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                                  skateboarding dog, Manly Beach, Australia
Welcome to the online home of travel columnist Donald D. Groff, who has dispensed advice  and stories since 1988 in such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Newark Star-Ledger, The Kansas City Star, Newsday, Salon, Condé Nast Traveler, Consumer Reports Travel Letter, The Boston Globe, and Endless Vacation magazine.




Travel Questions

Q&A archive

Why cruising will never replace planes, trains and automobiles as the way to move between N.Y. and Fla. 

A note to Philadelphia Inquirer readers

Q: Is there any way I can go by sea to Fort Lauderdale , Fla. , to attend an October wedding, perhaps by hopping a cruise ship?  F.T., Maplewood , N.J.

A: The idea of shuttling between the Northeast and Florida by ship appeals to many people, but there is no simple ferry service and the alternatives are complicated, time -c onsuming, and expensive. Arriving in time for a particular date could be another obstacle. But if you are determined, there are a few possibilities to check.

Your idea of hopping a cruise ship is complicated by a U.S. law called the Jones Act that prohibits passengers on foreign flag vessels – and most big cruise ships are registered abroad – from boarding at one U.S. port and disembarking at another U.S. port without stopping first in a foreign destination.

Some itineraries would seem perfectly suited to you, except for that law. I found a 13-day Holland America cruise for October that departs from New York and pauses three days later in Fort Lauderdale before continuing into the Caribbean and circling back to conclude in Fort Lauderdale .  You could use that ship to reach Fort Lauderdale , but only by staying with it until its final stop. Most people would find that too much trouble and expense, unless they were looking for a Caribbean vacation at the same time.

“We are sometimes unable to allow passengers to take portions or segments of a cruise because it violates the Jones Act,” an online Holland America agent wrote. “Our marketing and planning departments do extensive research in arranging our itineraries to ensure our ships do not violate this United States Maritime law.”

Occasionally there are ships that leave a port such as New York , Philadelphia or Baltimore and stop in Bermuda before continuing to southern destinations such as Florida , but you would have to search for such an itinerary at booking sites or ask a cruise specialist to do that work for you.

Another possibility is a repositioning cruise. These cruises occur when the cruise seasons change, and for October travel you may find a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe that makes a call in New York or elsewhere in the Northeast before heading south.  Last October, for instance, the Norwegian Jewel had an “Exotic Caribbean” itinerary starting in Philadelphia and ending in Miami . Whether you could board one of these depends on whether the line is willing let passengers book just segments of the cruise. This can happen if there is space available, but it depends on the line’s policies for partial trips and whether the booking complies with the Jones Act.

For a roundup of repositioning cruises, go to www.cruising.org and find the press releases section. Usually in August there is a notice that summarizes autumn repositionings. The cruise lines’ own sites note these, too; search for sailings in September and October.

Another possibility for moving up and down the Eastern coastline is aboard a smaller boat plying the Intracoastal Waterway . Companies such as the American Canadian Caribbean Line (www.accl-smallships.com) offer regular voyages with stops at many of the historic port towns.  These usually are not budget trips and often it’s a new port every night for 10 days or more.  Also, the itinerary’s start and finish probably aren’t going to perfectly suit where you want to start and end, requiring some land travel at either end.  One 14-night ACCL itinerary goes between Warren , R.I. , and Stuart , Fla. (near Jacksonville ).

You can find other possibilities through a site devoted to small ships, www.smallshipcruises.com.  Click on the “U.S.-East” link.

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Travel Questions archive
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  • Oregon's lodge hotels aren't mainstream -- and one even has a stream running through it (March 2006)

    • Q: We want to visit three of the big parks in Oregon with old lodge hotels. How can we go about making reservations for these grand lodgings? A.S., Shrewsbury, N.J. 
      A: That's a fine itinerary - these venerable lodges are a far cry from usual holiday lodging, and the ones you cite are positioned conveniently in or near three of the state's best attractions: Oregon Caves National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, and Mount Hood National Forest. 
      Oregon Caves and Crater Lake are in southern Oregon, about 126 miles and almost three hours apart. Mount Hood is in northern Oregon, about 233 miles and five hours from Crater Lake. 

      • The Chateau at the Oregon Caves National Monument is near the entrance to the park. The rustic and remarkable six-story building opened in 1934, with 23 guest rooms ranging from two-bedroom family suites to an economy room. A stream runs through the main dining room. The Chateau is 20 miles east of Cave Junction and open from late April through late October. Nightly rates range from $80 for one economy double to $135 for a family suite. This and other Oregon lodgings are subject to a 7 percent room tax. For reservations or details, call 541-592-3400 or visit www.oregoncavesoutfitters.com. The Web site for the national monument is www.nps.gov/orca.

      • Crater Lake National Park's Crater Lake Lodge - with dining room overlooking the lake's stunning blue waters -- originally opened in 1915 and reopened in 1995 after a major renovation. It has 71 guest rooms and is open from late May to mid-October. There are six types of rooms, with the currently posted 2005 rates ranging from $129 per night for a ground floor room to $248 for a two-bedroom loft. A "premium lakeside" room is $180. The 2006 prices may rise by as much as 3 percent, according to a reservation agent. Reach reservations at 541-830-8700, or visit www.craterlakelodges.com. The Web site for Crater Lake National Park is www.nps.gov/crla.

      • Near Mount Hood, about an hour east of Portland, is Timberline Lodge, a 70-room grandiosity completed in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration project. It is part of the well-known Timberline ski area. In the 1980 version of the movie The Shining, some outside scenes were filmed here. Five room categories range from $95 to $250 per night. The lodge is open year-round. Contact Timberline at (800) 547-1406, Web site www.timberlinelodge.com. The national park site is www.fs.fed.us/r6/mthood.


      If these lodges whet your appetite for similar hostelries, you have plenty of resources. "Great Lodges of the National Parks" was the topic of a PBS series that has a companion book and DVD, and a Web site at www.pbs.org/opb/greatlodges

      Another good source is The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges, by David and Kay Scott (Globe Pequot, 4th edition, 2004). The fifth edition is scheduled to be in bookstores in March, 2006.  

       

  • Amsterdam has plenty of attractions for young visitors while their folks relish the tulip show

    • Q: We are considering a trip to Amsterdam next spring for the tulips, but wonder about attractions there suited to children under 12. Suggestions? C.M., Maplewood, N.J.

      A: Amsterdam has plenty of attractions for children, including the New Metropolis Center of Science and Technology, which has hands-on  computer and other exhibits; the Artis zoo, oldest in Holland ,  and the kid-friendly farm at Rembrandtpark.

      The book Amsterdam Made Easy: The Best Sights & Walks of Amsterdam, by Andy Herbach (Open Road Publishing, 2005), notes the Het KinderKookKafe – Kids’ Café – a cooking school just for children 5 to 12 (www.kinderkookkafe.nl); TunFun, a huge underground indoor playground with trampoline, slides, and construction area (www.tunfun.nl); and the Tropical and Children’s Museum, with re -c reations of villages from around the world (www.tropenmuseum.nl).

      The Netherlands Board of Tourism site at www.holland.com has a helpful link at Special interest/Family. You also can call 1-888-464-6552 – where a recording will tell you to go to the Web site

      Amsterdam has a Web site at  www.visitamsterdam.nl and a calendar for locating festivals or other events that appeal to the family. At the home page, click on Cityguide/Amsterdam for…/Kids.

       Tulip season in Holland begins in late March or early April and continues through mid- or late May. Mid-April is often the peak time, depending on the weather.

      Many flower observances take place in April, including the Bollenstreek  Flower Parade. The parade winds through the bulb region from Noordwijk to Haarlem , not far from Amsterdam , the Hague and Leiden .  A site with a flower calendar is at www.keukenhof.nl.

       

  • When the Cote d'Azur beckons, these guidebooks and Web sites have tested the red carpet

    • Q: With summer behind us, we’d like to look into traveling along the Cote d’Azur, stopping for two or three days in places such as Nice, Cannes and Monaco. Can you suggest planning sources? D.S., Elizabeth, N.J.

      A: Ah, yes, many of us feel pulled to the warmth of France ’s Mediterranean coast when the autumn chill kicks in (wink, wink), and fortunately the guidebook publishers are tuned in to our longings. Insight Guide: The French Riviera (Langenscheidt, 3rd edition, 2001) does a fine job of putting a photographic face on our storybook impressions of that storied coastline. Besides slick come-hither images, the contents are well-organized and the places most travelers are curious about are easy to find. The cover-flap index points you straight to nine “perched villages,” those lovely towns painted onto the hillsides above the sea. At a glance you can find descriptions of the museums devoted to Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, and other artists and topics.

      TimeOut, the company that publishes city events guides, also offers the TimeOut: South of Fran ce, Provence & Cote d’Azur (revised 2004). Besides the coast, it covers a lot of adjacent inland territory. It doesn’t have the photo quotient of the Insight Guide, but it excels in the arts and entertainment category, things to do places to eat, drink, shop, and frolic.

      In the petit category, a good choice is the Provence and the Cote d’Azur book from the Knopf Mapguides series. It’s roughly 5 x 7 inches and just 3/8 inch thick, boiling down much of southeast Fran ce to its essence and offering eight fold-out maps. It fits easily in pocket or purse, the perfect take-along when lugging a larger guide is overkill.

      Many Web sites cover the Cote d’Azur as well, including www.guideriviera.com and www.businessriviera.com. At an official French tourism site, http://us.franceguide.com, you can select Riviera from the Where menu on the home page and find more than a dozen good links, including www.nicetourisme.com.   You also can inquire at the French Government Tourist Office hotline, phone 410- 286-8310.

       

  • Anchor management: The pros and cons of planning your own shore tours when your cruise ship is in port   (August 2005)

    • Q:  I recently booked a Mediterranean cruise that visits many ports in Italy and Greece.  The cruise line offers lots of sightseeing excursions in the $150-$200 range per person. Can you direct me to sources for arranging cheaper shore excursions, especially in Livorno, Monte Carlo, and Naples in Italy, and Athens in Greece?   M.G., Parlin, N.J.

      A: Shore excursions arranged by the cruise line are so numerous and expensive that if you’re not careful, you could end up spending more on excursions than on the price of the cruise, warns cruise authority Douglas Ward in Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships (Berlitz, 15th edition, 2005).  It is indeed possible to arrange your own sightseeing – many people prefer that to group excursions -- but it requires planning.

      Prior to the cruise look at the cruise line’s offerings to provide a base line for cost and what’s covered. In touring on your own, it will help if you have some partners in crime. Once you board the ship, try to meet like-minded passengers interested in sharing the cost of a taxi or van.

      Several cruise guides include descriptions of popular ports and what there is to see and do during your day there, and places from which local tours depart.

      One such book is Insight Guides Mediterranean Cruises (Langenscheidt, 2004), which covers the ports you mention. For each, there is a list of the typical tours, then details on how to get along on your own. For instance:

      * Livorno – It’s the gateway to Florence, Pisa, and the Tuscan towns of Lucca and Sienna. The book describes how to reach Pisa by train, a 20-minute ride, noting that “taxi drivers are unwilling to take cruise visitors the short distance to Pisa unless you agree to a longer tour of the city or beyond. It is the same story at the Pisa station. . . . By afternoon, though, taxi drivers will be happy to take you back to the ship, either from or Livorno.”

      * Monte Carlo – “There are frequent trains to Eze, Villefranche, Nice, Antibes Cannes, which are alternatives to the organized tours and considerably cheaper than taxis.”

      * Naples – Three top sites are within a 15-minute walk of the cruise terminal – Castel Nuovo, Palazzo Reale, Teatro San Carlo. Pompeii and Sorrento can be reached by taxi or train; Herculaneum Capri is reached by hydrofoil.

      * Athens – Taxis get stuck in traffic from the port, so the metro rail service is a good option, and some cruise lines offer a shuttle to the metro station at little or no charge, with station stops near major attractions such as the big plazas and the Acropolis. Near the tourist office in Syntagma you’ll find coach tours to places such as Corinth and Delphi . “These will be cheaper than the ships’ tours, but be careful about time; only consider a full-day tour if your ship is leaving [the Athens Piraeus late in the evening.”

      Another book with a good self-guided tour tone is Cruising the Mediterranean: A Guide to the Ports of Call, by Larry H. Ludmer (Hunter Travel, 2002). It nicely covers all the ports you asked about, too, though its maps are less detailed.

      For price comparison, a company offering Italy shore excursions is Avventure Bellissime, Web site www.tours-italy.com. Look for “private/custom tours.”

      While a city tour with 50 other people probably won’t be as rewarding as your own customized tour, there are a few advantages to the cruise excursions. Besides the ease of booking, if the official tour bus is delayed, the ship won’t sail without it. Don’t expect that treatment if your private vehicle gets bogged down in traffic. The cruise tours also strive to have guides whose English is good.

      The official tourism site for Italy is www.italiantourism.com; for Greece, www.gnto.gr.

       

  • For a price, these companies will help you avoid the pain of lugging your own luggage  (July 2005)

    • Q: I have a knee problem and am worried about carrying my luggage to the West Coast for a cruise. I heard about a way to send one’s luggage ahead to avoid having to carry it. How can I find out more about this? V.S., Rockaway, N.J.

      A: Several companies are poised to lend a hand and spare your knee – or other body parts. And even those without infirmities might be tempted by this option.

      These firms tout the convenience of shipping your luggage ahead, and the airport security hassles of the past few years have been good for their business. Not only do you avoid having to heave your bags, but you also needn’t worry about standing in line to check the bags, or about security inspections of those bags.

      Some companies, like Sports Express, cater to golfers and other sportspeople who want to ship their equipment, but they generally handle regular luggage, too. You can also consider parcel services such as Fedex, Airborne and UPS.  In fact, the luggage shippers usually rely on parcel services to do the shipping, though they may have agents to make sure all goes well at both ends.

      Of course, you pay a price for that service.

      The companies arrange to pick up your bag at home or office and ship it to your destination, making sure it arrives at a hotel, cruise pier, or other stopping point. Not all companies deliver to cruise lines; some deliver only to lines with which they have partnerships.

      Rates depend on weight, number of bags, shipping distance, and how quickly you want them delivered. In our check for a 25-pound suitcase, one-way rates for the companies listed here ranged from $60 to $120.  Other variables may come into play, such as the pick-up point’s distance from the airport. One company was adding a fuel surcharge.

      While the prices may seem costly compared to the free baggage allowance on most airlines, they are not far from the excess- and oversize-baggage charges – around $80 per bag -- that many airlines assess. 

      You could save yourself some money by dealing directly with a company like Federal Express, but you still have to consider packaging requirements. Also, anyone shipping to a hotel should check with the hotel first to determine its policy on accepting such parcels.

      Among luggage shipping services are:

      * Luggage Express, phone 1-866-744-7224, Web site  www.usxpluggageexpress.com

      * Virtual Bellhop 1-877-235-5467, www.virtualbellhop.com. Luggage Express and Virtual Bellhop are both owned by Universal Express of Boca Raton, Fla.

      * Sports Express, of Durango , Colo. , 1-800-357-4174, www.sportsexpress.com

      * Skycap International, of Anchorage , Alaska , 1-877-775-9227, www.skycapinternational.com

      *Luggagefree, of New York , 1-800-361-6871, www.luggagefree.com

      Some  airlines, hotels, credit card companies, and cruise lines have partnerships with one or more of these companies, offering small discounts. Crystal Cruises has a partnership with Virtual Bellhop. Ask your cruise line if it has such a partnership.

      You can find partners at the Web sites of the shipping companies. New York-New Jersey-Connecticut cruise passengers departing from New York piers or Cape Liberty Cruise Port , Bayonne , have another, deluxe way to free themselves from the burdens of luggage. Liberty Moving & Storage in Hauppauge , N.Y. , will deliver a “portable closet” for your wardrobe and other belongings. You take your time packing, and a day or so before your sailing the company picks up the loaded wardrobe and delivers it to the cruise pier.  After the cruise, the company gathers the closet from the ship and returns it to your home.

      The base rate is $260. For details, call 631-234-3000, ext. 234, and ask for Mike.

  • For low-price summer lodging in Montreal, study the residence hall option at McGill University (June 2005)

    • Q: In early July we will be near Bangor , Maine , and plan to drive west to Montreal . We’d like to stay outside the city and take public transportation in for sightseeing.  Can you offer any suggestions, given our moderate budget? B.G., Summit, N.J.

      A: The idea of staying outside a city -- for less congestion and less expensive lodging – and relying on public transit is a worthy one, but in Montreal there is a summer alternative that might be better.

      McGill University has several residence halls that rent rooms to the public from May 15 to Aug. 15 while students are away.

      Among them are the Bishop Mountain residences and the Royal Victoria College residences. The Bishop Mountain rooms are a 15-minute walk from downtown at the foot of Mount Royal , a Frederick Law Olmstead-designed park with trails and other attractions. Royal Victoria College borders McGill’s downtown campus.

      A limited number of double rooms are available at the rate of $390 Canadian per week or $65 Canadian per day, plus 15 percent tax.  That totals $459 Canadian and $75 Canadian, which at a conversion rate of 83 U.S. cents to the Canadian dollar amounts to about $382 per week/$63 per day. The rate at Bishop Mountain includes continental breakfast.

      You can reserve by calling 514-398-5200, or writing to McGill University Residences, Attention: Summer Accommodations, 3935 University Street , Montreal , Quebec H3A 2B4 . Other university residences are available as well; they are described at www.mcgill.ca/residences/summer.

      Recently doubles were still available for early July, but anyone who hopes to take advantage should book soon as the Montreal Jazz Festival is June 30-July 10 (www.montrealjazzfest.com) and the rooms always fill up, according to a residence agent.

      You still can park your car and rely on public transportation. From the Bishop Mountain Residences buses operate to the Sherbrooke and other metro stations.  The Royal Victoria College residence is just steps from the McGill station.  A map of the metro system is at www.stm.info/English/metro/a-mapmet.htm.

      The tourism site for Montreal is at www.tourisme-montreal.org.  Click on the link called “Tour the Underground Network” for a map of the city’s underground passageways, beginning at the McGill Metro Station.  Click on “Great Parks of Montreal” for a preview of Mount Royal Park .

      The site also has a good lodging section, with other campus space as well as a search function that can sort by neighborhood and other types of accommodation.

      A printed guide to visiting Montreal can be obtained by calling 1-877- 266-5687.  

  • If you have an Irish pub crawl in mind, these guides will help you plot your itinerary (Feb. 28, 2005)

    • Q: For a trip to Ireland, where can find some planning information on pubs and events scheduled during out visit? H.D., Springfield, Pa.

      A: You can get a good start with your pub itinerary at the Irish Pub Guide site, www.irishpubguides.com, which has links to information on pubs with dining, pubs with accommodations, and pubs with traditional Irish music. You can research pubs based on the counties you'll be visiting. If you want to do some pre-vacation intelligence gathering, you also can locate Irish pubs in the United States through this site.

      Another sources is World Food: Ireland (Lonely Planet, 2000), which has a 23-page section on the traditional Irish pub, including an etiquette guide: "The rounds system - the simple custom where someone buys you a drink and you buy one back - is the bedrock of Irish pub culture. It's summed up in the Irish saying, "It's impossible for two men to go to a pub for one drink."

      The guide also advises "the best time to introduce yourself to an Irish pub, especially in Dublin, is in the midafternoon, after the lunch hour scramble and before the post-work evening rush."

      Among sources for events information are:

      * Tourism Ireland in New York, phone (800) 223-6470, Web site www.tourismireland.com. A related Irish tourism site is at www.ireland.travel.ie.

      * Dublin Tourism has a site at www.visitdublin.com that includes pubs in the "Food & Drink" section. 

      * County Cork, in southwest Ireland, has a site at www.cork-guide.ie.

      * Shannon region pubs and events, including those in Limerick, are at Web site www.shannonregiontourism.ie.

  • Baja beckons to seniors and everyone else who wants to know nature • Edinburgh can make a short side trip from London -- if you've got stamina
     
    (Jan. 30, 2005)

    • Q: My 80-year-old father saw a broadcast about Baja California and is hot to vacation there with my mother, 75. I'd like to put together a trip for them - what travel sites I can visit to begin planning? F.C., Philadelphia

      A: The Mexican peninsula known as Baja California, or just "Baja," is one of today's hot destinations. Los Cabos, at the southern tip, has been swelling with tourists for the past decade as more resorts have opened.

       Fishing and golf are big pastimes. Eco-tourism continues to draw sea life fans along both the Pacific Coastline and the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. Baja beckons many young outdoor sports enthusiasts, but the 900-mile-long peninsula also appeals to active seniors, many of whom retire or spend winters there. In early December, San Felipe salutes the arriving RV crowd with its Snowbird Welcome Festival. 

      Just off the presses is the fourth edition of the guidebook Hidden Baja, by Richard Harris (Ulysses Press, 4th edition, 2004), which calls attention to Baja's popularity with seniors, noting that "the only real drawback to Baja travel for seniors is the absence of medical facilities in many areas."

      Elderhostel, the reasonably priced travel and education program geared to those 55 and older, has several Baja travel programs coming up in January and February. Details are at www.elderhostel.org,
      or call 1-877-426-8056. Apple Vacations, based in Newtown Square, offers packages to Los Cabos; visit www.applevacations.com

      Among Web sites, Baja.com (www.baja.com) offers news, events, and background. Tour companies can be found through the Activities/tours link at www.loscabosguide.com. (Los Cabos, "the capes," refers to Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, the tourist corridor in between, and the East Cape.) An interactive map of 24 cities from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas is at www.bajalife.com, a site affiliated with a slick magazine aimed at visitors. The map leads to many tour operators.

      The Los Cabos tourist board site is at www.visitloscabos.org, where one section describes land tours, bay tours, and eco-tourism. A printed Cabos guide can be ordered by calling 1-866-567-2226.

      The guidebook Baja California (Lonely Planet, 5th edition, 2001) notess many special interest tours available, including agriculture, astronomy, biking, horseback riding, surfing, snorkeling, whale watching, windsurfing, and RV touring. More than 30 tour companies are described. (The 6th edition is due in February under the title Baja & Los Cabos.)

      For one man's extensive views of the Baja persona, the book Baja Fever: Journeys Into Mexico's Intriguing Peninsula (Mountain N' Air Books, 1999) is a combination personal travelogue and guide based on the travels of author Greg Niemann over a period of decades, up through the late 1990s. 

      Q: My wife and I will be spending a week in London and would like to take two days to see Edinburgh. Is this feasible, or too much in a short time? M.K., Newton

      A: It's certainly possible to take a two-day side trip to Edinburgh from London, but if your whole trip is just one week, consider a closer side show. (A few suggestions in a moment.)

      Still, if you are determined, energetic, and start early and return late, you could get a taste of the Scottish capital and have plenty to talk about when you return home.

      Here are recommendations for top things to do from www.edinburghguide.com: Visit Edinburgh Castle, watch the sunset on Calton Hill, visit the National Gallery of Scotland, walk in the Royal Botanical Gardens, go to a club or ceilidh, visit the Britannia (a huge royal yacht), drink whisky, go to the theater, and ride a bike.

      Still interested? Here are travel options:

      * Flying between London and Edinburgh takes about 1 ¼ hours, plus time getting to and from the airports. Many flights are available, including some very low fares thanks to the no-frills airlines. A check of easyJet's site at www.easyjet.com show many fares available for late May for 13 pounds each way - about $24 - and that's a great deal even with the British pound valued at almost twice the U.S. dollar. 

      * An express train takes about 4½ hours, departing from London's Kings Cross station. The second-class one-way fare is $162, pricier than it once was owing to the poor exchange rate for those with dollars. BritRail has links on its home page, www.britrail.com, for day-trip and overnight trip packages to Edinburgh.

      * An overnight sleeper train takes about seven hours. This could be a fun option if you're able to sleep easily on a train. If not, you'd be weary for your Edinburgh whirl. Sleeping berths are more costly. The train leaves from London Euston station.

      The Scottish Tourist Board Web site is at www.holiday.scotland.net; click on the "Edinburgh City Breaks" link or visit www.edinburghcitybreaks.com for extensive guidance. Edinburgh's official Web site is at www.edinburgh.org.

      Another option to save yourself effort is to contact a travel agent. Trained agents who specialize in Scotland are listed in a free guide available from VisitBritain, phone 1-800-462-2748.

      The VisitBritain site, www.travelbritain.org, can steer visitors toward specialized agencies as well. Select "plan your trip" and "contact a travel agent." 

      As for alternatives to Edinburgh, here are a few spots within a couple hours of London by train that make good day or overnight trips: Bath, Brighton, Greenwich, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Windsor and Eaton, Brighton, Canterbury, Tunbridge Wells.

     

  • Getting from Newark Liberty International Airport to Philadelphia by rail • Planning a tour of baseball stadiums in the coming season (Jan. 8, 2005)

    • Q: A friend from Europe is flying to Newark international airport en route to Philadelphia. What transportation is available between there and Philadelphia? J.B., Ardmore

      A: For your friend or anyone else arriving at Liberty Newark International Airport with scant luggage, one of the easiest ways is AirTrain Newark, the monorail that opened in 2001 and carries travelers about 10 minutes to the airport rail station located on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line. From that station you can catch Amtrak trains to Philadelphia 30th Street Station or, at less cost, New Jersey Transit trains to Trenton, where your friend can transfer to Septa's R7 train. The R7 reaches 30th Street Station after 11 intermediate stops. 

      For Amtrak trains, tickets can be bought from machines at each terminal's AirTrain station or from machines at the airport station. (There is no separate charge for riding the monorail from the terminals to the airport station.) Amtrak fares may vary depending on timing and type of booking, but typically the Newark Airport-Philadelphia trip takes one hour and costs $54 one-way. AAA and other discounts are available. The schedule with discount information is online at www.amtrak.com,or call Amtrak at 1-800-872-7245. The Amtrak booking code for the airport station is EWR.

      Using NJ Transit is more complicated and time-consuming, but costs less than half the Amtrak method. These tickets also are available through the machines. Newark airport to Trenton takes about one hour and costs $12.65. Travelers should take a nonstop train on the Northeast Corridor Line; about 40 operate each weekeday between the airport and Trenton. (Avoid the NJ Coast Line trains, which would require you to transfer at Rahway in order to reach Trenton and add to travel time.) At Trenton, transfer to the R7 line for the final leg to 30th Street Station; the trip costs $7 and takes about 50 minutes.

      AirTrain details can be found through www.airtrainnewark.com. The Newark airport's number is 1-888-397-4636; press 54 for the AirTrain recording, which does not have fare information. For NJ Transit, call toll-free 1-800-772-2222; press 0 to reach an agent.

      Other ways to reach Philadelphia are described at the Newark airport site found at www.panynj.gov.
      Click on Liberty Newark then select "Getting to and from" and "transportation options." A short section is devoted to Philadelphia, including van service with Dave's Best Limousine (phone 1-800-255-2378), which costs $50 one way.

      Q: I would like to do a tour of major league baseball stadiums. Where can I get help researching such a trip? A.B., Bala Cynwyd

      A:
      At least two guidebooks are targeted to fans like you:
      * The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan's Guide to Major League Stadiums, by Joshua Pahigian and Kevin O'Connell (Lyons Press, 2004)

      * Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America, by Bruce Adams and Margaret Engel (Fodor's Travel, 3rd edition, 2002)

      Another book you can have fun with is Roadside Baseball: A Guide to Baseball Shrines Across America, by Chris Epting (Sporting News, 2003). It features former sites of famous ballparks, baseball museums, baseball plaques, statues of great players, birthplaces, final resting places, and more trivia.

      One company that helps organize pilgrimages is Roadtrips, based in Winnipeg, Canada. It arranges three-day trips to any of 30 major league ballparks, as well as multicity, multi-game baseball tours. Call 1-800-465-1765 or visit Web site www.roadtrips.com.

      The official Major League Baseball site, with links to all the teams, is at www.mlb.com.

  • Canoeing in Minnesota doesn't have to mean hefting your own canoe • Student-friendly Oaxaca and a superb medical guide to Mexico (Oct. 3, 2004)

    • Q: We are two couples who want to go canoeing for a week or so in Minnesota. Can you suggest outfitters, guides and other sources for planning such a trip? P.D., Swarthmore, Pa. 
      A: Minnesota is famous among canoeists for its Boundary Waters Canoe Area along the Canadian border and for other lake and river destinations, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Scores of outfitters are available to either do most of the guiding and heavy lifting for you or help you plan an independent trip.
      Your group of four also could be teamed with a few other travelers - parties are limited to nine for Boundary Waters trips. One outfitter said in such cases, travelers tend to help each other during portages.
      A thorough listing of Minnesota operators is at the state's official tourism site, www.exploreminnesota.com. From the home page, click on Activities/Outdoor activities/Canoe outfitters. Among them is Boundary Waters Canoe Outfitters in Ely, which says it can outfit a trip including food and camping gear starting at $40 per day. Its phone number is 1-866-365-3201, Web site www.boundary-waters.com.
      Another company is Wilderness Inquiry, based in Minneapolis, which offers guide services and package trips in Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Voyageurs National Park, Itasca State Park, Superior National Forest, and elsewhere. Get details by calling 1-800-728-0719 or visiting Web site www.wildernessinquiry.com.
      Many canoe-trip companies that are based outside Minnesota but offer trips there can be found in the America Outdoors Outfitters Directory and Vacation Guide, available free by calling 865-558-3597, or online at www.americaoutdoors.org.
      A guide to Minnesota canoeing packages and outfitters is at www.paddling.net/trips (select Minnesota in the regional search window). 
      As for published guides, here are a few:
      * Paddling the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park, by James Churchill (Falcon, 2003).
      * Paddling Minnesota, by Greg Breining (Falcon, 1999).
      * Canoeing the Driftless: A Paddlers Guide for Southeastern Minnesota, by David J. Lind (1stBooks/AuthorHouse, February 2004).
      * Boundary Waters Canoe Camping, by Cliff Jacobson (Globe Pequot, 2nd edition, 2000).

      Q: My teenage son is going to spend a few months in Oaxaca, Mexico. What safety concerns should we know about? J.K., Philadelphia
      A: Don't worry. Your son is fortunate to spend an extended time in Oaxaca, capital of Oaxaca state, 240 miles south of Mexico City, a place free from the tourist hordes of, say, Cancun. In his book Live Better South of the Border, Mexico authority Mike Nelson says of Oaxaca: "If you want to get away from it all, this almost as far away as you can get. … It has been called the craft capital of Mexico." He compares it to Berkeley, Calif., or Austin Texas - a place where political thought is sometimes expressed in demonstrations. He considers the town very conservative and advises watching your wallet in the markets.
      Explain to your son the safety precautions one should observe regardless of destination: avoid wearing flashy jewelry and traveling alone in high-risk areas, being especially vigilant in places such as bus and train stations and tourist zones.
      The State Department's consular information sheet does not cite Oaxaca City in its safety warning section, although it does mention occasional demonstrations. You can find the full report online at http://travel.state.gov/mexico.html.
      You and anyone who wonders about staying healthy in Mexico should know about a new book called Mexico: Health and Safety Travel Guide, by Robert Page and Curtis Page (MedToGo, 2004). Many guidebooks pay lip service to such concerns; this guide addresses them to a remarkable extent for destinations all over the country. 
      The Oaxaca City section bluntly says: "By North American standards Oaxaca's hospital and medical-care system is antiquated and technologically limited. There are sufficient services for the routine treatment of mild to moderate medical problems, however we did not find adequate emergency services . . . . "
      The book names the best places to go for medical aid and recommends English-speaking doctors by name. It even shows their photos and provides locator maps to their clinics.
      A good online tourist guide is at http://oaxaca-travel.com. Another can be found through www.visitmexico.com.
      Top

  • Zeroing in on a reasonably priced hotel near St. Mark's Square in Venice; how to get a good hotel deal on the road to the Outer Banks. (June 2, 2004)

    • Q: For a trip to Venice, our tour company is suggesting an outrageously priced hotel near St. Mark's Square. We like the convenience, but are considering finding a less-expensive outlying hotel and shuttling in to Venice each day. Is this a practical idea? L.D., Media, Pa.

      A: You note that with the dollar weakening against the euro, your trip will cost you 25 percent more than you anticipated. Staying in a cheaper hotel on the periphery is a common tactic for keeping down costs, especially when there is easy, inexpensive transportation such as a rail line. 

      But I posed the question to Italian lodging expert Margo Classe, who quickly discouraged the idea in the case of Venice. She said she had never spoken to anyone who had used that strategy and was satisfied.

      Classe, author of Best Budget Hotels in Italy (Wilson Publishing, 3d edition, 2002), said the last daily train away from Venice leaves relatively early and that St. Mark's, for instance, is about a 45-minute walk from the train station. So it could be done, but it could mean giving up a large part of your evening in the city and forgoing the carefree nighttime strolls that are the stuff of movies.

      Forty-two Venice hotels are reviewed in the book, including nine near St. Mark's Square. From those, Classe recommends you try these favorites of hers, in descending order. Prices vary, but a room for two people for most of these is 130 to 190 euros in high season - about $150 to $225 at an exchange rate of one euro to $1.19. Each of these accepts some major credit cards and English is spoken. (Dialing from here, precede phone numbers with 011-39.)

      * Serenissima: Calle Carlo Goldoni 4486, phone 041-5200011; Web site www.hotelserenissima.it. Thirty-seven rooms, all with toilet and bath or shower.

      * San Giorgio: Rio Terà Mandola 3781, phone 041-5235835; e-mail hotelsangiorgio@tin.it. Sixteen rooms, all with toilet and shower. 

      * Locanda Fiorita: Campiello Nuovo, Santo Stefano 3457/A, phone 041-5234754; Web site www.locandafiorita.com. Twenty-one rooms in three buildings, 17 with toilet and shower.

      * Ai Do Mori: Calle Larga San Marco 658, phone 041-5204817; Web site www.hotelaidomori.com. Eleven rooms, nine with toilet and shower.

      * Gallini: Calle Verona 3673, phone 041-5204515; e-mail hgallini@tin.it. Forty rooms, all with toilet and bath or shower. 

      Besides hotel reviews, the book has excellent practical advice gleaned from Classe's personal visits. Don't assume a hotel will hold your luggage after you check out; many won't. She also recommends getting a multiday pass for riding the water taxis. And she says the romance of a balconied room wears thin if it overlooks a busy thoroughfare. So take earplugs. 

      Q: I am traveling to the Outer Banks with three small children and want to break up the trip. Can you suggest economical places to stay halfway? C.O., Philadelphia

      A: If you use I-95 for the bulk of your drive, the distance from Philadelphia to Kitty Hawk, N.C., is 415 miles and Richmond, Va., would be a bit more than half way. You can locate inexpensive lodging in advance through the Web sites of several "interstate exit guide" coupon publications.

      One is the Traveler Discount Guide, part of a family of similar publications whose Web site is at www.roomsaver.com. The site lets you search by state and route, and you can find many of the same deals and print out coupons.

      The printed version is available for a few dollars by calling 1-800-332-3948. You also can find the guide free at service stations and interstate rest stops. Once you reach Virginia, you could pick one up, calculate where you want to be at the end of the day, and select a hotel whose price and location is suitable. Rates of $40 to $60 per night are common; the day of week is sometimes a factor.

      Since you are traveling with children, also ask about family rates, which some hotels offer. But generally you cannot combine discounts. Top

  • Planning for Brittany, land of rugged coastline and ancient towns; renting a house for a Grand Canyon holiday.     (May 13, 2004)

    • Q: For a trip to Brittany, France, in mid-June, can you suggest literature and other information about touring the area? J.S., West Orange, N.J.
      A: Brittany is located in western France - it's the peninsula southwest of Normandy region. Normandy and Brittany often are paired in travel guides, and you can expect that this summer's 60th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion will send many side-trippers to Brittany as well. (The main D-Day ceremonies are June 5-6; www.normandy-dday.com.)

      Brittany is known for its rugged coastline, ancient towns, wooded interior, and islands. It was a Celtic duchy for more than a thousand years before becoming part of France in 1532, and that Celtic history, along with sea, heavily influence its character.

      "Its attractions lie most obviously along the coast, which, speckled with offshore islands and islets, makes up over a third of the seaboard of France," says the Rough Guide of Brittany. "In parts of the north, and in the western region of Finistère, the shoreline can be nothing but rocks and cliffs. . . . But elsewhere . . . it is caressed by the gentlest of seas, the sands rambling for kilometers or nestled into coves between steep cliffs."

      Among top guides to the region are Brittany and Normandy, by Greg Ward (Rough Guides, 2003); Brittany (DK Publishing, 2003), part of the Eyewitness Travel Guides series; Insight Guide Brittany, by Brian Bell (Langenscheidt, 1999); and the Michelin Green Guide to Brittany (Michelin Travel Publications, 3rd edition, 2002).

      Web sites to check are those of the Western France Tourist Board at www.westernfrancetouristboard.com; the Brittany Tourist Board at www.brittanytourism.com; and the French Tourist Board site at http://us.franceguide.com. To find events in June, go to the calendar at the Brittany tourism site. It's tricky to find. At the home page, click on Events/Fetes and Festivals. Then click on another Events link at the left, then Calendar. 

      This month, there is a big event in Nante, at Brittany's southern edge: A big flower show, the Floralies Internationales, is underway now through May 17. The Floralies is held at five-year intervals and has 25 international sections in the Parc de la Beaujoire. Web site: www.comite-des-floralies.com.

      To set the literary stage for your visit, consider Legends and Romances of Brittany, by Lewis Spence (Dover Publications, 1997). The author, a folklorist, has compiled stories of sprites and demons, tales of the black arts, Arthurian romances, stories of the saints of Brittany, and more, plus background on the land and people.

      Q: My family would like to travel to the Grand Canyon next November. We would like to rent a house. I'm concerned that homes on the Web won't turn out as promised. Is there a reputable agency that rents private homes? J.S., Trenton, N.J.
      A: Renting a house in the immediate area of Grand Canyon National Park area is uncommon - there aren't many homes to rent, owing to the lack of development adjacent to the park. Missing are the many condo developments and vacation homes of family vacation hot spots such as Orlando. What you have instead are many motels, hotels, lodges and campgrounds.

      One source that does have a couple of houses about 15 minutes from the South Rim is Arizona Vacation Rental Homes (phone 928-522-8228), whose offerings can be viewed at www.arizonavacationrentalhomes.com. One is five bedrooms, the other three. The larger goes for $175 per night, $850 per week during summer. 

      Owner Trish Meredith said it is best to book well in advance; some people make reservations as far as a year ahead and the schedule is largely filled for this summer. A one-night deposit is required to hold dates. Credit cards are accepted. Meredith said she can provide references from past renters. She also said the houses are close enough to each other that large parties can rent both houses together.

      As for rentals in general, there are many reputable agencies that arrange vacation homes in Arizona and elsewhere, and the Web has become the primary way that many brokers and owners publicize their properties. Whether dealing with a company or individual, the key is to be appropriately cautious before sending a check or providing a credit card number. Find out how long a broker has been in business and what trade groups, if any, it belongs to. You also can check for complaints with a local chamber of commerce or better business bureau. For a first-hand report, ask to be put in touch with a prior renter, and inquire about deposit and cancellation policies.

      A Web site called VRBO - Vacation Rentals by Owner - has thousands of homes around the country, including additional photos of the two mentioned above. It's at www.vrbo.com. It has dozens of other Arizona rentals, including a few in Flagstaff, which is a couple of hours south of the Grand Canyon.

  • Paving the way for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela; single travelers have more resources available than ever.  (April 24, 2004)

    • Q: I am planning a pilgrimage on the Road to Santiago across northern Spain in the summer of 2005. Can you direct me to any travel groups with whom I can hike with or other sources of information on the route? M.V., Mendham, N.J. 

      A: Many people regard the pilgrimage to Santiago as one of the first big moments in mass tourism, originally undertaken in the 11th Century along a network of routes through France and Northern Spain, ending at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. A French monk even wrote a guidebook to places to stay and eat along El Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James or the Pilgrim Route. 

      With that long history, much information is available for anyone planning to hike or otherwise tour the 500 miles of the pilgrimage route that are in Spain. At the Tourist Office of Spain site at www.okspain.org, click on Special Interest/Routes/Way to St. James. You can also reach the tourist office at its New York branch at 666 Fifth Ave., phone 212-265-8822. The office also has the names of companies that sponsor pilgrimage tours. These companies provide support, including meals and transporting your belongings from point to point. 

      One such company offering tours for walkers as well as those who prefer wheels is Saranjan Tours, phone 800-858-9594, Web site www.saranjan.com.The company is offering a 14-day Pamplona-Santiago-Madrid trip from June 19 to July 2 for a dozen walkers, priced at $3,550 per person, based on double occupancy. Deluxe tours are scheduled for May 8-21 and Sept. 18-Oct. 1, priced at $4,550 per person, based on double occupancy. Saranjan also can help plan custom trips.

      Among guides with good sections on Santiago and the pilgrimage are The Rough Guide to Spain, by Mark Ellingham and John Fisher (Rough Guides, 10th edition, 2002), and Spain, by Damien Simonis et al (Lonely Planet, 4th edition, 2003).

      Q: I've recently become a single traveler. Are there any reliable sources for agencies that specialize in travel for singles? I am particularly interested in travel within the United States, as well as cruises. D.L., Plainsboro, N.J.

      A:
      Several organizations, books and Web sites can steer you toward tour companies and other businesses that welcome solo travelers. 

      One straightforward source called Connecting: Solo Travel Network is a network of travelers interested in finding comfortable and economical ways of traveling alone. Connecting offers a Single-Friendly Travel Directory listing more than 250 travel companies and organizations whose services and pricing are sensitive to those traveling without a partner -- including some that do not charge a single supplement. The directory costs $5 (electronic version) or is free with an annual membership of $45 (or $28 for an online membership) for six issues of a newsletter. A sample issue is $5 from Connecting: Solo Travel Network, 689 Park Rd., Unit 6, Gibsons, BC V0N 1V7, Canada. Credit card orders: 800-557-1757; Web site www.cstn.org.

      The book Traveling Solo: Advice and Ideas for More Than 250 Great Vacations, by Eleanor Berman (Globe Pequot Press, 4th edition, 2003), is packed with suggestions for single travelers and offers many kinds of general advice.

      The book Single's Guide to Cruise Vacations, by Jacqueline Simenauer and Margaret Russell (Prima Publishing, 1997) describes which lines appeal to certain types of cruising singles. Although somewhat dated, it remains a good primer.

      The Web site IndependentTraveler.com offers a section on single travel. From the home page at www.independenttraveler.com, under Travel Resources, select Lifestyles then Solo & Single. 

      Another online source of resources, including companies offering cruises for singles, is the Travel Alone & Love It site at www.travelaloneandloveit.com. It is affiliated with a book of the same name by Sharon B. Wingler (Chicago Spectrum Press, 1996).

  • Navigating toward a canal boat holiday in Ireland; can you expect to vacation with mosquitoes in Jamaica?   (April 15, 2004)

    • Q: Having recently read about barge vacations in England , I wonder if similar trips are available in Ireland. J.H., Philadelphia

      A: Indeed – Ireland claims to have some of the longest navigable waterways in that part of the world, and dozens of companies offer water-borne holidays by barge, houseboat, and cabin cruiser.

      Ireland’s main waterways are the River Shannon, the Shannon Erne Link, the Erne Waterway, the Grand Canal, and the Barrow Navigation. They connect a network of canals, lakes, rivers and inlets, and many waterside villages are available for mooring, day tripping, and nighttime visitation.

      You can find a map of the waterways at the Europe Afloat site,  www.europeafloat.com/ir.htm. The interactive map links to companies that offer barge and houseboat rentals. Click on the Royal Canal, Grand Canal, and River Barrow portion and up pops a list of 10 boat-rental companies.

      Another site to peruse is Waterways Ireland, www.waterwaysireland.org, where the “About the waterways” link provides descriptions, including one for the Shannon Erne Waterway, which has its own site at www.shannon-erne.com.

      An even better site is www.a1.ie, where the “Boat companies” produces 15 boating firms and a listing of marinas. The Tourism Ireland site has a good section of cabin cruising at www.tourismireland.com.

      According to Tourism Ireland, cabin cruisers are generally rented on a weekly basis and the boats have two, four, six or 10 berths. Costs vary by season, size and amenities, but the rates range from about $925-$2,800 in low season, higher during the summer.

      Q: Our family will be vacationing in Jamaica this summer. On TV, we saw a Jamaican home and the bed was enclosed in mosquito netting. Besides sunscreen, do we need to pack mosquito spray? J.C., Philadelphia

      A: Yes – take along insect repellent and some soothing cream. You may not need them, but Jamaica’s climate and topography are right for mosquitoes and many visitors report encounters, despite resorts’ efforts to control them.

      However, the mosquitoes do not pose a malaria risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Visit www.cdc.gov and click on the Travelers’ Health section for the rundown on insect-borne illnesses in the Caribbean. It also has advice on preventing mosquito bites, including wearing long sleeves during the times of day when mosquitoes are most active. In Jamaica, that is usually around dusk.

      For first-hand accounts from travelers to Jamaica, visit the TripAdvisor site at www.tripadvisor.com. Search for Jamaica, then within the results for your resort or the area where your resort is located.

  • The challenges of finding work while spending a summer in Rome; how to pick a cruise ship that has programs for the whole family.    (March 19, 2004)

    • Q: For a summer in Rome, how can I obtain information on finding a job there? D.P., Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
      A: Finding work in Italy is no holiday for most visitors. Like many other countries, Italy is not keen on having foreigners take skilled jobs that otherwise would be filled by its own citizens. You can find good advice on what to expect in the Italy chapter of Work Your Way Around the World: The Authoritative Guide for the Working Traveler, by Susan Griffith (Vacation Work, 11th edition, 2003).
      Being able to speak at least some Italian is almost essential, and if you seek work through legal channels, the red tape is daunting. Still, many others have tried and the book provides examples of failures and successes, including the possibility of teaching English.
      If you don't already have friends or relatives there, find some. "Contacts are even more important in Italy than in other countries," writes Griffith. "Many of the people we have heard from who have worked in Italy have got their work through friends."
      Another good source is Work Abroad: The Complete Guide to Finding a Job Overseas (4th edition, 2002), published by Transitions Abroad magazine, which also publishes the Alternative Travel Directory: The Complete Guide to Traveling, Studying and Living Overseas (Transitions Abroad, 7th edition, 2002). You can learn more about the magazine and its publications at www.transitionsabroad.com.
      Another source is The Back Door Guide to Short Term Job Adventures: Internships, Extraordinary Experiences, Seasonal Jobs, Volunteering, Work Abroad, by Michael Landes (Ten Speed Press, 3d edition, 2002).

      Q: I am looking for a cruise for my family, including children ages 7, 8 and 10. What are our choices? J.M., Elkins Park, Pa. 
      A: At least eight major cruise lines offer children's programs: Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean International. The ships' programs for children generally are available for those 2 to 17 years old.
      A good source for learning about the programs is the May 2002 issue of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, which focused on family cruising and compares those programs. Although the newsletter stopped publication about a year ago, single copies of the May 2002 issue are available for $5 from Consumer Reports, 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, N.Y. 10703. (If you order, note the cruise article.)
      A travel agent experienced in booking family cruises is your best source, especially if you have not cruised before. Locate a good agent by asking friends for recommendations or searching the phone directory under "travel agents" or "cruises." The home page of the Cruise Lines International site, www.cruising.org, has a zip code search for finding cruise specialists.
      Travel agents have cruise schedules, but you can find them yourself by going to the Web sites of each line. 
      Here is contact information: 

      • Carnival, 1-800-327-9501, www.carnival.com

      • Celebrity, 1-800-437-3111, www.celebrity-cruises.com

      • Cunard, 1-800-528-6273, www.cunardline.com;  

      • Disney, 1-800-939-2784, www.disneycruise.com;

      • Holland America, 1-800-426-0327, www.halcruises.com;

      • Norwegian, 1-800-327-7030, www.ncl.com;  

      • Princess, 1-800-774-6237, www.princesscruises.com

      • Royal Caribbean International, 1-800-327-6700, www.rccl.com

        A book that considers the merits of various lines is Cruise Vacations With Kids, by Candyce H. Stapen (Prima Publishing, 2nd edition, 1999). 
        The cruise lines above are also included in the guide Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships 2004 (Berlitz, 14th edition, 2004), by Douglas Ward, who also recommends specific ships suited to travel with children. 

       

  • Pondering the question of safe blood when traveling afar; expedited passport renewals can indeed be obtained by mail.  (Feb. 20, 2004)

    • Q: My daughter will be spending a semester abroad in Senegal, West Africa. Is there any way we can guarantee she would receive disease-free, HIV-negative blood if she needed a transfusion? 

      A: Few travelers ever face the need for a transfusion abroad, but like other health questions it is worth pondering, particularly when spending time in a place with unsophisticated medical services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the limits to what a traveler can do if a blood emergency strikes - it is not feasible to carry your own blood supply the way you can carry sterile needles. Still, it's good to have a plan. The CDC notes:

      * There are no medical indications for travelers to take blood with them from their home countries.

      * In case of emergency need for blood, use of plasma expanders and urgent evacuation home might be the actions of choice.

      * International travelers should take active steps to minimize the risk of injury, such as avoiding night driving, employing safe driving practices, and wearing safety belts whenever possible.

      For the full CDC advice on transfusions, visit http://www.cdc.gov/travel/other/blood-transfusion.htm.

      Another source is the World Health Organization site's section on transfusions at www.who.int/ith/chapter08.html.

      For a list of programs for emergency medical assistance and evacuation, check the State Department's site.

      Q: I need to renew my passport within four weeks, but don't want to go through an "express" renewal agency. Can I do this by mail? 

      A: Most routine passport renewals qualify for renewal by mail, including expedited renewals. For an expedited renewal, you pay the usual $55 adult renewal fee and a $60 "expedite fee." When you pay that extra fee, the passport office in Pittsburgh processes it in three business days. If you send your material by overnight express and provide an overnight express envelope for the return - which the passport office suggests -- you can have the new document in a week or so.

      Here's what you need to provide:

      • check or money order for $115 ($55 plus $60)

      • the DS-82 renewal form

      • two passport-size photos

      • your most recent passport

      • a prepaid overnight express envelope for the return

      Those not under a travel deadline for obtaining a renewal can use first-class mail. Either way, applications go to:

      * National Passport Center, P.O. Box 371971, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-9971,

      * or, if you use a delivery service that doesn't allow P.O. boxes, Passport Services - Lockbox, Attn: Passport Supervisor 371971, 500 Ross Street, Rm. 154-0670, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-9971.

      Your new passport, valid for 10 years, comes back with canceled old one.

      For detailed instructions, the DS-82 form, and to see if you qualify for mail renewal - your old passport can be no more than 15 years old, for instance - check the State Department's site at http://travel.state.gov. Other renewal methods also are described there, or call the National Passport Information Center's toll-free number, 877-487-2778, which provides recorded information and customer service representatives available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

  • Finding a summer cottage and playing (with) the ponies in Chincoteague, Va.; seeking out towns to visit for vacation and possible relocation.    (Jan. 14, 2004)

    • Q: For a summer vacation in Chincoteague, Va., where can we get information on renting a bungalow? Also, when is the pony roundup in 2004? L.L., Conshohocken, Pa.
      A:
      Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague are at the northern end of the 70-mile-long peninsula that separates the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean and is known as Virginia's Eastern Shore. They are reached via Delaware and the Eastern Shore section of Maryland.

      For finding rental homes, contact Chincoteague Island Vacation Rentals, which offers scores of properties in many sizes, from one to five bedrooms. For a brochure with photos of all the properties, call 757-336-1236 or visit Web site www.igetaway.net

      The pony swim - in which wild ponies are rounded up on Assateague and herded across a bay to a Chincoteague park for auction - is scheduled for July 28-29. It's a big tradition - 2004 is the 78th year. It's also a very crowded time, with tens of thousands of visitors swarming the area. The Chincoteague Web site, with details of the swim and the revelry leading up to it, is at www.chincoteaguechamber.com. The chamber offers a vacation guide called Island Adventure.

      Another source of lodging information is the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission, phone 757-787-2460; Web site www.esvatourism.org.

      Q: I'm thinking of relocating and would like to take a reconnaissance vacation to the Southwest. What guides can point me toward nice areas besides the well-known places such as Phoenix? O.G., Drexel Hill, Pa. 

      A: Many states and cities offer relocation packets that provide the background and real-estate guidance you seek, often found through their tourism sites, a list of which can be found at www.towd.com.

      A source for researching and comparing cities for travel and relocation purposes is Places Rated Almanac, by David Savageau and Geoffrey Loftus (John Wiley & Sons, 6th edition 2000). A similar book is Retirement Places Rated, by David Savageau (John Wiley & Sons; 5th edition, 1999), which covers more than 180 retirement areas nationwide.

      Other guides are America's 100 Best Places to Retire, by Elizabeth Armstrong (Vacation Publications, 3d edition, 2002), and Making Your Move to One of America's Best Small Towns, by Norman Crampton (M. Evans & Co., 2002).

      Other books that could help you glean a top-10 list are America's Most Charming Towns & Villages, by Larry Brown (Open Road Publishing, 5th edition, 2003), and The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America, by John Villani (John Muir Publications, 3rd edition, 1998).

       

  • Chinatown bus lines -- the cheaper way to reach New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington; whale-watching by boat in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico.  (Jan. 7, 2004)

    • Q: I've heard about inexpensive bus service from Chinatown in Philadelphia to Chinatown in New York. Where can I find this bus? J.L., Philadelphia
      A: In recent years a growing low-fare bus network has offered express service between Chinatown sections of Northeast cities. Philadelphia-New York is one route, and others go between New York and Boston, Hartford, and Washington.
      Among the bus lines are Today Travel and New Century Travel, which offer multiple trips daily between Philadelphia and New York. Both companies offer online reservations; their recent Philadelphia-New York fares were $12 one way or $20 round trip. 
      New Century Travel buses board here at 52 North 10th St., near 10th and Arch Streets. Today Travel's buses board at 1041 Race St., near Race and 10th.
      In New York, the drop-off/pick-up point for both companies is at 88 East Broadway in Chinatown near the Lower East Side. (New Century also offers a Brooklyn bus.) For those whose ultimate destination in New York is not Chinatown, that location may not be as convenient as the Port Authority Terminal in Midtown, used by Greyhound and other bus lines. 
      For comparison's sake, undiscounted Greyhound fares are about $20 one way or $40 round trip, and an undiscounted rail fare on Amtrak starts at $48 one way.
      New Century Travel's buses can be booked online through www.2000coach.com. Its phone number is 215-627-2666.
      Today Travel's buses can be booked online through www.ivymedia.com. You also can get information by way of an online chat at that site (click on "contact us"), or by calling 617-354-2101. 
      The Web sites of both companies show schedules, maps, and service details for other cities. Seats can be purchased at the bus as well, providing there is space available; seats sometimes sell out. One correspondent said he found the Chinese-language action movie shown on his bus to be annoying.
      An independent Web site with links to Chinatown bus lines serving Philadelphia, Washington and Boston is at www.chinatown-bus.com.
      In a few cases, competition among various bus companies has led to more than just low fares, authorities say. On Oct. 31, a man was stabbed to death and another charged with second-degree murder in what New York police said was a dispute over a Chinatown bus business. There have been no reports of passengers being involved in such disputes.

      Q: We know the whales visit San Ignacio Lagoon in Mexico early in the year. What tour companies have boat-based whale watching trips? S.L., Newton, NJ
      A: The Sea of Cortez is located off the western midsection of Mexico's Baja California, and each January California gray whales in the Bering Sea head south to breed in San Ignacio Lagoon, Scammon's Lagoon, and Magdalena Bay, returning north each spring, usually in March and April. The breeding ground is a Mexican national park, and tour-boat access is controlled. In 1999, environmentalists won a big victory when a huge salt-producing company abandoned plans to build a plant to be served by boats would have cut through the breeding ground. 
      Expect prices to fall between $1,500 and $3,000 per person for a seven to 10-day trip. Among companies offering tours on boats:
      * Baja Expeditions, based in San Diego, phone (800) 843-6967, Web site www.bajaex.com, offers cruises aboard the 16-passenger San Jose. 
      * Pacific Sea Fari Tours, San Diego, phone (619) 226-1729, Web site www.hmlanding.com, offers cruises aboard the 30-passenger, 88-foot Spirit of Adventure. 
      * Searcher Natural History Tours, San Diego, phone (619) 226-2403, Web site www.bajawhale.com, makes its 8- and 12-day trips aboard the 33-passengers, 95-foot Searcher.
      Less-expensive trips are available for those willing to use base camps from which boats go in and out from shore. A good source for finding whale-watching trips in Mexico and elsewhere is The Whale Watcher's Guide, by Patricia Corrigan (NorthWord Press, 3rd edition, 1999). The book includes a month-by-month guide to where whales can be spotted and lists more than a dozen companies offers Sea of Cortez whale watches.

  • Taking your mountain bike to Hawaii will probably cost you $80 each way; tracking down craft festivals around the country.  (Dec. 14,  2003)

    • Q: We plan to fly to Maui for our honeymoon, and I plan to take my mountain bike. Will I have to pay an extra baggage fee? B.K., Philadelphia
      A: Chances are you will have to pay extra to take your bike to Hawaii, probably $80 each way. You'll also have to box it up. Most major airlines sell reusable bike-size boxes (usually $20) at the counter in some, but not all, airports. If you get the box in advance, either at the airport or at a bike or parcel shop, you won't face removing pedals and other dismantling and packing in the terminal - or the possibility of a box being unavailable. In any case, allow extra check-in time. 
      Despite the airlines' efforts to drive people to their Web sites, most of their sites barely mention bicycle policies. You'll have to call so an agent can look up the policy that applies to your destination and situation. 
      Since your honeymoon is months away, I suggest you go to the airline's counter the next time you're at the airport. Sometimes the phone agents are uncertain about details such as whether boxes are available at a particular airport.
      Here's what reservation agents told us about bike rules for travel within the 50 states; charges for foreign trips may differ. 
      * US Airways (1-800-428-4322), whose partner United Airlines flies to Hawaii, has an $80 fee each way. 
      * American Airlines (1-800-433-7300) will allow a bike under the free baggage allowance if it is within 50 pounds and 62 linear inches (box length plus height plus width), but most adult bikes probably will not meet the 62-inch rule. Expect to pay $80.
      * United Airlines (1-800-241-6522) charges $80 each way and says expect to sign a limited release form. 
      * Northwest Airlines (1-800-225-2525) charges $80 each way. Boxes are available in limited supply for $20. 
      * Continental Airlines (1-800-525-0280) also charges $80 and has rules for disassembly and storage of accessories.
      * Delta Air Lines (1-800-221-1212) charges $80 each way. Packing boxes are free, but subject to availability. 
      I know many bikers are in love with their own bikes and want to take them everywhere, but it may be less expensive to rent since the bike-shipping rate shot up from $30 each way a few years ago. One Maui shop, Island Biker (www.islandbikermaui.com), has mountain bikes starting at $95 per week.
      Traveling bikers may be interested in the League of American Bicyclists, where membership includes a bikes-fly-free deal with America West and Frontier Airlines. To take advantage, members must book through a travel agency affiliated with the club, and several conditions apply. Annual memberships start at $30. For details, the Washington-based group's phone number is 202-822-1333, or visit www.bikeleague.org. Click on "Bikes fly free" on the home page.

      Q: What publications can direct me to craft shows throughout the United States? J.L., Newark, Del.
      A:
      Craft shows are big business, and some of the most complete guides are those that artists use to help decide where to display - and sell - their works. One such publication is the Art & Craft Show Yellow Pages, published quarterly and available for $13 for one issue or starting at $34 for four issues; for subscriptions, phone 1-888-918-1313; Web site www.craftshowlist.com.
      This site's 10 for the Road often mentions craft shows for weekend getaway planning, and a well-developed Web site hosted by Sunshine Artist magazine has more than 2,000 listings at www.artandcraftshows.net. A one-year subscription to the magazine costs $34.95, phone 1-800-804-4607, Web site www.sunshineartist.com.

  • Adult themes reassert themselves in Vegas, but plenty of kids' stuff remains; crossing the Atlantic to northern Europe by freighter. (Nov. 28,  2003)

    • Q: My husband and I are thinking of taking a 10-day trip to Las Vegas with our daughters ages 9 and 6. We have heard that the city is now child-friendly and offers many things to do. We would also like to fit in Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Are they practical, in terms of distance? M.P., Fairfield, N.J.

      A: There's good news and not-so-good news for Vegas-bound families with children. 

      After a decade of touting itself as a family-friendly place, Vegas has changed course and is again selling itself as the city where anything goes. The latest attractions have an adult edge. Cirque du Soleil's new show at New York-New York, "Zumanity," is full of eroticism. Treasure Island resort's free outdoor pirate battle show has given way to a racier version called "The Sirens of TI." In fact, the resort now calls itself TI. 

      "Every project on the drawing boards, even the conservative locals' efforts, tout some element of hip, cool, or sexy," town monitor Anthony Curtis wrote recently in his Las Vegas Advisor newsletter.
      Now for the good news: Vegas is a place of spectacle, much is available to intrigue and delight children - some of it free -- and they'll be talking about the getaway for years to come. 

      Kids aren't allowed on the gambling floors, but many resorts have arcades, elaborate rides, side shows, and shopping malls like they've never seen. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, where a sky dome periodically turns stormy, or the mall at the Venetian, with its indoor canal and gondoliers, make you forget where you are. The nighttime neon dazzles, and spectacles like the regular volcano eruptions nightly outside the Mirage can mesmerize children for a short time.

      The view from atop the Stratosphere Tower's 109th-floor observation deck is unrivaled, and for those who can take it, there is roller coaster up there. Magic shows, animal exhibits, and even a few museums are available. 

      You can find plenty of kid-friendly options in the Frommer's Las Vegas with Kids, by Lisa Derrick (Frommer's, 2003), and Fun with the Family in Las Vegas: Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids, by Lynn Goya (Globe Pequot, 2002).

      As for Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, millions of people take side trips to those sites from Vegas each year. The dam is only 35 miles from Vegas; the canyon 275 miles, about a six-hour drive. 

      Even if your family travels well by car, the canyon trip would be better done over two or three days. Check the park's trip planning pages on the Web site at www.nps.gov.grca. Insight Guides Las Vegas & the Desert (Langenscheidt, 2003) has sections on the dam and the canyon.

      The Las Vegas Convention & Tourist Authority's site is at www.lasvegas24hours.com, phone 702-892-0711.

      Q: I would like any information on cargo/freight ships that also accept a limited number of passengers on transatlantic voyages, particularly from the Eastern seaboard to Europe. B.L., Trenton

      A: You can locate transatlantic cargo ships that accept passengers by checking with agencies such as Freighter World Cruises, which has a section on its Web site, www.freighterworld.com, for ships going from the East Coast to Northern Europe. On the home page, look for the map and click on “Transatlantic.” A recent check showed seven ships and their schedules, including a Senator Line ship offering New York to Valencia, Spain, one way, 15 days, for about $1,406, single cabin. Freighter World Cruises is based in Pasadena Calif., phone 800-531-7774.

      The Web site of The Cruise People Ltd., based in London, shows a dozen lines going regularly from the Northeast to Europe, some ships as often as weekly. View it at http://members.aol.com/CruiseAZ/NA2002.htm.

      Other booking agencies are TravLtips Cruise & Freighter Travel Association,   Flushing, N.Y., phone 800-872-8584, Web site www.travltips.com; and Maris Freighter Cruises, Westport, Conn., phone 800- 996-2747, Web site www.freightercruises.com.

      Before contacting those companies, spend some time with the Internet Guide to Freighter Travel at www.geocities.com/freighterman.geo. It is an outstanding primer to freighter travel and notes other booking sources.

      You can get a feel for freighter schedules – often these ships make several port calls before you reach your destination – by looking at the Electronic Ship Guide at www.shipguide.com/index.html.  You can select ports of departure and destination and indicate a time frame, and the search engine quickly returns a list of ships going your way and back. But this is a site to try sooner rather than later -- a note on the home page says the site will be discontinued at the end of 2003.

  • Daytripping from Rome to Pompeii: the tour bus vs. hopping on a train; when families fly, they sometimes can't avoid being broken up.  (Nov. 17,  2003)

    • Q: For a day trip from Rome to Naples and Pompeii, is it better to go on our own or hook up with a one-day bus tour? What we have in mind is visiting the Archeological Museum in Naples in the morning and the ruins at Pompeii in the afternoon. R. Ross, West Orange, NJ

      A: It's quite possible to manage this side trip on your own if you're willing to deal with the logistical effort, which means taking the train from Rome (Roma Termini station) to Naples (Stazione Centrale), taking the Metro one stop to the Piazza Cavour station near the museum, then returning to the Stazione Centrale and riding the Naples-Sorrento Circumvesuviana line about 40 minutes to the Pompei-Villa dei Misteri stop, which is near one of the volcano-blasted city's two entrances.

      For some people, taking a coach tour is the way to go because it's simple and the tour company deals with any complications that arise. The trade-off is that you abide by the schedule and move as a group. The one time I planned to go from Naples to Pompeii, there was rail strike and I never made it - which wouldn't have been a problem had I been on a bus tour.

      Still, if you're game to use public transit, go for it. The travel time from the Roma Termine station to Naples' Stazione Centrale is 1 hour 40 minutes and costs about $29 one-way in second class. The rail time from Naples to Pompeii is 25 or 40 minutes, depending on train, and costs just a few dollars. 

      The Museo Archeologico Nazionale, with its top collection of finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum, is located at Piazza Museo and entry is 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, cost is about $7.60 (6.5 euros). Details can be found through the site at www.archeona.arti.beniculturali.it.

      At Pompeii, about 15 miles southeast of Naples, allow at least three hours to explore, though a serious visitor could spend the whole day. You can rent an audio guide in English for about $7 (6 euros), or get a discount for renting a pair. A Pompeii site in Italian is at www.pompei.it

      To view trains schedules from Rome to Naples, go to www.raileurope.com and select the point-to-point tickets link. To see the Naples-Pompeii schedule for the Circumvesuviana line in English, go to www.vesuviana.it/infoeng.htm.

      At both the museum and Pompeii, expect that certain sections will be unavailable for touring - this is routine. 
      The guidebook Italy, by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls (Cadogan/Globe Pequot, 1999) has sections on the museum and Pompeii, and valuable details on locating the Circumvesuviana trains in Naples (Around the Bay/Getting Around). The Rough Guide to Italy (Rough Guides, 6th edition, 2003) has an especially good section on visiting the ruins. 

      Streetwise Maps offers a laminated pocket map, Streetwise Naples, and the Insight Pocket Guide: Bay of Naples includes a pullout map that clearly shows the trains stations.

      The Italian tourism site is at www.italiantourism.com.

      Q: Our family - with boys 7 and 10 -- was on six flights during a Hawaiian vacation. On three flights, our seats were not together. Do airlines have rules about splitting children from family? Should we check in earlier? K.M., Ambler, Pa. 

      A: It sounds like you may be waiting until you check in to get a seat assignment, which can be a mistake in these days of full flights even if you are traveling alone. You should get seat assignments at the time of booking - whether you do it yourself online, through a travel agent, or by phone with the airline - or you risk having to settle for what's available when you check in. 

      Of course, you have to pick from what's available in any case, but if you do it early it greatly increases the chance of getting four seats together. 

      Airlines have a range of policies on young children and children traveling unaccompanied, but generally the attitude toward keeping families together is practical rather than official. An airline isn't going to separate a very young child from an adult, but if a full flight demands it, the airline would probably have no qualms about seating an older child away from an adult.

      If you are not satisfied with your seating, take it upon yourself on boarding to approach fellow passengers about exchanging. It's easier to make a swap before everyone has been seated, and often passengers will gladly trade, either because they sympathize or because they covet your aisle seat.

      A flight attendant might help, but don't count on it. They have other priorities during boarding, and will appreciate your taking matters into your own hands.

      A Web site showing seating layouts for many types of aircraft is www.seatguru.com.

      Airline differ on how many seats they save for last-minute assignment, and you may not always be able to get an assignment upon booking. In that case, call the reservation desk from day to day, explaining why you are trying to get seating together. You may well find a sympathetic ear that will provide an idea of what the airline's patterns are, or help you outright.

      If all else fails, ask a gate counter agent to try to improve your seating at the last minute.

  • Where to find Caribbean cooking lessons in the Caribbean; taking aim at a safari -- and malaria --  in South Africa. (Nov. 5, 2003)

    • Q: I’d like to combine a Caribbean vacation with cooking lessons. Where can I find Caribbean cooking schools? E.B., Philadelphia

      A: Many resorts in the Caribbean offer occasional cooking classes featuring the house chef – their Web sites note these – and several larger programs also are available. Ladera Resort in St. Lucia will offer a five-day "Island Cuisine Experience" package in April and October 2004 (www.ladera.com).

      More common are quick-hit lessons, as in Anguilla, where the Cuisinart Resort and Spa presents a weekly 2 ½ hour program of hands-on instruction followed by lunching on the cuisine just prepared (www.cuisinartresort.com).

      For package vacations, a reduced rate usually is available for partners of students who do not attend the lessons.

      In Willemstad, Curaçao, Angelique Schoop runs Angelica's Kitchen, offering classes of a couple days or a whole week in the kitchen of a 19th-century restored Colonial house. The emphasis is on Caribbean flavors, with a two-day course $250. A full culinary vacation costing $2,450 includes lodging and meals. Also offered are culinary walking tours. Web site www.angelicas-kitchen.com.

      In Bridgetown, Barbados, Anne-Marie Whittaker directs Anne-Marie's Caribbean Kitchen, featuring hot and spicy Caribbean cuisine. Cost is $2,100, including lodging and activities, $1,200 for those who don’t take part in the cooking classes. Phone 246-228-5837, www.native-treasures.com.

      The top source for locating cooking vacations worldwide is The Guide to Cooking Schools (ShawGuides, 16th edition, 2004). The information is also available at no cost online at www.shawguides.com. You can scroll down a list of countries to see what’s available in each.

      You may also find Caribbean cuisine topics in Caribbean Travel & Life magazine, whose Web site at www.caribbeantravelmag.com includes a section of recipes. Click on Life/Kitchen.


      Q: For a trip to South Africa, do I need to take malaria pills? Also, is Kruger National Park the best place for a safari? M.B., Philadelphia

      A: Ask your doctor about the malaria pills, and consult the travel advisory section of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Web site, which says, "Visitors to Kruger National Park and other low altitude game parks should take malaria prophylaxis before arriving and after departure. Only mefloquine (Larium), doxycycline, or malarone are considered truly effective against malaria." (The CDC says chloroquine is NOT an effective antimalarial drug in Southern Africa.)

      The full CDC travel advice is at www.cdc.gov/travel/safrica.htm, or call the international travelers hotline at 1-877-394-8747. The full State Department information sheet on South Africa, including entry and safety advice, is online at http://travel.state.gov/safrica.html.

      As for where to safari, Kruger National Park is geared for mass tourism, but the many private reserves along its western border tend to offer a better experience.  Consult Africa’s Top Wildlife Countries, by Mark W. Nolting (Global Travel Publishers, 6th edition, 2003), which notes: "In the adjacent private reserves, day and night game viewing is conducted in open vehicles, walking is allowed and facilities are excellent. In other words, visitors have a greater opportunity to experience the bush in the private reserves than in Kruger. However, a safari to Kruger National Park using national park camps is considerably less expensive than a safari of the same length in private reserves."

      The phone number for South African Tourism is 1-800 822-5368, Web site www.southafrica.net.

      Good general guides with safari sections are The Rough Guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland (Rough Guides, 3d edition, 2002) and Insight Guides South Africa (Langenscheidt Publishing, revised 2003).

  • Low-cost airlines that make hopping around Europe a bargain; finding the least-expensive way to reach Hawaii in autumn.   (Oct. 21, 2003)

    • Q: I’ve read about low-cost airlines within European countries. Can you provide a list of these? C.M., Philadelphia

      A: In recent years the low-fare airline has become a staple of European travel, and the niche has evolved to the point that some have already disappeared or been bought by competitors.  One of the newest is SkyEurope Airlines, which started up in February 2002 and flies out of Bratislava, Slovak Republic, about 60 miles from Vienna, with round-trip fares from London for less than $100.

      As in the United States, the presence of a low-fare airline can compel larger airlines to lower their fares on competing routes. So it’s good to know the routes for price shopping purposes. Most do not have reservations numbers in the United States; rely on their Web sites.  Among them:

      * Ryanair, www.ryanair.com, based in Dublin, flies from London-Stansted to scores of British and European destinations, with other bases in Brussels and Frankfurt.  It also has some flights from London-Gatwick.  Ryanair has been around since 1985 and earlier this year took over a younger rival called Buzz.

      * SkyEurope, www.skyeurope.com. This airline goes to London; Paris; Venice; Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kosice, Slovak Republic; Milan; Zurich; Berlin, and Stuttgart. It also flies between Budapest and London, Paris, Milan and Zurich.

      * EasyJet, www.easyjet.com, flies from London’s Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports, with 109 routes between 38 key European airports across the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, and Portugal.  In August 2002, it merged with a competitor called Go.

      * Virgin Express, www.virgin-express.com, is based in Brussels and has routes to London and 16 European cities. It’s a sibling of Virgin Atlantic.

      When dealing with these airlines, booking online may get you better prices, as a phone-booking surcharge is sometimes in place. Also, the low-fare airlines tend to be very no-frills. If you want even a modest snack you'll have to pay for it. So it makes sense to take your own munchies and drinks.

       

      Q: My wife and I are going to Kauai a year from now to celebrate our 20th anniversary. When and how should we buy our airline tickets to get the best deal? M.R.,  Philadelphia

      A: Usually sale fares are offered in mid- to late summer for fall travel, then offered again if the seats aren’t filled. Right now is a good time to start your fare-watching, but you probably won’t want to buy until next summer unless you see a fare that suits you before then.

      Monitoring fares now will provide a basis for comparison. Earlier this month, [October 2003] a round of Hawaii sales popped up, none better than a $299 round-trip deal from Los Angeles to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines. This happens often with sales to Hawaii : The really low fares are from the West Coast.  Outbound fares from other cities included $399 from Phoenix to Honolulu on Hawaiian; $496 from San Francisco on United; $576 from Phoenix to Maui on United; $690 from Chicago to Honolulu on United; and $728 from New York to Kona on the Big Island, on United.  From Philadelphia to Maui , the best fare I found for a mid-November trip was about $850.

      However, if you or your travel agent were to put together a low-fare cross-country flight with a deal like Hawaiian Airlines offers, you might save several hundred dollars. Shopping with a travel agent for a resort/airfare package could save you money, too.

      Enroll in the e-mail programs of several airlines and travel sites such as Travelocity and SmarterLiving.com. Some let you designate city pairs to monitor, and sale fare notices appear constantly. 

  • Fall foliage bicycle touring in Virginia and North Carolina; tracking down work abroad during a gap year odyssey.  (Oct. 6, 2003)

    • Q: My wife and I would like to spend a short vacation biking through fall foliage in Virginia or North Carolina. How can we locate organized biking trips? M.H., Potomac, Md.

      A: Those states are great for late-in-the-foliage-season biking. According to the organizers of the thirteenth Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival, the foliage starts turning in the Shenandoah Valley the mid-October, reaching its peak Oct. 20-Nov. 5, with average daytime highs in the mid 60s, nighttime lows in the mid 40s.

      The festival near Staunton, Va., is Oct. 17-19 and offers trails for all ages, skill levels, and bike types. Both on-road and off-road routes are available, from 10 to 100 miles, including stretches in Natural Chimneys State Park and George Washington National Forest. For details, call 540-885-2668 or visit Web site www.shenandoahbike.org.

      Multiday foliage biking tours offered by tour companies are more common in Vermont and Maine, but Virginia and North Carolina have a range of choices. Many companies will help arrange custom tours, and local bike shops may offer rentals and transportation for one-day biking trips. Many delightful trails, B&Bs, and resources are available for those who want to plan their own tours.

      Shenandoah Mountain Touring in Harrisonburg, Va., will help arrange custom foliage trips on trails in Shenandoah National Park.  Call 1-877-305-0550, Web site www.mountaintouring.com.

      Carolina Tailwinds, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., offers a variety of trips in North Carolina and Virginia. Call 1-888-251-3206, Web site www.carolinatailwinds.com. A good site for other North Carolina rides is www.tarwheels.org.

      Bicycling magazine has a fine Web site with a section for locating tour companies. Go to www.bicycling.com and click on the Rides tab. From there you can select a state under the Tour & Travel section. Among companies listed there that offer tours in the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge , and northern Virginia is Old Dominion Bicycle Tours in Powhatan, Va., phone 804-598-1808.

       Another good source for tracking down biking and other outdoors packages is Gordon’s Guide, www.gordonsguide.com.

      Near Washington, a taste of foliage biking can be found through Bike the Sites, a company best known for tours of Washington’s monuments and sites. It offers three-hour foliage rides along the C&O Canal through October. The company also can arrange trips on the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River in Virginia and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, a rail trail in Northern Virginia.  Visit www.bikethesites.com or call 202-842-2453.

       

      Q: My son is a 2003 high school graduate who is taking a year off before starting college.  He wants to live and work outside the country for part of the year. Can you suggest any sources where this can be researched? G.A., Philadelphia

      A: A good guide for planning such a trip is Alternative Travel Directory: The Complete Guide to Traveling, Studying & Living Overseas (Transitions Abroad Publishing, seventh edition, 2002), which is compiled by the editors of Transitions Abroad magazine. One chapter is about volunteering and internships.

      A book aimed expressly at travelers like your son is the Student Travellers’ Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Planning a “Gap Year,” by Tom Griffiths (Virgin Publishing, 1999). The chapter on finding work abroad is short, but an online link, www.gapyear.com, has much more about finding work abroad.

      Other titles to consider are Work Your Way Around the World: The Authoritative Guide for the Working Traveler, by Susan Griffith (Vacation Work, eleventh edition, 2003), and The Back Door Guide to Short Term Job Adventures: Internships, Extraordinary Experiences, Seasonal Jobs, Volunteering, Work Abroad, by Michael Landes (Ten Speed Press, third edition, 1997).

      Other work advice can be gleaned from Web sites aimed at student travelers, including www.studentuniverse.com, www.budgettravel.com,  www.smarterliving.com,  and www.counciltravel.com.  

       

  • How to deal with suitcase security when the government urges you not to lock your bags;  how to tour Mount Rushmore without driving or flying (Sept. 21, 2003)

    • Q: We are reluctant to check our bags on a flight without locking them because of fears of pilfering, yet the authorities say that if an inspection is required the locks will be broken. We heard the airport would issue plastic replacement locks. What can we expect? A.K., Chadds Ford, Pa.

      A: You are entitled to lock your checked luggage, but if the Transportation Security Administration inspectors decide a bag needs examined after it has left your hands, they can break the lock without liability. This may be of little consequence if your bag has a little padlock, but if the locking mechanism is part of the bag’s construction, it could be an expensive repair.

      What you heard about replacement locks may relates to this, from the TSA: “If TSA screeners open your bag during the screening procedure they will close it with a tamper evident seal and place a notice in your bag alerting you to the fact that TSA screeners opened your bag for inspection.”

      I don’t know of airports passing out those one-use plastic seals, but they are readily available at luggage and travel stores (Magellan’s sells one type 20 to a bag for about $7; www.magellans.com, 1-800-962-4943). They are a compromise to fully locking your bags, and may be more acceptable to you if you already practice smart packing, which means keeping medication, electronic items and valuables in your carry-on bags. 

      For information on TSA procedures, go to its Web site at www.tsa.gov and search for “locks.” There the agency says “TSA screeners exercise great care during the screening process to ensure that your contents are returned to your bag every time a bag needs to be opened.  TSA will assess on an individual basis any loss or damage claims made to TSA.  You may call the TSA Contact Center toll-free at 1-866-289-9673 if you have questions.”

      For what it’s worth, there is some sentiment in online bulletin boards that all the attention being given to security has reduced the chances of pilferage of checked bags. Another consideration that may make your worries academic: In some airports, the checked-baggage screening equipment is located in the check-in hall and you can (or, in some airports, must) stand there until it clears.

       

      Q: My husband and I would like to visit Mount Rushmore , but do not want to drive or fly. What other choices do we have? V.S., Cherry Hill, N.J.

      A: Bus service is available from many cities to Rapid City, S.D., which is about half an hour from the national memorial. Most people would rather avoid a long, multiple-transfer trip in one long haul, but you could arrange to overnight in cities along the way. Contact Greyhound at 1-800-229-9424, Web site www.greyhound.com.

      A more comfortable option would be to take Amtrak to Omaha , Neb., or Denver. Omaha is about 8 ½ hours by road from Rapid City; Denver is about 7 ½ hours. You could continue by bus to Rapid City, then either rent a car or take a Gray Line tour that includes Mount Rushmore. One all-day tour costing $40 per adult includes Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, Needles Highway and other sights. Check www.grayline.com.

      A company called Vacations Made Easy, phone 1-800-987-9852, Web site www.vacationsmadeeasy.com, books several Rushmore packages out of Rapid City.

      Another possibility is a coach tour package from Omaha or Denver. For instance, a company called Moostash Joe Tours (www.mjtours.com) last summer offered a four-day “Great Black Hills” trip from Omaha for $479 per person, double occupancy. A travel agent can help you locate tour packages to suit your timing.

  • "How to Take a Road Trip" and other tips for a cross-country national parks tour; Swiss road signs speak a universal language. (Sept. 9, 2003)

    • Q: We are planning a two-month cross-country drive with an emphasis on national parks, scenery and historic sites. Can you suggest sources for routes and lodging? R.P., Warminster, Pa.

      A: Many others share your dreamy road trip plans, and many guides can help you prepare – including the recently published How to Take a Road Trip (Fodor’s, 2003). It’s a worthy primer for anyone taking a long driving tour for the first time, touching on route planning, packing, lodging, car trouble and almost every topic likely to arise on such an excursion.

      Other guides are available to torment you with the huge number of itinerary choices. I suggest you select your routes and highlights, but be prepared to deviate from your plan when the unexpected beckons.

      Great American Drives of the East (Fodor’s, 2002) and its companion book Great American Drives of the West together offer more than 60 tour routes with maps and descriptions of sightseeing highlights along the way. Special attention is paid to national parks.

      A book that maps out cross-country routes and illustrates their highlights with inspiring photography is Insight Guide: United States on the Road (Langenscheidt, 2001). Equally well-organized but in a larger, almost coffee-table format, is The Most Scenic Drives in America : 120 Spectacular Road Trips (Reader’s Digest, 1997).

      The Complete Guide to America ’s National Parks (Fodor’s, 11th edition, 2001) describes all the country’s 380-plus national parks. They also are detailed on the National Park Service site at www.nps.gov. You’ll want to get a National Parks Pass for $50. The passes can be bought at major park gates and visitor centers, or online at https://buy.nationalparks.org. Those age 62 and older can buy instead the Golden Age Passport for just $10.  

      Q: Our family plans to spend five days driving in Switzerland . Should we expect different road rules or language problems there? A.S., Yardley, Pa.

      A: You should have no problem driving in Switzerland , where the road system is modern, you drive on the right, and the road signs are very similar to those in the United States . Switzerland Tourism notes: “It is easy to get around by car in Switzerland . . . . Alpine passes are easy to drive, but reasonable care must be taken on more narrow, winding roads. Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers and children under 7 need to be strapped securely into their child-seat.”

      Some customs stations have an English brochure on Swiss driving regulations.

      Other driving information is online at http://usa.myswitzerland.com. Click on Travel tips/transportation/by car. The tourist office phone number is 212-757-5944.  

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  • How to get tickets for Kitty Hawk gala in December,  cultivating British garden tours, dodging speed traps on the interstate  (Aug. 28, 2003)

    • Q: What activities are planned for the centennial of flight celebration in Kill Devil Hills , N.C. , in December? What are the prospects for tickets and lodging? M.G., Bryn Mawr, Pa.

      A: A huge celebration is planned for Dec. 12-17 in and around Kitty Hawk , culminating with a reenactment of the Wright brothers’ first flight on Dec. 17, 1903 .  Lodging and event tickets are still available, but the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau said people have been “booking steadily” and that the sooner you get required tickets the better.

      The National Park Service is officiating with the help of many other organizations.

      On the agenda are speakers, daily flyovers, static aircraft displays, special flight-related activities, a film festival, and artistic performances. A centennial pavilion at the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the edge of Kill Devil Hills will feature special exhibits.

      Tickets are on sale now. Call 1-800-973-7327 (key in 1, then 9) or visit Web site www.wrightbrothers.reserveworld.com. Individual one-day tickets are $10 per day; a five-day ticket is $25. Children under 12 are free but require a ticket for admission. For those 62 and older and those who are disabled, a daily ticket is $5 and the five-day pass is $20.

      A Web link for lodging is on the visitors bureau site at www.outerbanks.org. A lodging chart shows hotels and how many rooms are still available. You can call 1-800-446-6262 for a visitors guide or assistance from an information agent.

      Other online sources are Centennial of Flight Commission, www.centennialofflight.gov; First Flight Centennial Commission, www.firstflightnc.com; Experimental Aircraft Association, www.countdowntokittyhawk.org; First Flight Society, www.firstflight.org; and First Flight Centennial Foundation, www.firstflightcentennial.org.

       

      Q: I want to send my parents to England to visit gardens, but would feel better if they had a guide to help if problems arise. Where can I find guided tours?  D.L., Philadelphia

      A: A good source is The Garden Tourist, available in East and West editions, by Lois Rosenfeld (Garden Tourist Press, 2000). It focuses on U.S. gardens, but under the “Far Away Places” section it includes the names of horticultural groups that sponsor garden tours abroad, including trips in England .

      An excellent source for researching English gardens is the newly published Great Gardens of Britain & Ireland , part of the Insight Guides series (Langenscheidt, 2003). Besides describing and showing pictures of hundreds of gardens, it has a garden calendar that shows best times of year for seeing certain types of flora.

      A good Web site for researching English gardens and tour operators is www.gardenvisit.com.

       

      Q: While driving on Interstate 81 in steady traffic near Roanoke , Va. , I got my first speeding ticket in 66 years. Can you warn readers about this speed trap? M.D., Cherry Hill

      A: It’s hard to know to what extent out-of-state plates or a driver’s appearance – you blame your white hair – figures in highway speeding stops. But over the years a number of registries have popped up on the Internet that alert motorists to places where diligent deputies lurk.

      One such site is the Speed Trap Exchange at www.speedtrap.org. It has state-by-state listings of trap reports with comments by the drivers who post them. A recent check showed four reports for the Roanoke area, including one on Interstate 81.

      At the home page, click on “speed trap list,” then select the state you’ll be driving through. The site links to related topics, including correspondence from law officials, some of whom berate the site for abetting speeders, others who figure that speed-trap Web sites help slow down traffic.  

  • The stunning national park on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula; finding introductory rates at new hotels  (Aug. 3, 2003)

    • Q: We are interested in traveling to Newfoundland ’s Northern Peninsula , then renting a car to drive from Deer Lake to St. Anthony. Do you have suggestions on how to get there, attractions to visit, and how many days are needed? T. Avi-Itzhak, Metuchen, N.J.

      A: Your destination is a beautiful region anchored by Gros Morne National Park – many consider it the most dramatic natural area in eastern Canada . It is a land of jagged coastlines and icebergs. It is uncrowded, owing to its location off the beaten path.

      Years ago UNESCO named the park – whose name means “big knoll” -- a World Heritage Site,  noting that it “provides a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth's mantle lie exposed. More recent glacial action has resulted in some spectacular scenery, with coastal lowland, alpine plateau, fjords, glacial valleys, sheer cliffs, waterfalls and many pristine lakes.”

      The airport at Deer Lake (airport code YDF) gets flights from Halifax , Nova Scotia (YHZ); nonstop service is available between Newark International (EWR) and Halifax; the flight time is about two hours.  The connecting flight from Halifax to Deer Lake takes about 1 ½ hours.  (Other flights arrive via St. John’s , Newfoundland . Continental Airlines: phone 800-525-0280; www.continental.com; Air Canada : phone 888-247-2262, www.aircanada.com.)

      The one-way drive time along the Gulf of St. Lawrence from Deer Lake to St. Anthony would take up to 10 hours if you did not stop. But of course you’ll want to stop for hiking, fishing villages, and sightseeing. Viking history is big here, as are wildlife viewing and outdoor sports such as kayaking and canoeing. Stunning vistas can be viewed on boat tours and ferry rides.

      A park spokeswoman said two or three days is typical for seeing the park’s highlights, but visitors who camp or use the hiking trails could be entertained for days longer. She said the drive from the park’s northern edge to St. Anthony takes about four hours.

      The best guidebook descriptions I’ve seen for the area are in the Adventure Guide to Canada’s Atlantic Provinces, by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers and Stillman Rogers (Hunter Travel Guides, 2nd edition, 2002), which includes a 29-page chapter called The Great Northern Peninsula.

      A guide that devotes about 20 pages to Newfoundland is Traveler’s Eastern Canada Companion, by Laura Purdom and Donald Carroll (Globe Pequot, 1999). The Rough Guide to Canada has seven detailed pages on the peninsula.

      The park’s phone number is (709) 458-2417; find its Web site through the Parks Canada site at www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grosmorne.

      The number for Tourism Newfoundland & Labrador is (800) 563-6353; Web site www.gov.nf.ca/tourism.  For a good driving guide to the peninsula, at the opening page select “scenic routes” from the drop-down menu, then “western region.”

       

      Q: How do I find good deals when a new hotel opens or renovates and offers introductory rates? A. Flynn, Newark

      A: Many hotels offer introductory rates when they first open, and you can get the word on new places at a Web site called Hotel News Resource, www.hotelnewsresource.com. Click on “categories/openings” and you’ll find hundreds of notices for hotels worldwide, including properties shifting ownership or going through some major change.

      You’ll have to contact the hotel to find out if an introductory offer is available, but finding a place is usually easy by doing a Web search by name. Don’t expect $300-a-night rooms to be discounted to $85, but whatever the discount it seems even better when you’re in a brand-new room.

      Another way to locate openings is through the tourism or marketing offices of cities; these offices sometimes keep a running list of new places, or promote them through news releases, Web sites, or regular newsletters such as “What’s New in NYC” and “DCUpdate.” You can find tourism offices and their phone numbers by doing an online search for, say, “ Philadelphia tourism” or “ Seattle tourism.” Call and ask about new lodgings.

      Still another tactic is to do a Web search using “hotel openings” and the city you plan to visit. Doing that for Washington , D.C. , quickly turned up a Washington Business Journal story from January that began: “ . . . 13 new hotels will open in the D.C. area this year.” The advantage to finding out well in advance of an opening is that new hotels usually begin accepting reservations months in advance, so you may have a better chance of getting an intro rate.

      New and newly renovated properties sometimes rely on brokers to help fill rooms. Check with companies such as Quikbook (www.quikbook.com; phone 800-789-9887); Hotel Reservation Network (www.hoteldiscounts.com; phone 800-715-7666); and Accommodations Express (www.accommodationsexpress.com; phone 800-277-1064). Before booking, compare broker rates with the hotel’s own rates, and be wary of cancellation/change fees.

      Finally, travel agents often know about new openings. They are notified by the hotel companies, and trade publications aimed at travel agents keep tabs on developments.  
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  • So many World Heritage Sites, so little time; traveling with Trek America; catching cruises from Philadelphia (July 27, 2003)

    •  Q: Where can I locate a list of World Heritage Sites? Are there any in the United States that I might visit? A.W., Philadelphia

      A: Just over 750 places have been designated World Heritage Sites by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, whose mission is to “protect natural and cultural properties of outstanding universal value against the threat of damage in a rapidly developing world.”

      Among them are 20 in the United States , including Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, and 12 national parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon . 

      Each year the committee names new sites in natural and cultural categories. Early this month, [july 2003] 24 sites were added, including the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas in China ; Purnululu National Park in Australia ; Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam , and the ancient city of Ashur in Iraq . Among the new cultural sites are the White City of Tel-Aviv in Israel ; the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan ; the Jewish Quarter and St. Procopius' Basilica in Trebic , Czech Republic ; the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Kazakhstan ; the Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland in the Malopolskie district of Poland, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew , England .

      Descriptions of all the new sites and the full list can be found online through http://whc.unesco.org.

      Q: I’m planning to take a multi-week trip in the West with a company called Trek America . Is it a reputable company? A.B., Philadelphia

      A: Trek America has been in business for more than 30 years and is known especially for camping trips geared to young travelers. Thirty-two tour programs are offered aimed at people 18 to 38. The trips last one to nine weeks and offer many activities. The trips are known for being relatively inexpensive, but there are add-on costs for food and optional extras.

      Besides Western trips, Trek America offers cross-country tours and packages in other U.S. regions and in Mexico and Central America .

      The company also offers a program dubbed Footloose aimed at an older crowd, with three types of tours “for adults of all ages and interests.” They are the usual Trek America camping tours; walking tours for walkers and hikers of all levels and abilities, and lodging tours for those who prefer not to camp.

      All are described on a Web site at www.trekamerica.com or in brochures available by calling 1-800-221-0596. The company is based in Rockaway, N.J.

      Trek America recently expanded to one more niche: family travel. A Travel Weekly report said it operated its first family tour in late May and plans to expand the program for 2004.

       

      Q: I am interested in a cruise from Philadelphia , but not to Bermuda . Are there any to New England or Canada ? B.H., Paoli, Pa.

      A: The vast majority of cruises departing from Philadelphia this summer and fall go to Bermuda , but a few head elsewhere. Among them:

      * The Holland America Line ship Prinsendam is scheduled to depart Sept. 30 on a 12-day cruise that ends in Montreal after calls in Boston , Halifax , St. John's , and Quebec City . Contact Holland America at 1-877-724-5425, Web site www.hollandamerica.com.

      * The Celebrity Cruises ship Horizon is scheduled to depart Oct. 19 on a 12-night Eastern Caribbean cruise that stops in Nassau , St. Thomas , Aruba , Curacao and Key West , ending in Tampa .  Contact Celebrity at 1-800-722-5941, Web site www.celebritycruises.com.

      * The Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Sea is scheduled to depart Oct. 26 on a 12-day cruise stopping in Bermuda (sorry about that) before continuing to St. Thomas , Aruba , Grand Cayman , ending in Houston . Contact Norwegian at 1-800-327-7030, Web site www.ncl.com.

      You can find a cruise calendar for the port of Philadelphia at Cruise Philly, www.cruisephilly.com.  

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  • Summer camps suitable for a single dad and his son; companies that cater to single travelers. (July 15, 2003)

    • Q: I am a single dad with a 14-year old son. Do you know where I could find summer vacation packages that cater to single parents and their children? Also, are there any camps with activities for both dad and son? A.C., Westfield, N.J.

      A: Some of the country’s many summer camps are “family camps,” and you can locate them through the American Camping Association, Web site www.acacamps.org, phone (800) 428-2267. At the Web site you can search among its 2,300 accredited camps; there is a family category under “find a camp.” You can filter by state, cost, and length of stay.

      When we searched for one-week family camps in New Jersey , however, most were oriented toward religion or some medical disability – not what you are looking for. Still, if you broaden the search to the whole Northeast, the number of camps jumps to nearly 100.

      Dude ranches might also appeal to you; upstate New York has a number of such ranches, which can be found online at www.ilovenewyork.com. Three are Silver Springs Ranch (800-258-2624), Haines Falls, in the Catskills; R & R Dude Ranch (716-257-5663), Otto, in the Chautauqua-Allegheny region; and Pinegrove Dude Ranch (800-346-4626), Kerhonkson, in the Hudson Valley.

      Another strategy is to consult a travel agent who is a single parent. Such agents will be sympathetic and, if you're lucky, have ideas of their own to suggest.

      An authoritative source is The Single Parent Travel Handbook, by Brenda Elwell of Secaucus, who also runs SingleParentTravel.net, which has a wide range of information on single parent and nontraditional family travel. A monthly newsletter called Single Parent Travel is available through the site.

      A company that specializes in single-parent family travel is Qualitytimetravel.com, based on Long Island . For information on its packages, call (888) 758-9386 or (631) 543-4009.  VacationKids.com, based in Kunkletown , Pa. , is a travel agency that also specializes in family travel. Its site is at www.vacationkids.com, or call 610-681-7360.

      Two About.com sites with information that may help you are http://singleparents.about.com/cs/travelwithkids and http://fatherhood.about.com/cs/singledads.  Another resource with a travel section is www.dadmag.com.  

      Q: Are there any organizations or travel agencies that cater to single travelers --  people who travel alone? R.W., Roselle Park, N.J.

      A: Yes – single travelers have become a niche industry, though not as big a niche as you might think considering how many single travelers there are. That’s partly because of the nature of the beast; single travelers can be so flexible and fickle that businesses often have trouble developing a loyal customer base. Over the years, many agencies and publications have tried to tap into the solo traveler market, and many have failed.

      Among the enduring:

      * Connecting: Solo Travel Network is an international network of travelers interested in finding comfortable and economical ways of traveling alone. Connecting offers a Single-Friendly Travel Directory listing more than 240 travel companies and organizations whose services and pricing are sensitive to those traveling without a partner -- including some that do not charge a single supplement. The directory costs $7.95 or is free with an annual membership of $35 (or $25 online) for six 20-page issues of a newsletter. A sample issue is $5 from Connecting: Solo Travel Network,  
      689 Park Rd. , Unit 6, Gibsons, BC  V0N 1V7, Canada . Credit card orders: (800) 557-1757; Web site www.cstn.org.

      * Travel Companion Exchange has been catering to solo travelers for 22 years and produces TravelCompanions.com newsletter, which is full of useful information, including a steady supply of strategies for avoiding the single supplement and ways to travel smartly and economically. TCE is not processing new subscriptions for the summer, but it offers resources online at www.travelcompanions.com.

      * The book Traveling Solo: Advice and Ideas for More Than 250 Great Vacations, by Eleanor Berman (Globe Pequot Press, 2d edition 1999), is packed with suggestions for single travelers and offers many kinds of general advice, including strategies for dining alone.

      Tour companies that focus on 18-to-35-year-old travelers also have a strong single clientele – many of their customers have never been married. Among them are  TrekAmerica, based in Rockaway, phone (800) 221-0596, Web site www.trekamerica.com;  and Contiki, phone  (888) 266-8454, Web site  www.contiki.com.

      STA Travel also specializes in students and other young travelers. Its Web site is www.sta-travel.com.  

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  • After Hilton Head, a look at the Brunswick Islands; and  getting a head start on Berkshires leaf-peeping. (July 6, 2003)

    • Q: We just returned from Hilton Head, S.C., where we found lovely scenery, quiet beaches and good restaurants. While there we heard about the Brunswick Islands of North Carolina . Where can we find more on them? A.M.M., Philadelphia

      A: The Brunswick Islands is a name given to a handful of small islands and coastal communities at the southernmost end of North Carolina ’s coastline, just above the state line with South Carolina in an area also known as the  Cape Fear Coast .  You can find more than 45 miles of beach spread among six island outposts of Bald Head Island , Caswell Beach , Oak Island , Holden Beach , Ocean Isle Beach , and Sunset Beach . Nearby on the mainland are Southport , Shallotte and Calabash.

      They offer a mix of settings and degrees of solitude. Bald Head Island , for instance, can be reached only by private passenger ferry, and once there the transit is bicycles and golf carts. Holden Beach has a fishing history, but has been a family resort since the 1930s. Oak Island , which has the biggest population in the islands – about 7,000 -- has plenty of public access for outdoor recreation, including kayaking.

      While the islands may not have the culinary variety of Hilton Head, fresh seafood abounds. Calabash has dubbed itself “seafood capital of the world.”

      A Web site called CoastalNC.com www.coastalnc.com has restaurant listings, as well as links to real estate companies offering vacation homes.

      A good source is The Insiders' Guide to North Carolina 's Southern Coast and Wilmington (Globe Pequot, 2002). The book, including sections on the Brunswick Islands , is online at www.insiders.com/wilmington/main-overview6.htm. John F. Blair, Publisher, offers many titles covering the Carolina coast; find them  at www.blairpub.com.

      You can find more about the Brunswick Islands online at www.ncbrunswick.com or by requesting a visitors guide at 910-755-5517 or writing to N.C.’s Brunswick Islands , Box 1186 , Shallotte , N.C. 28459 .

      Q:  We’d like to go leaf-peeping in the Berkshires this fall. How can we locate the quaintest towns and determine the best time to make our reservations? S.K., Philadelphia

      A: Good for you – planning a foliage trip before the late-summer rush to reservations begins. Foliage usually begins changing in the upper reaches of New England at the end of September. There’s a good chance you’ll get a good show if you’re in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts in mid-October.

      Like many states, Massachusetts puts foliage reports on its tourism Web site at www.mass-vacation.com. At the “quick links” menu, click on “fall foliage” to find a projection of when the color comes. For the Berkshires, Oct. 1-14 is listed as the peak period.  Unfortunately, you can’t wait till you’re sure about the foliage to book lodging. 

      Here’s one Berkshire route from the Web site: Follow Rt. 7 North from Sheffield to Williamstown. Rt. 8 runs from Sandisfield to Dalton and is a superb route between two state forests. Rt. 183, from Great Barrington to Lenox, follows the Housatonic River and passes through small villages. Take Richmond Road , off Rt. 183, just south of Tanglewood, and stop at the overlook for views of Stockbridge Bowl and the southern Berkshire Hills . Rt. 43 East, off Rt. 7, is the lower road to Williamstown, and passes through lovely farmland. Rt. 23, from Great Barrington to Monterey and then right onto Tyringham Rd. , takes you through the Tyringham Valley and eventually to Lee.

      Among sources for lodging and sightseeing are the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, phone 1-800-237-5747, Web site www.berkshires.org; the Mohawk Trail Region, Web site www.mohawktrail.com; and the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Web site www.greatbarrington.org.

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  • Picking the best Mayan ruin on a cruise, health insurance for the road, snagged by scissors at security (June 1, 2003)

    • Q: On a cruise that stops at Cozumel , Mexico , and Belize City , Belize , I will have a choice of visiting Mayan ruins at San Gervasio, Xunantunich and Altun Ha. If I want to visit only one, which should it be? H.Y., Bristol

      A: Opt for Xunantunich, recommends Jeremy Sabloff, an authority on Mayan culture who is director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Sabloff said Xunantunich, located along the Mopan River in western Belize, is easy to reach by good road; the structures are easily visible -- its tallest pyramid, El Castillo, is about 130 feet high – and there has been much work and reconstruction in recent years by archaeologists.

      It was a very important site in late Mayan times, from about 600 to 800 A.D. 

      Sabloff noted that he did some of the original work on San Gervasio, on Cozumel , in the 1970s. “It’s a fascinating site, but there’s not as much visible on the surface that would be as spectacular as Xunantunich,” he said. Altun Ha, for its part, is closer to Belize City .

      The museum has a long history of Mayan excavation, reflected in its Meso-america section. The museum’s phone number is 215-898-4000, Web site www.museum.upenn.edu.

      Among guides describing Mayan ruins is Lonely Planet’s Guatemala , Belize & Yucatan: La Ruta Maya, by Sandra Bao, et al (4th edition, 2001). Mayan sites are mapped and described at www.belizeexplorer.com.

       

      Q: For a visit to Eastern Europe I am interested in finding out about health insurance options, as Medicare will not cover me outside the country. Where can such coverage be obtained? J.B., Abington

      A: Here are several companies that provide health insurance for travelers; some provide other insurance, too, as a package. Rates vary depending on age, deductible, length of trip, and extent of coverage. Others companies can be found at the State Department’s “Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad” page at http://travel.state.gov/medical.html.

      * Wallach & Company, phone 1-800-237-6615; Web site www.wallach.com.

      * Highway to Health Worldwide, phone 1-888-243-2358 or 610-254-8700; Web site www.highway2health.com.

      * International Medical Group, phone 1-800-628-4664; Web site www.imglobal.com.

      * Access America , phone 1-866-807-3982; Web site www.accessamerica.com.

      A Web site that helps sort through what’s available is InsureMyTrip.com at www.mytripinsurance.com.

       

      Q: On three of four flights, my cosmetic case with round-tip scissors, nail file and clippers was inspected and cleared at the carry-on security station. On the fourth, I had to surrender them. Why can’t passengers be offered the option of paying to mail such items home?

      A: Your experience is vexing, especially since the items you mention are on the list of approved carry-on items on the Transportation Security Administration’s Web site (www.tsatraveltips.us). Beyond that, your idea for a mail-home option is good, and it has been adopted by a few airports, including Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and Bradley International Airport in Hartford , Conn.

      At Bradley, for instance, several airport shops will provide a mailing box for $5, with an address label, protective packaging, and a $3.85 stamp. 

      Since most airports – including Kansas City International -- do not offer this option, travelers who want to take matters into their own hands could prepare their own shipping kit, tucking a padded envelope with postage into their bag before leaving home. In the event of a problem, it would provide an alternative to surrendering small items.

      At Phoenix and Hartford , passengers using the mail-back service are allowed to return to the head of the line. If you act on your own, you would have to try negotiating that, and you’d have to locate a mail slot, which is time-consuming in some airports. There is a one-pound limit on mail sent from mailboxes. In the end, whether it would work depends on how much time you had to spare. Top

       

  • Exploring the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, eluding trouble in Mexico City, cruising with dogs

    • Q: I plan to be in St. Louis and would like explore the 1904 World’s Fair held there. Is there an archive or museum devoted to this event? R.H., Oaklyn, N.J.

      A: As you noted, the fair, formally the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, was held in Forest Park , where a few fair structures remain. The event’s Fine Arts Palace houses the St. Louis Art Museum , and a huge walk-through aviary remains a landmark of the St. Louis Zoo.

      With the fair’s centennial approaching, several commemorations are planned for the fair and the Lewis & Clark Expedition and Louisiana Purchase , whose 100th anniversaries the fair marked.  Viewing the movie  Meet Me in St. Louis , Louis, starring Judy Garland, would help set the mood for your visit, as would playing Scott Joplin ragtime music. Many accounts say the ice cream cone and iced tea were introduced at the fair, and a giant Ferris wheel, brought from the Chicago fair of 1893, was very popular. 

      A good place to start your planning is www.explorestlouis.com/grouptours. Under “Sightseeing,” click on Itineraries/1904 World’s Fair.

      The Missouri History Museum (phone 314-454-3150, www.mohistory.org) always has items from the fair on display, and a major show called “Lewis and Clark: The National Exhibition” is scheduled to open in January [2004].

      The restored 1848 Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion (phone 314-771-5828, www.chatillondemenilhouse.com) houses more than 1,200 pieces of World's Fair memorabilia, including photographs and souvenirs in excellent condition.

      By the way, admission is free to the zoo and art museum – a rarity among such institutions outside of Washington . A St. Louis visitors guide can be obtained by calling 1-800-916-0092, or visit Web site www.explorestlouis.com.

      Q: My daughter is taking a business trip alone to Mexico City and I’m worried about her. What precautions can she take? A.W., Phoenixville, Pa.

      A: Among the most important measures a visitor to the Mexico City – or any other city where crime is a problem – can take are to avoid traveling alone and be very cautious using ATMs and taxis. Airports and train and bus terminals also are problem areas. Descriptions of common crime situations in Mexican cities can be found on the State Department Web site at http://travel.state.gov/mexico.html.

      It’s also worthwhile to study the experiences of other recent travelers on sites such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum at  http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com. You can do a search within the Mexico section for “crime” and find commentaries, including one that begins “I was robbed today in Mexico City ’s subway.”

      Q: We plan to go to Europe or Hawaii for several months and want to take our two beagles, who are not good air travelers. Would a cruise ships transport our dogs? R.B., Turnersville, N.J.

      A: The only ship I know of that accepts dogs is the QE2, which has a kennel. Owners are not allowed to take their dogs for a walk around the ship, but can visit them in the kennel area. The QE2, owned by Cunard Line, makes regular transatlantic crossings in the summer and a world cruise each year that includes a stop in Hawaii . Early next year, [2004] the new Cunard Line ship Queen Mary 2 is expected to replace the QE2 on the transatlantic schedule, and it, too, will have kennel facilities with an exercise run exclusively for the hounds.

      For details, contact Cunard at 1-800-528-6273, Web site www.cunardline.com. Top

  • Planning an economical, island-hopping Hawaiian vacation, search for a stand-by cruise (April 27, 2003)

    • Q: For a trip to Hawaii , our family wants to make ground arrangements separate from air travel, as we’ll visit multiple islands.  Can you recommend any sites or sources for planning?  J.M.N., Voorhees, N.J.  

      A: Many deals and suggestions for independent visitors can be found in the Islands of Aloha vacation planner offered by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Web site www.visit.hawaii.org, phone 1-800-464-2924.  

      Besides resorts offering discount deals, another option to consider is condo or B&B lodging. Bed and Breakfast Honolulu says it represents 400 properties; 1-800-288-4666, www.hawaiibnb.com. Others that offer bookings statewide are All Islands Bed & Breakfast, 1-800-542-0344, www.all-islands.com; and Affordable Accommodations, 1-888-333-9747, www.affordablemaui.com.

      Among guides to help you plan your vacation are the classic Hidden Hawaii, by Ray Riegert (Ulysses Press, 12th edition, 2003), Maverick Guide to Hawaii, by Robert Bone (Pelican Publishing, 21st edition, 2002), and Hawaii Travel Smart, by Greg Ambrose (Avalon Travel, 3rd edition, 2001). 

      As for island hopping, the two biggest airlines are Hawaiian and Aloha. Hawaiian Airlines filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection last month,[March] but said it expects to continue flying. Both offer reasonable prices between the islands, especially if you book well in advance.

      A recent check showed one-way Interisland SuperSaver fares between Honolulu and Kauai for $67 each way.  Contact Hawaiian Airlines at 1-800-367-5320, Web site www.hawaiianair.com.

      Aloha Airlines offers the seven-day Island Pass , which for $336 provides unlimited travel within Hawaii on Aloha Airlines and Island Air for seven consecutive days. Contact Aloha at 1-800-252-5642 or Web site www.alohaair.com.

      You can find a list of airlines through the visitors bureau site, www.visit.hawaii.org; click on “vacation planning” then “products & services” for a long listing, with links, of airlines and lodging choices.

      Car rentals are quite competitive. You might start with Alamo , using its rates as a benchmark when shopping for the best price. You should also check with your transpacific airline; you may be able to get a good rate through its partnerships. The transportation section of the Maverick Guide to Hawaii has especially good tips and cautions about renting cars.

      Q: A few years ago we registered on a standby list for Cunard Lines. They let us know in advance and the cruise was a very good deal. Does anyone currently offer this? K.F., Newtown Square, Pa.

      A: Cunard once had a standby program for the QE2 in which passengers posted a deposit and were notified about three weeks before sailing whether there was space available. But that program no longer is available, according to a Cunard spokeswoman.

      And last year Crystal Cruises had a standby program, Crystal-on-Call , in which certain Alaskan sailings aboard the Crystal Harmony and Baltic sailings aboard the Crystal Symphony offered savings for those who plunked down $500 and then were notified one to two months before the sailing date. They were mainly for minimum category staterooms. That program is not in place this year, a spokesman said.

      Lately, cruise lines have relied simply on lower rates to lure passengers in what has become a soft market, owing to a surge of large, new ships during a time when many would-be passengers are concerned about war, disease and the economy. Another way some lines are encouraging business is by offering “kids go free” incentives.”

      Many lines now have specials posted on their Web sites. Links to most of the big lines can be found at www.cruising.org. Travel agents with experience booking cruises know where the deals are for the type of cruise you prefer. Some can be found through the National Association of Cruise Oriented Agencies, Web site www.nacoaonline.com, phone 305-663-5626.  Top

       

  • Renting Italian villas, flying nonstop into Hawaiian cities besides Honolulu, ATMs in Australia (March 23, 2003)

    • Q: We’ve been to Italy several times and have had our fill of duomos and other tourist staples. Now we want to rent a Tuscan villa for two couples and meet the real Italians. Can you suggest sources for helping plan such a trip? L.D., Media, Pa.

      A: A couple years ago I noted sources for villa rentals in Tuscany and later heard from readers who gave especially high marks to two area companies, Doorways Ltd., of Bryn Mawr, phone 1-800-261-4460 or 610-520-0806, Web site www.villavacations.com, and  VIA Travel Design in Philadelphia, phone 215-248-2570, Web site http://viatraveldesign.com.

      Another local company that might work for you is Untours, of Media, which has put thousands of independent travelers into private homes for two-week holidays, including vacations in Tuscany . Untours’s phone number is 1-888-868-6871; Web site www.untours.com.

      Elsewhere, Italia Reservations is a small California agency that represents about 50 properties in Tuscany and Umbria ; phone 510-843-0928, Web site www.italiareservations.com.

      Among other brokers are:

      * Villas and Apartments Abroad, New York ; 1-800-433-3020, www.vaanyc.com.

      * European Connection,   Roslyn Heights , N.Y. , 1-800-345-4679.

      * Hideaways International, Portsmouth , N.H. ; 1-800-843-4433, www.hideaways.com.

      *At Home Abroad Inc., New York ; 212-421-9165, www.athomeabroadinc.com.

      A good source for planning is In Italy Online at www.initaly.com. It also is a source of rentals for villas and farmhouses in many regions.

      The Italian Government Travel Office is at phone 212-245-4822; Web site www.italiantourism.com. The site has links to regional tourism offices in Italy , including regional sources on lodging information.

       

      Q: For a trip to Hawaii , is it possible to fly straight to the Big Island , or must you always change planes in Honolulu ? B.B., Merion, Pa.

      A: The vast majority of flights to Hawaii go into Honolulu , but a few each day go nonstop from the mainland to the Big Island of Hawaii and to Maui and Kauai . None of those flights originates on the East Coast. You would have to change, most likely in Los Angeles , San Francisco , or Dallas-Ft. Worth. Among flights that go nonstop to Hawaiian cities other than Honolulu:

      * United Airlines flies from San Francisco to Kona on the Big Island .

      * United and American Airlines fly from Los Angeles to Kona on the Big Island .

      * United flies from San Francisco to Lihue on the island of Kauai .

      * United flies from San Francisco to Kahului on Maui .

      * American flies from Los Angeles to Kahului on Maui .

      * American flies from Los Angeles to Lihue on the island of Kauai .

      * American flies from Dallas-Ft. Worth to Kahului on Maui .

      Contact United at 1-800-241-6522, www.ual.com; American at 1-800-433-7300, www.aa.com.

       

      Q: How widely available are ATM machines in Australia ? R.S., Philadelphia

      A: Banking machines are common in Australia , and unless you plan to spend time in tiny outback towns, your cash reserves should be easy to tap.  

      For Australia and almost every other country, you can get specific ATM locations by going to the ATM locator section of Web sites for MasterCard and Visa.

      Those whose bank card has a Cirrus logo can go to www.mastercard.com and click on “ATM locator” on the home page. A search shows nearly 500 Cirrus ATMs in Sydney , 26 in Darwin , and 16 in Alice Springs . Even Coober Pedy, an outback opal town where a number of residents live in cavelike dwellings, has one ATM listed. 

      If your bank card has a Plus logo, visit the Visa site at www.visa.com/pd/atm.

      You can find currency information on the Australian tourism site, www.australia.com. Select “plan your trip” and “useful travel information,” then “currency information.”  The site also has a useful “budgeting guide,” which helps you anticipate expenses for common purchases such as an opera ticket (60 Australian dollars -- about $37 -- and up, and a bottle of Australian wine, A$12 – about $7.30 – and up. Top

       

  • Finding a bus tour to Foxwoods Casino, rail passes for Paris, info on touring Ireland (March 9, 2003)

    • Q: Where I can get information about group bus trips to the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut ? A.M.M., Philadelphia

      A: Bus tours from the Philadelphia area to the Foxwoods Casinio in Ledyard , Conn. , and the nearby Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino are not as regular or numerous as those to Atlantic City. But a few are available through regional bus tour companies, and you also can get there via Amtrak. Foxwoods typically involves at least an overnight stay because of the distance, about 230 miles from Philadelphia .

      Klein Tours of Douglasville offers monthly trips to Foxwoods. The next one scheduled is a two-day trip that leaves from Exton, King of Prussia, Douglassville, Morgantown, and Shillington early on Saturday, March 22. It heads back about 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 23, arriving home about 10 p.m.    Cost per person, based on double occupancy, is $190, with one night’s lodging at the Two Trees Inn, across from Foxwoods. For details, contact Klein Tours at 610-582-4404, Web site www.kleintransportation.com. Other Foxwoods trips, most of them three days/two nights, are scheduled near the end of each month for the rest of the year, including April 23-25 and May 31-June 1.

      Senior Travel Service of Cape May Courthouse has a three-day/two night Foxwoods trip scheduled for April 30-May 2, with pickup points in Philadelphia , Delaware , and throughout South Jersey . The cost is $275 per person, double occupancy, with lodging at the Great Cedars Hotel. Contact Senior Travel at 1-800-257-8910, Web site  www.seniortravelservice.com.

      Another company, Conestoga Tours of Lancaster, offers Foxwoods trips departing from Lancaster , Harrisburg and York . Call 1-800-538-2222 or visit Web site www.conestogatours.com.

      Amtrak also serves Foxwoods by train and bus. For example, you can take a 6:55 a.m. train to New London , Conn. , then transfer to a bus for a 40-minute ride to the casino, arriving by noon . An undiscounted round-trip fare on an unreserved train was quoted at $140.20. Call Amtrak at 1-800-872-7245 or visit www.amtrak.com.

      Q: For a trip to Paris , where can I find information on rail passes and transportation in the region? G.B., Sewell, N.J.

      A: The Paris Visite Pass allows passage on most Paris-area transportation systems and can be bought in one-, two-, three- and five-day increments. The one-day pass is $23; the five-day is $63. Children 4 to 11 pay half price.

      Transit systems covered by the pass are the Metro, RER (regional trains), bus, tram, Montmartre funicular, Noctambus, Transilien SNCF (suburban trains) and Optile buses (bus network operated in outer suburbs). Among places you can reach with the pass are Versailles , Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports, and Disneyland Resort Paris. Besides transportation, the pass includes discounts for admission or purchases at more than a dozen attractions, such as a second ticket free at the Grand Arch. Details on the pass and descriptions of the discounts is online at www.ratp.fr/ParisVisite/Eng.

      A good source for learning the transportation system is The Paris Pages, www.paris.org. A French Government Tourist Office information number is 410-286-8310, Web site  www.franceguide.com. At the Web site, use the search box at upper left, selecting “Ile de France” and “transport/train” for a full listing of French rail passes.

      Q: Where can I get travel information for a first trip to Ireland ? I.M., Philadelphia

      A: Irish guidebooks are plentiful. Among them are Must-See Ireland (Thomas Cook Publishing, 2000), Insight Compact Guide Ireland (Langenscheidt Publishing, 2002), and Ireland , by Fionn Davenport (Lonely Planet, 5th edition, 2002).

      Tourism Ireland ’s Web site is at www.irelandvacations.com, phone 1-800-223-6470. A good place to sample the local scene in anticipation of a visit is the Irish Times newspaper site, www.ireland.com.  Top

       

  • Where is that underwater Jesus in Florida, and will packing fishing tackle cause check-in problems? (Feb. 23, 2003)

    •  

    • Q:  I’ve heard there is an underwater statue of Christ in Florida that pays tribute to sailors who have lost their lives at sea. Where can it be found, and can it be viewed from a glass-bottom boat? G.H., Oreland, Pa.

      A: The statue is commonly called Christ of the Deep and is located in the Florida Keys about six miles off  Key Largo in 25 to 30 feet of water. The book Diving & Snorkeling Florida Keys (Lonely Planet Pisces, 3d edition, 2001) describes the nine-foot bronze statue’s history:

      “The statue is one of at least three cast from a mold by Italian sculptor Guido Galletti. The first, called Christ of the Abyss, was placed in 50 feet off water of Genoa . A second casting was made in 1961 and presented to the people of Grenada for their assistance in rescuing passengers from a fire aboard the Italian liner Bianca C. That statue is on display in St. George’s Harbor in Grenada .

      “[The Florida ] statue, the third casting, was originally made for Egidi Cressi, whose company manufactures dive equipment. Cressi eventually donated the statue to the Underwater Society of America, who in turn passed it to the Florida Board of Parks & Historical Memorials for display.”

      It was installed on a concrete pedestal in 1966 in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, just beyond the edge of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (305-451-1202, www.pennekamppark.com). The statue site also is known to divers as Key Largo Dry Rocks.

      The Key Largo Princess is a glass-bottom boat that operates in the area, but a spokesman said the statue is not usually on its route because the dive site is generally crowded with snorkelers, divers, and their boats, which tie up to buoys surrounding the site in a broad circle. The Key Largo Princess’ phone number is 305-451-4655.

      Many underwater weddings have been performed at the statue, and at least one funeral company says it will scatter ashes near the site.

      For the benefit of those who don’t dive, a bronze replica was commissioned by a church and erected in 1991 near the entrance of Pennekamp Park on U.S. Rte. 1 at mile marker 105.5.

      Q: A friend and I plan to fly to Texas for a fishing trip. Will we run into security problems if we pack our tackle boxes in checked luggage? D.C., Swedesboro, N.J.

      A: You would indeed be snagged at security if knives and other sharp objects in your tackle were in your carry-on luggage, but in checked baggage you should not have a problem.  You can find a list of items and whether they are banned in carry-on or checked luggage at www.tsa.gov. (Click on “permitted and prohibited items.”) Among items banned in carry-on bags but allowed in checked bags are knives, spear guns, wrenches and pliers, and screwdrivers.

      If you have any doubt about an object in your tackle, ask an airline reservationist. Bringing a   prohibited item to a security checkpoint - even accidentally - is illegal, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

      One other consideration if you are packing tackle: weight restrictions. Most airlines will charge you extra – $50 or $75 – if your bag exceeds a certain weight.   US Airways, for instance, may assess a charge if a checked bag exceeds a weight of 70 pounds and dimensions of 62 inches when you add up length, width and height.   Top

       

  • Getting a last-minute fare to visit a newborn on the other side of the country. (Feb. 16, 2003)

    •  

    • Q: I plan to dash to San Jose, Calif. , soon when our first grandchild is born. How can I do this on very short notice without paying sky high last-minute fares? S.F., Blue Bell, Pa.  

      A: Using the Web, you may find a fare lower than if you book at the last minute through the airline. But there are many last-minute booking sites, and to get the best deal means familiarizing yourself with how they work.  You’ll have to do price comparisons, and at least one big site requires you to make an offer, so it’s important to know what the going rates are.

      Between now and the mother’s due date, examine some of these sites and see for yourself how they work.  To book, the sites require free registration, which you won’t want to fumble with at the last minute. You can check fares without actually booking.

      (This advice applies to anyone looking for a last-minute fare, regardless of whether a baby is on the way.)

      When the time comes, check www.travelocity.com, www.expedia.com, and www.orbitz.com to see what fares they show for the dates you want to travel. It’s possible you’ll stumble onto a fare sale, although that is unusual for a next-day departure. A good price for a PHL-SJC round trip is under $300; recently most bottom fares were $300 to $400.  Despite the claims of the booking sites, it’s often hard to get a fare as inexpensive as you’d like, especially with the growing number of fees tacked onto each leg of the trip.   

      In any case, find the lowest fare on those sites and compare it against the fare at the airlines’ own sites. (They can be found through http://flyaow.com.)

      Then go to sites such as www.hotwire.com and www.priceline.com, where you might do better.  Other last-minute or low-fare sites are www.lastminutetravel.com, www.cheaptickets.com, and www.bestfares.com.

      A recent midweek check for a PHL-SJC round-trip, next-day departure, on Orbitz showed a low fare of $400 on America Trans Air; ATA’s own site showed a fare of $370.  Hotwire – which provides the name of the airline and flight times only AFTER you’ve bought the ticket – showed a low fare of $366. Bestfares.com showed a package including airfare and a rental car for as little as $342, but it was pegged to weekend travel on certain dates.

      Once you’ve become familiar with a few of these sites, you’ll find the process is not as confusing as it might seem. Your last resort for getting a lower fare could be Priceline.com, which asks you to name a fare you are willing to pay, then checks your offer against its partner airlines to see if anyone will accept your offer.  You can learn about bidding strategies for Priceline, based on the experience of others, at www.biddingfortravel.com.

      Another way you can prepare is to enroll in e-mail programs such as those at www.smarterliving.com (Travel Alerts) and www.travelocity.com (Fare Watcher), in which you list what city-pair fares you want to monitor. The sites send you regular updates on low fares.  You might get lucky and find such a notice in your mailbox  for the date you get that call from your son in San Jose .

      Another gambit: San Jose is about 30 miles from the Oakland and San Francisco airports. You could check to see what the fares are to those airports, but also calculate the expense of getting to San Jose if no one can meet you at the airport. Top  

  • Finding architecture tours; grievance fares aren't always best. (April 7, 2002)

    • Question: I’m having trouble finding architecture tours in Europe, including cathedrals. Suggestions? M.C., Malvern, Pa.  

      Answer: Contact Archetours Inc., which has been organizing architecture tours in Europe and elsewhere since 1995. The 2002 schedule includes trips to Bilbao and Barcelona, Spain; Tuscany, Italy; Provence, Lyon and the Rhone Alps in France; Belgium; Berlin, and Prague. Archetours is based in New York. CallNotting Hill building 1-800-770-3051 or visit Web site www.archetours.com.

      The National Trust for Historic Preservation runs dozens of tours around the world, some which included architectural elements. Check the "study tours" section at www.nationaltrust.org, or call 202-588-6000.

      Martin Randall Travel Ltd. In London offers many tours with architectural angles in Europe and elsewhere. They are described online at www.martinrandall.com.

      Architectour focuses on Rome. Call 1-877-727-7663 or visit www.architectour.com.

      Cathedral enthusiasts may be interested in the Sarum Seminar, a program for fans of Gothic cathedrals and medieval life. The California-based group organizes an annual tour of Salisbury Cathedral and the Cotswolds in England. For details, phone 650-857-9515; Web site www.hpl.hp.com/personal/John_Wilkes/Sarum.

      Architecture tours fall under the heading of "art," and that’s where you’ll find several such tour companies listed in the Specialty Travel Index, which also categorizes the tours by country and region. The directory is published twice a year. Two issues are $10. Order by calling 415-459-4900. The same information is available at no cost on the Web at www.specialtytravel.com.

      Besides tour companies, many architecture tours are organized by special interest groups and schools, museums and other institutions. Scan the magazine racks for architectural and historic preservation magazine whose classified ads may include European tours.

      Q: My husband died recently and I want to take his ashes to Seattle for a service in June. How can other relatives and I get a grievance fare for the flight to Seattle? M.H., Barrington

      A: You might qualify for a grievance fare, but it’s probably not the best way to obtain the least-expensive fare available.

      Typically such fares, also known as bereavement or compassion fares, are intended to help relatives who must fly unexpectedly in emergencies and who otherwise would have to pay the very high fares that last-minute business travelers have to pay.

      But grievance fares aren’t necessarily low, and not necessarily the lowest fares available. In the case of some airlines, they allow the passenger to buy at an advance-purchase price, waiving the advance-purchase requirement. On other airlines, the grievance fare is a separate category of fare.

      Because you know months ahead when you need to travel, you may well be able to obtain a sale fare between $200 and $300 round trip between Philadelphia and Seattle. A grievance fare may be much higher than that.

      For instance, a recent check showed a $260 round-trip fare available between Philadelphia and Seattle in mid-June on American Airlines. An American Airlines agent said you would be eligible for the grievance fare, but that it would be $581.

      I suggest that you or a travel agent watch for fares under $300 and snag one for your June flight rather than rely on the grievance fare. You’ll probably have to include a Saturday stay-over to get the lowest bargain fare.

      People who need last-minute bereavement fares should note that airlines vary in their rules and availability. If one fare seems high, try other airlines. To qualify, all require basic documentation such as the relation to the deceased and the funeral director’s phone number. Bereavement fares usually have flexible rules for changing the date of return.

       

    About the Travel Questions column
    The Travel Questions column has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer regularly since 1989. Other Q&A columns By Donald D. Groff appear in the Newark Star-Ledger, the Trenton Times, and the Kansas City Star. In the past, his travel advice also has run weekly in Newsday and on the Web at Salon and Philly.com.
     

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