Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Sep 14, 2015

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Happy all-of-a-sudden fall, chatters, and welcome to Talk About Travel. Here's hoping you enjoyed Sunday's Cruise Issue -- perhaps with a pumpkin spice latte -- featuring nautical variations in small (day cruises out of Annapolis, Md., on a 74-foot schooner), medium (crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II) and large (aboard RCI megaship 'Anthem of the Seas'). Have a comparably colorful cruise chronicle you'd like to share? Please do. (As always, tales of misadventure also welcome.) Most compelling tale wins a stylish and durable Travel-section tote bag. And now on to your questions...   

I'm looking for a beach vacation around my birthday in November (10th). Would prefer to stay within 2-3 hour flight and have about 4 nights. for the trip Ideas?

If you want to keep flight time under three hours, your best bet is to head to Florida or Nassau, Bahamas. If you opt for Florida, it may be already a bit cool in northern cities. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers would work. As for where to stay, would need to know a little bit more about your budget, as there are lots of choices.  

I apologize for an extremely common question, but I hardly ever fly to Europe, so I have no sense of what is "too high." I'm looking for tickets to London over Spring Break 2016, so a high demand time. United is running around $800. It doesn't sound terrible, but I just wanted to get your input. Thanks!!

That is a great fare for spring, especially for a nonstop! Summer fares are well over a grand; winter fares can be about $100 less.

Great article on a fascinating road -- had no idea there was such a long, almost unused road, perfect for bicycling! And certainly much easier than hiking the Pacific Crest Trail -- I thought about Cheryl Strayed while reading the article. But, I didn't understand why the author was blaming Daylight Savings Time for it being dark in the evening. In fact, without DST, it would have gotten dark one hour sooner.

So glad that you enjoyed the piece. I was referring to the shortened hours of daylight that forced me to curtail my biking earlier than I would have wished. Had I biked during the summer, I could've have cycled till 8 or 9 p.m.!

My fiance and I will be getting married next June, and we are looking to go on our honeymoon in either early July or mid-late August for about 1.5 - 2 weeks. We have been looking around and keep coming back to Costa Rica. I found a hotel called Ylang Ylang which is located in Montezuma and really seems to check off many of our boxes. Have you heard of this hotel and if so what do you think? Here are our other questions: 1. Is it best to use a travel agent and if so, do you have any recommendations? 2. If possible, we would love to splurge on 3-4 nights at a luxury hotel with a private bungalow, etc. 3. My final question is about ground transportation. should we think about renting a car or hire drivers? Thank you in advance! 

My son and his fiance are thinking of a Costa Rican honeymoon next summer, so I've been doing a little research on the topic. Have not heard of Ylang Ylang, but know that Montezuma is not in the thick of tourism destinations. It's a little offbeat, known for ecotourism. Getting there is not all that easy. If you fly into Liberia or San Jose, you're looking at a five-hour trip to get from the airport. Or you can fly into San Jose, take a short flight to Tambor and then it's a short drive to Montezuma. I'd rely on drivers/shuttles rather than renting a car. Do any chatters have inside info on Ylang Ylang? 

Interesting story on the trans-Atlantic cruise, definitely an alternative to consider in the future. But, why are the time zone changes done at noon? Why not do them overnight, so you reset your clock before going to bed, and wake up to the new time zone in the morning?

You make a great point, and one that many of us wondered as well! It was very confusing and even annoying to lose that hour when we were awake and trying to plan activities. A lot of people sacrificed lunch!

Hi! I'm submitting early because I'll be out this afternoon. We're planning a Columbus Day weekend trip across Virginia with a stop in Charlottesville. I see that Monticello offers a "Behind the Scenes" tour. It sounds interesting, but do you or any chatters know if it's worth the extra money ($110/two vs $50/two for the "regular" tour)? Thanks!

 I have never been on this tour, but I found a several positive reviews online.

Chatters, can you help?

A week ago I was on a USAir/AA flight from Wilmington NC to DCA. I had a double stroller with me to get the kids through the airports (not an umbrella stroller). The agent at the ILM ticket counter told me I would not be able to pick up the stroller plane side and would need to check it through to baggage claim. She said this was a new policy for the airline - they were only allowing umbrella strollers to be gate checked. She said the change in policy happened in the last few days - I was able to bring the stroller from DCA - ILM the week before. Was the agent correct in the information that it was an airline-wide policy? Are other airlines restricting the types of strollers you can gate check? Thanks!

I haven't heard about a new stroller rule, but typically American doesn't announce changes in its policies. The airline's rule is based on weight, not capacity, so I'm not sure if the representative was correct. Doubles are okay, as long as they weigh less than 20 pounds.

My husband and I would like to take a 3-4 night vacation in mid-November. Our requirements include mild weather, great food, and interesting activities. The frontrunner destination is New Orleans (staying at Windsor Court.) Any other ideas?

I second that choice, but would also add Nashville, Asheville or Austin. You might also enjoy the N.C. trifecta of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill.

Chris, I'm a frequent flyer on United. My job often requires me to use that airline, so I figure I might as well collect miles while I'm doing it. In June, I took a roundtrip flight to Vienna on Austrian Air. Austrian is part of the Star Alliance, and so I should receive United miles for the flight. However, I have not received the miles, even though I've requested credit twice on their website, called a United customer service person 4 times, and sent them copies of my e-ticket and both boarding passes. Last Thursday, I emailed the executive contacts at United that you have listed on your website and have gotten no response. I am so frustrated. Any ideas on what I can do? Should I wait a little longer, since it was just on Thursday that I contacted the executives? It should not take months of calling and emailing to get miles from an Alliance airline.

That's so frustrating. Here are the executive contacts at United Airlines, and someone should have responded to you by now, of course. Not every flight is eligible for miles. But someone should let you know if you are getting miles or not. If those contacts don't respond, please email me and I'll do what I can to get you an answer.

Your shortened hours had nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time (DST) and everything to due with the rotation of the Earth and the changing of the seasons. Leave the poor DST alone.

Okay! I promise I won't curse the clock again. But I can't blame Earth either; she is stuck on spin cycle.

I love these chats and finally have a question of my own. Three of us (age 75, 45, and 42) will be taking an Alaska cruise and land tour (including the Yukon Territory) next July. I'm a bit overwhelmed with all of the information to go through to figure out trip insurance. Should we purchase it through the cruise line or through a third party? I think we can probably get a better deal with more coverage through a third party but the cruise line coverage is the same price regardless of age. All of us are generally healthy. We all have health insurance through BCBS-FEP (Standard option) so we have coverage overseas and med-evac coverage. Do we need additional medical insurance, given that we will be in the wilds of Alaska and the Yukon? Should we each get our own policy or get a policy to cover all three of us together? Any insight you can provide is greatly appreciated!!

If you have coverage through your regular health insurance policy, including air ambulance transfers, you may not need extra medical insurance. But I'd carefully read my policy to make sure they will cover transfers. Many policies (and this also applies to travel insurance policies) will only cover transfers to the closest medical facility. They won't cover transfer to the hospital closest to your home. As for whether to purchase through cruise line or via an independent company, I'd at least compare a few policies. Go to a Web site such as InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright or SquareMouth to price out other policies.  And take time to read the fine print. You'll want a policy that covers trip cancellation, just in case one of you falls ill before you go. Some policies cover "cancel for any reason" but those are expensive. 

Since we don't have a car, we don't have car insurance and therefore always get the LDW from the rental agency. For a few days or a week, that's fine. But we have a 3 week road trip coming up using a rental car. Is there a short term insurance option? 21 days of an extra $25 per day will add up quickly.

Yes, you can get coverage through your travel insurance policy or Insuremyrentalcar.com, which offers short-term policies for car renters. You're probably overspending by shelling out an extra $25 a day over several weeks.

Loved the piece on Cunard cruising.. but is the formal attendance required? I prefer not to pack formal wear for limited use on a trip (I'm one of those light packers). Are there options for people who don't want to dress up on formal nights?

Absolutely! You can dress down at the buffet, and I am pretty sure that the Todd English restaurant is casual. The formal attire is mostly for diners in the Britannia dining room.  I also used loose interpretation of "formal," wearing a black dress from H&M that I could roll into a ball and stuff into my luggage.

Hi - I'm putting together a care package for relatives who are taking their first overseas trip. Do you have any favorite travel blankets or other goodies you recommend?

What a sweet gift! First, think light, because you don't want your relatives to have to lug around heavy blankets and pillows for their entire trip. I don't travel with a blanket but carry a giant scarf or shawl, which can work on chilly days/evenings as well. You might throw in some snacks (nuts, dried fruits, bagel chips, etc.), a neck pillow, eye mask, headphones, crossword puzzles, foreign language dictionary/flashcards or books that capture the spirit of their destination. Small toiletries are also helpful, such as a travel toothbrush and paste and face wipes -- so they can feel human when they land! 

DON'T rent a car!....Unless you have experience driving in other Latin American cities. It is absolutely terrifying and that's just speaking from the passenger seat. Think high speeds, turn signals optional, shoulder becomes an extra lane, constant dodging....And this was my experience both in San Jose and out on the coast.

Thank you for the (alarming!) advice!

We just did this in June. It was really interesting and we were able to go up to the third floor and into the rotunda room.

Pssst! Today's code is TT9915.  The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it each Monday to get credit for participating. 

 

My elderly mother would like to go on a cruise, but she's used to old-school cruising where every night is formal night. I think she would be horrified at how casual the cruise experience has become in the last 20 years. I just read the article about the QM2, so that might be an option, and I'm wondering if there are any other cruise lines that are still rather formal.

Cunard stays true to its grand and elegant reputation, and its passengers respect those traditions as well -- even around the pool! The people I met were also so well-traveled and bright, and they wore some very nice cruising outfits (lots of khaki, stripes and pearls). I think your mother would feel comfortable in this kind of setting. However, Cruise Critic put together a great list of dress codes on other cruise lines. Check it out here. 

Curious to get your opinion on an upcoming trip I am planning. I have the decision to spend either 5 days in Prague, Vienna, or splitting my trip in both cities. Do you have a preference? Could I have an enjoyable time in both cities within this time frame? From my quick research on lost planet they seem to offer similar experiences. Thanks!

The cities are similar in broad terms; Both have a wealth of history, culture, art and sweet desserts. But you will have completely different experiences in each city. Since you only have five days, I would choose one city and explore all of its nooks and crannies, instead of spreading yourself too thin. I personally adore Austrian art, so I would pick Vienna, but Prague is stunning as well.

In response to Ylang Ylang Beach Resort.. if we were to go a different route can you give any other pointers on what to look for? My fiance and I are looking to spend the majority of our time at the beach and then maybe a few days in the cloud forest. I just don't really know where to begin. We want to really splurge and feel pampered for maybe 3 or 4 nights (maybe with a small private pool, etc..something fun like that), but then stay somewhere a bit more affordable for the rest of the time. I'm just not really sure where to really begin looking. Thank you!

 Costa Rica offers everything from touristy all-inclusives and high-end resorts, which are mostly located on the northern Pacific Coast, to laid-back surfer and backpacker spots, which are mostly on the Caribbean side. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a long way from Montezuma. It may be easier for you to rent a car if you want to do both places. Driving in Costa Rica has its challenges, but if you have a sense of adventure, it's doable. Rent a four-wheel-drive. I can't recommend a travel agent that specializes in Costa Rica but the country's tourism organization has a good Web site

I second the suggestion to do New Orleans for your mid-November getaway. My husband and I did that last year (three nights, stayed at The Roosevelt) and it couldn't have been more fun. We ate lots of great food, had lots of great cocktails but also go to see some really interesting stuff- the Mardi Gras museum, a cemetery tour, a Katrina exhibit and (possibly the most fun) a "scandals and cocktail tour," where the guide walks you from bar to bar in the French Quarter telling the history and scandals of each locations!

I think the decision is made!

Many years ago my then-fiance (now wife) flew to visit me as I was finishing a summer job in Fairbanks, Alaska. I rented a car and we drove south to Valdez, and got on the M/V Tustumena ferry across Prince William Sound to Kodiak (with a stop in Seward). The weather wasn't bad, sunny with seas of 4 or 5 feet once we got out of the Sound. But, land-lubber that I was, I got seasick and "fed the fish" in the afternoon. We got into Seward for a few hour stop and I was able to hold down a bit of food. As we were leaving for our overnight leg to Kodiak, I stopped by the purser's desk and asked how bad the seas were going to be on the way there. The purser said "No worse than this afternoon", to which I replied "I got sick this afternoon". He then reached below the counter and pulled up what looked like a two-gallon bottle of Dramamine tablets, opened the lid, and scooped out a handful for me. While the Dramamine helped keep the rest of my lunches down, I felt crappy for the next couple of days, well after we spent a night on Kodiak and made the return trip to Homer.

Ugh, I'm afraid I'd be in the fistful-of-Dramamine club as well. 

Has anyone flown WOW Air? I am booked on a flight this week and according to their website one carry on item is allowed....but they don't mention a personal item. Does anyone know whether that carrier allows a personal item (ie backpack) in addition to a carry on (ie duffel)?

Seems like only one freebie is allowed based on the online info, but you can pay for a second bag. See below:

Each guest can take one bag (5kg) with them as hand luggage, up to a maximum of 56x45x25cm, including handles and wheels. 

You can purchase an additional allowance of 7 kg for your carry-on luggage, but please note that you are still only permitted one piece of carry-on luggage on board (total 12 kg).

Have flown WOW several times, can confirm there is no "personal item" similar to what most airlines allow. Just the one carry-on bag with the weight/size limits previously mentioned, with the option to pay to upgrade the weight.

Thanks!

On several flights I've been on recently they've asked for volunteers to check roll aboard bags through to their destination for no fee because there isn't enough space in the cabin. Luckily I've been able to board before they run out of room in the overhead bins each time because I don't want to check my bag through. I don't mind gate checking on small planes that have tiny overhead bins, but I want to have access to my bag immediately after deplaning for a variety of reasons, including that I don't want to have to wait around at baggage claim when I reach my destination and I like having access to the contents of my bag if I have a connecting flight. Any idea why airlines would offer to check a bag through to your final destination instead of gate checking everyone's bag and if I'm unlucky enough to be in a later group is there any chance that asking to have my bag gate checked instead would get anywhere?

Maybe everyone learned the gate-checking trick and started carrying heavier carry-ons knowing that they could avoid paying for checked luggage while also avoiding being inconvenienced by having to go to baggage claim. The airlines have taken away half of this benefit by  mostly doing away with gate checks and instead offering baggage claim retrieval on packed flights. I now make sure that I am not in the last group to board. Each airline has a specific boarding procedure. Some board back to front. Some board window seats first, then middle, then aisle. I figure that out before choosing my seat. And, no, you can't ask for a gate check instead of picking up your luggage at baggage claim. 

Hello, my friend and I are traveling to Dubrovnik arriving Oct 9. We need a place to stay for one night and would like a suggestion regarding a family-owned hotel, B&B or something else. 

We ran a piece on Dubrovnik last year that included some lodging suggestions. Hope this helps!

Hi, just wanted to note that I travelled from NYC to Southhampton twice on the QEII in the 1970s -- first time was probably 1970 or 71, and we were about 7 and 8 years old. Ship had a children's program which we attended each day, the activity I remember most is writing a note and putting it in a glass bottle, then flinging it into the ocean. Second time I was a teenager (probably 1979) and spent a lot of time just wandering the ship, going to movies, etc. A very different experience from what the cruises today seem like!

What incredible memories! The golden age of cruising lives on -- in our personal histories.

BTW, there was no buffet. The only option was the main dining room, and you were assigned a seating time. There was also afternoon tea, which we never missed.

Afternoon tea can be a whole meal!

I was wondering if you had any thoughts on Rail Europe being overpriced. I have used them twice before for train travel. Their site is very easy to use and convenient, but I found that their fees seemed pretty steep, especially for mailing paper tickets. I think I have figured out a way to easily get tickets directly on the SNCF site in order to go round-trip between Paris and Dijon. The tickets are electronic (or available to print as a pdf) where Rail Europe seems to be all paper based. Just curious about your thoughts on Rail Europe.

I have never compared prices, but I have also wondered if tickets were on the high side. Some people say it is cheaper to get around using low-cost airlines like Ryan.

Hi - sadly have to wait until Feb to determine if we can get away for Winter. If we do and book airline tickets to St. Croix with only 2 weeks advance...what would be a reasonable airfare? (I know you don't have a crystal ball. You do have years of valuable experience.) ;-) Thanks!

Prices will likely be high because you are going during peak season. Plus, tickets are higher to Croix than other "budget" destinations like the Bahamas and Jamaica. However, right now, they are very reasonable: less than $400 on JetBlue! If you must wait last-minute, you might consider a package, so you can save on air and hotel.

A friend that I havent seen in 20 years will meet me for a brief road trip from MD to VA, she is from PA and told me that she wants to see the Natural Bridge in VA. I've never been there and have no idea about logistics etc. Would you or the chatters suggest places where we can stop while in route, and areas that we could also visit near Natural Bridge? We have no idea where will be a good place to stay overnight so suggestions are welcome! For the lodging we would like to stay around $150. Thanks!

Check out our 2013 feature on Natural Bridge, which also covered nearby attractions; the Natural Bridge Park and Historical Hotel has an informative Web site, and there's lots to do in nearby Lexington, whose slew of new dining and lodging options we wrote about earlier this year.

So the other day, I was on a flight from Vienna back to DC. 9 hours. I was in the aisle seat, but sitting next to me was a very large obese man, who was taking up about a third of my seat. I asked to be reseated, but the Austrian airlines stewardess told me that the flight was full, except for one business class seat, which she would kindly sell me for 700 euro. She also said, in a loud voice, that she could discriminate against obese people - whatever that means. Two questions/points: 1. It seems to me that in order to not discriminate, the airlines has to accomodate the obese passenger. In other words, they have to find a seat appropriate for his size. Its like accomodating people in wheelchairs. Buildings in the USA have to have wheelchair access. What they were effectively doing is asking ME to accomodate him, by giving up 1/3 of my seat, or actively push with my shoulder against him for 9 hours. I shouldn't have to give up my seat real estate. 2. who can I complain to with my airline frustrations? I am tired of airlines screwing their customers with these ridiculously narrow seats. There need to be standards.

You're right, and I think people have a right to a certain amount of space on a plane. You'll love my next Navigator column. Look for it next Sunday.

I once rented a car in Costa Rica. Knowing the roads were rough, I decided to buy all the insurance I could from the agency. It was interesting to learn that no matter how much you pay, the policy does not cover tires. Then I saw that the Pan American highway is filled with potholes and the road to Monteverde is basically a dry riverbed with boulders. I told my wife we would probably return the car in a paper bag, but we got it back in one piece. Don't forget the air conditioning.

Yes, you do need a sense of adventure. But it's cheaper than hiring drivers and more convenient that taking the bus. 

I'd say go to Prague! Vienna - well Austria - is lovely, but the history and architecture in Prague is stunning. Very little was destroyed in the world wars. Don't miss Hradcany!

One vote for Prague!

Hi, thanks in advance for answering... Trying to find a good hair dryer for a trip to Europe, but every option on Amazon and other sites is showing mixed reviews. Does anyone know of a reliable option for a dual voltage dryer? Or would it probably be easier to just go ahead and buy a cheap one upon landing that could be used for future trips as well?

Most hotels have hair dryers these days. Can you wait and see, and if it doesn't, purchase one abroad?

On our first cruise, I made the big mistake that I think first-time cruisers make. When I put my bag outside the door on the last night, I didn't double-check my clothing for the next day, when I would have nothing to choose from. You guessed it, I didn't pack appropriate clothes (i.e., shorts or capris) for the next day. After showering in the morning, realized I only had a top and no bottoms. So yes, I spent disembarkation day wandering around the ship in my husband's pajama shorts. Fortunately they were navy blue, so not too obvious. But I never made that mistake again!

Very funny! Glad you didn't have to wear a robe to breakfast.

Long ago I read an article (I forget where, but maybe "Gourmet" magazine) re transatlantic cruises on freighters that offered maybe 20 or 30 slots for passengers. Evidently it was a great adventure, the food was excellent, but I have no idea whether such options are available any more. Do you have a link to information on this? Many thanks!

We ran a piece on freighters but it is from 1987, so it might be a tad out of date! From what I recall, you need to contact the freight service or an agent who deals with bookings. Here is one good link.

Thanks for the QM2 trans-Atlantic crossing story. I feel a family connection to it and plan to cruise on it someday soon. During WW2, the original Queen Mary was stripped down and used as a troop ship; after the war, many British war brides, including my mother sailed to the US on it. My mother sailed on it every summer to visit her parents, taking my two older siblings when they appeared. She stopped with kid number three (me) because it was too challenging to manage three little kids. I did get to sail on the QE2 and look forward to sailing on the QM2. (When people tell me they have an ancestor who came over on the Mayflower, I tell them I have one who came over on the Queen Mary!)

I've traveled a great deal in Europe over the years, and am thinking about doing another train trip this summer to Spain, Italy, Austria, and Germany. However, I'm starting to reconsider due to the current refugee crisis: I have so much solidarity and support for the asylum seekers but I'm thinking it might be better if I'm not adding to the mix as a tourist. I know that a train delay or rerouting is nothing compared to having to leave a war-torn country but I know there are challenges, such as stricter border policing and more. What would you recommend?

That is a great (and very sensitive) question and one that we are thinking about looking into. So I don't want to give you incorrect info, but stay tuned . . .

But what is the benefit to the airline to not allowing gate checks? They aren't making money on checking through to the final destination.

They lose money by not forcing the passengers to pay for a checked bag. However, gate checking bags helps them make their on-time arrival, a very important statistic!

Andrea is right about why they offer to check your luggage at the gate.  But they've moved to having you pick up your bags at the baggage claim instead of when you're exiting the plane. Perhaps that will make those who don't want to deal with baggage claim pack lighter. 

Another vote for Prague. And a great day trip is Karlstejn Castle.

One last vote before the polls close.

That's it for today -- thanks for joining us! Accidental-pajama-wearing cruise-goer, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your tote bag. Same time next week!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
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.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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