Q: For our first Danube River cruise, I was choosing between Viking and AmaWaterways. I just decided on the 11-day trip on AmaWaterways between Prague and Budapest on a new ship. Stopping at Regensburg, Vilshofen, Passau, Linz. Salzberg, Weissenkirchen, Vienna, and Bratislava. Then this morning, I see a great sale on Viking’s 11-day Longship cruise in the lower Danube, from Bucharest to Budapest for a little over half the price. Stopping at Russe, Vidin, Belgrade, Vukovar, Kalocsa. However, not sure these ports of call are as interesting. Cabins are the same size. I know so little about the small cities on both cruises. So far, Web searches are not all that helpful. Saving money is nice, but only if the ports are really worth seeing. Which would you pick?
A: These are two very different itineraries. The one that you booked is the traditional Danube River cruise that stops at typically Bavarian towns. The other is an Eastern European trip. Other than both being on the same river, they’re difficult to compare. There are more sales on the Bucharest-Budapest itinerary because it’s not as popular. For a first-timer, I’d choose the Prague-Budapest cruise, but be aware that low water levels on that route sometimes turn river cruises into bus trips. Low water is typically less an issue on the Bucharest-Budapest route.
Q: Gold status AAer. Family trip driving around the Southwest. AA lost our luggage (and the luggage of seven other people flying BWI-DFW-ABQ last Wednesday) AND our gate-checked stroller. Luggage caught up to us after 36 hours two major cities later. Stroller has disappeared. AA said it made it on A flight to DFW and A flight to ABQ, just not ours. ABQ luggage department did not have it on our return flight. So we’re down a stroller. We got an insurance form when we got back to BWI but I’m not certain where to send the receipts for the clothes, diapers, formula which the agent authorized us and told us would be refunded. Any suggestions? Second question: For some unknown reason our bathtub in a high-end Marriott resort in Tucson had sewage back up into it overnight. Rather than wake the finally sleeping children I dealt with the smell overnight. Add to that nail clippings on the floor and hair of the wall of the shower ... the front desk clerk comped me 5,000 Marriott points and offered me free coffee. I was not impressed. Any suggestions on how to talk to Marriott about our experience? Stays the night before and after at Springhill Suites were exemplary. Starr Pass Marriott ... not so much.
A: I’m sorry to hear about your experience with American Airlines and Marriott. I would start by sending a brief, polite email to both, explaining what happened and how they can resolve it. The system should allow you to submit your receipts and receive a refund. Also, you might check with your credit card company - you might be insured for the loss of your stroller. On the hotel question, I would expect a little more than 5,000 points, which won’t even cover one night in a hotel.
Q: I’m planning a family birthday celebration for a week in late June. It’s not easy to find a destination that will be accessible for relatives on both coasts and accommodate interests of those aged 11 to 68. So far we’ve ruled out Hawaii (too much travel time for those on the East Coast) and are thinking about Banff/Lake Louise, Breckenridge, Colorado, and St. George, Utah (base for trips to Bryce and Zion). Any other ideas for a fairly equidistant meeting spot?
A: Those are good ones! Some other ideas (though members on one coast will have a tad bit more time in the air): Santa Fe/Taos; New Orleans; or Austin/Texas Hill Country.
You should choose a place with lots of in-town and day- trip options. For example, I might consider Denver over Breckenridge (I used to live there! Hello, Gold Pan), because you will have a greater variety of activities, such as museums, restaurants, kayaking and hiking.
Q: I have a three-day work conference in Reno. Do you have any recommendations on what I can do there, besides gamble all my earnings away?
A: I’m guessing you’ll be busy at the conference during daylight hours, so outdoorsy stuff is off the table. But if you do have a day off, there is lots of good skiing in the region. As for evening activities, the casinos have shows, although the big names are more likely to appear in Lake Tahoe. The Broadway play “The Book of Morman” is going on at Reno’s Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in February.
Q: When’s the peak travel season to New Zealand? We’re planning a trip for sometime in the next year and would like to avoid crowds. Thanks!
A: Peak season is often during their summer (especially mid-December to late January) and over main holidays, such as Easter break and school breaks. However, “crowds” is a relative term in New Zealand, a country of only 4. 5 million.
By the way, the largest group of tourists comes from Australia (1.3 million). Americans account for fewer than 250,000!
Q: We are taking a family vacation over Thanksgiving week. Do you have a destination in mind that 1) isn’t more than an hour’s time difference away from Maryland; 2) is warm; 3) has activities for a 5- and 7-year-old, four 40-somethings and a 70-year-old?
A: Florida is easy to get to and in the right time zone. Sanibel Island on the Gulf Coast may be a good fit. If you’re looking for more of a resort experience, Atlantis in the Bahamas could work, but book early for Thanksgiving week.