Candyce Stapen answered your questions on family travel.
Candyce Stapen: Hi, I'm Candyce Stapen. One of my latest books is National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations. I'm happy to be here and I'm taking questions now. Thanks.
Bend, OR: My three sisters and I are trying to plan a family reunion cruise for my dad's 60th birthday next June. Between our group, we have 10 adults, 5 children under 12, and will have 2 infants (due February and April). We are scattered throughout the country, so any port of departure would be fine as we will all travel to get there. Do you have any suggestions for a fun, affordable family cruise with something for all ages?
Candyce Stapen: Book the Caribbean. With its beaches, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, fishing, hiking, sailing, shopping, and cultural experiences, there's plenty for each age group.
What concerns me is the age of the newborns. On most cruise lines, infants must be 4-6 months old in order to cruise. The minimum age on Carnival is 4-months. On Disney ships the minimum age is three months. Disney is a good bet because the line offers a nursery for infants 12 weeks -36 weeks. The hours vary and are limited, but it's a nice option to have. Space is limited so reserve ahead if interested. If the baby to be born in April will be coming aboard, you need to move the cruise to July or later.
Also, before an infant can board the ship, you need to show proof of proper inoculations.
Currituck, NC: My passport expires the middle of February, and I am planning a trip to England for a week the middle of January.
Will it be okay to wait until I get home to renew the passport, or do I have enough time to do it now?
Also should I go through our Clerk of Court, or handle it myself?
Candyce Stapen: You should immediately renew your passport. Most countries require that your passport be valid for at least SIX months from your date of entry. That means you should consider your passport as already expired even though it technically is good through mid-February. The good news is that you can start the renewal process online by filling out forms. Click on travel.state.gov/passport
Renewal fees are $67 and the process takes about two weeks. Because of the upcoming holidays, I suggest you pay the extra $60 for expedited service plus the overnight mailing costs. It will be worth the peace of mind in getting your new passport back in time for your trip.
Chapel Hill, NC: We (grandparents, parents and 5 grandchildren ages 7-14)are cruising to Alaska next July. What is the best way to chose shore excursions so that they appeal to the whole group OR is it better to split out and talk about our adventures at dinner?
Candyce Stapen: An Alaskan cruise is a wonderful vacation that your family will remember forever. To make sure they think of this voyage fondly, don't try to do everything together, and that especially includes shore excursions. The teenagers may want to bike, hike or kayak while the parents and grandparents may want to visit a museum or stroll through town.
In Skagway the ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad is suitable for all ages, the scenery is spectacular and the fee is relatively affordable.
One beware about Alaska: To see the Alaska that's America's last wilderness, you need to get away from the cruise dock and get on float planes, helicopters, Zodiac rafts and kayaks, something that gets pricey, but is worth it in at least one port.
Minnetonka, MN: What about a cruise with a large family, but young children? We have 4 children ages 11, 9,7, and 5 so we really can't put them in thier own cabin, and my husband and I don't want to spend the cruise in separate rooms! Is there such a thing as a cabin that sleeps 6 that's not the President's suite?
Candyce Stapen: Cruising makes for a great family vacation and there are several strategies for large families that don't want to pay for expensive suites. The least expensive option is to book two adjoining interior cabins. Some Carnival Cruise Lines' ships offer these cabins as do other lines.
Disney Cruise Line, along with offering suites that sleep 7, has connecting staterooms and cabins that accommodate five people.
NCL's new Pride of America offers family suites and NCL's Star and Dawn have cabins that fit up to five people as well as connecting cabins. Royal Caribbean's Voyager and Radiance class ships have family cabins that can fit six people, but there's still only one bathroom.
Boise, Idaho: I am planning a trip to Spain this summer, about 10 days in length, with my 15 year old daughter. We have divergent interests, & I want her to enjoy it as much as myself. I love museums & history. My area of interest is the Moorish influence, Granada, Cordoba, Seville, etc. (In St. Petersburg I chose a tour which gave me 3 days in the Hermitage.) Her tolerance for art museums is about an hour. My daughter rides & is very interested in anything horse related. She loves rodeos & thoroughbred racing. We both love biking & hiking.
Could you help me plan an itinerary, or suggest tour companies that have families & not just seniors. Thanks for any ideas you can suggest! Kathy
Candyce Stapen: Several companies offer guided family trips to Spain. These trips free you from the work of planning and getting around within the country on your own and offer the bonus of other children for yours to be with. However, at 15 your daughter won't want to be around ten-year-olds so check ahead and see if any parent and teen journeys are scheduled and also check to find out what are the ages of the other kids signed up.
Companies to consider: Butterfield & Robinson, butterfield.com, Abercrombie & Kent, abercrombiekent.com. Cross Country International offers several horseback riding trips through Spain, but you need to be a good rider. Some trips include instruction.
Atlanta, GA: My family is spread out across the country: NYC, Dallas, Atlanta and Denver. We range in age from 4 to 67 years old and there are 9 of us. We need your help! We're thinking about meeting in Las Vegas but we have no idea how to figure out the best deal for hotel and flight, etc since we're all coming from different locations. How do you suggest we go about this?
Candyce Stapen: Check out the various flights and packages offered by booking engines such as Orbitz.com , Travelocity.com and Expedia.com.
Wapakoneta, Ohio: My husband and I have finally gotten all the kids out of the house. We have been saving for years for a dream trip to Alaska.We only have 3 weeks so we really don't have time to drive.How can we get the most bang for our buck? We would love to hear your ideas. Dave & Jan
Candyce Stapen: An Alaskan cruise coupled with a pre or post land tour will enable you to see a good deal. Booking a voyage at the beginning or end of the summer season will save you some money. Shop around for deals. Check with the cruise lines as well as cruise-only tour agencies for the best rates. Because a cruise covers not only your lodging, but your food, entertainment and transportation between sightseeing ports, it's actually a good budget stretcher plus you get to go in style, something that all dream trips require.
Couple your cruise with a land excursion to either Denali National Park or Denali State Park. Most ships depart from Seward, about 120 miles south of Anchorage. Plan to arrive early enough in Seward (or overnight there) so that you can day a day cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park. Because the ships that cruise here carry only about 150-passengers, you get much closer to the glaciers than you do on a big ship.
As always in Alaska, bundle up. Wear layers, bring hats and gloves just in case and be prepared for rain.
toledo, ohio: I am trying to plan a family vacation for 8 adults and 7 grandchildren to Hawaii in December of 2006. I would like to fly to Hawaii and then take a cruise ship from island to island (probably a week). Are these cruises available and if so, what companies offer them
Candyce Stapen: NCL America has three ships that sail the Hawaiian Islands: Pride of Hawaii, the newest ship, as well as Pride of America and the Pride of Aloha. All have children's programs and "free style dining," the ability to eat in different restaurants when you want instead of fixed seating dining.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL: We travel with our 12-year old son and we love Atlantis in the Bahamas because of all the activities and sights that appeal to all of us. What other resorts can you suggest that offer a diverse variety of activities; we do not use the supervised children's programs. Thanks!
Candyce Stapen: You don't say whether you want to visit the Bahamas, the Caribbean, the U.S or another destination. Hawaii is a great place for families, especially for active 'tweens.
On Maui you can bike down a volcano, on the Big Island you can tour Volcanoes National Park, and on Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island you can enjoy great beaches, as well as hike, swim, snorkel and find out about Hawaiian culture. On Maui, I recommend the Grand Wailea or the Hyatt Regency Maui. On Kauai, try the Grand Hyatt Kauai and on the Big Island, consider the Four Seasons Hualalai or the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. On Oahu, I like the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Another option: consider a family-friendly dude ranch. Along with riding, many ranches offer fly-fishing and hiking. Paradise Guest Ranch, Wyoming, and Rock Springs Guest Ranch, OR, are good ones for families.
The Caribbean also has great resorts and island activities. The Westin St. John, USVI, puts you near the beautiful national park and there's always much to see and do in Puerto Rico. Consider the Hyatt Dorado.
Pittsburgh, PA: What are some tips on keeping expenses down when cruising with 4 children? I have 4 daughters (ages 22, 19, 17, and 16). The 2 oldest are in college with different breaks, the 2 youngest are in high school, soon to also be in collge. They don't need ships with a lot of bells and whistles (which seem to be more expensive) but like cruises with other kids their ages.
Candyce Stapen: Good cruise choices for families with teens and twentysomethings include Carnival because it often attracts a "younger" crowd and the bigger ships on Royal Caribbean (RCI ) because their onboard activities such as ice skating, rock climbing and with the debut of the new ship, surfing.
To keep costs down, look for family cabins that sleep 5 plus people. Some Carnival, RCI, NCL and Disney ships feature these. Also, consider booking two interior cabins. Check to see if you can get adjoining cabins.
Another way to keep costs down is to do most shore tours on your own. Research ahead of time where you want to go and how to get there. Taking a taxi to an out-of-the-way but beautiful beach may be much less expensive than booking the ships' beach excursion for 5 -6 people.
West Lafayette, Indiana: Would you please compare the advantages of visiting Roatan and Utila, the Bay Islands of Honduras. Important to us are the ease of snorkeling access, how far to the reef from hotels, for instance; what else is there to do on the island besides dive, swim, and lie on the beach; are midpriced hotels equally available and livable?
Candyce Stapen: Anthony's Key Resort on Roatan, along with offering dive boats, typically features a designated snorkel-only boat, an advantage for snorkel enthusiasts. Snorkeling, diving, and sunning are the prime activities.
Little Rock, AR: I am planning a safari trip to Africa, and was thinking of Tanzania, so my wife and I can see the serengetti. Are there companies you can recommend or any tips? I have been reviewing packages from 2Afrika, any feedback on that company?
Candyce Stapen: I recommend Abercrombie & Kent. Although pricey, the lodges they choose are first --rate. Micato is also a good company.
San Jose, California: I have vacation for the ENTIRE month of February. We are a family of three, our son will be 4 years old, by then. We are looking to go somewhere warm and that would be FUN for the entire family. A cruise sounds good. Any ideas or places? MIA, MCO??
Candyce Stapen: Cruises are great family vacations, especially voyages in the Caribbean. Although the Mexican Riviera voyages are closer to your home, I find that destination less family-friendly. Disney, NCL, RCI and Carnival all offer wonderful kids' programs for kids your sons age.
Miami and Fort Lauderdale have lots to offer as does the west coast of Florida around Naples and Ft. Myers. In Naples, consider the Naples Grand Resort & Club (formerly the Registry Resort). In Sanibel, try the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa. The Best Western Pelican Beach Resort is a new, family-friendly property in Fort Lauderdale
Toledo, Ohio: I have heard of a trip where you can be part of an archealogical dig... but I can 't find any information? Could you point me in the right direction? Thanks
Candyce Stapen: Check out Crow Canyon Archeological Center in Colorado.
Portland, Oregon: HI,
How do you find a good travel agent or tour company
who will put together small group tours of appx. 10 t0 20
people to Ireland, Egypt,Japan and Peru?
Candyce Stapen: Adams & Butler organizes customized trips in Ireland, including creating itineraries, and arranging day outings and overnights at castles and country houses. 800-894-5712, www.irishluxury.com. Abercrombie & Kent, www.abercrombiekent, or Butterfield & Robinson, www.butterfield.com, can assist with some of those destinations.
Stamford, CT: My husband and two teen-age sons want to walk/hike through Switzerland next summer. Can you recommend any inexpensive tour guides or companies that offer inn to inn accommodations?
Candyce Stapen: Backroads offers a family biking and walking trip with lodging at "casual inns" to keep the costs down. However, the hiking is rated for ages 5 and older so check that the routes are challenging enough for your teens. Backroads as well as Butterfield & Robinson can arrange custom trips.
San Diego, CA: Hi Candyce
My wife and I, along with my sister and brother in law (ages 29-32) are planning a trip to Peru (Cuzco and Machu Picchu). Our travel dates our flexible (June-August), flying from L.A. or San Diego. We only have about 8-9 days (including travel time); our interest is more in the cultural/historical, not so much the adventure travel, but would like some day hikes. Our budget is about $2000-2500 p/p including flight. Would you recommend planning the trip individually or get a tour package? Any tour operators you recommend?
Candyce Stapen: Sonesta Hotels and Resorts has properties in Peru. They can arrange multi-city bookings as well as outings. Compare their prices with those who get from a tour operator.
Belle Fourche, South Dakota: We would like to see the Grand Canyon this summer by car or possibly Amtrak. Where should we start and end what should we make sure not to miss? How much time should we allow. We would be interested in beginner white water rafting and other outdoor activities and moderately priced accommodations along the way. We have children that will be 18, 15, and 9 by the time we hope to go, around Memorial Day 2006 or June 2006. Thanks for your help. Clara
Candyce Stapen: The GRand Canyon is a great trip and you are wise to plan ahead as summer is prime time. The park offers avariety of on site lodgings, but you should book these now. You can start in Flagstaff and take the historic Grand Canyon Railway trip to the South Rim if you are not planning on driving to the Grand Canyon.
Good overlooks include Mather Point, the Yavapai Observation Station and Desert View. The Bright Angel Trail has afirst fountain and rest area about 1.5 miles down the canyon. You can rest there and continue or hike back out. Remember to conserve your energy because the way back is all uphill and you're tired. A number of companies offer multi-day raft trips. OARS (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists) is a good one.
cheyenne,wyoming: we want to take a trip to see pengiuns,,either those in south africa or ,,???? who is the best agency to do this thru??
Candyce Stapen: There are penguins in several locales. Your best bet is to contact a nature-oriented travel company. Try Wildland or Natural Habitat Adventures.
North Platte, NE: Not only is connecting with flights from a major airport a long drive, but also traveling alone including staying in any city in the world for business or vacationing alone has become potentially much more dangerous for professionals especially females. Once a carefree traveler and businesswoman, now my experiences with life have sent me into a cautionary spin which seems to keep me from enjoying the sane adventures and interesting vacations of the distant past of forty years ago. Believe it or not, my objective in the near future is to regain the old bravery without sacrificing common sense. How is traveling alone and staying in large cities and small towns around the globe poissible for an older lady by herself unarmed in this era? Would somehow obtaining a real guard dog be a help? Affiliating with a strange other adult female or male companion on a sign-up basis is absolutely out-f-the-question. New college roomies were difficult enough. Taking chances on predators trailing single travelers would be totally foolish.
Candyce Stapen: You're quite right to be cautious when traveling alone, but don't let this prevent you from having an enjoyable trip. One answer would be to join the "solo" (not single)departures offered by several companies. I went on a Backroads "solo" walking trip through the Czech Republic with my sister a few years ago and had a great time. Two other adult sisters had signed up as well as single travelers of all ages. Also consider Elder Hostel trips.
Group trips provide you with conversation and companionship at meals as well opportunities to spend time alone.
Another option when you are in a big city is to splurge on a well-located, quality hotel. Contact the concierge ahead of time to find out about the services of a private, reputable guide for the day who can take you to attractions and provide insider information and history.
I"ve done this in Rome and was happily surprised by the quality of the guide recommended.
King George, Virginia: Having read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Novels, we are now eager to visit Scotland.
What is the best time of year to visit Scotland? (We would like to avoid the annual Tattoo.) We are planning to fly from Washington to London and go by bus or car to Scotland, doing some sightseeing along the way.
Candyce Stapen: Summer is the best time of year to visit Scotland because it's warmer then, although it's never what we might call really warm. Last time I was there in July I needed to buy a hat, scarf and gloves because I didn't pack them. Once out of the major cities, the roads are not crowded and the scenery is beautiful. We drove through the Highlands and took a ferry to islands in the Hebrides.
Candyce Stapen: Thank you so much for your questions. I've enjoyed chatting with you.