If you're thinking of taking a cruise with young children, you'll want to be sure the ship has age-appropriate programs and child-care facilities.
CruiseCompete.com is offering guidelines specific to each cruise line that can help you make the right decision.
Most cruise lines have a minimum age for children to sail, according to CruiseCompete, with ages ranging from 3 months on Disney ships to 12 years on Viking River Cruises.
Some cruise lines, like Oceania, Silversea and Seabourn, allow children onboard but are designed primarily for adults or mature travelers and do not offer child care or programs for kids, CruiseCompete says.
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At the other extreme, Disney Cruise Line offers extensive activities for all age groups, including one of the best programs for infant care, CruiseCompete says, with nurseries that accept babies as young as 12 weeks. Parents should expect to carry a pager, as attendants do not change diapers.
Many other lines also offer some baby-sitting services, sometimes for a fee and sometimes for free, depending on the line and the age of the child.
A number of cruise lines also provide free play spaces for younger children and areas where teenagers can hang out with their peers, along with games, sports and other structured activities.
Carnival Cruise Lines has a youth program called Camp Carnival, designed for 2-11 year olds. Children younger than 2 can also play with the toys during designated family play times, though parents must be present, and some baby-sitting services are offered for children under 2 as well.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 have nurseries and children's centers with toys, games and activities where children age 1 or older can participate without their parents. Both ships also offer family pool areas.
Norwegian offers youth programs and group baby-sitting for children ages 2-12, including a FreeStyle Play period where all age groups play together and a Kid's Crew program.
Royal Caribbean has activities for a variety of age groups and recently won an award from another Web site, CruiseCritic.com, as the best cruise line for families. CruiseCompete notes that Royal Caribbean has play groups for babies 6-18 months that parents can attend with their children, and its new ship, Oasis of the Seas, has a nursery with day and night child-care options for children as young as six months old.
Airfares forecast for the holidays
Priceline.com says average holiday airfares for Thanksgiving and the December holiday season are getting more expensive, but airfares vary depending on exactly which day you fly.
As of early November, the average published price of a round-trip airline ticket home for Thanksgiving was $387, about 12 percent higher than a year ago, Priceline.com said. The average price of a round-trip ticket for the December holiday period was approximately $435, a 10 percent increase over a year ago.
Average fares are based on all published-price round-trip tickets booked the first week of November by Priceline.com customers for travel during the holiday periods.
"In October, when we first looked at holiday airfares, we found that they were averaging 10 percent lower than a year ago," said Priceline.com spokesman Brian Ek. "Now, with the reduced seat capacity at many major airlines and holiday ticket demand starting to peak, fares are moving up."
For the lowest fares, Priceline.com recommends that travelers try Nov. 23, 26 (Thanksgiving Day), 27 and 30. Highest fares were showing up for Nov. 20, 25 and 29.
For the December holidays, Priceline found the lowest fares on Dec. 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, 31 and Jan. 5, with highest fares on Dec. 17, 18, 19 and Jan. 2, 3 and 4.
To see the best travel days and sample airfares for specific itineraries, check out Priceline.com's customized Best Days To Fly Calendar at www.priceline.com/flights.
Other advice from Priceline: Pick times of the day that are normally less busy, like early morning, 5-7 a.m., or after 8 p.m. Peak business travel hours are generally the most expensive, 8 -10 a.m. and 5 -7 p.m.
End the decade in Times Square
Say goodbye to 2009 in Times Square when the famous ball drops at midnight on New Year's Eve.
The ball that descends the flagpole atop One Times Square is a 12-foot geodesic sphere weighing 11,875 pounds, covered in 2,668 crystals and powered by 32,256 LED lights that create millions of colors and patterns in a kaleidoscopic effect. The ball is lit and raised at around 6 p.m. on New Year's Eve, then dropped at midnight after a countdown by the crowd.
Visitors can also offer their wishes for the new year at the Times Square Information Center on Broadway between 46th and 47th streets. The wishes will be written on pieces of paper, displayed on a Confetti Wishing Wall at the information center, and then included in the shower of confetti that rains down on New Year's Eve. Specific dates for the Confetti Wishing Wall will be posted at www.timessquarenyc.org.
And if you can't wait to leave 2009 behind, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment are also planning a Good Riddance Day in Duffy Square (45th-47th streets, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue) where you can write down those bad memories and shred them. The date will be posted at www.timessquarenyc.org.
For general visitor information, go to www.nycgo.com.
Las Vegas New Year's fireworks back to rooftops
New Year's Eve fireworks will return to the rooftops of Las Vegas Strip hotels to ring in 2010 after ground-level displays disappointed revelers last year, event and county officials said.
"We're moving the fireworks show back to where it should be," said Pat Christenson, president of the event promoter, Las Vegas Events.
Christenson said the $550,000 fireworks show will be fired from atop seven tall hotels lining Las Vegas Boulevard. The street will again be closed to form a pedestrian mall for the event that tourism officials have dubbed "America's Party."
Plans call for fireworks to be shot from the Stratosphere tower, the MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island and Venetian hotels, and the Aria Resort & Casino at MGM Mirage's CityCenter complex. Aria is set to open in December.
Christenson conceded that last year's low-trajectory pyrotechnics disappointed some of the estimated 250,000 people attending what became an annual aerial fireworks event in 2001.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the producer of the show, Fireworks by Grucci, began working last January to meet fire and building regulations.
The fireworks were not held this past New Year's Eve because of concerns that followed a spectacular three-alarm blaze ignited by welders' sparks at the Monte Carlo hotel-casino in January 2008. No one was seriously hurt, although 6,000 guests and employees had to evacuate the hotel.
100, 300, 500 and 1000 ideas
Looking for inspiration for your next trip?
Five new travel books offer ideas in multiples of 100.
- The 2010 edition of Travel + Leisure's "100 Greatest Trips" shows the upscale magazine's editors suggesting some surprisingly down-to-earth destinations, such as the Jersey Shore, Niagara Falls, and Milford, Pa., mixed in with more exotic locales like the Brazilian beach town of Trancoso, and Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands off Malaysia's northwest coast.
- If the idea of voluntourism is appealing to you, check out Frommer's "500 Places Where You Can Make A Difference." Listings include an animal shelter in Vieques, Puerto Rico; orphanages in Bulgaria and Cambodia; and 10 places where you can learn a language while teaching English as a volunteer, including La Ceiba, Honduras, and Wuhu, China.
- Also new from Frommer's is "300 Unmissable Events & Festivals Around the World," from the State Fair of Texas, in Dallas, starting late September, to the rose festival held in Morocco's Dades Valley mid to late May, when millions of rose petals are crushed to make rosewater and rose oil. Other phenomena and events include the flamingo migration March-June, in Botswana; the summer solstice at Stonehenge; Hemingway Days in Key West, Fla., in late July, and the Buenos Aires Tango Festival, held in August.
- From Lonely Planet comes "1000 Ultimate Experiences," organized into categories like "Top 10 places to go skinny-dipping" (including Formentera, Spain); "Dreamiest fairy-tale destinations" (Germany's Black Forest), "Ultimate party cities" (bet you hadn't heard the buzz about Baku, Azerbaijan), and "Essential experiences to make time stand still" (Petra, Jordan).
- And from National Geographic comes "Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe," including the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in Thailand, held each fall; the oldest street market in Rome, Campo dei Fiori; the bourbon distilleries of Kentucky; and La Rioja, Spain, recommended for its fall wine harvest. The listings are divided into sections such as markets, seasonal items, street food and desserts, and the book also includes top 10 lists.
The Isle of Palms is one of the of places that offer best dining with views of the water; others include The Boathouse at Breach Inlet and top old-fashioned candy stores includes Economy Candy on New York's Lower East Side.
- The Associated Press