Q Are there wine country tours to Australia?

Sarah Matthews


A Several tour operators offer wine itineraries in Australia, although they tend to be quite pricey. Avalon Wine Tours (888-499-WINE, www.avalon-tours.com), for example, does a couple of tours each year. A seven-night escorted trip in October to Hunter Valley near Sydney and the wine country of South Australia near Adelaide is $3,975 per person double, plus airfare.

If you're willing to put some time into organizing the trip yourself and don't mind traveling independently, you can save money. About half of the nation's wine is produced within striking distance of Adelaide in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Other vineyard-rich areas include Hunter Valley, about two hours from Sydney, and Tasmania, which has about a dozen wineries along a wine route.

The Australian Tourist Commission (800-333-4305, www.australia.com) publishes suggested wine country itineraries. Another good resource is the book "The Wine Regions of Australia: The Complete Guide With Over 60 Maps," by John Beeston. Organized day tours often depart from local hotels. For example, Adelaide Sightseeing (011-61-8-8410-2269 fax, www.adelaidesightseeing.com.au) does a day trip to three wineries in the Barossa Valley for about $65 per person.

I recently flew on Alitalia to Italy. On both flights passengers were not allowed to use DVD players, CD players, Game Boys and laptops that used CDs, even after we achieved cruising altitude. Why does Alitalia have this policy? Do other airlines do this?

Larry Spinelli


The issue of whether electronic equipment poses an aircraft safety risk has been debated for years. Most airlines differentiate between intentional emitters that put out radio frequencies, such as cell phones and portable computers that receive e-mail, and unintentional emitters, such as CD players. Intentional emitters are commonly prohibited for the duration of the flight, but CD players, laptops and electronic games are usually permitted when the plane is flying at 10,000 feet or higher.

Alitalia's official policy on the use of portable electronic equipment states, "During the flight, and with the crew's approval, you may use electric razors, non-digital audio players and portable computers provided they are not connected to a printer or a CD drive." According to Alitalia spokeswoman Marta-Marie Lotti, cassette players and Game Boys are permitted, but CD players, iPod, MP3 player or newer laptops with CD drive are not allowed.

Alitalia's policy is more prohibitive than most. US Airways' regulations say, "AM and FM radio receivers, compact disc players, portable computers and other electronic devices must be turned off for taxi, takeoff and landing. Use of these items, however, is permitted in flight, unless otherwise restricted by US Airways flight crew members." The policy is similar for United, Continental and American, but radios are prohibited at all times. Foreign carriers tend to be more conservative. British Airways tells passengers that it "may forbid or limit operation" of electronic equipment, including laptops, CD players and electronic games.

No matter what the stated policy, remember that the captain of any flight has the power to prohibit the use of electronic devices. It's his ship.

I plan to take a group of 17- and 18-year-olds on a vacation during spring break 2005. We'd like to spend no more than $1,000 each. I don't want to do much cooking; the girls want clear water, fun and warmth. Any suggestions?

Kristi Smedley


A cruise sounds obvious because they're priced so reasonably, but it's not an option here because most lines won't allow teenagers to stay in a cabin without an adult. One adult per group won't cut it.

A package deal at an all-inclusive resort is more expensive, but you'd stay close to budget with a trip to one of the cheaper destinations, such as Cancun, Mexico, or the Dominican Republic's Punta Cana. The girls might vote for Cancun, but be careful about taking them to a destination known for spring break wildness. Punta Cana isn't a top destination spot for reveling students, plus you can get a vacation for about $1,000 each, including air. Vacation Express (800-309-4717, www.vacationexpress.com), for example, has a weeklong deal in April to the all-inclusive Barcelo Villas property for $1,042 per person, including air from BWI, insurance and taxes.

Another idea is to head for Florida; airfares to Fort Lauderdale, for example, have dropped to as low as $39 each way in recent months as discount airlines, including Spirit Air, JetBlue and Southwest, fight over that market. Cities throughout Florida have cracked down on spring break high jinks in recent years, although a fair amount of partying still goes on. Info: 800-22-SUNNY, www.sunny.org.

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