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Montezuma's Curse Gets Reversed

By Dr. Bradley Connor
June 4, 2005
A new medication, just put on the market, is great news for travelers

Dr. Bradley Connor is President of the International Society of Travel Medicine

Changing the approach to treating the common ailment is an antibiotic that's newly approved in the U.S., but one that's been prescribed in Europe for years. Rifaximin was given the official OK by the FDA this past spring, and as of August it'll be sold under the name Xifaxan (the first x is pronounced like a z).

What's notable about it is that, unlike bacteria-fighting drugs such as Cipro, which enters the bloodstream and circulates throughout the body, Rifaximin remains exclusively in the gut.

If you're going to a country that's known as a T.D. risk, your doctor might consider prescribing Xifaxan before you leave. Some studies show that the drug could be taken in small doses every day as a preventive measure, before you ever get sick (which is far less torturous than trying to treat T.D. after the fact).

Xifaxan is safer than Cipro and more effective than over-the-counter medications, but travelers should remain cautious and proactive to avoid getting sick. It's always best to drink bottled beverages, avoid foods that are washed in water, and eat only what's been freshly cooked and is served piping hot.

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The Benefits of an International Pen Pal

When I arrived in Tokyo, I was greeted by my friend Noriko. She kindly let me stay at her house for several days, showed me around the city, and invited me to a barbecue where we ate yakitori and drank Sapporo beer. The time I spent with Noriko and her family was the highlight of my trip because she offered me an up-close look at Japanese life and culture. You may think that you can't have this type of experience if you're planning a trip to another country and you don't already know someone who lives there. Not so-I met Noriko on the Internet just a month before my trip. Granted, it was probably easier for me, a young woman, to find a pen pal who wanted me to stay with her than it would be for an older man. But with so many pen-pal sites cropping up on the Web, anyone can find a pen pal willing to give valuable travel advice, if not free room and board. Here is a selection of free Internet databases for finding pen pals worldwide: Cyberpals (cyberpals.studentcenter.org) boasts over 75,000 listings. It allows you to search by keyword, age, gender, country, state, and city. However, Cyberpals is oriented toward students and forces you to search by categories such as college, high school, gaming, lesbian/gay/bisexual, sports, music, and teen. InterPals (interpals.net) has 80,000 listings and allows you to search by the same criteria as Cyberpals, with the addition of languages spoken. If you choose to post an ad seeking a pen pal, InterPals protects your privacy by allowing you to hide your e-mail address. InterPals also allows you to bookmark profiles or have them e-mailed to you, and it has a chat room devoted to finding correspondents. PenpalsNow! (penpalsnow.com), with over 60,000 ads, has the unique advantage of allowing you to search for e-mail versus snail-mail pen pals, in addition to searching by gender, age group, keywords, country, and language. Efrendz.com (efrendz.com) has over 30,000 listings and a chat room, but at the time of writing this article, only a simple search (by gender, age, and location) was functioning. YEStravel (yestravel.com), a free youth-oriented site, has fewer members but is specifically designed to encourage foreigners to arrange homestays. Whether you're hoping to hang out with some locals on your next vacation or you're just interested in getting an insider's perspective on another culture, a pen pal is a valuable travel asset. The Internet has made it easier than ever to find one.

A Guide to Memphis, Tennessee, Northern Mississippi, and Tunica

Memphis is that rare thing in twenty-first-century America: An Old South city that still feels old. With a working streetcar system, blocks of austerely proportioned stone buildings, and some of America's best postwar neon signs, it's hard to shake the sensation that King Cotton and the King of Rock and Roll still prosper on the Mississippi River. That genteel heyday is over-vanquished by the industrialization of U.S. farms-but the entire region, which includes northern Mississippi, still surprises with some lovely testaments to our collective past. Prices are retro too: Lodging is among the country's cheapest ($35), true southern meals cost less than $10, and the attractions are among the most arresting in the mid-South. Walking in Memphis You may not have been to Memphis, but your packages have. It's FedEx's hub and the world's busiest cargo airport. The sole upstart airline serving it is AirTran (800/247-8726, airtran.com), which regularly offers round trips for $150-$200 from many cities in the East and Midwest. Upon landing, you might as well make your pilgrimage to Graceland, since it's a ten-minute drive west of the airport. The estate of you-know-who (800/238-2000, elvis.com) is now an eccentric mall of fame dedicated to the area's favorite son, with gift shops, ice cream stands, and four separately ticketed museums. They boil down to: his home and grave, his cars, his planes, and his knickknacks. A pass to everything costs a steep $25 ($12 for kids ages 7 to 12), but most people are satisfied with the mansion tour alone ($16, $6 kids), since only his house, frozen in 1977 down to its mirrored ceilings and shag carpeting, is essential viewing. Visitors are not permitted upstairs, where the King supposedly expired on his throne, but they can pay homage to his gold lame suit and his grave out by the pool. Memphis's other requisite attraction is, peculiarly, also a death shrine: downtown's Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. His favorite room, 306, remains purportedly as he left it on April 4, 1968, but the rest is now the multimillion- dollar National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry St., 901/521-9699, civilrightsmuseum.org; closed Tuesdays), a time line of race relations embellished with dioramas of sit-ins and taped verbal abuse. Entry is free on Mondays after 3 p.m., otherwise it's $8.50 ($6.50 kids). For a rebuttal on the museum's perspective, look across Mulberry Street, where former Lorraine tenant Jacqueline Smith has protested daily since 1988 against what she deems a wasteful and negative museum (her site is fulfillthedream.net). You can tour downtown Memphis without a car. Most attractions are near the streetcar; the scenic Riverfront Loop rumbles up Main Street and down Front Street for 60¢ a ride ($2.50 for a day pass). Mud Island River Park, linked to 125 North Front Street (closed in winter), features an annotated scale model of the Mississippi River, starting in Illinois and culminating in a million-gallon Gulf of Mexico. It's free, as is the famous Memphis Belle warplane. And at the posh Peabody Hotel (149 Union Ave.), folks throng the lobby for another free attraction: At 11 a.m. daily the hotel's famous penthouse ducks emerge from the elevator to waddle the red carpet and frolic in the marble fountain. They make their return march promptly at 5 p.m. No tourist can (or should) avoid Beale Street, once the spine of the blues culture and later truncated by wretched urban planning. One of the four original National Historic Landmark Districts designated in 1966, the surviving section hosts a spate of touristy blues clubs. Its free Police Museum (159 Beale St.) showcases odd criminal artifacts like antique guns and not-so-antique bongs. The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, by the Smithsonian, is on the surface a dispensable tourist trap but is in fact deeply thought- provoking. Through it, you realize that Memphis's proudest legacy to America is the racial harmony promoted by its music. The museum's extraordinary cache of artifacts and superlative recorded tour can easily consume a happy afternoon of browsing (145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave., 901/543-0800, memphisrocknsoul.org; $8.50 adults, $5 kids ages 5 to 17). A five-minute drive east on Union Avenue, Sam Phillips's seminal Sun Studio (706 Union, 901/521-0664) is mostly untouched since Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others got their breaks there; whether the two-room tour is worth $8.50 is a matter of taste. A free bus shuttles tourists between Graceland, Sun Studio, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, and Beale Street eight times a day; get schedules at any stop. North of downtown, Slavehaven (826 N. 2nd St., 901/527-3427; $6) is a house believed to have sheltered those embarking on the Underground Railroad. For a chill, creep into the cellar's hiding places. Memphis: Eats and sleeps You don't need our help finding cheap eats. But Memphis is famous for barbecue, and two places stand out: Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (behind 52 S. 2nd St., 901/522-8840) is by the Peabody, and its $6.50 pork sandwiches are plenty big. Cheaper (and some say better) is Cozy Corner, a five-minute drive east of downtown (745 N. Parkway, 901/527-9158). It's rough around the edges but serves some killer dinners starting at $5 for a slab of wet ribs, bread, and a side (try the BBQ spaghetti). Last year, the frills-free Gus's (310 S. Front St., 901/527-4877) earned a Tennessee state resolution honoring its fried chicken, which many assert is the world's best. It serves four succulent pieces with baked beans and slaw for $8. You must try it. The best-value motels, all familiar brands, require wheels. Red Roof Inn is a two- minute drive east of downtown (210 S. Pauline St., 901/528-0650) and charges $41 per room, as does La Quinta (42 S. Camilla, 800/531-5900). The most affordable are six miles away in West Memphis, Arkansas (made notorious by the trials of the Paradise Lost documentaries), where brand-name motels on I-40 charge from $34 a night: Days Inn (870/735-8600), Econo Lodge (870/732-2830), Howard Johnson (870/732-9654). Hotels near the trolley obviate the need for a car but cost more: Ramada (1837 Union Ave., 800/333-3333; about $64 a night), Comfort Inn (100 N. Front St., 901/526-0583; $80 a night). More Memphis info: 800/873-6282, memphistravel.com, or blackmemphis.com. Tunica and the Mississippi Delta A half hour south of Memphis on U.S. 61, you're into northwest Mississippi and the famous Mississippi Delta, the cradle of musicians such as W.C. Handy and Muddy Waters, and once a wealthy region. It's now a dusty plain littered with ghostly towns and rotting cotton. Between 1930 and 1969, farm populations (mostly African-American) in the region fell from 3.7 million to 965,000, and this spot was the hardest hit. In 1992, Tunica County (about 30 miles from Memphis), then one of America's poorest places, turned to casinos. By 2001, it had ten gargantuan gambling halls, more than 6,300 hotel rooms, and the third- highest gambling revenue in the nation-$1.2 billion, behind Las Vegas and Atlantic City and just ahead of Biloxi, a six-hour drive south. Since Tunica caters to a drive-in market and not jet-setters, the buys are unbeatable: Midweek rates at most casinos, particularly the 507-room Fitzgeralds (888/766-5825), are $29 per room ($14.50 for each of two persons) for luxury-level digs not even a decade old. Each casino has its own all-you-can-eat buffet, priced at $7-$9 for lunch and $9-$13 for dinner. Even the wagers are discounted: Nickel slots abound and blackjack tables offer $3 minimums. Buses shuttle between the far-flung casinos (901/577-7700; $1) every 45 minutes. Tunica information: 888/488-6422, tunicamiss.org. Unfortunately, the levee system impedes access to the mighty Mississippi (a riverfront park, set for 2003, will change that), so cultural stimulation is limited to a few items in the Horseshoe's free blues museum and some movie props at the Hollywood Casino. If you don't mind splurging over $40 for a seat, big-name stars (Reba McEntire, Natalie Cole) play frequent gigs, but shows by lesser luminaries (Sinbad, Jethro Tull) only cost around $15. For those with open eyes, the incongruity between jangling casinos and sorghum fields is disquieting-to wit, the derelict cemetery with handwritten headstones where Casino Center Boulevard meets Old Highway 61-so head into the Delta to broaden your understanding. Despite its role in American, and especially African-American, history, the Delta has no tourist infrastructure except a few dingy motels (mostly in Clarksdale and Cleveland, $50-$60 a night). Fortunately, hotel-laden Tunica provides a supremely equipped and laughably inexpensive base. A good day trip might begin on Old Highway 61, which runs west of the modern 61. At Casino Center, there's Robinsonville, a blip of a town where blues legend Robert Johnson grew up. The Hollywood Cafe (1130 Old Commerce Rd., 662/363-1126), an old plantation commissary, once hosted bashes immortalized in Mark Cohn's hit song "Walking in Memphis," and today it whips up cheap Mississippi favorites (you simply must try the deep-fried pickle chips, $4) all day long. Venture beyond the ten-mile radius of the casinos and the hardscrabble hold of the real Delta reveals itself in a trove of untouched Americana. As you pass overgrown water towers, crumbling railway beds, and shuttered hardware stores still advertising Philco TVs, it'll feel like a backward course through time. Little is marked for tourists, so do a little advance reading. Start with thebluehighway. com or visitmississippi.org. For a parade through Delta history, head south to Clarksdale on New 61, take 49 West to Highway 8 through Cleveland, and return north to Tunica via Highway 1, which traces the river. In Clarksdale, Tennessee Williams grew up in the rectory of his grandfather's church, St. George's Episcopal (106 Sharkey Ave.). Williams wrote wistfully about the dance-club-cum-casino on Moon Lake, 20 miles north off Highway 49. It's now Uncle Henry's, one of the quirkiest B&B/restaurants in the region-locals quip that the quality of your meal depends on the strength of the booze being served in the kitchen. Upstairs, in the former gambling hall, you can still see the buzzers that alerted patrons of police raids (5860 Moon Lake Road in Dundee, 662/337-2757; $70/room or $20/meal). Also in blues-rich Clarksdale, by the train depot, hit the well-curated Delta Blues Museum (1 Blues Alley, 662/627-6820, deltabluesmuseum.org; $6 adults, $3 kids). Ask inside where to go for the best live music. Just southeast of town, the preserved Hopson Plantation shows how mechanized farming triggered the collapse of the local economy (8141 Old Hwy. 49, 662/624-5756; free by appointment). On the north side of Highway 8 between Ruleville and Cleveland, you'll still find Dockery Farms (free), where farmhands invented the blues a century ago. And returning north on Highway 1, away from the commerce of the freeways, you'll encounter hamlets like Rosedale (the last American town to get an automatic phone exchange and the entry point to the Great River Road State Park, 662/759-6762) and Friars Point (an 1836 steamboat port on the National Register of Historic Places). The best food on a Delta road trip is from family-run diners. Try the Blue & White (1355 New 61, Tunica, 662/363-1371), a converted 1937 filling station with $4.50 clubs, $2 pie, and $2 for a pint of fresh o.j. Next to the Blues Museum in Clarksdale, the popular Delta Amusements Blues Cafe (348 Delta Ave., 662/627-1467) serves $3 sandwiches and $5 burgers in unadorned linoleum glory. Literary Oxford East on Highway 6, the Delta's monotony gives way to the more traditional Deep South, with gentle hills, arching trees, and town squares bowing to archaic monuments to Johnny Reb. An hour east, in Oxford, is the University of Mississippi ("Ole Miss"), infamous for the riots of 1962 when James Meredith became the first black student to matriculate there. Two observers were killed, and bullet scars mark the columns of the Lyceum, built in 1848. Like many fine public universities, Ole Miss hosts much stimulation (free copies of The Daily Mississippian tell what's on) and free museums (all at Fifth St. and University Ave., 662/915-7073), including a collection of Greek and Roman antiquities and a lurid assortment of political posters from World War I. There's a noted blues archive in the special collections of the main library (662/915-7753; free), and the esteemed Center for the Study of Southern Culture holds frequent free talks (662/915-5993). Eager to reverse its racist image, Oxford is now a progressive literary town. John Grisham lives here, as did William Faulkner, who created Yoknapatawpha County in the image of Oxford's Lafayette County. His lovely tree-sheltered home, Rowan Oak, is now a museum (Old Taylor Rd., 662/234-3284; free). The town's literary hub, and a hangout for famous scribes, is Square Books (160 Courthouse Sq., 800/648-4001), run by the mayor. For lists of public campus events and maps to Oxford's gracious homes, drop by the Tourism Council (111 Courthouse Sq., 800/758-9177, touroxfordms.com). Ole Miss's prestige bumps prices up a notch. Ajax Diner (118 Courthouse Sq., 662/232-8880), perfect for people-watching, slings giant po'boys for $6 and chicken spaghetti for $6.75, with two sides. More atmospheric is Taylor Grocery and Restaurant, ten miles south on Highway 7. It's an 1889 dry-goods store (favored by local artists and Grisham himself) bursting with live bluegrass music and famous catfish for $9 a platter, $12 all-you-can-eat (338 Country Road, 662/236-1716; open evenings, Thursday to Sunday). Outside of football season, when rates soar, seemingly every motel in Oxford charges $60 a night. The Downtown Inn (400 N. Lamar, 662/234-3031) is near the Square and is therefore preferable, while Comfort Inn (1808 Jackson Ave., 662/234-6000) and Days Inn (1101 Frontage Rd., 662/234-9500) are five minutes away on the highway. U.S. 78: The oddball South Some of America's most unforgettable homegrown museums are found in the old sharecropper land of northern Mississippi and can be visited in side trips from Oxford or Memphis. In Tupelo, at the locus of U.S. 78 from Memphis and Highway 6 from Oxford, Elvis was born in a two-room shotgun shack. He later bequeathed it as a park in his own name. Grandmotherly docents tend to the house ($2) and the obsessive museum ($5) but allow you peace to reflect in the memorial chapel where Elvis songs serenade empty pews (306 Elvis Presley Blvd., 662/841-1245). Whatever you do, don't miss Holly Springs (an hour northwest of Tupelo on 78), if not for its Civil War leftovers, then certainly for Graceland Too-America's most magnificently bizarre museum. Twenty-four hours a day, no warning necessary, Elvis idolater Paul McLeod welcomes anyone into his overstuffed home (200 E. Gholson Ave., 662/252-2515) to peruse his welter of unbridled Presleyana. Note the cot under the bank of TVs, where he tapes every passing mention of the Pelvis. Your mind-bending $5 visit will climax with a Polaroid shot of you, wearing a leather jacket, by the electric shrine. Continue your out-of-body tourist experience at the Jerry Lee Lewis Ranch (Malone Rd., Nesbit, 662/429-1290), over the border from Tennessee off I-55. "The Killer," who turns 67 this year, resides there amidst his hounds and classic cars, and he welcomes tours by appointment. At $15, it's cheaper than Graceland, but with the possible bonus of catching a living legend paddling in his famous piano-shaped pool. Elvis, eccentrics, tiny towns-in some ways, northern Mississippi and Memphis are stubbornly stuck in the past. As long as prices are, too, thank goodness for that.

10 Resorts for Under $100 a Night

Have you ever seen those "best of the best" or "gold" lists in other travel magazines? Year after year, they're top heavy with Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts, the kind of super-luxury places that are apt to charge $400 or more (much more) a night. No wonder they rate "best." At those prices, they ought to be. But does the best always mean expensive? Not at all. For years I've toured America, keeping my eyes open for terrific inns and lodges that also are affordable. And so I've compiled my own "Platinum" List-ten great places to stay for under $100 a night. They are solid proof that you don't have to spend big bucks for a first-class vacation. The lodgings on my list differ somewhat-no surprise-from a typical Ritz- Carlton. You won't find chocolates on your pillow at night. Don't expect to get your shoes shined if you deposit them outside your door. And, no, room service won't come running if you crave a burger at 3 a.m. You will have to make do without these extras. But this doesn't mean my bests are any less inviting. Each of the ten is unique-not a chain motel among them-and both appealing in appearance and well kept. And, as important, they all enjoy magnificent views-the finest anywhere in the country. No Four Seasons, no matter how expensive, can boast any better. With maybe one exception, a European-style inn in Wine Country, these bests will appeal most to people who enjoy the outdoors. Two lodges stand in national parks, another two in state parks. Opportunities abound for hiking, fishing, swimming, and scenic sightseeing activities that won't put any pressure on your wallet. At any of them, plan to stay for three or four days, even a week. With a million bucks, you couldn't hope for a more memorable trip. (All lodging rates below are the total for two people during summer peak period.) Boulder Mountain Lodge, Boulder, Utah I discovered Boulder Mountain Lodge in 1996, just after President Clinton declared a large chunk of southern Utah's most spectacular canyon country a national monument called Grand Staircase-Escalante. The 20-room lodge, sitting just outside the new parkland, served as my base as I explored the region by foot and car. I was so impressed by the immense beauty and quiet emptiness of the landscape that I brought my wife back to show her. Surrounded by panoramic views, the lodge edges an 11-acre lake, a nesting area for yellow-headed blackbirds and other bird life. Beyond it soars Boulder Mountain, where black thunderclouds frequently race across the heavily forested slopes. Here and there, massive white and pink sandstone ridges thrust into the sky, and at their feet cattle and horses graze in rolling green pastures. Once quite remote-and still well off the beaten path-little Boulder (population 100) is thought to be the last town in America that got its mail by mule. Cozy guest rooms are located in three separate two-story structures designed in an eclectic Western style. The exterior-rose sandstone blocks and massive timbers-mirrors the scenery, and the interior's white plaster walls and exposed beams seem as fresh as the pine-scented air. The inn's restaurant, called Hell's Backbone Grill, can be pricey. But cheaper dining is a five-minute walk away. $79 (queen bed) to $139 (a two-room suite); $5 for each additional person; 800/556-3446. Fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas. Lodge at Blackwater Falls, Davis, West Virginia West Virginia's Lodge at Blackwater Falls is wrapped in the quiet isolation of Blackwater Falls State Park-a rugged expanse of woodland ridges and valleys cut by the impressively deep canyon of the Blackwater River. You approach the lodge on a long, winding road that carries you deeper and deeper into the forest. Suddenly, a clearing appears, and you see the lodge clinging to the brink of the canyon. The river races far below, the thunder of its crashing white water clearly audible. The two-story, 54-room, dark-wood-and-stone structure is appropriately rustic- looking. But the rooms are entirely comfortable, and a new, glass-enclosed heated swimming pool and hot tub have added a luxurious touch. A large sitting room off the lobby, furnished with clusters of chairs and couches, makes a cozy place to read before dinner. The dining room, which serves budget-priced meals, is ringed by large windows that face the canyon. You can view the 65-foot plunge of Blackwater Falls from the canyon rim just upriver from the lodge or descend 214 steps to its base. Miles of hiking trails meander through the woods, horseback rides are scheduled from the park stables, and bicycles can be rented to tour the road. Chilly Pendleton Lake boasts a small swimming beach. $80, standard; $64, seniors; children 12 and under free 800/CALL-WVA; blackwaterfalls.com Fly into Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or Washington-Dulles. Meson de Mesilla Resort Hotel and Gourmet Restaurant, Mesilla, New Mexico The fertile Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico ranks as one of the world's most productive chili-growing regions, and the local folks make good use of them in their flavorful cuisine. But fine food is only one reason to head for Mesilla's 15-room Meson de Mesilla, a boutique hotel offering near-luxury accommodations at an easy price. An excellent restaurant fills the first floor; most rooms are on the second floor. Built and furnished in colorful southwestern adobe style, the inn immediately welcomes you with a sense of place. This is what you came to New Mexico looking for. Some rooms even sport a kiva fireplace, resembling the ones once used in Native American dwellings. When my wife, Sandy, and I last stayed here, we enjoyed a view across the valley to the lofty Organ Mountains. Other rooms get a view of the authentic Old West town of Mesilla, where Billy the Kid once stood trial. Its many little cafes and shops-now featuring Native American and other crafts-are wrapped around an attractive central plaza. Treat yourself one night to dinner at the Meson, and then dine more economically in the "old town." Located just outside Las Cruces, Mesilla makes a convenient base for day trips into the rugged countryside. Spend one day at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument high in the mountains. On another, explore a geological oddity called White Sands National Monument, where constantly shifting sand creates three-story dunes-all as white as snow. $45, single; $78-$92, queen or king; $135-$140, suite; rates include a full breakfast; 800/732-6025; mesondemesilla.com Fly into El Paso. Requa Inn, Klamath, California As I turned off the highway toward the Requa Inn in far northern California, I spotted a rather ugly white building ahead. It looked like a misplaced army barrack. Could this be the romantic riverside inn I'd booked us into for three nights? Well, looks (as we all know) can be deceiving. Inside, the place radiated warm friendliness and attentive care. At the end of our stay we didn't want to leave. Even my opinion of the inn's ungainly exterior changed. Now it seemed invitingly cuddly, like a big roly-poly dog. Forget its looks. The nearly 90-year-old property rewards guests with a grand view of the wide Klamath River. Small fishing boats dot the water every day of your stay, and the inn's reasonably priced restaurant features fresh grilled salmon. You could be on the river yourself in minutes. Bedrooms are simple but fully adequate. Most guests migrate to the spacious sitting room, which boasts a huge window looking out onto the river. A crackling fire, welcome even in summer, wards off the chill of an ocean fog. Each night we sipped wine here before dinner and returned to read or chat with our fellow guests afterward. By day, we hiked the shady trails of Redwood National Park, which all but encircles the lodge. $69 for a woodland view; $85-$95 for a river view; $10 per additional guest; 866/800-8777; requainn.com Fly into San Francisco or Portland, Oregon. Dupont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky Just below the splendid Dupont Lodge in eastern Kentucky, the Cumberland River spills in thunderous clamor over Cumberland Falls. Dubbed the "Niagara of the South," it is reputed to be the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Impressive as it is, the huge falls is more famous for its radiant "moonbow," a rare rainbow effect occurring only when the glow from a full moon is reflected in the mist rising from the falls. Crowds gather for the phenomenon, said to occur nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere. I recently missed the moonbow-a rainstorm blanked out the night sky-but I did savor the rustic comfort of the sprawling 52-room stone lodge. Majestic in appearance, it stands atop a ridge overlooking a wide curve of the Cumberland. Solid hemlock beams and knotty-pine paneling give the public rooms a woodsy look, as do the massive stone fireplaces. The dining room, catering to families, serves inexpensive home-style meals. Many guests come to the park for white-water rafting. When I learned the lodge is encircled by the Daniel Boone National Forest, his name alone prompted me to hike some of the 25 miles of marked trails. Horseback riding is offered, and there's even a swimming pool. Bass are the fish to catch in the Cumberland. $73 weekdays; $78 weekends; 800/325-0063; cumberlandfallspark.com Fly into Lexington, Kentucky, or Knoxville, Tennessee. Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado No place could possess a more descriptive name. Standing atop the 8,000-foot-high plateau that forms Mesa Verde, Far View Lodge presents a wilderness vista that seems to stretch forever. In the evening, Sandy and I sat on the deck outside our room counting the stars and watching the lights pop on at isolated ranches scattered across the valley far below. Built of stone and dark wood, the 150-room lodge blends nicely into its remote, piney-woods setting. It is the most convenient place to stay to visit the park's famed cliff dwellings. You can dine at the lodge's moderately priced restaurant, the Metate Room, or more cheaply at Far View Terrace, a cafeteria. Plan on visiting the Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. It occupies a deep ledge beneath the canyon's rim. Following a ranger, you descend steep stone steps cut into the side of a canyon wall. The Anasazi, who once lived here, entered their community in much the same way. Exiting is trickier. After scrambling through a tight crevice, you must climb three ten-foot-tall ladders placed one atop the other up the canyon wall. Don't look back. $100 for a standard room; $112, deluxe; $72-$102 in off-season; 800/449-2288; visitmesaverde.com Fly into Denver or Albuquerque. Calistoga Inn and Brewery, Calistoga, California A 90-year-old charmer, the Calistoga Inn occupies a prime spot in Napa Valley, California's premier wine region. Notoriously expensive, the valley does harbor a few budget-priced lodgings. The inn is the best of them. Downstairs is a good, moderately priced restaurant and funky bar. Upstairs are 18 clean, sunny rooms that go for $75 a night weekdays, $100 on weekends-still a bargain in the vineyards. The drawback: The rooms share toilets and showers, although each has a sink. The management calls the arrangement "European style," and indeed, the inn is as nice as any European shared-bath pension where I have stayed. The inn stands beside a stream in the heart of Calistoga, a pretty town that retains the look of the frontier West. Its cluster of modest hot spring spas offers off-price mud baths and massages. A rare and beautiful place, the Napa Valley has blossomed into a mostly upscale theme park for wine buffs and food lovers. But if you're careful, you can explore as I do for next to nada. Sip vintages at smaller wineries near Calistoga, such as Dutch Henry Winery or Vigil Vineyards, which don't charge a sampling fee. And be sure to drop into the Oakville Grocery in Oak-ville, a sophisticated country store where you can make a picnic of free samples of cheese, sausage, mustards, and crackers. $75 weekdays; $100 weekends; 707/942-4101; calistogainn.com Fly into Oakland, San Francisco, or Sacramento. Chico Hot Springs Resort, Pray, Montana I've been back to the century-old Chico Hot Springs Resort several times, and I always recommend it to any friends heading for Yellowstone National Park. Located just north of the park, it's a wonderful introduction to the Old West. Cowboys off the range still tie up their horses at the hitching post in front of the resort's saloon. Try local game in the lodge restaurant, or drive a few minutes back to the main road for cheaper fare. The 102-room lodge is tucked at the base of 10,960-foot Emigrant Peak, surrounded by Montana's wide-open Big Sky Country. The main lodge, sporting a big old-fashioned porch, is a bit weather worn, and some of the rooms (basic at best) share baths. So what? Just outside are two huge, hot springs-fed swimming pools-hot and hotter. I arrived mid-winter on my first visit. I savor the memory of floating in the pool during a snowstorm, watching the deer browse on the mountainside above. $45-$60, rooms with shared bath; $85-$109, with private bath; 800/HOT-WADA; chicohotsprings.com Fly into Bozeman, Montana. Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona If the Bright Angel Lodge sat any closer to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it would tumble right over the cliff. This spectacular location alone puts Bright Angel at the top of my list of inexpensive national park lodges. Another plus: It was designed with southwestern flair by Mary Colter, the park's noted architect. You get upscale style at a budget rate. The 89-room complex, completed in 1935, features a main lodge, adjoining wings, and a cluster of rustic-looking but quite comfortable cabins. In the main lodge, where you will find a family-priced restaurant, huge peeled-log beams adorn the ceiling and the floor is of stone. Doors are etched with Native American designs. The stone fireplace rises ten feet high. $50-$56, lodge rooms without bath; $68, with bath; $81, cabins without a rim view; $107, with view; 888/297-2757; grandcanyonlodges.com Fly into Phoenix. Fort Lewis Lodge, Millboro springs, Virginia When you check the rate below, you will see that Fort Lewis Lodge, a 3,200-acre Blue Ridge Mountain farm, charges $150 a night for two. No, I'm not cheating here on the "under $100" rate. The price includes a complete, all-you-can-eat dinner and breakfast with beverages for two people. This qualifies it, I think, for my list. Once on the premises, you don't have to spend a penny more-unless you want wine or beer with dinner. Furnished with country-style antiques and quilts, the lodge's 18 rooms look bright and cheery. Most guests come simply to relax and soak up the fresh air in the quiet surroundings. Some cast for trout in the clear, clean Cowpasture River, which splashes across the property. On my visits, I spend a lot of time bobbing around in the old- fashioned swimming hole, carved at the base of a towering rock wall. $150, room with dinner and breakfast for two; 540/925-2314; fortlewislodge.com Fly into Washington-Dulles or Roanoke, Virginia.

Profiles of the Major Cruise Lines

Do cruiseships each have distinctive personalities? Traits so prominent as to attract a fairly uniform clientele? We say yes, while pointing out at the same time that people of all ages and conditions are found in some numbers aboard every ship. But on the following ships and lines, certain types dominate the scene: S.S. Norway In past years this ship was filled with hot-eyed, middle-class, jet setters looking for action, excitement, something to do every moment, very much like the typical devotees of Las Vegas and Reno. More recently, the "Norway" has really become the "senior citizen special." Rates are usually very budget-friendly, and tend to attract large numbers of grandmas and grandpas. Celebration, Holiday, Ecstasy, Imagination (and all the other so-called "Fun Ships" of Carnival Cruises They attract a rather unsophisticated lot with hokey forms of group entertainment (like grandparents' get-togethers in a ship's lounge to brag about grandchildren) and policies that encourage some young things to come in shorts to meals. Neon, mirrors, chrome and glitz, not to mention disco parties and such, mean that a larger-than-usual contingent of young swingers (in their 30's and 40's) will be onboard, in addition to a fair number of the non-affluent elderly. Windjammer Cruises (many ships) Casual, tight-budgeted, yuppie couples and singles in their 20's and 30's, drawn by the adventure and low cost of traveling in a soaring "tall ship" of billowing sails and closet-like cabins. The Sea Lion, Endeavor, and Sea Bird of seven of Lindblad's special expeditions of New York The very best of older Americans--vigorous, intellectual, interested in science and history. Because of the length and cost of the "expedition cruises" operated by these ships, they attract a high percentage of people in their 60's and 70's. Costa Romantica, Costa Victoria For middle-of-the-roaders in every sense, these are mid-priced ships balanced in atmosphere and programs. Passengers are relaxed, but with a sense of taste; activities and attitudes are informal, but not to the point of "carnival!" A better-than-average children's program attracts a fair number of families, but not so many as to intrude on other passengers. Known for excellent food. Windstar Professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers) in the prime of life, and rising young professionals, all of a firmly independent outlook that craves no organized activities. Passengers spend time sea-gazing and star-gazing on an open bridge, snorkeling and swimming off secluded beaches, reading, in quiet conversations over brandy. QE2 A generally well-read and well-educated group, of every age range (predominantly in their middle years), in terms of economic categories ranging from upper middle-class to the most affluent (though rates sometimes dip down low enough to attract more budget-minded folk). People in love with the ultimate ocean experience, spending days on the open sea without benefit of port stops, simply strolling the decks in the brisk, salty air. As for other personality "types" "Swinging Singles" in their 20s trend--if they are low-income--to the Carnival ships; if they are middle-income to ships of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (Sovereign of the Seas, Nordic Empress) or Norwegian Cruise Line (Norway, Windward, Dreamward); and if they are affluent to the new Queen Mary of Cunard. Families are attracted by the comprehensive children's programs of Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and the earlier-mentioned Costa Cruises, or to the Disney cruises. Intellectuals tend to book the low-density ships, not simply the tiny vessels, but even such large ships as those of Princess Cruises, which carry a third less the passengers of several similarly-sized vessels. West Coaster's also gravitate heavily to ships of Princess Cruises. And senior citizens are strongly drawn to ships of the Holland America Line, traditional in their decor and policies, though Holland America has made recent attempts at attracting younger passengers. In cruising, to each his own!

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