Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Dec 18, 2017

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Greetings chatters, and welcome to our final Talk About Travel of 2017. In the spirit of the season, do you have a memorable -- or memorably awful -- holiday travel story to share? Tell us about it below. Most compelling tale gets a copy of  Moon's compact and user-friendly "London Walks" guide. A quick reminder that the Travel section is dark on Sunday, December 31, and that Talk About Travel is on hiatus until Monday, January 8. On to your questions!

Hello! Hoping to take my 9-yr-old twins to AZ for spring break, but am daunted by the drives from...well, almost any airport to the Grand Canyon. Ideally we'd do CG, then Sedona, and then end up in Scottsdale (visiting family). But the idea of landing in Phoenix and driving 8+ HOURS to GC sounds miserable. But if we reverse the trip, it's Scottsdale, Sedona, GC, and THEN the 8+ hours back to Phoenix to fly home. Am I missing something? Is there no closer airport to the GC? (Flying from the Washington DC area, btw). Thanks!!

When I went to Grand Canyon last summer, I landed in Las Vegas. But I don't think Phoenix is that far from the South Rim -- it's closer to four hours. Are you trying to get to the North Rim? 

So, just how tropical, warm, and beach-like is Bermuda during the winter? I know it is roughly on the same latitude as North Carolina, but is that really a fair measure?

I've visited Bermuda in the winter several times. It's basically late spring weather -- 60s to 70s. It's quite North Carolina in the winter.

Today's code is TT8943. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating. 

We are going to Los Angeles with our two teenagers at spring break. Do you have a recommendation for a hotel? I have never been to LA (except to fly through) and don't have a good sense of the neighborhoods. We'd like a suite situation so we have enough beds (but we might just get two rooms). We are willing to rent a car but would like to be in a location that is easy to get to things. We will be going to one of the Hollywood studios, going to the LACMA, and other typical tourist things. The hotel doesn't need to have any kids programs but I still want it to be family friendly and not all about the bar, drinking, etc. Price range is kind of flexible but I am looking for something nice but not the price of a very top tier place. Thanks!

 I'm partial to Santa Monica, which is on the ocean and lovely. But you are better off heading inland for closer proximity to tourist attractions and better hotel deals. Maybe West Hollywood or Hollywood. Take a look at Palihotel Melrose, the Garland and the Sunset Marquis.

Is there ever a holiday that doesn't have a story about some type of airline or airport failure? If the weather isn't causing problems, something else happens. Computers down, power outages, and other issues cause flights to be cancelled or delayed. There really needs to be some plan in place to allow operations to continue.

No, it would not be a holiday without a weather disaster, an IT meltdown, or some other major incident. Keeps us journalists in business. But to your point, I agree, there should be contingency plans. I'll have a Navigator on that topic soon.

I flew on American two times in the last month because they had the best schedule and price, but it wasn't worth it. The airline is completely unwelcoming and frustrating to deal with. For the most recent flight, I was unable to check in at the kiosk and told to see an agent, but when I tried to get in line for service there was a rope completely around the waiting area. Apparently this was designed to force us to wait until an agent came to check and see if we really 'needed' counter service, but it forced us to either slide under the rope to get in line, or struggle to open the rope - I watched one women with both a stroller and a rolling bag struggle to open the rope. For the previous flight, the staff making announcements at the gate spoke so softly I couldn't hear understand which flights to Boston he was calling. When I asked him to please speak up, he told me to get in the customer service line - which did nothing except tell me to try to listen better. The big carriers are getting worse and worst and show no concern for customer service. Will try to avoid any except JetBlue, even if it costs more.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Carol Sottili asked if the chatter was planning to visit the North Rim. I believe that road is closed for the winter, and with an early Easter 2018 it might not be reopened by then, due to accumulated snow.

Yes, agree, but wondered about their plans as chatter said trip would take eight hours. 

A reader wrote in last week advising against getting travel insurance, but I saw it too late to reply. Last June I broke my leg in Erfurt Germany while on a choral tour, and was in the hospital for nine days. My advice is no matter what, get the extra travel insurance. It paid for my surgery and hospitalization, it paid for the $700 taxi ride to Frankfort, and it paid for the $4,000 upgrade to business class (due fear of clots after surgery). And it probably would have reimbursed me for the last two days of my tour I didn't have. It was the best $238 I have ever spent.

Thank you for sharing your story. A valuable counterpoint.

Hi- I just got off an American flight from DFW to DCA, the second leg of SAT-DCA. It was 4 hours of extreme discomfort. I’m disabled and recently had foot surgery, so I made arrangements 6 weeks in advance. I arrived at SAT 2 hours early this morning to be told by AA that I needed to be rebooked going SAT-DFW-DCA, instead of the original SAT- CLT-DCA. On all my flights I had arranged for bulkhead seat 7F, the window seat that would help protect my foot from other passengers. However, when they rebooked me onto the normally more crowded DFW route, they had a single open bulkhead seat - 7E. When I was preboarded, I was a little uncertain about the newly reconfigured 737 seats, which were substantially smaller than on other flight segments. Then my seat mates arrived — two extremely broad-shouldered gentlemen. There was no way the three of us could sit back against the seats (no reclining) without shoulder reduction surgery. Finally, after trying every way possible to get at least slightly comfortable, I gave up and spent 3 hours sitting bent forward - which put great strain on an already damaged lower back. The flight was completely full, and I suppose I could have pleaded for someone to have pity on the poor crippled woman - but that’s not how I live my life. So I’m writing you for advice on how to handle the situation in the future. And is there any recourse when confronted with interiors created for sylphs instead of modern Americans? I’m tempted to insist on shoulder space measurements before booking in the future, but that wouldn’t stop equipment changes or rebooking to recreate the same situation. Thanks!

I'm so sorry about your uncomfortable flight. There should be a law that requires airlines to provide a minimum amount of personal space. Barring that, the only way to avoid this situation is to negotiate with the crew to be moved. You can start the process early, before you board. Ask a reservations agent, then ask at the counter, then again after you board. Finally, if no one can help, ask a fellow passenger to consider switching with you. Chatters, do you have any negotiating strategies that have worked for you? 

My family will be traveling to Ireland this Spring and we would like to stay in inns and B&Bs in small towns as we drive around the country. Can you recommend a resource for choosing accommodations? We want to plan ahead since there are four of us, two of which are not adults. I've checked Trip Advisor but a lot of review sound like either Yelp complaints or planted raves. Any thoughts/recommendations greatly appreciated.

Ireland offers a star rating on its bed and breakfast inns. Go to the official Web site to choose by ratings. 

Holiday travel fun (or not): 

Hi Travel Folks, I hope you enjoy my tale of the Thanksgiving in Hell. - When I was very little, my parents decided they were going to pack up the kids and go visit Grandma for Thanksgiving. Mom packed accordingly, we headed out there . . . and Pittsburgh was having a freak heat wave in late November. My poor parents found themselves with three little kids complaining about the heat while wearing winter wool. Annoying for me, but I'm pretty sure my parents were surprised that the fires of Hell were only 70 degrees.

It wasn't supposed to be holiday travel... Years ago, I happened to have a meeting in Atlanta on a federal holiday (I think it was President's Day). The meeting went well, but ran over and we missed our flight back to DC. No problem, the tickets were changeable and there were lots of flights, right? Except that Atlanta is a busy hub, and apparently the entire East Coast had gone away for the 3-day weekend. Every flight was overbooked with dozens of standbys, snowballing from one flight to the next. We had gone for a same-day trip and I had brought nothing I would need to stay over. Since it was for business, we did have a travel agency, so I spent my afternoon on my cell phone with an agent working hard to scrounge up a first-class seat (which my employer didn't usually allow, but authorized because of the circumstance -- coach was going to be impossible to get). I had to run frantically (in a suit and heels) up and down several concourses -- the agent found a ticket on one flight but I got to the gate just as they were closing the jetway. By the time I eventually got another ticket (with a different airline, on a different concourse), I was a sweaty, panicked mess. Even before 9/11, showing up like that with a one-way, first-class ticket purchased 20 minutes before takeoff earned you a thorough, spread-eagled, full-body frisking. Not that I was complaining at that point!

Back in the early Nineties, my then boyfriend and I were taking the train from Oxford to Yorkshire to spend Christmas with his parents. We were seated at a table, sharing it with a late-middle-aged academically tweedy type couple. Boyfriend and I were playing hangman. I nearly got hanged -- but managed to get "quixotic." The wife of the tweedy couple turned over a piece of paper and showed me that she'd got it it herself - and then said "but it was pig." I wonder if she was a Bletchley girl (I actually knew one myself).

Many years ago I took Amtrak to Flagstaff, AZ., then a bus to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Don't know if flights to Flagstaff are reasonably priced from Phoenix.

Yes, that's an option, but you have to take a connecting flight to Flagstaff from Washington, which adds time to the trip and is typically more expensive. 

Tentative plans to take the kids (6-11) in early July, but I have concerns about how high the temperatures actually will be that week. I've read that temps at the river can hit 120, but that up above temps will likely be in the 80s. Is this accurate? Will not going down into the canyon cause us to miss out on a must-do activity such that we should plan the trip for a more temperate time?

Depends on what you want to get out of the vacation. Most visitors head to the South Rim and never make it down to the river. For me, rafting the Colorado River, even if you only do a half-day trip, is a must, but it will be hot. Bring sarongs and bandanas and dip them in the frigid water to cool off. Lots of sun screen is a must. Only you can figure out whether your kids are right for this. 

I'm planning a trip to Peru for August 2018 and wanted to know if you (or the chatters) have any feedback about possible routes. I'm not great at roughing it, so I'm planning to use one of the operators that have lodges for the overnights. I'm mostly torn about doing the more challenging Salkantay route or the easier (and slightly lower elevation) Sacred Valley version. What considerations should I be weighing?

Thanks for your question. Chatters, what say you?

I wonder if OP put in all those stops on one trip. Out of curiosity, I put in a route from Phoenix to Grand Canyon (south rim) to Sedona to Scottsdale: a total of 7 hours and 50 minutes. No single drive in that itinerary is more than 4 hours.

Perhaps. 

hi there. am heading to Nassau on Anthem of the seas. I will definitely need quiet time/place. Are you familiar with the ship and do you have suggestions of where I can chill out, think a thought, write a letter?

I'm sure you realize that this ship holds more than 4,000 passengers. I've not been on it, but if you need alone time, I hope you have a cabin with a balcony that looks out over the sea. I love ordering room service and sitting outside with a good book, especially during at-sea days. There is an adults-only pool, which will be quieter. It also has a library. Any chatters been on this ship? 

Here's a piece we did about the Anthem of the Seas in 2015.

I stayed here when it was the Embassy Apartments Hotel. Lovely neighborhood, lots of restaurants, Old Hollywood vibe. I expected to see Ronald Colman walking down the hall to my room. 

Sounds like fun. 

Stayed there a few years ago and I still thinks it is one of the best run Hotels I have ever stayed at. Multiple celebrity sightings in the bar of the restaurant.

Good to hear. 

I would stay away from the Hollywood locations as the some of the neighborhoods around there are pretty sketchy. I would stay along the coasts and venture inland to sight-see. In addition to Santa Monica, I think the Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach areas are pretty nice, and have walk-able beachfront areas that you can stroll and grab food. Also, don't rule out Long Beach (close to Disneyland). I visited a friend there recently and was impressed at how nice the area has become.

Those are nice places, but traffic getting from these locations to the heart of Los Angeles can be atrocious. 

A couple of years ago I was in L.A. for a meeting and we were put up in Hotel Angeleno - good prices and location - near Getty Museum and UCLA.

Thanks.

I am thinking of visiting San Juan in early to mid February and am hoping to stay in the Condado area...where can I find a list of hotels that are open? My two "usuals," the Caribe Hilton and the Condado Plaza, are closed for a few more months...thank you!

You can find a list of open hotels on See Puerto Rico's website.

Years (decades?) ago, the Post had a story in the Sunday Travel section on horseback riding across Ireland. It was similar to some of the bike across _____ (France, Vermont, wherever) tours you can find: you went across the country on horseback, staying at BnB's along the way -- the organizer arranged to take your luggage from point A to point B, had a "sag wagon" for any problems or if you didn't want to ride any more that day, etc. Unfortunately, I lost the article somewhere between then and now, but it's been on my "bucket list" ever since. I'm starting to seriously start planning for some of those bucket list item. Can you possibly point me towards someone who can help with this one? Thanks.

That article ran in the New York Times decades ago. The writer went on a trip with Aille Cross Equestrian Centre

Yes! I did put them all in Google Maps, which is where the 8 hour estimate came from. So glad to see that it's closer to 4 each leg. Thanks to all!

Glad one of our chatters figured that out!

If you're going the first weekend of July, your main concern probably will be the crowds... The week around July 4th is always the busiest at the popular national parks, and it can be a hassle especially with kids. Southern Rim will be busier than the north (and will allow access only in buses), and in my opinion there's more around the North Rim area if you decide to skip it and see other parks (not that close, but four corners area, Monument Valley etc. are much less crowded not to mention some hidden gems like the Canyonlands NP, Natural Bridges, etc.) The weather will be much more tolerable in CO and you can go see Mesa Verde and maybe take the Durango Silverton train with rafting on the way back. If you can go to Grand Canyon during the off season, it will be a much better experience (especially between Thanksgiving and Xmas is amazing, and you'll probably have the place to yourself - like I did couple years ago) and I think your kids will appreciate not only the physical beauty but the spiritual uniqueness. Just my two cents...

Good stuff -- thanks for sharing!

"Will not going down into the canyon cause us to miss out on a must-do activity." Please don't hike down unless you are really prepared for this - the National Park Service doesn't recommend a day hike from Rim to River & back. When we were last there, they had multiple rescues of people not prepared for the rigorous hike. The general advice is that it takes twice as long to hike up as it does to hike down. There is plenty to do on the rim. You can hike down 30 minutes and see plenty of change in the rock. 

I wasn't recommending that they hike to the river with a six-year-old at the height of summer. That would not be a good idea. There are half-day and full-day rafting trips that leave from Page, Ariz., about 140 miles from the South Rim. 

alas, I did not book a balcony. I will definitely check out the library and the adults only pool...........appreciate other ideas.

Next time, splurge on the balcony. It's a lifesaver if you're an introvert on a cruise ship! 

Were any affected by the recent wildfires? I read that the fires came very close to the Getty Museum.

The Skirball fire did get somewhat close to the Getty earlier this month, but it's been contained. No hotels were damaged.

Just bought it (for the medical alone, although the policy I purchased covers flight delays, lost baggage, etc) for an upcoming trip in January. It was $123 2 of us for 9 days in France, which seems like a complete bargain! And with a highly rated company to boot.

Thank you for letting us know. Travel insurance can be a great deal, especially when you have to file a claim.

More holiday tales:

A few years ago, I was supposed to come back from a business trip to Afghanistan around February 12th. Well, I went to the airport that day, checked my bag, and went to the gate. Then it started to snow, so passengers sat in the (barely-heated) airport for a few hours before the flight was finally cancelled. The airport staff wouldn't give our bags back, though, so I was stuck in a guesthouse for another 2 days with no extra clothes and no ability to go out and get short-term provisions, because, well, it was Kabul and you couldn't just pop out to the store. My initial leg from Kabul to Dubai finally arrived there on Valentine's Day, where I had yet another overnight at a hotel, still in the same clothes, which I'd washed once. One of my co-workers was on the same flight as me, so we (me-late 20s woman and him-60ish man) had a dinner at one of the hotel restaurants where they were serving a special Valentine's Day menu. The waiter brought a red rose to our table, because apparently the automatic assumption for hotel staff was that we were a couple? That was definitely one of my more memorable Valentine's Days, although also among the least romantic.

If so, that might have been one of my best travel days. I took the red-eye to London the night before, but because I had undergone some clotting issues a few months prior, I was under strict instructions not to sleep much on the plane, so I could get up and walk around every hour or so. I talked in advance to someone at the front desk of the hotel where I would be staying, and those wonderful angels let me check in at 10 AM instead of wandering around sleep-deprived until 3. I spent the evening pretty well-rested and able to enjoy myself with friends, one of whom was older than me by exactly one year, so that was our birthday together. The best part was that I had won free tickets to a play that night, so the three of us went and had a good time, meeting and being photographed with the cast afterward (as ticket winner). Nice birthday trip.

Couple years ago I went to visit my friends in London over the holidays... Due to year-end work, I left work late the night before and got very little sleep, then headed to the airport tired and exhausted. First, I forgot my phone plugged at the charger and headed to my flight when they called for it... I had to run and get it before they closed the doors! Then I got stuck in Philadelphia with a massive snowstorm, and by the time I got there the hotels by the airport were sold out so I had to sleep at the airport and spend the next day there before the same flight I was on the previous day took off after being delayed three more times. Because I was delayed so long my friends left for their vacation and couldn't come to pick me up, which meant I took the Tube (which I know pretty well) but the elevators at the connecting station (which I had chosen deliberately because not that many stations in London have an elevator) were out of order, so I had to carry my suitcases up and down narrow stairs and get to the other line. When I finally got to where I need to be and started walking about .5 miles to my friends' house the handle of my large suitcase gave in, so I had to drag it over the gravel which leads to my friends' place. But finally I was there and had a great time (after tears rolling down my cheeks when they opened the door)!

We are spending Christmas Week in Cancun. What would be the best tours/excursions for our teenagers ?

We really enjoyed a day trip to underground caves where we could snorkel. I can't find the name of the company we went with, but that itinerary is widely offered. 

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for joining us today. Dubai Valentine's Day, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. We'll be chatting again on January 8 -- happy holidays, everyone!

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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