Tripologist: Island hop

Hayman Island.
Hayman Island. 

I have a conference in July on Hamilton Island and would like to fly the family up for a holiday nearby. It would be myself, my husband and our children aged 5 and 7. Happy to stay on Hamilton Island if that is what you recommend, or happy to go elsewhere that is easy to get to from Hamilton. Ideally something that has facilities for the kids but that is not too tired and is also great for adults.

- N. Howe, Rose Bay

July is school holidays and also the time when the southern hordes will be looking for some winter warmth, which means busy times on Hamilton Island. If you want something a little quieter and more exclusive, try Hayman Island (hayman.com.au), pictured. An easy boat ride from Hamilton, Hayman closed for several months for a complete makeover following the 2011 cyclones and it's looking better than ever with a choice of room styles, lots of dining options, a great spa and several swimming pools as well as heaps of aquatic activities and plenty of family-friendly activities to keep your children occupied. If you want some quality time to yourselves, the Hayman Kids Club comes to the rescue and during the school holidays, your older child can pick up some kayak skills or learn to make choux pastry with the Kids Club Ranger Program.

Independents for Alaska

I am interested in seeing Alaska and the Inside Passage in 2012. Is there an alternative to the large cruise ships (and the thousands of people that go with them) that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Can you see this area easily as an independent tourist?

- L. O'Neill, Neutral Bay

While large vessels can offer cheaper fares due to economies of scale, small cruise ships have much higher operating costs relative to the number of passengers they carry and so their fares are much higher.

One small-ship cruise operator that bridges the gap is InnerSea Discoveries (innerseadiscoveries.com). A sister operation to the respected American Safari Cruises, InnerSea operates several expeditionary-style cruises through Alaskan waters aboard vessels that carry between 12 and 86 passengers. They come with heaps of experience and a solid reputation. In 2012, their Alaska cruises start at $US1795 ($1755) a person in a twin-share cabin. If you want sole occupancy of a cabin, you will pay a surcharge of 50 per cent. Port taxes and fees add another $US167 to the price tag.

Cheaper still is the Alaska Marine Highway System (dot.state.ak.us/amhs), the ferry service that connects towns and islands along the Alaskan seaboard. Fares are reasonable and you could easily plot an itinerary as an independent traveller but this is a point-to-point passenger/car service. The ferry will not stop to allow you to hop into a sea kayak and explore, or watch while a glacier calves into the sea. If you want to see Alaska's coast at its spectacular best, a small-ship adventure cruise is the way to go.

New Bristol flight just the ticket for Venice

In June we will need to get from Moreton-in-Marsh in England's Cotswolds to Venice on the same day. We are confused as to the best way to go, either from Heathrow or Gatwick. Do we need to book that flight now? We plan on two nights in Venice before joining our cruise on the Aegean Odyssey. Is it better to book a hotel near the harbour, making it easier to access the ship, or to book one in the centre of Venice, which is better for sightseeing? Not wanting to use expensive taxis, how difficult is it to get from the centre of Venice to the port? Can you suggest a reasonably priced hotel in the centre of Venice or one near the harbour?

- R. van Hilst, Taree

Why not make life easier for yourselves and fly from Bristol to Venice? In March this year, Ryanair (ryanair.com) will commence flights between the two cities. This should be a far more convenient option for you from the Cotswolds than either Gatwick or Heathrow and it's also cheap. Ryanair flies to Treviso Airport rather than to Marco Polo, which is the main airport for Venice. However, Treviso is only about 20 kilometres from Venice and there are bus connections to Venice-Mestre railway station, just across the channel from the city of Venice. From here a shuttle train service operates to Santa Lucia Station, Venice's main station, located on the Grand Canal with easy access to the city by vaporetto, the public water bus. Book your flight now to take advantage of low-price fares.

The Venice Cruise Terminal is near the causeway that links the city with the mainland. The best way to get there is to take a vaporetto No.1 or No.2 along the Grand Canal to Piazzale Roma. From Piazzale Roma a free shuttle bus operates to the cruise terminal. To find it, walk away from the Grand Canal and look for the bus on the left side of Piazzale Roma.

There is no need to look for a hotel close to the harbour, the centre of Venice is where all the action happens. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo (alpontemocenigo.com) is a backstreet gem, a two-star hotel with just 10 rooms in a prime position close to the Rialto Bridge, with an outstanding reputation for character and friendliness. Book now.

Hunting for a Hawaiian house

We are a group of four couples travelling to various locations and meeting up for two weeks in Hawaii in September. We are planning to spend one week on both Maui and Kauai and were hoping to share the hire of a house. However, with the exception of the odd "luxury" house, there don't seem to be any houses for holiday rental on the websites I have searched. Is this type of accommodation not popular in the US or am I just not looking on the right sites?

- S. Korch, Eastwood

There are plenty of four-bedroom properties for holiday rental on Maui and Kauai, assuming that is what you are looking for. Prices start at about $US300 ($293) a night, although they are thin on the ground at that level. You should find plenty of options between $US550 and $US1200 a night. Hawaiian Beach Rentals (hawaiianbeachrentals.com), Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com), VacationRentals, (vacationrentals.com) and HomeAway (homeaway.com) are just a few of the websites to check.

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