April 2000

I want to surprise my husband for our anniversary with a trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Can you recommend a good tour?--R.P., Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Connecticut-based Tauck Tours, which ranked second in last year's World's Best Awatards for best tour outfitters, has a trek through the American West that will take your breath away (800/788-7885 or 203/226-6911; www.tauck.com). Your Canyonlands tour begins in Scottsdale, where you'll visit Montezuma Castle, a cliffside dwelling that once housed members of the ancient Sinagua Indians. The Grand Canyon itself, with its miles of multicolored strata, is your next destination. You'll spend two days exploring and camping out under the stars. On the fourth day, you'll take an early-morning plane trip over spectacular Lake Powell; don't miss Rainbow Bridge, a stone arch that soars almost 300 feet into the air.

Later in the day, Tauck charters a boat to carry you across the 186-mile lake. Day five features a rafting trip down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon, during which you'll pass sandstone cliffs shot through with dramatic shades of red and brown. On the final couple of days you'll move beyond Arizona to Bryce Canyon and Zion, two national parks in Utah. Then you fly home from Las Vegas. The price for the week, including all lodging, meals, and most extra trips, like the excursions on Lake Powell and in Glen Canyon, is $1,790 per person, double.

Others providing trips to the Grand Canyon include Maupintour (800/255-4266; www.maupintour.com), Contiki Holidays (800/266-8454; www.contiki.com), and GOGO Worldwide Vacations (www.gogowwv.com).

I'll be in New York on business and want a stylish, grown-up night out -- music, drinks, the whole nine yards. --H.D., San Francisco, Calif.
Trendy nightspots in Manhattan come and go in a proverbial New York minute, but if you're looking for real class (and staying power), head uptown to the Carlyle Hotel (36 E. 76th St.; 212/744-1600), where two nocturnal institutions have been going strong for more than 30 years. Café Carlyle is a swanky supper club straight out of a Fitzgerald novel: swellegant gents and ladies sip cocktails while a torch singer croons in the background. Bobby Short, the pianist and society fixture, plays there regularly; singers such as the legendary Barbara Cook and Tony Award-winner Betty Buckley also perform. (And since it's grown-up you want, Café Carlyle is more than happy to oblige, with its gentlemen-must-wear-jackets rule.) Just across the hall is Bemelmans Bar, a cozy room with cushy leather banquettes and some of the best martinis in the city. The walls are adorned with a sprightly mural by Ludwig Bemelmans, the writer/illustrator who brought Madeline to life. Stop in for a pre-show drink or stay all night to listen to pianists such as Peter Mintun and Barbara Carroll.

But don't think you have to come all the way to New York for an elegant night out: San Francisco is home to the Plush Room, a former 1920's speakeasy in the York Hotel that has become a hot spot for live jazz and cabaret performances (940 Sutter St.; 415/885-2800). Sultry chanteuses Paula West and Weslia Whitfield often make this intimate room their own.

Any advice on a great hotel in San Antonio?I want to stay away from the big, touristy chains.--P.C., Richmond, Va.
Check out La Mansión del Rio, a hacienda on the banks of the San Antonio River (112 College St.; 800/292-7300 or 210/518-1000; doubles from $269), founded as a Catholic men's college in 1853. The hotel's Spanish architecture harks back to a romantic colonial time, and many of the 337 rooms have balconies that overlook the River Walk, the city's prime attraction. The hotel restaurant, Las Canarias, is a favorite of locals for its Southwest cuisine with inventive European flair. Right across the street is the Majestic Theater, a gorgeous concert hall.

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