A: As you can well imagine, traveling to the frozen continent does not come easy or cheap. But close to 10,000 people did just that last year, and more are projected for next year, despite the protests of various scientists and environmental groups about the visitors' detrimental impact on the ecologically fragile area.
The vast majority of visitors to Antarctica come by either small expedition-style ships or bigger cruise ships, with Zodiac boats making the occasional foray to shore. Most trips go to the Antarctic Peninsula, while a few offer more extensive and expensive itineraries that include the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The season lasts from November to late January. Tour companies offering trips include:
Adventure Network International (011-44-1494-671808, http://www.adventure-network .com), based in England, is the only company offering air travel into the interior. It offers seven tours, including mountain climbing, glacier skiing, trips to the South Pole and a photo safari. It will also provide logistical support and equipment for those who arrange their own itinerary.
Toronto's Marine Expeditions (1-800-263-9147) offers 10 reasonably priced trips by ship. The least expensive is a 14-day to the Antarctic Peninsula that starts at $2,995, including air fare from New York.
Two luxury cruise lines -- Orient Lines (1-800-333-7300) and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (1-800-285-1835, http://www.rssc.com) -- offer Antarctic cruises. An eight-day cruise on the Orient's Marco Polo starts at $3,500 per person, plus airfare. An 11-night cruise on the Radisson's Hanseatic is $7,495 per person, including air fare.
Q: I'm planning a trip to Greece and I don't know where to turn for help. How can I find a good travel agent?
A: With more than 200,000 travel agents in the United States, many of whom hold no licenses or degrees, there are plenty I would not trust to plan a weekend getaway, much less a trip of a lifetime. Some agents are lazy and lack expertise. Others have been burned too many times by clients who make them spend hours planning detailed itineraries, only to decide against the trip. But the ones who are competent can save you a lot of money and steer you to the best tours, sites, guides, etc.
Here's what to look for:
Membership in professional societies, such as the American Society of Travel Agents, the Association of Retail Travel Agents and the National Association of Cruise Only Members. This is no guarantee that an agent is competent, but is a measure of respectability. ASTA, for example, requires members to abide by its code of ethics and operates a consumer affairs department that mediates disputes.
Look for a certified travel counselor and/or destination specialist. The Institute of Certified Travel Agents, a nonprofit educational group, gives the CTC designation to travel agents who have been in business for five or more years and who have taken travel-related courses.
Get a copy of the winter-spring 1998 edition of Washington Consumer's Checkbook ($6.95, 202-347-7283), which describes and lists area travel agents.
Get a copy of The Washington Post's article on "Travel Agents and Their Specialties (Sept. 28, 1997). These agents are self-nominated, and I have found that agents at several appear to know very little about their supposed specialty. But it's a starting point. The three that listed a specialization in Greece are Pegasus Travel (301-839-5068), Quality Travel Services (703-556-9010) and Travel Bound (703-237-3604).
Make sure your agent specializes in leisure, rather than business, travel.
Try to find an agent who has traveled to the area you are interested in visiting, especially if it's an out-of-the-way place.
Ask if the agency has a 24-hour toll-free emergency number to use in case of a travel snafu.
Educate yourself. Call the tourism office of the country or state you are visiting (in your case, the Greek National Tourist Organization at 212-421-5777). Read a guidebook about your destination. Get on the Internet and look up air fares. This way you'll know if the agent is ignorant.
Q: My wife and I have visited concert halls in several European countries and would love to devote a whole tour to attending concerts. Are there any travel agents who specialize in classical music tours?
A: Classical music tours of Europe are very popular, and several U.S.-based groups offer them, including a local agency, Cultural Tours (301-718-7273) of Bethesda, which specializes in creating itineraries for the independent traveler.
You may also be interested in joining a group rather than traveling independently. Herzerl Tours (1-800-684-8488, http://www.herzerltours.com) offers several tours, including "The Sound of Austrian Music" Sept. 12-19. Tour price is $2,545 per person, including round-trip air fare from New York, accommodations for six nights, most meals and concert tickets. Dailey-Thorp Travel (212-307-1555) offers several tours of Austria, including the Salzburg Festival Tour in August. For general information, contact the Austria National Tourism Department at 1-800-474-9696, http://www.anto.com.
Q: Our daughter and son-in-law want to take a cruise with their two large, albeit well-behaved, dogs. Are there any cruise lines that accommodate dogs?
A: Only one cruise ship permits dogs on board -- Cunard's QE2.
But the dogs won't be sleeping in your daughter's bed, eating at the captain's table or pawing the midnight buffet. Dogs, which can be no larger than German shepherd-size, are required to remain in a kennel area. And, because of quarantine requirements, dogs are not allowed on shore. Owners are permitted to visit the kennels and play with the bowsers. The cost is about $500 per dog for a transatlantic journey. Details: Cunard, 1-800-728-6273.
A spokesman for TravLtips Cruise & Freighter Travel Association said the Blue Star line, an English-owned freighter company that offers passenger travel between the United States and Australia, does allow pets, but added "it's unfair to animals because they will be kept in kennels in separate areas." Contact TravLtips at 1-800-872-8584, http://www.travltips.com.
For no-frills travelers, dogs are allowed on the ferries that ply the waters between the state of Washington and Alaska. They must remain within a crate or inside a vehicle, but you can walk them during scheduled times on the car deck and you can take them on shore. Cost per dog is about $25 one-way from Washington to Alaska. Information: Alaska State Marine Highway System, 1-907-465-3941.
Send queries directly to the Travel Section using the form below. You may also submit by fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Include your name, town and phone number. We can't offer individual replies, but we'll answer as many questions as possible in print each week.
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