Talk about Travel

Sep 24, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 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.

Hello again, our chatting friends. Thanks for joining us this Monday afternoon. Did you see our cruise issue this weekend? Peter Mandel's trip on the Royal Clipper was something different than your standard journey on a mega-liner. Andrea gave us a glimpse at what happens in a cruise port town once the ships leave. And Carol answered some of the most-asked questions we get about cruises. So let's riff on that. Give us your best cruising tip. Our favorite piece of advice will get the prize.

Now let's get started. Anchors aweigh!

royal clipper

I'm looking to travel from DC (any airport) to Montreal from Dec. 26 to Dec. 30, thinking I might avoid the high prices of the actual holidays. The fare was at $330 roundtrip a couple weeks ago, but is now up about $385 nonstop or $375 with a connection. Do you expect that this might come back down anytime soon, or should I just suck it up and buy now? FWIW, Bing Travel says to wait (80% confidence), but is that predictor thing really trustworthy? Thanks.

There's always a chance that the price will come down, and the Bing predictor is not a bad indicator, but I'd still buy now, unless there's lots of flexibility. In other words, if you can fly a day earlier or later, you're willing to connect, etc., in order to save money, then may be worth it to take a chance. Around that time of year, I'd pony up the extra money to lock it in and to fly nonstop. 

do you know if american is safe to fly on? I've definitely heard the one about the leaking coffee pot as a reason to intentionally delay, pilot even came back with a logbook to write up the nonsense. You might check, seems American Eagle isn't as troubled with all the sickouts like American is, they seem fuller.

I'm working on a Navigator column for this Sunday on the topic. The short answer is: yes, it's safe to fly. AA canceled about 300 flights and thinned its schedule by between 1 and 2 percent through the end of October, and it has some provisions in place to rebook you, if your flight is affected by a sick-out that go beyond the federal requirements.

Thanks so much for this wonderful article -- you must have read my mind because it was just the thing I've been looking for these days! I have two questions. How are the locations for public transportation? I know NYC and Boston have great systems but what about places like Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Charleston? Are the Midwestern and northern cities listed bearable for a Mid-Atlantic "weather wimp" during the winter or would you recommend one wait until it's warmer again?

I'm so happy to hear you liked my cheap flights roundup. As to your question on public transportation, I can speak to a few places in there. My husband and I didn't rent a car when we went to Charleston. Just took a cab to and from the airport and walked the rest of the time. Very easy to do. If you're considering Providence, that also doesn't require a car. RIPTA runs buses between the airport and city center. After that, your legs will get you most anywhere you want to go. Milwaukee seems to have a fairly extensive transit system. Buffalo's system also has buses between the airport and city, as well as other routes.

If you're a real "weather wimp," I guess you might want to wait, although you never know when you'll end up with a warmer weekend. I've gone to do stories in Providence and Cleveland in the middle of winter and still had a great time! But, yeah, it was pretty cold.

We are going to the Philippines for a week in November. We are looking for a good resort that will appeal to the whole family. We have 2 sons (ages 25 and 23) and we are around 60. Everyone is active and enjoys water sports. We want to spend 4 days at a resort and then end the week in Manila. Any suggestions?

I'm afraid I haven't made it to the Philippines, so let's turn to the chatters. Anybody know of good resorts over there?

You probably get this question a lot, but what time should I get to DCA for a 6:00 AM flight? It's a day trip to Chicago, so I will not be bringing any luggage, but I will need to get through security. It would seem that arriving at 5:00 should be plenty early, right? I do have to take the shuttle bus from the Economy parking lot, so this will add some time on to it. Also, the last time I parked in the Economy lot I had a very hard time finding a parking spot. Any help on how to find a spot there?

You are more than fine showing up at 5. The shuttle takes only a few minutes; same for security.

You can find parking avaibility on the airport's Web site.

My husband and I are planning a pre-holiday vacation in early November. We can't seem to settle on a destination and are hoping you can help. We are seeking non-rainy/gloomy weather and a destination with good eating. Our decision has been complicated by the fact that we usually take more adventure-type trips, but this time I'm pregnant, so no malaria zones and preferably good healthcare. Beginning to think we should just do Caribbean/Mexico, but large, touristy all-inclusives really aren't our thing. Do you have any suggestions?

Maybe stay in the states and head to West Coast or Southwest. San Diego is one of my favorite cities, and there are plenty of good restaurants -- not tropical, but definitely won't be cold and chance of rain is slight. 

I am shopping for a travel insurance policy that covers medical/evacuation and trip cancellation. I'm going on a package tour, but flying to/from South America on a frequent flier ticket. For cancellation, can I only insure the amount of the package tour? The worst case scenario is having to arrive, only to have to fly back home immediately for an emergency.

Not all travel insurance policies cover tickets booked with frequent flier miles. You'll need to do some homework and read the fine print very carefully before purchasing a policy. You might start by asking your tour operator or travel agent for suggestions, since they will be most familiar with your itinerary.

There's no State Department travel warning, and I've booked a local guide in Cairo recommended by friends who have used her before - any other tips?

You could read our story about Egypt from last year, not long after the Arab Spring. Plenty of ideas and tips in there, I think. The situation is probably still quite comparable. Even though there's no State Dept. warning, my best tips are to be alert and use caution at all times.

Can you slow-walk us through looking for specific destinations on your webpage? We went to Harper's Ferry last weekend, and I tried very unsuccessfully to find your past articles on the area. It used to be so easy!

It did, I know. Sadly, it was never revived by our online staff. We'll keep trying to get something going again, and if we do, we'll let you all know in the chat. 

There are a few options. One is the search on the Post web site. It's going to suck in more extraneous stuff than you probably want, though. You could also try a Google search, limiting the results to our site. So "harpers ferry site:www.washingtonpost.com."

I wish I had a better answer for the readers who've asked about this. We hear you!

Have you heard about any increase in crimes in Puerto Rico? Are there any travel advisories for that area right now?

Narco-related crime is on the rise, unfortunately, but not to the point where the U.S. government has warned mainlanders to avoid traveling to the island.  (By comparison, the State Department reissued a travel warning for Mexico in February.)

If you travel there, be on high alert (but not highly paranoid). Don't travel off the beaten track or wander alone at night. If you are worried about certain neighborhoods, consult with your hotel concierge first. And protect your valuables. Don't be flashy.

Hi! I'll be in Madison, WI this coming Fri-Mon. It will be my first time and I'll be staying right in downtown sans car. Other than the farmers market, a food tour and visiting a bunch of restaurants, anything else I can't miss? Thanks!!

Did you see our recent story on Madison? I'm not sure it will suggest anything different than what's already on your schedule, but have a look.

Other suggestions, friends?

For last week's chatter who was having problems finding flights from their small airport, try this. You'll probably connect to a nearby larger airport, so research the flights from there to your destination as a separate search from your flight from home to the nearby large airport. Sometimes you can get a lot more flights that way. I fly to a smaller city in Texas, and almost always connect through DFW, so I search for flights to/from DFW separately from the flights from DFW to my final destination.

That's one way of figuring it out, although I'm sure you don't ticket separately. I also rely heavily on the airport Web sites for schedules. 

Going to a convention next month at the National Harbor, coming in by train (parking is $22 per night???). It looks "not easy" to get back into the city since the Metro doesn't serve that area, any suggestions on killing the evenings? Travelling solo.

You could definitely spend at least one night exploring the nightlife at National Harbor. Here's the neighborhood guide from our friends the Going Out Gurus. I'd also recommend you take the water taxi to Alexandria, where there's a ton to do. Visit the Torpedo Factory. Check out some great restaurants, including Restaurant Eve, Vermilion and Virtue Feed & Grain. And just walk around. It's quite pretty.

I didn't read the article yet, so if I duplicate, I apologize. Cruises are so inexpensive these days, it's hard to say no to some of the offerings. The last couple of cruises we have been on had lovely coffee bars, if a person really wanted that $5 cup of coffee. So to avoid that trap, we take our own travel mugs. Since the top deck 24-hour cafes usually have coffee and tea for free, all day, we fill up and are good to go without having to wait for a meal, or buy them at the coffee bar. We are both hardened coffee and tea drinkers, even though I switch to decaf after noon. Seems like a small thing, but it adds up! We also take a few snacks in our suitcase, like energy bars and a jar of peanuts. Also, friends laugh at me when I recommend this one, but I have found it helpful over the years--take a highlighter for the daily schedule of activities that arrives in your cabin every day. Saves people getting upset that they forgot to go to their favorite trivia game!

Travel gurus, I'm posting early, as I'll have to be in a meeting when you're online. I'm planning a trip for my family to Italy (IAD-FLR, VCE-IAD) in January, and the airfare appears to be about $1050 per ticket. Do you think that's the best I can expect? It's no cheaper flying out of JFK.

That actually sounds like an excellent fare to me. My husband and I flew to Florence last year and it cost us nearly $1,400 per ticket. So I'd say grab it.

My husband and I booked a trip on the California Zephyr after we read your article in March about train travel. We flew to the west coast to visit family and then traveled from Emeryville, CA to Chicago in late August and had a great trip. The scenery, especially between Reno and Denver, was just spectacular. We reserved a bedroom and it was a good choice for us. With the door open we could see out of both sides of the train and it was much larger than a roomette. We met some interesting people in the dining car and the food was fine. We never would have thought of this trip without your article. Thanks.

Wow, so glad it inspired you and that you had a great trip. That was a really fun article from Melanie D.G. Kaplan.

california zephyr

Not a question, just a thanks. This summer, I asked where would be a good place to stop overnight between Charleston and DC. You basically said there wasn't much south of Richmond, but either you or your readers suggested Smithfield NC. So we did. We arrived late afternoon, just in time to spend an hour in the Ava Gardner Museum. The town has an outlet mall and lots of new, low- priced chain hotels, which was what we needed. The main reason to stop?-The BEST snow cone EVER in a building shaped like a snowcone! 101 flavors, perfect texture, It's called Hills of Snow-I would stop in the town just for the cone! thanks again.

So I guess you all really do take our advice seriously. :)

Thanks for the report!

This is one of those WP articles that make my Sunday. Thanks to Andrea. I have always wanted to know what happens after the 5000 tourists leave, what these port towns are really like. You answered the question for just the price of my Sunday paper. No question, just thanks.

It was  a great mystery to me as well. So glad we cracked it!

Love the chats! My husband & I flew out to Wyoming a couple of weeks ago. We were able to carry our hiking sticks (we each had one) on the plane with us without a comment from the TSA agents. Upon arriving at the security line in Wyoming to return home, we were told that hiking sticks were not allowed on the plane! The agents in Wyoming said that this is a Wyoming specific rule. How is this possible? The TSA is a federal agency....aren't their rules and procedures supposed to be standard across the country? Is a hiking stick more dangerous in Wyoming but not in the other 49 states? The hiking sticks we had were no more dangerous than the umbrellas and fishing poles we saw go through security without an issue. It was frustrating to have no issues taking them with us to Wyoming but be forced to check them to leave Wyoming. This is why travelers get frustrated with the TSA....travelers would just like to see the same rules and procedures throughout the country. Have you or the chatters ever run into this problem?

TSA prohibits hockey sticks and lacrosse sticks on flights, according to its published list of prohibited items, but alas, no hiking sticks. Sounds as if your TSA agent was just making that up. It's not the first time I've heard of that happening.

A few years ago, I brought a friend to the airport. The first flight was to Chicago, but their eventual destination was overseas. The "recommendations" were to arrive 2 hours early for international flights... but we discoverd the international checkin doesn't open quite that early. When taking the first flights of the day, always check the airport to see what time it opens and don't bother being early.

Great point. Though I do believe that the airline counter does open two hours in advance of international flight departures, even if security is not yet open.

i have some euros that i didn't exchange yet and would like to do so now. i live around Vienna in NV. where can i go? bank??

I'd head for the nearest Travelex office. Looks like that would be either at Reagan National or Dulles, or the main office downtown on K Street. Many banks no longer provide this service, or provide it only in specific major branches. If you're a Bank of America account holder, for instance, you can check this Web site for the branches near you that exchange currency. Wells Fargo also accepts foreign currency (bills only) at its International Teller sites, but I see none of those in our area.

I goofed! I sent you a question last week and omitted a very important requirement! So, here it is again--a little more detailed this time! Any suggestions for a quick trip leaving from West Palm/Fort Lauderdale area for a one or two night laid-back, but really nice, escape to some place beachy in the Bahamas or Caribbean? (We were in Key West about 20 years ago. Should we also consider that destination?) We love local cuisine, interesting accommodations (suggestions, please), beach (or cool pool) and a little local shopping. Thanks!

How about the Abacos in the Bahamas? The sidebar has suggestions on where to stay.

I've been in a cruise only once. It was A Royal Caribbean ship visiting western Caribbean. The ship was ok but I was overwhelmed by the "constant attention" and I'm not sure if this is normal. For instance, am I supposed to see the person that makes up my cabin twice or more per day? In fact I put most of the times the "do not disturb" in the door and he will said later "I could not clean your cabin today!" Also for the special dinners at night, I wasn't in the mood of dressing up every night so I decided not to go to the dinner service for the majority of the trip, on the third day I received a call from the ship asking me why I wasn't going to the dinner service, which I found pretty odd. I kept thinking that the reason of this behavior is because if they don't provide the service we don't tip? Could you please clarify if all this is common when cruising?

There are two reasons you're being lavished with attention. First, the crew lives off tips. They are often paid below minimum wage, so they need your money. Second, by offering you "extras" like drinks and other optional services, they can earn bonuses and commissions, so it's in their best interests to give you their constant attention. It is a giant sales pitch, from start to finish.

I understand that my question is not precise on a real travelling subject, but I read you every Sunday on Travel. Since I don't have any clue to the whereabouts of money exchange in my area, Vienna, VA , I thought I'll give it a try and ask you: I have euros that I will not use in the near future and would like to exchange them. Anyone knows where I can do that? If not please just say that. Thank you again

Um, we answered you already. Look at Zofia's response above.

Hi Travel Crew! Love your chats! My husband and I are headed to Europe for the Christmas markets. We are leaning toward flying from Portland, OR to Frankfurt and the hitting Cologne, Nuremburg and possibly Strasbourg. Munich, Salzburg, etc is also an option. We'd like to do some winter hiking or snowshoeing but are wondering where to go. Any ideas? What are the odds of it snowing by mid-December? Any other ideas we should consider? We are pretty active and looking for a nice, holiday experience. Thanks!

If you go to Cologne, you could hike the Siebengebirge, the mountain range along the Rhine between Bonn and Cologne. I think it's not very likely that there'd be much snow there in mid-December -- these are not high mountains like the Alps, but there are many trails and lovely vistas for hiking. If you want more serious hiking/snowshoeing, definitely head for Munich and Salzburg, which are closer to the Alps, where you're much more likely to find snow. For something even more different, check out our story from last year on Dresden's Christmas market. It sounds really nice, and Dresden is fantastic, still relatively undiscovered by tourists. Not far from it are the Elbe Sandstone mountains, where you could get in some hiking.

Chatters, add your thoughts!

Hi fellow chatters! I'm heading to Sicily in about a week and am looking for suggestions for good places to eat in Palermo and Cefalu.

I've dined well in both cities, but can not remember names of restaurants. Some with good reviews include Santandrea and Osteria dei Vespri in Palermo, La Brace in Cefalu and Nangalarruni near Cefalu.  Any chatters have favorites? 

If you are from around here you may not be interested in getting into DC. But if you are, water taxi to Old Town Alexandria, then hop on the metro at the top of King Street, which is the main drop in Old Town.

Yes, of course. And I forgot to mention the King Street Trolley that will get you to the Metro as well.

About three weeks ago, I scored tickets from Chicago to Rome for about $900 each. They were below most of the other fares I saw, but they were also for April, which is busier than January. Not sure if that changes anything. (I'm now thankful I bought them - $1,400?!? Wow!)

I'd say you really lucked out!

Have airline Bereavement Fares totally gone away or is it something hidden on airline websites or that you have to actually talk to a service rep about? Thanks.

The fares come and go, but they are largely gone for now. And the ones that remain are not as affordable as the ones we're used to, pre-9/11. You're almost always better off buying through a discount site or an opaque site like Hotwire or Priceline. It doesn't hurt to ask, though. You might get lucky and find one that's a legitimate bargain. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

A group of friends is meeting up in Rosemary Beach in November. I know nothing of the area. Should we bring swim suits? Much nightlife? Good restaurants? Any info would be much appreciated. Thank you.

I have been to Destin and Panama City but never Rosemary.

Can any chatters help this beach-bound traveler?

How about an interactive map of the USA and another one of the world. Clicking on the state or country brings up links to the article(s) on each state or country! That should be easy, and other newspapers do it that way.

I know, this is a great idea. We suggested that a while ago and were rejected. But maybe one day...

If you can do nothing else in Copenhagen, take a canal tour. (I second or third or fourth that suggestion.) Great way to see the city in an hour. As I recall, it was possible to get off at the Little Mermaid and take the next tour boat, making a separate walk up to see the statue unnecessary. Another chatter suggested Amalienborg, which is most interesting during the changing of the guards at 11:30 a.m. People-watching is good not just on the Stroget, but also in Kongens Have (the King's Garden, where Rosenborg is) and Nyhavn. If heights don't bother you, go up the spiral staircase on the outside of Vor Frelsers Kirke or up Ronde Toren (the Round Tower, built as an observatory). But above all, Copenhagen is a place to be, rather than to do. Don't try to cram in too much. You asked about lockers: The airport indicates a baggage storage area (referred to on the homepage as "cloak room"). The homepage of the main train station also shows lockers. What would help you the most would be lockers at the Metro Station Kongens Nytorv, but I wasn't able to find that out.

Thanks! Love your tips, and agree with you that sometimes it's best just to be in and absorb a place, not try to see and do too much!

we'll be in Old San Juan next week for three days. I remember a good article talking about the area but cannot locate it using the search function. Particularly interested in restaurants. thanks

Here's an article we ran that has a good section on Old San Juan. Plus check the details box for restaurant suggestions.

I don't travel often, but really wished the airlines would let me pre-pay for any checked bag fees when I purchase my tickets. I usually know if I will need to check a bag and it would save me the trouble of having three or more airline fees for each trip (one for the tickets and one for the bags on each flight). I assume the reason they don't let you do this is because each time you pull out your credit card, they have a chance to spam you with offers to earn additional miles, upgrade your seat, or any number of other annoying offers.

They do.  When you book a flight, you can pay for any ancillary fees, such as seat assignments and checked bags. After selecting your flight, keep on clicking for these options.

I'm not able to use a one-way ticket on USAir for later this week. I believe the ticket was $170, do I still bother canceling with the airline? Would the $20 difference be usable on any ticket or are there restrictions?

You would probably have to use it on the same route. Minus the $150 change fee, it's almost not worth it. But you never know ...

I have a HUGE pet peeve. When I travel, I am not exactly always in the mood to get out and about. Sometimes, since I'm on vacation, I do like to laze about in bed, relaxing, taking a nice long bath, etc. But, I cannot do that if the TV CHANNELS SUCK! Perfect example: just got back from Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The TV selection was HORRIBLE! Yes, I get that the point is to make sure I'm on the floor, gambling, but C'MON! What if one gets ill while traveling? And I also wish hotels would list their TV channel selections on their website. It would go a LONG way in me choosing which property to stay at if I know one has Bravo and Food Network, while another only has boring sports and news channels... Thoughts?

I just got back from Vegas and had pretty good cable selections (standard but I am fine with that) at my two properties: Renaissance and Elara, a Hilton property. Most major three- and four-star properties in Vegas have at least basic cable, with Food Netword, AMC, etc.

However, I think with so many other amenities-- restaurants, bars, fitness center, spa, etc. -- listing their channels on their Web sites is a low priority. If this really matters to you, best to call ahead before you book. I am sure the reservationist can give you a list of cable stations.

I've been to Orlando (as well as Daytona, Clearwater, Miami, the Keys) multiple times (both when I was a kid and when I was older) and did the major tourist attractions - Disney World, Universal, Downtown Disney, etc. We're now heading there in October to attend a wedding. Do you travel gurus have any ideas of what other activities or sites to see that are off the beaten path? We will be renting a car so we are pretty flexible. Looking to do something a little more different than the standard tourist attractions this time around, maybe somethign more specific to Florida? Thank you!

Have you been to Winter Park? It's a nice art-oriented alternative to the theme parks. Cape Canaveral would be an easy drive if you haven't been there yet. We've also had recent stories on Lake Wales and Lake Wales Ridge.

That reminds me of the orange juice stands in California along the slow old (non-Interstate) highways that were shaped like giant oranges, and the Giant Artichoke in Castroville! Do chatters know of other places like that, where the building resembles the food or drink being served?

Ha, good question! Here are some doughnut-shaped doughnut shops. Anyone know of others?

I'm going on a week-long cruise with my husband and daughter, my parents, my brother & his wife, and her parents during the week of Christmas. Our destinations are Port Canaveral, Nassau, and Freeport and we're cruising on the Carnival Pride. My husband and I have cruised once before (Royal Caribbean) and enjoyed it but this time we'll have our daughter with us who will be almost 17-months old. I'm hoping to get any and all advice you and the other readers can provide. She's fairly good about adapting to new places for naps and bedtime although I'm prepared for the worst. She's a walker but I'm curious if I should get a "leash" (aka "harness" if you're kind) because I have awful visions of her going overboard. We're attentive parents and have the benefit of many adults to help out but she's so mobile and of course once I thought about it I can't unsee it. We'll have her stroller but should I bring a booster seat or will they have high-chairs? Does anyone have suggestions if she ends up suffering from motion-sickness? She's flown a lot but I suffer from motion-sickness. The cruise I took was OK after the first night. Since one of our stops is Florida we're going to Disney World. I know, she's too young to remember but I can't pass up the chance to do Disney when it's decorated for Christmas (we hit it the day after) with my family and the grandparents. Is there anything major about Disney with a toddler I should know or shouldn't miss seeing? I'm also curious about traveling on the bus to and from the park. Are those seats car seat compatible? We're about to transition into a big kid car seat from her infant seat so should I look for one brand that's better for that type of bus travel? We leave from Baltimore so since we're driving up we have the luxury of having space to bring things since we're not flying. Any details are greatly appreciated! I'm always so impressed with the Travel Crew's knowledge as well as the readers here. Thanks!

Whew. Lots of questions here. I'm going to turn them over to the parents among our chatters, as it's been muchos anos since my kids were your child's age. Folks, advice for this mom?

What international locations would you suggest for celebrating the New Year? Carribean Cruise, Venice, Guadalajara are among the places we've been over the New Year. Looking for a new destination.

I have heard Rio is a blast. But I also adore Morocco (this is my theme for today). You can spend the New Year in a kasbah in the High Atlas Mountains; in the Sahara desert; or on the seashore. Very memorable!

We reserved online a cabin on a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean in November--not a time/place we would have chosen but because a relative decided to have a cruise wedding. The customer service we have received makes me think that Carnival at least would have preferred we would have gone through a travel agent. The FAQ and 800 number have not provided information we've needed and I had to do a "contact us" which invariably took several days for a response. The last question was really important "will Carnival send an invoice/email for the last payment?" The answer was no. I searched online and never found how to make the payment for the cabin online and had to call the 800 number. I finally got the payment made but still have to print my own luggage tags! I was under the impression that cruise lines were worried about filling their ships. I guess that is not the case since the "customer service" I've received made me feel that Carnival believes it is doing us a favor by letting us cruise. Even the dining info was snarky in that if attendees want to dine together they had to have made their reservations through one travel agent. Apparently Carnival doesn't understand that people live in different areas of the country making this difficult. If we ever cruise again which is doubtful, would we be better off going through a travel agent and paying extra?

It's disappointing to hear that. There's no excuse for bad service, even if you got a good deal on a cruise. If things get worse, please let me know. Here's how to reach me.

Planning a trip to London and France next summer. We expect to be in France for about 7 or 8 days, with most time in Paris. However, my husband wants to do some wine tasting tours. Do you have an opinion of whether Provence, Burgundy, or Bordeaux is "better" in terms of scenery, wine tasting, and perhaps ease of travel?

I punted your question over to our wine guru, Dave McIntyre, and here's what he says:

The easiest region to visit would be Champagne, about a 90-minute drive from Paris to Reims and even quicker on the bullet train. Major Champagne houses such as Ruinart and Pommery have enjoyable tours in the old Roman chalk cellars. Moet in Epernay is although worth a visit. These are rather touristy but definitely give a good impression of the region and the wines. If you want to dig deeper, so to speak, ask your favorite retailer here at home about possibly visiting some small growers; this might require some advance work with appointments.
Burgundy is also quite nice. Beaune would make a good base for a night or two. There are some places in the lovely old town that offer tastings of several wines, though these are rarely the best wines available. Rent a car and drive along the main road (it used to be called RN7, I think, but was recently renamed) to see some of the most famous vineyards in the world. If you like chardonnay, you would want to visit Chablis (closer to Paris) or Meurseault (south of Beaune).
 Bordeaux is a bit more far-flung than Burgundy, meaning more driving between wineries. St Emilion is a gorgeous city worth visiting, though, and it would give you a taste of the region, with lots of merlot and cab franc to experience. If you have time, a few hours' drive northwest gets you to the Dordogne -- not wine country, but truffles and foie gras, including castles from the Hundred Years War, and the caves of Lascaux.
 Scenery? Hard to beat Provence. Avignon would be my recommendation to make your base for wine exploration; you could get to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac and Tavel right around there, and the villages (Gigondas, Rasteau etc) are about an hour or two further afield.
 I hope this helps narrow your choices! You may just want to pick your favorite wine and plan accordingly.

I was reading comments on the article about the Royal Clipper. One person noted that the sailing time is fun, the not sailing time is not as fun. How much of the time is sail the main power of propulsion? Are there many other companies which offer sailing experiences?

Peter says that his impression was they were under sail power the majority of the time.

There are definitely other companies. One is Windstar.

4 females are looking to travel in March or April. 2 of us are moms, one of which will be celebrating her 50th. The other 2 are our daughters, in their 20's.  We'd like to fly out of Dulles. We were thinking of the Dominican Republic, however definitely avoiding Easter break. Would the 4 of us be 'safe' here, especially if we wanted to go out shopping? Suggestions appreciated

I like DR, but it's not all that easy to get to -- you'll have to take a connecting flight. Take a look at Grand Cayman. There are nonstop flights on Saturdays on Cayman Airways, and it's got a nice, safe shopping area. 

Sorry to ask such an FAQ, but what's the latest conventional wisdom on cheap/reliable transit to IAD? I fly there so seldomly that I normally spring for a SuperShuttle to avoid the hassle, but I've been meaning to check out the West Falls shuttle and/or 5A bus. My flight is a 10PM redeye on a Thursday. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

The 5A is certainly an option, but for ease and efficiency, I'd probably go with the Washington Flyer bus between West Falls Church and the airport. At $18 round trip, it's not much more than the $12 you'd pay for the Metro bus. Both will be much cheapear than a cab.

The week of 9/17, a reader asked about an alternative to NYC within 5-6 hours drive for a Christmas break holiday with her four children, age range 9 to late teens. I was too late to recommend Philadelphia during the chat, but I think it would be a similar-feeling destination to NYC, perhaps even more quaint during Christmas-time. Between the cobble-stone streets, historic brick homes and lovely architecture, I bet the city will feel nice that time of year. There are lots of activities - from boutique shopping to museum-hopping, free concerts at the Curtis Institute of Music. The new Constitution Museum is well-done, and there are historic sites like the Liberty Bell, etc that seem obvious but which many of us forget about. Lots of good food, starting with Reading Terminal Market! Much more affordable than NYC and the family could also take the train.

Yes, we suggested Charleston, S.C., but Philly's great, too. And much closer, of course!

Can you help find a place that is half way (or an equal drive) between DC and Charlotte, NC for meeting up for a weekend with friends who live down there. Want something family/kid friendly.

I love Berry Hill Plantation in South Boston, Va. It's just about halfway between the two, down Route 360 (a saner and gentler road than 95!). Lovely setting, there's a swimming pool for the kiddies, nearby golf for the fellas, if they're so inclined. Can also arrange horseback riding, etc. South Boston Speedway's nearby, as are a couple of national parks and Civil War sites. And Bob Cage's sculpture farm. Check it out, both our story linked above and here's the hotel's Web site. I suppose you could also meet in Durham, but that would be a farther drive for you than for them. Or you could try Wintergreen Resort -- very family-frinedly. It's about three and half hours from DC, four and a half from Charlotte.

Chatters, you have any ideas?

I rode Megabus with several friends for the first time on Saturday, roundtrip from Baltimore (White Marsh) to New York City. The first issue is that White Marsh is not Baltimore! It is not easy to get from White Marsh to Baltimore City. 2) There is not enough parking at White Marsh. The lot designated for Megabus passengers was full when I arrived at 8am, with additional cars parked in inventive ways. I took a chance and parked in the MTA Park and Ride lot, and all day I was worried that my car would be towed away or ticketed when I returned. 3) There is no shelter or seating for waiting passengers, so in extreme cold/heat or rain/snow, it would be uncomfortable. 4) There are no signs to tell newbies what to do. There was an attendant there, but she was busy staying out of the sun, so she was between 2 cars, seated, and hard to see. If I hadn't read reviews online, I would not have known to find her and check in to get a number. Many people didn't. Once on the bus, the ride was fine. I don't know if the Wi-Fi worked, because I don't use it. The legroom was excellent, and the temperature was comfortable. We arrived in Manhattan on time. Leaving Manhattan, the departure point was different from the arrival point, and this was communicated adequately ahead of time. The departure point is in a poorly-lit area, and if I had been traveling alone, I would have been scared to walk there. We waited in line, again at the mercy of the elements with no shelter, nowhere to sit, etc. On the ride home, the bus broke down in Delaware, a little over an hour from White Marsh, at 10:30pm. We were initially told that the next bus from NYC would pick us up and take us to White Marsh. We knew that wouldn't happen because our double-decker bus was full, and the next bus probably would be, too. Several Delaware State Police officers stayed with us to make sure that mayhem did not ensue when everyone couldn't get on the next bus. Thankfully, people were trying to remain calm and upbeat, because it was completely out of our control. At the urging of the police, the driver called for a status update, and we were informed that an empty bus had been dispatched from DC at 11:30pm to take us all to White Marsh and on to the final stop in DC. We sat on the side of the road for 4 hours! The police brought us bottled water, and we could use the rest room on the bus, but it was uncomfortable and we had no idea when we would get home. All the while, we were worried about our cars being towed away for being in the MTA lot after hours. The next bus from NYC was full, as expected, so no one got on. We waited and waited, and finally the empty bus arrived around 2:45am. We got back to White Marsh at 4:00am, instead of the scheduled 11:50pm arrival. Anyone who planned to use the MTA bus to get home was out of luck. Luckily, our cars were still there and hadn't been ticketed. Needless to say, this was my first AND LAST trip on Megabus. If you can afford to use other transportation options, do so. I can and I will. I feel that Megabus should have had a better plan in place for breakdowns, such as a contract with a local charter bus company along the route to rescue stranded passengers. So...do you think I have any chance for a refund from them?

You can try to get a refund, but unfortunately breaking down is a risk you take when riding the bus. Same goes for taking Amtrak or flying ina plane. Planes, trains and buses break down. As a goodwill gesture, the company should've offered passengers a refund or discount on a future trip.

I am an advocate of writing letters and calling to complain.  Nothing changes if we don't speak up!

Trying to plan a cruise to Australia/New Zealand for my 84-year old father and a friend. Considering Princess Diamond, Celebrity Solstice, and HA Oosterdam itineraries in Jan/Feb (13-18 days). Are any of these lines better than the others for this age group? Both passengers are in good physical condition, except my Dad has macular degeneration so can't read. They are looking for good food, onboard activities, excursions suitable to their age, and good service. Thanks for any advice you can provide.

I think they'd be happy with any of these lines. I'd be more interested in the itineraries and the ships. The Solstice may attract a younger crowd, but I believe it's the newest ship (launched in 2010). Holland America has a good reputation with seniors, and the Oosterdam is the smallest of the three ships (1,916 passengers). Princess Diamond, like the Solstice, is a large ship (2,670 passengers), and was launched in 2004 (Oosterdam was launched in 2003). So, if itineraries are equal, I'd probably opt for HAL or Celebrity. 

just to clarify chris, i felt like the AA booking agent was directing me toward American Eagle flights as a way of avoiding sickouts, maybe she knew something we don't? Seemed so, for Montreal traveler, check united webfares on Tuesdays, had cheap ones from Newark for years but this summer from IAD.

Thanks for the clarification. Very interesting.

Don't you already have a map like the chatter suggested? 

Yes, but it hasn't been updating with our stories for the last two years!

I'm the writer from last week who was applying for a Russian Visa. Tried to submit this but it was too long, so here is the VERY condensed version of my experiences. The ILS visa website is still incorrect. Documents I submitted: 1. Passport - If you want to apply for a three-year multi-entry visa, you need two blank visa pages FACING EACH OTHER in your passport. Two not-facing blank pages are acceptable for the 30-day. 2. Invitation - I had the "old style" invitation, and it was accepted. It would have been accepted for either the 3-year or 30-day visa. 3. Application - make sure to select "ILS-Washington" on the last page, and NOT "Washington." (And bring your online application username and password with you.) 4. Proof of hostel reservation - I brought this and handed it over in my packet but it was returned to me. Bring it but you may not need it. 5. Cover letter - they have a form you can fill out. Just use that. 6. Money Order - The amounts on the website are all wrong. Just go to ILS, apply, have them tell you how much you need, and head to the CVS a 10 minute walk away to get the correct amount. The way it works is you submit your application and go to a different window to pay, so the process lends itself to that. And don't fill out the "to" section until you get there. Save yourself a lot of problems -- if you're going to Russia, apply yourself. The process wasn't unpleasant, the ILS people were very nice. Hope it helps somebody!

Thank you for this! Glad to hear that it wasn't too onerous! Sounds like they've gotten their act together somewhat better.

This sounds simple, but it can be very important. Make sure your family & closest friends know not only that you are on a cruise, but which line and ship you will actually be on, and exact dates of travel. My father passed away this month & we were unable to contact his brother who was on a cruise at the time. The reason? We only knew their departure port, and that it left either Sunday or Monday. I know the ships have ways to reach their guests in an emergency, but we were unable to take the time to research all the ships that met that criteria. Thus, my uncle missed his only brother's funeral.

My suspicion is that TSA's inconsistency is intentional, in order to make it impossible for a would-be terrorist to be able to rely on rules being implemented the same everywhere every time.

Yes, there's a certain randomness about the screening process, which is intentional. But when it comes to the list of prohibited items, that should always remain the same.

I'm very much on the fence about cruises. I've heard from some people who love them - had a great time, no problems, etc. But then I hear horror stories from other people. I think my biggest hesitation is that I like to use my vacation time to go out and see new places. I feel like cruises are more about staying on a boat and just doing boring activities I could do at home. Am I wrong in that assumption or are there some lesser-known cruise lines I should check out?

Cruises vary by line, size of ship and itinerary. An Avalon Waterways river cruise on the Mekong River is a very different experience than a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean. Look at the people who are telling you the stories. Who is more like you? For example, you can't get a hairy chest contest at home (well, probably not), but would you think something like that is fun? As for staying on the boat, again, depends on itinerary. Most Mediterranean cruises stop at a different port each day, and most passengers get off and explore.  

The 5A can be VERY crowded coming back from the airport (standing room only, with luggage everywhere). Going to the airport usually isn't nearly as bad. If you want to guarantee yourself a seat and on time trip, take the Flyer bus.

Yes, it's nice on the Flyer to be able to have your luggage stowed underneath.

Be sure to check the Metro track schedule. Last weekend, the Orange line ended at EAST Falls Church, and people has to take a shuttle bus to get to WEST Falls Church to get the Wash Flyer bus! A major inconvenience, easily adding an extra half-hour to travel time...

Just sayin'. Check with your hotel too. Old Post Office is where ours dropped off.

Just remember that it's the middle of summer then, hot and muggy.

What would be the least expensive place to leave my luggage in Narita Airport Japan? I will be getting to Tokyo after a couple of months work in India therefore I will have a medium-large size suitcase that I will not be able to take with me for my two week backpacking trip in Japan. I found in the internet that there are lockers in the airport but the prices vary widely and Im not sure if all the options are listed in that website, any suggestion on this? Also is there's a possibility of leaving my luggage somewhere outside of the airport where this service is provided at a better rate?

Narita's Web site lists prices and locations of storage lockers. The list seems pretty comprehensive.

For two weeks, I don't know where else you could stash your bag. A hotel probably would not allow you to store your bag for so long.  I would contact the Japan National Tourism Organization for advice. I would also consider  shipping your bag home if you no longer need it.

Regarding the OP's item from last week's chat about world cruises, I have two suggestions for him or her: One, please get a copy of the September/October 2012 issue of Cruise Travel magazine, which contains an article about world cruises. Two, I recommend that the OP contact his or her travel agent and ask about Holland America's Guaranteed Share program, which enables single people to occupy an outside or inside double cabin with a same-sex roommate. I've done so on one or two 12-day cruises with Holland America in the late 90s and in 2000. Happy cruising!

Appreciate the follow-up. Thanks!

But be careful when choosing a roommate. One of our former travel writers once opted for the sharing-with-a-stranger plan on a cruise. At one point, the roomie handed her a pair of tweezers and asked her to pluck a few whiskers off her chin. Very odd.  

I have been to London, England many times. I am going again the first week of November. What do you recommend I visit that is not the typical tourist site? The Post had an article on early summer about the Venice of London where boats go between channels and sounded like fun. Can I get a tour of the place? Where is it?

Here's the story you're referring to, although it was about taking yourself around in a boat. Here's some info on taking a guided tour.

I've been following your cross-country trip on twitter. What's been the highlight so far? Have you seen differences in your children's appreciation/enjoyment that makes you think X is the perfect age for this type of trip? Also, I'm hoping we'll see more details in the form of an article / book in the future.

Thank you for following my trip on Away is Home. As a matter of fact, I'm in Klamath Falls, Ore., right now (the kids are in the next room, working on their school assignments.) It's been an eye-opening experience for everyone, and we are talking about possibly doing a book on the trip.  We've been writing about this adventure online, mostly, on our site and on National Geographic Traveler's blog. Let me talk it over with my editors here and see if I can do something at the end of this year -- I think that would be fun.

You asked about the highlights, and that's a difficult one to answer. On this leg, the high point for me was seeing the wolves in Yellowstone and then hearing them early in the morning when I was packing the car on our way out to Oregon. But I think each member of my family would give you a different answer.

The kids take more pictures, ask more questions and play fewer video games as a result of traveling across the country with their travel writer parents. I think that's a good thing. We hope we can continue the adventure.

I don't recall the contents of the article but this month's issue of Coastal Living has an article about it. It's the issue with the fancy carved pumpkins on the cover.

Good to know. I'm not sure I found the same thing you're talking about, but here's something.

Go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen just south of Munich. You won't regret it. Lovely winter sports paradise.

Right!

Grabbed a great deal on Turkish Airlines a couple of weeks ago (nonstop from Dulles, $550 per person, round-trip, taxes/fees included), so we are headed to Istanbul in mid-March next year. We'll have only a week, but we're wondering if it would be worthwhile to go south for a day or two for some sunnier weather. (We understand that the weather in Istanbul is likely to be rainy and cold that time of year.) Or, should we just stick in Istanbul? Have you had any articles about Istanbul in recent years? Any suggestions for must-see, must-do things (besides the usual major tourist sites? I understand that most hamams (Turkish baths) have gone the Euro-spa route, but are there any authentic-type baths around? Any and all suggestions are welcome!

You're right that Istanbul may be cool and rainy at that time of year, but you still might get a few nice days. If you want to get out of town and go somewhere warmer, Ephesus is beautiful and the temps there should be in the low 60s, with lots of sun. That said, if you only have a week, I don't know whether I'd do it. You'd fly down from Istanbul and would probably lost at least three days. And there's so much to do in Istanbul. Here's an Istanbul story we ran recently.

My teenage daughter and I'd like to go someplace warm in January for a week, budget $3 - $5K. Interested in museums and shopping. Eco-tourism would be a plus. Any suggestions?

I vote for Morroco --though the temperatures are more spring-like than summery. For more heat, consider Colombia or Ecuador.

Did you really just say that? Women don't play golf?

Everybody knows only men have enough time on their hands to play golf. ;-) Can we lighten up a little, please? Isn't "fellas" a tip-off?

If you are cruising in search of nice weather, do yourself a favor and fly down to Miami or Fort Lauderdale and leave from a port there, where you'll have more days in the Carribbean. If you want to spend downtime on the boat, leave from Baltimore or Norfolk, but don't expect it to warm up until you head further south!

I'm with you, although you can sometimes get some good cruise deals out of Baltimore or Norfolk, and airfares have been rather high. 

The flyer going to Montreal might consider flying to Burlington VT and taking the bus on from there. That should save on the airfare.

Hubs and I will be taking a first-ever trip to NYC. Two questions: (1) which neighborhood (and I don't know if I'm using that term correctly here, but I'm thinking of Times Square, or West Village, or Chelsea, or whatever) do you recommend we stay in given that we expec to be doing the typical first-ever museum and theater activities; and (2) what's your favorite best-kept NYC travel tip?

If you want to be in the thick of things, Times Square is most convenient. I stayed in the Doubletree Suites there a couple of years back, and it was great. My favorite thing to do is to take a birding tour of Central Park, but pretty sure that's not for everyone. But there are all sorts of walking tours of Central Park that would be fun. 

Hey, how about driving up to Pittsburgh for the holiday break? It's only ca. 4 hours by car, and there's lots to see here, including for the kids: Carnegie Science Center; the model train village; outdoor(!) ice-skating at PPG Place; ethnic Christmas decorations at the University of Pittsburgh's many Nationality Rooms; fancy Christmas trees at the Carnegie Museum (just across Forbes Ave. from Pitt). Nearest downhill skiing with man-made snow is at Boyce Park in Monroeville (PA. Turnpike exit 6), although there are several ski resorts immediately to the East in Westmoreland and Somerset Counties.

Andrea - without giving away anything from a future story, what was your take on the Elara? I'm booked there next month.

I loved it, though I had to drive around and around to find it. Go slowly and look up high to see the sign! It is near Planet Hollywood; parking is in the Miracle Mile lot.

I paid only $109 and got a swanky suite with a view of the "Eiffel Tower." It is not a typical casino-resort, however. It's more of a traditional hotel but is very close to the other casinos, shopping, etc.  Hope you enjoy it!

I travel a ton for work, and I agree! Hotels almost always have a listings card, but you have to scroll through every channel to see what is on. Over and over again. I just want to relax after work!

I usually find a list of channels in the Hotel Info book. Or click on Menu on the remote and scroll down.

Hello! My husband and I are headed to Strasbourg, France this weekend. We haven't been before-- any experiences/foods/highlights that we shouldn't miss? I am 6 months pregnant so that limits my fun a little bit! Thanks!

Oh Strasbourg is so gorgeous. You must see the cathedral, of course, with its famous astronomical clock. Then just wander around among the fabulous half-timber houses and goggle. It's like a fairyland. Too bad you can't go a wine tour -- the Alsatian wines are wonderful. Chatters, what do you recommend?

And the thing is, if you are not interested in a Hairy Chest contest, simply find something else to do! There are plenty of things to do on board, including sitting on deck and having a nap, or curling up in a window seat with your favorite book. I dislike the casino and don't want to hang in bars all day (although a person can do both if they want to!), so I don't do that. I have been known to stay on board when in port, to enjoy the empty spa and pool. That's what I like so much about cruising, I do only what I want to do, everything else is taken care of for me!

Many years ago I cruised on Carnival. One of the first things they did before allowing entry onto the ship was to try to take a picture of me. I initially declined to permission for the photo (I looked hideous after several hours in-flight!) and they argued with me, and shoved me back into the photo area, and insisted that I couldn't gain entrance to the ship without taking the photo. At the time, I hadn't traveled very much, it was my first trip abroad, and I wasn't sure of myself so I ended up letting them take the pic, but I refused to purchase it. I've been on smaller dinner cruises (NY, DC) and they do the same thing. Now I'm older and just refuse them taking my pic and keep walking, but ship staff are hostile. Other than another strategy to gain a buck, it has prevented me from cruising for years. Advice on how to handle this in the future? Is there a polite way to decline/refuse to allow ship staff to take my pic? I just hate having my photo taken! Thanks.

I don't think the primary purpose here is to make a buck on selling you that specific photo. It's more about keeping track of you for the duration of the trip. 

If you can only spend one day there, do you have a favorite thing to do other than the aquarium? Thanks.

I have so many favorite things to do in the area. Here is a link to a tour of the shore.

So nice to see the back-page article about Ithaca, NY, which is not (usually) part of a cruise-ship issue! Ms. Kaplan pointed out some great places to shop and I'd like to add another: Book-lovers should know that Ithaca's local citizenry also started what hopefully will become a national trend in defense of indie bookstores when downtown Buffalo Street Books, the only local indie bookstore selling new books, was about to go out of business last year -- An impassioned op-ed by one of the store's employees  galvanized more than 600 local people and one local church into turning the store into a community-owned co-op by buying shares in it! Publisher's Weekly wrote it up and -- well -- it's just such a great thing, I wanted to be sure people knew about it. "Ithaca is gorges," as the T-shirts proclaim, and it's also a great place for book-lovers.

Great story, thanks!

I remember the giant soft ice cream cone building of my childhood, even had the swirl on the top! Of course, I also remember the regular building with the spinning ice cream cones on top - my brother told me that those were used to train monkeys who were going into space so they could get used to the motion!

OK, it's time to pull into port. Thank you for being here today and for all your great questions and tips. The prize goes to the chatter who recommended giving your exact schedule to your family before you leave. That's good advice regardless of your mode of travel. Please send your name and mailing address to travel@washpost.com.

We'll see you next week. Same time, same place.

In This Chat
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
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.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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