Q: My dream for the weekend: On Friday after work, I go to Reagan National Airport, take any direct flight that leaves after 6:30 p.m. and, in two to four hours, arrive at a nice beach anyplace along the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida. The airport is within a 10- to 20-minute cab drive from a convenient oceanfront hotel. Any suggestions?
A: To escape Washington's heat, get on US Airways' nonstop Flight 4101, leaving Reagan National at 9 p.m. and arriving in Portland, Maine, at 10:55. Get in a cab for the 15-minute drive to the Inn by the Sea (1-800-888-4287, www.innbythesea.com), a four-star oceanfront resort in Cape Elizabeth. The resort offers a sandy beach (although I've always found the ocean in Maine too cold for swimming, even in summer), a pool, tennis, shuffleboard and bicycles, and will arrange golf outings. There are also cruises, sea kayaking and whale-watching trips. Oceanfront hotels are not common is this part of Maine, and rates at the Inn by the Sea are correspondingly high. Rooms in high season start at $229 a night, but from May 1 to June 30, prices drop to $169. If you have to be back at work Monday morning, you can take US Airways' 6:30 a.m. flight, arriving at National at 8:38.
In colder months, head south. Get on US Airways' nonstop Flight 1083, leaving Reagan National at 7 p.m., arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 9:39. Take a five-mile cab ride to Harbor Beach Marriott Resort (954-525-4000, www.marriotthotels.com/marriott/FLLSB), a full-service resort on 16 oceanfront acres. It offers a private beach, tennis, boating, gym and access to golf courses. Rates start at $109 in September, but by November the same room is $219 a night. If you're looking for something less expensive, try the Sheraton Yankee Trader Beach Resort (954-524-5551, www.sheraton.com), an oceanfront property with rates in November starting at $129. You'll be late for work Monday morning; the earliest flight back arrives at National at 11 a.m.
My family and I are traveling through Europe with first-class Eurail passes. Is there a guide or a book that gives train schedules or travel times between cities?
Buy a copy of Thomas Cook's European Timetables. The book, published monthly, gives passenger rail schedules for nearly 50,000 trains throughout Europe and England. Its North American distributor, Forsyth Travel Library (1-800-367-7984, www.forsyth.com), sells the guide for $27.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Forsyth provides the guide free to anyone buying more than $500 in Eurail passes from the company. You may also want to purchase Thomas Cook's Rail Map of Europe, a detailed map of the rail systems in 30 countries, also available from Forsyth Travel; cost is $11.95.
Also, Rail Europe has a very good interactive search engine on its Internet site that allows viewers to plot rail travel throughout Europe. I recently asked it to give me schedules and times between Barcelona and Rome. It quickly first explained that there was no direct route between those two cities and that I would have to change trains in Nice. It then went on to give me a clear schedule of trains and fares between the cities. Information: Rail Europe, 1-800-4EURAIL, www.raileurope.com.
My son will be graduating from college in December and we want to send him on a two- to three-week tour of China. We would like the trip to include cultural and educational components as well as sightseeing. Can you recommend a tour company that would cater to younger people not very experienced with foreign travel?
Many tour groups that go to China are dominated by an older, well-heeled crowd, and your son would probably feel out of place. So look at tour groups that offer lower-cost, adventure-oriented trips. Here are a couple of choices:
Adventure Center (1-800-227-8747, www.adventurecenter.com), a company whose goal is "to enable our participants to immerse themselves in the country they are visiting," offers 17 different China itineraries. A 21-day "Essence of China" trip, for example, visits several cities, including Beijing, Xian, Yangshuo and Guilin. The trip is offered from March through November; land cost is $1,520, including accommodations and most meals.
China Hiking Adventures (416-605-7479, www.china-hiking .com) offers hiking tours of China that focus on culture and history. A 15-day "Great Wall" tour starts and ends in Beijing. The group hikes along the Great Wall to the China Sea, stopping along the way to visit Imperial tombs and gardens, local villages and other sites associated with the Wall. The trip, offered in spring and fall, also includes a tour of Beijing. Cost is $1,999 per person including local transportation, most meals and accommodations.
Voyageur Educational Tours (1-800-767-7667, www.govoyageur .com) takes organized groups, often involving college and high school students, on a 16-day "Cultures of China" tour. A spokeswoman said they welcome individuals if there is room on an organized trip. The all-inclusive trip costs about $4,000 and includes air fare from Washington.
Several readers had their own recommendations for the family searching for a dude ranch or other multigenerational family destination (Travel Q&A, May 23). "You missed a great one in not mentioning Paradise Ranch outside of Buffalo, Wyo.," said Harold J. Mantle of Darnestown. "In addition to trail riding and overnight camping and cookouts, it has fishing, hiking, a children's program, staff talent night, etc." His family loves the place so much that his son went to work there and they celebrated a wedding there. Information: 307-684-7876, www.paradiseranch .com.
Roz and Robbie Black of Potomac questioned why I would recommend a dude ranch to families with small children. "We held off on a dude ranch vacation until our youngest child was 7, because most ranches didn't allow [younger] children on horseback," they said. "It wouldn't be much fun to watch the rest of the family ride off into the sunset!" The Blacks recommended the Mayan Dude Ranch (830-796-3312) in Bandera, Tex., as "a wonderful experience and our best vacation ever."
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