A friend and I are planning -- horribly and unconscionably late -- to attend the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans this year. At this late date (Mardi Gras itself is March 7), have you any suggestions for finding cheap lodgings?
If it makes you feel any better, thousands of other people will, like you, glance at the calendar over the next few weeks and realize that they meant to plan a Mardi Gras trip. The weak-willed will put it off until another year, but many others, in full Mardi Gras spirit, will charge ahead.
Go for it.
Even the city's dives jack up their prices in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, and of course they're booked up nearly a year in advance. The key to keeping your housing costs down is teaming up with others. This doesn't necessarily mean sleeping five to a hotel room.
Many residents of New Orleans cash in on the holiday by staying with relatives and renting their homes to outsiders. I once phoned a New Orleans office and asked an acquaintance if she knew anyone renting his or her space. She put the phone aside and I heard her holler: "Soo-zahn, Soo-zahn, are you doin' the Mardi Gras theeng thees year wit' your house?" Soo-zahn, scenting green, didn't miss a beat, and I ended up in a great townhouse complete with garden and Mardi Gras cake.
Even so, you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 per night, but if you can find someone for a four-way split, that's not bad.
You can locate properties and potential housemates using Mardi Gras sites and user groups. You want to be careful about whom you're dealing with and making payments, but in Internet time, you've got plenty of time to make some arrangement. Start your search at Mardi Gras Availability.
For planning, the celebration Bible is "Arthur Hardy's New Orleans Mardi Gras Guide," the 2000 edition of which costs $3.95 at local newsstands, or you can send a check (made out to "Mardi Gras Guide") for $7, postage included, to Mardi Gras Guide, Box 19500, New Orleans, LA 70179; phone (504) 838-6111.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau also has a packet of Mardi Gras information, including a schedule for parades, background information and housing sources. Call (800) 672-6124. Other sites worth checking are InsideNewOrleans.com and BigEasy.com.
My family is planning a trip to France in July. One person in our party has difficulty walking more than several blocks. Can you suggest a place that might rent a motorized scooter or wheelchair while in Paris and the Riviera?
Paris isn't the best city in the world for getting around by scooter or wheelchair, what with its cobblestone and older features. But you can find help through several books and agencies.
One company with much experience arranging trips in Paris, including for travelers who need scooters, is Accessible Journeys, 35 W. Sellers Ave., Ridley Park, PA 19078; phone (800) 846-4573. Accessible Journeys has a Paris page, complete with photos of travelers using scooters. The company has a contact there who occasionally has a scooter available; it's a matter of timing.
A guidebook that goes straight to the heart of your question is "Access in Paris: A Guide for Those Who Have Problems Getting Around," by Gordon Couch and Ben Roberts (Cimino Publishing Group, 1994). It hasn't been updated, but might still be helpful to you. Excerpts are available at the Disabilitynet site. Visit Paris Tourisme's Paris A to Z pages and search for "disabled." There you'll find several phone numbers for outfits that help mobility-impaired visitors get around.
Among other sites to check are the Access-Able Travel Source and the Travelin' Talk Network, which provides information on assistance to travelers with disabilities. You may well locate someone with first-hand experience through one of these groups.
A key organization is the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped, and its site offers many links, including a section on tour operators and agencies than can help you make plans.
My wife and are line-dance fans, and we're planning a trip to Nashville and other areas in the South-Central U.S. Do you know of an organization or publication that lists the names of clubs like the Wild Horse Saloon that have country line-dancing?
There's a lot of dance club information available, but much of it is geared to professional dancers, not people looking for a vacation itinerary. And because clubs come and go fairly quickly, it's hard for a guidebook to keep up. But country dancing magazines have articles and ads that may help you, and anytime you see a country-Western clothing store while traveling, you can bet it will be a hotbed of information on dancing.
One Web site with all the right moves is the Ultimate Country Dance Hall List, which includes clubs and honky-tonks throughout the U.S, with state-by-state links. Through the links you can find dance halls and country bars, dance demonstrations, social groups, instructors and radio stations. Armed with that information, you will have no trouble planning your line-dance vacation. The Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville, by the way, is open daily and offers a restaurant, concerts, TV tapings and live shows. There's a cover charge after 5 p.m. The phone number is (615) 251-1000.