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A few travel questions answered


Q: What are some of your go-to items to bring to hosts overseas?

A: Consider interesting food products, such as peach cobbler mix from Atlanta, saltwater taffy from the Jersey Shore or Old Bay seasoning from Maryland. Just make sure that they’re allowed through customs and security. For a personalized gift, you could take photos of the Washington monuments and turn them into coasters, cards, mugs or other whimsical gifts. Or pick up some holiday ornaments featuring U.S. landmarks.

— Andrea Sachs

Q: My husband and I are going to be in Boston in a few weeks. We want to see the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and may buy tickets to “Wicked” at the Opera House. What else would you recommend? Is there a hotel within walking distance of the Opera House?

A: You should definitely check out the Institute of Contemporary Art, too, plus the Gardner Museum. Both are stunning. 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 the above, including the Opera House, very easily. Also be sure to stroll along the Esplanade at the Charles River and take the train across the river — a gorgeous trip — to see Harvard Square.

— Joe Yonan

Q: 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 six guests.

A: Barboursville Vineyards 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.

_Zofia Smardz

Q: The International Cruise Victims organization has a website describing numerous crimes committed aboard cruise ships. Many seem to be committed by ship staff. Do you have thoughts on how to be safe aboard a cruise ship?

A: Taking a few common-sense precautions can significantly improve your safety, but they’re not a guarantee. Many of the onboard crimes involve excess alcohol consumption. Some cruise lines also have 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.

— Christopher Elliott

Q: Four adults will be in Costa Rica in February but don’t know which part of the country is ideal. We’d like beach and jungle, with some luxury mixed in.

A: 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’s more expensive and time-consuming to fly to Liberia. The Tamarindo area is close to the airport in Liberia and offers many resorts and hotels.

— Carol Sottili

Q: We plan to take our first trip to Hawaii next May. Is it too much to spend four nights at three different islands? What would be a reasonable airfare? Should we look into vacation packages rather than trying to book everything ourselves?

A: Yes, that’s very ambitious. You’ll need at least a week to really explore each island, even the smaller ones. I’d focus on either Oahu or Maui if it’s your first visit to Hawaii. You might save some money by getting a package. I’d shop around.

— Christopher Elliott

Q: I got an email from US Airways about “gifting” my miles, so I looked into it. I currently have 40,000 miles, and they’d give another 40,000-mile bonus if I gifted the miles to my wife. However, the fee to do this is crazy! $1,400! Would you say this is a ridiculous rip-off or what?

A: 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.

— Christopher Elliott

Q: I rented a Penske moving truck and drove to Boston. At the exit of the New Jersey Turnpike, I ended up in the E-ZPass lane instead of the cash lane and didn’t pay the toll. I called NJ E-ZPass to take care of this and avoid any penalties or interest and was told that there’s nothing I can do until E-ZPass mails a violation to Penske and Penske passes it on to me. It’s a $50 penalty, plus the toll. I asked for a customer service email address but was told that they don’t have any customer service email. Is that true?

A: It’s possible that you won’t get dinged for the violation. Some toll authorities give you one “free” pass when you blow through a tollbooth, 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, this isn’t the best customer service.

— Christopher Elliott

Q: I’m planning a trip to Disney World in 2015 when my daughter turns 7. What months would you rate as the top three for a trip to Orlando? Also, how can you tell when they’ll put on fireworks? I think staying outside the park in a nice hotel will be better than inside, yes?

A: 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 the property.

— Christopher Elliott

Q: Next month I’ll be headed to Montreal with family in tow. What area do you recommend staying in? Are most tourist spots within walking distance of one another, or would it be best to book a hotel near a metro station?

A: I’d think about staying in the Plateau neighborhood, a good mix of residential and retail. It’s accessible by metro to the Old Port and other great areas. I often recommend Anne Ma Soeur Anne for lodging. It’s right on St-Denis. Book a room on the garden side, not the street side, or it’ll be quite noisy.

— Joe Yonan

© 2013, The Washington Post


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