Talk about Travel

Aug 12, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Greetings, travelers, and welcome to today's chat! What's on your itinerary -- what can we help you with?

Just to draw you out in case you're feeling a little shy, here's a question for all of you to ponder and respond to, all for the chance at winning a little something from us to you as a prize. Our favorite response to the following query will win:

In keeping with this week's piece about the soggy hike along Kuai's Kalalau Trail, tell us about a trip you took in which you had to endure difficulties in order to arrive at a spectacular payoff.

Let's do this!

Boyfriend and I are looking to book a Vegas weekend in October. Most of my experience is in booking just flights, not flight + hotel. Are the flight + hotel deals on sites like Expedia worthwhile or am I better off booking the flight now and searching for hotel deals as we get closer to the travel dates? Is it mostly safe to book on the travel sites like Expedia if we go with a deal? I tend to research on the travel sites, then head to the airline site to actually purchase tickets. Thanks!

Las Vegas is one of those destinations where you can sometimes save money by booking  a package. October isn't all that far from now, so I'd probably get the vacation booked soon. Have you tried pricing it out both ways to find out whether there are savings?  And, yes, Expedia is a safe company, but if you're going to do the research, I'd compare its prices to an airline package deal and to another third-party booking site, such as Travelocity. 

I'm headed to Nicaragua for a week in November (primarily based in Granada and Ometepe). Do you or the readers have any tips for particular must-dos, and/or tour operators for things like a volcano hike? Also, I've tried searching to see if you've done any travel stories on Nicaragua, but can't figure out the best way to search for old articles. If you've done any, can you provide the link? Thanks!

I haven't been to Nicaragua, alas, nor have we done a great deal on it -- here's our most recent article, and here's a more recent What a Trip on the country. Chatters, we'll need you to weigh in here with our tips!

A few weeks ago I wrote in about a 1.5 hour international layover US Airways wanted to give me. Well, I just got back from the trip, and wow am I glad I made them change it! Although we left a few minutes early, we sat a the gate in Charlotte for over 45 minutes due "several planes of people in immigration". So there went 45 minutes of my 1.5 hour layover. Then we went thru the maze to get to the ICE agent for over 45 minutes. Hmmm Plus customs, plus jogging for the gate which was across the airport... SO, folks, if the computer thinks 1.5 hours international layover is enough, fight back! I sat in Charlotte a bit for a later flight, but I'd do that any time rather than miss a flight. And Charlotte was a mess coming and going. Not going to route thru Charlotte again if I can help it...

I missed last week's chat, but this issue of "legal" connection times is a hotbutton. Every week it seems I deal with one or two cases where a passenger is booked on a tight connection and is afraid of missing the next flight out. The booking systems apparently can't account for long immigration lines during the busy tourist season. By the way, if you ever run into trouble with a connection, please contact me. I will do my best to help.

I know I'm late but I had to contribute. When we went through Bangor, Maine a few years ago we stopped to see Stephen King's house (very cool by the way) and hanging around outside was the FRIENDLIEST black cat!! How cool was that!

Creepy cool! Thanks!

I am in the formative stages of planning for a trip to/from Alaska for two adult seniors next year. I want to drive from DC to Alaska, leave the car then take a cruise back to Vancouver. I also would consider the reverse -- cruise to Alaska, then pick up a car and drive back to CONUS. Do you have any suggestions regarding the car portion? Are there any options that will allow me to either deliver a car to Alaska, or pick up a vehicle for delivery back in CONUS? I do not want to buy.

Don't know of any drivewaway companies that would hire you to drive a car to Alaska. Also, those companies often have age restrictions and they require that you make the trip in a very short timeframe (no time for lingering along the way). You could do a one-way car rental to Vancouver, but it would cost upwards of $230 a day. Car rental companies sometimes give good deals to move cars between popular warm weather-cold weather routes (New York and Florida, for example), but Alaska would not be part of that program. Any chatters have suggestions here? 

In 2008, we stayed at the Clarion Collection Hotel Bastion in Oslo, very close to the Opera House and not far from the train station. Extensive buffet breakfast and dinner were included, plus waffles at 4pm. Meals are pricey in Norway so that saved a lot. See the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, Vigeland Park (sculpture), and the Scream, a harbour cruise with peel and eat shrimp, walk on the Opera House roof at sunset. Lots of sea food restaurants by the harbor, Nobel Peace Museum, City Hall where the Nobel Prizes are handed out, a harbour cruise with peel and eat shrimp. Bergen and Norway in a Nutshell are very popular, but we couldn't fit it in. We flew to Lofoten (the archipelago half-way up the coast, extremely beautiful islands), rented a car, and stayed at Reine. While planning our trip, National Geographic Traveler rated the Lofoten islands of Northern Norway the third most appealing islands in the world. There are towering mountains with pointed peaks, the midnight sun, beaches (way too cold to swim though), traditional culture (cod fishing). We'd hoped to see the Maelstrom, but the one guide allowed to take groups in wasn't doing it that year. Then we Hurtigrutened down the coast, stopping at Alesund, Trondheim, and Geiranger. From Geiranger, we bussed to Andalsnes through the area where the trolls come from, spent the night, and took the train back to Oslo. Different but extremely interesting and beautiful.

Thanks for all this great input!

Help! We will be visiting several of my husband's friends and relatives overseas next week, sometimes just for a meal but other times staying with them overnight. What are some of your go-to items to bring to hosts overseas? Some more context if it's helpful: All of these people have been to the U.S. multiple times and range in age from 35-70. Thank you for your help!

Consider interesting food products, especially items with a regional connection, such as peach cobbler mix from Atlanta, salt water taffy from the Jersey Shore or Old Bay seasoning from Maryland. You can mix and match items from around the country.  Just make sure the items are allowed through customs and security.

For a personalized gift, you could take photos of, say, the Washington monuments and turn them into coasters, cards, mugs or other whimsical gift ideas. You can find these types of DIY services online. Or pick up some holiday ornaments featuring iconic U.S. landmarks.

Conversely, at a certain age, people don't really need more stuff in their homes. Instead, consider the universal gift of  flowers and a bottle of wine (purchased  locally).

OK, this is mostly a rant. Of the past four air travel trips my family has tried, three of the four ended up with cancelled flights and overnight delays - not due to weather - that resulted in severe inconvenience and unplanned hotel stays for the travelers and/or family members driving to pick up passengers. It's not really about the money, as the airlines have picked up hotel costs (for the passenger, not for family members who have driven three hours only to find out about delays and altered schedules). I guess the airlines really don't care. They are making flying less enjoyable and more costly, and the paying customers seem to have little recourse.

Thank you for that. I will write something about the unbearable state of air travel soon. Oh, and brace yourself for more. That American Airlines - US Airways megamerger is right around the corner!

Can you recommend a beach nearby (about 2 hours) for a nice weekend?

Hmm. In the summer, the ocean beaches are at least three hours away. For a two-hour or under drive, the closest thing would be something on the Chesapeake. There's Sandy Point State Park on this side, right at the foot of the Bay Bridge. On the other side, there's now a small public beach at Metapeake County Park on Kent Island. There's also Colonial Beach, Va., or Chesapeake Beach, Md. Both quite nice.  Chatters, what else would you recommend?

Hi, My husband and I are going to be in Boston from a Friday to Monday in a few weeks. We definitely want to see the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and may buy tickets to see "Wicked" at the Opera House ($$$$!) What else would you recommend we see while in Boston? Also, is there a hotel you would recommend that is within walking distance of the Opera House? Thank are a great resource.

Have a fun weekend! I'd say you should definitely check out the Institute of Contemporary Art, too; plus the Gardner Museum. Both are stunning in their own ways. Boston is such a great walking city, even more so now that the Big Dig is over and the Rose Kennedy Greenway has so beautifully knit together previously separated parts of the city. I'd try to  see the Public Garden, Charles Street on Beacon Hill, some of the historic burying grounds, Trinity Church/Copley Square, the North End. You could stay at the Charlesmark at Copley and walk to all of the above, including the Opera House, very easily. Also make sure you stroll along the Esplanade at the Charles River, and take the train across the river -- a gorgeous trip, actually -- to see Harvard Square.

One additional suggestion to the Machu Picchu traveler: I was just there in June, and I recommend going early in the morning. Buses head up the mountain starting before 6am, and if you go then, it's less crowded, cooler, and there's often a gorgeous sunrise view if it's not too foggy. I've heard that late afternoon also has fewer crowds.

In November, I want to celebrate my 60th Birthday in Virginia wine country. Please identify two wineries that would be great for wine tasting and lunch for 6 guests.

Barboursville Vineyard in Charlottesville is wonderful. And Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg is attached to the fabulous Wedmore Place, where you could wine and dine your guests in (European) style. Chatters, do you have favorite vineyards to recommend?

Didn't hike the whole thing--we were dropped off a day's hike away. Unfortunately, the night before I had foolishly ordered a mojito. The mojito was fabulous, but it contained ice. And yes, you guessed it, Montezuma's revenge made an appearance. The hike itself was relatively strenuous, since Machu Picchu is nearly 8000 feet above sea level, and the intestinal discomfort (to put it mildly) was not a welcome companion. Nor was the cold rain that seemed to be following us. But, as we crested the top of the trail, the clouds parted and we were rewarded with a fantastic view of Macchu Picchu at sunrise; one that our guides said was pretty rare. We also had an opportunity to walk around the city, which was completely amazing, although I confess that I didn't enjoy it fully, being focused on trying to figure out where the closest WC was. Next time, no mojitos!

No mo mojitos! Glad it worked out, though -- lovely description.

So we were 7 19-year-old college girls and our nun companion, "Aunt Mary" (so she could drink in pubs!). Over we went from Spain to Tangiers, Morocco, for a day trip early on Dec. 31. Waiting for the plane going back, a huge storm came up, and all flights were cancelled for the day! Back we went through the darkening streets of Tangiers, looking for a place to stay. But on New Year's eve, everything was booked up! Finally, Aunt Mary found us one room in a hotel with 4 beds. We took the mattresses off to give us enough beds. Aunt Mary disappeared and came back with a New Year's Eve present -- one bar of soap! We split it up 8 ways and had an amazing, fun, terrific New Year's eve party. A major wonderful memory and experience.

Fun indeed! Thanks for sharing.

How's the weather in Ireland in September? We're hearing 70s during the day and 50s during the evening.

I think it's more like 60s (maybe to the low 70s) in daytime and 50s once the sun goes down. Which is still great. It's a glorious time of year to visit Ireland, a little less wet than usual, and many of the hordes of tourists are gone.

Your report about reporting crimes on cruises mentions International Cruise Victims. The organization has a web site describing numerous crimes, including rape, disappearances and murders, committed aboard cruise ships. What is particularly disturbing is that many of the crimes seem to be committed by ship staff, and ships' captains are inclined to blame the victim. Some women report being drugged with drinks brought to them by waiters, and children have sometimes been targeted. I've never been on an ocean cruise, but it seems hard to believe that a completely closed environment couldn't be made secure with cameras, electronic locks on cabin doors, direct observation by supervisors, careful pre-employment screening, etc., etc. Do you have any thoughts on how to be safe aboard a cruise ship, and what to do if you encounter trouble? If the ships' officers aren't responsive, what's the next step? What police agencies have jurisdiction: The place where the boat embarked, where it landed, the country of registration, who?

The list of alleged crimes on the International Cruise Victims site is deeply troubling. Taking a few common-sense precautions can significantly improve your chances of being safe, but they are not a guarantee. Many of the on-board crimes involve excessive alcohol consumption. Some cruise lines also have well-deserved reputations for attracting a "party" crowd. Staying away from those will probably help you avoid most trouble. Also, stay in well-lighted public areas of the ship and go on the sanctioned shore excursions. Regarding your question about jurisdiction: It depends. In international waters, maritime law applies, but ships are required to report certain crimes against Americans to the FBI. In port, it's the law of the country you're in.

I would like a getaway before start school this month. I am returning for more education after a 'long' period of time. I have been curious about Falling Waters and recently W. VA, since it's their anniversary and the Salamandar Spa is getting ready to open. What's the best choice and what is there to do at either location besides the main things I've listed above? Thanks

If you are a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, definitely field-trip  out to Fallingwater. The house is incredible. You can only visit via guided tour that must be booked in advance.

If you really want calm before the storm of school, I highly recommend West Virginia especially in late summer/early fall. For ideas, here is my piece on the 150th anniversary of the state  (I visited 15 places out of the 150 items on the bucket list). I recommend Harman's Luxury Log Cabins, near Dolly Sods Wilderness, plus a culture fix in Elkins, at the Augusta Heritage Center.

Salamandar opens at the end of this month. We have not seen it yet, but we do know that rates are up there in the treetops, starting at $425.

Looking for interesting restaurants in or near East Falmouth. We like most everything, but aren't looking for fancy/expensive (i.e., we'd prefer somewhere we don't have to dress too nicely and can eat dinner for under $50/person - more preferably $20-$40, neither of us drinks).

The Glass Onion has a great reputation, but it may be too pricey. I'd also consider Jimmy Brown's Cafe.  Chatters?

We're starting to plan a mid-week trip to Boston and Cambridge in early October--probably 4 nights. Any suggestions for a hotel or inn (or B&B) and/or a neighborhood that is convenient to get around both places by public transportation or walking? Also would like sightseeing suggestions both downtown and outside of town, if they are reachable by public transportation. We're less interested in historical sites than in culture and scenery.

See my previous answer for some thoughts -- but for your particular needs, I'd say you might look at staying in Kendall Square or Beacon Hill, right across the Charles from each other, meaning it would be super easy to just jump on the train to get from Boston to Cambridge or vice versa in one stop (or more, of course, depending on where in each city you're headed).

On the Cambridge side, the Kendall Hotel is a nice one worth checking out. For more of a splurge, stay on the Beacon Hill/Boston side; check out the new Liberty Hotel, which is just gorgeous, or the Beacon Hill B&B.

Oh, and I almost forgot to address your request for other suggestions! In addition to what I mentioned earlier, for culture and scenery, you might consider heading out west a tad to the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln and/or good old Walden Pond in Concord/Lincoln.

We are there a reason why baggage is turned face down on the carousel rather than on its back, which is sturdier and would seem to protect the contents, especially any front compartments, better?

Hmm. I doubt that this is deliberate. I imagine that the baggage handlers just toss the bags onto the carousel, without checking to see how they land! But perhaps I'm wrong, chatters?

Hi travel team- Four adults in Costa Rica in Feb. but don't know what part of the country is ideal. We would like beach and jungle of course with some luxury mixed in. Any suggestions?

Tourism is centered along Costa Rica's Pacific coast.  Flying into Liberia rather than San Jose places you closer to most major resorts, although it is more expensive and time-consuming to fly to Liberia. The Tamarindo area is close to the airport in Liberia, plus it offers many resorts and hotels. 

We are planning on taking our 1st trip to Hawaii next May for our 25th wedding anniversary. Do you think it is too much to spend 4 nights at 3 different islands? What would be a reasonable price to pay for airfare? Should we look into vacation packages rather than trying to book everything ourselves separately?

Yes, that's very ambitious. You'll need at least a week to really explore each island, even one of the smaller ones. I would focus on either Oahu or Maui if it's your first visit to Hawaii. At the moment, anything under $1k is a pretty good deal out of Dulles, and you might save some money by getting a package. I would shop around.

Hi..sending early in case I can't make the chat. (Loved the Kauai/trail article, btw....I was only able to do the 6 mile hike part...bad knee) So this is probably a question for Chris Elliot if he's there today - I got an email from USAir about 'gifting' my miles so I looked into it. I currently have 40k miles and they give another 40k 'bonus' if I gifted them to my wife. However, the FEE to do this is crazy! $1400! Would you say this is a ridiculous ripoff or what?

I'm here! And yes, that's a ridiculous rip-off. Then again, miles are not always worth collecting, as I've said numerous times in my Navigator column. Enough said.

My friend and I need to travel to Denver this fall for a long weekend. I've been arguing that we should wait to buy our tickets until after Labor Day because the airlines will lower prices on their seats once school is back in. My friend argues that with cutbacks in routes, there are no longer fall sales to speak of. The flights are running about $340 R/T for friday-to-monday travel right now. Who is making more sense?

Your friend. If you can find flights at $340 round trip that are nonstop, or at least offer convenient connections, buy now. Or drive to Wilmington and fly on Frontier's new nonstop service from there to Deniver -- $193 round trip, but no flights on Fridays or Mondays. 

We will be going to ABQ for the Balloon Fiesta - for 9 days! I have a few questions: I know the best times are either before dawn or at sunset - which is better? What restaurants would you recommend? We have these plans: Petroglyph National Monument, Hiking at the Tent Rocks, Taking the Tram up to the Top of the Sandias, and Old Town. Other suggestions in ABQ or in the area? Thank you!

I think dawn is the best time for a ballon ride, particularly if you're thinking of taking photos. We never visit Albuquerque without having lunch at El Pinto. Chatters, what are your favorite ABQ attractions?

Hello! We're from the Midwest but our son, who lives in Arlington, told us about your chat. Earlier this year my wife and I took a baseball trip with a nationally known company. The escorts, a married couple, brought their young son as a "junior escort." He's an only child and overindulged, but that was not the problem. Not only did he take up a lot of Mom and Dad's time, this was simply not a trip for young children. We usually left the hotel at 7, 8, or 9 a.m. and often did not reach our destination until nearly midnight. Rain delays and extra-inning games made some days even longer. This was exhausting for many adults, so the boy's meltdowns were not surprising. We quietly discussed this with some of our traveling companions, many of whom turned out to feel the same way, but no one knew how to bring it up to the escorts. Don't get me wrong, we love children and are nuts about our grandchildren, but we would not inflict them on strangers for a week under these circumstancs. We do not plan to travel with this company again if this couple are the escorts.

Oh, that sounds not ideal for all parties involved. Sorry you had a bad experience.

Hello, I rented a Penske moving truck and drove up to Boston on Saturday. At the exit of the NJ turnpike, I ended up in the EZ Pass lane instead of the cash lane and didn't pay the toll. I call NJ EZ Pass today to try to take care of this and avoid any penalties or interest or whatever and am told that there's nothing I can do until EZ Pass mails a violation to Penske and Peske passes it on to me, and it's a $50 penalty plus the toll. I'm really surprised it's that steep, because in Illinois (with I-PASS), you are allowed I believe three violations before any penalties, and it's a $20 fee. But okay, I'll pay the $50 and toll. What really got me during the conversations with NJ EZ Pass is when I asked for a customer service email to just write them and say that I think their fees are steep and if you know you have a violation, it would be beneficial to be able to pay it online instead of waiting for a violation to be issued. I was told that they do not have any customer service email, and even existing customers have to email from the EZ Pass account. So, you cannot write to complain about customer service because it truly does not exist. I am so dumbfounded by this. I had to ask a few times to verify that no, there is absolutely no customer service to contact regarding customer service. How is this possible? And is that true?

It's possible you won't get dinged for the violation. Some toll authorities give you one "free" pass when you blow through a toll booth, and so if this is the first time the plate went through the gate without paying, you might be off the hook. Also, you should contact Penske before you resign yourself to paying a $50 penalty. It might have a toll tag system in place that covered the fee, and will pass the toll along to you. But I agree with you, this isn't the best customer service.

I just completed my GOES application. My goodness. The information they want is not intrusive, but it would be NICE to know before starting what they'll want. AND, I could sure make some suggestions about how it is laid out. I am not at all certain that I did one part correctly, but could not find any way to enter what I think they were really asking. AND it would be nice to know if I could stop and start, which is also not apparent. Oh well. If nothing else, the US Govt now has $100 it didn't before.

I agree, the application is tedious and the information requested by the government is borderline intrusive. Many of the questions are disclosed on the GOES FAQ page. I think it's time for a Navigator column on this topic.

I've been wanting to go to Madeira (Portugal). I'd also like to see other parts of Portugal and Spain. I may be traveling solo, so I'd prefer either a cruise or an escorted tour. I'm leaning towards a cruise because it's cheaper, I only have to unpack once, and I enjoy shipboard activities. NCL has an itinerary that interests me, but I've never cruised with them before, and, from what I've heard, I'm not sure they're up to my middling standards. Escorted tours that include Madeira might be hard to find. Do you have any advice, suggestions for me?

If your standards are middling, you'll probably be fine with NCL. But if you go on a cruise, you won't be spending much time on Madeira. You'll likely dock in Funchal during the night and then spend just one day there before cruising to the next port.  It will cost more to do an escorted tour, but at least you'll get to spend several days on Madeira. Collette Vacations, for example, spends three nights there with its Portugal & Its Islands tour. 

I am told I should book certain aspects of Disney World 18 months in advance such as the Bibidy Bobidy Boutique and a meal with princesses. I am planning for a trip in 2 years 2015 Fall/ 2016 spring/summer when my daughter turns 7. What months would you rate as the top three for a trip to Orlando with one option being a summer month. Also, how can you tell when they will put on fireworks so that might be incorporated into the trip. I am new to the Disney experience and want to plan it right and save my dollars. It looks incredibly pricey. I think staying outside the park in a nice hotel will be better than inside - yes? Thanks for your guidance.

Disney doesn't like to tell guests when its parks are busy, but it inadevertently shows its hand on its blockout calendar for annual passholders. You can see fireworks every night at the parks. Stay on property.

Happy Monday travel team! Next month I'll be headed to Montreal for a couple days of work and a couple days of play - with family in tow. What area do you recommend staying in? We'd love somewhere walking distance to a grocery store. Are most tourist spots within walking distance of each other, or would it be best to book a hotel near a metro station? Thanks!

I would think about staying in the Plateau neighborhood, because it's a good mix of residential (helpful for that grocery store aspect) and retail (lots of shopping and restaurants for that tourism aspect). It's accessible by metro to the Old Port and other great areas. I often recommend Anne Ma Soeur Anne for lodging, especially if you're looking to save some dough. It's right on St-Denis, and according to Mr. Google Maps looks like there are grocery options in several directions. But you might call them and ask what the nearest store is before you book. Oh, and book a room on the inside/garden side, not the street side, or it'll be quite noisy.

My office is willing to cover employee enrollment in TSA Pre-Check -- any reviews on whether it's worth the hassle of the ride to Dulles for the interview? I had Clear back when it first rolled out and thought it was useless.

It's really too soon to tell, since TSA has only started rolling out Pre-Check to the general public recently. I've heard remarkably few complaints about it from those participating in the pilot progam, but I'm planning to write up a more formal review in a future Navigator column. By the way, if anyone out there is already a Pre-Check, and wants to tell me how they do or do not like it, please send me an email.

I don't know about dinner, but one of my friends just this morning posted a photo of her Lobster Omelet that she was eating at Moonakis. Apparently it's a small breakfast/lunch place. That lobster omelet photo was almost enough for me to get up from my desk, get in my car, and drive to Falmouth.

Let's all head to Moonakis Cafe!

Agree on Barboursville, but also check out Horton and Burnley Vineyards in that same area east of Route 29 off US33. Best of all, stop at Keswick Vineyards and Castle Hill Cider off Route 231 in Keswick. There are plenty of maps and recommendations at every winery - enjoy the trip!

Also in Charlottesville, Pollack Vineyards is fantastic as well as Barboursville. They have a lovely fireplace that is nice and cozy for wine tasting in November. Plus, if you get sick of wine, there's Starr Hill just down the road!

White House Ornaments! Even if folks aren't necessarily Christmas celebrators, they always go over well and are pretty uniquely DC/America.

Wow, 9 days in ABQ! If you're renting a car, Santa Fe is a must see. This may sound corny, but burgers at Whataburger are huge and good.

Somebody once said that Whataburger is what a burger should be. Not sure who. ;-)

Santa Fe, yes. Cafe Pasqual's, yes.

Might be cheaper to buy a junker used car. As long as the engine was in good shape, who cares what it looks like? You can list if for sale on Craig's List or something in a town in AK where you will be. You might be able to sell it in advance. Better still, contact the local NPR affiliate or another charity up there and arrange to donate it when you arrive.

I thought about this option, too, and discarded it as too cumbersome. Plus I had this vision of an elderly couple pulled to the side of the road somewhere in Nebraska with their car hood raised. But if a mechanic checks the car out and a charity is lined up beforehand, might be worth a look. 

My husband and 2 kids (9 & 12) will be traveling to Maui (5 nights) and Waikiki (3 nights) next week. I have very little planned and am starting to feel anxious that we are going to 'waste' this once in a lifetime vacation and not do the things one is supposed to do when visiting Hawaii. I doubt we will ever make it back as we've got a huge list of other places we want to see. Besides Diamond Head near Waikiki, and the Volcano in Maui, what else do we HAVE to do on this trip. Boy, I do wish Rick Steve wrote US made getting around Spain super easy!

Don't stress over your lack of planning. That is anti-Hawaii. Just relaxaii. When you are at the hotel, you can learn all about the snorkel tours and whale watching trips and Polynesian shows.

But to start you off:  On Oahu, drive to the North Shore and see the surfers. Pop by Matsumoto Shave Ice for an amazing treat that will smack you like a frozen wave. Also make time for Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, the Dole pineapple plantation and the Iolani Palace. 

For Maui, I recommend the Maui Ocean Center,  zip lining, hiking Haleakala National Park and driving the road to Hana. It'll rattle your teeth like a theme park ride in paradise.

What driving route would you suggest while traveling from DC to Kennebunkport, Maine in August? We will depart from DC on a Wednesday morning and arrive in Maine by Thursday, late afternoon. We have never traveled to this region other than NYC/Rhode Island, so are hoping for another route/stops along the way. We are interested in scenic drives, interesting architecture, not to be missed food/venues/views/oddities. For our return route, we depart Kennebunkport on Sunday afternoon, and need to arrive in DC by late Monday night. -- Any suggestions for this route too? We are attending a wedding in Kennebunkport with time for little local visits for Thursday and Friday to mid day. Any additional must see/do suggestions? Side note: Originally, our first choice was to visit Acadia National Park, but there does not seem to be enough time on this trip. We may try to sleep in our van one en-route to cut expenses a bit?? Any comments on this idea? Thank you so much for any and all advice!!!

Skip the horrible I-95 corridor and take the scenic route through Pennsylvania: Take I-70 to Rte. 14 north past Gettysburg, then I-81 past Harrisburg to I-78 across Pa. and into NJ, then north on I-287 to the New York State Thruway across the Tappan Zee Bridge. After you've crossed the Hudson, take the exit for the Saw Mill River Parkway and take that to I-684 to I-84 east across Connecticut to I-90 in Mass., then take I-495 to I-95 up to Kennebunkport. It's a bit longer than the straight shot up 95 but MUCH more beautiful a drive, and less congested with fewer tolls. I'd come back the same way. Tarrytown is a good halfway point to stop at and a lovely little town with lots to see and do -- Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irvins's home Sunnyside, the Rockefeller Mansion Kykuit, etc.

Kennebunkport is a gorgeous little town, too, and you can certainly entertain yourselves there for a day or two. I might try to get down to Ogunquit, also a beautiful little beach town, or even to Portsmouth, N.H., or up to Portland, Maine, for a day. Fabulous places! Chatters, what do you say?

About a year ago I was visiting my mother and driving her car on the NJ parkway with no EZ Pass. I got in the EZ Pass lane by mistake. The cashier at the toll booth in the next lane told me to drive on. My mother later received a letter with a fine (don't remember how much it was) and was told if she wanted to fight it she should send $1. I was going to pay it but she sent in the $1 and was never contacted again.

Thanks. $1 is certainly better than a $50 fine!

My family has a place in Falmouth. It is unfortunately not a fine dining destination, but there are a few good places. On Main St in Falmouth I think Cucina Sul Mare and Osteria La Civetta, both Italian, are best. In nearby Woods Hole, the Landfall has traditional New England seafood, Fishmonger is good for casual seafood dishes, and Pie in the Sky has amazing popovers. Last time I was there I had lunch at Wicked in Mashpee and was pleasantly surprised. And lunch at the Clam Shack is a must.

Hi there! My husband and I would like to go to Spain - we love eating great food (with good drinks!), history and architecture (especially castles), and just generally exploring so I'm thinking Spain will be a good match. Past trips we have LOVED were New Orleans and driving around Ireland. If we go to Spain for 7 or 8 days, would you recommend staying in Madrid or Barcelona or attempting more? And which ones? Are you aware of any food-centric tours that are self-guided (not part of a group but more freeform suggestions of where to go)? I tried searching for old travel articles in the Travel section but haven't had much luck yet (saw the Barcelona puppet article but no others) and would love to hear your advice!

I'm one of those who doesn't like to cover wide swaths of area when I travel, preferring to dig deep in one spot. I'd stay in Barcelona, because I love it there so much and you could stay put -- and/or take a quick day or 2-day trip to San Sebastian and/or Bilbao. I don't know of a self-guided food tour, but there's been lots written about Barcelona food, so you should be able to ferret out good possibilities...

You've got a one night layover in Miami. Eat, relax, adventure, touristy, local-- no restrictions, open to all possibilities. What do you do?

I would avoid South Beach and head for Little Havana for a Cuban sandwich and freshly squeezed juice, cigar-rolling, art, old men playing dominos and music streaming in the streets.

Hello from Los Angeles! I recently went on a vacation that involved 8 flights through 5 different international airlines. Did not see overwhelming differences between any of them, regarding service or unusual delays. I think that a lot of unhappiness from travelers is based on setting a very high expectation level. I try to go in expecting the minimum (after all , I am usually trying to get the least expensive ticket )and am often happily surprised by better than expected service or additions. In recent discussions, there has been a lot of negative chatter about Aeroflot. Who knew that they would feed us three times (for free!) and provide great in flight entertainment on a recent flight from Moscow to LA?? So no complaints at all, may have been one of the better flights on the trip. And a rousing support to the poster who mentioned the connection time. We were given a hour between flights and barely made the outgoing based on lengthy customs and immigration lines. We learned our lesson and will never take less than a two hour connection. The flights were booked through Expedia, btw.

That's an interesting perspective. I think if you have only flown once or twice since airline deregulation in the 70s, then yes, maybe your expectations are too high. I'm more worried about airlines trying to lower our expectations by too much.

You can also enroll in downtown DC, in the Reagan building -- even on Saturdays! But, you may as well sign up for Global Entry at the same time, get two for the price (almost) of one.

Thanks for the tip!

Of the two, Barboursville is much better than Williamsburg. If you can spend an overnight stay, check out the "haunted" cottages. If you do that and have dinner and it's dark, and walk back to the cottage, take a flashlight.

Oooh, sounds like fun!

I just wanted to say that it's been a couple of years since I did my GOES application so I don't remember the questions. Regardless, no matter what they ask, no matter what they charge, it is worth every cent when you come off a 17 hour flight from South Africa, you're tired and you just want to get home. I breezed through customs in no time and was on the way to the long term parking lot before some of my fellow travelers even made it through.

Thank you. I agree, you don't want to be standing around in a long line after a long flight.

A straight shot from DC to Vancouver will take you 4-5 days depending on if you want to drive 8 or 10 hour days. You have the expense of gas, food and lodging. If you want to use the drive to see the states fine. But are you driving to save money? Have you considered Southwest from BWI to Seattle? Cruises leave from that city too, then you can fly back from Alaska. It's going to be a week trip just to get out west - do you have the time and stamina?

I don't know the reason for it either, but it does seem to be deliberate. I do a lot of looking out the window at airports and the baggage handlers regularly turn the bags on their "fronts" when putting them on the conveyor belt to load them onto the plane. I've noticed this particularly on SW and AA, but I'm sure the others do this as well.

I second the food idea. Maple syrup is very popular in Europe, and also very expensive. Most Europeans would welcome some!

I've heard that April/May is pretty low-key at Disney since schools are still in session; plus, it's not insanely hot and humid yet. As for where to stay - it might be less expensive to stay off-site; but, I always advise against it. The experience from staying at the park is really unrivaled and they offer so many experiences (character meals, for example) that you can't get if you stay off site. Also, the convenience of being able to go back to the room in the middle of the day, if you need to, is wonderful.

That's one of my favorite times of the year to visit the parks. And I agree about staying on-property. (Full disclosure: I live in Orlando.)

Just wanted to give some info about Costa rica. We just went there at the end of June. We flew into San Jose (the prices from the DC area were good, but we thought it might be even better to drive to Philly or Newark and take a nonstop the next time). We stayed at the Springs Resort in Arenal (same owner as the Peace Lodge, also in Costa Rica) and the Areans del Mar resort in Manuel Antonio. both were lovely luxuruoous resorts, but were much smaller than the major resorts on the Northwest coast. Our rooms were lovely and we could still do all the fun sporty things everyone does in Costa Rica. We used a travel company - - CostanRicanVacations and it worked out quite well. We found the company online when doing a search about hotels in Costa Rica. They met us at the airport, drove us to our destinations, picked us up from our hotel and took us to our activitites. It was very convenient. Costa Rica was beautiful and we definitely want to go back and see other parts of the country.

Thanks for the recap!

Enrolling in PreCheck is definitely worth a trip to IAD. It saves me lots of time -- not having to take off my shoes, take out the laptop and baggie with liquids also makes the screening process a lot easier. Also, you'll pas through a metal detector, no need to opt out of the full body scanner then wait for the full body pat down. I find the program even better now that it works for international departures as well as domestic ones. The only downside to the program is that it's not available at all airports or even all checkpoints in a single airport.

Thanks! I'm pretty interested in enrolling. I have a good bit of domestic travel upcoming, and it would be nice to be able to cut things even closer than I already do!

Make sure you get a lobster roll at the Clam Shack downtown. You'll have to eat al fresco (here's hoping the nearby benches are unoccupied), but you'll be rewarded with an amazing meal. It's #1 on my all-time lobster roll list, and I've had a lot of them. (Some more influential list also ranks them #1, so it's not just me.) Enjoy!

Here's a kind of reverse situation to your initial question: A popular thing to do at Angkor Wat is to watch the sunset over Angkor temple from a nearby hill (Elephant Hill). It's a nice hike up and the atmosphere at sunset with other travelers and saffron-clad monks is spectacular. Unless you've been warned or are incredibly forward-thinking, you don't realize that the challenge is getting down that craggy and root-studded hill in the darkness. When I was there, few people had brought flashlights. Lesson: bring a flashlight for the walk home after a spectacular sunset whether at Angkor or elsewhere!

Ha! Interesting. Good one!

new have six days free......I suggest 3 days doing Santa Fe, bandolier, and Taos....the 3 otherdays doing Acoma, Zuni, and El Morro NM, and El Maipais NM. Other option is driving south to Carlsbad caverns and Roswell. ..........for Hawaii......if you are thinking f doing 4 das on each pick 2 islands and focus on them. With flights look at splitting the trip by flying to the west coast cities fly to Seattle/Portland for 2 days go to Hawaii for 9 then fly back to SF for 2 days then fly hme. These cities you don't need cars for.

Just speculation, but I wonder if they are like this to keep the wheels up off the belts so they don't roll off or anything?

Well, that sure does make some sense, doesn't it? Thanks!

Yes, the zip line and Mt Haleakala. If you're up to it, the bike ride from 6,000 feet down Haleakala is exciting. If you do go to Hana, please oh please, don't drive. You'll have more than teeth chattering when you arrive, and, remember, you have to drive back. Get a guide on a small bus that handles about 8 people. Much saner.

I know from personal experience that the week after Thanksgiving (Saturday to Saturday) is not crowded at all. Depending on the OP's daughter's school schedule, that might work well. Incidentally, when I say "not crowded," that's an understatement - we parked in the close-in lots every day, where you didn't even need to take the shuttle, atlhough the shuttle was offered, and we rarely had to wait in line for anything. The only thing that was Fast-Passed the entire week was some sort of Toy Story thing in the Magic Kingdom (I believe - I left that to my brother and nieces, so I don't remember exactly what it was). The only line we waited in for more than 5 minutes was for the Rockin' Roller Coaster, and that's only because it was the last ride of the day. Weather is good then, too .

Just back from this wonderful city. I would reccomend a ticket for 2 days on the Boston trolley that gives you a Harbor Cruise for $38. We did the USS Constitution. It was fun & informative and great to be on the water touring the best of Boston.

Thanks! A harbor cruise is indeed a great way to see Boston. You've just reminded me, too, that one of my favorite things to do when I lived there was to see the harbor islands by ferry.

GO! we were supposed to go in September, but ended up going in october...and it was COLD. yet still awesome, and we heard about how awful some areas were because of the tourists. you'll be fine in september, and it'll be nice, but if you wanted to buy a sweater or two, that wouldn't be awful, now, would it?

Maple SUGAR! Unlike syrup, it's not bounded by those rules re liquids on a plane. Recipients can either use the sugar as is, or reconstitute with water, according to directions, for syrup. Probably too late for the chatter to order online (unless there's express delivery), but if anyone knows of a store near you that sells maple sugar, it's a great gift for a real taste of North America!

That's a good idea! Thanks.

Goodness, even 20 years ago, my very elderly father would phone the airport to check if my flight was on time before leaving home to pick me up there. Nowadays, the relatives can just check online.


Riding the Road to Hana, you'll experience 62 bridges, many water falls, and above all, the black sand beach.

Could you drive your OWN car to Alaska, then have it shipped home while you're on the cruise?

The OP might have meant Falling Waters, West Virginia -- in the Eastern Panhandle about 12 miles south of Hagerstown, Maryland -- not "the" Fallingwater.

Whoops. My mistake!

Swap out F.L. Wright and replace it with Civil War sites.

Driving from DC with twin 5-year olds to Topsail Beach, NC (way down the coast, south of Camp Lejeune) on Friday. We'd like to stop "halfway" for an overnight-- is there anything cool we should aim for? (And any suggestions for fun in Topsail?)

My son just returned from a vacation there, and he loved it. He was very impressed with how dedicated the island is to protecting sea turtle nests. Perhaps you will time it to see some hatch! It's only about a 6.5 hour drive to Topsail, so don't know that it's worth staying overnight somewhere. But, if that's the plan, Rocky Mount area is about half way. It has a neat children's museum

I am flying with my infant son this weekend on an American Flight from DFW to ORD. I have purchased tickets for both of us that were more than $500 each and while we have seats on the first leg of our journey from our home airport, no seats on the 2nd leg. Why? I refuse to pay $68 for two of us to have a seat, and the same goes for the return. In my book, it's ridiculous to pay an extra $34 each for a flight that is less than two hours. We don't need extra legroom. Am I being foolish in making my stance? What's going to happen to us come travel day when we don't have confirmed seats? and obviously with my son in a car seat, we need a middle and a window together. I can understand a baggage fee since baggage adds weight which equals more fuel which equals money. But really $34 extra each for a seat is a little unreal.

Unfortunately, that is our reality these days. We pay for any so-called extras that were once folded into the airfare. Now picking our seats in advance is considered an optional add-on. However, 24 hours before departure, go online to check-in and grab two seats together. Or call the airline and ask for assistance, explaining that you have a small child. If you can't find two together, at the airport, consult with the gate agent who can hopefully find you companion seats. As a last resort, the flight attendant will ask a good Samaritan to give up his/her seat for you.

A poster just advised applying for Pre-Check and Global Entry at the same time. What's the difference between the two programs? What's the benefit of getting both?

Sorry for the confusion. Pre-Check is a TSA program that gives you access to a faster security line at the airport. Global Entry is run by CBP and allows you faster entrance to the country at the border. If you have Global Entry, you are eligible for Pre-Check.

Has the Alaska driver tried looking for rental cars in the opposite direction? Sometimes that yields a much better rate. Also, relocation services will put your car on a trailer and deliver it elsewhere, though I don't know whether they operate between the lower 48 and Alaska.

I did a quick look both ways, and didn't see any price differences. As for using a car transport company, worth pricing out, but I'm guessing it won't be cheap. 

Until you have a 4 wheel suitcase.

Extra fun stuff- The nuclear science museum. The drive to and visiting Acoma pueblo. The drive to Santa Fe with a stop in Rancho de Chimayo for lunch. The commuter train to Santa Fe is also fun. The Indian pueblo cultural center. Go to an early morning launch and an evening moon-glow (especially the special shapes Rodeo).

For the winery person, I just got a Travelzoo newsflash that is all about discounts on DC-area activities, including something that is described as "Chaffeured Virginia Wine Tour - $45." Might want to go to the Travelzoo website and see if it looks interesting.

A bunch of my friends and I are thinking about doing the cruise to nowhere leaving from Norfolk in October, anyone done this before (it's on the Carnival Glory)?

Have not done that. Chatters, have any of you?

If you are happy just eating, drinking, watching shows and being with your friends, you could have fun. But cruises to nowhere are geared to people whose best day on a cruise is the day at sea. 

and you know when their slower times are because they encourage you to go by giving deals on the hotels (no deals on passes ever really). so find out when the deals are in the hotel. we went one year and got there Jan 1 and it was -um, empty. for disney, it was empty. but it's never 'empty.' get the 'unofficial guide to walt disney world' and find a disney travel agent. they are incredibly helpful and don't cost more than booking yourself. really

Sunset in ABQ is neat, especially looking towards Sandia Mountain. It's pink, thus the name Sandia, Indian for watermelon.

Appreciate all the New Mexico chatter - going there in 2 weeks for a Santa Fe Opera. Staying near the ABQ airport and will use day 1 to explore Santa Fe before the performance. Day 2 I want to take the tram up Sandia Mt. before my 5:00 pm flight. Any recommendations of what else I should do on such a short trip. Also - I have pre-check by virtue of doing the Global Entry program. Since O'Hare is my home airport, I've saved lots of time bypassing the long TSA line for the little pre-Check gate. My only gripe was in Puerto Rico, where the pre-check line was also the employee entrance, wheel chair, special needs line, and I ended up waiting more than had I been with general poplulation. At least I kept my shoes on.

they put that little sticker with the bar code on the back, so maybe it is for ease of scanning bags

Nothing to see here. The weather is impossible, it's far too dusty - practically uninhabitable. Move along.


Now that I've booked all our summer vacations, I am already thinking about the week after Christmas! I know it is a most expensive time to travel, but it hits the right time for all of my family (hubby's birthday and all kids are home, incl one from college). Can you suggest either some driving distance vacations that week that are not super expensive or some air-hotel package deals that might work well for a family of 6? We have done ski areas, but are looking for something different.

If you like your history decked out in Christmas lights, Colonial Williamsburg may be a good choice. New York City would be fun for the kids, but it wouldn't be inexpensive. As for air-hotel deals, there really are no bargains during that week. 

For the chatters going to Oahu, go to Pearl Harbor EARLY in the morning. The Navy runs the boats to the Arizona, and they only do a certain number daily. We were there at 7:30 a.m. and were in the second group of the day. Such a reverent and meaningful experience, I wouldn't give anything for the memory.

Great tips! Thanks.

Maui - SKIP the Road to Hana - instead drive up to Kapalua and around the west side down towards Kahalui), walk around Old Town Lahaina (Thursday is Art Night when the galleries are open late) drive to Upcountry (Makawao, Kula, and Ulupalakua) it's a different world, enjoy the beaches. Oahu - Go to Sea Life Park, the shrimp trucks in Haleiwa, Wet 'n' Wild Water Park, Hawaii Children's Discovery Center.

My travel partner and I are looking into visiting Vietnam and Cambodia. While we're well-traveled and often just rent a car and make our own reservations, doing so for this part of the world is beyond our experience and comfort range. Could you suggest a specific tour or company in this are? We are not looking for luxury accommodations and would rather hike than shop, but we're also in our 50s, so too old (and one of us - me! - is too fussy) for hostels, living out of a backpack, and/or "chicken buses".

Have you looked at Friendly Planet? It offers well-priced tours to Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Doesn't do you much good when the last leg of the flight is a one-hour flight from NYC to Dulles or BWI. If you wait until that flight leaves, it's to late to leave for the airport. You'd think there would be oodles of flights between DC and NYC, but our son has had to stay one place or the other several times. Thanks for the snark, but when my cellphone got an email (imagine that) saying there was a delay, I was faced with turning around, stopping and waiting or continuing on. Three delays later, and my son had to spend the night in a hotel near JFK.

The cruise to nowhere - 4 days on a partying Carnival ship - sounds like my idea of the cruise to hell.

I like wine, and I love ghost stories, so when I saw "haunted cottages" in barboursville, I started googling, but everything seems to point to barboursville West Virginia. (tell me about these haunted cottages)

OP, did you mean the ruins of the governor's mansion?

There are lot of questions about Hawaii today. We've visited the 4 main islands, spending time on Oahu as recently as October of last year, and have visited as a married couple and as parents with young kds. For our money and time, the best guidebooks are the Revealed series (Oahu Revealed, Big Island Revealed, Maui Revealed, Kauai Revealed). The authors are locals who are constantly reviewing new restaurants and attractions and re-reviewing those already in existence. They're not afraid to give their opinions on what is worth seeing. One of the many great things about the books is that a lot of stuff in Hawaii isn't especially easy to find; you might miss a picturesque spot or amazing beach because it's not signed, or never know that the other side of the beach had better snorkeling. The Revealed Guidebooks tell you all of that kind of info. We've found them to be indispensable companions. The books are available through the author's site or on Amazon.

I need to check out that series. I am still toting around Lonely Planet!

Thanks for the great q's today. Hope you got some use out of our answers, and maybe even some inspiration! As usual, we didn't get a chance to tackle every question, although we worked as quickly as we could, so if we didn't get to yours, check back same time next week -- maybe we will get to it then!

Now for the prize winner: It's the chatter who wrote about mojitos and the Inca Trail. Send your mailing info to Becky at, and she'll get you a little something.

Until next week, happy travels!

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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