How can we plan a Harry Potter—themed trip to Britain with our Hogwarts-obsessed 10-year-old?
—W.L., Summit, N.J.
Though the books use mostly fictional sites, here are some places that will satisfy a hunger for Harry. King's Cross station in London is where Harry boards the train for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry from the nonexistent Track 93/4. For a peek into British boarding school life, visit 15th-century Eton College (Windsor; 44-1753/671-177; open for tours March—October), about 20 miles west of London, where the schoolboys—all Muggles, we presume—dress in swallow-tailed coats. You might also visit some of the locations featured in the Warner Bros. movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, out this November: Christ Church college (44-1865/276-150) and the Bodleian Library (tours daily; 44-1865/277-224), both at Oxford University, and Alnwick Castle (Alnwick; 44-1665/510-777; open daily April—October), used as a Hogwarts stand-in (it's 350 miles north of London and 35 miles from the Scottish border). Potter author J. K. Rowling, by the way, lives in Edinburgh and still frequents the cafés where she began writing the books. You might glimpse her at the Elephant House or Nicolson's Restaurant.
We're not exactly thrill seekers, but friends keep recommending that we take our eight-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter on a rafting trip. Should we go—and how do we plan such an adventure? —M.W., Madison, Wis.
Depending on which river you run, rafting can be as exciting or as languid as you want. It's great even for comfort-loving types, because the schlep factor is low: guides do the rowing, camp setup, and cooking—some even deliver morning coffee to your tent. Rivers are rated on a scale of Class I (easiest) to Class VI (unrunnable). Children under eight are usually welcome on Class I—II rivers; kids 10 and up can handle most Class III expeditions. Two great rivers for first-timers are the Class I—III upper New River in West Virginia (an outfitter to consider is Class VI River Runners, 304/574-0704; www.800classVI.com) and the Class II San Juan River in Utah (try Holiday Expeditions, 800/624-6323; www.holidayexpeditions.com). Parents of teens, note: Oregon's pool-and-drop Class III Rogue River (for a high-end ride, check out Abercrombie & Kent, 800/323-7308; www.abercrombiekent.com) and Idaho's roller coaster—like Class III Main Salmon River (contact O.A.R.S., 800/346-6277; www.oars.com) will thrill even the surliest among them.
What tips are appropriate at the end of a week's stay—a happy one—at a hotel or resort? —E.C., Pasadena, Calif.
We polled frequent travelers, both big spenders and cheapskates, and compared their opinions with our own. Here's the consensus: Hotel housekeepers—the workers most often stiffed—should get $1 to $5 per night. Bellmen should be tipped $1 to $2 a bag when they show you to your room and $5 when you check out. Hotel concierges don't need to be tipped for dispensing simple advice, but they should be given $10 to $50 for special services. At an all-inclusive resort, where a 15 percent gratuity charge is added to just about everything, you might reward a particularly helpful staffer—a counselor in the children's program, for example, with $50 to $100 at the end of a week's stay. On an outfitted trip, it's customary to tip your tour guide around $10 for each day of the trip. In general, carry lots of dollar bills—asking for change from someone you want to tip is almost as tacky as not tipping. For international customs, see www.tipping.org.
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