My wife and I want to enjoy Venice the way the Venetians have done for centuries—by water. How can we rent a small boat that we ourselves could pilot for several days?
—E.C., Massillon, Ohio
According to the Italian Tourist Board (212/245-5095; www.italiantourism.com), visitors to Venice need a boating license to drive anything over 25 horsepower (and most boats are). However, the necessary paperwork is confusing and time-consuming, and in any case hotels rarely rent unchaperoned boats to guests.
It's much easier to simply rent a boat, driver included. Hotels like the Cipriani (39-041/520-7744; www.cipriani.orient-express.com) offer private, chauffeured boat tours for about $64 per hour. You'll pay roughly the same for a planned excursion with Canal Grande—the company also rents tour and taxi boats (39-041/971-692; www.canalgrande.it).
I'm thinking of going to Transylvania next October for Halloween, to visit the castles of Count Dracula. Do you have any advice?
C.B., Aliso Viejo, Calif.
Halloween isn't widely celebrated in Romania, but there are certainly enough sights for Dracula fans who want to visit at that time. The Transylvanian Society of Dracula is an international group whose own Company of Mysterious Journeys organizes three Halloween "initiation" tours of the supernatural, each one supposedly scarier than the last—"level 3 is generally reserved for experienced TSD members and for survivors of lesser levels" (phone and fax 40-1/679-4252; eight-day packages start at $619 without airfare). The culmination of each trip is a masked ball at the Dracula Castle Hotel—red wine included. Quest Tours & Adventures visits most of the same sights, but plays up fiction more than fact in its castle excursions (800/621-8687; Halloween trips start at $664 without airfare).
If you don't want to follow the tour route, you can cobble together an itinerary of your own. Must-sees include Bran Castle (the fictional home of Count Dracula), Poienari (believed to be the real home of Prince Vlad Dracula, the Impaler), and the Count Dracula Club, a Bucharest restaurant with themed dishes and a surprisingly excellent wine list (40-1/312-1353; to enter, pull the chain by the huge front door). For more information, contact the Romanian National Tourist Office (212/545-8484; www.romaniatourism.com).
My father-in-law plans to drive from Florida through Mexico down to Costa Rica. Is it possible to get car insurance coverage for the whole trip, or will he need separate policies for each country?
—R.G., Merrick, N.Y.
According to the American Automobile Association (for your local chapter, go to www.aaa.com), most U.S. car insurance policies are good only domestically and in Canada; they do not cover accidents south of the border. So your father-in-law may not be able to avoid buying insurance separately for each country visited.
Inquire whether his car insurance provider can supply contact numbers for companies at his travel destinations; technically, he should have policies that are valid in those countries before he enters. We recommend the maximum coverage possible; this is particularly important in places such as Mexico, where inadequate coverage can land you in jail until any dispute about an accident is officially resolved. Consulates or travel bureaus are also good sources of advice regarding car insurance.
If you rent a car for a trip like this, companies such as Travel Guard International (800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com) offer collision policies of up to $25,000 at $6 per day, plus a $3 policy fee; you must purchase the policy in advance and supply itinerary details. If your rental agency refuses to accept the coverage, Travel Guard has a toll-free number for verification. (Unfortunately, Travel Guard doesn't offer policies to cover privately owned cars.) But even large agencies like Avis or Hertz may not allow you the freedom you want; neither company permits a car rented in Florida to be driven to Costa Rica via Mexico.