Q Ten friends are planning a four-day Caribbean trip. We like spas, lots of activities and casinos but don't want just all-inclusives or cruises. Recommendations?
A With so many Caribbean islands, picking the perfect tropical getaway requires some comparison shopping, and flexibility. Keeping your criteria in mind, the Caribbean Tourism Organization pinpointed Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. However, since your stay is short, you also need to factor in travel time. Which leaves us with . . . Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Jamaica.
First, Puerto Rico. Major carriers frequently fly to San Juan, with one to zero connections. Cruises tie up in the capital's port, but it's easy to fan out across the island to avoid the hordes. Head inland for rain forest and unbridled nature, west for beaches and surfing, and to the outer islands for powdery, empty beaches. For culture and shopping, explore Old San Juan, and for casinos, beaches and spas, hit the resort strip along Condado and Isla Verde.
Though the vibe is different, the Bahamas share many of the same features. You may wish to skip busy Nassau in favor of the nearby Out Islands. Many can fulfill at least half of your wish list. The Abacos, for example, have an active boating community, an underwater preserve, the nesting grounds for the Abaco parrot, gardens and museums,and beaches.
In Jamaica, Negril would be the best fit. While the western region does have some all-inclusives, it also has charming garden cottages and family-run inns. Attractions include white-water rafting, mountain biking, craft markets and cliff jumpers. And amid all of the reggae jammin' and rum swillin', you won't even miss the ching-ching of casinos.
For info on the Caribbean islands and links to each island's tourism office: Caribbean Tourist Organization, 212-635-9530, www.doitcaribbean.com.
Last year we rented a large house on the Outer Banks for a reunion. We're looking for a similar rental in San Diego in March.
In San Diego, a beach rental of the OBX variety -- oceanfront, reasonably priced, spacious enough to fit the whole Walton clan -- is a rarity. Blame the California real estate market. Lively, laid-back areas such as Pacific and Mission beaches have one-, two- or three-bedroom apartment or condo rentals that are squished in with the surf shops, bars, restaurants and other residences.
Heading north, to La Jolla and Encinitas, the homes triple in square footage -- and price. Del Mar Vacation Rentals (800-378-8221, www.delmar-vacationrentals.com), for example, lists a six-bedroom home in Encinitas that sleeps 15 for $4,300 a week (winter rate). Another alternative is to set up home at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club (800-640-7702, www.ljbtc.com), which offers diverse accommodations, such as standard hotel rooms (from $219 a night), three-bedroom oceanfront suites ($809, sleeps up to nine) and cottages with fireplaces ($469, sleeps up to seven). The resort community also has a beach, fitness center, golf and tennis courses, and two restaurants. Off-season discounts are available.
For more rental ideas, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (619-236-1212, www.sandiego.org) lists a directory of vetted agencies.
Are World War I battlefield tours available?
World War I covered large swaths of Europe and the Middle East, and retracing the entire WWI theater isn't feasible. Instead, pick a tour that focuses on the western front, a 400-mile stretch that runs from Flanders to the Swiss border. "You can drive it in a day," says Leonard Shurtleff, vice president of the Western Front Association, "but it would take weeks to see all of the battlefields."
The area includes about 500 battlefields, as well as trenches, block houses, cemeteries, forts and more. Those with limited time can visit the major battlefields -- Verdun, the Marne and Somme rivers, Ypres -- and fill in the missing history at the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium; the Historial de la Grande Guerre at Peronne on the Somme River; or Paris's Les Invalides War Museum, which has a floor dedicated to WWI.
WWI tour groups usually break their trips into regions or themes. Flanders Tours (011-44-1480-890966, www.flanderstours.co.uk), a U.K. company that uses historians as guides, has visits to Somme, Verdun, the Vosges Mountains, etc. For other tour agencies, contact the Belgian Tourist Office (212-758-8130, www.visitbelgium.com/worldwar.htm#TOUSA). Additional sources include the Great War Society (www.worldwar1.com) and the Western Front Association (www.westernfrontassociation.com).
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