Talk about Travel

Oct 07, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Hello, friends and fellow travelers. It's a rainy, fairly quiet Monday here in D.C. Hope you had some time to sit down this weekend with our stories. If not, you should take a bit of time to read about game season in London and one writer's experience returning to Dublin's Trinity College nearly 40 years after studying there. Let's embrace the nostalgia. Tell us your favorite stories of returning to your college -- poignant, surprising, hilarious. Best answer gets the prize.

And without further ado...

We want to charter a private boat in the Carribean this summer. Extended family of 8, ranging in age from 15-75. I have looked at vrbo.com. Are there travel companies that specialize in this? Any suggestions appreciated.

My parents often charter saiboats through the Moorings. Depending on your sailing skills, you can bareboat or hire a captain and cook. Itineraries start from various islands, such as Tortola, Grenada,  St. Lucia and St. Martin.   Sun Yacht Charters and Sunsail are also well-known companies in the field. You can also charter a Freedom or Nautor's Swan (my dream boat!), if you prefer a certain make of boat.

I don't know if I would recommend renting a boat through an individual. There are way too many liabilities and potential risks involved. A reputable charter company offers a greater safety net if something goes awry, and its agents can help with planning, provisioning and charting your course.

I'll be traveling to Copenhagen over the week of Thanksgiving with my 19 year old son (who's only used to Caribbean and Mexican vacations), two friends from childhood, their 23 year old son, and their 20 year old daughter who's doing a study abroad program there this semester. I'd really like help with planning a full itinerary for most of the days, so that we don't miss anything. We know we want to do a day trip to Malmo. I'd also like help with restaurants. My son and I are foodies, the others, not so much. We're staying near the university at the Danmark Hotel. Thanks so much for your help.

Well, you know that the best (supposedly) restaurant in the world -- Noma -- is right there in the capital of Denmark. Of course, you have to book a year in advance, or something, so I wouldn't send you there, but maybe the chatters have good suggestions for restaurants.

And we're not really travel agents here :-), so we can't plan a day-by-day itinerary for you, but here are some suggestions of things to do in Copenhagen and environs:

Visit: Tivoli Gardens, the world's second oldest amusement park, or Bakken, supposedly the oldest; Rosenborg Castle and grounds; the Little Mermaid statue; Christiania, the city's hippie enclave (see this story we did on it); the National Museum and the National Gallery; the Open Air Museum just north of town; the Royal Reception Rooms and Stables at Christiansborg Palace (the medieval ruins beneath the palace, alas, are apparently closed until next year); the Botanical Garden; the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde; Kronborg Castle in Elsinore (remember Elsinore from "Hamlet"?); the Carlsberg brewery in Carlsberg; Frederiksborg Palace in Hillerod.

You can go shopping along Stroget, the long pedestrian street in the city center. And Nyhavn, the renovated old port area, has lots of great restaurants, though alas I can't recommend any specific ones. Perhaps you can, chatters?

Hello, I was at Seattle airport a few days ago and entered the line showed by ID. A TSA agent then told me I could keep on my shoes and coat and keep my liquids in my bag. Another TSA agent swabbed both my palms and did a reading that took a few seconds. I showed my ID again and went through the regular long used metal detector with shoes and jacket on! This was very fast and not nearly as invasive as the normal pat down as I always opt out of the body scanner. I hope this becomes a new method. Bonus is the TSA agent stacking bins as I excited pointed me to a place with awesome smoked salmon chowder.

Looks like you may have gone through the Pre-Check line. Isn't it nice? That's the way airport security should be -- hassle-free. For what it's worth, I think the TSA is working on ways to send most of us through that kind of line in the future. Getting there is the difficult part.

Editor Joe, who's on book tour this week, said he had this experience too recently and was told it was a kind of experiment. We'd check with our usual TSA contact (assuming we'd even be able to be told anything...), but, um, she's been fuloughed.

I did my BS at GW. So the best story I can come up with is about how easy it is to go back to campus but how shocking it is how much has changed in the 2 weeks since I was last there!

Funny!

Can you give us any advice about a Carribean/Panama cruise overg Christmas and maybe even New Year. 10-14 days from Baltimore or Florida?

Only two possibilities out of Baltimore -- a seven-night Carnival cruise to the Bahamas departing Dec. 22 and a seven-night Royal Caribbean cruise to the Eastern Caribbean departing Dec. 24. Out of Florida, your choices expand quite a bit. Ships leave daily from ports such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami. For example, the Emerald Princess departs Fort Lauderdale on a 10-day Caribbean cruise on Dec. 19.  If you want something upscale, the Regent Seven Seas Navigator leaves Miami on Dec. 23 for a 12-night Caribbean cruise. There are several Web sites that list cruise schedules, where you can start your research. I like  Cruise Timetables.  

because I fall for it regularly. On this page.  Near the bottom, it lists the travel chat as beginning at noon. Every once in a while I forget and fall for it. Thanks!

Oh, my, thanks for pointing that out. It's fixed now.

to all Feds: I'm leaving on a weeklong cruise up the Rhine and I suggest you do the same or at least similar, this isn't going to be fixed anytime. Auf wiedersehen.

Well, don't rub it in our faces or anything.

I want to go to the Galapagos next year, but I don't know where to start. When is the best season? Can any chatters recommend tour operators. I don't need luxury accomodations and I'm willing to do a lot of walking.

Galapagos is a year-round destination. Peak season is from June through early September and over the winter holidays. Certain creatures prefer certain seasons, such as albatross (June-December) and mating blue-footed boobies (June and July).

The park sets  limits on tourist numbers to protect the ecosystem, so boats fill up fast. The park also rotates islands to give the critters a break from tourists. If you have your heart set on specific islands, check cruise itineraries to be sure the boat includes those stops. The Galapagos Conservancy is a great source of info.

I always encourage people to cruise with an operator with serious eco-cred. Also choose a smaller boat for a more intimate experience. The conservancy offers an annual trip, though according to its Web site, the 2014 trip is sold out. Spaces remain for June 2015.  International Expeditions, a member of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, organizes trips and extols sound conservation practices. For other reputable companies, check the association's member listing online.

You won't do lots of walking, since the islands are fairly small and you must stay on the pathways. However, you will swim tons, surrounded by playful sea lions and sea turtles.

 

I attended the large university in my hometown, and lived there for a few years after graduation. After moving cross-country I still returned to visit family there every couple of years over the decades, so there were rarely any great surprises, mostly just the gradual closing of favorite restaurants and shops, replaced by new ones less to my tastes. The one special occasion was eight years ago, just after I'd changed careers, when I had the opportunity to attend a scholarly conference in my new field (which I love, as I've finally "found myself"!). I'm not delusional, really, but I felt like almost like some kind of conquering hero, striding the campus as a special guest, instead of just as a superannuated former student.

Yes, you've made it!

My husband is an air traffic controller, considered an essential employee, however all leave is considered canceled. We have a trip to Baltimore scheduled for the end of the month that may need to be canceled if the shutdown continues. Have you heard of any airlines doing anything to help out employees affected by the shutdown? I'm worried that we will be unable to take the trip, but still be stuck paying for tickets. They are nonrefundable tickets from Southwest, if it matters.

Southwest has one of the most liberal policies for cancelling a trip. You just need to use the tickets within the next year, and you won't be charged a change fee (you will be charged, however, for any change in fare). I have not heard of any airline loosening its refund/change policies due to the federal shutdown. 

My husband and I are in our 20s and are going to be visiting relatives in Orlando, Fl for Christmas. We would like to spend one day at Disney World (or Universal Studios). What park would you recommend that we go to? Or do you recommend Universal over Disney? My husband thinks Disney World is just for kids, but I've heard a lot of adults enjoy going too....

If Disney is just for kids, then I am just a very big kid! Seriously, though, I love Disney -- here's my report from last year, when my husband and I went right around Christmas.

My typical answer for anyone with just one day is to do the Magic Kingdom, because it is the quintessential Disney experience. It's very nicely decorated for the holidays, and if you stay into the evening, as we did, it feels -- yes -- magical, especially when they make it "snow." But if your husband is skeptical, Epcot is also fantastic, and a little more grown-up. It also has great holiday decorations, and you can get a bit of an international flair throughout World Showcase.

I appreciate the concern about privacy and intrusiveness to be in one or more TSA program. However, all of the information they ask for is already 'out there' about you, I think all really they are doing is bringing it together, probably running algorithms against it for exceptions, and making a decision. Many many of us have been fingerprinted for various reasons, have our pictures taken more times than we know, so this is one more. And I do like the reality that being in one or more program does not guarantee easier screening - they have to be careful. The benefits outweigh the costs.

If the TSA has that information, then by all means it should use it to screen us in a smarter way. But some air travelers are concerned with the idea of having to pay more for the privilege of giving the government additional private information about us, while everyone else has to stand in a long line. They believe it sets a dangerous precedent. I think the concerns are valid, and hope the TSA listens to them before we end up with "trusted passenger" cars on the train or "trusted driver" lanes on the road.

We have an 8:30 am flight from Dulles on a Tuesday morning and the most direct route from our house in Manassas is straight up Route 28. What can we expect for traffic and when should we leave our house? We plan to park at the airport. (I realize I should have asked Dr. Gridlock but I missed his chat.)

Let's work backwards. You need to be at the airport by at least 7:30 (if traveling domestic), though security can be brutal, so maybe 7 is better. You need time to park and catch the shuttle (about 20 minutes). Without traffic, the drive should take a half-hour. So maybe give yourseld an extra 30 minutes to be safe. (If it helps, check the traffic report the morning before your departure.) That brings us to departure time of 5:40-ish.

Darn, I am sorry I missed the live chat! About 8 years ago, my husband and I took the train from London to Glasgow. The other occupants of the train car were a French rugby team!!! One of their group (perhaps a coach) unzipped a hog-sized, sturdy duffel bag--full of French wine! The group started pulling corks and passing bottles around. We spoke no French other than "Oui, oui!" so we were swigging right along with them--and swigging and swigging! It was a wonderful time and wonderful wine! I remember disembarking and exiting the train station into a dark and rainy Glasgow, but I really have no recollection of getting to our hotel or checking in. I don't know how the team sobered up enough to play rugby!

Thanks for sharing, per last week's theme. Cheers.

We recently stayed at the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown where we were basically confined indoors due to the excessive smoking on the balconies that is permitted. I posted a review on Trip Advisor. I received the following reply from the owners: I am sorry that others habits ruined your vacation. We follow the laws of the land, and have made the property non-smoking for all indoor areas. We find it rare that guests smoke excessively on the balconies, but again I am sorry that you were disturbed by the actions of other guests. As laws progress to prohibit smoking we will happily comply, yet for now we will adhere to and follow the laws as designated by our government / health department. We hope to be able to welcome you back in the near future. My question is are the owners required by law to allow smoking on their private property? Also, do you think this is standard policy for most hotels?

That's a difficult question to answer. Hotels are regulated at the state level, so you would have to check the West Virginia lodging statutes to find out if a property is required to allow guests to smoke on the balcony. My best guess is that the answer is "no." A hotel can ban smoking wherever it wants, even if the state allows it, but I'd have to do some research before giving you a definitive answer. I would always check with a hotel to make sure it banned smoking everywhere if you wanted to avoid cigarette smoke.

Hi Travel Gurus -- My mother is turning 60 this year. Originally, the plan was to take a big family vacation somewhere (we were thinking St. Barths or St. John's or even Europe), but b/c of work and other life obligations, it's been postponed until spring 2014. However, we don't want our mom's big bday to fall through the cracks so we're looking to go somewhere for a quick long weekend. There will 8 adults and two children (3 years old and 10 months), and we'll be traveling from DC and the Boston area. Looking for a direct (and not too long) flight somewhere with good food, decent weather, fun things to do for the adults, but also where the kids won't feel out of place. New Orleans comes to mind, but wanted to see if you had any other suggestions?

Charleston is another possibility. And Orlando, of course. Sounds like we're talking more fall/winter travel, but if it's not too deep into the cold season, Chicago, Cleveland and Montreal or Quebec City would also be good for the whole family.

Hello WP travel team! I am a travel addict, and Google recently took away my favorite tool for searching flights. It used to be that you could enter "direct flights Beijing" and google would list all the airlines that fly non-stop to Beijing and from what points of origin. Even the small, foreign budget airlines that don't appear on Kayak. This was absolutely invaluable for me in regards to planning trips and routes and saving money. I don't know if you used to do this too, but now its been mostly taken away. It only works for obscure smaller airports. Like if you search for Chiang Mai (a small city in Thailand) then it works, but not for Bangkok BKK. Is there any other search tool or internet site that you know of that will do the same thing? Also, your group opinion on the cheapest day of the week to fly and the cheapest day of the week to buy tickets. International and domestic. Thanks! 

I never did use that tool, but I think it's still working on some larger routes. I tried London and Washington, and it worked. Many airport Web sites also list their nonstop flights. May take a little longer to research, but effective. Quickairlink lists nonstop flights for domestic U.S. travel. As for best times to travel, for domestic flights, it's usually cheaper to fly Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. For international flights, depends on length of stay, as Saturday night minimum is often required.  Several studies have been done re: best day to buy, but they often contradict one another. I have noticed that many airfare sales are announced on Tuesday. 

Seven senior family members (60s to 70s) are planning a trip to Hawaii from New York in May 2014 for approximately 12 days. Do you suggest we make our own land/air arrangements to visit several islands, or take the inter-island cruise. If we do not take the cruise, which islands would you suggest and for what duration of time. Also, can you suggest some "must-see" attractions in Hawaii? I live in New York, so we only see your column in "The Newsday." Thank you so much.

I started my career at Newsday  -- glad it is carrying excerpts from our chat. Have you tried asking around for a good travel agent? When you have a group traveling on a complex itinerary, an agent can sometimes ease the planning stress. If you don't know of one, try searching for a Hawaiian travel specialist via the Hawaiian tourism site.  Norwegian's Pride of America does an interisland cruise, but if you take that, you won't be able to decide how long to stay on each island: It's a seven-day cruise that stops at four islands.  

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Italy in early March. After Rome and Florence we would like to splurge for one night at a unique place on the coast or in the countryside before driving to Siena and other areas in Tuscanny. What town and/or accomodations would you suggest?

You might try something in the Maremma region, which is popular among Italians in the know and the country's beautiful people, but still rather undiscovered by tourists. The beaches are beautiful and unspoiled. You could stay in a lovely old villa like the Villa Bengodi in Fonteblanda, or there are many great boutique hotels. There's also the Cinque Terre, five beautiful coastal villages that have come roaring back after some awful floods a couple of years ago. Chatters, what do you suggest?

In August 2014 want to exchange our house with one near Athlone Co Westmeath Ireland. I've joined a couple of Exchange Groups but with little success. Any ideas?

Hmm. Don't have much experience with international exchanges. Let's ask the chatters whether they have any thoughts. Folks?

We purchased airfare about two months ago, for around $1100 per ticket. Now today I see prices have fallen to the $850 to $900 range. Will United do anything for us? The flights are in January 2014.

United, like most other legacy airlines, charges a $200 change fee and any fare differential for domestic tickets. Something tells me the fee will eat up most of your fare reduction, but you should call to find out if it will adjust your fare. You may want to review United's low fare "guarantee" before calling.

This past weekend, my ziploc bag of toiletries stayed in my car all day while I was out on a bicycle tour. When it came time to take a shower, my travel-size deodorant had melted in my hot car. Thank goodness for zip-lock bags. Are there any deodorants that don't melt in the heat?

I would look for a gel deodorant, since they're already in quasi-liquid form. Lots of brands have them.

My husband and I will be in London on New Years' Eve and New Years' Day. Ideas of what goes on? What's open New Years' Day? New Years' Eve dinner? Our son will be close to 15, our daughter is 13.

Here's a little info from the London tourism site. Fireworks over the Thames sound pretty spectacular, as does the New Year's Day parade. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park could be fun too. And I think it would be so cool to ice skate at the Tower of London. And you should be able to see a lot of the other regular attractions as well.

We will have a 24-hour layover in Santiago in December. What should we be sure to see/do? Thanks.

Santiago tips, anyone?

Shave off 12 hours and you can find some advice in this 36 Hours in Santiago from That Other Paper.

Travel Gurus -- I am looking to book flights for family travel on Lufthansa using my United miles. The issue... when you book a flight on a Lufthansa flight through United's reservation system, you are not allowed to request advance seat assignment and have to reserve seats at check in (even though advance seat assignment is available on Lufthansa). Why is this a problem? Traveling with the spouse and a three year old so we want to be certain that we get three seats together. My theory is that I can book the flight through UA, get a Lufthansa reservation number, and then access the reservation through Lufthansa's website and request seats. Of course my uneducated theory isn't good enough for an anxious spouse. I turn to your collective wisdom to confirm or deny my theory or give me other suggestions! Thank you!!

Your theory may work, but there are no guarantees you'll be able to get advance seats. I recently booked two tickets on Lufthansa using different credit cards, but my mom and I wanted to travel together. The site allowed me to pick my seats, but would not allow my mother to book  because her ticket cost considerably less than mine (my return was earlier). Airlines often hold back seat assignments so they can reward those who are paying last-minute big bucks with better seats. In our case, it ended well, as we got to the airport early,  they found us seats together and booked her seat then for the return flight.  But we were prepared to sit separately. 

Two things stand out: 1) I was invited to talk to juniors/seniors about my career and how I got there (!) 2) Everything was different but still exactly the same. My professors were still there and the students even looked the same, except for faces. It was kind of weird to see that things had moved on some with-out me. It was like driving past the house you grew up in, with a different family in it.

any suggestions for writing to ask for reimbursement? I booked the air fare on my own and begged them to pick me up form the airport, as I knew there would be a language problem and probable rip off. They suggested I simply hand a taxi driver the name written on paper and that there would be no problem. Well....I got taken for about $100 (not to mention dropped in a deserted dirt parking lot). Thanks.

Can you give us more info? Where were you and what was the trip? Did the operator say they would cover transfers?

My husband and I are looking to take a week in Iceland next summer over a holiday week. How far in advance should we plan to book airfare and hotels? Also, do you have any recommendations on where to stay and must-see adventures on the island?

Book at least airfare as soon as you see something you like and can afford, although if you're flying out of Washington, nonstop fares on Icelandair are almost always reasonable. Don't wait too long on hotels, because summer is a popular travel season there. Here's our most recent story on Reykjavik, complete with a few hotel recommendations. Other attractions: the Blue Lagoon, driving the Ring Road. Iceland travelers, we know you're out there -- help this prospective one out!

Looking to make our first trip with the 16 month old in January. Hoping for something beachy, any areas you can suggest where it will be warm enough?

My sister, who has two little ones, always tells me that as long as the hotel has a pool, the kid(s) don't care where you are. (Case in point: They took them to Holyoke, Mass., and had a ball -- in the hotel pool). However, the parents need more than a hotel pool.

If you are limited on time, look for a nonstop flight, such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa. From Tampa, you can cross the bridge and go to St. Petersburg, which has lovely white-sand beaches. (Note: Florida can experience a  cold snap in the winter.) Airtran and US Airways also fly nonstop to Nassau, and the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island makes kids and adults  squeal alike. (The resort currently has amazing winter deals.)

If you have more time, I recommend Puerto Rico. You can stay in Old San Juan or venture west to smaller beach towns.

(Note: Florida can experience a  cold snap in the winter.)

My husband and I are traveling to Tokyo 12/16 to visit our son and his girlfriend. We plan to all meet in Tokyo and take the train (Japan Railways) and visit Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Can you tell me the best train to take? In addition, we plan to head back to Tokyo on the following Sunday to fly to Okinawa where my son lives to spend Christmas. Plus we would like to see Iwo Jima, how do we set a tour up? Any recommendations on where to sleep as we tour mainland countryside. Any and all tips are welcomed. Where do you recommend we get our currency for Japan prior to arriving there? Thank you

Sorry, Joe is out again! Chatters, any insight? I would also recommend giving the Japan National Tourism Organization a call. They have a New York office: 212-757-5640.

I have a one way ticket to Paris on UAL. UAL says I may be denied boarding because I have no return ticket. I am unable to make definite arrangements to return to the US at present and do not want an open jaw ticket because I plan to take a military space available flight back to the US. The French Embassy in DC stated they will let me enter the country with no problem as long as I depart the Schengen region in 90 days. The TSA says they have no objection. Can UAL deny me boarding?

The TSA will let you through security if the name on your passport matches the name on your ticket, and you're screened by one of its agents. United's responsibility is to make sure you have a valid ticket and are complying with all visa and passport requiremenets. I have never heard of someone being turned away because of a lack of return ticket. That said, there may be more to this than meets the eye. I would be happy to ask United about this. Here's my email address.

My husband and I are going to Scottsdale for a wedding, and we have 3 days to ourselves with no kids for the first time in a long time. We would love to do beautiful outdoor activities and see great scenery. Should we stick to the Phoenix/ Scottsdale area or move around? We were thinking about going to Sedona -- what do you think? Thanks so much for your help.

Sedona's beautiful and a good idea. It's about two hours from Scottsdale. But what about the Grand Canyon, too? It's only three hours away, and you have three days.

I am not usually one to complain especially pubilcly or ask for discounts for poor service. I am seek advice about doing just that. Over the weekend my husband and I rented a house in New England. All was well until we returned to the rental house after dinner one night to discover there was no water, not even a trickle. We called the owner who lives in the Midwest to be told the handyman was out of town but that she would send the cleaning person. The cleaning person, her boyfriend and 4 month old showed up at about 11:00 PM. I played with the baby (a delight for me) while they tried to fix the water. Alas no luck. The next day we called the owner again. She sent us to the neighbor's to shower but we needed to go right away as the neighbor had to be somewhere. She then told us repair people would be there at some point. We left for the day and there was water when we got back that evening. Am I wrong to think I should not be paying for the night without water? Or at least a sincere apology from the owner. She did not seem to think this was a big deal or really a problem at all. And I thought it was truly off putting. Am I right to mention this if I do a review on the HomeAway webiste?

Of course you have the right to mention it in a review.  But I would email or call the owner first and request some money back. She definitely should have already contacted you. Since you did stay and use the facilities, it may be a bit much to ask for a full refund, but I would think it is in the owner's best interests to make it good.  A bad review can adversely affect an owner, especially if the criticism is written in a fair and balanced manner.   

I'm coming to DC next week and was planning to do some hiking in the DC/MD/VA area, but with the government shutdown I guess I need to make sure I'm looking at state, not national parks. Any ideas on good hiking spots that will definitely be open? And I'm looking for a hotel recommendation too, somewhere mid-range. Thanks!

I really like Sky Meadows State Park in Paris, Va. The Ashby Inn is lovely and adjacent to the park -- rooms start at $165 on weekdays. There are chain hotel options in nearby Front Royal, as well as the charming Lackawanna Bed & Breakfast. Plenty of choices in and around Winchester, too. I'd look into the George Washington.

My husband and I flew into Seattle a day before the rest of the family for Christmas. On a layover, we decided that we wouldn't stay in Seattle, but book a car & drive north to Bellingham for the night, where I went to college. Our spur-of-the-moment booking led us to a hotel on the water, where we saw a wedding party releasing Chinese lanterns. The next day (Christmas Eve), we drove around campus and climbed a tower overlooking the bay. I'd found the trees had grown to obscure the view I remembered. Most surprising: the doors to the performing arts center were unlocked. We explored all the classrooms and rehearsal rooms where I spent my undergrad years. To top it off: gorgeous, clear weather as we took the scenic drive back. We stopped at every vantage point and got terrific sunset photos.

Sounds lovely.

Work takes me back to Chicago (where I went to college) every few years. I like seeing what's changed (new buildings, the students looking younger and younger) and what's the same (the pizza, the same campus bars). The funniest thing that happened was calling for a cab to meet me at a campus building and I was convinced that I knew the address. Needless to say, I didn't remember it correctly and was embarrassed when they called back saying the building didn't exist. I guess my memory wasn't as good as I thought.

Ha.

Our entire family is descending on us for the holidays. Those from overseas have their tickets. We are trying to time it so we only have 1 pick-up at each airport. If the international flight arrives at IAD at 3:30, what's a reasonable landing time for the domestic flight at IAD so no one (hopefully) waits too long?

I'd say 4:30 earliest, which will give your international passengers an hour to get through passport control and customs. Took me about that long two weeks ago, although holiday periods could be busier, especially if they are not U.S. citizens.  

Train Tip: Amtrak recently (9/30) announced its Google-engine driven, killer application accessible via computer and smartphone: "Track a Train". Accessible in 15 secs, the software allows anyone to check train status, location, speed, direction and station origin and destination. Go to www.amtrak.com, click on "Track A Train", type Train Number and click. This is big!

Sounds like you may work for Amtrak, but that's all right! This is good info. Thanks.

Hi! Would like to find out if there anything going on (events) or fun things to do in Curacao during Thanksgiving week (11/23/13-11/30/13? Best airline (best airfare) to travel on to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in January 2014? Great places to eat in Puerto Vallarta?

I don't see any major events listed over that time period, but most likely the major resorts (read: American chains) will design a special dinner for its American guests. Check with the tourism board or ask at your hotel when you arrive.

Options are grim for flights from Curacao to Puerto Vallarta. You will have to stop twice and return to the States or connect through Colombia. Fares are more than $1,000 on American or Avianca.  I would honestly rethink this route, if possible.

For PV restaurants, top picks include Cafes des Artistes, Blanca Blue, El Arrayan, Trio, Vista Grill and, yes, Daquiri Dick's.

 

We are taking a two week tour beginning on Thanksgiving Day for our first trip to Israel, and we have free days on two Saturdays - one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv. What sites will be open and accessible during the Sabbath?

Here's some information, from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and USA Today. Bottom line is yes, there will be closures but you won't be shut out of everything.

Chris, I was very interested in your article today on TSA's PRECheck because I've been wondering whether it's worth it. While you seemed to be somewhat against it, I found it hard to find any concrete fault with it in your story. I've been fingerprinted twice for jobs, so the fingerprinting isn't a concern to me. Slippery slope arguments about our privacy (or anything else) are a non-issue to me, as we draw arbitrary lines all the time (voting age, drinking age, speed limits) that we can later pull back on a little if they turn out to be overzealous. In the same way, I think the *potential* for abuse alone doesn't justify avoiding a particular practice, but possibly delineating its use or implementation a bit more stringently. I'm also not that concerned about the possible waste of $17 per year ($85/5), as we would probably spend that on parking or one-way airport shuttle for one trip. For most people who travel enough to make it worth it, that shouldn't really be much of a concern. I still value your advice greatly, so I wonder: considering how I have addressed those concerns, at least in reference to my own situation, would you still say that PreCheck is probably not right for me? Or if you feel am I being too dismissive of some of your points, can you elaborate a bit?

Interesting perspective. I can see both sides of this issue, and in your situation, I would probably apply for Pre-Check. If you can get it.

The fireworks are great, but figure out your travel plans back to your hotel. We got caught in a huge mess of people - think the Mall after 4th of July, but worse. Sidenote: we were at a show at the National Theatre and they let patrons watch fireworks from their outside balconies. First book: gorgeous. Then the wind changed and all the smoke blocked the Eye. Second boom onwards was only heard, not seen. Still a fun time.

Hi I'm spending a week in Jordan in November. My flight home leaves from Amman at 2:15 a.m. Sunday, so I don't plan to pay for a hotel room on Saturday. Any ideas where to kill time during those late night hours? I'm thinking it may be better to stay at a resort near the Dead Sea the night before and hang out there, instead of wandering the streets of Amman. But maybe Amman would be better? Also, would spending a day in Aqaba would be worth it that time of year? most of my research says it's best for diving and other water activities. Thanks!

And another one for you, chatters!

I'm hoping to use my Delta FF miles sometime in 2014. We've accrued 90k+ miles, which assuming I'm reading their mileage charges correctly, should allow us three roundtrip domestic tickets (12,500 miles one way) at their green "Saver Award" level. Great. . .except when I select dates that fall in that category, I end up instead with the yellow "Standard Award" miles required level. End result shows 40k miles needed as opposed to 25k miles required. Am I missing something? I'm sure there's someone out there that can either explain what's happening, and even better, tell me how to actually end up with the saver level tickets. Anyone?

Delta's lower-level awards, I'm told, are based on inventory that would otherwise go unsold. Its next level up -- the level you seem to be stuck at -- is based on tickets that have an actual dollar value, according to experts to whom I've spoken. The availability depends on supply and demand, so if you're not seeing any tickets at the 25k level, it probably means everyone else has already claimed them. I don't know if there's anything you can do, except to pick another date. I wish I had better news.

I was searching for a hotel on Kayak, and this site Olotels.com came up with insanely good rates for the hotel I wanted. Google led me to many complaints on sites like travelocity about bogus reservations, customer service calls from Hong Kong, and other general sketchiness. Have any of you heard of this site? If it's not legit, why does Kayak bother searching it for rates?

Hmmm . . . I have never heard of that site. 

Kayak is an aggregator, so it acts like a giant net that catches all the fish in the sea. It takes a smart consumer to throw back some of the fishy ones.

If you worry now about the reservation, you will worry even more when you arrive at your destination. I would call the hotel, tell them you found this price on a third-party site, and ask if they will match it.

We're looking for a beach getaway for about a week with our 1 year old - looking at either early/mid December or late Feb/early March. We'd like to go somewhere in the Caribbean and are looking for an island that's warm, with water warm enough to go swimming in, and somewhere family friendly. Any recommendations on islands, as well as on when to go? We do realize that the end of winter might mean the start of busy Spring break crowds.

I would avoid early March, as that's when most universities have their spring breaks. You'll probably be fine in late February. And early December may be cheaper. I've been to about eight or so Caribbean islands, and I like the water best in the Dominican Republic and Grand Cayman. If you go to an all-inclusive, pick one that is known for catering to families with kids, such as Beaches.  If you're looking for something more low-key, consider renting a private villa. Wheretostay is a good site to start your villa research. 

I am thinking about going to see the Christmas Markets from Vienna to Munich over Thanksgiving week. Any suggestions?

Fun! There are Christmas markets all over Vienna, the largest being at the Rathaus, or City Hall, but be sure to hit some of the others as well -- the one at the Belvedere palace is great, and the one at Maria-Theresien Platz, and you should even head out to Schonbrunn Palace in the city outskirts to check out the one there as well. It's the same in Munich, which has more than 20 markets around town. The main one is held on the Marienplatz in the heart of downtown, but check out the Kripperlmarkt, the market specializing in creches and nativity scenes, on Neuhausstrasse, as well as the Tollwood market, an ethnic festival on the Theresienwiese. In between Munich and Vienna, of course, you can hit Salzburg, Linz (Linzer Torte!), maybe Sankt Polten for their Christmas markets as well.

Thanks for the heads-up about the air deals happening on SAS right now because I literally *just* bought my ticket to Sweden over Christmas, right after reading about it on the Post's Travel Deals page today before the chat. (I'll be flying from IAD to Copenhagen, where I've also wanted to visit.) I visited Sweden and Norway this summer for the first time and am absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to go back. Here's to hoping enough people sign up for the Swedish class I want to take through Swedish Cultural Connections in Vienna, VA, so my language knowledge extends past "tack, "mycket bra" (very good), and "lösgodis" (the delicious bulk candy selection in stores.)

I book codeshares through United all the time. Just call up the operating carrier (Lufthansa in this case) and ask to speak an agent. They should be able to assign seats and give you the Lufthansa booking reference number so you can check in online when the time comes.

I see the point about paying for the privilege of quicker processing. But, isn't much of life, and certainly travel, that way?? You pay more for special rental cars, more to fly first class and board earlier...You pay more for sirloin than chuck. After nearly missing two flights due to delayed immigration, and it's easy to imagine missing flights due to delayed screening, I'm happy to pay a bit to get ahead in line. The cost is over 5 years, so it really isn't much.

Well, this is a little different. You're paying, but not getting a guarantee you'll be accepted, they may not even tell you exactly why you aren't accepted if you aren't, and even if you are, you may still be sent through the scanner and given a pat-down. 

by George I think you've got it! Remember, you can always call LH as well, there are still real live agents who will help...

The person who used UA miles to book on LH should be able to do exactly they stated. Get the LH record locator from UA (either call or it may even be listed in the reservation on UA's website, mine was) and use that to choose seats. Now, it might depend on class of service, but I booked business class on LH using UA miles and had no problem choosing my seat on LH's website.

Try these guys, I've heard good things about them.

Per the person flying to Paris one-way with no return. My dad had this happen to him once out of Dullas he had the tickets and at the United counter they told him he couldn't leave the country with no return ticket. He thankfully also has a British passport and so just used that to leave the country on which United was fine with. So this is something that United at least has been doing for a few years as this happen to my dad in around 2004 or 5.

Thank you for letting me know. I think this definitely merits some investigation.

I moved away from the DC area long ago, after earning a degree at the University of Maryland College Park. Can you or the chatters tell me if the Turner Lab on US 1 is still open, and if so, whether they still serve campus-made ice cream? Their chocolate chip flavor was to die for (not literally, but figuratively).

Quick research shows that you can still buy ice cream made at U.Md., but it seems that at some point the dining services staff took it over.

LH allows seat assignment on intercontinental flights, regardless of fare paid. Maybe your trip was within Europe? Or maybe there were no assignable seats left, by the time your Mom booked?

Perhaps the latter, as we booked last-minute to attend a funeral. And it was a connecting flight to Frankfurt with a codeshare flight into a small town in Austria. 

My husband and I used United miles for a codeshare flight on Lufthansa two winters ago and ran into the same trouble - we couldn't make specific seat reservations, even when we called Lufthansa directly. We could only do so once we checked in for our flights. Seat-wise, everything worked out fine. Codeshare flight wise, we had some trouble on the return flight with our tickets not being valid when we tried to board the flight - we were pulled over and they spent some time looking into things. We ended up boarding the flight, but they had to hold the flight for us. The Lufthansa agent in Germany said it was because of a codeshare issue.

I think codeshare issues such as yours are unusual, as so many people are traveling on codeshares these days. As for seating, yes, I think your situation is common. Lufthansa personnel are generally very efficient, although they do stick to the rules. For example, even when I spent nearly $3,500 on a last-minute economy ticket, they would not consider bumping me up to business-class. As the very professional, but firm agent told me, "I'm sorry, but you are traveling on an economy ticket."  I couldn't argue with that. 

Similar to the other poster, my husband and I will be taking his 81 y.o. parents to Hawaii in February 2014. We can do all the logistics ourselves but any thoughts on which island(s) might be more accessible for those with some mobility limitations? They both walk ok but long distances or uphill would be difficult.

Oahu would offer the best options for your parents to get around, especially on foot, to see the sights. 

I assume you have a military ID? If United asks and you show them your military ID, I don't think you will have any problems. They are pretty understanding about military and government travel, I think.

Definitely worth a shot. Thanks for the suggestion.

We're a furlough household and being stuck inside is driving us stir crazy! Can you suggest somewhere for a cheap day trip (2-3ish hours) away from DC? We need something cheap that gets us out and about. thank you!

How about walking around historic Annapolis? Or if the weather's nice, you could hit one of many state parks. Maybe something on the water -- Sandy Point or Calvert Cliffs in Maryland.

It is a bit of a hassle to do the online application and the interview, but unless you 1) have a criminal history or 2) try to hide something, you probably won't be turned down.

It will be interesting to see how these programs evolve. I'll be following them closely.

 

I recommend getting out of Reykjavik - we had 1 full day there and it was plenty. Reykjavik Residence Hotel included cereal and milk and had a great location close in but away from insanity of nightclubs. Check out Sundhollin swimming pool for a nice soak in the hot spring/tub - byo towel and slippers/flip flops to save $$ here and at Blue Lagoon. Up north Hotel Budir was lovely and remote, and we went snowmobiling with Snjofell. On your way there do not miss the the Settlement Center in Borgarnes. We headed south and hit up the Golden Circle (geysers and waterfall were amazing, assembly point a bit boring), then on to Vik. Volcano Hotel was fantastic and hosted excellent superjeep tours with Johann (see tripadvisor for great reviews). Nice hot springs in Vik too - note that this and Sundhollin are basically public pools with small hot pools too - lots of locals. We went horseback riding with Skalakot - nice folks, and their sauna was heavenly. We did Blue Lagoon on our last day - bus took us from hotel to Lagoon to airport. Great way to end the trip, just remember to coat your hair in conditioner before getting lagoon water on it, to avoid crusty hair.

Awesome info. Thanks!

I spent 10 days in Sedona at the end of August. Go! Stayed at the Sedona Rouge and loved it. Was more impressed by Sedona's red rocks than the Grand Canyon but that's just me.

In one of Carolyn Hax's was a letter from a bride-to-be whose pregnant sister (living at some distance) demanded that her sister not hold the wedding till after the baby was at least a year old, because she refused to fly with a baby under a year of age. Some of us dismissed this notion, saying it's actually EASIER to fly with a baby under one. Can you think of any valid reason why the pregnant sister wouldn't want to fly until her baby's at least a year old?

Yeah, I read that too. Maybe she's worried about the baby getting sick?

My wife and I have a timeshare week in Weston, FL the 1st week in Nov. Do you have any suggestions, say at least 1 culturally and 1 outdoors? We plan to rent a car.

You're right near the Everglades there, so I'd think an Everglades tour would be in order, for your outdoor activity. For culture, you could visit Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District, or head to the Miami Art Museum, or Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, lovely old villa in Miami's Coconut Grove. Chatters, let's hear your suggestions, too!

Thanks to all who helped with renting a car in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The process was so easy, somehow easier and a lot more friendly than doing so at home. And you get to see amazing sights when you drive. Hopewell Rocks near Moncton had 41-foot tide. And the red sand beaches of Prince Edward Island take your breath away. What a pretty part of Canada.

So glad to hear it. Can't wait to go there myself one day. I've traveled a bit in Canada, and I always find the people there unfailingly polite and friendly. Go them.

I've used them for a couple of trips (not to the Galapagos) and while they do extol conservation practices, they're impossible to book with. Never return emails or calls. They must be the only tour operator in the country that has convinced their clients that booking with them in doing the client a favor. Never again.

Major chains (e.g. Marriott) forbid smoking anywhere on property, and I doubt even in Vegas--smoking capital of the USA--hotels are *required* to allow guests to smoke!

The reply was not saying that they were required by law to permit smoking on balconies. It was saying that they were required by law to ban smoking indoors, so they had done that and that when they are required by law to ban smoking on balconies, they will do so.

Andrea, did you find out yet if there is a way for submitters to included paragraph breaks? And while I'm at it - the other day I read a chat on my iPad. Every time I tried to submit, the window thing would open for me to type my submission into, but would close as soon as I put the cursor into a text field. Is there anything that can be done about that? Thanks!

We have a note in about this but haven't heard back.

Our son attends McGill University in Montreal and we are planning to bring him home in December for the holidays. Is there someplace near Montreal we could see the Northern Lights? Can you suggest another fun wintery side trip? We have visited Quebec City and have been skiing several times.

Canadian Geographic put together an interactive map of best places to see the lights. The Torrance Barrens Night Sky Preserve in Ontario looks really interesting, as does Moose Factory, Ontario, where you can also learn about the Cree culture.

For other wintry cities, Ottawa has the Rideau Canal Skateway, ice carving and winter festivals.

Check when Christmas markets open up. I don't think the one in Munich, the main one at the Marienplatz, opens until the end of November. If others don't open until then, it may be difficult to get to a lot of markets that week. I've been to Christmas markets in Bavaria, Berlin, Prague, and Paris and, hands down, the ones in Bavaria are the best. Try to get to the one in Nuremberg, it's fantastic!

We're looking for any insight about traveling to Greece with a teenager and a young child. Website, book, personal experience -- it's all good and would be welcome! Trip will be in April.

Here's a recent story we ran on mainland Greece we ran that may help you. And one on Athens and environs. One on Northern Greece. And one on the island of Santorini. You can check the Greek tourism Web site for more info. And of course, chatters, as always we want to hear from you.

Russia. The tour operator said they would NOT cover the transfer - I was coming by train and they only do airport transfers. I told them I would pay the full price (and after speaking to many people on my tour, they were shuttled by taxi from the airport, so why would it make a difference where I was being picked up?!?!)

It unfortunately makes a big difference. The company sets the rules for its trip. You could have toured with a company that included train transfers (honestly, I have never seen such a perk). Sorry, but I think you are stuck.

s/he may have had passport requiring visa to France/Schengen, so different rules than we with US passports are used to

That will do it for us today. Thanks, as usual, for being here. Today's prize goes to the person who had a spur-of-the-moment college nostalgia visit in Bellingham. Please e-mail me at becky.krystal@washpost.com with your name and contact info.

We're going to be off next week for Columbus Day, but do come back Oct. 21. Until then, happy travels!

In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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