Q: Two first-time cruisers (me, 40-something and mom, active 60-something) are trying to decide on an Alaskan cruise but are overwhelmed by all the options. Big ships, small boats, inside passage, getting all the way to Anchorage and Denali. Any suggestions for legit cruise critic websites would be welcome. We want to see wildlife but don’t need to paddleboard right next to it.
A: If you want to get up close and personal to nature in Alaska, you’re better off going on a smaller ship, but if you want more traditional cruise amenities, the bigger lines would be my first choice. Cruise Critic is one website that does a good job of describing the choices. For both wildlife and luxury, I’d likely do a cruise-tour with Holland America or Princess. For a small ship experience, look at American Cruise Lines and Lindblad Expeditions. But as you said, there are just so many choices, you need to do your homework.
Q: We are planning a trip to San Francisco and thinking about a night in Napa. We are not sure where would be a convenient location to see better wineries and would like a luxury hotel. Any recommendations?
A: Healdsburg is central to the wineries, or consider Sebastopol. The area is rife with luxury properties, including spa resorts and B&Bs. Some suggestions: Honor Mansion, Hotel Le Mars and Madrona Manor.
Q: I am a frequent solo traveler, headed to Austria in two weeks. Can you give some advice on a day trip from Vienna? I read of an excursion covering a 24-mile stretch of the Danube’s Wachau valley. It suggests to catch the early train to Melk, tour its abbey, eat lunch, and spend the afternoon going down the river by boat to Krems and catch the train back to Vienna. I would rather do this on my own than be herded in a group – but wonder about all the logistics – train, boat, museum admission, etc.
A: That’s a great day trip, either on your own or with a group. Mass transit is easy. You can book a ticket online through the Austrian Railways site. Museum admissions are not a problem either. I’d recommend heading up to the Melk Abbey, which has breathtaking views of the Danube. I would probably go for the train/riverboat package, which you can also book online.
Q: We are unexpectedly heading to the West Coast in August. We will have five days left after family obligations to explore. We will have four kids in tow, ages 8-16. They definitely want to go to Alcatraz. I’d like to go to Muir Woods. Any other suggestions for the six of us? We’re pretty active and like to be outside.
A: If your timing coincides with an overnight at the California Academy of Sciences, you might consider the sleepover.
For hiking: Mount Tam loop from Stinson Beach to Pantoll and back. For wildlife: a whale-watching tour to the Farallon Islands. For culture: Golden Gate Park has enough activities to fill a day, including the botanic garden, the aquarium and a Japanese tea garden. The family might also enjoy a food tour that includes chocolate and bread, among other specialties. Or head to the amazing farmers’ market at the Ferry Building Marketplace.
Q: My wife and I are flying to Venice with a layover in Zurich. We booked the flight through via United, and the flight from Zurich to Venice is a codeshare with Swiss Air. The layover, however, is only 45 minutes. Should we be worried?
A: That’s a very tight connection because you’ll have to get through passport control in Zurich. Try to get seats toward the front of the plane. And check your arrival and departure gates before you depart so you know exactly where to go once you land.
Q: Prague and Budapest are on my bucket list. Is there an order to this trip? Which city to fly into first? Also is train best way to go between the two, and how long is the train trip?
A: Order doesn’t matter. You can base your decision on airfare price or special events in the cities or a coin. I think train is the best way to travel between the two places, so that you can enjoy the scenery. The train leaves frequently and takes about seven to nine hours, depending on the type of train (direct, high-speed train, etc). If you get a hop-on/hop-off pass, you can also explore some cities along the way, such as Gyr, Vienna and Brno.
Q: I’m heading to Miami this fall and we’re staying at a resort on South Beach. Do you think we still need to rent a car?
A: No, unless you want to leave the South Beach area. It’s only about 15 miles from the airport. You can take a cab, or if you want to save money, you can take the Miami Beach Airport Flyer.
Q: Where is a good place to travel for a couple who have some mobility problems with their knees, etc., but love wildlife and nature?
A: I am not sure if you were interested in domestic or international, but National Park sites always have accessible trails. For international, you could consider a safari in South Africa. You will see lots of wildlife with little walking (most viewing is by car).