July 15, 2009

Q: Can you recommend any stylish but well-priced hotels in London? —Charles Cutler, Raleigh, N.C.

A: Just steps from King’s Road, Sydney House Chelsea (doubles from $250) has 21 pastel-hued rooms outfitted with goose-down quilts, leather chairs, and glass-paneled bathrooms. In tony South Kensington, the 150-room Kensington Hotel (doubles from $284)is set within four Victorian town houses; book room No. 123, a studio suite with floor-to-ceiling French windows. The 110-year-old pub Fox & Anchor (doubles from $155), in Clerkenwell, recently opened six modern rooms with Miller Harris toiletries and Bose sound systems.

Q: My son and I want to experience the wildlife of Central America this fall. Do you know of any good tour operators? —John Brown, Naples, Fla.

A: Led by local naturalist Diego Blanco, the Classic Costa Rica excursion from Geographic Expeditions (August 14–23, September 11–20, and October 9–18; from $3,299 per person) takes you through three of the country’s big-name reserves, including Monteverde Cloud Forest, to view macaws, pumas, and nocturnal amphibians. On the new Family trip from Classic Journeys (classicjourneys.com; November 22–28; from $2,995 per person, all-inclusive except air), you’ll stay at central Panama’s Gamboa Rainforest Resort and explore the surrounding jungles, which are teeming with howler monkeys and resplendent quetzals. If you’re looking for a customized itinerary, T+L A-List agent Eric Sheets (prices vary) organizes trips throughout the region; an excursion to northwestern Belize includes three nights at the eco-conscious Chan Chich Lodge, set on a 130,000-acre private reserve that’s home to jaguars, ocelots, and gray foxes.

Q: I’ve heard about the recent “ship within a ship” phenomenon on cruises. What are a few options? —Ana Chan, Brea, Calif.

A: More cruise lines are offering travelers special cabin classes with dedicated VIP areas and other members-only privileges, such as 24-hour butler service. Guests staying in AquaClass staterooms on all Celebrity Solstice (800/437-3111; celebritycruises.com; seven nights from $1,399 per person) ships have unlimited use of the spa’s aromatherapy steam room and priority reservations at the ship’s Blu restaurant. Booking a Samsara Spa suite with Costa Cruises (seven nights from $3,549 per person) allows you to choose from an extensive menu of spa treatments and fitness classes. And with MSC’s Yacht Club (800/666-9333; msccruisesusa.com; seven nights from $5,790 per person), guests have private access to more than 33,000 square feet, including the Top Sail Lounge, a 3,197-square-foot observation deck.

Ask an Expert: T+L Photo Editor Whitney Lawson

Q: “I’m looking for a camera that travels well. Any suggestions?” —Marlyn Smith, Evergreen, Colo.

A: “Thanks to recent advances in speed and portability, it’s a great time to invest in a new camera,” says T+L photo editor Whitney Lawson. “For a basic point-and-shoot, the Kodak Easyshare M1033 Digital Camera ($160) is durable, easy to use, and allows you to combine up to three pictures to create one panoramic image. If you want to take your shooting to the next level, the new Nikon D5000 ($850) is a perfect introduction to digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras—it takes excellent still photos and has a pivoting LCD screen for viewing. And for serious photographers, a top-of-the-line digital option is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II ($3,499, including lens): it’s fast, has a huge battery life, and—best of all—is the first camera to film full HD video. The only downside? At 1.8 pounds, it’s a bit heavy.”

Costa Cruises

Sydney House Hotel

The iron railings, brass doorknocker, and smart Georgian exterior set up the townhouse ambiance at Sydney House in Chelsea. A Grade II listed heritage building located on a quiet residential street, the hotel has seven floors all styled with modern furniture, glass panels, and sunny-hued textiles. The 21 guest rooms also have down duvets and Egyptian cotton linen. Besides 24-hour room service, there is an evening cocktail bar, common-area drawing room, and breakfast service, which includes a baguette with French jam and an English-style cooked breakfast that's available until 6:30 p.m.

Kensington Hotel

Set in the heart of the upscale neighborhood that shares its name, the Kensington is easy walking distance from Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall, and both the Natural History and Victoria & Albert museums. But the hotel is also its own heritage property—a 19th-century Regency-style townhouse, buffed to a high gloss following a $30 million renovation. The 150 rooms and suites here retain a certain period elegance; many have ornate lacquered bedsteads and sideboards, crystal chandeliers, and armchairs in jewel-tone velvet. The bathrooms, though, are slickly modern, with angular vanity basins, walk-in showers, en suites, freestanding tubs, and wall-mounted TVs.

Fox & Anchor

Business and leisure travelers are drawn to this cozy, late Victorian era gastropub near the historic Charterhouse complex—some even find good reason to book a night in one of the six restored rooms upstairs. Located in Clerkenwell on the edge of the Square Mile, Fox & Anchor is within easy walking distance of the West End. Each guest room features a London-focused theme, Miller Harris toiletries, and a freestanding copper bathtub. In addition to serving craft-brewed British ales, the street-level Fox & Anchor uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients to create modern British dishes such as half pint of prawns, fish pie, and English fennel salad.

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