Mt Claremont Mum Can’t Wait For Port To Pub Swim

Gary Lee, Andrea Sachs, Steve Hendrix, John Deiner; Front row: Danielle Seiss, Cindy Loose, K.C. Summers. (Melissa Cannarozzi for The Post)

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Talk About Travel

Hosted by the Flight Crew

Monday, Jan. 13, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew pictured at right will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.

We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions and a list of frequently asked questions.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


The Flight Crew: Welcome to travel chat. Someone made me captain for the day, and nearly half the crew went AWOL: K.C. Summers to Barbados, Gary Lee to Tobago and Steve Hendrix to Burma. But they will return with news and tips. Meanwhile, you've got me, Captain Cindy Loose, along with John Deiner, Anne McDonough and Carol Sottili.

What we don't know, we'll throw to your fellow clicksters, who collectively seem to know everything.

If you aren't busy answering, let me know what you think about the longtime travel ban to Cuba. The Bush Administration is cracking down on Americans who go there through a third country without the proper, tedious-to-ger U.S. permits. Seemed like maybe a good time for us to go. What do you think? Let's roll.


Arlington, Va.: My husband and our 12-year-old son will be flying to Texas next month. What documentation is required of the airlines these days for my husband to take our son on a trip without me? Does he need a notorized document from me giving permission for our son to travel domestically with my husband or is that only required for international travel? Thank you.

The Flight Crew: That's only for international travel. (Cindy)


Fairfax, Va.: Hi there,
My mother will be visiting me in the late spring from Europe. It's always difficult for me to take time off work so she has suggested that she might go out of town solo for a few days as part of the trip. She is interested in a guided tour, possibly by bus, to maybe the Carolinas or Savannah, staying in comfortable hotels while remaining within a reasonable budget. She is 72 years old and very sociable so maybe something organized by the AARP?
I'd be grateful for any suggestions you might have for her.
Many thanks !

The Flight Crew: While I'm working on this, Fairfax, I'm going to put the fate of your mother's trip in the capable hands of the posters out there, some of whom may have some experience with bus tours between DC and the Outer Banks, etc. Posters?
--Anne


Anne Arundel County, Md.: I am thinking of planning a trip to orth Carolina to the furniture dealers/outlets. From what I've heard you can get good deals on furniture there, but where do I start? Do you have ideas as to what cities I need to look in or if there is a Web site that lists the furniture places and nearby hotels? How long would it take from D.C.? Thanks. I'm hoping a poster or two has been to North Carolina for a trip to look for furniture.

The Flight Crew: Ah, you happen to pick a place I know.

First of all, don't go April 3-9 for sure--that's when the furniture dealers and decorators descend, and there is not a place to stay in the area unless you booked a year ago.

I think it's a neat area. Start your research at www.highpoint.com (the name of the town). How far? Go to www.mapquest.com, and it will map out a route and tell you within a inch or so of how far the town is from your doorstep.

Haven't stayed there, but there's a pretty neat B&B (see www.Bouldinhouse.com), and a room comes with a 10% discount on furniture. (Cindy)


Arlington, Va.: Just wanted to let you know that your sugesstion of the Hearthstone Restaurant in Breckenridge was wonderful! My family enjoyed our Christmas Day dinner there. Thanks again!

The Flight Crew: You're welcome. Glad it worked out.


Oakton, Va.: Hello crew.

I just pruchased ailine tickets on United using Orbitz. If United lowers the price before I leave, will United refund me the difference between what I paid and the new lower price?

Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Yes, they refund you the money, but they charge you a change fee, and the change fee is almost always more than the price difference. If you don't want to pay the change fee, the airline will instead issue a travel voucher good for future travel within the year for the price difference.


Washington, D.C.: I have a question on renting cell phones for international travel. Which companies offer this service? Have you done a story on this in past? If yes, can please post a link?

Thanks.

The Flight Crew: We haven't done a story recently enough to be helpful, but you're reminding us we should. Do, however, have suggestions.

One place to start comparison shopping is roberts-rent-a-phone.com. For a list of about six alternatives, and details, go to Dealtime.com/services.

There are also kiosks at some airports, but I wouldn't wait until last minute. The question to which company offers the best deals varies tremendously depending on where you are taking the phone. Check the fine print of a deal you pick before laying out the cash--there are lots of variables, like shipping cost of the phone, prices for calls you make, versus calls you get, etc. (Cindy)


Alexandria, Va.: So Cindy, you never told us: Was your crazy psychic roommate Nicole right? Is her mother dead? Don't leave us hanging.

The Flight Crew: I've been wondering too about Nicole's mom. But as we parted the last thought in my mind was to exchange phone numbers. Having failed to get her number then, I haven't been able to track Nicole down. I like to believe her mom is alive and well. (cindy)


Metro Center, Washington, D.C.: Cindy-- can I just say, your cruise story cracked me up. Great way to start my Monday.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Carbondale, Pa.: Hello, Crew! I am heading to South Dakota to see the Crazy Horse Memorial-in-progress, as well as Mt. Rushmore. I'm figuring on staying in Rapid City and using that as my hub to jet out to various places. Is there anything besides the obvious to recommend out there? Any unique outdoors experiences anyone can offer up? Also, any unique places to stay in Rapid City? Thank you!

The Flight Crew: Hi, CP. Just love that area of the country--think one of my best vacations was out there. To be honest, I wasn't really bowled over by Mt. Rushmore, so I'm glad we didn't budget a whole of time for it, and we stupidly bypassed Crazy Horse.

Two things that you should definitely check out while in the Black Hills are the town of Deadwood and Custer State Park. Deadwood, which sprang to life after the Gold Rush, is an old mining town that's been turned into a gambling mecca, but don't let that scare you away. The casinos are in 1875-era buildings, and hotels and such are incredibly cheap. I had a great time there.

And Custer State Park is unbelievable: There's a herd of 1,500 bison that wander freely throughout the park and often keep traffic at bay while they wander across roads. It's a hoot.

For Custer State Park, check out www.custerstatepark.info/custersp.htm. For Deadwood, www.deadwood.org.

--john


Arlington, Va.: I'm thinking of going to Amsterdam in mid February. Fares are around $440. Is this cheap? It's still quite cold then, from what I understand, and I'm concerned there will be nothing to see/do in the cold. Is it even worth it to go then (or postpone until the spring, which I assume means higher fares and more crowds)?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I don't think $440 is cheap for February travel. Shop around some more - a good price would be anything between $350 and $400. Try a consolidator - www.autoeurope.com for example is offering $370 round-trip fares for February travel. As for when to go, it will be more pleasant in spring, but the price will be higher.


Arlington, Va.: Planning a trip to london as a new year resolution. What is a good time to go -- the spring or the summer -- and what deals should I look for?

The Flight Crew: London in spring is rainy and can be very cold--I was there last May and couldn't have lasted without my handy dandy long wool scarf--but is less crowded than the summer, when college kids and others with longer breaks clog the city. In terms of deals, too, a hike in prices tends to accompany the surge in visitors (spring break/Easter is something to watch out for in spring as well). But London as a New Year's resolution sounds like a good one to me--there are lots of free attractions no matter what time of year you go, and friends who just returned from two weeks there froze their pants off and yet can't wait to return. Are there posters who come out strongly in favor of one season over another?
-Anne


Paradise, really?: I'm going on the first cruise after the dry dock period on the Paradise! Aside from the non-smoking factor, how is the rest of the ship? Things to look forward to, things to avoid?

Should we expect tons of children on our cruise? First week of February, so school is back in session...

Thanks!

The Flight Crew: There were very few children on the Paradise. In fact, the only one I kept noticing was this kid who looked like Dudley Dursley and who was always in the dining areas.

I think the ship is nice. Clean, with good food given the prices. I enjoyed the entertainment. Just plan your shore excusions---I pretty much wasted two of them because I didn't have a plan. If you're stopping in Grand Cayman, the best thing to do in my opinion is Sting Ray City. (cindy)


Costa Rica!: Hi there! Please help! A friend and I are thinking about going to costa rica in march this year. However, I am completely overwhelmed by all the info out there about where to go once there and what are the things we "must" see or do. Where do I start? What should I do or see? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Help us, clicksters.


Greenville, S.C.: Re the bus tour - although a bus may not be involved, Elderhostel has a number of programs available including Savannah which would be highly appropriate for a 72 year old woman.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, Greenville!


Burke, Va.: I bought tickets on Delta right before New Year's. Now the same itinerary is $50 less. Do I have any alternatives other than to just grind my teeth?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Travel voucher good for future travel is your only option.


Falls Church, Va.: Cindy:
Loved your cruise story. I laughed out loud, waking up my wife. My issue isn't smoking. It's losing weight. But I guess since the point of most cruises is to stuff yourself silly, ordering three or four entrees, as your tablemate did, might not be the answer. Seriously though, Do you know of any cruises that emphasize healthy eating?
Thanks,
Tim

The Flight Crew: We're thinking someone has a spa cruise. I must say that the free food on board ships wouldn't be a big incentive for me to diet. However, we're thinking there is a spa thing out there that emphasizes weight loss. A travel agent should have that info at the tips of their fingers. (Cindy)


Free London Hotels via British Airways: Hey Gurus, am I ever glad you're chatting today! I have a question about the British Airways deal they have going on, with two free nights in a hotel if you book a round-trip flight with British Airways. On the Web site, there is a box to check if you want the stopover in London and free hotel rooms, on your way to somewhere else in Europe. I just want to go to London (their free hotels are included in trips just to London, too). When I check the checkbox, I get no specific flight options and the dates I want are booked solid (Jan. 30-Feb. 2). When I leave the box blank, I can pick my specific flights, and they appear to be open to me. I guess my concern is, what if I book my D.C.-London round-trip flight, then find out that it's not covered with the free hotel rooms? That stupid box and the different options following it, are causing me concern. I'm 95 percent sure all is well here, but I thought I'd ask you guys, since you know all! Thank you!

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: My guess is that British Airways has reserved a certain percentage of seats for those who are going to book packages involving additional travel. Have you tried calling a British Airways agent? I'd give that a go, and I'd also try calling a travel agent.


Charlottesville, Va.: I'm hoping that you can help me with planning a family reunion for early April. I am looking for a house to rent for a weekend which would be big enough to sleep 16 (6 or 7 bedrooms), and which would be located in an interesting location in Pennsylvania, Delaware or New Jersey. Does anyone have any first-hand knowledge of a particular house or locale which would be a good bet? I am hoping to rent a house, rather than try an inn or bed-and-breakfast, so that we can use the kitchen.

The Flight Crew: That's one big house. It's kind of tough to find one that size, and hard to find one that rents for a weekend.

I think you need to decide first what you want to do while you're there, so you can narrow it down to say Delaware for the beaches for Pa. for the mountains. Then contact some state tourism offices for referrals to house rental offices. But I really think a weekend for 16 is a tall order. Since it's the kitchen you want, have you considered condos (lots of ski resorts have those for short term visits, and probably since you're going in April, you should be able to find such places at the beach, too.

Any clickers have a better answer?


For Fairfax re: bus trip for mom: Call AAA! Their travel agents can find the perfect match for your mom. I've booked several bus tours through them and have been thrilled.

The Flight Crew: I tried AAA a few times to get information but never got through; hopefully Fairfax will have a better shot at it!


Rockville, Md.: Driving to New York. Want to park at MetroPark and take the NJT train. Looking for info on parking rates, safety of the lot, etc., from someone who's done it!

The Flight Crew: Hi,Rock. This is a question we get over and over. I've done it a couple of times and never had any problems. Here's what we wrote about it in our Sunday section last September:

"New Jersey Transit trains operate from numerous locations, but the Metropark station is convenient to the New Jersey Turnpike (take Exit 11 and go north on the Garden State Parkway to Exit 131A) and has ample parking. Parking is $6 a day; fares to New York start at about $10
round trip. Info: 973-762-5100, www.njtransit.com."

Can't vouch that the parking rate is the same, but it's a good, sound way to get into the city.

--john


Tyson's Corner, Va.: Had a disconcerting experience with JetBlue over the holidays, and hope you can shed some light on bag-searching practices. We were "randomly selected" to have our luggage x-rayed, and followed a Jet Blue employee to the screening area and watched our bags through the screening process. The bags were not opened. Employee then took our bags back to the luggage check. After arriving home, I opened my bag to find that someone had obviously gone through it. Boxes were opened up, and their contents strewn around the suitcase, but nothing seemed to be missing. Here's my question -- after the bags had been screened and cleared, what legitimate need would there be to open the bag, and shouldn't the bag have been opened when I was there? I believe a JetBlue employee opened my bag looking for valuables to steal. Is there another reason the bag would have been opened after it had been fully examined?

The Flight Crew: Most bags that are opened will not be opened within the passengers sight, and alot of them will be opened. Most bomb detection devices are behind the scenes, since they are so big there is nowhere to put them in the terminal area where passengers check in. However, if yours was opened by security screeners, they should have left behind a note to that affect. (cindy)


Washington, D.C.: Re: London. I've had good luck in the fall (October and November). The airfares are good and I've had surprisingly good luck with the weather both times over the past two years (high 40s/low 50s, very little to no rain).

The Flight Crew: Thanks, D.C.


Washington, D.C.: I plan to take a week-end trip to the area around Harve de Grace, Md. Where do you recommend to stay and what is there to do around that area?

The Flight Crew: Help clicksters!


Arlington, Va.: My boyfriend and I are planning a long weekend trip to Virginia Beach at the beginning of March. Do you have any thoughts on what reasonably priced hotels might be worth looking at down there, and also any ideas of good activities around that time of year down there? He's convinced it'll be warm enough to go to the beach, but I'm not sure because of the El Nino weather.

The Flight Crew: That time of year, Va. Beach is full of reasonably priced hotels. March---spring is unpredictable. I guarantee you won't be wanting to swim or even wade. Walking on the beach--that's a day by day guess.

There are lots of cool things to do there--go to the Va. Beach website. I don't know the address offhand, but just go to www.google.com and put in virginia beach and tourism. (cindy)


Alexandria, Va.: My husband and I are going to Paris February 18 through 26. We found ultra-cheap tickets on Northwest Airlines ($189 RT!) and have rented a very affordable apartment for the week.

I'm a little concerned about a few things, though, and I'm wondering if you can tell me how the following situations might pan out:

1. The downside of that great airfare is that we have to fly through Detroit. We have 1 hour and 45 minutes between when our DCA-Detroit flight lands and when our Detroit-Paris flight takes off. Is this a sufficient amount of time to get cleared through customs and get to our connecting flight?

2. What happens if our DCA flight is delayed, causing us to miss our Detroit-Paris flight? Who eats that cost?

3. What happens if there's a huge snowstorm in Detroit in February? Would they reroute us?

4. What happens if Bush declares war against pick-your-nation? (It could be any country in the world, at this point!) I'm concerned about the safety of international travel in general if we're at war, but am also concerned at anti-American violence happening to us. I know we Americans already aren't that popular with the French, but I can't imagine what it would be like if we were just embarking on a very unpopular war. Would you guys travel to Paris in a situation like that?

Thanks for helping me with my travel anxiety! I usually look forward to traveling, but I'm a little apprehensive right now.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: You're stressing about things you have no control over - that's not good for your health. You've already booked the tickets, and you got a great price, so just go with the flow. You should have plenty of time to get through customs in Detroit; you'll be rebooked on another flight if you miss your connection (the worst that can happen is a night in Detroit - order room service and have fun); if it snows, you'll either get rerouted or your flight will be cancelled, but again, you have no control here; and if there's a war, go anyway and don't wear cameras around your neck and act obnoxious (Parisians may sneer, but they usually don't get violent). Don't worry, be happy.


Silver Spring, Md.: Used the Metro bus from L'Enfant Plaza to Dulles just before Christmas. Price is great. But if you take it at rush hour, you may find it crowded with commuters going home to Herndon and end up standing, straddling your luggage. I think the bus from Greenbelt Metro to BWI has special racks for luggage. Not this one. Finding the bus when you leave the airport may be tough. It took me 1/2 hour to find where Super Shuttle stops, and then another 1/2 hour for a van to show up. FlyAway taxis and busses have priority at Dulles.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the input, SS. We actually pointed that out in our recent piece on ways to get to IAD--it's a real problem not having luggage racks on that bus. And until they finish with all the construction out at Dulles, there'll be no end to the confusion.

-john


Takoma Park, Md.: London is superb in the "spring," even with rain. Less crowded, and if you go in April it can even be relatively pleasant.

Theater is better than in summer, too.

The Flight Crew: See, ask the posters and they shall reply. And I venture to say that, even with rain and cold, London is more than relatively pleasant. It's a whirlwind of theater and curry and wonderful cobblestone walks and chips and a pint in a corner pub where the locals spend all day and the suits pile in two minutes after five. Again, heading there is a great resolution.
--Anne


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Travel Crew -- and Happy New Year! My husband and are soon to depart for a week's visit with family in the UK. While there, we'll be flying up to Edinburgh, Scotland for the day (late morning to late afternoon). What would you consider must-sees in Edinburgh that would fit into our schedule?

The Flight Crew: Help with Edinburgh, please???


Arlington, Va.: So, last night I sat down next to my fireplace to smoke a cigarette. Casting around for something to read while I enjoyed my cig, I picked up the Travel section. Imagine the irony when I came across Cindy's article about the smoke-free cruise.

Just wanted to say well done! Great article and really entertained me while I puffed away.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Crazy Horse: About three or four hours' drive south of Crazy Horse is Carhenge -- a recreation of stonehenge made of old cars. I really get a kick out of it every time I pass through the area. It is located in Alliance, Neb.

The Flight Crew: Wow. Sounds like a hoot, but I'm not sure I'd drive four hours to see it! Thanks for the tip for the road.

-john


Washington, D.C.: I took that cruise, last summer. It was fun, almost healthy (tons of food) and refreshing. Are there plans for other non-smoking ships?

The Flight Crew: I asked a couple cruise lines if they ever considered making a ship smoke free, and they answered that they thought the market could only bear one at this time. So the Paradise is it. (Cindy)


Crystal City, Va.: Cindy,

I enjoyed your article yesterday regarding your experience on the "smoking cessation" cruise and wanted to offer my sincere congratulations. I know how hard it must be to quit smoking, having lost my father to lung cancer eight years ago. You should be extremely proud of yourself! Great writing style, besides, especially the anecdotes about your "interesting" suitemate; e.g., "liqour-swilling, fur-trapping..." bit and the odd grooming requests!

The Flight Crew: Thanks a lot.


Somewhere, USA: re: lose weight cruise: Cooking light does a cruise every year with healthy eating and excercise. looks like a good time. check out their website. www.cookinglight.com

The Flight Crew: Thanks. See, I told you that readers collectively know everything.


Baltimore, Md.: Is it feasible to visit San Diego without renting a car? I prefer to use public transportation whenever possible, because it's cheaper (especially when travelling alone) and easier than worrying about getting around and parking in a strange place. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I wouldn't recommend going to San Diego without a car. It has some mass transit, but it's definitely car oriented. As for cheaper, I just rented a car in San Diego for three days this upcoming weekend for just $65 including all taxes through www.southwest.com. And parking is easy in San Diego - it's not like Washington or New York.


Reston, Va.: Hi Travel Gurus! Am traveling to Aruba (yes, warm tropical weather)the first week in February. Any specific names of good restaurants? Although hubby and I have been there several times, our last visit was over three years ago and I know things have changed. Many thanks!

The Flight Crew: A friend liked the restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel. But how about some more help out there?


Re: Havre de Grace: I went to a wedding reception at the Vandiver Inn in October, and it was lovely. The rooms I peeked into all seemed nice. There's another B&B up the street with a lovely garden. (Guess where the actual wedding was held?) Sadly, I get the chance to pry into that one.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Re: Costa Rica, et al: No offense -- I think this is a great forum -- but to those people who are interested in going to Costa Rica (or Paris, or Bejing, or Cairo, or San Francisco), and don't know where to start: Why not a guidebook? Some of my impressions: I'm going to London soon and only have time to see the big sites, and have a Rick Steves packed. For longer trips, I've used the more varied Lonely Planet, with good success. If you're a bit younger and lower budget, try Let's Go. For more historical detail, Rough Guides. If you're in a city and want a historically informed companion, the Michelin Green Guides. (Warning: They're excellent for cities, but precisely because they do have city guides, the Michelin country guides can be VERY skimpy on major cities.) I've snobbishly dismissed Fodor's and Frommer's as too mainstream, but recently I've looked at editions for places I've traveled and found them suprisingly good. Hit a large bookstore -- or even better, a travel bookstore -- read a few pages, and then you can come back to the Post forum with more specific questions!

The Flight Crew: Thank you so much. Our favorite questions are from folks who've narrowed down their search a bit. Our least favorite are like: Where should I go? (Cindy)


Washington, D.C.: Help! I'm alone and bored and want to go skiing. Are there any places that might be good for solo skiers? I'm not the best skier and would like to go where there will be people that will dig me out when I fall and break my leg.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Go with a ski club, expecially if you like to laugh and party. A good resource for locating local clubs is www.skicouncil.com.


Followup on Edinburgh: That castle thing has a chapel that's home to the Worldwide Margaret Society (have the name wrong) which allows anybody named Margaret or who has ever known anybody named Margaret or thought about having a child named Margaraet to join.

It's actual purpose is something to do with needlepoint, forsooth.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: I just read your article on the quit smoking cruise. What better way to quit than to commit to an environment where you can't smoke for an entire week? Are there two-week cruises of this type?

The Flight Crew: The Paradise is the only non-smoking ship, but you can take it as many times as you like. (My roommate was going back to back trips; they alternate between the Eastern and WEstern Carib)


Washington, D.C.: Hi,

Thanks for the great chats -- very informative! I am planning a February trip (before Carnaval) to Rio and Buzios. I'll likely be travelling solo. Any recommendations for reasonably nice places to stay in either place? Any alternative spots that you would recommend to soak up some sun and Brazilian culture for a week or so? Thanks for any advice.

The Flight Crew: Help!


Cruise to lose (weight): Cooking light used to sponsor cruises. While you could lose weight, the emphasis was on healthy eating. I don't know if they still sponsor these, but check at cookinglight.com.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Silver Spring, Md.: Took United to Brazil for the holidays. Service was very good and all of my flights on time or early. Northeast Brazil (Fortaleza) was hotter than blazes, but far less crowded and touristy than Rio. Almost no American tourists there (more Europeans, since they have direct flights for folks who want to bypass Rio or Sao Paulo). Exchange rate currently very, very favorable to Americans. Feels great to be home and out of all that infernal heat (yeah, right).

The Flight Crew: Thanks. And see the question we just posted. Can you help?


Bowling Green, Ky.: Hi. Love these chats. Wish my local paper would follow suit.

I have a question: What ever happened to the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights idea? I thought that the deal was that it was shelved contingent on the airlines adopting friendlier customer service.

I had a terrible experience where I spent 10 hours waiting at a remote gate recently in Miami trying to get on a 30-minute flight over to Sanibel on American Airlines.

They kept delaying the flight, and saying we couldn't leave the gate area -- even to get some lunch or dinner, because the flight could take off any minute, and if we went to the food place and missed the flight, it'd be out fault.

They wouldn't tell us anything about why the delay was happening, and at one point they took us out onto the tarmac in a bus and left us out there unattended for half an hour, then drove us back to the gate. (There wasn't a jetway for this puddle jumper.)

Anyway, it was really irritating, and I can assure, I'll never fly American again any time soon. But it has made me wonder what is going on with that legislation. I'd been under the impression that it was sponsored by people like McCain and Watts, so now that the Repubs have control of Congress, will we finally see some progress?

I mean, delays are sometimes to be expected, but when the airline handles them poorly, there should be some fine or something, I think.

Keep up the good work!

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: That bill is dead in the water. With the airlines all in bad economic shape, no one is pushing it right now.


Northern Virginia: First, Cindy, your cruise story made me laugh. She asked you to pluck her CHIN HAIRS?!?!?! How heinous. I'd have chucked her overboard after the "message" incident.

Second, I'd love to go to Cuba. Immediately. I almost went from Mexico one year. My Italian cousin went last January and said it was depressing and that if you wanted meat in a restaurant you usually had to bring it yourself, as owners were so poor they could not pay up front for it.

Third, I bought a vacation package (which I -NEVER- do) from American Airlines. $950 for 2 ppl airfare and hotel to London. We're staying at the Thistle hotel near the Tower Bridge. So I have some questions. Did we overpay? What is the best way to get from Heathrow to the hotel? Is it a good hotel? And what are your top sights for London?

The Flight Crew: Hey, NoVa. Cindy has her hands filled, so I jumped in on this one. First, her story WAS high-larious. I asked the same thing about the chin hairs. Yick.

Second, I think you did pretty well on that price for two, though you didn't say how long you're there for. There are all manner of ways to get into the city; folks here are split over whether to take the tube (which can be crowded but isn't expensive) or the Heathrow Express train (much nicer ride, but much more expensive; check out www.heathrowexpress.co.uk) or a cab.
What do you guys think?

As for the hotel, it's a beaut, with a great view of the Thames and right near the Tower of London. I stayed at another Thistle across town in Marble Arch, and it was a peach of a place. I'd definitely go back--not the Ritz, but plenty comfy for me. My top sights would be the Tower of London (how convenient!), the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert museum, Harrods food court, the Tate Modern and any show in the West End. But really...you can't go wrong.

--john


Washington, D.C.: I read your CoGo item this week about the EZ-Pass batter being recharged by sunlight.

I wonder how this could be? There is nothing on the device to convert sunlight into electricity. There IS a long life battery. I leave my EZ-Pass in the glove box for months at a time with no trouble.

Did CoGo bother to call the EZ-Pass authority and see if this is true? I mean, maybe it is, but I really don't think so.

The Flight Crew: CoGo will double check this informat ion that she was given, and believed.


Ashburn, Va.: Hi! My passport expired in 2000 and our young daughter's passport will expire in Aug. 2003. We would like to take her to France and Belgium in five weeks. What is the cheapest and fastest way to renew our passports -- if done by mail, will it take more than 4 weeks?

Thanks very much!

The Flight Crew:
The following is from an article we ran in September about passport renewals... some information (like the prices) may have changed since then, so I'd suggest calling the numbers provided to make sure, and to get the office closest to Ashburn. Enjoy your trip--and be sure to take your daughter to the Cartoon Museum in Brussels; Tintin's hometown is a great place for kids!
-Anne

For expedited service, you can apply by mail or in person at a passport agency -- but only if you are leaving within 14 days. For the former, send in the requisite materials plus an additional $60 and overnight delivery costs. Write "expedited" on the envelope. For the
latter, make an appointment with an agency and bring with you all of the necessary documents, plus plane tickets or an airline itinerary and the extra $60. In Washington, the center is at 1111 19th St. NW and is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can schedule an appointment via
automated service at 202-647-0518.

For even faster -- but costlier -- service, employ a private company that can deliver your passport in a jiffy, say 24 hours. Instant Passport, for one, lists turnaround times of up to six business days ($150, on top of government fees); up to 14 days ($100); and more than
two weeks ($75). Info: 800-284-2564, www.instantpassport.com. Other firms include American Passport Express (800-841-6778, www.americanpassport.com) and Passports Visa Express.com (888-596-6028,
www.passportvisaexpress.com).


Where can I find additional help?

For advice or a status report on your application, you can contact the National Passport Information Center for a fee. Automated service (900-225-5674) costs 55 cents a minute, or $1.50 per minute for a live operator. Or for a flat rate of $5.50, call 888-362-8668. For the State
Department: www.travel.state.gov /passport_services.html.


Rockville, Md.: I am a person in a wheelchair and I wanted to find out where can I find information on travel agencies, companies, etc., that are involved with both travel here and abroad. I am also interested in train travel both here and abroad.

The Flight Crew: We've done some info on that, which we'll ask post.com to find and post. Thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: Hey Flight Crew! Impromptu trip to the Carolinas this weekend -- does anyone have any suggestions for Myrtle Beach? My friend and I would like to stay overnight on Saturday and just chill out. We've never been before, so I'd especially appreciate suggestions on an inexpensive place to stay. Thanks, love these discussions!

The Flight Crew: Hi, Al. Man, Myrtle Beach is way different from when I went there last . . . is shag dancing still real big there? Anyhoo, can anyone out there help Alexandria chill out for cheap?

-john


Washington, D.C.: Hi, My sister and I are flying to Johannesburg for two weeks in early Feb. It's my first time to Africa and we want to see as much as possible. No firm plans yet. What should not be missed? Safe place to stay first night in Jo'burg? Good cheap safari in Kruger Park or other? Is Capetown doable in that amount of time without flying? Are there any cheaper trains than the Blue Train? Welcome ALL advice! Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Help.


New York, N.Y.: Hi,

Going for a long wknd in Puerto Rico in Feb and have some questions. Planning to stay at a new "boutique" hotel, Water Club, if you guys or readers have stayed at this hotel?

Also, any suggestions on good restaurants in the San Juan?

The Flight Crew: Anybody done the Water club in San Juan, or remember a good meal?


Rockville, Md.: My husband and I are looking to travel to Scandanavia early this fall. The path we're charting would involve flying into one city and out of another. I've always read that in Europe, flying open jaw like this results in lower airfare, but I'm not finding this to be the case as I'm starting to look at pricing. Do I need to use a travel agent instead of online to get the better deals on this? Also, the prices for travel have seemed extremely high, am I looking too soon for prices?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Open jaw is not usually cheaper, although it doesn't have to be more expensive. Yes, a good travel agent can help you, but you may have to pay because they don't usually get commissions on airfare any longer. You can also try calling the airlines directly. Prices to Europe are usually high in early fall, but I'd wait to see if there are sales.


Rockville, Md: I'll try again. If you're received this already, don't feel obligated to answer again. We are going to New Orleans and staying at The Iberville Suites. Anyone know about it?

The Flight Crew: No one here's stayed there, so we'll throw it out to our well-traveled audience...Anyone been to the Iberville Suites?


Annapolis, Md.: My friend and I spent a night at the Dunes Manor Hotel in Ocean City recently. The place looks great from the outside, but rooms are cheap, cheap, cheap. Cheap mattresses, cheap sheets, cheap pillows, cheap tissues, bare walls. A bad nights sleep can ruin an otherwise great trip. Is there a guide that includes reliable info on the quality of the sleep environment? Any way to avoid another night on a bad mattress? Or (now Im in the realm of fantasy) to find a hotel that uses fitted sheets?

The Flight Crew: try eopinions.com.


Alexandria, Va.: Paris-bound, again. Thanks for the kind words.

Re: Spa cruises: My husband and I went on a Windjammer cruise that was spa-oriented. You probably already know about their non-typical approach to cruising -- this includes a blissful lack of 24-hour food orgies. Their meals are adequate, though definitely not haught cuisine. I believe the main thing making our cruise a spa cruise was the presence of four massage therapists, some yoga instructors, some shore excursions that emphasized health and fitness, and health drinks at the bar in addition to the required fruity rum drinks.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Where in the caribbean can you fly direct from DC/BWI? Also, any recommendations for a place to go with two families and grandparents that is lovely but not as expensive as something like Caneel Bay? Thanks so much.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Aruba, Bahamas (Nassau), Barbados, Puerto Rico, Tobago, USVI (St. Thomas) and Jamaica. As for where to go, I've heard great things about Aruba (friends just came back from Renaissance Hotel and quite liked it). Atlantis in Barbados is fun, but pricey unless you can get a special. Ritz Carlton in Montego Bay had great specials awhile back in conjunction with Liberty Travel. I'd go to a travel agent.


Re: Skiing: Try Ski Club of Washington. scwdc.org. They even have events year-round, but organize both Eastern and Western trips every month.

All ages! Have fun!

The Flight Crew: Thanks!


Re: Edinburgh: Go to Holyrood Castle. It's gorgeous and the ruined abbey nearby is also worth a look. Walk back up the Royal Mile to St. Giles and catch one of the guides there and have them talk to you about the Thistle Room (I think that's what it's called). I found the people in Edinburgh to be very friendly and chatty. There's also the Castle (which is at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace.) I had a hysterical tour guide. So if you have a day, the Royal Mile is the place to check out.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


London or Amsterdam in winter: I've visited both London and Amsterdam in December and thoroughly enjoyed each trip. I spent a lot of time at museums, historic houses, plays/concerts in each city -- so I found plenty to do even off-season. When I wanted to walk along the canals in Amsterdam, or just wander about the parks in London, I made sure to bundle up. Both cities are so full of culture and activity that an off-season trip is no problem. Spend some of the money you save on airfare for a good hot meal!

The Flight Crew: Yes, if the price is right, go!


Boca Raton, Fla.: Since no one has answered your Cuba question yet I figured I'd chime in. I was there back in the summer of '99 for three weeks on a study tour organized by American University (one of the few legal ways that US citizens can travel to Cuba). Our group had a great time there. The Cuban people were extremely friendly and eager to talk about the embargo and other issues. It was a very eye-opening experience and Cuba was quite different from other places in Latin America and the Caribbean that I have visited previously. I highly recommend going there before Castro dies and everything changes -- it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunties like visiting Eastern Europe before the iron curtain came down.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


Vienna, Va., re: Cuba: I went to Cuba in January 2000 through the George Mason University program (and during the Elian saga) and can say firsthand that I believe the Embargo does exactly the opposite of what it is meant to do -- it gives Cubans a reason to rally around Castro, the underdog against the U.S., and only delivers hardship among the people who can't get pens or soap.

Touring there was as easy as any second-to-third world country: hotels ranged from beachfront deluxe to extremely simple inns, stray cats everywhere, great food when you got out of the hotel restaurants, etc.

But the main reason, IMHO, to go to Cuba is the culture and the openness of the people. Everywhere I went, I heard "Somos Americanos": We are all Americans -- sharing the hemisphere. Wouldn't it be great if we could live like that?

The Flight Crew: Thanks.


washingtonpost.com: How to Renew or Apply for a Passport, (Post, Sept. 15, 2002)

The Flight Crew: Here's the link to the article about passports, Ashburn. Hope this helps! Thanks, .com.
-Anne


Los Angeles, Calif.: I'm getting married in May in D.C. and afterwards we want to go away to a nice bed and breakfast/inn within reasonable driving distance (up to four hours). Do you have any suggestions? We want a place that will feel appropriately luxurious (especially has good food), yet is good value for our money, and has things to do for the day, such as short hikes. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Hi, LA. And congrats...

It's not quite a B&B (okay, it's not...it's a "country house hotel"), but you could do far worse than to stay at the Inn at Perry Cabin, in St. Michael, Md. It's on the Chesapeake, and there's all sorts of activities in the area. It's not cheap, but we've hardly heard a discouraging word.

Other suggestions?

-john


NC furniture trip: If you're headed to High Point, NC, to buy furniture, don't forget to stop by nearby Thomasville, home to the world's largest chair.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


For South Dakota traveler: Be sure to eat at The Corn Exchange in Rapid City. The chef is world-class, New York and Cordon Bleu-trained, I think. I had one of the best meals I've ever had in my life there. I'm not joking, and I've traveled extensively.

The Flight Crew: Cool suggestion. Thanks!


Fairfax, Va.: Do you know if the vegan woman's mother turned out ok?

The Flight Crew: No, I didn't get her number.


For Puerto Rico bound: Can't help with the Water Club, but when I was there a year ago I had a fabulously fun and delicious meal at the Parrot Club in Old San Juan. We drank mango martinis, ate fabulous food (our dessert was hot banana 'egg rolls' in caramel) and danced the night away to salsa. We'd give our right arms to go back!

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Deep Valley, USA: South Africa:

There are now good guidebooks.

Personal advice (from experience 15 years ago):

Don't miss the coastal drive near Capetown, and the tip of the continent where you can see the spot where the pacific and atlantic divide.

Beware of baboons in that area. No kidding.

Stellenbosch (south of Capetown) and the surrounding area are not only lovely but also have terrific wineries. Go the Wine Route and enjoy. Many of the wineries also do sausage in season.

The Language Monument is gorgeous and interesting and in a lovely part of the country.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Air Mile Collector: We have a boatload of miles with United, USAir, and American. Should we think about cashing out the miles on United & USAir? What's the likelihood of them making it out of bankruptcy, and us (not so frequent fliers anymore) being able to actually get a "free" seat with our miles next year?

The Flight Crew: I think they'll be okay, but there is no guarantee, so it wouldn't hurt to think about where you'd like to go. And remember all those good partnerships--like you can use those miles on other airlines you aren't the least worried about. Cindy


Heathrow express hands down: Cabs are too expensive and can get caught in rush hour traffic. The tube is cheap, but takes a long time and you can be squished in (and may have trouble holding on to large luggage). The Heathrow Express is very quick and comfortable -- and easy to catch a cab or tube when you get into town. If anyone thinks the Heathrow Express is expensive, he/she will have trouble with the general high cost of being in London.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Costa Rica: I have been twice and really love it there. That said I think that San Jose is a not very charming waste of time. Both times I was there I was in Guanacaste (I forget the exact spelling) -- the first in Playa del Coco and the second in Tamarindo (Both are beach towns). Tamarindo is bigger -- more of a hub, so you get more dining options. Coco was pretty small, but it had such a laid back feel with very few Americans which I liked. I like that region because it on the water and very dry -- not much rain at all, but it can be dusty. Costa Rica has a lot of offer -- rain forests, etc., so depending upon what you are looking for you might want to head to another region. For hanging out and not doing much in the sun, I recommend the areas I stayed in.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Universal Cell: My boss is using a cell phone from UniverCell, a worldwide cell phone rental company. They charge $24.99 for the first week, and you pay flat rate chargers per minute. 1-800-765-CELL

The Flight Crew: sounds like a good price. thanks


Hotels in Rio and Buzios: Try the "Lonely Planet" and/or "Rough Guide" to Brazil. Buzios is a resort area but you may find some bargains if you hunt (we found one years ago but not until we got there). For Rio, depends on what you mean by reasonably priced. I prefer Ipanema-- less crowded, hectic than Copacabana. With the current exchange rate you can find some real bargains, at least once you arrive. Arpoador Inn is medium-range place popular with budget travlers and the only place rigt on the beach (vs. across the road). Ipanema Inn is a budget place next to the 5-star Caesar Park Hotel. Friends enjoyed it many years ago. Can't vouch for it now. We stayed at the Caesar Park in Fortaleza and snagged a nice room for about $65 by calling at the last minute.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Arlington, Va.: For the person looking for a home for family reunion. We found several houses in Virginia Beach -- sleeping up to 20 people. If you are looking for an April trip, you might be able to rent for just the weekend. Also, I have had great luck with www.vrbo.com -- vacation rentals by owner.

The Flight Crew: thanks so much.


Havre de Grace: My dad enjoyed going back to visit his home town. Biking, hiking, also close to the Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Army's Ordnance Musuem, also close to Cal Ripken's museum and ball park. For some reason, I think there is a decoy (duck hunting type) museum there. The feathers and ducks are carved so it's hard to tell the difference. I think it's in Harford County, and I'm sure they have a Chamber of Commerce.

The Flight Crew: thanks.


Raleigh, N.C.: My daugher, a famliy friend, and I are heading to Aruba in July. My daughter is flying out of Boston, my friend and I out of Raleigh. We are finding REALLY HIGH airfare right now (nothing less than $850). Should we buy the tickets now or wait? Is Aruba a popular destination in July? THANKS!

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: $850 is way too high. Keep checking the sales at the major Web sites (www.travelocity.com, www.orbitz.com and www.expedia.com). Travelocity, for example, has something called farewatcher, where you can ask it to notify you when the fares go to a certain level. Also, check www.usairways.com - it sometimes posts good e-specials.


Re London in the spring: I went to Paris last fall (early October) and the weather was great. Only rained one day, and I managed to be under cover whenever it let loose. How would London be in the fall? I haven't made it my New Year's resolution, but it's on my radar screen. Thanks for all the good info!

The Flight Crew: London should be nice in the fall--the earlier in the fall the better, right after kids go back to school.


Laurel, Md.: I'm planning my first Caribbean cruise as a honeymoon. Know almost nothing about cruises except:

Certain local merchants in the destination ports (tour operators, rum retailers, etc) have deals with the ship to promote their products to the passengers. But other merchants who don't have the same arrangements with the cruise line offer the same products and services at better prices.

Can you point out the best resources for a neophyte to find these "hidden gems?" Our principal stops are Aruba, Barbados and St. Thomas.

The Flight Crew: Your best bet is probably to get away from the blocks right in front of the cruise port. Anyone else have more specific ideas?


Washington, D.C.: I was so happy to see your article on Uganda this Sunday, as I'm headed there in March. How would you recommend I carry money? Dollars? Travelers' checks? No ATMs, correct? Most of the time I'll be in a pretty remote little town, but I'm very much looking forward to our day in Jinja and our day in Kampala. Any inside tips you didn't print?

The Flight Crew: Our Uganda writer isn't here, so I'm answering this in good faith but am by no means the final word on all things Ugandan. The Uganda Tourist Board says that there are Forex Bureaus all over the urban areas (particularly in Kampala) and they can exchange US Dollars for Uganda shillings (Ush)with no problem; Traveler's Cheques are also acceptable although none of us here seem to use them any more. I wouldn't bet on ATMs outside of Kampala, and wouldn't depend on having them there, either. The board also points out that denominations smaller than US$50 are exchanged at a less-than-favorable rate, so if you do use TC perhaps getting them in $50 or $100 denominations would be best. Have an awesome time!
--Anne


For the Myrtle Beach-bound traveler: You're so lucky! This is the off season, so everything is reasonable. Try www.myrtlebeach.com for accommodations. I found a 2-bedroom oceanview condo for $69 per night. I've enjoyed the Sands Resorts. If all you need is a standard double, it should be dirt cheap. Myrtle is full of honky-tonk, so if you want tranquility, stay at the northern or southern end. Don't miss Brookgreen Gardens (sculpture garden) and Drunken Jack's Restaurant (hush puppies with honey butter), both in Murrell's Inlet.

The Flight Crew: Great stuff...thanks.


USVI Duty free shopping: So I have never been to the Virgin Islands, but I am going there on a cruise. Given the fact that the cruise ships don't stop all that long it seems like doing some shopping might be fun, but if all of the shopping is tacky tourist junk then I don't think it would be all that interesting. Are there any good deals to be had on nice things--particularly in St. Thomas, if that makes a difference. Or should I plan to avoid it all together?

The Flight Crew: personally, I'd enjoy the islands and leave the shopping for home, except for maybe some rum and a bottle of sauce. but that's just one person's opinion. enjoy the sights and beaches.(cindy)


for going to Aruba: You must have dinner at Madame Janette's the food is amazing.

The Flight Crew: thanks


The Flight Crew: Sottili here: To the clickster looking for info on disabled travel - I wrote the following column last year (with two follow-ups). Hope this helps.....


I would appreciate the names of travel agencies that handle group tours for disabled individuals.

Virginia Esposito

Kensington

Many travel agencies and tour operators specialize in trips for the mobility impaired, including:

* Accessible Journeys (800-846-4537, www.disabilitytravel.com), "exclusively for slow walkers, wheelchair travelers, their families and their friends," with trips in the United States, Europe, Africa, India, Nepal and Australia.

* Discovery Hills Travel (800-750-5975, www.discoveryhillstravel.com), which books trips with companies that provide accessible vacations, including Access Tours, with tours throughout the western United States; Chalfont Line, which offers bus tours of Europe and South Africa; Undiscovered Britain, specializing in the United Kingdom; and Stagecoach Trails, a barrier-free dude ranch.

* Neverland Adventures (800-717-8226, www.neverland-adventures.com), which offers tours to New Zealand and Australia.

* Nautilus Tours and Cruises (800-797-6004, www.nautilustours.com), which offers custom trips and tours to Europe, Alaska and Mexico.

* Flying Wheels Travel (507-451-5005, www.flyingwheelstravel.com), with cruises and trips to Europe, Australia and South Africa.

* Rollaround Travel (866-382-8728, www.rollaround.org), a new company that specializes in England.

* Eco-Adventure International (888-710-WILD, www.eaiadventure.com), which offers exotic vacations, including African safaris.

* Wilderness Inquiry (800-728-0719, www.wildernessinquiry.org), which offers outdoor adventures for all, including the disabled.

Information sources include Access-Able Travel Source (303-232-2979, www.access-able.com) and Gimp on the Go (www.gimponthego.com), designed by a Bethesda quadriplegic.

Roberta Schwartz of the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) wants to add her organization to the list of groups that can help disabled travelers [Travel Q&A, April 21]. "We provide education and information for both the travel industry and consumers," Schwartz said. Info: 212-447-7284, www.sath.org.
Ann Litt wants to add her Philadelphia firm to the list of travel agencies specializing in disabled travel (Travel Q&A, April 21). "Undiscovered Britain & Ireland has been specializing in travel for people with all degrees of mobility problems for many years," she said. "We do independent trip planning as well as small group tours." Info: 215-969-0542, www.undiscoveredbritain.com.


Another security check issue: Flew on United over the holidays. Our luggage was delay, arrived a few hours after we did. We drove to where we were staying, and opened our luggage to the most dreadful bath and body type scent you could ever imagine. Some sort of horrid berry smelling oil had been spilled all over our clothes inside the luggage. No exterior damage, no broken glass, no empty container, no berry smelling oil in luggage before we left home. United informed us that they were not responsible for the contents of the bag -- only exterior damage. Is this policy changing any time soon? It seems that with the inability to lock our luggage, and the airline's ability to open luggage at will for security checks it has to change.

The Flight Crew: That is really weird. As to policy, I think there is no way it's going to get better. It's hard to pin things on the airlines when it might have been security, and vice versa, so no one is going to be stepping up to the plate any day soon. (cindy)


London Hotels: Hi everyone, I'm looking for a recommendation for a good hotel in London, somewhere around Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park or Covent Garden. Any suggestions?

The Flight Crew: Ten minutes to help!


Train Travel in Europe: I am going to be in Geneva in March and want to take the train to Paris one-way. It's difficult to figure out how to get the ticket for the TGV. The TGV web site won't give fares unless you actually book the ticket, but I'd like to know how much it costs first.

I've come across RailEurope. Are they reliable? Do they actually deliver a ticket in the U.S.? Or is there a better way to do this? I was thinking of just going to the Geneva train station a few days before and buying a ticket.

Thanks!

The Flight Crew: We believe RailEurope to be reliable.


Washington, D.C.: Hi! A group of my friends all single and in our mid-20s want to go on a cruise this spring for about a week. Does anyone have any recommendations for cruises aimed at a younger crowd? We would like to find a ship with fewer elderly people and families and more 20-somethings. Thanks for your help!

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Windjammer has a rep for being geared to young people. Go to www.windjammercruises.com.


More on S.D.: Vacationed twice in the Mount Rushmore area as a child. (Friends of my dad were caretakers for a summer camp so we got to stay in a gorgeous location.)

In addition to the things already mentioned, I remember touring Wind Cave National Park, just south of Custer, and we also went on a tour of a silver mine that was nearby. Not sure of the name or if there are still tours but we did the cave and mining trip in a single day.

And, as a fun thing, when driving toward Mount Rushmore through the area known as "The Needles," there is a place where you can see George Washington's profile. We stopped to take touristy pictures because if you climb up on the rocks a little ways, you can make it look like you are nose-to-nose with George.

The Flight Crew: If ever a wiz there was. These are wonderful suggestions...thanks for helping us out.


Bethesda, Md.: Here's the deal: Dreaming of an August vacation with my sweetie high in the Canadian Rockies, imagining a cozy cabin -- not too primitive, i.e. electricity and an access road required -- nestled in the woods. Most of the accommodations in the Banff-Jasper axis seem to run more towards appallingly overpriced palaces and motels in town, but I'm looking for a place with more character and a bit more of an isolated feel. Any ideas or recommendations?

The Flight Crew: There are tons of the kinds of places you seek. Unfortunately, time is passnig too quickly for me to search, and I can't remember offhand, but go to www.google.com and put in canadian rockies and banff, and tourism, then click on the local tourism office. I was going to do last summer a big tepee, or tent with screened porch and deck, that was more like a cabin than a tent. Plans got cancelled, but you shouldn't have a problem finding what you want with help of the local tourist office.


Arlington, Va.: You mentioned Atlantis on Paradise Island -- don't stay there, stay across the street at the Comfort Suites. Guests at the Comfort Suites have full privileges at Atlantis. The rooms at the Comfort Suites are much, much more reasonable. Also, don't eat at Atlantis if you can help it. $40-plus for a steak?!

We ate at two local restaurants -- Anthony's Caribbean was right across the street from Comfort Suites and Atlantis, and the Blue Marlin was a block further. Not great, but good and way better than paying the outrageous food prices at Atlantis. The only meals we had at Atlantis were lunch ($11 for a salad -- expensive but doable).

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Comfort Suites is a good cheaper alternative. And yes, food is expensive at Atlantis. Whenever you go to a megaresort that isn't all-inclusive, the price really mushrooms (my pet peeve is the $12 banana boat rides).


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Cindy. My sister and I took a trip on the Paradise last March. We did enjoy the smoke-free environment but heard that the Paradise wasn't doing very well--they were having trouble filling the ship. From your article, which was quite funny, it sounds like things have turned around. Hopefully some of the other cruise lines will follow suit. I don't think I'll be doing another cruise on Carnival--we found that they seem to attract a lot of college students (it also could've been the time of year that we went) which gave the place a bit of a frat party feel. It probably didn't help that we were seated with a bunch of frat boys at dinner. I have to agree that the entertainment wasn't as bad as I feared it would be. Thanks for the great article.

The Flight Crew: Thank you. And it must vary by week. We didnt' have a single frat age kid. In fact, people tended to be on the much older side.


Alexandria, Va.: My parents are planning on going to the United Arab Emirates during late February (for my dad's job). My mom is really excited about this opportunity, since she's never been to such a different locale before. Anyway, I know the UAE are usually very safe, but what if the war breaks out during their stay? Are there any precautions that they should take?

The Flight Crew: Don't know what the war will bring. I'd check with the state department (www.travel.state.gov) and maybe keep in touch with the canadian embassy should there be any street demonstrations. cindy


Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to say that I'm impressed with Qantas after two weeks of flying them to, from, and around Australia. No real problems, a good system for distributing decent food quickly on domestic flights (a box with a snack and water box, carried down the aisle in stacks -- no carts, and when you're done, you put all the trash in the box and hand it back to them) -- and they made good on a NASTY mistake that wasn't their fault!

Orbitz put my son -- coming back separately -- on a return flight from Sydney to Honolulu that only flies once a week -- on a day when it didn't fly. (The tickets were booked last March.) He flew on the first half of the ticket -- but when we got to the airport for his return flight -- no flight. They put him on Air Canada's overbooked Sydney to Honolulu flight an hour and a half after we got there -- and Air Canada even made sure he got a seat, once they found out he needed to be back for the first day of school.

Orbitz sort of apologized when I called them about the error (after we got home), but seemed to be mostly relieved that Qantas made them whole. (I think Qantas felt someone should have noticed that the return flight was missing, since his visa required a return flight.) This is the first problem I've had with Orbitz -- I've used them five or six times.

The Flight Crew: Thanks


Re: Heathrow to hotel: But the Heathrow Express is 11 pounds each for two adults. Then we still have to take a cab from Paddington all the way to the Tower of London. Aren't we then approaching the price of cab fare straight from the airport? Does anyone know how much we could expect to pay from Paddington to the Tower?!

The Flight Crew: Excellent point...I wanted to point that out but lost myself in the moment. For a lot of people, that $18 one-way fare on the Express will be much better spent on food, theater tickets, booze, attractions--then you have to grab a cab anyway from the station. Unfortunately, I can't quote you the cab price, but maybe somebody out there can...

-john


Alexandria, Va.: Well here is a discouraging word. The Inn at Perry Cabin was not nice to us. We paid about $700 a night for a delux suite (celebrating the end of a jobless stretch). The furniture's veneer was peeling off and the wordrobe latch was broken. They even tacked on $2.50 for service charge for the "complementary" afternoon tea. Even on our arrival day which was too late for the tea! Talk about tacky. When you charge $700 a night for the room it's amazing that they'd stoop to adding a measly $2.50. The breakfast was horrid and way overpriced as well. Boo to the Inn at Perry Cabin.

The Flight Crew: Boo, indeed. Thanks for the report, Al.


London Bound: Good afternoon, Flight Crew! My friend and I are going to London over the long holiday weekend. I've been there twice before (she's been there once), but we have never been to Soho. Is it all it's cracked up to be? Suggestions on places to go in Soho? Clubs to not miss/avoid?

Thanks!

The Flight Crew: I don't have any particular places in mind, but Soho is lots of fun, and if you've been to London twice before and not seen the area at night yet, I say it's high time! (of course, there's so much to see in London that you could go fifty times and still miss areas, but if you've been hearing about it and your friend might be interested, why not go?) Check out TimeOut London once you get there for the up-to-the-minute hotspots.
-Anne


Bethesda, Md.: Hope I make it! Great article on Uganda in this Sunday's travel section. I just wanted to share a few of my own observations from being there in November for business. Always hire a driver. There are no road rules in Uganda and a reputable, native driver is an immense help. I would also like to echo the thought that Nairobi, Kenya is now dangerous (see the recent State Dept. warning) and that the Ugandan people are some of the most friendly and hospitable I've ever met. That article makes me want to go back tomorrow.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the insider tips, Bethesda!


San Francisco, Calif.: I am going to a wedding in August in Clausthal-Zellerfeld (tiny town in Germany, which is outside of Goslar, which is outside of Hannover). I would also like to go to Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Which city would I find the cheapest fares to? Any tips on making this happen?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Of those three places, Amsterdam is usually the cheapest to get to because there are more flights to Amsterdam. Hannover is going to be most expensive. Id try a consolidator, especially if you're leaving from San Francisco. Try flights.com or autoeurope.com.


Washington, D.C.: Hi. I'm visiting New Orleans for the first time this upcoming weekend, and I was hoping you could point me toward the "don't miss" sights/attractions, etc. Also, I was hoping to catch some live jazz, but I have no clue where to look for it. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Well of course the old quarter. And take the streetcar up Charles to gawk at the houses and maybe stop for a meal along the route. If antiques are your thing, there are loads of shops. I love the muffalettos at the Central market. You can find music all over the place. Contact the tourism bureau for special shows while you are there.


Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for taking my question.

We're going to camp in Colorado this July. We need to ship some gear out there. Two types: bulky and somewhat fragile. Bulky sleeping bags, and fragile lanterns and cook stove. How should these be shipped?

The Flight Crew: I think UPS should be able to do the job. Check post office rates to see if they can do better.


Annapolis, Md.: Inn at Perry Cabin; I was in St. Michaels three weeks ago and the new owners of the Inn are in the process of quadrupling the physical buildings and doubling the rooms available. It was also slated to close for 3 months starting the 1st of January. It no longer looks like the quaint Inn it once was!

The Flight Crew: DOUBLE boo, Ann. Okay, that may have been a bum suggestion.


Columbia, S.C.: Re: Rail Europe and TGV travel. Rail Europe is reliable, but you will pay more through them than you would if you waited until you got to Europe. The high speed trains, however, tend to book more quickly than other trains. If you need to be somewhere at a specific time, or if you are travelling on a weekend or on a holiday, it might be best to go ahead and order through Rail Europe (they will send you the tickets in the mail). If you are a bit flexible, I would wait until you got there and just purchase the ticket right at the train station -- you'll probably save 15-20 percent.

The Flight Crew: Wait--this just in. But that really is the real end.


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