Q We promised our graduating children a cruise next summer. We thought this would be a low time of year but discovered that it's the busy season. How can we find a bargain in late June?

Richard Rohde

Hamilton, Va.

A Unlike Europe in the winter and Florida in the summer, the cruising world has no real low season, due to the family factor. Vacationers want to travel with their kin, and that means school holidays. "Most people go to the Caribbean, but Alaska is also a prime summer market," says Brian Major, director of public relations of the Cruise Lines International Association. "Europe also attracts some families, but the Caribbean is the biggest." According to the association, 40 percent of cruise itineraries are for the Caribbean, followed by the Mediterranean (12 percent) and Alaska (8.3).

The cruise industry, though, does have price fluctuations that parallel holidays, school vacations and, for some regions, seasons. Mike Mason, an agent with Didion World Cruises in Alexandria, explains that for the Caribbean, rates drop between mid-August and Thanksgiving, early January and mid-March, and post-Easter and the end of the school year. (The highest rates are Christmas to New Year's.) Meanwhile, summer is the peak cruising season in Alaska and Europe, because of the nice weather. South America is the opposite, running October to April.

To find a lower rate, you may want to rethink your departure date. You might find reduced prices just before Memorial Day or right around Labor Day. Alaska cruise fares also start to dip the third week of August, about a month before the ships switch to warmer climes. Mason said departures from San Juan are occasionally less than those leaving from Florida ports, but you'll have to spring for airfare to Puerto Rico, which can be hundreds more than to Miami or Fort Lauderdale.

If you can't change your dates, watch for specials throughout the year. Mason cautions, though, to wait until after Christmas to book, since the late spring/early summer deals won't start rolling in until after the winter holidays.

My family and I will be traveling to the Czech Republic and Germany and would like to see where traditional blown-glass Christmas ornaments are made. Any suggestions?

Jonathan Doherty


In Europe, the art of glassblowing has weathered the Middle Ages, world wars, Communism and the spread of cheap Chinese trinkets -- but still, it remains a vital craft. The glassblowing studios of Germany and the Czech Republic are "still creating wonderful glass items," says Shari Maxson Hopper, a California bead lampworker who filmed the documentary, "Bohemian Beadmaking." "These are classic places that aren't going anywhere."

The ornaments are made by either lampwork, which uses a torch to shape the glass, or glassblowing, which requires a furnace and a blowpipe the artist puffs like a clarinet. The lighter, more delicate glass balls are formed by torch, and therefore don't weigh down the Christmas tree boughs.

In Germany, the hub of lampworking is Lauscha, near the Thuringian Forest in eastern Germany. The city is home to the Glass Museum; workshops where artisans sit at their benches creating ornaments, marbles, doll eyes, buttons, etc.; and shops selling their wares. Wertheim (www.tourist-wertheim.com), between Frankfurt and Wuerzburg, also has a glass museum that allows visitors a chance to blow glass and shape beads. In the Bavarian town of Frauenau, you can tour the Eisch glass factory and the recently remodeled Glass Museum. In addition, the Frauenau factory outlet sells new, discontinued and slightly damaged objects and offers tours that allow guests to watch glassblowers at work. Info: www.eisch.de/eng/frameset/frameset.php.

For a broader overview, the German National Tourist Office (212-661-7200, www.germany-tourism.de) has plotted out the Glass Route, a 155-mile trail that runs from Neustadt on the Waldnaab River to Passau on the Danube, with stopovers in towns made famous for their glassmaking skills.

In the Czech Republic, Novy Bor is considered the center of the country's glass industry. The city, about 55 miles north of Prague, has the Museum of Glass plus the factory and outlet stores of Crystelex (more for glasses and vases than ornaments). Renowned artist Petr Novotny also has a studio in the nearby town of Lindava that is open to the public. Info: Czech Tourism. www.czechtourism.com.


Dick Porter of Lebanon, Ind., recommends another company for renting sports cars in England (Aug. 28). Porter and his son leased a new Morgan and, on another trip, a new MGF from Wykhams (011-44-207-589-6894, www.wykehams.co.uk) in London for about $1,000 per week. "Expensive but a great experience," he wrote in an e-mail, adding, "Trust me, the normally reticent British will come up and talk to you if you are in one of these cars."

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