WHAT'S THE DEAL?

Y2K Cruise With Gomer; French Culture, Cheap!

* With Dec. 31 nearing, the Travel Co. has slashed the cost of an 11-night Y2K cruise aboard Carnival's Fascination by a mind-blowing 72 percent. The Dec. 28-Jan. 8 trip, originally priced at $3,199, is now $900.75 per person for a standard inside cabin (for ocean view, add $100). The ship departs San Juan and stops at St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Aruba, the Panama Canal and Jamaica. A gift bag of party treats--champagne and glasses, wheeled luggage, more--is included, as is New Year's Eve entertainment by--!--Jim Nabors. Travel Co. warns the discount may not last as the ship fills. But getting to San Juan could pose a problem: Tickets on American for $833 are going fast. Air-plus-cruise-plus-port-fees will cost at least $1,733.75. 1-800-568-3190, www.travelco.com.

* The French Experience's land-only package offers easy access to Paris's major culture spots. The $484 deal includes: five nights at the Hotel Meridional, in the trendy Bastille/Marais area; three tours with English translator, including the Eiffel Tower and Versailles; five-day pass with free access--and queue-cutting rights--to 65 museums and monuments; five-day Metro/bus pass; one dinner at a chichi restaurant; daily breakfast; and an invite to a fashion show. Shop aggressively for air and enjoy a full week of touring for around a grand. Available Nov. 1-March 2000, with Dec. 28-Jan. 3 blackout. 212-986-3800, www.frenchexperience.com.

--Andrea Sachs

TO DO

HOME NEXT WEEK? "Chihuahuan Desert: Conserving the Big, Big Wild," Nov. 4, National Zoo, 202-673-4801, www.si.edu/natzoo.

THE REGION

Reedville, Va.: Nov. 13, Reedville Oyster Roast, 804-453-6529. Raw and roasted oysters plucked from a giant pit are emptied onto long tables where participants can shuck and slurp.

Philadelphia: Nov. 11-14, Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, 215-684-7930. Museum-worthy pieces at gift-shop prices, from ceramics to furniture to shoes not made for walking.

THE NATION

Lahaina and Maalaea Harbor, Hawaii: Nov. 27, Welcome Back the Whales, 1-800-942-5311, www.pacficwhale.org. Sneak a peek at humpback whales, just down from Alaska, aboard a Pacific Whale Foundation cruise.

Las Vegas: Nov. 22-27, National Clogging Conven- tion, 770-925-1475, www.clog.org. Dancers perform to a range of musical styles, from Appalachian fiddle tunes to Wham!

THE WORLD

Regello, Italy: Dec. 1-12, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Festival, 212-358-0800. Test-taste this region's superior cooking staple, the pressed olive, which is squished between a screen and stone. Wash it down with Tuscan and Florentine delicacies and wines in an Old World setting bursting with local flavor.

Send news about events, festivals and other things To Do by e-mail to travcal@washpost.com.

HARTFORD 101

Effective today, Southwest Airlines adds Hartford to its roster of destinations out of BWI, with a round-trip, advance-purchase fare of $78 plus tax. Though recently famous as the City that Lost the New England Patriots, Connecticut's capital is rich in history and insurance company architecture. It's also refreshingly low on ego. One local bumper sticker reads "Hartford: You Could Do Worse." Five good reasons to spend a weekend in the Insurance City:

1. TWAINIANA. Yes, he's most famous for writing about the Mississippi River, but Hartford was where Mark Twain lived for 17 years. You can tour his 19-room Gothic Victorian mansion at Forest Street and Farmington Avenue (860-493-6411). Twain isn't Hartford's only wit. A few blocks away, Aetna Life Insurance head- quarters sports giant twin hourglasses.

2. NOTEWORTHY MUSEUMS. The Museum of Connecticut History at the State Library on Capitol Avenue (860-566-3056) has an impressive collection of manufactured- in-Hartford Colt firearms. Or see the Hudson River School landscapes at the Wadsworth Atheneum (860-278-2670). Founder Daniel Wadsworth commissioned works by Thomas Cole and introduced him to Frederic Church. The rest is art history.

3. A REAL VILLAGE GREEN. Just over the Hartford city line, West Hartford has a classic New England town green, com- plete with white-steepled church. West Hartford Center is the place to go for hot restaurants and shops. Starbucks com- petes here with three neighborhood cafes, where folks sit outside to enjoy brilliant autumn weather and snub the regional shopping mall.

4. LEXICOGRAPHY RULES! South on Main Street from West Hartford Center is the birthplace of Noah Webster, who wrote the first dictionary of the American language. Costumed docents take visitors through the restored 18th-century farmhouse (860-521-5362).

5. IF YOU JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH POLITICS . . . The Museum of American Political Life at the University of Hartford on Bloomfield Avenue (860-768-4090) has a 70-foot-long wall of presidential election memorabilia.

--Jane Hudson

In downtown Hartford, the Hartford Hilton (1-800-445-8667) has weekend rates starting at $79 a night. The Goodwin (1-800-522- 0006) is a European-style hotel in the building where J.P. Morgan once had an apartment (it's now the hotel's Presidential Suite). Through Dec. 30, weekend packages start at $109 a night, including dinner at top-ranked Pierpont's. Info: Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-446-7811, www.grhartfordcvb.com.

SITE OF THE WEEK

To pick a vacation place based on the weather:

www.weatherbase.com/weather/vacation

This site shrewdly matches your selected weather conditions with a worldwide database of historic weather to tell you where to go. Specify your month of travel, indicate maximum and minimum temperatures and the site recommends matching places all over the world. Narrow your choice geographically to target places more specfically. Want nothing below 70 or above 85 in December? You're headed to Aruba--or Hambantota, Russia.

TRAVEL TIP 119

The Shoelace Solution

PROBLEM: Your swimsuit straps won't stay up, your sunhat blows off and, later, your wet bathing suit won't stay put on the balcony railing.

SOLUTION: One word: shoelaces, says tipster Janet Alward of Silver Spring. She took a six-pack along on a recent Cancun vacation and used them, in addition to the above emergencies, to secure an underwater camera to her wrist while snorkeling; as a makeshift lanyard for sunglasses; and to close the plastic bag containing her wet suit on the trip home.

BONUS: "If a shoelace on my sneaker had broken, I'd have been all set."

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