UP IN THE AIR

How Green Is the Valet? After a CoGo reader said she had twice waited more than 15 minutes for her car from Dulles's valet parking service--and that other travelers had reported waiting half an hour--we sought answers. After all, one of the best reasons for pulling into the valet lane--and paying $25 for the first day, $12 per day thereafter--is to make a speedy, stress-free escape at trip's end.

"Growing pains," offered an airport spokeswoman, noting that 1999 valet activity jumped 45 percent over '98. Promised valet service improvements include, in spring, more cashiers and longer rain canopies to handle crowds. But delays during peak hours--Wednesday-Friday 7-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., and Sunday 4-7 p.m.--are almost unavoidable, due to high demand and terminal road gridlock. Which calls into question the value of paying the high price if you return during peak times.

Options include the satellite lots ($6 per day), which are served by shuttles that run every 10 to 15 minutes; and two $10-per-day lots in front of the terminal that are, alas, usually full at peak times (and which likely explains the boom in valet business). If you must do the valet thing, confirm your return date (703-572-4540) to ensure that your car will at least be in the valet staging area--not in a remote holding lot--when you get back.

CRUISE NEWS

Small and Dirty

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation Program nets headlines when ships from mega-cruise lines flunk its tough inspections, small ship lines don't get any slack. American Canadian Caribbean Line's Niagara Prince recently scored 60 (passing is 86 and up), mostly due to unsanitary water systems. Windjammer's Legacy (the line's only ship calling at U.S. ports, thus the only one subject to CDC inspections) scored 72. The latter has been reinspected, passing with 82. VSP Director Dave Forney says that these kind of ships--smaller, more cramped and not enjoying large lines' compliance specialists or budgets--will "always have a big problem with the physical facilities. They're doing the best they can with [what] they have to work with. You have to give them credit."

The Vessel Sanitation Program's newly revamped Web site (www2.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/vspmain.asp) offers increased detail on ship exams. For any ship that calls at an American port, you can access scores, inspection violations and rating history.

POST-HURRICANE UPDATE

Life After Lenny

More than a month has passed since Hurricane Lenny gave St. Maarten a brutal pelting, but damage caused by the hurricane is still visible across the Dutch Caribbean island. Last week, erosion was obvious along the beaches, post-flooding debris was piled downtown in the capital of Philipsburg, and several stores along Front Street, the main shopping promenade, were boarded up. Almost all the trees and flora have been left bare by the Nov. 18-19 storm.

Tourism officials report that most of the island's restaurants and all but three major hotels have reopened and that the port is open to cruise ships. "The news from St. Maarten is that Lenny is behind them," said spokeswoman Mary Jane Kolassa. But a local government worker had a different perspective. "The storm swirled around here for two days," he told us. "Recovery from that kind of thing doesn't occur overnight."

Operators at Dutch St. Maarten tourism (1-800-786-2278) give an optimistic update of the island's status. But for a more frank assessment, call the hotel where you're booked.

Bargain of the week

California Dreamin'

Southwest is once again offering a $99 coast-to-coast sale, and other airlines, including US Airways and America West, have jumped on the bandwagon. For the lowest fares, fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, or pay $109 each way to fly other days. Tickets must be purchased by Feb. 2. The sale applies for travel Dec. 31 to June 9.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to:

cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-334-1069. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.