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Ask T+L: Hotels in Venice, Flight Refunds, Seashells

Q. My fiancé and I are planning to spend our honeymoon in Venice. We want romance, but where to stay? —U.C., Greensburg, Pa.

A. Just about any hotel in La Serenissima will have its share of romance, especially if you're within view of a canal. Be sure to have a Bellini at Harry's Bar, gaze at the Tintorettos at the Scuola Grande de San Rocco, and splurge on a gondola ride. Small, charming hotels and pensiones abound; here are a few of the more intimate ones. The sumptuous Grand Hotel dei Dogi (Canareggio 3500, Fondamenta Madonna dell'Orto; 39-041/220-8111, fax 39-041/722-278; www.boscolohotels.com/hotelseng/dogi; doubles from $319) is in the former French Embassy on the north side of town, and thus a bit off the tourist track. The Pensione Accademia Villa Maravege (Dorsoduro 1058, Fondamenta Bolliani; 39-041/521-0188, fax 39-041/523-9152; www.pensioneaccademia.it; doubles from $162) has a lot for the lira, particularly its vast gardens and location right on the Grand Canal. Another less expensive option is the discreet and elegant Locanda ai Santi Apostoli (4391/A Strada Nuova; 39-041/521-2612, fax 39-041/521-2611; doubles from $137), in a 15th-century palazzo. Venice's poshest hotel may also possess its most romantic spot: Cip's Club, one of the restaurants at the Hotel Cipriani (Giudecca 10; 800/223-6800 or 39-041/520-7744, fax 39-041/520-3930; www.hotelcipriani.it; doubles from $637), with its perfect views of the city from Giudecca island.

Q. I heard about a Web site that offers partial refunds when a flight you book on it winds up being late or canceled. Aren't passengers entitled to refunds anyway? —A.W., Houston, Tex.

A. The Web site is Biztravel.com, which last May announced a limited on-time performance guarantee. If you book through Biztravel.com on Air France, American, British Airways, Continental, Japan Airlines, or US Airways, and the flight arrives 30 minutes late, the company will refund $100 to you; if it's an hour late, it gives back $200. A delay of more than two hours — or an outright cancellation — entitles you to a full refund. Unfortunately for Biztravel, the month after its announcement was the worst in aviation history for flight delays. "By the end of the year we'd paid out about $1.5 million," says Justin Shaw, vice president of Biztravel, "which is actually a small investment compared to what our competitors spend on advertising and public relations." But however you book, airlines are under no obligation to you for a delayed or canceled flight. If the inconvenience is serious, most will offer passengers a phone card and meal voucher — and sometimes a hotel room if you're stranded overnight — but don't expect reimbursement. Their sole legal obligation is to get you, eventually, to your final destination. The only time a carrier is required to compensate you is when you're bumped from an oversold flight.

Q. My husband and I are regular visitors to Sanibel Island, Florida, where we enjoy hunting for shells on the beach. Other than Sanibel, what are some of the world's best shelling beaches? —L.C., Naperville, Ill.

A. Sanibel and its neighboring islands are popular among collectors for the copious seashells that wash up on the shore. According to Dr. Paula Mikkelsen, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, the shells are trapped along Sanibel's southern coast, which runs perpendicular to the mainland and the prevailing currents in the Gulf of Mexico. Peggy Williams, president of a tour company called Shell Elegant (941/355-2291; www.shelltrips.com), recommends Jeffrey's Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where you can find highly sought-after cowries, cone shells, and other exotic specimens. She also likes Venezuela's Margarita Island, as well as Australia (where you'll have to get a permit to take your finds home). But beachcombing is chancy, Williams says, and yields fewer pristine specimens; serious conchologists prefer to scour intertidal flats and sandbars or to snorkel or dive for live mollusks, especially in such reef-rich places as Fiji, Hawaii, Belize, and Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

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