Q Three friends and I plan to celebrate our 65th birthdays in the Chicago area. We'd like to spend two nights at a hotel on the Near North Side that has spa facilities or go to a resort hotel within 30 miles that features spa treatments. Can you point us in the right direction?

Mary Jo Furgal


A I don't know your budget, but just about every luxury hotel in Chicago has extensive spa facilities. The Four Seasons, for example, has an 8,000-square-foot spa with five treatment rooms, a spa lounge and options such as an elixir paraffin wrap and a caviar facial. A spa package with two treatments starts at $485 per night per room. Info: 312-280-8800, www.fourseasons.com/chicagofs. Or you could stay at a cheaper hotel, such as the nearby Whitehall Hotel, and use the Four Seasons spa, which is open to non-guests Monday-Thursday.

Outside of town, consider the more reasonably priced Herrington Inn & Spa on the Fox River in Geneva, Ill., a 45-minute drive west of downtown Chicago. The resort has a full spa, with treatments such as a 90-minute signature massage with buttermilk, honey and chamomile oil for $140. Rooms start at $185 a night on weekends, and spa packages are available. Info: 630-208-7433, www.herringtoninn.com. Other possibilities include Pheasant Run Resort & Spa (800-4-PHEASANT, www.pheasantrun.com) in St. Charles, Ill., about 34 miles west of downtown Chicago, and Indian Lakes Resort (800-334-3417, www.indianlakesresort.com) in Bloomingdale, Ill., about 24 miles west of Chicago.

I am 13, and my aunt and I would like to go on an overnight trip to a place that has theatrical productions and great shopping. Could you recommend a local place and a place a little farther away? I enjoyed New York when I went there.

C. Wist

Silver Spring

Any large city you can easily get to on a nonstop flight, such as Boston or Chicago, will offer enough to keep you busy overnight. Or you could drive south to smaller cities, such as Richmond or Charlottesville.

Boston, a bustling city with lots to offer, is easier to manage than New York, and you can walk to many of its neighborhoods. I recently stayed near Faneuil Hall, which has shopping, restaurants and a lively street scene. There's often a magician or a live band performing outdoors, and the North End, with its great Italian pastry shops and restaurants, is within easy walking distance. There are dozens of professional theater groups, plus performances at many local colleges and universities. Broadway in Boston performs critically acclaimed plays, including "Oklahoma!," "Stomp" and "Evita." Info: Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-SEE-BOSTON, www.bostonusa.com.

Closer to home is Richmond. Shop at On the Avenues, an area around the intersection of Libbie and Grove avenues. Visit the well-regarded Science Museum of Virginia and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Children's Museum of Richmond has a special exhibit called "Dinosaurs of China" that runs through Sept. 6. Theater is not as extensive as what you'd find in a bigger city, but this summer the Barksdale Theatre is doing a fun-sounding production, "Where's Charley?," about two young men who try to escape from their chaperon to see their girlfriends. Contact the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-RICHMOND, www.richmondva.org.

I'm a widow who'd like to travel to England with my two small kids, 4 and 9, to celebrate my 40th birthday. I thought a cruise around the British Isles might offer a measure of security, and the kids could use the program on the ship if they don't want to tour castles with me. Do these cruises exist? Any other ideas?

M. Dingle


I think your concerns are well placed. We took our children to England when they were in fourth and sixth grades, respectively, and after a few days of touring cathedrals and castles, they were much relieved when we visited friends and they could play outdoors.

There are family-oriented land tours of that region, such as Tauck Bridges (866-636-6500, www.tauckbridges.com), which offers the weeklong "Castles and Kings: London to Paris" family tour, for example, starting at $2,690 per adult double, plus air. But these sorts of tours focus on older children -- your 4-year-old may be too young to enjoy long days of sightseeing.

Most cruises that do the British Isles itinerary attract an older crowd, and many don't offer youth programs. Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas (800-327-6700, www.royalcaribbean.com), though, is an exception. The new ship, which offers a rock-climbing wall, sports deck and youth programs, has a 12-night trip from Harwich, England, that visits Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Holland, with prices starting at $1,799 per person double. You could add a couple days in London to see the Tower of London and other sites the kids would enjoy; a good resource is www.kidslovelondon.com.

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