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Confessions of... A Cruise Purser

By Renee Ruggero
June 3, 2008
"Some Guests Make Up Elaborate Excuses or Lies"

Renee Ruggero worked as a purser for Princess Cruises for three years. She has left the industry but still cruises frequently with her family.

Hub for help

The purser on a cruise ship is part hotel receptionist, part concierge. Guests line up at the purser's desk to pay their on board accounts, to ask questions like "What time do the whales swim by?" and to complain about everything under the sun. On mega ships, there may be as many as 20 pursers, who listen to the same gripes cruise after cruise. When I worked, not a cruise would go by that a family of four didn't grumble and grouse about being squashed into a 160-square-foot cabin with nowhere to put their luggage. I empathized as much as I possibly could, but in many cases, the customer was not always right. On one cruise, for instance, a passenger accused a cabin steward of stealing his Rolex watch. After searching the man's room, I finally found the watch in his safe—it had slid under the lip in the front. The man never apologized for his mistake.

Little white lies

I've been fed all kinds of lines from passengers, such as "I'm claustrophobic, so I need a bigger cabin," and "I want to be reimbursed for this spot the laundry service got on my dress" (even though the stain looked a lot like red wine). Some guests even make up elaborate excuses—or blatant lies—to try to score a free bottle of wine, credit for purchases made on the ship, or a stateroom upgrade.

At times, I felt like a mix of Judge Judy and Sherlock Holmes, trying to decide which parts of passengers' stories were true. One woman claimed she had paid $10,000 for a balcony cabin on a weeklong cruise to Alaska and had been assigned an ocean-view room (with no balcony). I e-mailed the head office and discovered she had actually booked an ocean-view room—and paid only $4,000.

Best location

Some cabins are in noisy parts of the ship (above or below a dance floor or the theater) and when passengers in those rooms complain, they usually get moved somewhere else. Even though pursers may tell passengers the ship is "sailing full," there are sometimes a few open rooms for situations like these. That doesn't mean, however, that you'll get a luxury suite if you complain about a lot of noise. One guest was upset about the noise of chairs being dragged on the deck above his inside cabin, but when I offered him a similar room on the other end of the ship, he turned it down. I guess he was hoping for something better.

Feeling queasy

Seasickness is an occupational hazard when you work on a cruise ship, especially smaller vessels like the one I was on. I prefer not to take Dramamine, because it makes me drowsy. Instead, I drank Coke and snacked on bread—foods high in carbohydrates sometimes help prevent motion sickness—and my colleagues said ginger capsules worked well, too. Of course, there were always passengers who confused seasickness with the effects of too many martinis from the night before. One time when I was behind the desk, a passenger asked to buy Dramamine because she was seasick. I had to tell her that was unlikely—the ship had yet to leave the pier.

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Room for Improvement

Motel 6 Paul Priestman, a cofounder of British design firm Priestman Goode, headed the team that created Motel 6's new look. He knows how to get the most from small spaces, having prev­iously worked on airplane and cruise-ship projects. The updated design will start appearing in new and existing hotels (of which there are 900) this fall. 1. Lighting Priestman built special wall fixtures to illuminate the room indirectly and reduce the need for a lot of overhead lights. "I wanted the light to reflect off the walls, not to blind people." 2. Seating area A table and a chair were placed in a corner to create a space for socializing—something that's currently lacking. With a table-side electric socket, and Wi-Fi available for $3 per day, the area doubles as a work space. 3. Bed Platform beds give the room a sense of openness because guests can see beneath them; the sight line isn't interrupted by a bed frame and skirt. There's also more room to store luggage. 4. Color palette Numerous color schemes are in the works: orange (as shown) and possibly green, purple, and tan. Motel 6 is deciding whether single and double rooms (or ground-floor and second-floor rooms) will get different colors. 5. Floors The carpeting is being replaced by floors made of composite wood and plastic laminate. "A lot of people feel that carpets aren't very clean," says Priestman. 6. TV unit and closet Priestman believes that furniture in small spaces should serve at least two functions. This unit contains a flat-screen TV and a multimedia panel where an iPod and an Xbox can be plugged in. Behind the unit—and accessible from the side—is a rod for hanging clothes. Microtel Students at the Savannah College of Art and Design were invited to enter a contest to create a modern room with a budget of $7,500. Bijal Patel, one of three finalists, was hired to produce the prototype. More than 30 new hotels will use the design this year; Microtel's nearly 300 existing properties will be redecorated as needed. 1. Room divider A screen separates the bed from the sitting area. "Guests especially appreciate this feature because it makes the room feel like a suite, with added privacy," Patel says. 2. Bed Rooms will have beds with a new pillow-top mattress, one extra pillow (for a total of three), and a thin comforter between two layers of sheets, instead of a bedspread. 3. Desk Guests noted on checkout comment cards that they'd like more work space, so Patel designed a workstation with enough room for two people (and with electrical outlets built into the desktop). Wi-Fi is free at most Microtel properties. 4. TV Microtel swapped out box-style TVs for 26- or 32-inch wall-mounted flat-screens after market research showed they were one of the main things people want in hotel rooms. 5. Color palette Patel's goal was to avoid the boring beige walls she sees in every hotel. She created six color schemes: cappuccino (as shown), citrus, metro, breeze, nature, and Microtel (a combination of navy blue, yellow, and amber). Properties will each have a single palette. 6. Kitchen Patel chose granite countertops and a bar and stools (instead of a table and chairs) for what the company calls the MicroKitchen. She aimed to combine the "warmth of the guest's own kitchen with a café-like setting."

This Just In!

For more travel news, updated daily, check our blog, This Just In. Seat Charge On some flights, US Airways is now asking $5 to $30 more for aisle or window seats. Brazil by Air JetBlue's founder and former CEO David Neeleman plans to launch a low-fare carrier, Azul, in Brazil next year. London Shuttle Dot2Dot offers rides between Heathrow or Gatwick airports and more than 600 hotels in London (dot2.com, $35). Pax Rights Passengers who are involuntarily bumped from domestic flights or international flights departing from the U.S. are eligible for up to $800 in compensation, up from $400. Bus Routes Megabus has started service between New York and seven other cities: Atlantic City, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. One-way fares start as low as $1. megabus.com. Flights to Bari Italian airline Eurofly has added weekly summer flights between New York and Bari in southern Italy (euroflyusa.com). Cruise Cabanas Holland America's new ship, Eurodam, has private cabanas for rent on two decks (from $30 per day). Colonial PassOne ticket now gets you into five major historic Virginia sites (historyisfun.org, $80). Fishy Tale Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif., opens July 1 (legoland.com, $19). Spin City Washington, D.C., has launched SmartBike DC, allowing people to rent bikes all over town (smartbikedc.com, $40 annual fee). Hippie Museum The new Museum at Bethel Woods, on the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival, has exhibits on '60s music (bethelwoodscenter.org, $13). Budget Resorts Sandals has opened Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts—its more affordable line—on Antigua and Jamaica (grandpineapple.com, from $252). Pensacola Party To mark its 450th birthday, the Florida city is planning 450 days of summer festivals, exhibits, and parades (celebratepensacola.com). Criminal Activity Hot Springs, Ark., where Al Capone vacationed, now has the nation's first Gangster Museum (tgmoa.com, $8). Relax in Miami Miami hosts its first Spa Month in July. More than 20 spas are participating (miamispamonth.com).

The Fun File

Mardi Gras World, New Orleans, La. If you've ever harbored dreams of starring in the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, or just want to know how participants construct such elaborate floats, check out Mardi Gras World. The museum showcases the best floats from past years (a giant sea dragon! a 15-foot Cleopatra bust!) and houses a workshop where workers glue and hammer together next year's creations. Even locals can't resist romping among the Mardi Gras masterpieces. "I took my brother there during his recent visit, and we had more fun than two adults should—playing dress up in the costumes, then taking photos beside our favorite floats," said Melissa Combs of New Orleans. "We laughed like we were kids!" (233 Newton Street, 800/362-8213, mardigrasworld.com, $17, kids $10) PHOTO Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona Border The Hoover Dam is colossal...and cool. The dam, completed in 1936 and 726 feet tall, is composed of enough concrete to pave a 16-foot-wide highway from San Francisco to New York City. "It's really a fascinating tour, and the enormity of the structure is awesome," said Sally Ridenour of Salem, Ore. But she especially liked the dam's tongue-in-cheek mementos: "The souvenir t-shirts are great—I WENT ON THE DAM TOUR AT HOOVER DAM." (30 miles southeast of Las Vegas on U.S. Hwy. 93, 702/494-2517, www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam, tour $30, children under 8 not allowed on the tour.) PHOTO Zorb Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Where some people see a hillside, others see a thrill ride. The popular New Zealand activity of Zorbing—in which you tumble down a slope while inside a plastic bubble—has arrived in the U.S., at Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Before you start, there's a two-page waiver to sign, five different courses to pick from, and two Zorb options: You can sit strapped into a seat or flip head over heels in a ball filled with water. ("It's like white-water rafting without the rocks," says CEO Craig Horrocks.) The 12-foot spheres reach speeds of up to 35 mph; the view is a blur of trees, sky, and your limbs, punctuated by the occasional scream of "Awesome!" (865/428-2422, zorb.com, from $37 per ride.) PHOTO Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island, Mich. Following the American forces' unexpected success in capturing British outposts during the American Revolution, the British moved Fort Mackinac, brick by brick, from the Michigan mainland to Mackinac Island. It remained in British hands until 1796. The fort closed in 1895; today it stands as a public monument to its long history as a military outpost. Carol Feider of Midland, Mich., says: "Mackinac Island is a total tourist trap, and I love it. Renting a bike and riding around the island. Touring the fort and watching the guides shoot the cannon. Taking the horse-and-buggy ride. And, of course, buying fudge." (231/436-4100, mackinacparks.com, adults $10, kids 5-7 $6.25) PHOTO Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, Key West, Fla. Sword swallowing plus chainsaw juggling plus a dog on a tightrope equals the perfect sunset stroll? Clearly Key West's nightly ritual offers more than just another pretty photo op. Streets fill up with performers like Jace and Jean the Juggling Machine, Bible Bill, and local legend Will Soto, who's been juggling and tightrope walking in Mallory Square for 20 years. "It is such a wonderful tourist trap, but the sights are well worth it," wrote Patti Porco of Chantilly, Va. "The sunsets are always something special to watch, but the fun is in watching the street performers as well as their audiences, who both entertain while you wait." (305/292-7700, sunsetcelebration.org) PHOTO Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, Prospect, ME The first Penobscot bridge, completed in 1931, was crumbling into the Penobscot River, so everyone agreed it was time for a new-and-improved bridge—if not on much else. "At first, the city wanted something that looked like the old structure," says Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner for Maine's Department of Transportation. But area residents rejected every proposal, eventually coming up with a one-word idea of their own as inspiration: granite. "To lifelong Mainers, granite is rugged and timeless, and it matches the state's rocky coast," says Van Note. Made primarily of local Freshwater Pearl granite, the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory is one of only three cable-stayed bridges in the world to also have an observation tower (the others are in Slovakia and Thailand). No matter which direction you look from the glass-enclosed deck, the views are postcard-worthy. (207/469-7719, penobscotnarrowsbridge.com, $5, tower open May 1-Oct. 31.) PHOTO Grand Canyon Skywalk, Arizona More than a few visitors to the Grand Canyon Skywalk at Grand Canyon West white-knuckle their way around the 70-foot-long, U-shaped glass structure, never letting go of the railing. Others jump up and down for the Skywalk's photographers, unbowed by the view of the jagged canyon about a mile below. The $30 million attraction opened last spring after years of collaboration between a Las Vegas businessman and the local Hualapai tribe, which owns much of the canyon's western rim. The surrounding area remains a work in progress, as a theater and a restaurant are under construction--so is the 14 miles of as yet unpaved road that leads to the entrance, making for a rather bone-rattling approach. (grandcanyonskywalk.com, $60 includes admission to the reservation and the Grand Canyon Skywalk, cameras not allowed. Bus tours depart daily from Las Vegas, about two hours west (702/878-9378, destinationgrandcanyon.com, from $189)). PHOTO Expedition Everest, Walt Disney World, Fla. When Walt Disney World's Expedition Everest opened in the Animal Kingdom in 2006, it was the culmination of six years of work by Disney Imagineers, combined with 1,800 tons of steel and an estimated $100 million. Based on the myth of the yeti, the Abominable Snowman and protector of Everest (which Disney scaled down from a height of 29,000 feet to 199 feet—still enough to make it the second-highest summit in Florida), the ride speeds passengers down an 80-foot drop and spirals them forward and backward through foggy ice caves. The real heart-stopper, though, is a very close encounter with the yeti itself. The audio-animatronics that power the beast are the most sophisticated Disney has ever produced. (407/939-1289, disneyeverest.com, $71.) PHOTO U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. Not only is the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., the biggest man-made white-water park in the world, but the course—which was designed by engineer and four-time world-champion kayaker Scott Shipley—shares its DNA with great rapids across the globe. "I wanted to improve upon existing elements in nature and those found in Olympic white-water parks in Europe and Australia," says Shipley. "A part of the big rapid was inspired by the one in South Carolina that Deliverance was shot on." Fueled by pumps that circulate 536,000 gallons of water per minute (enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every 70 seconds), the river provides consistent Class II, III, and IV rapids throughout four channels of varying difficulty. When kayakers and rafters reach the end, they're whisked back to the top by a 180-foot-long conveyor belt. "It's like a ski lift for boats," says Shipley. An official Olympic training site, the U.S. National Whitewater Center will also host the 2008 Olympic kayak team trials. But it has been open to the public since last September 2006, so you too can learn how it feels to train like a champion. (704/391-3900, usnwc.org, from $39.) Top of the Rock, New York City The Empire State Building? The ape can have it. Top of the Rock—the observation decks atop the GE Building in Rockefeller Center—is superior in every conceivable way. First, there are the views: Instead of the Empire State Building's jailhouse bars, you get glass panels that look like they were washed that morning; the first floor (of three total) also has large indoor areas for those who'd rather not venture outside. Second, the top floor, because it's set back from the edge of the building, has totally unimpeded views. Third, the art deco details will take your breath away; wandering around, you feel a bit like Lex Luthor in his evil (but sumptuous) aerie. Fourth, the visitor experience is infinitely better: The workers treat you like a human being, rather than use the fact that you're waiting in line as an opportunity to give you the hard sell. Fifth, even the marketing partnership is neat: In the Target Breezeway, all the surfaces are covered with lights that follow you around. Finally, there's the elevator ride. Stand in the back of the car, to the right as you enter. Then look up. (877/692-7625, topoftherocknyc.com, $20.) PHOTO Natural History Museum, New York City A sleepover program at the American Museum of Natural History allows families with kids ages 8 to 12 to have their own Night at the Museum adventure. The dinosaurs don't rampage like they do in the movie, so kids wander around with a flashlight to find the beasts themselves. (They're on the fourth floor.) "Everything is dark and creepy in a good way," says 10-year-old Alex Mattei of Irvington, N.Y. Even for adults, the planetarium show will feel extra trippy because it's so far past bedtime. But there's a fine line between thrilling and scary when you're a kid, so parents would do well to arrive early enough to claim cots with a view of, say, cute harp seals, as opposed to a sperm whale and giant squid locked in combat. The $129 price tag (regardless of age) includes a cot, snacks, breakfast, admission to the museum the next day, and a goodie bag with a key chain and stickers. (212/769-5100, amnh.org.) PHOTO Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Mass. Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art cuts a dashing figure, thanks in no small part to the galleries that are cantilevered four stories above the edge of Boston Harbor. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the museum was built to showcase the institute's first-ever permanent collection, but the most popular spot has quickly become the Mediatheque, where 18 computers display digital media related to the artists and exhibitions. It's not the computers that are drawing crowds, however; it's the fact that the media center points down at a 24-degree angle from the underside of the cantilever. At the end of the room, there's a 21-foot-wide picture window framing a mesmerizing view of the water's surface. (No surrounding land or sky is visible.) "We describe the experience as vertiginous," says Jesse Saylor, a member of the architects' design team. "When you enter the room, you all of a sudden realize you're floating above the water." (The Institute of Contemporary Art, icaboston.org, $12.) PHOTO The Official Marx Toy Museum, Moundsville, W.Va. During the 1950s, Marx Toys was one of the largest U.S. toy manufacturers. Time magazine named company founder Louis Marx "America's toy king" and put him on a 1955 cover. Now, just a mile and a half away from the site of the former Marx Toy Factory in Glen Dale, W.Va., The Official Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, W.Va., presents a complete history of the popular toy company. The collection focuses on the 1920s through the 1980s and consists of dozens of different Marx play sets, including a life-size version of a Western town, metal wind-up toys, trains, dollhouses, and the all-time kid favorite—the Big Wheel. (915 Second St., Moundsville, W.Va., 304/845-6022, marxtoymuseum.com, $6.50.) The Star Toys Museum, Linthicum, Md. A few weeks before Thomas Atkinson's 13th birthday, Star Wars changed his life. Seventeen years later, Atkinson opened his home to visitors, so all can witness his impressive collection of all things Star Wars. The Star Toys Museum occupies the first floor of Atkinson's home and comprises more than 12,000 items, like the original 1977 set of Kenner figurines that includes Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and R2-D2, as well as magazines, apparel, cards, memorabilia, and the ever-popular six-foot-long Millennium Falcon Extraordinaire, which was used in an advertising display in 1997. Tours are available by appointment only. (811 Camp Meade Rd., Linthicum, Md., startoysmuseum.org, free, (donations accepted).)

Trip Coach: June 3, 2008

Margaret Lyons:Hi, this is Margaret Lyons, and I'm excited to talk to everyone about Chicago! Let's get started, shall we? _______________________ Denver, Colo.:Hi, Margaret. I'm coming to Chicago June 24 for the first time. What exactly is Chicago-style pizza and where are some places to get the "authentic" stuff? Thanks, Dave Margaret Lyons: Ooooh, boy, that's a good one. Chicago-style pizza typically means deep dish, with a very doughy crust and unlike East Coast pizza, the sauce is on the top (crust // cheese // sauce // toppings, instead of crust // sauce // cheese // toppings). As far as best places to get it, I'm partial to Pequod's and Gino's East. But places like Giordano's and Lou Malnati's, which have spots all over the city, are pretty good, too. _______________________ Savannah, Ga.:I am planning a trip to Chicago during the Food Festival that the city has every year, but I am still not sure if I will drive or fly with the gas prices being so high. My son wants to fly because he has never been on a plane. But on the other hand I wanted to have a nice road trip to show him the different states on the way there. What should I do? Margaret Lyons:If you're worried about needing a car to get around Chicago, don't be. I don't even have a drivers license! Chicago is very pedestrian-friendly, and the public transit system is pretty easy to navigate. (And if either of you like bikes, there are bike rentals available, too, which is a great way to get around town.) As someone who's road-tripped around the Chicago area a lot, I'll admit there's not a whole lot to see. _______________________ Washington, D.C.:Hi, Margaret. I will be taking a trip to Chicago from July 4-7 with my husband and another couple. We'd love to spend a few hours relaxing at a spa—can you recommend a good one that won't break the bank? Margaret Lyons: My favorite spa is Continuum. It's relatively affordable, and to me a really quintessential Chicago business: small, neighborhood-oriented, and unfailingly kind. I also got the best massage and facial ever there. :) It's pretty far off the beaten path—way on the North Side—so it's also a good see-the-city trip. _______________________ Murfreesboro, Tenn.:My partner and I are going for our very first time in July for a conference, and we have a few days to spend with off-and-on free time. We have tickets to see "Wicked" at the Ford Center on a Sunday afternoon, but other than that, we're not sure what to do. We'd like to eat "up high" (if that makes sense) with a view of the city, and besides going to see the Crate&Barrel flagship store on Michigan Avenue, what other "must-see" stores are there? Thanks! Margaret Lyons: Go see some live comedy! I'm a fan of Second City's etc stage which tends to be a bit more edgy and adventurous than the main stage show. If you like improv, you can see shows at iO pretty much any night of the week, and the later you go, the cheaper it gets. As far as must-see stores go, the Mag Mile has the real mega overwhelming giganto places, but don't skip the State Street drag further south. The old Marshall Fields, which is now a Macy's, is worth visiting for the architecture alone. _______________________ San Francisco, Calif.:Hi, Margaret. My boyfriend and I are traveling to Chicago next week (6/11-14), and one of the things we're looking forward to seeing is the architecture of Chicago. We're huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, and we'd love to see the Prairie Avenue House District. Also, we're adding other things to our itinerary such as visiting the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and Millenium Park, so we don't have too much time. What's the best way to see Chicago's well-known architecture? A tour? Thanks, Jen Margaret Lyons: I sometimes worry that tours sound corny, but the Chicago Architecture Foundation is really the way to go. They run all kinds of great tours (including a FLW one), and their website is also a solid resource for planning a trip. I'm partial to the Robie House in Hyde Park. _______________________ San Francisco, Calif.:Heading to Chicago for a few days next weekend, June 10-13. Are there any local events, exhibitions or festivals I should not miss? Thanks. Margaret Lyons: If you want the most culture for your buck—who doesn't?—I'd say Grant Park Music Festival is the way to go: fantastic classical music in a gorgeous park, and it's free! The Pritzker Pavilion is also its own kind of architectural marvel. _______________________ Highland, Calif.:What are the "Don't Miss", and sometimes overlooked, local restaurants for the best breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Not the popular tourist places, but places where the locals eat when they want a bargain with lots of quality food. Not just downtown, but around the Chicago area, too. Margaret Lyons: I'm nuts about Lula Cafe in Logan Square. The menu changes every week, and I've never been anything less than thrilled with the food there. If you like burgers or beer, Kuma's Corner is fabulous. When I quit being a vegetarian after 10 years, that's the first place I had a burger. _______________________ Jupiter, Fla/:After visiting family in Decatur, Ill., my 16-year-old daughter and I are spending July 11-16 in Chicago. Looking for best transportation from Decatur, Ill. to Chicago & back. Also, any insider scoop on SAFELY experiencing the essence of Chicago in a short period of time is appreciated! Have been researching like crazy and the myriad of options is positively mind boggling. Considering seeing "Wicked", staying at Hotel Indigo, thrift stores are a passion, getting around the town is an unknown challenge to conquer, daughter loves affordable fashions and is considering interior or architectural design as a career. Discounts and bargains are going to be a big help. Is exquisite food in small portions at reasonable prices just a dream? Thanks, I know that's a lot! Cordially, Liz Margaret Lyons: Chicago is a very safe city, so please don't worry about being able to enjoy yourself. The CTA can seem daunting, but get yourself a five-day CTA pass for $18 and a map and you'll do fine. Shopping-wise, in terms of sheer density of stores (and stores that'll appeal to a 16-year-old), I'd say Wicker Park is a good bet. Lots of boutique-y places, a recent influx of used-clothing stores, plus a smattering of higher-end shops, too, make for a very solid day of shopping and wandering around, plus there are dozens of great restaurants right in the area. _______________________ Atlanta, Ga.:I realize this is very generic, but another girlfriend and I are planning to meet in Chicago to visit a 3rd friend (sometime this summer—date undetermined) and would like recommendation for a decent budget hotel in the city. Is airfare from ATL cheaper certain times? Thanks. Margaret Lyons: I had friends in town a few weeks ago and they stayed at the Wicker Park Inn, which is a B&B but isn't like...all up in your business/too cozy. :) If you're planning some quality girls' nights out, it might be worth it to stay more in a night-life zone rather than downtown, where nightlife is pretty limited. Wicker Park (again!) has a ton of bars/restaurants/shopping and tends to be pretty popular. I'm not sure about airfares, but I use kayak and farecast when I'm planning a trip. Also, consider flying into Midway rather than O'Hare—often times flights are cheaper there, and the airport is much, much nicer. There's no real difference in terms of convenience getting into the city, either. _______________________ Detroit, Mich.:We are from metro Detroit and would like to visit Chicago (we plan to drive) to celebrate 15 years of marriage the third weekend in June. We have been to Chicago before but we never seem to do anything exciting or interesting. We pretty much have been to the major attractions in Chicago (at least I think). He is an architecture buff and I love gardens. We are not into the club or mall scene. We do not want to spend a fortune but we do recognize prices have risen. Any suggestions? Margaret Lyons:First off, congratulations. Second off, I'm not into the club or mall scene either. I hear ya. If you've already hit the major attractions, I'd say go out for a fabulous fancy dinner (Blackbird maybe?) and hit the Green Mill for live music. It's a very relaxed, non-sceney place; think romance, not pulsing club beats or anything. _______________________ Newtown, Conn.:Hello, going to Chicago for a long weekend/business trip solo and I have time for 1-2 tours either on Monday June 9th or Thurs June 12—everyone raves about the architectural river tour but which company offers the best version? Should I do one that goes out over Lake Michigan and views the skyline as well as the river tour or just stick with the river tour? Any other "must-dos" or good tours to take (asking because I have a very limited time). I'm staying at the Palmer House Hilton. Thanks for your advice! Margaret Lyons: I'd stick with just the river tour and use the rest of your time for a museum trip. I'd go with Chicago Architecture Foundation tour and skip the Lake Michigan part—I've done it once, and it's cool, kinda', but not at all essential. I like the Museum of Contemporary Art, but my must-see museum in the city has always been the Museum of Science and Industry. _______________________ Margaret Lyons:Thanks, everybody! Chicago's home to some of the best restaurants, theaters, museums and stores in the country—and some of the kindest, most interesting people I know.

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