Q: Three friends and I are visiting Las Vegas in early December and want to see the Grand Canyon. Is it worth the long haul for a day visit? We do not want to stay overnight, and the tour companies seem expensive.
A. While it may feel like a grueling drive just to see a hole in the ground -- albeit a spectacular one -- it's doable, provided you don't feel like a caged animal sitting in a car for 10 hours.
The drive from Las Vegas to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (the North Rim is closed in winter) is 270 miles, or about five hours. Rent a car for two days, so that you can leave early and return late without having to watch the clock. A full-size vehicle starts at $38 a day on Travelocity.com, plus fees for additional drivers, if you want to share the driving. Plan on $50 or so for gas and $20 for the park entrance fee. So you're facing at least $146 for the trip, plus meals.
A bus tour might make more sense. A motor coach trip with Look Tours (800-566-5868, www.looktours.com) is $94.99 a person and includes breakfast and lunch, pickup and drop-off at your hotel, reclining seats and two movies on the return trip. Worth the extra 50 bucks a person? You decide.
Either way, if the idea of a long drive makes you antsy, you could instead visit Zion National Park (435-772-3256, www.nps.gov/zion), 150 miles from Las Vegas, or Red Rock Canyon (702-515-5350, www.redrockcanyon.blm.gov), a half-hour away.
Q: What should we see to make the most of four days in Anchorage in early April? What about taking the train up to Fairbanks and Denali National Park?
A. For a massive state, Alaska has a high concentration of activities within a day's drive of its major city, Anchorage. And with longer days of sunlight returning in April, that's a fine time to visit.
If you head south along the Seward Highway, you'll hit the wildlife-rich Kenai Peninsula. Around 125 miles from Anchorage is the town of Seward, where you could walk the first mile of the original Iditarod Trail and visit the Alaska SeaLife Center (800-224-2525, www.alaskasealife.org). Kenai Fjords National Park (907-224-2132, www.nps.gov/kefj) is a rocky coast filled with spruce trees, poster-perfect waterfalls and an ice field. Continue for another 100 miles to visit the town of Homer, where commercial fisherman live harmoniously with artists.
Prince William Sound is the place to see glaciers -- among them the popular Portage and Byron glaciers and the aquamarine Columbia Glacier, which is five miles across and often gives birth to massive icebergs with a deafening crash.
April is considered winter at Denali National Park, 240 miles north of Anchorage. While taking the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage would be romantic, the train only operates northbound on Saturdays and southbound on Sundays until early May. You can drive 15 miles into the park, but then the park road is closed, and the usual shuttle buses and motor coach tours aren't available until May. With the right pair of snowshoes or skis, you could cover some scenic territory along that main road. Check in with the ranger station in the town of Talkeetna. Info: (907) 683-2294, www.nps.gov/dena. More info: (800) 862-5275, www.travelalaska.com.
Q: My husband and I would like to rent a house in the Caribbean in March or April with our 2- and 4-year-olds. Can you suggest islands where we can rent a quiet place and be safe?
A. The convivial island of Barbados is a good choice because of its beachfront, staffed villas. With your own cook and housekeeper, you could have a vacation from preparing meals and cleaning. How about a two-bedroom, coral-stone cottage nestled under a mango tree on the beach? Rates are $2,660 a week high season (mid-December through mid-April) through Creative Leisure (800-413-1000, www.creativeleisure.com).
Other family-friendly islands recommended by the Caribbean Tourist Organization are Aruba, the Bahamas and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. A hillside villa with a swimming pool overlooking the sea in Tortola, B.V.I., is $2,900 weekly through Where to Stay.com (800-869-8017, www.wheretostay.com).