Trip Coach: March 6, 2007
Budget Travel editors answered your general travel questions.
Budget Travel editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions!
Newbury Park, CA: My cousin and I are turning fifty this year; October 26 & 28, respectively. We decided to go on a trip together with our husbands to celebrate. We were planning Maui until a trip to the Dominican Republic was suggested for the same cost but including an all inclusive resort . However, how chancy is late October for hurricaines? Is this mid-season, end of the season or just after. Would you play it safe and go to Maui where we've already been or check out the Dominican or wait for a better time of year?
Budget Travel editors: If you've already been to Maui, then why not try out some place new? The Dominican Republic has long been a hugely popular destination thanks to its crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches, but most importantly it's still one of the best values in the Caribbean. As you're keen to point out, an all-inclusive vacation in the DR can often cost less than the cost of flights alone somewhere else. But before you consider an all-inclusive property, know what you're getting into: The food is usually not that great and you'll be in a walled-off resort complex most of the time, which can get a bit claustrophobic. Still, it's an unbeatable value.
As for hurricane season, there's nothing wrong with planning a trip at its tail end (hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30) but you should consider buying travel insurance just in case a storm comes your way. Every policy is a little different so compare policies at websites like InsureMyTrip.com and QuoteTravelInsurance.com. Also, when large-scale catastrophes hit, including hurricanes or even terrorist attacks, most airlines and hotels allow customers to change or cancel their plans without penalty--something to keep in mind if you don't feel like spending the extra cash.
Colorado Springs, CO: My husband and I would like to take a week-long family vacation this year with our two children (ages 1 and 3) to Yellowstone National Park. We plan on driving, so activities along the way would be wonderful to keep the kids interested. I read that it's best to visit Yellowstone early or late in the season (May/early June or September/October) to avoid crowds, but we haven't decided which we'd prefer. Can you give us advice about timing, places to visit and places to stay? Thanks! Susie
Budget Travel editors: Susie, Thanks for emailing. You'll love Yosemite. It's one of America's most breathtaking sights. You'll never forget it. The advantage of visiting in May and June--besides thinner crowds--is that the spring snows will have melted, engorging the waterfalls for the most spectacular displays. (If the moon is full and the sky is clear, the moon will cast enough light on the waterfalls that you'll see a "moonbow". If the moon isn't full but the sky is still clear, you'll have an unobstructed view of an even prettier nighttime sky than you've seen outside of Colorado Springs, because of nearly zero light pollution.) One disadvantage of traveling in May and June is that the snows may not have fully melted, and you may be unable to see some of the high-altitude sights, such as the gorgeous carpet of flowers in Tuolumne Meadows, which are a 40-minute detour off of route 120, the main drag through the park.
If you're planning to camp in the park, book your place as soon as possible through the park service (nps.gov). Spots fill up quickly. If you're planning to stay at an affordable motel, expect to be staying outside the park--because the lodgings inside the park are expensive. And if you stay outside the park, plan to be driving forty-to-sixty minute, one-way stretches from your motel to the most well-known sections of the parks. The roads through the park have speed limits that can be as low as 30 miles per hour for long stretches of time, especially given the many switchbacks, S-bends, and motor-homes. ("Don't hit that baby bear!")
Once you're there, consider splurging on dinner at the Wawona Lodge. (Call ahead for reservations.) Everything in the park is expensive--except for the Village Store supply shop in Yosemite Village--because all the shops are run by a monopoly business. Having tried a bunch of the restaurants in the park last spring, we can recommend the restaurant at the Wawona Hotel as the most worth a splurge (about $15 per person for a two-course dinner). They're a family-friendly enterprise. yosemitepark.com/Accommodations_WawonaHotel.aspx.