Four countries in three weeks is too many

On the move ... Achill Island, Ireland.
On the move ... Achill Island, Ireland. Photo: Alamy

We are planning to go to Europe for four weeks with our three adult daughters and one son-in-law. We plan on spending a week in Ireland and the rest of the time in Germany, France, Italy and Austria. Should we hire or lease a car as Europasses are $1000 a person, which works out to $6000 in total? Would we easily get family accommodation for four or six people? How do you find out the best places to see in each country; any particular books or magazines to read apart from your great articles?
- L. Hickey, Irymple.

Hiring a car sounds like a great idea. With six people plus luggage, you are going to need a people mover, such as the Renault Grand Espace, which is nominally a seven-seater. Another option would be to hire two smaller vehicles. This will certainly make it easier to find parking spaces, which in Europe are far less generous than the ones you are probably used to.

You may find the price difference between these two options is minimal and possibly even in favour of the two-vehicle solution. Car leasing might be a good bet. The minimum lease period is 21 days but do a price comparison between a leasing agency such as Renault Eurodrive (renaulteurodrive.com.au) and a car-hire broker such as Auto Europe (autoeurope.com.au).

Disney Wonder cruise ship.
Disney Wonder cruise ship. Photo: Alamy

You are probably going to need three hotel rooms, so you should book well ahead. Travel guidebooks will help you sort out your itinerary and the Eyewitness Guides and Frommer's are both solid choices. One website I like a lot is Via Michelin (travel.viamichelin.com). It has clever, offbeat ideas that will add something special to your travels. The main website has a fabulous route planner with turn-by-turn instructions.

Your travel plans sound ambitious. Four countries in 21 days is a hasty program, and there is a lot to see along the way. My preference is to spend about three days in each place and explore the vicinity, which is more rewarding and relaxing than trying to rush around to see everything. European motorways will not provide you with fond memories. Three countries would be more than enough.

 

Spend a week with Mickey amid Alaskan wonder

We are looking at taking our children to Disneyland in California in September next year and exploring the US west coast up to Seattle, including San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. I would love to get to Alaska. Are there child-friendly cruises (ours will be seven and nine) that are less than five days, or are we better to do this by land — if so, where is a good spot to base ourselves, Juneau or Ketchikan?
- K. Thomas, Blackburn, VIC.

From Seattle you have a big choice of Alaska cruises, but not in five days. According to Meg Hill from Cruise Express (cruiseexpress.com.au), Disney Wonder offers the best family-friendly cruise option in Alaska, with seven-day, round-trip sailings operating from Vancouver from May to September next year.

"Disney Wonder offers family cabins and fantastic Disney stage shows as well as Disney characters who wander the decks," Hill says.

"A cruise to Alaska includes your transport, accommodation, on-board meals and entertainment. Seeing Alaska by basing yourself in one of the local towns would be far more expensive and time-consuming.

"Almost all cruises to Alaska are seven days in duration.

"You can always leave a cruise part-way through the itinerary but cruise lines require you to pay for the cabin for the duration of the trip, so you may as well complete the full seven-day cruise." Seattle to Vancouver is a four-hour coach trip.

 

Hatching a plan for turtle eggs

My group of four is travelling to Sandakan, Sabah, in December this year. We wish to go to Selingan/Turtle Island in order to see the eggs hatching. We have been told to book through Crystal Quest, which runs the overnight trips at the best price, rather than to go through a travel agency for up to five times the cost. However, we have not been able to contact them. Do you have any suggestions on how we should get to Selingan and see the turtles?
- R. Bellamy, Armadale, VIC.

Selingan is one of three islands that make up the Turtle Island Park, about 40 kilometres north of Sandakan. This is a protected area for green and hawksbill turtles, since their eggs are collected at many other beaches throughout this region, thus threatening the survival of the species.

Turtles come ashore to lay their eggs all year round. You need permission to visit the park and the only agency licensed to issue permits and organise tours is indeed Crystal Quest. Their office is at Sabah Park Jetty, Jalan Buli Sim-Sim, Sandakan. The postal address is PO Box 848, 90719, Sandakan, phone +60 8921 2711 or email cquest1996@gmail.com.

The Crystal Quest tour boat departs from the Sabah Parks jetty at Jalan Buli Sim-Sim at 9.30am and takes about an hour to reach Selingan. You can overnight on the island and this is what you need to do since turtles come ashore and lay their eggs at night. The hours immediately before and after sunrise are when the hatchlings will emerge from their eggs and make a beeline for the water. The viewing of the egg-laying females and the release of the hatchlings is monitored and controlled by park rangers.

 

Life begins at ... Phuket

My mum, sister and I are planning a trip with another mum and her two daughters who happen to be our childhood best friends. All the daughters will be 40 together for exactly five days, so are planning to celebrate this milestone with a trip. We are unsure where to go, of somewhere that will cater for our mums, as well as us girls. Shopping and lying in the sun are our only priorities.
- M. Cooper, Sydney.

Shopping, sun - and let's throw nice food, decent prices and zippy nightlife into the mixing bowl - and, to me, that spells Thailand.

Your time is short so I'm going for Phuket, since you can fly there direct from Sydney with Jetstar (jetstar.com).

You might look for accommodation somewhere north of Patong, around Pansea, Kamala and pretty little Surin - a personal favourite. Set back from Surin Beach, Twin Palms (twinpalms-phuket.com) is a modestly plush, low-rise resort with all the trimmings and the price tag is great.

If you want to ramp up the shopping side of the trip, you might consider a night or two in Bangkok on the way home. Start at the MBK shopping mall.

 

Digiwatch

Whether you're out for a feast or a takeaway pizza, Urbanspoon is the must-have app for the global galloper. Urbanspoon uses your location to find local dining options, or you can select another area. You can also search by cuisine type and cost, with selections pinpointed on a map. For each diner, you get food-critic reviews plus feedback from picky eaters who show no fear when a restaurant fails to impress.

 

If you have travel questions, we'd love to hear from you. Write to travelshd@fairfaxmedia.com.au and include the name of your suburb or town in your letter. Personal correspondence cannot be entered into. Only questions appearing in print will be answered. One published letter each week will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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