Openings

Alaska Whale Meat:

Tastes Like Chicken

Travelers to Anchorage curious about the region's history will want to visit the city's new Alaska Native Heritage Center. Opened in June, the complex offers detailed portraits and rare insights into the 49th state's five main indigenous groups.

Members of the groups serve as guides at the center. During a tour, a Yupik boy reported that whale meat, still eaten widely by his tribe, tastes "like chicken, but a bit more chewy." An Aleut woman explained that the design for the kayak, now in use world-wide, originated with her tribe. And an Eskimo dismissed a visitor's question about whether they rub noses to show affection. The highlights of our recent two-hour visit to the 26-acre center were a performance of legends and dances by a native storyteller and a stroll through traditional village settings representing each tribal group.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center (8800 Heritage Center Dr., Anchorage, 907-330-8000 or 1-800-315-6608, www.alaskanative.net) is a 10-minute drive from the center of Anchorage, just off the Glenn Highway. The Fourth Avenue Trolley from downtown will take you there. Admission: $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for children. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Sept. 30.

Electroland Update

Newsflash: Microsoft Achieves Expediocrity!

In the endless game of me-too one-upmanship played by the three major online travel agencies, Microsoft's Expedia has introduced a fistful of new features that make it considerably less annoying to use.

* In an innovation so smart it instantly makes its competitors (and its former self) look dumb, Expedia now embeds a tiny version of your fare search box on the near left as you search. So when the screenful of suggested fares won't do, you no longer need to click backward to try different days and times (though changing airports requires revisiting the main search page). Expedia has also added a clickable graphic calendar wherever dates are required, meaning you no longer must use the MM/DD/YY format. This effectively updates the high-tech leader's service to, oh, 1997 or so.

* Expedia's new Fare Compare is a big improvement over its bottom-ranking predecessor. Pick a departure and arrival city from pull-down menus, click, and you'll see a long list of fares other Expedia users' searches have produced in recent days and hours. While this is no guarantee the fares are available, it's useful to verify the lowishness of any fare you've reserved or been quoted elsewhere. It's also easy to click and try to land the cited fare. This brings Expedia closer to Preview Travel's best-in-the-biz FareFinder -- though Preview's tool features more city pairs.

BOTTOM LINE: Expedia's mini fare-query box improves the searching process so much others will need to imitate it quickly. Its updated calendar and Fare Compare features bring drowsy Microsoft up to speed with its peers. Travelocity's Best Fare Finder is still the best way to locate dates when cited low fares really exist; Preview's FareFinder is still best for scanning low fares.

www.expedia.com, www.travelocity .com, www.previewtravel.com

Travel Lab Report

Case No. 1,768,994: Beach House Grocery Service

Subject of study: Tommy's Village Market and Gourmet Deli, Duck, N.C., an order-ahead grocery service for Outer Banks beach house and condo renters.

Hypothesis: Using the service will shield a couple renting a beach house for a week from the indignities of packing groceries, shopping at mobbed stores or eating out constantly.

Materials: $100 in U.S. currency. Faxable order form, delivered to our mailbox two days before departure. (For further study: Did our realty company sell our name to Tommy's?)

Methodology: Using grossly inflated guesstimates of how much items cost -- Tommy's order form did not list prices -- we composed a list of necessities that we assumed would cost $100. We faxed in our order the day before arriving.

Results: Groceries were ready to pick up precisely where and when promised (Tommy's, 7 p.m.) The bill is a goggle-popping $172. Newman's Own spaghetti sauce was $4.89 at Tommy's, $2.99 at the Food Lion 20 minutes down the road. A six-pack of Heineken was two bucks more. The disposable salt-and-pepper set was marked up 50 percent.

Observations: The order was shopped properly and everything was fresh. The homemade items (peach pie, a pound of spiced steamed shrimp) were fabulous. The staff was gracious, even when we showed up the next morning to return a third of the order because, um, we had exceeded our research budget.

Conclusion: Convenient way to order your first night's, and maybe your next morning's, groceries or pre-made meals. Ordering a week's groceries will bust any budget. Head to Food Lion.

Tommy's, 1-800-692-2168.

Travel Tip 108

Overall Survival System

"I have traveled in many airports with my small children and I've had lots of connections," writes tipster Judi Felber, establishing her bona fides right off. Her tip: "Be sure to have the kids wear overalls." Two reasons:

1. "Put a luggage ID tag on their overall straps."

2. "Overall straps are handy for pulling screaming, kicking kids away from dangerous or annoying places."

And you thought those Oshkoshes were just a fashion statement. Got a road-tested hint of your own to share? Grab ahold of the fine print below.

Travel tips (100 words or less) may be sent by e-mail (travtips@washpost.com); postcard (Travel Tips, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071); or fax (202-334-1069). Include your name, address and phone number. One tip per postcard or e-mail. Winners receive a Washington Post Travel section T-shirt. No purchase necessary. Tips submitted become property of The Washington Post, which may edit, publish, distribute and republish the information in any form, including paper and electronic media. Weekly winners are chosen on the basis of utility and novelty.

A Couple of Inches About Rafting in the Drought

River outfitters, always familiar with ups and downs, are taking the current drought in stride. "I've had better summers, put it that way," says Eric Martin, co-owner of Wilderness Voyagers in Ohiopyle, Pa., which runs raft, canoe, kayak and tube trips on the Youghiogheny River. But Martin and others say mandated releases from Youghiogheny Reservoir (15 Pittsburgh area cities drink from the Yock) are keeping water levels reasonable -- not great for experts or thrill seekers, but enough to float overheated city folk. Reservoir releases upriver also explain reduced-flow but passable conditions on the upper Potomac, says Natasha Baihly at River & Trail Outfitters in Knoxville, Md. "The biggest factor for people deciding to come out here is -- is it hot?" she says. "It has been that. I remember there was a great year for water flow two or three summers ago, but it wasn't a hot summer -- so we were way down in business."

Fly2K? Bye2K? The Misadventure Continues

Still twiddling thumbs over millennium travel plans, and fearful that anything resembling a deal passed by months ago? You have at least one good opportunity upcoming: Southwest Airlines will begin selling turn-of-the-year tickets (for travel through early January) late this week (a spokesman declined to cite a date). The majors have had their New Year's tickets on the market since around February. The Southwest spokesman did say, however, that New Year's travel tickets will be priced at Southwest's normal, which is to say discount, rates. Info: 1-800-435-9792, www.southwest.com.

Still queasy about the cost, crowds and fundamental idiocy of New Year's travel? Join the crowd. A recent survey by Travel Weekly magazine shows that just 8 percent of respondents have booked travel plans for New Year's Eve '99, and 9 per cent say they are considering traveling. Less than half of that group is expected to follow through. Meaning? Somewhere around 88 percent of us will celebrate at or near home.

Borrowing a page from the airlines -- not an entirely encouraging thought, we know -- Westin Hotels and Resorts is offering cheaper rates to guests who make reservations at its 15 properties in Asia and the Pacific. Under the Asia Valuestays program, rooms booked at least 21 days in advance at the Westin Banyan Tree in Bangkok go for $88 a night -- 55 percent off the normal published rate. Bookings 14 days in advance go for $99 a night; a week in advance, $121 a night. Other hotels have used advance-booking discounts, but none we're aware of has tried this airlinelike, multitiered approach. Similar savings schedules are available at Westins in Japan, Singapore and other Asian destinations. 1-800-WESTIN-1 (1-800-937-8461), www.westin.com.

Contributing to Worldwise this week: John Briley, John Deiner, Gary Lee, Roger Piantadosi and Craig Stoltz.