WHAT'S THE DEAL?

Winter Escapes to the Caribbean & South Africa

* Fare Deals is offering a seven-night southern Caribbean cruise for $948 per person, including round-trip air to Aruba. The deal includes: round-trip, nonstop flight from BWI to Aruba via Ryan Airlines charter; an inside cabin aboard the Crown Dynasty; and port fees and taxes. Add $100 for a water-view cabin. The price is valid for trips Dec. 18-Jan. 31, except for Christmas week, with flights leaving (and ships departing from Aruba) every Saturday. The cruise, chartered by Apple Vacations, ports at St. Lucia, Grenada, Bonaire, Barbados and Curacao. The 800-passenger vessel is on the smaller side, which means fewer public areas and activities, but no crowds. Details: 1-800-347-7006 or 410-581-8787, www.faredeal.com.

* 2Afrika Inc. is offering a six-night South Africa trip for less than the cost of flying there. The $1,390 package includes: round-trip South African Airways flight from BWI or National to Cape Town and six nights at the President Hotel. The deluxe hotel (usually $90 a night) is on the Platinum Mile, a trendy peninsula and safe suburb full of beaches and restaurants. The going rate for round-trip flights to Cape Town: almost $1,500. Departures are Jan. 15-March 25, based on availability. Details: 1-877-200-5610.

--Andrea Sachs

PANDAS 101

WHAT: With Hsing-Hsing gone from the National Zoo, Washington panda lovers must now venture farther afield to view the endangered creature.

WHERE TO GO: San Diego and Atlanta, homes of the only two U.S. zoos with giant pandas. Atlanta's pair went on display Nov. 20. San Diego's couple have been on exhibit for almost three years, but their baby daughter, Hua Mei (born Aug. 21), will make her first public appearance sometime in early 2000.

PANDAS IN PERSON: Both zoos have built multimillion-dollar habitats for their cash, er, cows. At Zoo Atlanta, guests receive a timed ticket to the attraction when paying admission ($12). Thus far, crowds haven't outnumbered the passes, but the lines can be lengthy.

In San Diego, the mother panda is temporarily off display; she'll return when Hua Mei debuts. The panda exhibit is included in the zoo's $18 admission fee, and no timed tickets are required. For an update of when the pandas are out and about, call 1-888-MYPANDA.

DESKTOP PANDAS: Hit the Web to avoid the crowds. San Diego's Panda Cam is trained on the cub's den at all times; it's accessible via the zoo's Web site (see below). To see what Atlanta's duo is up to, check out www.accessatlanta.com /pandas, which gives you a choice of 14 (!) cameras.

EXTREME PANDA VIEWING: Stuck on a layover at Atlanta Hartsfield? The zoo is a 15-minute cab ride away (about $18 one way). If you have more time to kill and less money to spend, take a MARTA subway train to the West End station, then hop on the 105 bus ($1.50 and 30 to 45 minutes each way).

PANDA KITSCH: On San Diego's www.shopzoo.com, zoodads include a panda puppet ($11.99) and stuffed bears priced from $9.99 to, gulp, $325. Zoo Atlanta's shopping site (www.shopthecountry.com/webfill/ store/zoo) peddles mugs ($5.95 and up), T-shirts and assorted panda plush.

INFORMATION: Zoo Atlanta, 404-624-5600, www.zooatlanta.org. San Diego Zoo, 619-234-3153, www.sandiegozoo.org.

--John Deiner

TRAVEL TIP 124

A Bath That Keeps on Giving

PROBLEM: In winter, many hotel rooms are heated with very dry air, creating respiratory problems, static electricity and skin that feels like it's about to flake apart, like mica.

SOLUTION: C.T. Kitt of Charlottesville suggests taking a bath before going to bed, but don't empty the bathtub until morning: The water will humidify the air as it cools. As an added bonus, the guests in the room below won't hear the gurgling of water rushing out of the drain as they lie in bed. Until the next morning, at least.

Send travel tips (100 words or less) to us 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). Winners receive a Washington Post Travel section T-shirt. No purchase necessary. Tips become the property of The Washington Post, which may edit, publish, distribute and republish the information in any form.

HOME NEXT WEEK?

Slide lecture on "Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet: Treasures of the Himalayas," Dec. 14, National Zoo, 202-673-4801.

TO DO

THE REGION

Baltimore: Until Jan. 16, "Viva La France! French Treasures from the Middle Ages to Monet," The Walters, 410-547-9000, www.thewalters.org. French Art 101, starting with a medieval king's head and ending with the impressionists' poster children.

THE NATION

Yuma, Ariz.: Jan. 22-23, Yuma Lettuce Days, 520-782-5712. In the Lettuce Capital of the World, it's okay to play with your food, with a salad toss-off and local veggie vendors.

Steamboat Springs, Colo.: Jan. 18, 26th annual Cowboy Downhill Race, 970-879-6111. Eighty bronco and bull riders, in full cowboy regalia, saddle up snowboards and skis in a mad dash to the finish.

THE WORLD

Cancun: Jan. 17, Feast of San Antonio Abad, 1-800-44-MEXICO, www.mexico-travel.com. Pet owners adorn their dogs, cats and livestock with ribbons and flowers, then take their four-legged friends to church to be blessed.

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

SITE OF THE WEEK

To do online travel booking with the assistance

of a live human travel agent:

www.lowairfare.com

Start by describing your itinerary, hit enter, and--bam!--an agent is suddenly chatting with you in a box on your screen. You can chat back with details a machine can't digest--I'll fly from BWI or National, but Dulles only if it saves me a lot, or I have to leave before noon but ideally not much before--and there's a person there to handle it. You can see suggested itineraries in another window. Prices may be no lower than via other online sources, but this 'high touch' feature may please and soothe many. You'll need to register first.