Talk about Travel: Beaches

Jun 30, 2014

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Hello, everyone -- welcome to today's chat! Hope you enjoyed our section this week, including Andrea's lovely journey to uncover the hidden joys of Virginia's Eastern Shore; Becky's set of mid-Atlantic beach itineraries geared toward different types of travelers; and more.

What's on your itinerary today, and how can we help?

To entice you, I'm going to offer a little prize to the chatter who shares the most entertaining response to the following challenge: Tell us your favorite story of a beach vacation to top all beach vacations. Where, and how, and, most of all, why?

Let's do this.

I saw a cruise that departs in May 2015. The price is in my budget. Should I book now? Or wait until later in the year? Thanks.

If you love the price and itinerary, I would book it. You don't want to miss out.

If you work with a cruise specialist, he or she can often get you money back if the price drops.

We're taking our early elementary-aged son on his first flight this summer -- what's the latest on taking kids through security scans? Can we opt him out? We'd just like to get him through the airport with the least amount of irradiation :-) Thanks!

Yes, you can. TSA doesn't require kids under 12 to remove their shoes, among other things, but as a practical matter, families are ushered through the magnetometer and get to avoid the full-body scan. I base that on my last few experiences of flying with my family. There are no guarantees, of course, but you should be fine. If a TSA agent insists that your son go through the scanner, you can and should say that you "opt out."

Everyone tells me to decline the rental car collision insurance because it is already covered by my own car insurance and also my credit card. But are the car rental companies still trying to charge for their nebulous "loss of use" that probably will not be covered by the credit card or the car insurance? I just have this worry that Avis may say that it took 3 weeks to fix the car and here is a bill for $1500. Thanks.

Loss of use is one of the more controversial car rental charges. The good news is, you can challenge the charges and most car rental companies are quick to drop them. Also, I've never seen more than three days worth of loss of use charges on a bill, so it's unlikely you'll have to pay $1,500.

The boyfriend and I are heading to a wedding in Houston this August and were thinking of roadtripping through Texas the week after, mostly motivated by our desire to check out Marfa. We were thinking of doing a loop, Houston-Austin-Marfa-Big Bend-San Antonio-Houston, or the other way around. Either way, we would be in Marfa mid-week. I've heard most of the fun stuff happens on weekends, so now I'm worried. Will the town be completely dead during the week? Any other suggestions welcome too!

Well, the Marfa lights don't happen only on weekends, and some people say that's just about the best thing going there -- well, along with the Judd Foundation attractions there. Most of those are available for visits on weekdays (or, at least Wednesday through Sunday), and you can also set up guided tours that fit your own schedule. The best food in town, by my source's reports, is the Food Shark truck, which is open  Wednesday through Saturday, so maybe it's true that you should include at least a Wednesday on your Marfa sked!

 

We're finally taking the kids to Magic Kingdom/EPCOT later this summer. I am tempted to purchase Disney gift cards (from my local grocer) to use primarily for souvenirs; snacks/ meals, maybe even toward an extra day at one of the parks. But before I purchase them, are there any pitfalls to watch out for (other than losing them) at point of purchase. Are they really like cash for everything Disney? I have my reasons for purchasing some cards, but the cards would only be a small portion of my payment options. Also, a magic bands question - do they help find lost kids? Thank you.

Anyone have experience with this? Here's a page that has some info from Disney. Pitfalls? They may not be accepted everywhere (sounds like that's more the exception, though) and they can be lost. And, no, I don't think they can help you track down your kids. 

What would you recommend as the best way to visit the Hoover Dam: a pre-packaged bus tour, or drive there yourself, and take a tour onsite? What would be the advantages to either scenario? Thank you.

I like the bus tours, because you get to bypass most of the lines, avoid parking charges, and see the best parts of the dam. I've experienced both the guided tour and have also explored the area on my own, and I'd say the tour has an edge when it comes to convenience and speed. At this time of year, with temperatures in the triple digits, the tour is the hands-down winner.

Any recommendations for hotels in New Orleans, close to both the Convention Center and French Quarter? It's for work travel (with some leisure thrown in), so it needs to be a major brand/chain. Just want one that's nice and near things, maybe a bit more unique.

The Marriott Convention Center is the closest property to the center, but my family and I (Dad had a conference) stayed at the Courtyard New Orleans Downtown on Julia Street. It was perfectly nice with a big breakfast. Every day, Mom and I would walk to the French Quarter while Dad's eyes were glazing over during his meetings.

The center has a good map of nearby hotels. Also see if your company/confernece has special rates.

We are thinking of taking our two boys, 10 and 13, on vacation just after Xmas, maybe until the 31st or so. We're looking to squeeze as much as possible out of two $99 companion tickets and get warm weather in the bargain. San Diego was our first thought--any support for that idea, or alternate suggestions?

I think you got it! San Diego is a perfect family destination, with beach, zoo, museums, biking trails, pleasant weather, etc. If you have time, you can even take a day trip to Los Angeles -- just plan around soul-crushing rush hour traffic.

Have been offered a position in Cincinnati, and will not be re-locating. Least expensive options for weekly travel from BWI to there and back, and for lodging and local transportation while there...~4 days/week?

Hmm. I'm seeing flights in the mid-$200s nonstop on Delta. Not bad, but not great when it's every week, is it? I'd certainly try to take advantage of FF possibilities by identifying your favorite airline and, say, using an American Express card and the Amex travel site to double or triple the miles.

As for lodging? Well, not sure where you're going to be working, but if I were you I'd scope out AirBnB. Looks like you could potentially get a room somewhere for pretty cheap. Or Craigslist for something more permanent?

Could you recommend any overnight parking options in NJ for those looking to spend a night or two in NYC? I usually take the bus or train but want to drive my own car this time as to sightsee along the way and spend some time at the Jersey Shore. I figure overnight parking in New York City -- or any driving, for that matter -- would be super challenging and the NJ option would be most practical. What do you think? Thanks!

You can park overnight at the Metropark station in New Jersey.  Cost for parking is $9 for 24 hours. And the train to Penn Station costs $10 each way.  

Looking for a kid friendly park with shades to have a picnic. It needs to be accessible by metro or bus, preferable out of DC. Friends are joining us from Reston and Germantown and are not using public transportation (we cant share a ride as their cars are full with the kiddos); is there’s mid-point where we can have this picnic? We are in North Bethesda. THANKS!

Chatters, ideas?

I'll be spending two nights in Portland ME next week and, so far, only the Portland Museum of Art seems worth visiting. And as for restaurants! What can you suggest?

Portland is gorgeous. Yes, the museum is great -- especially if you can book a trip to see the Winslow Homer studio. As for restaurants, make sure to hit up Eventide (oysters and creative takes on seafood), Slab (amazing Sicilian pizza and more), Pai Men Miyake (ramen and more), Tandem (beautiful coffee), Little Big's (fun hand pies), Standard Baking (breads, pastries, all around amazing stuff).

We all (family of four: two teen girls) have a week in August to travel. We still have no plans, but the husband really wants to take the dog. Any ideas? I am taking 7 hours toward a degree this summer and just cannot think of anything and I am the usual planner. I was thinking to maybe rent an RV and just go? Doesn't Chincoteague allow dogs? Any ideas- even crazy ones- are welcome. Thanks VERY much.

I put together a dog-owner itinerary as part of my round-up of beach vacation getaways. I don't have any insight on the RV idea, but I do wonder how many rentals allow dogs. I know that's a big no-no on most, if not all, regular car rentals. Dogs are not allowed in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, but they are on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore. The Outer Banks are pretty dog-friendly, even allowed on the beach. More info here.

from last week - last summer I had to spend a night at Heathrow between flights. Found a very good (but non-refundable) price at the nearby Hotel Arora - where lots of flight crews stay. Getting there was another matter: at Heathrow, unlike most US airports, there are no dedicated hotel shuttle buses. Theirs make a big circuit with many stops. The problem is that they have no luggage racks. Returning to the airport, I took a car for hire - a well-spent £15.

Thanks for the info. 

2-3 couples are looking to charter a crewed yacht in Belize for end of February 2015. Is Belize considered"safe"? Is this a time of year that we can snorkel swim and fish in mostly sunny warm weather? There seem to be few yachts available as we search, as compared to when we did similar trips in the BVI. We want the reef, not sure about going to the big blue hole. Appreciate any advise.

First the scary news: Belize is the sixth most violent country in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


Now the better news: Tourist attractions, including the cays, remain some of the safest destinations.

In the tourist areas, the main crime is petty theft, so follow the obvious rules: guard your wallet, leave valuables at home, avoid large crowds, etc. If you are on a yacht, bring to shore only your beach essentials.

February is a great time to go, though it's high season, so you might have to cast a wide net to find an available charter. (The BVIs have a much more robust chartering industry than Belize, which may be one reason for the difference in volume).  You might also consider renting a little bungalow on one of the cays and taking day trips to the reef.

My husband and I are expecting our first child in late October. We'd like to get away for a four- or five-day (including travel) trip sometime in late July through the first half of August. We prefer mountains to beaches and like good food, beautiful scenery, and maybe some light hiking. We're also more interested in budget travel than four-star service. My first ideas would be someplace like New Orleans, Charleston, or Savannah, but those don't appeal to me in August when I'll be nearly seven months pregnant. The timeframe probably rules out the West Coast, so I was thinking maybe Maine would work, as neither of us have been there. I would love to hear any other ideas or suggestions you or the other chatters might have. Thanks very much!

Maine would be nice. So would Cape Cod, New York's Finger Lake region and Vermont, around Burlington and Lake Champlain.

If you had 4-5 days to do a quick trip in the next few weeks, would you choose Mexico (Tulum) or Dominican Republic. All-inclusives are not a draw, but relatively easy travel would be a plus. Looking for some beach time, but also things to do (ie ruins near Tulum), and good local food. One seasoned international traveler, one who just got a passport after many years. Also, do you know anything about swimming with the whale sharks on Isla Mujeres off of Cancun? I know there is a conservation program there, and eco-tourism. But is it considered acceptable to participate in these kind of activities? Whale-shark Festival is in late July. Thanks for all your wise advice over the years!

Both offer nonstop flights from the Washington area. United flies nonstop from Dulles to Punta Cana & Cancun. Airtran flies nonstop from BWI to Punta Cana, and Southwest flies nonstop from BWI to Cancun. If you want to do exploring outside the resort, I'd choose Tulum over DR.  As far as swimming with whale sharks, this is a very popular seasonal activity (mid-May through Mid-September) in the waters off Isla Mujeres. Make sure you go with a licensed tour operator. 

Sand in everything. Salt water, ick. Heat. Sunburns. Noisy folks. Kids running through my attempted serenity. Garish shop-lined boardwalks. I'd rather go to the mountains, where the water's fresh, the air is cooler and the space is less crowded, thankyouverymuch.

Hear you loud and clear! (But, I have to say, you've been to the wrong beaches!)

thinking of a late vacation there in October ... best non-tourist restaurants and B&Bs?

I'll start with the B&B first: I've had many great stays at the Hotel Villa Convento. Very laid-back. Technically in the Quarter, but in a quieter section -- and right across from Le Croissant d'Or, which I also love (and isn't very touristy, either).

This isn't an exhaustive list, and the tourist populations in each vary, but my favorite restaurants include Patois, Willie Mae's Scotch House, Cochon, Parkway Bakery, Dooky Chase, Casamento's, Upperline, August and Commander's Palace. I'm SURE I'm leaving plenty out, but that gives you a good amount to start with.

after working in the middle of Australia for a while, I needed a beach get-away. Found a great lodge on the West Coast -- rented a board and went sandboarding -- had to hitch back into town to return the board and the guys who picked me up wanted to buy me some beer -- later I saw that half my face was fully covered in sand! I can't imagine how they kept a straight face! But the next day was best -- hiked up the coast a little and found a completely isolated little cove. Just me in my birthday suit, sunning and swimming. A most heavenly memory!

Indeed!

I have to say, I'm totally partial to Provincetown, MA as an Atlantic Beach destination, but I might be part of the target demographic. Still a magical place.

Love me some P-town. It's not just for the targeted demographic, I swear! (Though I'm part of it, too.) I'm going in a couple of weeks -- well, actually will be based in Truro, which I also love. (And it's a stone's throw from P-town, and Wellfleet, and has a magic all its own.)

Hi, My husband, daughter and I will be traveling to Maui in September. We will be there for 11 days. To keep costs down, we would like to rent a two bedroom condo instead of paying for two hotel rooms. I have narrowed the area in Maui we would like to stay to Napili, Kahana or Honokowai. My research shows these locations are near really great but expensive beaches and have alot of older, less expensive condos to rent. My question is how can I be somewhat sure I am renting a good, CLEAN, condo. Most of the condos seem to be owned by individuals. Of course I can read the reviews in Trip Advisor and other online sites, but sometimes they are less than accurate. I'm nervous about making the final decision. Can you recommend some way I can ensure we reserve a nice place to stay.

Talk to the owners. Ask for recent photos. Read the reviews. Ask for references. And don't wire money. Reputable owners will have clear and easy-to-check contact information and payment options. Also, ask the owners if they live nearby, as absentee investor-owners may not be as on top of things as someone who checks in frequently. 

We will be there for the opera festival, so that takes care of evenings. What do you recommend for that area during the day? Thank you.

You could head south to explore Culpeper or north to Sperryville. Sperryville has Copper Fox Distillery and there are plenty of area wineries too. 

Hi Travelers, Considering a trip to Italy at the end of September. I've heard (perhaps incorrectly?) that the crowds make high summer miserable, so much so that it ceases to be enjoyable. Would late September be better for crowds (and will weather cooperate?). Does anyone have experience with this? Thanks for any help!

I've been to Italy in the summer, fall and winter, and my favorite time to travel, other than when I'm skiing,  is fall. It's a bit rainer in September, but no so much as to ruin a vacation. Everything is open, and crowds have thinned. Chatters have any thoughts on this? 

Hi - Have looked at the archives of the Philly information you have, and I'm wondering if you have any additional tips for a last minute 2 day trip to Philly with young teens. First time trip for everyone. Things not to miss, great places to eat with the kids? Thanks for the chats and the section!!

Seems like any first-time trip to Philly should include a stop at Independence National Historical Park. The Franklin Institute is another popular spot, with good reason. Maybe catch a Phillies game if they're in town. Teens may also like the quirky Mutter Museum.

The big pitfall of using gift cards is that refunds go back on the gift card. So anything that might potentially be refunded should be put on a credit card, or else be careful to save even the "empty" cards.

Thanks for the tip.

How about Fort Reno? While not technically out of DC it is Metro accessible via the Red Line Tenleytown stop.

One thought.

In Provincetown, on Cape Cod, we take a water taxi to the beach at Long Point. It is the very farthest part of the little finger of land that curves out from the west side of the Cape. There is a lighthouse there, and depending on the day and time, you can have this gorgeous, pristine beach to yourself. We find lots of beach glass, we can watch boats go in and out from the piers in Provincetown and swim in a very calm sea. Often, there are seals frolicking very close to the shore. It's like being marooned, only you know that the friendly water taxi will come to retrieve you! Simply one of the most lovely and relaxing beaches in the US, in my opinion!

Fabulous.

Was actually 1000 feet above the beach, staying in one of those luxury open air villas in St. Lucia. It's been 8 years, but I can still distinctly remember the feeling of waking up every morning and opening my eyes to see the Pitons and the Caribbean ocean wayyyyyyy down below. Also still the most expensive hotel I've ever stayed in.

Sweet!

If corporations can be religious now, what faith would American, Delta, and United Airlines be? Lord knows we travelers use a lot of faith when we hope to leave on time!

I am not going to touch this one with a 10-foot pole!

Hello, For the past 10 years I've taken my wife and children to Myrtle Beach, SC for vacations. We want to try another beach. I've tentatively scheduled a trip to Hilton Head, SC this year. Is this a good choice? My children (15 and 17 years old) are concerned there isn't going to be enough to do. Is this a valid concern? We are not a golfing or tennis family. Thanks

Hard to say what fickle teens would like but our Impulsive Traveler on Hilton Head and That Other Paper's 36 Hours in Hilton Head both made me want to go.

There's plenty for kids and young adults who don't golf. The beach at Hilton Head is pretty amazing. Great biking, fishing and food options, too. I've taken my family to Hilton Head three times in the last two years.

Hi Crew! I am planning my first trip to Chicago in September for a long weekend. Already on my itinerary: the Robie House and the Architecture Foundation boat tour; also a visit to the Art Institute. Other ideas for a solo female traveler, especially evening activities? And would love some restaurant recs. No car. Thank you!

Eataly is definitely worth checking out. On the Navy Pier, I really enjoyed the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Do you like baseball? Catching a game at Wrigley is fun. For great breakfasts, Ann Sather is a must.

Two more restaurant recs: The Purple Pig, which has a great bar perfect for a solo traveler; for lunch, Xoco, Rick Bayless's tribute to Mexican street food; for stunning drinks, The Aviary; and Publican.

Also, I did that boat tour, which I loved, and also took an elevated-train architecture tour, which might have been even better! And don't neglect to spend time on the waterfront, where Millennium Park and the shiny reflective "Cloud Gate" are totally worth seeing.

I'll spending several days in The Twin Cities (my hotel will be pretty close to the Mall of America) in mid-September. For the most part (and to save on car rentals) I'm going to keep to locations that are public transport-accessible. However, I'd like to do a day trip out of the cities. Any of the writers or chatters have suggestions, particularly any scenic (but not more-intense-than-moderate) hiking options or must-see historical sites? Thanks!

Here are a few hiking suggestions:

Minnehaha Park Trails: 9.91 miles of trails and a waterfall! Overlooks the Mississippi River.

Elm Creek Park Reserve: the largest of Three Rivers Parks with 4,900 acres and 51 miles of hiking trails.

Winchell Trail: A five-mile round-trip hike along the west bank of the river.

I also visited the Swedish towns of Minnesota a few years ago -- great for a Scandinavian fix. Here's my piece.

 

YES! It's so much better than in summer. It's still warm, but not oppressively hot and full of people. Seems like the issue with closed attractions has more to do with the day of the week than the month. I've been in October, July, and February, and the fall is my favorite!

We leave for Aruba on a much needed vacation on Saturday. Any must dos? We're staying on Eagle Beach if that matters.

Wish I'd been to Aruba, but I haven't. Chatters, can you help?

We're headed to Charlottesville for a quick little overnight getaway for the 4th of July. We're going to hang out at the downtown mall, check out UVA but skip Montecello. Is there anything else you would recommend doing or checkout that is dog friendly? Bonus points if you can recommend a dog friendly winery along the way.

Dogfriendly.com lists some more options for you, including what it says are some wineries that will welcome Fido. Best to call ahead, though. 

we are traveling from DC to Lexington Kentucky and want to stop about half way there. Any suggestions? Is Charlestown West Virginia about half way and if so, what's fun to do there?

Charleston is one option. It's the state capitol, with a state history museum If you like to gamble, there's several casinos.  But if you're more outdoorsy, consider taking the southern route (81 south to 64 west), and stopping in the Beckley/New River Gorge area.  

I've never understood why the default foreign destination for most Americans is Europe. Is it because it feels more like the US than some other countries and you'll probably have more luck with English? Is it the WW2 history and architecture? All of the above? I travel a great deal in Central and South America and people always seem shocked when I say I'd rather go to a parilla in Buenos Aires than a brassiere in Paris or a hike in the Andes around Bariloche than skiing in the Alps. Plus the time zones in S. America are more conducive to limiting jet lag.

Very interesting question. Reminds me of being in Mexico many years ago and running into some Germans (don't you ALWAYS run into some Germans?) who went on and on about this same idea. "Why do you Americans come to Europe when you have Mexico right here?" they said. I do think a lot of Americans take Central and South America for granted. I don't think it's about language -- because, really, have you been to Paris lately? But people travel for all sorts of reasons.

Ultimately, though, why choose? I like both!

For an out-of-town experience, Taylors Falls on the St. Croix River is simply gorgeous. It's one of America's Scenic Waterways, and it's mind-boggling to imagine 19th century loggers moving logs down the river.

I am Hawaiian so am jaded when it comes to beaches. All descriptive adjectives sum up our beaches. Last summer my daughter chose Makena for her wedding. Her wedding took place at Gannon's Restaurant. My daughter has a Hawaiian middle name and the translation is "The Princess who sits in the Rainbow". While she was getting ready it started to rain (staying at Makena Beach Hotel) and she started hyperventilating (outside wedding) and lo and behold - yup, double rainbow appeared in the sky from the mountains all the way to the ocean. The wedding took place in the rain with a Hawaiian minister and all the family and friends. Memorable!!!!

I'll say!

When I was really small, the summers seemed endless. My town had a lake. There was a public beach and my grandparents lived across the street from a neighborhood beach. We went to the public beach for swimming lessons (highlight, the summer I got promoted from frog to seal, completely skipping over the fish class) in the morning and to grandma's house to swim and pick blueberries and build sand castles and read in the afternoon. With a trip to the library in between on most days to get new books. The grown ups provided lemonade and cookies. Those summers went on forever.

Can we go back in time and spend a summer in your town?

Planning to visit Israel in November and would like to visit Petra for a couple of days, I’m wondering if we could fly back from Amman instead of Tel Aviv, would that be a problem? (Officials in Teal Aviv may ask for evidence of departing flights). Also, we would like to visit the Dead Sea and float for a while, will that be possible at the beginning of November or it will be too cold? I went several years ago in October and the weather was pleasant but I never got into the water. Is it worth to stay at one of the Dead Sea resorts or will it be better to do a day trip from Jerusalem? We are not into spa treatments but if the weather is fine the idea of relax along the coast is really appealing. Thank you!

Chatters, any Middle East specialists out there who can help with these questions?

We'll be spending a few days in Prague (the Hilton) this October. Any advice on interesting, less tourist-heavy spots we should visit? Thanks, we're very excited!

I'm sorry, but if you've never been to Prague, you must go to the tourist-heavy spots first, above all. You must not miss them: Wenceslas Square: the Castle district or Hradcany; Golden Lane; the Charles Bridge; the Old Town and the Lesser Quarter; St. Vitus Cathedral; the Jewish quarter and cemetery; the Lennon Wall. If you're a Mozart fan, a walking tour of Mozart sites is good -- you can see the Estates Theater where Don Giovanni premiered, visit the Three Golden Lions house where Mozart stayed as well places where he performed and stayed on castle hill. Other good museums for music fans --and yes, these are less tourist-heavy -- are the Dvorak Museum in the composer's former home, the Czech Museum of Music and the Smetana Museum. Why Smetana gets a bigger museum than Dvorak I don't know, but he does. I've heard that the Lobkowicz Palace is wonderful, too, for the art and furnishings, but I haven't personally been there. What else, chatters?

I was in western Australia in January for a couple of weeks, and my great time at the beach there was made even better by the news reports of the polar vortex enveloping the US. I got a massive sunburn the day before I had to leave - not a fun 42 hours of travel back to the east coast, but the sunburn was a good reminder that good weather existed somewhere in the world as I braved that awful cold!

This reminds me of the time I made the mistake of parking my car at Logan Airport in one of the open-air spots, going to the Caribbean with friends one February, and returning to ... an hour's worth of shoveling snow and scraping ice just to get in the car and drive home. Such a rough re-entry! Never made that mistake again.

As part of the overall demographic (humans) I second Wellfleet in a nanosecond! Oops there goes the secret...

Yeah, it's pretty great. I can't wait to get to those ponds! Do you have a favorite?

Any suggestions for a good tour company for a solo traveler? I'm not looking for a singles cruise type of atmosphere, just something that isn't all families. I'm interested in going to Italy, and although typically I travel alone on my own itinerary, I'm not sure I'm comfortable doing that in a non-English speaking country (all of my previous travels have been in the U.S. or in English-speaking foreign countries). A guided tour seems like the way to go. Thanks!

Many tour companies have special solo tours or encourage solo travelers to join their trips by waiving the single supplement. For example: Explore has more than 21 Italy tours, such as Amalfi Coast Walking and Tuscan Active Adventure. The company says the average ratio between solo travellers and others (whether couples or friends) is approximately 50/50.

Also check out Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Exodus and Overseas Adventure Travel.

One drawback to September/October travel in the Northern Hemisphere is that the days are a lot shorter than in mid-late Spring.

But the nights are nice and long!

I think you broke their server by posting about them! The info site is working but not the ticket site! I'm heading to Chicago in a few weeks too, and the boat tour was suggested by a local as a Must Do.

Yeah, I'd put it up there, indeed. The vantage points are incredible -- as are the ones on the elevated-train tour I took.

A bit of a bizarre (but hopefully entertaining/unique) twist on your beach stories: In Spring '09 my husband and I had plans for a destination wedding in Cancun with 70 guests. A few weeks prior to our wedding, the swine flu epidemic broke out in Mexico, sending our guests (and us!) into a bit of a panic. Should we continue as planned? Relocate the wedding? Postpone? We ultimately went ahead with the wedding (joined by 55 guests!), and enjoyed an amazing stay at a practically deserted Marriott resort. Many of our guests received upgrades (due to the large number of cancellations), and we experienced some of the best service I've ever seen (with the most impressive safety/health precautions). To this day, friends and family in attendance talk about "that time we went to mexico and had the whole resort to ourselves!"

Wouldn't wish a swine flu epidemic on any destination, but, well, there are upsides!

Totally agree with above South America traveler! Europe is great, but expensive. There is so much to see and experience throughout Latin America, and parts of it are so close. Anyway, if you all want to keep going to Europe, go for it. More Latin America for me!!

Ha! There you go!

Armitage Street shopping- brown line. Lori's shoes is great. Quaint area.

Wheaton Regional Park and Brookside Gardens are both walk-able from the Wheaton Metro! Or, you can catch a metro bus that runs up Georgia Ave. from the station and get off at Shorefield Dr.

Heading to Hungary for five days next March and was wondering if I should take a few of those days to hit Prague, Vienna or even Berlin.

Do you actually have five days on the ground? I wouldn't recommend Berlin -- it's too far away and too huge a city to do justice to  in just a couple of days. Vienna would be the best bet, because it's only a couple of hours away. But you could also easily spend five days in Budapest seeing all there is to see -- check out our recent story here -- with maybe a day trip into the country, to Szentendre or Lake Balaton, if you want a taste of something different. Chatters, your thoughts?

Hello, My husband and I are taking a 9 day driving trip from Albuquerque to Denver in August. Which cities and what should we see along the way. We have previously visited Durango and rode the train from Silverton. Thank you.

Wow -- nine days for a 6.5-hour drive? Well, it's not far from Albuquerque, but Santa Fe is certainly worth a few days. As you head north, the area around Colorado Springs is really pretty. You can visit Pike's Peak, and the town of Manitou Springs is really charming. Cave of the Winds is a really neat attraction.

I'm planning a surprise trip for my husband's birthday to Sonoma/Napa in July 2015. I'd like to use a travel agent since there are many different activities/wineries/restaurants I'm considering. Better to select a travel agent based in California, or one that I can meet with face-to-face in the DC region? Also, how soon should I begin working with a travel agent to plan the trip?

I would work with someone who lives and works out there. They may likely have insider information and are up on the latest happenings and openings. To help the agent, however, send a list of your likes and dislikes, and a budget.

For the best and most personalized trip, start as soon as you can!

My wife and I are making the maiden trans-Atlantic cruise of the Regal Princess from Venice to Ft. Lauderdale in mid-October. It's 17 days and the last seven are at sea. My question is what kind of weather should expect. Choppy seas? Cold temperatures? Clothing suggestions are also welcomed.

When an ocean crossing is involved, you have to expect some rolling seas. The newer ships do a good job of controlling motion, but bring anti-nausea meds or holistic solutions just in case. The route is probably published on its Web site, so you'll be able to see how far south you'll be. I wouldn't expect super-cold temps, but again, you'll want to be prepared for windy, cool weather. Rain gear and layers are a good idea.  

The Tower Park with the climbing babies is pretty interesting and in a more residential neighborhood with some cool bars and restaurants.

We would like to get away for a weekend ASAP. Preferably close to Shenandoah NP or other mountain hiking. We have been to a lot of inns and B&B's out that way and looking for something new. The Post website used to be very useful with links on the Travel section to past articles listed by location. Is it still possible to find these links? I am a long-time print subscriber, if that matters. Thanks.

Yeah, our new publishing system rolled out a few years ago pretty much made those links moot. Not that they would have really helped you with something that narrow. For places to stay, you might consider the Mimslyn Inn of Luray. Or in Front Royal, the Lackawanna Bed & Breakfast

Hi, Any recommendations for places to stay on Long Beach Island? Thanks as always! Also, spent a wonderful beach vacation on Tybee Island several years ago.

I really liked Daddy O in Brant Beach. It's the only boutique-y place on LBI.

For a B&B, Minerva's by the Sea is very nice and near the lighthouse on the north end.

I'll be raveling to Reno for work in late September and am considering spending the weekend at Lake Tahoe. I like hiking, lounging and sightseeing, but I'm not much of a water sports person. Any suggestions for lodges/resorts that are reasonably priced?

South  is more built up and has major high-rise hotels. The Squaw Valley area is quieter. The tourism association offers a good Web site. 

Santa Fe for sure, Taos, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Telluride... lots of options depending on how far off I-25 you want to get!

I have a 9-hour layover in Frankfurt (land at 7:30 AM, leave at 4:30 PM). What can/should I do? How much time will it take me to get out of the airport, and when should I be back so that I don't miss my connecting flight? ~Karen

The S-bahn train from Terminal 1 into the city center takes only about 15 minutes, but get back to the airport at least two hours in advance. Frankfurt airport is massive, and it takes a long, long time to get through security there. 

That's a really long stopover. I might have words with your travel agent about your scheduling. I used to live in Frankfurt, so I'm going to tell you what I'd do. I would stay put at the airport. You'll probably spend an hour or more trying to get into town by train, and if you add the three hours for check-in and security, that's almost half your available time. I'd just stay at the airport and go shopping.

Anyone have any advice on where to go in northern Croatia in August? Would like to go to a nice beach that isn't too crowded at some point, but am having some trouble narrowing my itinerary down.

Well, Zagreb is supposedly getting much hipper these days and worth a look-see. There's also Plitvice Lakes National Park and Velebit Nature Park, beautiful areas for hiking, horseback riding and more, if you're looking for a nature outlet. Not sure about beaches in the north, so we'd have to ask for chatter input on that.

We're out of time, all -- thanks for the great questions and stories.

Now, for our little prize: My favorite beach story today was told by the visitor to Australia who had to sit with a sunburn on that long flight back to the US while the polar vortex raged. Send your mailing information to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and she'll get you a little something!

Until next time, happy travels!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
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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