| Talk About Travel |
Hosted by the Flight Crew
Monday, May 19, 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.
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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: Gary Lee here, acting as your flight captain. We have a pretty full crew on hand to field your questions. Travel section editor KC Summers is here. So is assistant editor John Deiner, fresh back from a tour of the Galapagos islands and several stops in Peru, including Cuzco. Cindy Loose, who edits our comings and goings column is here, too, as is Carol Sottili, author of the Q and A column. Steve Hendrix, editor of our Escapes column, is also here. Also with us are copy editor Andrea Sachs and researcher Anne McDonough. While we know many places, we don't know everything, so feel free to add your thoughts on any questions raised.
As we move into the usually busy summer travel season, one question that we have is about how you all feel about traveling to Europe this summer. Have any of you cancelled plans to go? If you're going, what are the most alluring places in Europe in your view? We are happy to hear all your thoughts on this subject. The most original, unique response wins a lovely Tilley travel hat.
Rockville, Md.: What do you know about skyauction.com? I just recently found this web site that is like ebay, but for travel items only. You bid on airline tickets, hotels, tours, etc. I've never heard of them before and don't know of their reliability or their complaint history, if any. Have you heard of them, good or bad?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I haven't used skyauction.com, but it's been around for some time and is generally well regarded. Any readers out there have personal experience?
Silver Spring, Md.: I enjoyed Sunday's article, "A Mother, A Daughter, A Van -- and a Plan" about the pair who crossed the country on a trip home from college. As we toil away at our desks on a rare sunny day here in D.C., one can't help but dream of following through with his or her own road trip plans. I am fortunate enough to have enough vacation time to make such a trip a reality, perhaps in early fall. The only problem I see with such a plan is renting a vehicle in one location and returning to another. Isn't this prohibitively expensive? I'm aware of drive-away services, but these usually have time constraints. Do I simply have to accept the expensive drop-off charge? Thanks.
The Flight Crew: Oddly enough I just left a meeting of the RV association, and they mentioned that if you happen to be driving to a location where they need vans, you might even get a price break. Also, K.C. tells me that the writer in this case got a one-way rental without a drop-off charge. So you might want to shop around. And I just learned about the four different classes of RV's, including the smallest, those campers you drag on the back of your car, then the kind built on a van chassis, all the way up to places big as my house (admittedly small.) Cindy
Annapolis, Md.: What happened to John Diener? Can't find him in the past few transcripts and I had a Vegas question for him, mainly when is the best time to go?
The Flight Crew: Hey, here I am! Just flew in from Peru, and boy are my credit cards tired.
Anyhoo, weatherwise the best times to visit are probably March through mid-May and late September through mid-November--it'll be warm but not intolerable. My fave time is mid-summer (i find 110 degree temps strangely energizing), when you are most likely to find the best deals at hotels.
Takoma Park, Md.: Having just read your article about Toronto, I went to Expedia.com to find the bargain rates at the Grand Hotel that you reported as good through September 1. (I'm planning a trip in late July.) The rates, while not bad, were nowhere near $86.00 American you noted. More like $120 to $170. I called Expedia and they told me the rates you quoted might not be in effect yet or they're all filled up. This response sounds a little fishy to me. What's up? Can you help me find those great rates you quoted?
The Flight Crew: Hi. Did you try locating the Toronto deals under www.expedia.com/summeronsale? I am ringing the Expedia rep as we speak to find out more specifics, so hold tight.--andrea
Washington, D.C.: Hi Crew --
Does anybody know the dates of the Stockholm Water Festival this year, or even if it's being held? I can't find information on it anywhere. Thanks!
The Flight Crew: Hey D.C.--If you're talking about the Stockholm Water Symposium, part of World Water Week, it's August 10-16. Not sure if there's another festival, but try this link to see if this is what you're looking for: http://www.siwi.org/waterweek2003/frameset.html
Arlington, Va.: Would like to go to Savannah, Ga., in mid-June (after Father's Day). I have been checking airfares for a few weeks and on Friday it went from $190 to $280 (out of Dulles/National) but BWI has it for $197. Will the Dulles/National fare drop or should I take the BWI airfare? I would like to leave on a Wednesday and come back the following Monday.
The Flight Crew: It might drop at Dulles, Arl, because AirTran flys to Savannah (I make them $222 for those dates right now), but I wouldn't hold my breath at National. Eat a little Johnnie Harris barbeque for me. --Steve
Washington, D.C.: Is there any way to find affordable flights to Southern cities out of National, particularly to Birmingham, Ala.? Half the time I end up spending $200 on Southwest, but have to fly out of BWI, and with the Supershuttle, it puts the cost at more like $270.
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Unfortunately, Birmingham isn't one of those big destinations that the airlines are fighting over. Also, no discount airline flies to Birmingham from DCA, and there is no alternative city close to Birmingham served by a discount airline from DCA. So you're stuck. I'd try e-savers for cheaper weekend travel - www.washingtonpost.com posts them each week. Look at it this way - without Southwest out of BWI, you'd have no choice but to pay the higher fares.
Silver Spring, Md.: I am going to spend the summer in Rio de Janeiro. I've heard recent reports about Rio gangs being more uncontrollable and hitting tourist areas. However, I also have friends that have visited Rio who say that it's not so bad. What is the current situation in Rio really like and what safety tips do you suggest?
The Flight Crew: Silver Spring: Lucky you! Rio is one of our favorite cities, says Gary Lee. We have not been in a couple of years, but we have heard from those who have been recently that crime is up in Cococobana and Ipanema, as a result of the weak economy. We have no original safety tips to offer, but in the past have found the following advice helpful: staying on the main better lighted streets at night, not wearing too much jewelry and hanging out with a pal when you are out late. Any others have safety tips for Brazil...
Travel Agent: My husband and I want to take a trip to Spain for our anniversary. We don't have a ton of free time for planning and are having some trouble with figuring out amounts of time in various places, best mode of transport in-country, etc. We are thinking of getting a travel agent to help. Do travel agents generally get all of their fees from the airlines, hotels, etc., or will the agent charge us an outright fee? We have such limited time to plan, it seems worth paying slightly more for things but don't know if we have to pay a surcharge, plus a fee to her if it will be worth it. Thanks!
The Flight Crew: Some agents are charging a modest fee for airfare, since the airlines have totally stiffed them, but even that is about $25 or so. I think getting an agent in your case is a good idea, cause time is money and it seems you don't have much time. However, getting an agent doesn't mean you have to take a tour with loads of other people---just advise and help in booking rooms. In Spain, I love the posados--old venerable old properties made into hotles, so ask about them. Cindy
Getting through security at BWI: Is it any easier than it was 6 month ago? How long does it take?
The Flight Crew: Howdy. Tough to say how long it will take, but it's definitely much better. Go at a busy time, and you'll have to wait a bit, just like at every other airport. The best news is that getting through security for Southwest is much quicker these days, now that all the new security gates are up and running.
Travel to Europe- YES: I am travelling to Spain this summer. besides being (along with Portugal) the only Western European country that I haven't spent much time in, I really want to see the Alhambra. Since the Caliphate of Cordoba is one of the few places (especially during the middle ages) when Christians, Jews and Muslims all lived together in peace (one Caliph, a Muslim, had a Jewish Vizier and a Catholic Foreign Minister) I want to be reminded that it is, in fact, possible to share power and resources, and that there was a time and a place where tolerance was the rule, rather than the exception.
The Flight Crew: That's sounds like a good trip, says Gary. And your answer puts you in the running for the prize!
Washington, D.C.: Hi, guys. Frequent lurker, new poster here.
My boyfriend and I were going to avoid the Memorial Day madness and stay in town, but we're now thinking of packing up our bicycles for a little day riding in Harper's Ferry. I think Sunday will be the best day to do this, but I'm not sure what traffic is typically like for Memorial Day weekend. Think we'll run into any major snafus on Sunday evening, coming back (or going in the morning)?
The Flight Crew: Hey, DC. My guess is that you'll be fine on Sunday evening--in fact, you'll be 24 hours ahead of the mob. It's often congested up there on weekends, so I'd expect some traffic, but nothing like what I-95 is likely to be on Monday.
Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi travel crew,
I am going to travel to Europe twice this summer - this week to Romania and Serbia on a combined business/pleasure trip, and in August to Scandinavia purely for pleasure. World situation has not changed my travel a bit, I reckon that the chance of something happening is still extremely small, and probably smaller in Europe than here.
Never been to the Balkans before, so I am excited about going, and can't wait to see the painted monasteries in Romania. Belgrad should prove interesting, too.
The Flight Crew: Thanks, Lincoln Park, says Gary. Glad you're going. Your response could win you a prize!
Silver Spring, Md.: Sky Auction- I used them for flights to/from kenya Jan 2002- No problem- Decent Price less than elsewhere was bid. But.. look at comments obtained via Google groups. There are claims that Sky Auction seldom delivers on super bargains. There are also CLAIMS that NYC BBB has unfavorable rating etc. Check them out.
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Go to www.bbb.org and plug in Sky Auction to see the report. It details complaints received and how they were handled. A quick glance at it shows there are complaints, but I didn't see an unsatisfactory rating.
Washington, D.C.: My wife and I were scheduled to fly to Kenya on British Airways, but they just announced that flights to/from Kenya are cancelled. One option is to travel on different airlines, and two such alternatives are South African Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines. Could you please give me your opinions on these airlines? Are there any others you would recommend for getting to Nairobi without having to take British Airways? Thanks a bunch!
The Flight Crew: I have heard that South African Airlines is pretty dependable, but for the utmost confidence, try SN Brussels and KLM Royal Dutch, which both fly to Nairobi, with connections in Brussels or Amsterdam on United or US Airways.--andrea
Lovettsville, Va.: I am traveling to BWI-Portland via American Airlines in June. I recently checked my itinerary and found all of my flights had been changed. There were two glaring problems. One, American placed me on a plane that leaves Portland over 5hrs earlier than the plane I was originally scheduled to be on, and on one of my flights (I have connections in Dallas-on the trip out-and St. Louis-return) I have my seat assignment changed from a bulkhead window seat (I like them because they have a little extra legroom, and they are at the front so one can exit the plane faster) to a center seat in Row 27-the rear end. I called American and was told there was nothing they could do about either issue. Although I probably have no recourse over the horrible seat change (I checked the seat matrix myself and it is a full flight), isn't there an FAA rule which requires some action by the airline if they move a passenger to a different flight at such a different time? Thanks for any help!
P.S. Enjoy the bargains better than the flybuys...could you also at some point do a graphic of the high and low travel seasons to popular destinations...I am a college kid and a travel newbie, and having time, but not much money would like to travel overseas in off seasons but do not know what they are! Thanks again!
The Flight Crew: Five hour change is a very gray area. The FAA rules say airlines must offer you a refund if there is a "significant" time change. I've spoken with FAA officials who say they define significant as a few hours, but there is nothing written down saying that. I'd call the airlines again, cite the rule to them and the general interpretation that significant is no more than several hours, and see if they'll bend once they know you know the rules. No guarantee it will work, since the rule is so vague, but it should be worth a try. And you're right---no recourse on seat changes. Cindy
Arlington, Va.: I only have a week of vacation and want to visit Scotland. Is this enough time to see Glasgow, Edinburgh and a day trip into the highlands? Also could I get your advice on flying to London and taking Britrail to Scotland vs. fying directly to Scotland.
The Flight Crew: I made a simiar trip last year, Arl, and have both flown and taken the train on past trips. As much as I enjoy British trains, I say fly if you really want to maximize your time in Scotland--either fly direct to Edinburgh or Glascow, or hop up from London. The train back and forth will kill two days, especially if you travel on a Sunday. If you do it that way, yes, I think you can bag all those cities with some time in the countryside in a week.
European Travel: I am going to Glasgow this summer for a wedding. Most of the family is flying Icelandic Air and taking advantage of the 3 day layover in Iceland. I don't think any of us are concerned about traveling. I think we are more concerned about the food with haggis and Viking food, McDonald's might look pretty good, although, I am curious about fried Mars bars!
The Flight Crew: Cool, says Gary. Sounds great!
Gales Ferry, Conn.: Speaking of Europe, I'll be headed to Norway for 2 weeks to visit some of my husband's cousins, go hiking at 10 at night, and hopefully squeeze in some sightseeing. Scored decent seats on Delta thru Air France (go figure...but less than $500 EWR to Oslo!), but we're getting more and more concerned about renting a car. We plan on heading south towards Vegardshei and then heading West to the fjords, then back to Oslo for a day or two, and to rent for 2 weeks is around $1K (not including gas, tolls, and, I fear, unlimited mileage?). Does anybody have tips on rental cars, reasonable hotels near Gardermoen (sp?) airport, and reasonable hotels near Bergen/fjords? Trains are not much of an option, as some of his relatives don't live near stations...Thanks so much!
The Flight Crew: We don't know that turf well enough to make suggestions, says Gary. Maybe one of the clicksters does?
Washington, D.C. wife-to-be: Here's the deal: honeymoon, August, Ireland, 10 days. Flying in/out of Shannon -- otherwise everything else is open. We'll have a car and are willing to do anything -- traditional tourist fare or off-the-beaten-path. Please send any and all suggestions our way! I do have one specific question for you: I've been told August is the big tourist month. Given that, how far ahead should I make lodging plans? I'd hoped to wing it but that might not be possible given the season.
Any advice for what to do and where to stay will be very much appreciated! Thanks!
The Flight Crew: Hey Wash, I'm doing the same thing! Except that I'm not traveling in August. And I won't be on my honeymoon. And I'm not going to Ireland. Just kidding, I am doing 10 days in Ireland in June and am planning to do it mostly by reservations, but will probably leave a couple of nights to chance. I'll be happy to be your guinea pig and let you know how I fared, lodging-wise -- just check back toward the end of June.
I will warn you though that if there's a place you really care about staying, BOOK NOW. I started booking in early May and almost didn't get into my first place of choice, an inn in the town of Clifden, and had to rearrange my itinerary to get a room there at all.
As for advice on what to do, it depends where you're headed. I'm concentrating on several towns on the west coast, and doing the fishing-village-cozy-pub-bike-riding-nature-walks thing. Other people would think it crazy not to do Dublin or Belfast or the south coast or whatever. So give me more details.
Washington, D.C.: I'm going to Seattle for nearly a week for work. Luckily, I will have a fair amount of free time including an entire Saturday. Pondering a day trip -- maybe Mt. Rainier or one of the nearby islands. Any thoughts/suggestions (for both a day trip and sightseeing, restaurants in Seattle)? Thanks!
The Flight Crew: Hey, D.C. Tons of great options out there for a day trip. I love Olympic National Park--just a beautiful area. Check out www.nps.gov/olym. My favorite spot out there, though, is Mount St. Helen's, a few hours south of the city and an easy day trip. The visitors center is fascinating, and it's really cool to see how quickly the area has rebounded from the eruption.
Any other ideas out there?
Harrisburg, Pa.: Is it just me, or do others find there is one particular airlines whose Web site ticket ordering seldom operates properly? I complain to the company, and they give me a phone number to call where no one ever answers. I am forced to book over their regular phone line, but that costs more money as they don't honor the prices on the Web site. Doesn't this company recognize there are competitors customers can turn to, and maybe that helps explains their decrease in sales?
The Flight Crew: Come on, Harrisburg. Name names, man.
Deep Valley, USA: For Toronto, two pieces of advice:
The Strathcona is extremely cheap and gets on lots of discount hotel lists, but also very basic. Fine if you won't be spending much time in the room.
The article didn't mention the rivetingly fascinating Bata Shoe Museum. Some parts are camp, and some parts are genuinely interesting. Ever seen Queen Victoria's wedding shoes? You can at the Shoe Museum.
The Flight Crew: Thanks for the advice. Especially on the Strathcona, which seems to be on every hotel discount reservation system's list. As for the shoe museum--they are currently featuring a celebrity shoe show, in case you ever wondered what Maddonna wore on her feet to match her conical bra.--andrea
Europe this summer: We're going... to Paris, in three days! We
planned the trip just as the war in Iraq
was starting, but never doubted for a
minute that it would be a safe and
beautiful place to spend a week in the
spring. Heck, I'm sure I'll feel safer there
than in my office just a few blocks away
from the White House. Your story on April
in Paris was published just after we
booked our tickets, and it reinforced our
excitement about our vacation. My
husband has never been to France and
this is our last big trip before our first baby
is born this fall, so we plan to have a
romantic, relaxing, food- (if not wine-)
By the way, I'd love any suggestions of
favorite Parisian restaurants-- we
definitely want to eat well (though not TOO
expensively) on this trip!
The Flight Crew: Thanks for your note, says Gary and so delighted you're going to Paris. We like La Mere Agitee and Chez Marcel, both traditional and pretty inexpensive places on the Left Bank. You might also look at www.patricawells.com for suggestions.
Barbados-bound: A friend and I are going to Barbados. I have pulled the article K.C wrote in February and am salivating over the prospect of fried flying fish. What is the currency there? Were you able to pay with US dollars or did you have to exchange money?
The Flight Crew: You're gonna love the flying fish! Try to get to the village of Oistins, where they practically grill them right off the fishing boats. Mmmm. The currency is the Barbadian dollar and it's easy because you just double it. But you can pay in English dollars in stores and things like that -- just get some Bajan dollars for cabs and such. -- KC.
Silver Spring, Md. : Anybody KNOW of SMALL group tours in Tasmania? Not much luck after extensive surfing of net including the TAS government site and emails.
The Flight Crew: Surprised at that; I would think small group tours would be numerous. I don't have time now to do it, but suggest you try calling the Australia tourism office to see if they might help. Cindy
Columbia, S.C.: Traveling from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon this summer. What are your recommendations on lodging and dining in the area?
The Flight Crew: Hey, Columbia. If you want lodging recommendations for Grand Canyon, there's a lot of options outside the park, but within, I really like the Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins, right on the edge of the canyon. Rates are pretty cheap, but the rooms and cabins book up far in advance, so you may be out of luck if you're not really flexible. Personally, I like to stay in the park so that I don't have to fight the crowds trying to get in on the shuttle buses, and there's some really nice park restaurants--splurge one night and eat at the El Tovar, the grand ol' lodge.
Bethesda, Md.: Hi Flight Crew!
I'm spending the summer in Tokyo and need to get tickets ASAP, but all the lovely SARS-induced sales are for short-term travel. Prices for a 90-day RT (NYC - Narita) are around $950 -- except Hotwire, which shows $650.
Is there anywhere else I can look, like travel agents who specialize in longer stays? Or should I just grit my teeth and go with Hotwire?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: There are consolidators that specialize in Japan. One that comes to mind is Air Brokers International (www.airbrokers.com). You may get a better deal that way. Contact a local travel agent for more info on companies that offer consolidator tickets to Japan - most consolidators don't work directly with the public.
Silver Spring, Md.: I've flown both South African Airways and KLM and would frankly favor the former, though to get to Nairobi KLM might be better, since flying to Nairobi via Johannesburg is a long haul, and Amsterdam is a nice place to lay over if that's an option (though stopping off in South Africa could be a nice option if one has a few days, and the Johannesburg airport has great duty free shops). Not sure about now, but Ethiopian Airlines has long had a very good reputation (partially owned by European airlines, I believe). I flew them just once, within Africa, about 10 years ago.
The Flight Crew: Great info. Thanks so much!
Washington, D.C.: Hey guys!
Could you reccommend a good backpack for travel in Europe? I want something that can hold 5-7 days worth of clothes and isn't too big (I'm only 5'2"). I'd also like to spend as little money as possible.
Thanks for your help!
The Flight Crew: Hey DC-
Steve suggests checking out www.half.com, an Ebay-associated site that sometimes has good deals. If you're looking in stores, I suggest Gregory packs. My sister and college roommate are both 5'2" and have been really happy with the XS Gregory Windriver, which has the added bonus of a zip up front instead of a top-load, so you get the back benefit of a backpack and the access ease of a suitcase. I have the same pack (albeit a bit larger) and like it a lot.
Arlington, Va.: After enjoying the amazingly strong dollar exchange rate for so many years it looks like the party's over for us. Even the Canadian dollar is way up compared to where it had been only a few months ago. Do you think this will have much effect on foreign travel? I must admit it sure was nice to afford really nice hotels and such while traveling when they cost so little comparatively.
The Flight Crew: Many people going abroad think first and only of airfares, and then think about hotels, and don't think about food costs until they get there. Even so, a falling dollar will definately cause many people to stick closer to home. Cindy
washingtonpost.com: Earth to Iceland, (Post, June 30, 2002)
The Flight Crew: Some Iceland recommendations....
Re: Tasmania tours: I am not sure if they go to Tasmania, but I
took a backpacker-type bus tour from
Adelaide to Melbourne from the Wayward
Bus company. They do trips of all
lengths, all over Oz. They're more of a
hop on, hop off style, popular with
backpackers, but my bus had about 8
people, 3 of whom were over 60, the rest
were in their 20s, it was good fun for
everyone. If they don't do Tasmania, they
may know who does.
The Flight Crew: Thanks.
Travel adventures with a toddler: Just recently got back from a trip with my 15-month-old to Hilton Head. The flight down was great and we had a lovely time on the beach but the flight back taught us a few things.
If you're going to be flying in a turbo-prop in bad weather, you should pack clothes for yourself as well as your child in your carry-on. Our flight was VERY turbulant and our son threw-up all over my husband and me.
If your luggage gets lost or delayed and your infant seat is with your luggage, the airlines have spare infant seats at their luggage claim offices (or at least US Airways does.) Next time I'll leave a spare infant seat in my car, just in case.
US Airways's lost luggage office was very helpful and low-stress after a very stressful day. Kudos to them.
The Flight Crew: Thanks for the hard-earned tips -- and nice to hear a good airline story.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew --
I was recently invited to a wedding in Moscow that is scheduled for the end of this summer. Is it better to search the internet for flights to Russia, or go through a travel agent?
Also, any recommendations of Moscow sights to see? I will have 2-3 extra days around the wedding to do some sightseeing.
The Flight Crew: Gary Lee, who lived in Moscow for several years, says that you can usually find a better airfare deal using a travel agent. We've had good luck with Eastern Tours Ltd., a New York-based consolidator. We recommend the churches inside the Kremlin grounds. For an interesting take on Russian culture, walk around for a bit in the Novo devuchy cemetery, where Khruschev is buried.
Also, the monastery at Zagorsk is worth the trip, though it will take you the better part of the day to get there, do the tour and get back.
Travel to Europe: Our plans call for going to Bolzano (home of Ootzi, the Ice Man), hiking in the Dolomites (staying in a refugio on the Latimar), then visiting friends in Meran. No concern, except we hope United doesn't go bankrupt!
The Flight Crew: Thanks for responding, says Gary. Have a great trip!
Washington, D.C.: I recently booked a roundtrip United-Lufthansa trip, Dulles to Berlin, and used 60,000 miles to upgrade to business class for the United legs. I had a terrible customer service experience (it took three calls and three days to get it right) but the paper tickets have arrived. Of course the tix say that I'm in economy class, but my United mileage has been deducted and I have a confirmation email with proof of the upgrade. Can I now be confident about my business class seats or is there any chance that I could get screwed out of the upgrade? Any advice is welcome, both on the tix and on Berlin (I have searched the Post archives already and gotten great tips, but I'm always looking for new ideas).
The Flight Crew: I'm thinking that if you have a seat assigned in economy, you shouldn't feel too confident about your seat in first class. I'd grit my teeth and make another phone call to clarify. Cindy
Atlanta bound: Hello Crew,
I know you don't have a crystal ball and can't predict the future of airline prices but I'm in need of a second opinion. My husband and I are trying to get to Atlanta the second weekend in June for a family wedding. I've been watching airfares for 3 weeks now and they haven't dropped from $240 (IAD, DCA, or BWI). I know fares have been much lower in the past but I'm getting worried that I don't have much time left to wait. Do you think the $240 fare is good? How much longer should I shop? Any suggestions other than checking the standard Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity sites?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Altanta is high right now - it's usually about $175 or so. But if you need to travel on certain days and times for a special occasion, I think it's better to pay the money now and get what you want. If money is more important than time, try priceline.com or hotwire.com.
If only I could go to Europe this summer...: I would go to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I spent fall 2000 studying in Prague and fell in love with Central/Eastern Europe. Ljubljana is one city I regret not making it to. If I had the vacation time this summer, that is without a doubt where I would definitely go.
The Flight Crew: That's a nice, original suggestion, says Gary. We were there a few years back and loved it.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I don't know why I can never keep this straight: should I change my U.S. to Euros here or in the Netherlands? And where should I change it back? I know there's better rates one place or the other, but I can never remember which for what end of the transaction.
The Flight Crew: Over there is often better, since U.S. bureaus jack up the surcharges. Even better is to take money out of an ATM when abroad. As for changing back: Best to create a budget so that you are left only with enough change for an ice cream cone at the airport. If not, keep the big bills, use the little ones and coinage, then change back when you return. Or hang onto the $$$ for your next trip to the Netherlands.--andrea
Off to London! Thanks and questions.: Hi, Crew! My guy and I are heading to London for the first time ever, using the Virgin deal you wrote about in Sunday's paper. Thank you! The new deals section is a big improvement over the old airfare survey, which had outlasted its usefulness.
Has any of you had experience with the "London Pass" or other discount ticket deal for attractions like the Tower of London and museums? It looks like a good deal, but I'm wondering whether it's worth the price. We'll be in the city for six days and will want to visit some of the bigger-ticket attractions like the Tower and the Globe. On the other hand, we're not the kind of travelers who like to spend every waking minute running from one "sight" to the next.
Also, I'm a good walker but not a marathoner, so how much should I expect to need public transportation in the city? We'll be staying in Sloane Square, and I'm wondering whether to buy day transit passes before I go.
And with five days on the ground, should we plan a day trip out of London or save it for next time?
Any advice on these questions and London-for-first-timers will be most appreciated.
The Flight Crew: Lucky dog. I went for the first time myself last November, and spent an entire week just trekking around town. So, to answer your last question, it's up to you, but I found that there was more than enough to do within London for seven days without heading out of town--and I still didn't see it all.
As for that pass, I decided not to get one, and I think it was a good move. Most major museums, save for special exhibits, are free (and the special exhibits aren't covered by the pass). Plus, I found that between using the Tube and walking I wouldn't have gotten my money's worth out of the discount provided by the Pass. Take a good look at the attractions covered by the pass and decide if they're really the things you want to see. Then go to www.londontown.com and see if the museums/attractions you want to visit are free or cheap.
And you can buy a day pass at any Tube stop--it's a piece of cake, and you can go anywhere you want around the city. The fact that you're a good walker is great, as London is a wonderful place to walk (and it's mostly flat!).
Alexandria, Va. - European travel: With trepidations, I allowed my teenage son to take a trip to France in April with his high school band. He said they encountered no problems at all during their trip which was primarily in the south of France - Nimes area. Even for their short trip to Paris, they had only positive interactions with Parisians as they ventured out to buy lunch and spend time on their own (in groups of 2 or 3 students). Since his visit was during time of active battle in Iraq and given French national policy, I think that we can again conclude that nothing beats travel for getting to know one another on a personal basis. Therefore, I'm hoping the Euro will not rise too far against the dollar so we can find an inexpensive, quick trip this summer to any European destination.
The Flight Crew: Thanks for that response, says Gary. It could get you a Tilley hat as a prize!
Maryland: As envious as I am of the incredible vacations many chatters in here take, I'm on a more limited budget. Going to Italy in August with a friend (I know, everyone says that's when the Italians go on vacation, but I know the main tourist sites are still open). Looking for nice budget accomodations in Rome, Florence, Milan (wherever, really). Nice pensiones maybe? Or hostels even. Thinking along the lines of $25 euros per person a night. Thoughts?
Might be a good article in the future if you can't answer now -- we all like to travel, but $100+ a night per person is out of reach for many of us. I know safe but cheap accomodations are out there.
The Flight Crew: Have you considered hostels? Some can be very nice, and include rooms for two, as opposed to a dorm. In Europe in particular they tend to have lots of travelers who aren't kids with backpacks. Take a look at www.hiayh.org. Cindy
Georgetown, Washington, DC: I love traveling to Europe and I'm leaving for Paris and London on Thursday. My philosophy is that if your time's up, your time's up. Staying at home (or close to home) isn't for me. Live everyday to the fullest and don't let the current climate stop you from living. Some of my favorite places in Europe (off the main tourist trails) are Geneva in Switzerland; Annecy, Dijon and Grenoble in France; Devon and Cornwall in the UK; and Cordoba in Spain. Happy traveling!
The Flight Crew: Thanks, Georgetown, says Gary! We're with you on this.
I wish I could go to Europe this summer...: LL Bean makes a great backpackers backpack. It holds a week's worth of clothing and there is a flap that you can zip around the straps so that they wont get stuck on the luggage carrousel in airports.
The Flight Crew: Another backpack suggestion for Europe-bound D.C.
Manassas, Va.: RE: St. Petersburg, Russia article. I was in St. Petersburg exactly a year ago. We took a river cruise which started in St Petersburg (was there about 4 days) and ended in Moscow. With the prices you were mentioning, my river cruise was a bargin. A must in St. Petersburg is the canal cruise. It gives a different view of the city. Also, as in any big city, watch the pickpockets.
The Flight Crew: Thanks, Manassas, says Gary. Good tip!
Arlington, Va.: Am flying out of DCA on Friday afternoon and when I booked our tickets, seat assignments were not available. When I called last week to get seat assignments, I was told that I'd need to get them at the ticket counter upon check-in, and was warned to "get there early" because the flight I'm on is overbooked. Is it possible for me to check in using the online option and avoid the chance of getting bumped?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I don't know if your airline allows online booking, but if it does, that is the way to go. I've used that system for several flights now, and always managed to upgrade my seats to the front of the bus. An aside, however - I scored a bulkhead seat this way for a recent Continental flight and had a small carry-on suitcase. I followed directions and boarded when my row was called. You guessed it - no overheard bin space was available and my bag had to be checked, which really annoyed me because I had packed small in order not to check my luggage. The size of the suitcases that people brought aboard were HUGE! Okay, I'm finished now - I feel better.
Washington, D.C.: How do I pick a travel agent? I am particularly interested in someone who can steer me toward the "right" Caribbean resort.
The Flight Crew: The best way to pick a travel agent is by word of mouth. Get names of agencies from friends who've had a good experience. We know they're out there. Failing that, contact the tourism office of the country or area you're interested in and ask for a recommendation. Many countries have what they call certified travel agents who have special expertise in their region. The American Society of Travel AGents Web site, www.astanet.com, has a service where they list agents by specialty. And finally, check the ads in newspaper and magazine travel sections. Often the agency will mention if they're a certified travel expert. It makes much more sense to use an agent who specializes in the area. -- KC
Re: Ireland travel: I just got back from Ireland! Went over mid-April and did the b n' b thing. The only place we had difficulty finding a room was in Dublin. There are so many b n' b's out there that I can't imagine that it would be difficult finding space, even in August.
One thing that I would suggest anyone visiting Ireland to do is to visit Kinsale and eat at Man Friday's! It's a little pricey, but well worth it!
The Flight Crew: Thanks for the tips, Re. Maybe I'll add Kinsale to my list...
Last Minute Caribbean Vacations?!?!?!: Can you please recomend a good site or agency to use for last minute packages? Price is not really a constraint, just looking for a top shelf resort to visit in the next few weeks.
The Flight Crew: www.site59 specializes in last minute stuff, but be sure to check that the price for each of you doesn't add up to more than you'd have to pay if you just booked the room for two. Anyway, if price isn't a big deal, you shouldn't have any problem going just about anywhere---this isn't the height of the season, and there should be tons of availability. If you don't want to spend time researching, just about any travel agent should be able to put you in a nice resort. Cindy
Silver Spring, Md.: I was on a Northwest Airline flight from Baltimore to San Diego. My itinerary said that it was a non-stop flight, but when I arrived at the gate at BWI, I found that the flight stopped in Minneapolis and I would have to go to a different gate for a different flight. Is that normal?
When I made it to my connecting flight from Minneapolis to San Diego we were then told that the flight would be a "breakfast" flight rather than a lunch flight (although it was 12 p.m. local time.) We were told this during pre-boarding, so we only had 10 minutes to "grab something to eat for lunch" as opposed to a small bowl of cereal, a banana and a bagel with cream cheese. Rather shabby, don't you think? Or should I always bring my own lunch?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I don't know how your itinerary could have said nonstop because Northwest has never flown nonstop from BWI to San Diego. Perhaps it said direct, which is different than nonstop - that means you don't change planes. Many times, direct flights become connecting flights when airlines change their schedules. As for food, bring your own. Many airlines no longer serve anything to eat, so you're lucky you got breakfast!
backpacks and travel gear: try Campmor (campmor.com) they have great clouseouts and cosmetic seconds. as well as all the little things you need travelling.
The Flight Crew: How could I have forgotten Campmor?! I love that place, although I find myself buying lots of stuff that doesn't really make itself useful in my city-living life. But a good source for backpacks, for sure.
Baltimore, Md.: What's the easiest way to find a place to rent in the Outer Banks for just a weekend? I'd love a cottage/condo/house with a kitchen so we can cook rather than a hotel, but many of the realtor searches online give prices/availability by the week only.
The Flight Crew: Hey, Balt. That's a toughie--most companies don't want to rent a house for a couple of days since it's such a pain to clean them afterward. Some inns/hotels do offer suite accomodations where you can cook, among them the Inn at Corolla Light (www.corolla-inn.com) in the northern reaches of the Outer Banks. Check out www.outerbanks.org for more info, or give them a call and ask for other options. Also, watch out for our special issue on OBX running June 1.
washington day trips:: Yes, Mt St Helens is a wonderful day trip--but not if it's foggy at the summit, which can happen any time of year. Call first. Another possibility is a whale watch out of Anacortes (I don't think anyone runs one out of Seattle anymore)--the Orcas (killer whales) start to hunt about this time of year.
You can also take the Victoria Clipper to Victoria BC and see Butchart Gardens and have British high tea--it's only about an hour each way from downtown Seattle. (There's also a fast sea plane flight on Kenmore Air.)
The Flight Crew: Yeah, that's true...my bro went when it was foggy and was really bummed. Thanks for the other suggestions, though!
Washington, D.C.: I agree about South African Airways. I've flown them a couple times and they've been completely reliable. Also, they gave me a plane breakfast that actually tasted like real food. And, from experience, the Johannesburg airport has large, spotless, free showers. Very nice if you're stopping there en route to somewhere else after an overnight flight.
The Flight Crew: Oh my gosh, they fed you?? Go for South African Airways then.--andrea
Washington, D.C.: On Wednesday, I leave for a 8 day rafting trip down the Colorado river through the lower Grand Canyon. Hiking down the Bright Angel Trail to the put in point. I think the company (Azraft) has provided me with most of the necessary info.
Any last minute tips?
The Flight Crew: Be glad of two things, WDC: you're hiking in May, not August. And you're hiking up, not down. I went down Bright Angel in August one year--it was 111 degrees by the time I got to Phantom Ranch. I thought it was hell, until the next day when I hiked back up (still loved doing it!). You'll be fine--it's spectacular.
Sidebar rant: Is anyone else p****ed off that the emoticon people have usurped the colon? I hesitate using colons anymore--usually one of my favorite puncuations--because now it always looks like a stupid smiley face. ): Is there any typographical way for me to give them the finger?
Potomac, Md.: I hold an e-ticket for United flight to Frankfurt in late August. What are the disadvantages of the e-ticket, and what is the status of United these days. Should I pay to convert to the paper ticket?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Some people opt for paper tickets because it would be easier to switch airlines in case United goes under. It usually costs $25 or so to make the switch. I don't think United is going under, at least not by August. My daughter is on a United flight to London in July/August, and I'm sticking with e-tickets.
Washington, D.C.: My brother and I will be in Paris for three nights in June. Do you have any recommendations for clean, inexpensive places to stay? We would like to be within walking distance to some cool/hip areas. And, is there anything special we should try to see? I have been to Paris, my brother has not.
The Flight Crew: I recommend that you take a look at Margo Classe's Hello Paris, a guide to cheap hotel rooms in Paris, says Gary. Among the usual haunts, don't forget the Musee Picasso and Pere Lachaise cemetery. Anyone else have favorite Paris haunts?
The Flight Crew: For the Expedia Toronto deals: The hotels are listed on the bottom, under New on Expedia (click on Canada hotel deals). For air/hotel, on the top, build your own trip by clicking on air and hotel and punching in your dates. You should get a list of options. Hope that helps.-andrea
Re: First-timer in London: You can certainly spend a very full five days in London alone, but one day trip you might want to consider is Cambridge. You can get the train from Kings Cross station in central London (56 minutes on the dot to Cambridge when I lived there) and spend a full day. If you get on the "hop-on, hop-off" tour bus at the train station in Cambridge, you can get a full loop of the city, with great commentary, in about an hour and then spend the rest of the day hopping on and off at all the places that grabbed your interest. Cambridge is small enough that you're not overwhelmed at all, but there is plenty to keep you busy all day.
The Flight Crew: Thanks, Re:. Good advice.
re: seats and United: I've had absolutely terrible experience with United honoring my seat selections, and this was long before their current troubles. For example, even if you make a reservation and the agent supposedly assigns you a seat, if you're paper ticket does not have a seat number on it, you're basically flying stand-by. There was a near riot at Dulles once at Christmas when a whole group of us discovered this set-up.
I'd say that if your ticket doesn't say business class, you're flying economy and the surly gate agents won't do anything about it no matter what kind of proof you offer. You may want to go to United's ticket office downtown and make sure they print you the right ticket.
The Flight Crew: I've got the same feeling you do--if the person is assigned seat 99F, I figure that's where they intend to put you unless you do something about it before departure. Cindy
Arlington, Va.: The person looking for cheap rooms in Toronto might also want to check with the hotels directly rather than just Expedia. Travelweb.com also sometimes has better rates than Expedia. I'm curious why the questioner is so set on The Grand though. It does look very pretty, but frankly its location is not as good as others like the Delta Chelsea or Royal York, Strathcona, or even the Courtyard Downtown. The Grand's neighborhood seemed a teeny bit sketchy (for T.O. anyway) to me when I walked through there last time I was in town.
The Flight Crew: Thanks for the input on Toronto. Essential info. --andrea
Washington (Jerry Haines): For Maryland, going to Italy:
To save money, consider staying in a suburb or a nearby town and "commuting" into the big burg. We just did Venice that way. Stayed in Padua for about half of what a place in Venice would have cost. Trains were frequent, fast (about 25 minutes)and inexpensive. (And Padua itself is neat.) Now, you do miss the experience of going to bed and waking up with the city. And you might not be able to stay in town for the late, late night life. But I figure we saved about $50 a day our way.
The Flight Crew: Thanks. Given that choice, though, I'd first check out what any hostels in the thick of things of are like. Cindy
why go to Europe? Why not!: You ask, Why go to Europe? Well, My fiance and I planned our honemoon to France months and months ago (pre-Freedom Fries), but we would still go if we had to decide today. What can I say, I am a sucker for a holiday of good food, good wine, and exploring a place I have never been (Provence).
I imagine between the economy and bad blood between the French and the Americans, that money spent is money earned, and we will be treated alright.
Also, quick q: where can we get maps for driving in Provence? AAA?
The Flight Crew: Thanks, much, says Gary. I think that Avis supplies a nice little free map with a driving tour in Provence...
Must Read for Norway-Bound: Summer Light: A Walk Across Norway by Andrew Stevenson, published by Lonely Planet. Actually, a great book for anyone, not just those going to Norway soon.
The Flight Crew: Thanks very much says Gary. Sounds like a book we'd like to read, too.
Alexandria, Va.: Regarding Toronto, has the falling dollar had any effect on the U.S.-Canadian exchange rate? Last time I was in Canada (June 2000), the Canadian dollar was worth about 67-70 cents on the U.S. dollar. Has that changed?
The Flight Crew: It is still a great bargain--not mind-blowing but better than the British pound--at about 75 cent or so per U.S. dollar.--andrea
Silver Spring, Md.: What is going on with "carry-on" luggage on the airlines. I travel on business extensively and some people are making it impossible for everyone else to follow the rules without feeling like a simp! I think that a duffel bag that Venus or Serena Williams carries onto Center Court at Wimbledon should not be lugged onto an airplane! What's wrong with these people? The airlines barely enforce that insipid little sample box that clearly tells and shows you how big your bag can be if you want to carry it on an airplane. Baby paraphernalia bags are OK! A briefcase. A lap top computer. A backpack even would be alright (unless it has the metal rack system attached!) Don't people realize that if the plane pitches and the overhead compartment opens that a fully packed duffle bag could know you unconscious! The airlines need to start calling people on this by boarding early and "eyeballing" carry on luggage better! Now I feel better, too!
The Flight Crew: I agree. Hope that makes you feel even better. Cindy
Alluring Europe: Dinkelsbuehl, by all means!!!! Located on the Romantic Road in Germany, this medieval town boasts towers, gateways, Napoleonic churches, a Rococo chapel, a moat and a wine market guarded by Bacchus, himself! Museums include the history museum, a dimension museum (holography, 3D, etc) and a working graphics shop. You can also find me fishing, swimming and sauna-ing and hiking in Bavaria. It doesnt get any better! I'll be there in July for the kinderfest.
The Flight Crew: Sehr Gut, says Gary. Vielen Dank!
Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks to your help, I found a great house to rent in San Diego. Now, how do I protect myself when renting directly from an owner? Yes, I'll get a contract, but is there anything else I can do?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I'm curious - what company did you use? As for protecting yourself, it really depends on the situation, and how you found this house. I've rented through www.vrbo.com several times and we never had a problem, but we had a lot of contact with the owners before we went - got plenty of pictures, e-mailed back and forth, talked on the phone. We felt like we knew them by vacation time. I'd get a written copy of the refund/cancellation policy. Most homeowners will have you sign a contract. Read the fine print.
South African Airways: It was both reliable and pleasant last time I took it, albeit some years ago.
Just don't let them put a sticker on the outside of your suitcase if you don't want some unwelcome stares, even in this post-apartheid era
The Flight Crew: No stickers, unless it's "I Break for schnoodles."
Washington, D.C.: Looking for air tix to Dubrovnik -- I just tried from London and it was $1600+ RT from the UK. Yikes! Why so expensive? Looking for first two weeks in September. Other suggestions? Or any good train rides from somewhere?
The Flight Crew: From London! That sounds way out of line. Have you first tried pricing it from the U.S.? Secondly, try playing with the days--what happens if you leave one day earlier or later. Plus, this is close to the shoulder season when prices should be dropping. Any way you can delay going for one week? By then, you should be getting Fall prices. If none of that works, check a consolidator. anyone else have suggestions? Cindy
Bethesda, Md: Thanks for taking my question.
My wife and I are flying this summer. We would like to take a lantern and a cook stove. Any advice on how to pack these?
The Flight Crew: The biggest things is to pack them empty, Bethesda. Obvious, I know, but the airlines really don't want you putting canister full of white fuel or propane in their cargo holds. Buy your gas on the other end (fortunately, Coleman has wised up to this requirement and they now sell white fuel by the pint). Otherwise, just make sure you protect the lantern glass as well as possible. Maybe it's time to upgrade to an electric lantern. Or just headlamps. I haven't used a gas lantern in a decade.
Moscow Wedding: Gary Lee, thanks for the tip on Eastern Tours, Ldt. I just tried looking them up, but can't find a website or a phone number. Do you have their information?
The Flight Crew: Gary says try: www.traveltorussia.com or tel. 800-339-6967.
Europe for One: I definitely plan on heading to Europe later this summer/fall. I'm planning on heading to Switzerland (Interlaaken and Gimmelwald) for 2 weeks for some hiking, biking, and fun.
I'm not worried about anything, well, other than the weather. But seriously, now is not the time to be burying your head in the sand over "terrorist concerns." Unless you're heading to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, I'd say don't worry. Statistically you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than enduring a terrorist attack. Get out and enjoy life, and if that means heading to Europe (or anywhere else) then so be it.
The Flight Crew: Thanks says Gary, nice succinct thoughtful answer!
Arbutus, Md: My husband, mother and I are flying into Vegas this fall as the starting point for a trip that will include, but is not limited to...North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Southern Utah(Zion, Bryce, Escalante, Capitol Reef) Yosemite, Death Valley, and Sequoia. First question...are we crazy to do that in 2 weeks, and second is there anything we shouldn't miss while out there? Thanks.
The Flight Crew: Hey, Arb. Man, I'm tired just thinking about that trip. Remember that distances are greater than you think when you look at map out there--some roads are only two lanes, and they wind for miles through canyons and such. Yosemite to Death Valley alone is probably a day drive. Personally, I'd scale it back a bit. Squeezing in Yosemite/Sequoia seems like the largest stretch. Restricting yourselves to Death Valley/Grand Canyon/Utah and Vegas, I think, would be a better idea. Let us know how it turns out!
Arlington, Va.: I am going to have to cancel my Memorial Day vacation to Santa Barbara this Thurs. because of a frustrating conflict at work. I've never had to change a ticket before. I know I need to call the airlines before the date of the flight, but what can I expect as my options? Will I have to pay a lot more to use the ticket at another time later in the summer? Do I have to use it to go to the same destination?
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Airlines have different rules about this. Ask to read the airline's contract of carriage - available online at the airline's Web site, or from a ticket office/airport counter. Most allow you to change the destination. Most charge a fee of at least $100.
Maryland: re: public transportation in london . . . unless things have changed dramatically in recent years, wait until you get there.
you can buy a daily or a weekly pass for the underground (includes busses too) at most tube stations I think - the cost is based on what zones you need. if you are staying in the city you likely won't venture out of zones 1-2-3 to see most of the sights. for the weekly pass you MAY need a passport size photo or two, but usually these machines are in the tube stations. the passes pay for themselves in about 3 trips. and plan on using the public transportation - you'll save a lot of shoe leather going from attraction to attraction. but then - part of the fun is seeing the everyday side of the city - not just the touristy bits. for that, the buses can't be beat.
The Flight Crew: Thanks, Md.
For the Norway traveller: Bergen is great; but do you really need a car? How about the train from Oslo to Bergen? It's one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and is about 6-8 hours, as I recall. As for lodgings, Bergen is probably the most touristed city in Norway (cruise ships depart from there) and hotels like Radisson, Rica, and others. We stayed at a dorm-like hostel called Crowded House, which was cheap and fun. But then, we were 25, so take that for what you will.
The Flight Crew: Thanks says Gary! It's always nice to hear from someone who knows the territory.
More for Norway: I really wouldn't recommend driving to Bergen. The poster said trains weren't really an option, but he/she may want to reconsider that.
There's a book out there published by Lonely Planet by Andrew (Can't remember his last name, or the title, but it's yellow, and is about a summer hiking in Norway)
I'd strongly recommend that poster go get this book and read it before leaving!
The Flight Crew: Useful tip, says Gary. Thanks!
Fairfax, Va.: Is it just me, or you all able to answer a lot more questions this week? Your response time is quite fast. By the time I finish reading the new responses and click update page, there are several new ones to read! Bravo!
Also, do you know if $300 is a good price for roundtrip with one stop from WAS to Albuqurque NM for the last weekend in June? Thanks!
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Thanks. We're paid by the answer (just kidding). $300 isn't bad. You may do better going from BWI on Southwest.
Maryland: Hi everyone --
Do you have any recommendations for any B&Bs on the Eastern Shore? We're thinking of just taking a couple days to relax, maybe in St. Michaels, but I don't know anyone who's stayed over there. Waterfront would be nice, but a cozy, relaxing place takes priority!
The Flight Crew: I love St. Michaels and can highly recommend the Inn at Perry Cabin, but that is a big-bucks place best reserved for special occasions. There are tons of nice B&Bs right in town, plus scattered around the area. The Parsonage Inn, right on Talbot Street, and the Victoriana looked great when we were there, and I was also intrigued with Harris Cove Bed & Boat -- waterfront cottages with a fleet of 16-foot skiffs for rent.
Check the Talbot County site, tourtalbot.org, or the St. Michaels site, stmichaelsmd.org, for B&B listings.
Anyone else got B&B recommendations in St. Michaels? -- KC.
Upgrade on United: I did that last year on United, and had no trouble. One phone call and everything worked great.
HOWEVER, our tickets definitely said business class, and had our seats on there. Definitely call back to get it straightened out.
And 60,000 miles is totally worth it. Although we only had to use 40,000 to Europe.
The Flight Crew: Thanks.
Chantilly, Va.: Important Question re: Rehoboth Beach
My wife just informed me that a co-worker of hers who was down in Rehoboth this weekend reports that the beach is basically gone, thanks to the bad winter, and that waves are breaking over the boardwalk. And, the powers that be in Rehoboth are basically trying to keep this hush-hush.
What have you heard about this? Is another expensive Delaware beach reconstruction project in the offing?
The Flight Crew: I'll check into that for coming and going this week; for sure their web site doesn't say anything. Have anyone been to Reh recently? Does the beach still have a beach? Cindy
Cambridge, Mass.: My mom and I would like to go to Africa this Christmas for a safari. We are on a tight budget, so we wanted to know if you have any recommendations for tour companies. Also, we would prefer to do our safari in East Africa (Kenya), but are a bit scared of the political problems there.
How safe is it to do a safari in Kenya right now?
Last but not least, we would also like to find decent airfare. Can you tell us where to look? (From what I understand, December is high season, but there are still deals to be found). Thank you for your help.
The Flight Crew: Have you tried 2Afrika Inc.? They have some great safari packages, including discounted air. Info: 877-200-5610. The owner is South African, so he is keyed into the African situation and can advise you on safety. Follow State Dept. warnings about Kenya first and foremost. It is a hot spot, but if you are on a certified tour, then hopefully the biggest threat will be the hungry lion. Just be sure to get trip insurance, to cover your tail.--andrea
Richmond, Va.: We're planning a trip to Spain in September. The plane fares seem pretty high to me -- $900-plus for Madrid for midweek travel. Am I living in dreamland to think they should be less? Should we wait to buy, counting on them going down, or take the 900? We are doing a bicycle trip so our dates aren't flexible.
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Madrid is usually higher than London or Paris. But $900 sounds steep, especially if it's late September. If it's around Labor Day, that's about right. My rule of thumb is always, if you need certain dates and times and you're not flexible, you're probably better off paying for the peace of mind of having those tickets in hand. But once you buy, let it go. Don't keep going back to find out if you got ripped off.
Washington, D.C.: My fiance and I are planning a two-week European honeymoon in July. Our first week will be in Bavaria. We're debating between Italy and France for the second week, with romance and relaxation in mind. Which do you recommend? We'll have a rental car, so traveling to out-of-the-way places is possible.
The Flight Crew: Italy or France---no bad choices, the best choice is personal. But if it were me on a honeymoon, I'd do Italy. Cindy
Europe travel: We aren't shying away from Europe at all this year. In fact, we decided to take advantage of the bargain fares offered right before the war, and we are heading to Germany, Austria, and Venice, Italy. We are looking forward to enjoying the beautiful scenery, diverse culture, and delicious food and drink! We figure there's no time like the present to get out there.
The Flight Crew: Go for it, says Gary. And thanks for taking the time to respond to our query!
Seat Assignments on United: They honor the ones made on their website.
Also, the downtown ticket office is either closed or on the chopping block for sometime soon. We hapless UAL frequent fliers got notice of this move a while back.
The Flight Crew: Thanks. Phone in, though.
Chunnel Question: We were thinking about flying to London to hang out with my brother then renting a car and driving to see my husband's family near Paris, driving back, and flying home. We have about 10 days. Is this doable or crazy?
The Flight Crew: I'd say it's ambitious, but not crazy. What do others think? Cindy
Summer Travel Plans: Nope...not going to cancel anything, and I even know the destinations of my "big trips" for the next 2 years (India, Ireland, Fiji, and Australia).
This summer, come hell or high water, I am going to be meeting my husband in the South of France. It may not be original and it may not be unique, but it will be great because we have been married for a year, and he's been deployed for most of it! This will be the first time I will see him in a long, long, long time before we have to be apart again.
This trip will probably be excruciatingly bittersweet, but I think it will be worth it.
The Flight Crew: Thanks, says Gary.
World Traveler: I missed the last couple chats due to travel (!) but read the transcripts - so I'll try to make it brief:
First, I am planning to go to Europe this summer even though I've always avoided Europe in the summer. I think it is a great time since tthere will be less crowds and lines, I am just waiting for the right timing & opportunity.
Resorts: I have traveled many places and seen many resorts but the ones that stuck: JW Marriott in Phuket, absolutely wonderful. Great beach on 16 mile national park, 10 min from airport, impeccable rooms, pool, etc. wonderful food, great service - and not so expensive.
In the U.S., I just got back from Ritz Carlton Naples, and was very impressed. Definitely the place to go for a special occasion, even a weekend escape. Great service - there is a big difference when you go upscale. Speaking of Naples, anybody heading that area, don't miss the 5th Avenue and 3rd Street South, wonderful restaurants and very laid back but sophisticated atmosphere. Definitely check out Campiello restaurant -pastas as good if not better than some in Italy.
One last comment about resorts: Among all the places I've been, I was very impresed with the general quality level of resorts in Southern Turkey. You get a lot for your money and great service. In case you are considering after seeing the ad in yesterday's travel section.
The Flight Crew: Thanks, says Gary. Interesting insights!
United and seat problems: My husband just had a flight from Dulles to Frankfurt on United. He got his paper tickets, got to the airport 3 hours in advance to check-in, was told he had to get his seat assignment at the gate and when he got there found that the flight was overbooked. He and about 15 others were bumped off the flight. In the meantime, his coworker was running late and showed up at the gate 15 minutes before flight time and the people at the check-in counter gave her a seat assignment. It seems there's no rhyme or reason to the overbooking process and it's SO frustrating! Is this something that consumers just have to accept? (United gave the bumped people $600 vouchers, but my husband said everyone grumbled that they don't want to fly United now anyways so the vouchers are useless.)
The Flight Crew: It can happen on any flight, so I wouldn't quit United, in fact, anyone who doesn't want their vouchers can send them to me. But the overbooking thing is infuriating. Cindy
Maachu Pichuu?: Question for John, did you do any hiking in Peru? I am considering a 3-4 day trek along the Incan Trail to Maachu Pichuu? Any thoughts, hints?
The Flight Crew: Hey, there. No, actually, we just took the day train to MP and hiked around the ruins. It was amazing, but in retrospect, I think a trek would have been even more amazinger. That way, I would have had a lot more contact with the rural Peruvians, and the scenery along the trail is spectacular. From the train, you could frequently see happy campers. Next time, I'm a'trekkin'. One thing you should know, though, is that you can't trek solo, anymore--you have to sign on with a guide. Which is probably, environmentally, a good thing.
Site 59 issues: The only problem IIRC is that Site 59 only deals with 4 day or less packages.
The Flight Crew: This might be a case for a travel agent. Cindy
Silver Spring--San Diego house: We found the house with vacationRentals.com.
The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Vacationrentals.com is a reputable company. Get to know the owner!
WAS to ABQ: We fly regularly to ABQ and find that a fare around $250 is good these days. Usually we're flying out of BWI for that fare and WAS is a lot higher. As for SWA...if you're just now looking at them for a fare, chances are the good fares are gone. ABQ is a BIG route for them, and those good fares go quickly, so they rarely have better fares than other carriers.
The Flight Crew: Thanks.
Re: BWI to Albuquerque: Actually, I found Southwest to be prohibitively MORE expensive - $300 one way! But thanks for the response!
The Flight Crew: Depends on when you're going - if it's far enough in future, you can get the cheap seats.
Lake Ridge, Va.: For the very first time, I am thinking about travelling solo for my vacation. I am considering Buenos Aires. Any suggestions for places to stay and things to do for a female traveler would be greatly appreciated.
The Flight Crew: A colleague recommmends that you try the Lancaster as a place to stay, says Gary.
Washington, D.C.: Hi All,
Staying in town this weekend. I was wondering if there are any hotel deals for a romantic evening with the beau. I don't need the best room, but want more than just the regular room. You know, jacuzzi, possibly good view, etc. Any ideas where to look?
Thanks for your help.
The Flight Crew: Go on the hotel sites and see what they got in wash area: orbitz, expedia, hotels.....if you see a hotel you like you can also call the hotel to see if they have anything last minute they didn't turn over to the web. Cindy
Re: Rehobeth: I was there in mid-April and while the beach
wasn't huge, it was certainly decent and waves
weren't near the boardwalk
The Flight Crew: Thanks
Minneapolis, Minn.: I am planning on going to Montana for my honeymoon at the end of September. Do you have any places to recommend? We would like an all-inclusive at a small lodge with outdoor activities. Thanks.
The Flight Crew: Never been there but have seen the awesome photos of the Lodge at Sweetwater Ranch (I like the sweet/sweetheart/sweetie/sweet cheeks parallel--call me a romantic). The Pollard Hotel also received raves, as did Triple Creek Ranch, if you are not ready for kids just yet (it's adults-only I read).--andrea
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Any tips on Buenos Aires?...my husband and I are headed there the second week of June. We don't want to miss anything in BA, of course, but would it be worth it to go to Montevideo for a day or two?
The Flight Crew: Our colleague says Montevideo is easily manageable as a day trip and is is quite recommendaby, says Gary.
Ireland: I am planning a trip to Ireland in the next few months. I don't want to stay in Dublin, though. I usually take a trip like this once a year where I make a hotel in a fairly large town my "homebase" and then take day trips to other parts around the area.
Do you or any of the clicksters have any suggestions? I'd prefer not to drive if I have to.
The Flight Crew: Are you flying into Shannon? How about using Galway as a base -- it's convenient to all the natural attractions of the west coast, such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Burrens, Aran Islands, etc. It's a musical, arty town, yet large enough to offer lots of good lodging choices, many attractions of its own, and it's not far from the airport. -- KC
Kingstowne, Va.: Thank you for your wonderful story on Toronto The Good (and SARS-free). I love Canada -- it's a cheap, close, friendly yet foreign and exotic destination. We're planning a trip to Ottawa (our first -- been to Toronto twice, as well as Montreal, Quebec City and the Maritime provinces), and wondered if there is anything to see in other parts of Ontario besides the capital city itself. Is there anything in Kingston, for example? We'll be driving, so we're flexible. How about the Adirondacks? Thanks for your guidance.
The Flight Crew: When I visited with my hockey-crazed son, we made a wonderful side trip to Brantford, Wayne Gretzky's hometown. But you have to be a certain kind of person to enjoy that, I admit. How about the Canadian side of Niagara Falls? Coming right up, a link to our recent article on Ottawa, with other side trips in Ontario. -- KC.
Williamsburg, Va.: I was looking for a reminder on two neat companies with fun summer activities featured in The Post. The first company offered a cruise on yacht around the Baltimore Harbor or from Baltimore to Norfolk. The second company offered day rentals of classic cars.
The Flight Crew: you might be talking about an Escapes "Pier Pressure" on the Cape May Light, cruising up and down the seaboard. If they're still in biz, try: www.coastalvoyages.com.
The other was an Escapes on sportscars in the Blue Ridge region, "fall Driving From the Top Down." Web site is: www.sportscarrentals.com.
We'll post the links if we can find them in time.
washingtonpost.com: Oh, Ottawa? Oh, Yes., (Post,October 6, 2002)
The Flight Crew: Here you go.
washingtonpost.com: Slovenia, (Post, June 16, 2002)
The Flight Crew: For the person who wanted to go to Ljubljana...
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