 F. They handed our umbrellas at the tour of Taliessin West so that you could have some shade as you walked around. I was at the la Posada, which has a huge swimming pool with a deserty rock formation theme, and we had to wait until around 6:30-7 p.m. to go swimming because it was just too hot to be out before then. But the dip into the water felt so good!

As for jet lag, a couple of years ago I did a long weekend in Paris for a wedding, and a co-worker suggested "No Jet Lag," an herbal supplement from New Zealand that helps readjust your circadian rythms. You chew one pill every couple of hours during the trip. I was sceptical, but it worked for me. It doesn't make up for lack of sleep but at least you don't feel like sleeping for 5 yours in the middle of the day when you should be sightseeing. I haven't had a chance to use it again, so I can't say whether this was only a one-time success. By the way, it's available at places like Whole Foods, and I think I've even seen it at Trader Joe's.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the two-fer, Rosslyn. Interesting report on the "No Jet Lag."


Re: Baltic cruise: Having just visited Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg (in the winter, though), count this as a BIG endorsement of Tallinn! It's a beautiful little town perfect for strolling, shopping, and basically just relaxing and enjoying a foreign country without any of the stress that you might encounter in, oh, say, St. Petersburg, which is not at all equipped for English-speaking tourists.

Tallinn (and Helsinki) are right on the water so I would imagine you can just step off the ship and into town. Helsinki doesn't have a whole lot to do (especially on Mondays when every possible tourist attraction is closed) but it has a great cafe culture and is probably really pleasant in the summer (though it is a VERY expensive place). Tallinn is cheap and there is a lot of great handmade stuff to spend your money on; St. Petersburg is both cheap and expensive (example: metro rides are 18 cents, but admission to the Hermitage is $10 for foreigners, and 50 cents for Russians).

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Ah, Firenze: My favorite warm spot - Spring 1997, sitting on a bench in the HUGE garden of my host family's house in Florence, on the outskirts of the city. Smelling the flowers, feeling the warm sun after months of cold weather, getting some color back in my face, reading Boccaccio.... Is it Spring yet??

Also, I did Rome as a day trip from Florence, so I'm sure going the other way 'round is feasible.

The Flight Crew: No, it's not spring yet! But we can pretend, can't we?


Takoma Park, Md.: For Copenhagen, Louisiana is great! Easy trip on a local train.

Stroget, the "walking street" has fine shopping and good restaurants and no traffic.

Fine people-watching.

Tivoli is over-rated in my personal opinion. I think you have to be Danish to appreciate it completely.

The Flight Crew: And I agree with all you say. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Last year on a trip to northern England, we needed to rent a car. I had last rented there in 1997 and didn't really remember much about the costs. Last year cost a fortune for the four days, plus insurance. I know I pay a premium because I am specifying an automatic transmission. (It's weird enough to drive on the left, let alone try to master a gear shift with the wrong hand!) Anyway, I'm returning to England in early March and need to reserve again. Picking up and returning in either York or Darlington. Any suggestions on who to rent from, and how to rent most inexpensively if we HAVE to have an automatic?

The Flight Crew: It's a sad truism, Arlington, but renting a car in Britain (as in most of Europe) is an expensive proposition. It's also a mystery. On a recent trip to Scotland, I thought I'd found a silver bullet through a discount website, but, alas, when the hidden fees and exchange rate kicked in I was back up to something like $60/day. I finally ended getting the best deal with a corporate discount through Hertz. You might give the manual a go; it's not as hard as you think. Good luck. --Steve


Worth Pointing Out: Favorite winter travel destinations are the National Gallery of Art, Air and Space Museum, Hirshhorn and National Building Museum.

Let's not forget we live in the indoor travel bargain capital of the world.

The Flight Crew: You forgot the botanical gardens near the capital...I was there on Saturday sitting amid the ferns, and it was magic. Great ideas.


Arlington, Va.: I am considering a trip to Montreal. No definite time table as yet. Would like to stay in the Gay Village, but unlike most people I prefer larger more anonymous hotels over guest houses and places with more "personal service". I don't need some one fawning over me, just a nice place that's a short walk to the neighborhood attractions as well as public transport to see the rest of the city. Any suggestions. When I try to find info on the Net I find a billion hotels but no decent maps showing where things are in relation to other things.

The Flight Crew: I would recommend the Hotel Bourbon, says Gary Lee. It's right in the gay village, definitely a hotel rather than a b and b and has the level of amenities you seem to like.
Cheers


Arlington, Va.: About a long weekend in London, jet lag, etc. My wife and I did a long weekend in Madrid last month. One night on the plane, three in the city. While we would have loved to spend a few more months there, the three days were perfect. Madrid is especially good for these types of quick trips because everything happens so late there. You don't eat dinner until 9 or 10 p.m., so you really are staying pretty close to Eastern Time.

Another recommendation on someone to give great English speaking help in Madrid and environs is Stephen Drake-Jones, Chairman of the Wellington Society. www.wellsoc.org

The Flight Crew: Thanks, Arl.


Washington, D.C.: Chicago Restaurants!

Chilpancingo
358 W Ontario

Superb regional Mexican. Not your typical Tex Mex.

Le Colonial
937 N. Rush St.

Vietnamese in a wonderful atmosphere. Has that sort of French Indochina feel.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the sampling.


McLean, Va.: About daytrips from Rome. I wouldn't go to Florence for just a day - its quite a long ways away - even the quickest tours spend a couple days there. I would stay around Rome as there is so much to see, although I'm sure there are places that are worth a day trip if you are going to be there over a week. I recommend the crypts, Vatican museum and the gardens as well as lunch on the Via Venetto.

The Flight Crew: Good suggestion, says Gary. Thanks!


Annandale, Va. to Grand Canyon: Hello,

You gave me some good information before but need a bit more help. Got a quote of $328 from DCA to Phoenix non stop. I don't want to leave out of BWI. Is this a decent price?

Also, do you have a recommendation for a car company in Phoenix? There are some companies like Fox and Advantage (names I don't recognize) and have no idea if I should go with them or the standard Budget, Alamo, Hertz. Any suggestions?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: For rental cars, I've gotten great deals from southwest.com, hotwire.com and priceline.com. Last week in San Diego paid $65 last week including all taxes for three days in a huge Chrysler - booked it through Southwest at Dollar. $328 from DCA to PHX sounds about right.


Rome Honeymooners: Florence is definitely doable as a day trip - you can get a direct train that will get you there in 3 hours or less. We did it and managed to take in the Duomo, David, and the Uffuzi gallery. try to get tickets for the Uffuzi gallery and you won't have to waste hours in line like we did.

The Flight Crew: Much appreciated, says Gary.


Washington, D.C.: Steve,

You didn't go for the $250-shot for the rest of us back home?

The Flight Crew: I did, in fact. You should have seen the bartenders face when I insisted he mix it with lime Kool-Aid. Delecious!

He put it on his drink menu as ***ing Yank.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: To the Vietnam honeymooners: I endorse the idea of concentrating on the north. Sa Pa, a memorable train and bus ride from Hanoi to the Chinese border (pay for comfort to start the marriage), was stunning. A little residue of French/Euro up in the clouds (I stayed at a place called the Herberge, but there were lots of lodgings), surrounded by rice paddies, and central to the market activities of local Hmong tribe people; it was unforgettable and remote.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: For the Scandinavia crusiers, I suspect the ship doesn't spend much time in any one port. They usually overnight in Copenhagen but otherwise you arrive early in the day, see the sites, and then back on the boat for an evening departure. In Tallinn the attraction is the old city which is a short stroll from the docks. Very well preserved medieval walled city. Stockholm has a wealth of places to see depending on what your interests are. The Gamla Stan or old city there is also worth a wander. Lots of old churches if you're into that sort of thing. The museum of the medieval history of Stockholm by the Royal Palace is very interesting.

Helsinki has a few major sites like Senate Square and there's the Olympic museum and stadium.

Copenhagen was my fave. The royal palaces are coo. The crown jewels are at Rosenborg Palace. A very interesting city. But I suspect that as a cruiser you'll barely scratch the surface wherever you land.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: A gentle reminder for my fellow posters: in Scotland, it's whisky. In Ireland, it's whiskey. Should probably know that if you're a self-proclaimed whisky/whiskey drinkers.

The Flight Crew: Hoots!


Washington, D.C.: Travel Crew, tell me -- does Stiltsville still exist off the shores of Miami? Haven't been back to Miami in about 30 years.

The Flight Crew: Um, according to www.stiltsville.org, yep it still exists (but it seems it is threatened). Check out the Web site for the specifics. And don't forget to sign the petition.--andrea


Washington, D.C.: I'm heading to Bangkok soon and am hoping to see some of the famous Thai beaches in addition to the big city. Any advice on easy one- to three-day trips from Bangkok that would allow me to chill on a beautiful beach? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Boy, Thailand's really in the air today. I love it! I'll use this opportunity once again to plug my favorite beach, Koh Chang. It's not exactly a day trip from Bangkok, but it's closer than Samui and Phuket, about a five-hour bus ride. It's accessible only by ferry, which adds another hour or so to the trip. But once you get there...! Much of the interior is forested, ringed by white-sand beaches. Lodgings range from pure grunge to total luxe ($40/night, tops), food is dirt cheap, the beaches are incomparable, there's kayaking and waterfalls and snorkeling -- it's just heaven. -- KC


Ko Samui Accomodations: We liked the Yacht club: http://www.r24.org/amazingsamui.com/samui/yachtclub

It was a good mid-range place (not five star, but not a hut either) with nice service and a great view. It was a little isloated from the rest of the island (had to take a cab to get to nightlife) but it was VERY quiet and romantic, with canopy beds and a breezy feel. Have fun!

The Flight Crew: Thanks!


Bethesda, Md.: Can you post the link to your article on Thailand?? Thank you!

washingtonpost.com: Thailand Like a Local, (Post, Sept. 29, 2002)

The Flight Crew: Here's your link. happy reading.


Heading to New Orleans for a hen party: Otherwise known as a bachelorette party.

Would you say $350 inclusive is a good price for a nonstop ticket from DCA to New Orleans in late March? This is Thursday-Sunday.

I will likely be swept along with the tide on this trip, but, having never been to the Big Easy, is there anything you strongly urge I should do, if I can either convince the others or get off on my own for a few hours (doesn't have to be anything crazy, either -- I actually hope to visit the D-Day Museum there if I can)?

Thanks!

Beth

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Just checked Orbitz.com for March 20-23 and got $308 nonstop return on US Airways. AS for what to do in New Orleans, I can't help. Anybody? Quickly?


Arlington, Va.: I am attempting to rent a car in Germany, and then drive in Germany and also Eastern Europe. (Poland and Chech Republic). I am finding it hard to find a rental company that will rent me a car at all, or if they do, its very expensive. I understand theft is the primay concern. Is it really that dangerous taking a car into Eastern Europe? Any suggestions as to the best source of auto rentals in Europe?

The Flight Crew: It is not dangerous to drive in Eastern Europe--I've done it alone. Can you possibly drive a standard? Automatics are less common in Europe, and their lack makes them precious, and just as importantly, asking for an automatic is like pasting a big sign on yourself saying "I'm a rich American, please charge me more."

If that's not the problem, write back to loosec@washpost.com and I'll see what I can find.


Cube Farm: I have a free afternoon while in Tampa on business next month - what should I not miss (or should I just grab 6 cold ones and head for the beach)?

The Flight Crew: Grab the six pack and go to the beach.


Belize or Costa Rica!?!?: We are hoping you can help us, as we can't figure it out ourselves. My fiance and I are trying to decide between Belize or Costa Rica (yes, it's for our honeymoon). We've narrowed it down this far based on the fact that we want some beach vacation and some nature/adventure vacation. Also, we are stuck with planning a trip in August (during hurricane season) based on the wedding date. Can you recommend one place over the other? What are the benefits/downsides to either place? To give you an idea of what we like to do, our favorite place in the WORLD is Maui...but we've been there together twice already and want to try something different (and closer).
Thanks in advance!

The Flight Crew: Either would be lovely, but if you like Maui, says Gary, I would say go for Costa Rica. Belize is more rustic, probably more like one Kauai or one of the less visited Hawaiian islands. I am thinking that you could find a good guesthouse down in the Manuel Antonio area of Costa Rica that would be perfect.. It's got great beaches, a nice rainforest and some pretty good restaurants...


London-bound!: Any last-minute must-see off-the-beaten-path London advice for 2 folks going this weekend, thanks to British Airways' sale? We're staying in Bloomsbury, and have already done all the basic stuff (tower of london, changing of the guards, etc.), and we researched the football schedule so we can catch a good game in a local pub. Cheers!

The Flight Crew: LB, be sure to save time for the South Bank of the Thames. You must walk across the famous footbridge, do the new Tate gallery and see Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, although you won't be able to catch a production at this time of year. But they've got a great museum and you can view the stage, see where the groundlings gather, etc. Also, don't forget the London Eye, the huge observation wheel with a great view of the city. -- KC.


Alexandria, Va.: Best way to rent a car in the UK is through priceline.co.uk. All insurances are included in your bid price, and you can specify an automatic. I've used them about 5 times, and when I totalled up my savings (as I checked out all of the usual suspects), it's well over $1,500.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the tip, Alex.


Alexandria, Va.: Hey guys, gf and I snagged that British Airways deal a couple weeks ago, and we're going to be in London from Feb. 12-17. Any unique and interesting must-sees? Btw, we've both been several times so feel free to shy away from usual sights.

The Flight Crew: See above.


New York, N.Y.: My favorite warm spot isn't so exotic as some of your other nominees. Fire Island out off of Long Island is my favorite place to soak up the sun and relax on the beach. It is a true escape from the hustle and bustle, the locals are nice and the men are beautiful. I just wish its warm-weather season lasted longer!
Has anyone encountered hotels and/or car-rental angencies charging you to collect airline frequent-flier miles for your stay/rental? I noticed a surcharge on my recent rental and wondered how long this has been going on? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: I have not heard of that, but intend to check it out. Thanks for the tip; if it's a new trend I'll write about it in the Coming and Going section of our travel section. IN fact, can you email me at loosec@washpost.com with the details, of what company etc? Thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: We're heading to Colorado for a ski trip next month, and bought the cheap tickets out of BWI. Any suggestions on the best way to transport two adults, a toddler, and all their gear from Northern Virginia to BWI? We can't take our car, because the skis and the car seat won't fit at the same time.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: A couple of ways to go. SuperShuttle can handle your gear (big van), but they'll pick you up hours before you want to be there and it's expensive. Have you looked into buying ski racks? May cost less than the transport and be more convenient. You can also ship your skis ahead of time through UPS or Virtual Bellhop. Don't have time to find the link right now, but we did a Lab Report story about shipping gear sometime before Christmas. E-mail me at sottilic@washpost.com and I'll find the story for you.


Chevy Chase, Md.: My husband and I will be taking our two children, ages 8 and 13, to Paris for a week in late March -- our third visit, their first. Other than the usual "must see" sites, any suggestions for one of a kind activities the children might particularly enjoy? Also, we're renting an apartment in Saint-Germain des Pres, so will dine in some. But, would appreciate any recommendations for really good restaurants where children won't be frowned upon! Many thanks.

The Flight Crew: If I had to limit it to one one place it would be the Creperie de Josselin on the Blvd. Montpartnasse, says Paris Fan Gary Lee. It's always busy but very Parisian, kid friendly and the food is great...


The Flight Crew: Hot, hot, hot. As always, thanks for the great responses and assistance to your fellow clicksters.

Let's throw the big box of priceless promotional artifacts to Arlington, Va., and the report from Queensland, Australia--just because I have a thing against jellyfish. Send us your name/address to travel@washpost.com. And let's also hear from "Worth Pointing Out," who pointed out that you can stay nice and warm touring our own town--just because it's easy to forget that sometime. You get a Travel section beachball.

That's it for now. Look for a special cruise issue this Sunday, as well as a report on ski biking. Happy trails...


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