The Washington Post's Travel section writers and editors recently discussed stories, questions, gripes and more. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: Our family (couple, three teens) are looking for a place where we can rent a house or condo (in a town with at least a grocery store) and go for day hikes nearby without a long trip every day to get to a hiking area. We prefer mountains and fewer people, but anything interesting. We like to take a break every few days, so it's nice to be in a town or within an hour or two of someplace interesting. We loved Grindelwald, Switzerland; Gardiner, Montana; and Mariposa, California and have visited Banff, California. Do you have any recommendations for the U.S. or Canada?
A: The Asheville, North Carolina, area would be a good fit, or Estes Park, Colorado. I am in Alaska at the moment and would highly recommend Talkeetna. For Canada, I suggest Jasper.
- Andrea Sachs
Q: Is the inconsistency in TSA requirements at different airports meant to confuse passengers and keep us on our toes, or is TSA just confused? I recently flew from Norfolk, Virginia to Chicago Midway. In Norfolk I had to remove any electronics larger than a phone along with any food in my carry-on bag, plus the usual shoes, sweaters, etc. Returning back from MDW three days later, they didn't require any electronics or food to be removed. I try to be prepared with that kind of stuff but they make it difficult!
A: It is probably a little bit of both. The TSA has always tried to keep its screening "random and unpredictable" but I don't think it's always intentional. The agency suffers from chronically low employee morale and underperforms on safety tests. So it's hard to tell if it's doing something on purpose or just because it's incompetent. The optimist in me says it's all part of the plan. Yeah, that's it.
- Christopher Elliott
Q: I want to take my kids to Disney World in July or August. Any idea on when the park will be emptiest? I thought the last week of August was good, but the hotel rates are high which usually correlates with high occupancy.
A: August can be really busy at Disney World. Aim for September or October. Look at the blockout dates on the silver pass to find out the busiest times. Blocked mans busy. The first week of August will be a madhouse.
Q: I am travelling to Paris next month with my 85-year-old father (who is hale and hearty) and my 8-year-old daughter. We have already planned a tour of the Louvre and Notre Dame that are geared towards kids. I know about the gardens and the toy sailboats. Any other ideas for "can't miss" for our group?
A: There are several museums you all might enjoy, including ones that highlight magic, natural history and chocolate.
- Carol Sottili
Q: My parents have offered to pay for rental house for a family vacation next winter to somewhere warm. The group will include our two kids, who will be 3 and 1 . We want somewhere that is a direct flight from the Washington area, has nice beaches, toddler friendly, and an interesting town with good restaurants/bars. So far, we have discussed Delray Beach, Florida; Key West, Florida and Aruba. Any other suggestions?
A: I vote for somewhere along the southwest coast of Florida between Marco Island and Sanibel Island. Naples has great restaurants and bars and lovely hotels, but it's pricey. Sanibel Island is very kid friendly. Marco Island had some hurricane damage, but should be good by then. There's a very nice Hyatt Residence Club in Bonita Springs. No guarantees it will be warm in winter, although chances are good. Aruba is best bet for guaranteed good weather, and Southwest flies nonstop from BWI.
Q: My passport expires next year, and I am planning a trip to Ireland, also next year. When I renew it, is the expiration date of the new passport calculated from the date that they process the renewal, or from the expiration date of the current one?
A: From the date of processing. The unused months on your old passport don't roll over to your new one.
Q: I get that it's mostly people with an axe to grind that write the really horrible reviews, but is Aer Lingus as bad as it looks on TripAdvisor? We're planning a trip to Ireland and they have far and away the best fares, but the negative press gives me pause.
A: I take TripAdvisor reviews with a grain of salt. Skytrax gives it four out of five stars, and reviews on its site give it a seven out of ten rating.