Talk about Travel

Jul 08, 2013

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Hello, all. Welcome to our weekly travel chat, where the sun always shines!

Today's special topic:  beaches, baby. For many, the Jersey Shore (see our story from this Sunday about post-Sandy recovery efforts) is their go-to ocean destination. For me, it's Block Island, where I am headed later this week (yay). Tell us about your fave beach spot and win a big bag o' sand (or something similar).

Hi, we'll be making this drive from Philadelphia to stay a week on a lake in northern New Hampshire (week of Labor Day). I want to break up the drive by spending a day somewhere on the way and I'm hoping your readers will come up with some place unexpected that would interest or delight! Maybe a charming village or a beautiful hike.......preferably not too far off of I-91. We're a middle-aged couple. Thanks for any ideas!

You don't say which northern New Hampshire lake you're heading to, but I just traveled to (southern) New Hampshire last week. We broke up our drive by stopping at -- West Point. It was beautiful. It's a gorgeous spot on the Hudson River. We stayed at the Thayer Hotel right on the academy grounds and walked all around the school on our own, though you can also take an official tour. The Town of Highlands,where the academy is located, is a charming village. Other possibilities, depending on your route, are Stockbridge, Mass. (Norman Rockwell, Woody Guthrie) or Saratoga Springs, NY, home of the famed racecourse, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Chatters, let's have you weigh in with your ideas!

You missed a big option when advising the folks with the destination wedding in Cancun that there were no cheaper direct flights from this region to Cancun. Southwest (through its AirTran subsidiary) flies direct from BWI. The rates for April aren't available yet but a quick look at February fares on Southwest's website showed several in the $400-$450 roundtrip range for adults.

I think April is going to be a lot more expensive than February even on AirTran out of BWI Marshall. But we definitely should have mentioned this option.

My wife and 1 year old would like to go away for a long weekend later this summer. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for either Outer Banks or Cape May?

You may have a more difficult time finding accommodations for a long weekend in the Outer Banks. Cape May has more hotels/inns, which don't usually require a week-long minimum stay, while the Outer Banks has more townhouses and single family houses, which often have the seven-night minimum in season. It's also a long drive to OBX, especially in summer. Might be less stressful, especially with the baby, to drive to Lewes, Del., and then take the ferry across to Cape May.

I want to go SCUBA diving. I learned at 55 and have 13 years experience. However now at 69 I don't want to roll off a 20 foot aluminum boat anymore. Does anybody know of dive operations that have a big sturdy boat, with lots of help, to dive off of? I'm sure I will be just fine once I get in the water. I'm initially interested in the East coast of the US, the Caribbean and further South in search of the preferred warm water.

You might want to consider shore diving, so that you can simply strap on your equipment and waddle right in. Some of the top spots for shore diving include Bonaire, Curacao,  Roatan in Honduras, the U.S. Virgin Islands (mainly St. Thomas and Johns) and Grand Cayman.

For boat excursions, check out operators in the Florida Keys. The area has a robust diving community with a big demand, which usually translates to larger, sturdier boats. However, the boats can't be too large since operators must cap the number of divers for safety reasons. They also must be sensitive to the fragile ecosystem and not mow over the coral with their large vessels. 

One suggestion:  a diving excursion at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.

My boyfriend and I are planning the first trip for either of us to Maine this fall. Our priorities are lobster, Acadia National Park, some of the towns along the coast, and more lobster. Right now it looks like we'll fly into Manchester, New Hampshire (good flight prices from BNA). Can any of you recommend one or two towns that we can use as home base for our trip? We'd rather do that than pack up every night and move to a new hotel. Thanks for your advice!

Definitely need to do at least two towns if you want to spend time in Acadia National Park, which is more than 4 hours from Manchester. I'd probably split the trip between Boothbay Harbor and Bar Harbor.

HI- spending 13 days in the PNW in August and was hoping for some expert tips! We (my mom and I, 2 adult females) fly into Portland and out of Seattle. We plan to stay the first 4 or so days in Portland, then move to the oregon coast, and Mt. Rainier and finish with the San Juan Islands and Seattle. We have places lined up to stay in Portland and at Mt. Rainier...what towns would you recommend on the oregon coast for an overnight? Any special area or place in Seattle that would be best to stay in? Is there a favorite of the San Juan Islands to do an overnight on? We would also take any tips on things to do/places to eat/favorite breweries/wineries for any of those locations! Thanks!

Sounds like a fun trip. For Oregon coast advice, check out Andrea's story from the other year. Lots of possibilities in there, including lodging recommendations in the details box. Here's our most recent Portland story. I will pull out my standard Seattle spiel: I stayed at the Inn at the Market last year and really liked it (great rooftop deck for looking out onto the water). You can't go wrong with any of the Tom Douglas restaurants, but I can recommend the pizza at Serious Pie. Other good eats: Top Pot Doughnuts, Chan, Portage Bay Cafe and Cupcake Royale. Things to see: Pike Place Market, Chihuly Garden and Glass, take a cruise, do the Theo Chocolate factory tour, go up the Space Needle or Columbia Center (cheaper and higher than the Space Needle -- and recently renovated to incorporate a new 360-degree view). Although it's from 2008, you might find some useful info in this San Juan Islands guide. Anyone have a favorite?

We will be driving from Williamstown, MA, to DC later this month. While it is possible to make the trip in one day, we would rather not drive for 8 hours. Where would be a nice place to make an overnight stop along the way? Thanks.

Well, New York is pretty much at the exact mid-point of your route. So that's one possibility. Or you could veer a bit west and detour to Princeton, which would make a very nice overnight stop. I love roaming around college towns.

My daughter and I, ages 53 and 75, have planned a cruise this Sept from Athens to Istanbul and several Greek islands. The land excursions arranged by the cruise line are quite expensive. Approx $140 for 2 people per stop. Could we do better by hiring a local cab when we disembark and winging it on our own?

How adventurous are you? And how much research are you willing to do before you go? You might very well be able to come up with alternative excursions that are better thought out than hailing a cab. But do some homework before you go or you might wind up getting ripped off or worse. For example, Cruise Critic has message board forums devoted to this topic. And there are companies, such as Shore Trips and Viator, that specialize in booking day trips and shore excursions.

For the poster from last weeks chat, instead of long tem parking for an extended period, we have be successful renting a car in the neighborhood and dropping it at IAD ( one day rental).

Interesting thought, although given how many other variables are often at play in getting to a flight on time, I'd be worried about the time it might take to rent and/or return a rental car. I've gotten really hung up doing those! Of course, the traveler would also have to then figure out how to get home.

I like so much of the Outer Banks, it's hard to pick a favorite, especially in the off-seasons. However, I do like the NPS campgrounds at Hatteras and Okrakoke, and I love how no matter what part of the OBX we are at, we can always day trip to another part of it, like Carova Beach to see the horses, or Okrakoke, or time in Manteo. There is stuff for all of us, surfing for my husband, lovely beaches for me, turtle-hatching in the fall, and it is so dog-friendly that it is the best place for us!

I second your beach suggestion!

Outside of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - a small isolated inlet identifiable only by a small dirt road located one/tenth kilometer marker past a bus stop on the side of the main road. Idyllic scenery without another soul for miles. We packed picnic lunches to eat there nearly every day to escape from the main tourist drag and crowded pool at our hotel.

So lovely, and hard to get to, which filters out the masses.

I would like to take my two girls, ages 8 and 10, on a girls weekend, preferably somewhere within 3 hours of DC. They love nature and outdoor activities as well as theme parks. My only requirement is a hotel (no camping, rustic cabins, or motels). Ideally, the hotel could arrange some of our activities. Any ideas? Thanks!

Can you stretch it to 4 hours? That would get you to the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park in Pennsylvania. It's a modern, green hotel with plenty of activities at the park that I'm sure the inn could assist you with. Here's the story we did on it a few years ago.

My boyfriend and I are thinking about a trip to the Keys in late July. I've got a bug about going to Key West. We'd likely fly into Miami and drive down A1A. Any tips on best way to do this? Is it best to stay in Key West, or one of the other Keys? We're 30-somethings, looking for some fun in the sun. We like live music, outdoor activities, local food, and are probably more inclined towards small inns than all-inclusives. I'm SCUBA certified, but he is not, so we would love to do some snorkeling, possibly SCUBA for me. We're not big drinkers, so the party scene is not really priority for us. Thanks for all your advice over the years!

The drive from Miami to Key West is long but beautiful. I would take the whole day and stop along the way to take pictures or enjoy the beach at Bahia Honda. But yes, you'll want to stay in Key West. It's a quiet time of year to be there, and if you're staying in one of the B&Bs right off Duval Steet, you can walk to everything, even the pier to catch a dive boat. If you've already done the drive down to Highway 1, you might also consider flying directly to Key West, if you can find a reasonable fare. You would save a few hundred dollars on a rental car and you wouldn't have to worry about parking. Have fun!

Are there any health spas of the Canyon Ranch/Miraval variety within an easy drive of DC? I'd guess anything nearby, if it exists, would be on a much smaller scale, but I'd like to try to recreate the experience in some form without flying and without spending $5k for a few days.

Two new things come to mind: If you can wait until the end of August, the Salamander Resort & Spa will have its much-anticipated opening in Middleburg. At The Homestead, the new Canyon Ranch SpaClub is open. I haven't been to either, but they're worth checking out, because they both promise to be of that upper-tier variety you seek.

Where to stay in a reasonable hotel in Brooklyn,new York in September?

Some hotels in Brooklyn are as pricey as their Manhattan sisters. You could always find an apartment on AirBnB or consider 3B, a B&B with bunks from $59 and  a private room with a queen-size bed from $149. For other B&B or small inn options, check

If you don't mind an anonymous chain, hop on Hotwire or Priceline to find a property. For example, in August, I found a three-star property for $125, down from $216, and a 2.5 star for $94 (normally $190).

Hi travel crew, My husband and I are thinking of taking a week's vacation/belated honeymoon at an all-inclusive in Mexico (Excellence Playa Mujeres) in the last week of October. We are ready to book now, but are wondering if you have any insight into whether resorts like this ever have sales, last minute deals, etc. We don't want to wait too long and miss out on our dates, but if we could save some money by booking in a month or so we'd be willing to. Alternately, do you know if it is feasible to re-book at a lower rate with a resort like this? Thanks in advance!

I looked at the resort's Web site, and I notice that it has lots of deals (none apply to October) that expire Aug. 5. You may want to wait until then to see what pops up next. Also, price the trip out through a travel agent to see if they can get you a discount. Airfares are going to be the bigger challenge. If you wait too long, they will likely go up.

Is there a cross-country train traveler around who can recommend a reliable internet access card for my Mac Air? I am going across the northern tier of the U.S. soon. Thanks for any suggestions.


I'm heading to Norfolk on Amtrak and am seeking suggestions on nice hotels near the waterfront and/or Scope Arena area. I'll be taking in a minor league baseball game, among other things. Any must see / do while I'm there?

You could visit the Douglas MacArthur Memorial, which we wrote about earlier this year. And here are our recommendations on places to stay, eat and see. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is a nice place to visit. There's also Nauticus and the Chrysler Museum of Art, among other things.

up the coast of Western Australia, outside Lancelin. Was able to hike along the shoreline and then, it's so isolated, swim in the ocean and sunbathe nude. Fabulous! Especially after a morning of sandboarding.

That sounds like the perfect moment, though I might throw a bikini on, just because I am a Victorian American.

I grew up going to First Encounter and wading out on the tidal sands for what seemed like miles. The target ship off in the distance and stories of the pilgrims first encountering the Native Americans gave lots of ideas for my young imagination. You can also watch the sunset over Cape Cod Bay - one of the few places in the Northeast you can watch the sun set over water. The target ship is gone but the beach and sunsets are still beautiful.

If it's good enough for the pilgrims . . .

I know most people who visit sydney would probably say bondi Beach, but for me it was Manly. The ferry ride was a great prelude along with the promenade shops on the way to the beach. The cove that the beach was in offered a great walk and the view of the Indian Ocean (not to mention the lovely Aussie women on the beach) was spectacular. And a lot less insane than Bondi.

Great pick!

We did Washington state coast last year. Don't forget Olympic National Park! Best buy I ever made for the trip was hiking poles - Hurricane Ridge is a great view but steep hike. Go to Sequim for the lavender fields! And while you are there go to the Oak Table Cafe for breakfast - try the apple pancake.

Thanks for the recommendations for the mom-and-daughter duo.

We stayed at the Friday Harbor House a couple of years ago (on Friday Harbor Island, of course)--we loved the Inn, and the island. Plenty of things to do and see and eat!

Great, thanks!

My favorite beach is Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda! Great beach on a great island. Nothing can top it!

May I assume that it is as pink as the shorts the tourists wear?

We are starting to plan a bus trip in Germany for summer 2014. Do you have any recommendations on tour companies? Thank you.

So much depends on your style of travel: small or large group, guided or more independent, fast-paced or slow. You first need to sketch out your ideal trip, then find a company that matches your vision.

Any chatters have a fave tour company for Germany?

We live in the Middle East (but still call DC home) and are looking for a quick trip within the region over the winter holidays. We have done Cyprus, Jordan, and Dubai. We want warm weather, good food, reasonable cost, and easy hiking and would like to avoid political strife (we get enough of it as is). Leading our list at present is Oman or Ethiopia. Comments? I remain an avid reader of your chats!

Well, since you mentioned Oman, have a look at our story we just ran on it. Perhaps that will appeal to you.

An organization I volunteer for is sending me to Tirana, Albania. My husband will join me for two weeks vacation starting July 24. We are very interested in folklore, particularly music, dance and textiles. We are considering renting a car and making a loop, which could encompass Southern Albania, Ohrid, Prespa lakes and the Zagori villages in N. Greece. Also possible/interesting to us are Thessaloniki, Bitola, Skopje. We are guessing that the Adriatic coastal cities will be aswarm and we are not particularly beach people. We've traveled in the Balkans before, but never these countries. Any recommendations re places of interest in those areas, festivals, best places to stay, travel tips?

Chatters, let's hear from you on this, as this isn't a part of the world we're intimately familiar with (though we'll have a story on northern Greece later this summer).

I'm traveling to Italy and Switzerland for 3 weeks this summer. What is the best way these days to pay for things and to get cash? The last time I traveled in Europe was when travelers checks were in use (a loooong time ago). Thanks.

You might be able to buy enough euros or francs from your bank to use for incidentals. But you'll want to also check with your credit card company to see what kind of rates you're being offered when you use your cards in Italy and Switzerland. Some cards charge fees for exchanging money, as well as other fees if you're withdrawing money from an ATM. Finally, beware of "dynamic" currency converstions that can convert your money into dollars but still incur and exchange fee from your card. By the way, I'd be happy to send you a draft of my chapter on money from my upcoming book. It's still a little rough, but I offer a longer explanation and more tips. Here's my email address.

If looking to get away this Saturday overnight, any recommendations in the Virginia/Eastern Shore area?

I really liked the Hotel Cape Charles. Cape Charles is a pretty quiet town, nice to stroll around and near Kiptopeke State Park.

Any suggestions for Rhodes in August? Things to do or places to eat?

Chatters, help!

We enjoyed the NU Hotel in Brooklyn. Well located, modern rooms, modest free breakfast, and best of all, bikes to borrow!

Great recommendation. Thanks!

My husband and I went to Tofino--TINY beach town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Lovely, secluded, and we stayed at a rustic but beautiful hotel right on the Pacific. It had the best whale watching I've ever seen, along with some of the most rugged and wild natural beauty. We went in March, and I'd love to get back one summer to see it at that time of year.

Sounds like you need to experience it during all four seasons. Bet it's hauntingly beautiful in winter, too.

ANY AND ALL BEACHES. Seriously. Who doesn't love the surf and sand? That said, my favorite beach is Warwick Long Bay in Bermuda. Hubby and I found it while scootering all over the island and fell in love with the quiet pink sand beach and its cove with the clear blue water where you could swim with tropical fish.

And who doesn't love pink sand?!?!?

We did this trip last year in June,and while the drive down Highway 1 was beautiful, it was also very long, primarily because of very slow, older drivers. The worst part once we got to Key West was parking. we stayed in a B&B about 3 blocks off Duval and a couple of blocks from the waterfront and there was only on-street parking. Tough to find, so tough in fact that once we found a space we never moved the car, not that you need to. If Key West is your goal, not "the Keys", i'd find a flight into Key West and save the money and the time. Besides, the Miami airport is a zoo.

Great advice. Thanks!

Palm Beach, Aruba. A seemingly endless stretch of white sand, warm turquoise blue water, sun and trade winds. Even with the hordes of vacationers from the high-rise hotels, it's paradise.

I feel like I am there. Oh, I just looked up---sadly, I'm not.

Hi, Travel Troupe! Love your Q&A and am hoping you can help me out. In early August, I will be going to Monterey, California, for a whole week while the husband is doing business there. I won't have a car and will have lots of time to myself. I have researched some of the big things to do, like the aquarium, but do you know of any other must-dos? How is public transportation (could/should I easily take a bus to a nearby town?)? Is the area generally safe? And, if you have any restaurant recs--especially for cheap eats at lunchtime!--I'd really appreciate it. Oh, and I may treat myself to a spa day, too, so if you know of a good one, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks!

If you found the aquarium, which is the most popular tourist attraction in town, then you must have also found Cannery Row, full of fun and fascinating things to see even if you're not a John Steinbeck fan. The city also has lots of cool-looking little museums.

But you're there for a whole week, without a car? Indeed, I'd try to get out a ways; you can take a bus to San Jose (I'm sure your bus driver will know the way, even if she/he isn't named Bacharach or Warwick) and then the bullet train to San Francisco. Can't you leave your hubby in Monterey while you spend 2-3 days in the big city? Seems a shame to be so close without going.

The MST bus system in the area looks pretty robust, with access to Big Sur, Carmel, Salinas, San Jose and more. Salinas is a good bet if you're indeed into Steinbeck; there's the National Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House. You can also ride horses on the beach from Salinas at the Monterey Bay Equestrian Center.

The spa question is a little harder, as I've not been to any around there, but if you're into something on the New Age-y side, the renowned Esalen Institute ("pioneering deep change in self and society") is in Big Sur, and could be worth a visit just for the cliffside hot springs.

I can't speak to the restaurant idea -- well, except to say that if you can make it to Manresa in Los Gatos (just south of San Jose -- and reachable by bus/foot), you should.

Assuming the travel time is not a factor, pros and cons for each? How to decide if can only pick one?

Not sure I can go through pros and cons of each, but Hershey Park earns points in my book for the chocolate theme. I also think it has maybe a little more of the vintage charm going for it. Busch Gardens has the international theme area, which some people like. It's also near Colonial Williamsburg and other historic attractions if you want more to do. Kings Dominion this year has a bigger, renovated Planet Snoopy area, which might appeal to some in your party.

Hello, My yellow fever vaccination expired as it is only good for ten years. I have my records and paid $75 12 years ago. The shot is now $125 at the public health clinic (no appointment you just go in and pay for whichever shots you want). I looked in D.C. and other cities I travel for work and in many cases it is over $125. Is there a reason the shot has become more expensive over the years? I unfortunately need it for a few days in Bolivia.

Simple. It's gotten more expensive because *everything* is more expensive than it was 10 years ago.

12 miles North East of Lake Placid there is a town called North Pole. They have Santa & reindeer in the summer

Interesting. Thanks for the thought! (FWIW, the place sounds like my worst nightmare, but I realize that everybody is not me...)

My wife and I are planning our first vacation in a year and a half and we are giving strong consideration to spending the first week of November in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We are not sure about whether to do All-Inclusive or not (tried it once in Antigua and the food was awful). Any tips or suggestions for accommodations or things to see/do?

Jamaica is known for its all-inclusives, but the mid-priced ones don't offer gourmet food. At best, it's mediocre. I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Ocho Rios that has since changed hands, and it was just OK.  All-inclusives work best for families on a fixed budget who enjoy eating and drinking. Jamaica Inn, which has a great rep, is not an all-inclusive, although it does offer meal plans and an all-inclusive option. As for what to do, Dunn's River Falls is a big draw, but is usually crowded.  If you're interested in plants and nature, try Coyoba Gardens.

Second the recommendation for Sequim, WA., but be advised that it's pronounced "Squim" (i.e., the "e" is silent).

I heartily second Horseshoe Beach on Bermuda. While the sand is only very light pink, it is as soft as flour. Absolutely delicious to relax there, and I am, otherwise, a die-hard non-beach person. I felt since I was in Bermuda that I had to visit and swim at at least one beach. So glad it was Horseshoe! I can honestly say I would return!

If Horseshoe won over a non-beach person, it must be grand.

Watch your neighborhood carefully (this from a native). Not all of Brooklyn is hipsterville. Brooklyn Heights, downtown Brooklyn, and Williamsburg are great, but if you get a hotel in other areas, there won't be much to do except catch the subway to where the action is.

Great point!

What does the poster mean about internet access? His Mac Air almost certainly has a network card to use wifi in hotels, coffeeshops etc. So to use it everywhere else he probably needs to buy a plug-in usb broadband modem (not just a card). Clear, Cricket, Virgin Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and others sell modems to access their networks. Then you either buy a prepaid card for a certain amount of MBs or sign up to pay by credit card. The poster should google "mobile broadband" and compare coverage maps and rates.

Excellent information.

The chatter going on the Athens-Istanbul cruise would be well advised to book excursions ahead of time; don't just show up on the dock and try to work something out. The cruise mentioned sounds a lot like the reverse of what my wife and I did last year (Istanbul-Limnos-Izmir-Kos-Cesme-Santorini-Crete-Athens on the Seabourn Odyssey). We booked our own tours (for 4 adults) in Istanbul, Izmir, and Cesme, and were very happy with the results. Of course, I can't find the tour operator's name right now, but if the editors can act as go-between and the chatter will provide them contact information, I'll e-mail the info to tonight or tomorrow and you can pass it on. Note that we had 4 adults, so we had private tours with a driver and guide; if there are only 2, they might be folded into a larger group. Also, by booking outside the cruise line, the travelers are responsible for getting back to the ship on time. The cruise line will hold the ship or make other arrangements for those on its own tours, but others are on their own.

Thanks for the tips. Will pass along info if chatter provides email.

I have found that renting a car from Dulles to be the cheapest way back to Baltimore after a long trip of 10 days or more. AT the time, not sure about now, the car companies treated BWI-Union Station-DCA and IAD as one market, so it is possible to rent at Dulles and drop car off at any of the other locations, without a one-way drop off surcharge. I used to commute to work in DC every day. So, I'd take MARC with luggage to DC, and then after work go to Dulles via Metro and the Washington Flyer Bus to Dulles. It depends on how long you're gone and the price of the car rental as to whether this makes sense for you. I've also used long term parking and have never had a problem.

Thanks for sharing. A lot does depend on price and where the travelers are coming from. Logistically, I think the airport parking is the easiest. I know when I got back jet-lagged from Europe, I wouldn't have wanted to deal with renting a car to get home. Was happy to have my wheels waiting for me.

Yankee Candle Village in S. Deerfield, MA is a great place if you in to Christmas decorating or candles. There is a nice restaurant. Right off 91 North in S. Deerfield. Lots of hiking nearby.


I'm considering a trip in September with a transfer in Munich (Dulles to Munich to Sicily). The itinerary gives about a 90 minute layover -- do you think that's enough time?

It's definitely doable. Just be sure to disembark the plane quickly and ask the flight attendant if she/he knows the number of your next gate. If the airline magazine has a map, plot your route.

For a quick connection, keep your bags light and compact, and have all of your tickets and paperwork at the ready. Wearing running shoes won't hurt either!

A good choice for a decent hotel in Brooklyn is the Best Western Gregory Hotel at 8315 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge. The hotel provides free breakfast; the neighborhood is filled with great restaurants of all kinds. It's near an R Line station with Manhattan about 40 minutes away. I and family members have stayed there several times in the past few years.

Thanks for the suggestion!

How about Hudson River Valley, around West Point and Hyde Park (Culinary Institute of America, FDR home, Eleanor's nearby Valkyll cottage).

Did I not say West Point? :-)

Easy. Santa Rosa Island, Florida. I am from New Orleans and the gulf coast of Alabama and Florida is affectionalely known as the Redneck Riviera. The water is a beautiful blue and the sand is like sugar. You can wade out half of a mile and the water is only to your knees. You can enjoy the water on a raft for hours at a time. After living in DC for 19 years I'm still not used to the rough shores and the dark sand.

Sounds heaven-leeee.

Stayed at Aloft in Brooklyn last year, it was fun, chic, clean and pretty inexpensive.

Alofts are good and well-priced. Thanks!

I'm afraid I don't really like beaches all that much, because the sand gets into everything, no matter how hard I try for it not to. Gritty, icky, just not fun.

But then you just rinse in the pool! (Just kidding, hotels around the world.)

Hello, My family is traveling to Lisbon in a few weeks and I am working through a list of questions to resolve. Do you know if Portugal has moved to the chip and pin credit card system entirely? And, how much would you recommend to take in Euros to start with? Finally, any recommendations on what to do and see in Lisbon and Portugal? Thanks!

Really, no one has entirely moved to the chip and pin system since most terminals and vendors should still be able to process your magnetic strip card. You can find more details in my primer from the other month. The amount of money depends on a lot, but when I start out somewhere, I typically like to have somewhere between the equivalent of $150 and $200. Since you'll be in a group, split it up among a few people so no one is carrying too much.

It's been a while since we've done anything on Portugal, so let's solicit the help of your fellow chatters.

Hi, I bought tickets from Philly to Barcelona, connecting in JFK, a few months ago, and the flight times have been changed 4 times. For the trip back to DC, I land in Philly at 6:26PM (thanks to this latest change) and I have a train ticket back to DC that leaves from 30th street station at 8:08PM. Is this doable? I'm assuming I'll go through customs and everything in JFK, correct? Please let me know! I'm so fed up with getting a change notification every month- I bought these tickets so far in advance solely to get convenient times, and now they keep changing!

How annoying, but good to see your flexibility.

If your flights are on time and the airports are not too chaotic, you should make the train. But remember, you also have to find a cab to the train station and travel during rush hour.

  I think you will make it, but just in case, jot down the next two train departures to DC, and call Amtrak and rebook if it looks like you won't make the 8.

We'll have about 6 hours between planes in Munich on a Tuesday in early August--landing 9:55 a.m., departing 3:55 p.m. Is it worth leaving the airport for some quick fun? If so: what and how? We are two adult women who love art, gardens, good food, and walking; we'll be on our way back from 2 weeks in Italy. (For what it's worth, I speak good German, so I'd probably have an easier time navigating than many people would.)

Looks like you could. The Munich Airport itself has issued a guide to the airport that also includes ideas for nearby activities outside the airport, for two categories of travelers: those who have a layover of more than four hours, and those who have one of more than six. So you certainly qualify for the former (and could MAYBE squeeze yourself into the latter). For the over-four-hour itinerary, the airport lists the towns of Freising (to visit what they say is the world's oldest working brewery, Weihenstephan, among other things); Oberschleisshein (for the three palaces); or Erding (for Europe's largest hot-water spa complex, Therme Erding). For details about these, the 6-plus-hour ideas, and the airport itself, go here.

I just found out my daughter will be stationed in Rota, Spain for 2 years. My husband and I would like to visit her and perhaps take a Mediterranean cruise. I am kind of at a loss as to how to plan this and how to get the best deals. We are targeting September 2014. Some questions: From looking around, it seems more costly to fly to one airport and home from another than a round trip? Would I want to drive from Rota to Bareclona - I know its about 500 miles. Is there much to see along the way? We are interested in seeing some castles, towns along the way etc. Should we plan to fly into Madrid? Is the Madrid/Rota trip a good road trip? Can US citizens drive there? How do I get the best deals? My husband ill be 55, ex military, we have lots of Marriott points :-) Any itinerary suggestions? Cruise suggestions? They seem to leave out of Barcelona. Thanks!

It's sometimes more costly to do what is called an "open jaw" itinerary, but if it's much more convenient, might be cheaper in long run that driving back to arrival airport. You could fly into Madrid and then take another flight to Jerez de la Frontera, near Rota.  Flying into Lisbon, Portugal is another option. It'll cost a bundle to rent a car in Lisbon, Barcelona or Madrid if you drop it off in Rota. Train may be an option. If you do get a car, look at cruises that depart from Malaga, which is much closer to Rota. I believe Azamara Club Cruises, for example, has cruises from Malaga.

The beaches in Bermuda along the south shore are pink -- but it's very subtle. Not as pink as pink Bermuda shorts though.

Surely I can't be the only person who is willing to 'fess up to owning a pink pair of Bermuda shorts, right?

Check out the Giant Artichoke in Castroville, the self-proclaimed artichoke capital of the world. I love their batter-fried artichoke hearts!


Take 17-Mile Drive, preferably from Monterey to Carmel, since nearly all the scenic vistas are on the right-hand side of the road that way, so getting on/off the road is much easier.

Carmel, of course. Also Pt. Lobos state park, where at low tide -- check with your hotel, or online for tide times -- you can hike down to see the sea creatures in the tidal pools.

My wife and I spent a week in Maine and stayed at a bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor. We were able to eat a different kind of lobster every night at a different restaurant. We plan on going again in the future.

I have been known to eat lobster for breakfast in Maine!

Buck Island off of St. Croix. Just floated around for a couple of hours. Got out, had a barbecue, got right back in the water. Somehow the rain that was threatening just passed next to the island. Paradise.

Glad that you did not sink with a belly full of BBQ!

The Baths. Virgin Gorda. SNorkeling. Sailboats anchored. So beautiful.

Do you know of any family friendly hotels/motels on the fFinger Lakes? We were hoping to visit Skaneatelas twenty years later and there appear to only be romantic inns or house rentals for a week. Thanks.

Hmm, really? I find a number of inns in Skaneateles and Fleming, but since I haven't stayed at any, I can't make a recommendation. So, as with many things, let's turn this over to the chatters. Folks, can you help out?

It really depends on what you're going for. If you're more into roller coasters, and want a really ride-heavy park, I'd go to Hershey's or King's Dominion--BG's are great, but they only have five roller coasters. Of the two, I much preferred Hershey's. Some of KD's rides felt a little rickety to me. Hershey's also has an in-park water park (as does KD) and a zoo (KD does not). If you're going for an overall experience, go to Busch Gardens. It is a gorgeous theme park (and has the awards to back it up), and the food is actually decent! They also have a small wildlife section and some good shows, too. I used to live 20 minutes from King's Dominion, but my friends and family and I would always opt for the hour trip to Busch Gardens instead.

Wonderful analysis. Much obliged.

Can you find a tour that would take you down Seventeen Mile Drive?

It looks like Starline Tours offers the drive, but they pick up from San Francisco. Best to touch base with the Monterey County CVB for suggestions, or consider  hiring a driver for a few hours.

A friend of mine may have a day or two in Basel, before beginning a Rhine cruise. Is there much to do there? Or would one be better off heading to the Black Forest? Visiting Alsace?

Basel is beautiful, and there's lots to do and see. The heart of downtown around the Muenster (cathedral) and the Muensterplatz (cathedral square) is a gorgeous vista of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. There are many, many beautiful buildings to see and churches to visit. And lots of great museum -- the Basel Historical Museum, the Kunstmuseum (art museum), the Jewish Museum of Switzerland, the Sculpture Hall. The Town Hall is beautiful. The city's right on the Rhine, so you can take a ferry across the river. There's a pretty good zoo. You can shop on the Freie Strasse. Lots of nice parks, too. What else, chatters?

Hi, My husband and I will be traveling to Minneapolis for a wedding on October 26. We were thinking of extending our stay to do some sightseeing: any suggestions on things to see or do at that time of year? We will be renting a car, and can do city or countryside since we do enjoy hiking.

Chatters, your thoughts on what to do in Minneapolis and environs in the fall? It's the City of Lakes, so maybe some leaf-peeping? And you'll want to see the Mary Tyler Moore statue, of course. But beyond that, I don't know, so please help, folks!

want to take the bus - can I just show up and buy a ticket? Do I need a reservation? Is it more reliable (though more expensive) to buy the ticket online beforehand? I must be in St P on a particular day - meeting my mother for a river cruise. Any suggestions getting from the bus station to the port? Will I be able to communicate with the taxi driver? ;-) thanks!

You may want to rethink doing this on the day of the cruise's departure. If you miss the boat, well, you miss the boat. And if you mother is anything like mine, she won't be pleased. Is there any reason you want to take a bus rather than the Allegro train?  Train is much faster. You can buy tickets online through various third-party sites, such as Rail Europe, or you can buy in Helsinki.

Mine has to be beautiful Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in FL. It's easy to get to (~10 hours by car or fly into JAX), not terribly crowded, wide open beaches, good restaurants, very relaxed atmosphere. While there are very nice hotels (the Ritz, the Omni), the houses you can rent are typically beachfront and not stacked 3 or 4 blocks deep like at OBX. I spent every summer of my childhood there, and I have so many wonderful memories!! It's really the perfect beach for me and my family...

I was just there and must agree. Plus the town is darling.

90 minutes is more than enough time, assuming you're sticking with the same airline alliance. If you're switching from Lufthansa or United (in Terminal 2) to Alitalia (in Terminal 1), you'll need to hurry. If you're in the same Terminal, you'll need to go through Immigration then take the escalators down one level; you won't have to go through security again. If you switch terminals, I believe you will have to clear security again.


Three couples (in our early 50's) plan to visit New Orleans in either the fall or spring for a long weekend. None of us have been before. Can you recommend (1) hotels, (preferably more upscale); and (2) top things to see and do? Thanks so much.

I haven't stayed at the Soniat House, but I've always wanted to -- especially after touring some of the rooms and eating breakfast there. Just gorgeous, and fabulous location.

As for what to see and do, you must eat and drink and listen to music, more than anything else. I'm overdue for a visit, so my recs might be a little stale, but I say you should go to Cochon, Stella, August, Patois, Commander's Palace, Dooky Chase, Willie Mae's Scotch House, Parkway Bakery and of course Cafe Du Monde for food and to dba, Arnaud's, Cure, Sazerac Bar and many more for drinks. For music, the aforementioned dba is great, and of course there's also Preservation Hall, Tipitina's, Blue Nile, Smug Harbor, Vaughan's -- and so much more than I have time to list here! Some more music inspiration can be found in this piece we ran about a trip inspired by the HBO show "Treme."

Returned last night through O'Hare from 3 nights in Mexico City. Even though I have Global Entry I was rudely questioned - basically "why on earth would you vacation in a place like Mexico City?" I enjoy the climate, food, music and very friendly people; and it was relatively peaceful - Chicago had 70 shooting victims (12 fatal) over the 4-day holiday weekend. Mexico City had 1 reported incident; a revenge killing at gym in a rough neighborhood. Are all CBP agents so parochial?

I also think Mexico City is amazing--so vibrant!

I hope that you told the CBP that he/she should just check your documents and keep his/her vacation opinions to his/herself.

can be as low as 35 90 would give you almost time for a leisurely lunch! and when returning to USA, you always go through customs & immigration at your first point of entry

Happy Monday! My husband and I are hoping to get to Europe in November/December with our 1 year old son. Any cities/countries in Europe that you recommend that would be easy to travel around with a baby? We were hoping to visit Paris, but know that it's not the easiest to travel around with a stroller. We're looking for any and all suggestions - we're not concerned about language barriers, open to city or rural (so long as it's accessible via public transport), etc. Thank you!

If I still had a one-year-old (alas, they're now 26 and 24), I'd take him to Paris without a second thought. Just grab your umbrella stroller (do they still have those?) and go!

Perhaps the Travel Section staff could go on outings to all three and report back?

We've hit on some recently, including Andrea's recent forays to Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens. But I do like the idea of fanning out and comparing them. Perhaps one day!

Have you considered driving up to the St. Croix River Valley -- Taylors Falls, MN., and St. Croiz Falls, WI -- about an hour north of the Twin Cities? Very scenic river valley, reminiscent of the Hudson River Valley in terms of natural beauty.

Thanks everyone for a  riproaring hour.

For today's winner: the chatter who went ga-ga for the beach in Tofino, Vancouver Island. You had me with whales and the romance of the beach off-season. Please send me your contact info at

Stay cool and dry till next week . . .

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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