A doable trip, or more than they can chew?

06/18/2014 3:55 PM

06/18/2014 3:55 PM

Q: Is there any logical way to fit the Normandy beaches, Mont St. Michel, Paris and Barcelona into one trip?

A: That’s an ambitious itinerary, though it’s theoretically doable, if you have enough time, now that there’s a new high-speed train between Paris and Barcelona. I think it would require a minimum of 10 days actually on the ground. If you have less than that, I’d do either Paris and Normandy or Paris and Barcelona, but not both.

– Zofia Smardz

Q: How do you get a hotel to commit to reserving two adjoining rooms when you’re traveling with kids?

A: Call the front desk to confirm, and call again right before your departure. If you have any concerns, ask to speak with the manager.

– Andrea Sachs

Q: Are hotel in-room safes really safe? I’m soon off for a few weeks in Southeast Asia. Should I trust them, or lock things in my suitcase?

A: The in-room safes are probably safer than leaving your electronics out in the open, but for maximum safeness – if you’re traveling with expensive jewelry, for example – you'll probably want to use the manager’s safe.

– Christopher Elliott

Q: I’m flying to Minneapolis/St. Paul with my two 5-year-olds. Delta won’t let me select three seats together. “Customer care” says it “needs to keep seats open to move people around if necessary.” Is this rule something new?

A: It’s not a new rule but more likely Delta’s desire to make more money. Airlines are selling seat assignments for some of the more desirable economy-class seats, and passengers are willing to pay for an aisle seat near the front.

– C.E.

Q: We’re going to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for a family reunion. We’d love any suggestions on sights to see.

A: The Saratoga area is lovely. The famous and historic racetrack won’t be open during your visit, but there are lots of wineries, if you’re into wine tasting; Grant Cottage (the house where Ulysses S. Grant completed his famous memoir) and Rogers Island (important in the French and Indian Wars) for history; Ausable Chasm and lots of hiking areas if you’re into the outdoors; Yaddo Gardens for nature.

– Z.S.

Q: I’m thinking about taking a Mediterranean cruise this fall, but I’m shocked at the airfares to places such as Barcelona, Rome and Venice. Looking at one-way fares, since the cruises start and end in different ports, I saw fares of about $3,000.

A: Don’t look for one-way fares. Search for an “open-jaw” fare, flying into one city and out of another on the same ticket. This should significantly reduce the cost.

– Carol Sottili

Q: My husband and I are celebrating a large anniversary with our first trip to Italy. We’re hitting the trifecta – Rome, Venice and Florence. We'll have free time in Florence and Rome to explore. Are there any great off-the-beaten path sites in either city? We’re scheduled to see the main attractions.

A: Even if you see the main sights, there are bound to be some things your guides won’t have time to show you. In Florence, I’d recommend the church of Santa Maria di Novella, which may or may not be on a tour. In Rome, you might consider a Vespa tour, just for the fun of it.

– Z.S.

Q: We'll be driving to Maine in July and want to split the trip into two days. Any suggestions for an overnight stop?

A: The Connecticut coast along Long Island Sound and nearby areas are lovely. Mystic, Old Lyme, Guilford, Stonington and Niantic are worth considering for an overnight stay.

– C.S.

Q: What would there be to do post-Labor Day in Cape Cod? Do restaurants stay open in the winter?

A: The Cape is still hopping in September, and a lot of businesses now stay open through October. You'll find a number of festivals that time of year, such as the Cranberry Harvest festival and the Wellfleet Oyster Fest, plus whale-watching. Museums and historic homes may switch to slow-season hours, so call ahead.

– A.S.

Q: I have an opportunity to go on the Queen Mary 2 for a Southampton-New York crossing. A one-way fare to London is about $400 more expensive than a round-trip. What prevents me from booking a round trip and not taking the flight back?

A: Most airlines prohibit it in the contract of carriage. But realistically, the likelihood of the airline coming after you is slim to none. Just make sure that you don’t ever ticket a trip with the intention of using only the return, as they will cancel your return flight if you’re not on the first leg.

– C.S.

Q: My daughter, 17-year-old grandson and I will be in New York in late July for four days, doing all the usual tourist things. I’m looking at purchasing the New York Pass or New York City Pass. Is one better than the other? How far in advance should we purchase?

A: My sense is that you'll have greater flexibility with the New York Pass. They don’t sell out, so you can book as close to your departure date as you wish. Many attractions have free days or time periods, so plan accordingly. Also grab a copy of Time Out NY, which has reams of listings for free or discounted ideas, plus info on festivals, flea markets, tours, etc.

– A.S.

Q: I’m taking a trip to San Diego this fall for a long weekend. Is it possible to get around easily without renting a car? Are there any things that a first-timer shouldn’t miss?

A: You need a car in San Diego. Driving there is easy, and car rentals aren’t awfully expensive. Balboa Park, where the zoo is located, is lovely. La Jolla is fun for shopping and sea-lion-viewing. Little Italy near downtown has great restaurants. Hiking at Torrey Pines is nice.

– C.S.

Q: In August, my husband and I are flying into Milwaukee and then driving to Madison to visit our daughter for a few days. We’d like to stay a few extra days within one or two hours of the Milwaukee airport to celebrate our 40th anniversary. We’d prefer to be near water, and enjoy music, theater and historical areas. Any ideas?

A: Port Washington is a lovely town on the water, with two lighthouses, Pioneer Village (a living history museum), a fish smokehouse and more. You might also consider Racine, an artists’ enclave with an art museum, Frank Lloyd Wright and a number of Danish bakeries.

– A.S.

Q: I booked a trip to Amsterdam and Belgium because of a great price, but it’s in December. Any tips on what to do (without freezing) besides Christmas markets and chocolate eating?

A: This sounds like a good time to take in Amsterdam’s many wonderful museums – the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Jewish Historical Museum and more. The same applies to Belgium – plus churches. There are many beautiful churches.

– Z.S.

Q: We’re heading to Jamaica this July. Any great excursions that we should check out? We have two kids, 7 and 9.

A: Jamaica is a big island. When we stayed in Ocho Rios, my kids enjoyed Dunn’s River Falls. I was a fan of the Shaw Park Botanical Gardens. In Montego Bay, we went on a catamaran excursion that would have been fine for adults, but it was a little too raucous for my kids. We all enjoyed the trip to Luminous Lagoon.

– C.S.

Q: We’ve decided that our next big vacation will be a trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. But I have no idea where to get started in planning the Grand Canyon portion. What is there to do other than looking at a big hole in the ground?

A: If you drive from Vegas, you can stop at the Hoover Dam for a tour. On the South Rim, you can visit the exhibits at the visitors centers, Yavapai Geology Museum, Kolb Studio and Tusayan Museum. There is also surprisingly good shopping on the South Rim.

– A.S.

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