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Ask T+L: Heathrow Country House, Russian Cruises

What country-house hotels are in close proximity to Heathrow?We have a one-night layover, and we want to be pampered on our last night in Europe.
—K.L., Calabasas, Calif.

Is there a better way to end a trip than with a world-class meal, an English garden, and a plush bedroom?You have plenty of options near Heathrow. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (Church Rd., Great Milton; 44-1844/278-881, fax 44-1844/278-847; www.manoir.com; doubles from $345) is just outside Oxford, about 45 minutes from the airport; it's renowned for Raymond Blanc's phenomenal French cooking, a stunning garden, and a VIP clientele. At the Waterside Inn (Ferry Rd., Bray; 44-1628/620-691, fax 44-1628/784-710; www.waterside-inn.co.uk; doubles from $215), owned by Michel Roux — one of the founding chefs of London's Le Gavroche — and located on the banks of the Thames about 30 minutes from Heathrow, you can collapse after dinner on a bed with a handmade mattress in one of the eight rooms. Opulent Cliveden House (Taplow; 44-1628/668-561, fax 44-1628/661-837; www.clivedenhouse.co.uk; doubles from $430), about 20 minutes from the airport, is filled with tapestries, suits of armor, and paneled walls; its extensive plantings are overseen by the National Trust.

If you were flying from Gatwick, by the way, we'd steer you toward Gravetye Manor (near East Grinstead; 44-1342/810-567, fax 44-1342/810-080; www.gravetyemanor.co.uk; doubles from $270), a country-house hotel surrounded by 1,000 acres of gardens and forest about 20 minutes from the airport.

I'll be visiting Aruba shortly, and I've noticed that the hotels often tack on a service charge of 11 or 12 percent. Is this considered a tip?
—P.M., Tuckerton, N.J.

Many resorts in the Caribbean and elsewhere add service charges — also called resort fees — onto the bill. These can run as high as 18 percent of the total; what they cover depends on the resort. At some properties, it's amenities like newspapers, phone service, and shuttle buses — so guests don't feel they're being nickel-and-dimed for such items. At other resorts, it's the use of tennis courts, swimming pools, gyms, and similar recreational facilities. The charges may or may not include tips. The Aruba Marriott, Curtain Bluff on Antigua, and the Cotton House on Mustique, for example, all impose a 10 percent service charge that takes care of gratuities; further tips are left to the guest's discretion.

To avoid surprises, find out about special fees and surcharges when you book a hotel or resort stay. Will you have to pay extra to use the resort's pool and fitness club?Or will you be charged for things you don't plan on using, such as the golf course?Finally, if you're told a service charge will be assessed, simply ask which staff members it covers and whether individual tips are still expected.

I'd like to take a cruise that spends at least one full day in St. Petersburg, preferably in June or July. Any suggestions?
—P.P., Portland, Oreg.

Quite a few, in fact. This is White Nights season, when the sun shines nearly 24 hours, making it the best time of year to cruise the Baltic. Ships of all shapes and sizes visit St. Petersburg this month, some staying overnight. Your choices range from such mainstream operators as Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Norwegian, to midsize luxury ships like the Crystal Symphony and Orient Lines' Marco Polo, to the high-end, yachtlike Seabourn Pride.

There are several ways to find a ship and itinerary that meet your criteria. Your best bet is to use a travel agent. The Web site i-cruise.com lets you pinpoint a particular sailing by port of call, region, month of departure, and other parameters. Check your library for the Official Cruise Guide, published annually by Cahners and beloved by agents for its myriad indexes and cross-references. Its companion Web site is at www.twcrossroads.com/ocg.

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