My sister and I are hatching a plot to spend our usual family Christmas visit someplace nice and warm, and I wonder if you can point us toward locations that might please all parties involved, including my 70-year-old mother, golf-playing brother-in-law and two very active 4-year-old girls. We're thinking Mexico, Costa Rica or Belize.
Watch for the publication in late October of a book called "Tropical Family Vacations in the Caribbean, Hawaii, South Florida and Mexico," by Laura Sutherland (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999). More than 20 Caribbean islands are covered, as are Mexico's Pacific Coast, Baja California and Mayan Riveria -- the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Costa Rica, Belize and Mexico all offer something-for-everyone vacation areas. Costa Rica and Belize are especially attractive to those who like the outdoor eco-explorer scene. Here are some sources:
Belize was once known mainly as a scuba diving and snorkeling location because of its huge barrier reef, but in recent years has also cultivated eco-tourism and its Mayan past. Large parts of its rain forest have been designated as wildlife areas. The youngsters would probably be bored by the wilderness areas, but the zoo outside Belize City would be a treat, and they would enjoy the beach resort life of Ambergris Caye. San Ignacio on the western edge of the country has become a center for tourists exploring forests and ruins. You can fish, kayak, spelunk and look for jaguars -- but don't get your hopes up for golf. The country has no courses yet, although a membership-only course, Caye Chapel Golf Resort and Marina, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2000, according to the tourist board. Belize information is available by calling (800) 624-0686.
Costa Rica, on the other hand, does have several worthy golf courses and more are on the way. The country's oldest 18-hole course, dating to 1972, is the Cariari Country Club, part of the Melia Cariari Conference Center and Golf Resort, although only members or resort guests can play there. Two 18-hole championship-quality courses opened in 1997 -- the Melia Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort and the Rancho Las Colinas Golf & Country Club -- and three more were scheduled to open this year. A company called Costa Rica Golf Adventures specializes in golf packages, phone (888) 261-6645.
Costa Rica has its own range of beach and eco-adventure destinations, including an aerial tram through the rain forest canopy. Contact the <a target="new" href="Costa Rica Tourist Board, phone (800) 343-6332, or check out TicoNet.
The Mexican Ministry of Tourism site has a huge amount of information on lodging and destination cities. If you click on "search the Web site" and use "family" as your search term, you'll get a list of hits that includes "travel with family." It describes at least eight cities and sketches family-friendly attractions. In the same file is a section on senior travel, too.
My fianci and I will be married at the end of June next year and we plan to have a nontraditional but affordable honeymoon in the New England area. There seems to be so much to see and do, where should we start?
Start by browsing around NewEngland.com, a site affiliated with Yankee magazine, which is packed with destination articles and other planning assistance such as "best of New England vacations." If you search for "honeymoon," you'll also find about a dozen inns and B&Bs with honeymoon suites or specials and, for the Inn at Mystic, Conn., the irresistible note that Bogey and Bacall honeymooned there.
Among guidebooks are "Romantic Weekends New England," by Patricia and Robert Foule (Hunter Travel Guides, 1998), "The Discerning Traveler's Guide to Romantic Hideaways of New England," by David and Linda Glickstein (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999), and "Hidden New England," by Susan Farewell (Ulysses Press, 5th edition 1998.)
Most of the online wedding sites have honeymoon sections that are good for ideas and first-person reports. Check out The Knot, the Ultimate Internet Wedding Guide, the Weddingpages, WayCool Weddings and OurMarriage.com.
Where can I find names of companies that offer insurance for when you're abroad?
The State Department publishes a brochure called Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, which includes advice on the issue and a listing of insurance companies. There's also a section about health insurance as part of the department's brochure.
Foreign hospitals and doctors often require cash payment for their services, and several companies offer travel medical-care programs that help ensure you can find and obtain care quickly when you need it.
Before exploring such programs, travelers should check with their regular insurance providers to see whether benefits apply to medical expenses when outside of the country. Even if an insurance company will ultimately cover medical costs, U.S. coverage probably won't pay them directly or immediately.
Another source of medical help abroad is the International Association of Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT). It's a nonprofit group whose directory provides help finding doctors who speak either English or French in addition to their mother tongue and who have had medical training in a Western country.
Anyone can belong to IAMAT, which does not charge for membership but asks for a donation. Besides a membership card that entitles the bearer to services and the fixed IAMAT rates charged by participating physicians, members get the directory of IAMAT physicians in 125 countries and territories. IAMAT physicians agree to a set payment schedule for the first visits for members.
Besides the directory, for $25 IAMAT offers publications pertaining to malaria and other diseases and a set of global weather charts. To enroll or for further information, contact IAMAT at 417 Center Street, Lewiston, NY 14092; phone (716) 754-4883.