Talk about Travel: Cuba, baseball museums and Richmond

Feb 06, 2012

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.

Welcome, travelers, to another hour of escapism.

Send us your questions, tips, anecdotes, pros and cons of travel and also . . . .

For today's topic: Tell us about a forbidden or mysterious place you have visited (a la Cuba, Sunday's main feature) or wish to explore. Best entry wins a Che keychain --or  a trinket of a similar ilk.

Hi- Trying to find online the section about your planned package trips that I see advertised every week. 7 days in Rome, 9 days in Greece, etc., could you please provide the link, thought it would be much easier to find that info. Thanks! Amy

You want to head to All the info is right there.

For Andrea: Great article on Cuba. Couple questions: Do you speak Spanish? If not, were your conversations with Cubans conducted in English, or through a translator? How widely is English spoken in Cuba? Did you go anywhere outside Havana? You were "encouraged" to participate in the scheduled activities, but to what degree was it required? Could you have hired a driver (or hopped a bus, as you planned) and taken off on your own? Would you have been reported to anybody? Did you participate in Havana nightlife, either with the group or on your own, or just gaze at Saturday night fun from your window? You mentioned scammers: Did you ever feel threatened, or just annoyed? Do you think, as a young woman, you would have been okay wandering around on your own? Also, it's easy enough to fly to Cuba directly from Toronto, Mexico City, the Bahamas etc., and apparently many thousands of Americans do so every year. Is the U.S. government actively prosecuting Americans who do that? What are the typical penalties (assuming you don't do anything really stupid)?

Wow.  That's a lot of questions and because I am host I won't be able to answer each one. But briefly, no I don't speak Spanish. All of my conversations were either translated by Ludwig or the local spoke English. I found that a lot of people speak English or fragments of English. As my article stated, you just sensed an obligation to participate. No one forced us to, but we paid all of this money . . . However, if I had one more day, most likely I would've taken the bus to the beach. No nightlife, because honestly most Cubans either entertain in their homes or hang on the Malecon. They don't have the money to spend on clubs and booze. The bars are mainly filled with tourists. I felt never felt threatened, and annoyed is a strong word. Most often, I would just remove myself from the unpleasant situation. And yes, as a female I felt safe, though when I went running on the Malecon, I did hear a chorus of kissy-kissy noises-- but that happens everywhere, even D.C.

I don't know anything about flights from foreign cities. Loads of Americans depart from Mexico and Canada, but I have not, so I can't intelligently comment on this practice.  I also don't know how this crime is prosecuted, but you are breaking the law.

Wow, did I answer them all?

What are the ways to get from VA to BWI other than private limo and cab? Are there hotels in Tyson's corner that have shuttle buses or are there home to airport shuttle buses?

I don't offhand know of any hotels that offer airport shuttle service. The Tyson's Marriott, for instance, definitely doesn't. Nor does the Hilton McLean. But there is the Super Shuttle; if you share a ride, it would cost you about $50, which is less than a taxi or limo. If you can't find anyone to share, the fare from Tyson's would be around $125, which is isn't much less than taxi or limo, I don't think. If you're willing to schlep a bit, you could take the Metro out to Greenbelt and take the BWI Express bus (B30) to the airport.

Chatters, any advice for this traveler?

I have a comment regarding a reader's question in today's Post about traveling to West Point, NY in the spring (1/2 9/12). We used to live there, so we speak from first hand experience. Why would you advise them to stay at a hotel chain in Poughkeepsie, especially when they asked about small inns or B&Bs in the West Pt area? There are at least three lovely B&Bs in and around Cornwall, plus the historic Thayer Hotel right on West Point overlooking the Hudson River. The B&Bs are: Cromwell Manor, Storm King Lodge, Caldwell House. There is also the Holiday Inn Express in Ft. Montgomery, The West Point Motel in Highland Falls and numerous larger/chain hotels in Newburgh. As for travel to the area, they could also take Metro North as far as Beacon and cab it or rent a car from there. Also, they could fly to Stewart Airport in Newburgh. The Hudson Valley is so beautiful and historic -- please don't let these folks squander their time at West Point by sending them all the to Poughkeepsie!

Thanks for the tips!

Consider Capon Springs, WVA. It is a nice, family-oriented, historic resort with newly designed spa with private bathing in the hot water from the springs. It is located about 30 min. west of Winchester, VA.

And thank you . . .

Any idea when Cuba may be open to travel for regular tourists?

No idea, but the people-to-people program is a good first step.

Has the Post written any articles about visiting Iceland? I wasn't able to find anything on the Travel page (not that easy to navigate or look up what's in the archives) and would appreciate a link to any stories you have. Thanks.

If you wait a week, we have, as it happens, a story about the design scene in Rejkjavik scheduled for Sunday Feb. 19. As for past stories, here's the most recent overall piece on Iceland, from shortly after the bust.

I took Amtrak to Baltimore a few weeks ago on a Saturday mid-morning and my train was delayed by about 40 minutes. I have an upcoming flight out of BWI and was going to take Amtrak from Alexandria but I'm worried about the train being delayed. My train is set to arrive 2 hours and 40 minutes before my departure and is the first train of the think that's building enough time in to account for a possible delay? Love the chat! Thanks

If you traveling on a weekday, I recommend taking the MARC train from Union. I have very good luck with that line to BWI. And in an event that the train is late, you can hop on Amtrak.

However, if you want to stick with Amtrak from Alexandria, just be sure there is another train scheduled after your "delayed" one, as backup. Best to know the schedule just in case. But with that thick cushion of time, you should be fine.

Posted earlier but not sure it went through. We are stuck with a 8:30 seating which is just plain too late. Our travel agency said no early seatings are left. How might we attempt to fix this once we get on board? Thank you.

When you check in at the departure port, ask the agent to switch your seating time. If that does not work, as soon as you board, go to the dining room and speak to the maitre d'.

I believe Amtrak to Baltimore stops at BWI; you can get the train at Union Station.

It does. I have taken it in a pinch. Just be sure to check the stops before you board.

Hey, I live in Richmond, and I wanted to compliment the writer for her take on Jackson Ward. Very nice!

Thanks so much! We will pass it on.

I'm trying to plan a vacation and my destination will be based on the easiest non-stop route to get there. Is there a place I can find out what non stop routes are offered by various WAS airports to different destinations rather than by searching by airlines websites?

Go to the airport Web sites. BWI has a dedicated nonstop list. For IAD and DCA, you'll have to go to the flight guide and scroll through it to find nonstops. 

For the poster from last week who asked about Tauck tours and their value, I can give you my opinion. I took the Tauk One Week in Paris and London tour after an article the Post did comparing tour companies and the buses they used as well as the hotels and guides. I was a single woman in my 50's and wanted to feel save and see if traveling in Europe later by myself was feasible. The accomadations are only four star or above. For the short time I was in my room the deluxe setting was realy overboard. That said everything they do is top notch. We had individual headset tours wherever we went. This was prior to this being a standard. Very first class operation. But I have to admit I have been to Europe twice since and done the budget route on my own or with adult children. I think you can see more and do more for the money.


Last Spring we did the 30-day tour of Australia-New Zealand with Tauck, and were extremely happy with the experience. Tauck is somewhat pricey but provides everything, and makes sure that nothing goes wrong. They are particularly good about shepherding you through airports if the tour includes commercial air travel, which it did in Australia. In New Zealand air travel was by chartered aircraft which is even better because your airport bus takes you to planeside and it's only a few steps to the plane. Our tour guide had been in charge of a group that happened to be in Christchurch at the time of the earthquake, and it appeared that Tauck had acted immediately and effectively to get the group out and home at a time when the regional transportation system was in total shambles. So my bottom line is do it.

1) Is there any difference between customs inspections of carry on luggage items in europe as compared to the tsa in the us? 2) how about prescription medications? 3) will we need electrical converter adaptors onboard a river cruise ship?

You will find a similar set of regulations. Here is what TSA says:

On November 6, 2006, the members of the European Union, as well as Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland, implemented new security rules pertaining to liquids in carry-on bags in an effort to harmonize, to the maximum extent possible, with measures enacted by the United States and Canada in September 2006.

Effective November 6, 2006, travelers going to and from the U.S., Canada, the 25 member countries of the European Union, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, can use the same one quart, clear plastic, zip-top bag to transport their travel-sized liquid, gel and aerosol items in carry-on bags through various security checkpoints here and abroad. To put this in perspective, approximately half of the world's travelers are governed by similar security measures.


For meds, bring any documents or doctor's notes, just in case.

As for the adaptors: Each cruise line is different, depending on whether it is  European-owned or American-owned. Best to contact the cruise line or your travel agent for specifics.

I someday want to write in and say I had a great experience with US Airways in Philadelphia and Phoenix. I have great experiences with the airlines in general and in other cities. For some reason, I am either cursed or there must be serious problems at those airports. I was flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix and the plane returned to the gate because there was a weight problem with the baggage. I am not an expert on flying, yet I would have presumed that a more alert airline would have determined that problem before leaving the gate. Does anyone know when such a problem is supposed to be determined? When I arrived at Phoenix, I just barely missed my connection. For the second time in my life, I arrived to watch the gate person closing the door. Once the door is closed, I am told they are not allowed to reopen it (although I have seen them do it for others, but I have never been so lucky). What gets me is the woman says she saw me running but figured I wasn't going to make it. How does a few seconds of her time translate into several hours of my time waiting for a later flight? The final thing that gets me is the attitude of the personnel in Phoenix. I have only noticed this in Phoenix. They state everything straight from some rule book and make you feel like it is your fault you missed your connection: "Had you run faster you would have made it." Yeah, had you had a cart to drive me the four terminals over available when I landed I would have made it, or had you held the plane for me knowing I was coming, I would have made it. I have always had baggage trouble in Philadelphia (this time affecting the entire plane) and attitude problems in Phoenix. If US AIrways would straighten these two problems out, they would be an excellent airlines,

Thanks for sharing!

We are planning to do an Alaska cruise (from Seattle) for the first time. Could you give us advice on which month, which cruise line, what to do and what not to do? We are a couple in the 50s, healthy and active. Thank you very much for having kept us well informed on travel issues.

I'd look at Celebrity, Holland America and Princess. All offer Alaskan cruises out of Seattle. Several other lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, also offer Alaskan cruises from Seattle, but as a couple traveling without children, I'd stick with the other lines. The Inside Passage trip is a good first cruise to Alaska. As for when to go, it can be cool and rainy any time, even in summer. But July is best for least rain, warmest temps. 

I'll be flying to San Francisco (from DC) in mid June, and am seeing fares in the $450-$500 range. Are prices likely to come down, or should I buy tickets now before prices go up? Thanks!

I would wait. You'll find cheaper fares. Keep checking on sites such as Kayak and Bing Travel. And sign up for fare sale notifications on discount carriers, such as Virgin America, which flies out of Dulles, and has frequent sales. Sales may bring the fare as low as $300, but $350 is more common these days. 

Looking to take a long weekend in warm FL this Feb or March. Only options I want to consider are those with direct flights from National. But also looking for an atmosphere I'd like. If anyone's familiar with the Jersey beaches, I'm thinking more like Avalon and Stone Harbor, less like Atlantic City or Wildwood (or wherever Jersey Shore is filmed). Thanks!

I just returned from St. George Island, Fla., which is about a one-hour drive south of Tallahassee. It has that quiet feel you're looking for, but alas, is pretty remote (in fact, they call this area the "Forgotten Coast" of Florida. I think you're likelier to find what you're looking for on the West Coast of Florida -- maybe Sanibel or Sarasota? -- as opposed to the busier East Coast.

Today--on Live Q&A' on Travel and get a February 3 cancelled session.

I'm not seeing the problem. It appears to be working for me.

Has anyone had any experience with Carte Musees et Monuments for unlimited visits to a long list of museums and monuments in Paris? What sights are most highly recommended? Thanks - Lee

I personally have not, but chatters  . . . can you help out  a friend?

Good Morning Flight Crew, I've asked this before but I hope you'll be able to take my question as I leave in 10 days. My fiance and I are going to the Caymen Islands next week (trip was planned before we got engaged) and are looking for suggestions of things to do or where to eat. We have the recommendation of Pedro St. James from your section a couple months ago but am hoping you or the chatters can help so we don't sign up for something or go somewhere to eat that isn't worth it. Thank you for your help!

Are you going to Grand Cayman? I've heard good things about Ristorante Pappagallo and Calypso Grill. I've only been there for day trips via cruise ship stops, and we typically grab a cab and hit a local beach for snorkeling. Any ideas chatters? 

Hi All: We're taking a cruise in two weeks. We booked late and while we could get a balcony/suite, we were unable to land the early (6pm) dinner seating. And the late (8:30) is just way too late for us. How do we go about, once On board, getting the seatings changed? I have friends who took the same cruise 3 weeks ago; same ship, and said the main dining room was only half full at the early seating. Thank you for any suggestions. Oh..we tried through our travel agent but with no success.

As soon as you board, go right to the purser -- the desk where there will likely already be a line of people as you enter the ship. You should be able to make the switch unless you have a large group. And try calling the cruise line directly a few times before you go. 

What type of people were with you on the Cuba tour? I am very averse to group travel, and don't want to be stuck with a bunch of people complaining they're too hot or have to go to the bathroom. What were the ages? Did people come as families, couples or singles?

It was an interesting mix of people --range of ages (minus the youngsters), various occupations (including some early retirees), singles and couples, from all over the country.  Most of the people were very well-traveled and very adventurous and never complained (though they were outspoken when some activities were dropped from the itinerary). 

We are going to Europe this summer with our toddler. Is it possible to rent car seats there from a car rental company? Or should we just bring ours? (A friend over there has also offered to loan us one, but we're not yet sure if we're flying in and out of her city.) Any advice?

Yes, most car rental locations in Europe rent seats, but you may want to bring yours (we did when we visited Europe with our son a few years ago). Airlines should not charge you to check your seat.

We LOVE the late seating. Most ships do not disembark until 9-10 AM. We eat breakfast on board, then would spend most of the day on an island, get back to the ship around 5pm, grab a quick snack, take a nap while the early seating is rushing to get ready for dinner. We had the opportunities to see the ship sail from ports watch sunsets and relax before dinner.

Thanks for the boost for late seating (that's my preference too).

Thanks for the article and the pictures. I’m going to Cuba next month just in time for Pope Benedict visit to the Island. Before going to Havana we will be visiting, Santiago, Camaguey, Trinidad and Cayo Santa María, I know we will have a full schedule but if there is a recommendation on things that I should not miss in these cities it will be greatly appreciated! Also, is there’s a travel book guide that you recommend?

Unfortunately, I did not travel much beyond Havana. But so glad to hear that you are going! No matter the destination, my go-to guidebook is always Lonely Planet.

Have a blast!

We LOVE the late seating. Most ships do not disembark un

Hi. We are three adults 67-84 who have generally been independent travelers; however given our ages and the fact we want to go to China we have opted for a tour. Grand Circle has an option that is appealing and they specialize in travel for those over 50. However, in researching reviews online I have found references to a possible bankruptcy but have not been able to get any real information. Do the Gurus or their expert readers have any information or ideas where I can further research Grand Circle before committing thousands of dollars? Any ideas appreciated

The company has been in business since about 1985, and it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. I've not heard anything about a bankruptcy. 

What other companies besides insight Cuba offer legal tours? I am more interested in time on my own, Cuban food, music, etc.

I listed a few in my details box (Insight Cuba, Nat Geo Expeditions, etc.). I could not find a comprehensive list. You need to Google around. However, per the rules of the people-to-people license, the companies are required to have a full itinerary that enourages cultural exchange. Lots of free time is not encouraged (we had about two free hours before dinner).

I have been trying to find out the route cruise ships take when they leave the port of Balitmore. Do they sail down the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk or do they go out through the canal and into the ocean immediately? I have asked many times, and have even called the cruise lines. Hope you can help, thank you.

I am fairly certain they sail down the Chesapeake Bay past Virginia Beach. I've seen them pass while driving on the Bay Bridge. 

Hi Crew, I have one day to blow in Orlando before a conference, and I am thinking: Disney World! But now I am hearing about Universal Orlando, which sounds really fun. I haven't been to Disney World since I was 5, so I'd love to re-visit. But I want to go on some really good rides. Which choice is better for a late-30s female traveling alone? My hotel is across the street from Universal. Thanks!

I just wrote about visiting all of the Orlando Disney parks in one day for National Geographic, and I list some of our favorite attractions in it. But if you are right across from Universal, and you're doing this solo, I think you might find something close by, either in one of the Universal parks or the nearby shopping and entertainment area, which you don't have to pay to get into.

Heading to Upperville for the weekend. Any tips from readers about things to see. Either outdoors or visiting historic houses?

Upperville, a small and picturesque town in Fauquier County, is best known for its annual horse show -- but that's in June, so you'll have to plan a return trip for that. If you're interested in wine (you don't say whether you'll be traveling with children, so I'll assume not), both Fauquier and Loudoun counties have many wineries that are fun to visit. Virginia Wine has a map with links to them. You won't be far from Sky Meadows State Park, where you can tour an old farmhouse for a glimpse of the life of a farm family in the 1860s and take advantage of hiking trails. Chatters, other ideas?

I enjoyed the article on the Shoeless Joe museum in Greenville, SC. In addition to the other one player museums that are noted in the sidebar to the article, add the Cal Ripken, Jr. museum in nearby Abderdeen, Md. Worth a day trip for the baseball fan, and if you time it right, you can catch a minor league game of the Ripken-owned Abderdeen Ironbirds in the mini-Camden Yard sballpark right off I-95. By the way, only 13 more days when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training!

Right in our own backyard! Thanks for the tip!

What's the most central place to stay in Tuscany if we want to visit the most important sites? We plan to move around the area for a week.

I'd probably stay in Florence. We were there last year on an Adventures by Disney tour, and it is more or less centrally located and has some of the most important attractions in the region, in terms of museums and architecture. As a bonus to the kids, it also offered some of the best gelato they had on their trip.

A few weeks ago someone wrote in asking about lost items on a plane. Unfortunately, they shouldn't hold their breath in getting it back. I know of a flight attendant who found not 1 but 2 (TWO!!) iPads that were left on her planes. She claims that the gate agents in both instances said to keep them and they would contact her if anyone came looking for them. Do I believe her story? No. I always double check the seat pockets before I deplane because anything left behind will most likely become the property of the flight attendant or cleaning crew. Sad but true.

Lost and found policies are begging to be investigated. I know many travelers who have left valuable items like iPods and laptops on the plane, and were unable to recover them. Makes you wonder if there's an unwritten rule ("finders, keepers?") among airline employees. Maybe I'll look into this.

Dear Travel Gang -- United Airlines used to fly 767's in an international configuration to Europe, but now schedule what appear to be ex-Continental 757's from Washington to Paris. tells me that what they call business class are really domestic first class seats, which are better than economy to be sure, but nowhere near what the former business class seats were like (My experience comes from upgrading with miles). There is also no indication that anything like Economy Plus seat spacing exists in these 757's. My question is, did Continental used to have greater seat spacing in part of their economy class, or is Economy Plus a thing of the past in the aircraft that United inherited from Continental?. Thanks.

United is retrofitting all Continental aircraft with its Economy Comfort seats. Here's more information on how they plan to do that. I don't think it's a case of bait and switch as much as it is the fact that Continental is going away. At the end of the process, all of the extra legroom that may have existed in some configurations will probably be gone.

Thanks for the article on Maggie Walker and the Jackson Ward of Richmond. I was in town this past Fall for a short time and was pleasantly surprised -- you don't usually hear as much about this section of town in travel guides -- and look forward to going back this March for more art, food... and now history, too!

So glad that story hit a chord! Thanks for writing.

In the past, I have recommended a UK Super or Excess CDW insurance for car rental that essentially covered the deductible - reducing it to zero or near enough - for US travelers to the UK and Ireland, and indeed also had a worldwide option. That company is called insurance4carhire - It was far cheaper than the daily rate offered by the car rental companies themselves. Since late 2011, such coverage is available only to those who live in the European Economic Area. A related question for Christopher Elliot: is there any US company that provides coverage for US folks visiting Ireland and the UK? Very, very few US credit card companies cover car rental insurance in Ireland; hence, my disappointment that the third party excess insurance no longer offers that option to US citizens or residents.

I'm unaware of a card that covers Ireland rentals. I get a steady stream of complaints from folks who rent in Mexico and Ireland, and who are upset about their mandatory insurance requirements. You are better off asking the car rental company directly about what may or may not be covered under your car insurance or credit card.

A few months ago, I was told by a TSA agent that the number of carry-ons was limited by TSA. Flying on Friday, an airline gate agent announced that it was an FAA regulation. My understanding is that this is airline policy (not federal regulation). Is that the case and if so, why do people keep citing non-existent regulations? Are they trying to scare people into compliance?

It's an airline rule. The TSA has no say-so in the matter and the FAA only regulates how the restrictions are disclosed (here's a 1998 FAA advisory that explains it in more detail).

I'm planning to travel to London AFTER the Olympics, around the end of August. I'm seeing roundtrip from IAD to LON for $900. Should I wait a few more months? I still remember the good old days from 5 years ago of paying $500 for a roundtrip ticket!

Those good old days are gone for good. The cheapest fares I've seen for nonstop travel to London, available in winter, hover round $700. If you can get $900 with all taxes on nonstop flights in August, take it. 

The chat links on the righthand side of the page are not working (under "Monday's Sessions"). The Super Bowl link takes me to last Friday's Real Wheels chat and the Traffic link takes me to a video chat about being black. The links on the WaPo main page seem to be working properly.

The righthand side of which page? I'm really not seeing any problem with any of the links I try, but it depends which page you're going in from. You say the homepage links are fine. And the Lifestyle page links seem fine to me, too.

We used one last year when we went in April. It's great for a first time visit to Paris (when you want to pack in all of the sights within 3 days). We went to the Louvre, Museo D'Orsay (sp?), Arch de Triumph, Rodin Museum, and Versailles. We probably saved money but it was also convenient. I would recommend it.

If you have a car and can get a bit away from Seven Mile Beach, we were just in Grand Cayman a few weeks ago: loved dinners at the mid-casual Brick House (a little of everything - but some wonderful brick oven pizzas - and creatively rare options like a chicken vindaloo or shrimp carbonara) or the nicer Ortanique (still missing the coffee-&-cocoa-encrusted salmon!)

I want to go to New Orleans for next year's Super Bowl, but I'm not quite sure how to book a hotel room. I've checked hotels' online booking sites since they usually let you book a year out, but none will let you book in NO around the Super Bowl. Do I have to wait and get a package deal?

You might have to stay a bit out of town, since hotels will demand outrageous prices. Pull together a list of, say, five hotels, then call and try to book in person. You should not have to resort to a package.

We'll be spending a full day in Port Canaveral and have no interest in doing the Disney World/Epoc/Studios excursions. Any suggestions for two men in their 50's? We do like happy hours, so some suggestions for fun (preferably gay/gay friendly) bars would be great!.. Thanks.

How about a tour of the Kennedy Space Center? They're usually offered by the cruise lines or you could go directly through the space center. I've only been to Port Canaveral a couple of times to board a cruise, and there is not much there, so close-to-the-ship happy hours at a gay friendly bar may be difficult to find. Ideas chatters?

My husband, kids & I live in Australia and are hoping to vacation with our families, who live in your corner of the world, in Hawaii as a meeting in the middle after years of going back & forth. Is there any chance we'll be able to find a big affordable rental house for about 15 people in early June? Where would you suggest I start looking? Thanks!

It all depends on your definition of reasonable, but I do think it's possible. You need to pick an island then call some of the rental agents for listings. For starters,  here is a list of rental agencies  approved by the Better Business Bureau. To save money, you might have to sacrifice location. And be sure to ask about any cleaning costs.

We are looking at a trip to China in September 2012. There seem to be many companies offering a China experience, for instance China Spree, Tauck Travel, and Viking Cruises. Is there a site that offers some useful comparisons of these as well as other options? Our preference is for locally owned agencies that have local fluent English speakers as guides and Tour Managers. We have been on Frommers, Fodors and Trip Adviser with some success, but would appreciate any insights you may have. Thank you.

I don't know of an objective  Web site that compares tours to China. You may be best off going to a travel agent. Best way to find a good travel agent is via word of mouth - ask friends and colleagues. The three companies you mention are very different -- China Spree is a budget tour operator, Tauck is a high-end company and Viking is an upscale river cruise operator. They are not locally owned.  

Hi, we are parents with a three-year-old. Friends will be spending next fall in Florence and invited us to stay with them. We're thinking of going for Thanksgiving. The best prices I've found for airfares to Florence are about $1100. At that time of year are there strategies for cheaper fares such as traveling the weekend before or after the holiday? Since flying to Florence requires a plane change, could we fly cheaply to some other place and then take a train? And finally, any tips for Florence + toddler? Thanks.

I paid $1,375 for flights to Florence last August, so $1,100 already sounds like a deal to me. As we always say, you should sign up for sale alerts with the airlines that fly that route (we flew Air France connecting through Paris, but many other airlines also offer flights to Florence) and on sites such as and jump on anything that may come up. It's a long way till Thanksgiving, and there may well be sales. If you want to try the train route, I'm seeing Turkish Airlines flights for $768 to Rome (through Istanbul) on Kayak right now, or on United for $960. You could take the train up from Rome for about $30. I don't know that I'd want to fly all the way to Istanbul, then backtrack to Rome, then take the train just to save a couple hundred dollars. But then, it's not my trip. Up to you!

Consider Capon Springs, WVA. It is a nice, family-oriented, historic resort with newly designed spa with private bathing in the hot water from the springs. It is located about 30 min. west of Winchester, VA.

The ones on the side of other discussions. Good luck fixing fast.

Ah. Fixing fast? Surely you jest. . . :-)

I'm going to Cancun this month and need to load up on sunscreen to ensure a pain-free vacation. I stumbled across a blog in which participants were talking about the need for biodegradable sunscreen to use when swimming or snorkeling in a park (to protect the reefs). I had never heard of this, and finding biodegradable sunscreen proved to be something of a challenge. I finally located some on line that I ordered. But since this was totally new to me, I thought it might be helpful for other readers.

When I snorkeled in Belize and in Honduras last year, there was also talk of using biodegradable sunscreen to protect the reefs. I like using them anyway -- one brand that I've found locally is Badger. And in some marine parks, such as Xcaret in Mexico, they require that you use biodegradable sunscreens.  National Geographic did an article about it some time ago, which is an interesting read. 

Just booked a flight for a short trip to southern Utah over Presidents Day weekend (Wednesday night to Sunday night, flying in and out of Las Vegas). Obviously that's too short of a window to see everything, do you or the chatters have any suggestions for must-see's for two twenty something active women? We were thinking focus on Zion and hike the Narrows then try to make it out to Arches before returning Sunday. Were not looking to occupy our entire time with hikes, we'd rather do shorter hikes and try to see more sights or parks if possible. Any interesting tips or suggestions would be much appreciated!

Last Vegas to Arches National Park seems pretty ambitious for such a short trip. It's a nearly 8-hour drive, so you'd be eating up a lot of your vacation time with that commute. Zion is much easier, at just 3 hours away. There's plenty of hiking there to last you a couple of days, and there are other parks in the vicinity; and Dixie National Forest is within easy reach, just beyond that. Do you kayak? Even if you're beginners, the kayak trips down the Colorado River from the Hoover Dam are manageable -- scenic and beautiful, not to mention great for your upper arms. It'd be a great way to begin or end your trip.

Hello, I'm planning a trip to the US Virgin Islands in mid May of this year. I've only cruised to island destinations in the past, so I was kind of surprised at the expensive airfare. What is a reasonable price for two adults?

Getting to St. Thomas is expensive, especially if you want to go nonstop, as only one airline -- Continental -- offers this service, and only on limited days. But, if you are willing to connect, keep checking sales at Spirit. Expect, however, to pay upwards of $400 round trip. 

My two daughters and I are planning a week long trip to Nova Scotia to celebrate several milestone birthdays. Two of us will travel by air from DC area and the other from Orlando. We are planing on renting a car while there. We would like to stay in B & B's although it seems to be a little more difficult with three! We were thinking that July might be OK and we could be there for part of the Highland games held in Antigonish. A side trip to PEI would be a bonus as some of our relatives are from there. There don't seem to be any direct flights to Halifax. Suggestions of must sees, best time to go? A week isn't much but we also don't want to be driving all of the time. Thanks for any help,

Weather should be lovely in July: temps in the 70s, plenty of sun. Those conditions draw lots of tourists, so you might see some crowds, but perhaps not as many as in October, when the leaf peepers descend. For great trip suggestions, read this Going Our Way column from 2010, by K.C. Summers. It's a plan for a leisurely week-long driving trip and also offers recommendations for how to get to Halifax -- which, as you have discovered, isn't as easy as one might expect.

Would your cruise line recommendations be the same for a couple in their early 30s, traveling without children? Good excursions that let you really see nature are key.

If you want nature to be a part of the Alaska experience, I'd go with a small line. Some that come to mind include American Cruise Lines, Alaskan Dream Cruises and American Safari Cruises

Our most mysterious adventure was swimming into a sacred Mayan cave in Belize. The name is long, so it goes by ATM. The visit also includes lots of climbing over and between wet rocks, as well as a segment on lime stone that requires taking off your shoes (wear two pairs of socks - crushed lime stone is sharp!) so as not to crush the skulls and bones if you step off the path. The cave drawings and remaining relics makes it feel as if a Mayan priest is just behind the next boulder. The final leg requires climbing an extension ladder to reach a small cave where it is believed the skeletons are Mayan princess and her baby. All quite awe inspiring. Plus, the cave is at least a mile's hike in and back with major stream crossings. The water in the cave is crystal clear and the Mayan guides were superb. Lee

Sounds magical and intense.

I bought a two day Carte Musee on my last visit to Paris, which was three years ago. I thought it was great. Although I did end up saving some money by using it, what I mostly saved was time, because it allowed me to jump to the head of line or to use a passholders line. This was especially great at the Rodin Museum, because the line there was easily an hour long and I didn't wait at all. I hadn't planned on going to the Louvre, because I'd been there several times before, but when I had a little time to kill, I went, because I could get in free with the pass and not wait in line. As for my recommendations: Musee D'Orsay, L'Orangerie, St. Chappelle (there was a line to get in there, though), going to the top of Notre-Dame and L'Arc de Triomphe (be prepared to walk up and down; the elevator is for the disabled only) and the Rodin Museum. All accept the Carte Musee. I bought mine at an FNAC store. Bon voyage!

Merci for the advice.

Definitely worth it! We were in Paris two years ago and found the carte well worth the (discounted) price. Besides the cost savings, it meant not standing in a horrendous line at the D'Orsay (advice, do not go on Tuesday, when the Louvre and many other museums are closed and everyone heads there!) and bypassing lines at the Louvre and other museums as well. I highly recommend the Musee de Moyen Age (aka the Cluny) which is a jewel box of a museum near the Sorbonne. Most noted for the Unicorn Tapestries, but really, everything there was lovely and magical.

Merci again.

Back in 1997 I visited friends in Nicosia, Cyprus. While I was there, we took a day trip to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which required us to cross the uninhabited buffer zone that separates the two sides of the island and pass through a UN checkpoint and a Turkish Cypriot checkpoint. As the US does not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, we couldn't get our passports stamped and instead received paper "entry visas". Once we got through, it was amazing to experience a completely separate, distinct country on such a small island, from language to architecture to people, etc. But Northern Cyprus is beautiful and the people couldn't have been nicer. Well worth the visit!

Sounds very Mission Nearly Impossible. Thanks!

and they are not working.

Yes, got it. I'll make it my mission to make sure everything works properly by next week. Afraid even my powers are insufficient to fixing it right now.

We have two teens (14 and 17) and are looking for a location that would have outdoor activities (e.g., waterskiing, horseback riding, hiking, biking) available. We'd like our own little cabin in which we could prepare our own meals, so we don't want an all inclusive resort - -but something with resort like options. Ideally a drivable location from DC. Any suggestions?

Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, Va., might fit your bill. They have cottages and cabins where you can cook for yourselves and they offer lots of activities, including most of the ones you list, just like a resort.

Other thoughts, chatters?

Head to Ayreshire Farm and have lunch at Hunters Head Tavern.

Flying to Cuba from outside the US and breaking US law can jeopardize your security clearance and ability to occupy a senstive position. If you have a CAC card kiss is good bye if you travel to Cuba from outside the US. Also travel to Cuba from legit departure points should be reported before it happens and may need approval. Not a good idea to travel to Cuba if you ahve a security clearance. And please dont try ot bring cigars back from Cuba.

Or rum. Or  bananas (see Customs story from the other week).

Siena is also a great place to stay when exploring Tuscany, if you want to stay in a smaller city,


I keep meaning to write in to thank the person who recommended Trapani in Sicily, I have made my reservation and am looking forward to my trip! Also regarding driving in the UK, something which I don't think others have mentioned is the location of street signs - they are hard to find and small. It's one of the more difficult things about finding your way around, signs are often on the sides of buildings or low to the ground and when you are driving there is little time to check for signs. I would also agree with everyone who said that it's a team effort, you really do need two people - even with a gps.

Thanks for tossing in your valuable cents.

Check Pisa fares. Often cheaper, and a train goes right from the airport to Florence. Also, fly on Thanksgiving day.

You know, I checked, and they weren't any cheaper. But yes, Pisa is definitely an option, so keep an eye on sales to there as well.

I have always wanted to go to Cuba, because it was forbidden. But, I always tell people that I married my husband because he is the only person I know who has been to Cuba. I suppose it is losing its luster for me, simply because of the talk of opening travel there.

My father went to Cuba for his college spring break.  Wish I could've seen it back in the day.

Tagged along with a friend from Mexico (back in '94) to Havana and had a great time. He knew some locals - families of co-workers in the States, so we brought them some hard to get items aspirin, socks, soap. In return, they wanted to show us a night on the town. What they didn't tell us was it involved driving into a shady part of Havana to buy a bottle of black-market rum; smuggling it under his belt into what appeared to be an underground dance club (no sign, in the basement of a non-descript apartment block), and then spiking the cokes we ordered very serrepticiously. I was very paranoid at first, bu the rum cured that in due time!

My family is interested in renting a cabin on a lake for a week this summer. We'd like access to kayaks and/or canoes, and we'd like the place to be QUIET -- not filled with motorboats, resort activities, etc. We'd like something within a 6 hour drive (although closer would be fine), and it can be a small, out-of-the-way place. I've been looking at Pennsylvania and Upstate New York, but I'm open to suggestions. Any hidden gems out there that you could recommend?

I loved Keuka Lake, in New York's Finger Lakes. Though I was there in August, the lake was extremely quiet during the week. Motorboats are allowed, but there weren't many of them. I wasn't there during the weekend, when I imagine things probably picked up considerably, but there's a lot to see in the area, so if the lake got noisy, a sightseeing trip would be an easy escape. It's less than 6 hours away, an easy drive.

Oh noo, the hour is up. Thanks everyone for chatting with us. Come back next Monday and we can tackle more travel issues and fuel more travel dreams.

For today's winner: the Cyprus border-hopper. Send me your info at

Thanks for joining us!

My fiance and I are attempting to book a honeymoon to the Greek Isles in early April. It's starting to seem like a travel agent or package deal might be our best option (especially since it's the beginning of the season and our time is getting limited). Any advice about how to go about finding a travel agent? We're both really used to planning our own travel, but this is overwhelming).

You might want to start with ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents. Look at the box on the righthand side of the page for finding a travel agent.

In This Chat
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy 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, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
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