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Ask T+L: Caribbean in the Winter, Foreign Currency and More

/ Source: Travel & Leisure

Ask an Expert: Laura Begley Bloom, Deputy Editor

Q: We’d like to head to the Caribbean this winter. What are you most excited about? — Jules Dixon, Pittsburgh, Pa.

A: There’s a lot happening on St. John, including an outpost of New York’s Fatty Crab(Cruz Bay; 340/775-9951; dinner for two $58) that’s putting an Asian spin on Caribbean ingredients (conch, spiny lobster). Also on our radar: the island’s new Eco Serendib Villa & Spa(215/830-8300; from $2,000 a night for two), a sustainability-focused retreat that will grow your choice of organic vegetables before you arrive. On Dominica, we love the cliff-top Secret Bay(767/445-4444; doubles from $252), with its villas on stilts overlooking the sea. To truly get off the grid, there’s Petit St. Vincent(800/654-9326; doubles from $1,050). After a multimillion-dollar overhaul, the private-island resort reopens next month with Balinese touches and a hillside spa.

Q: Should I purchase foreign currency before I travel? — Roy Thompson, St. Louis, Mo.

A: “ATM’s in your destination are the way to go,” says A-List agent Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg. “Not only do they provide up-to-the-moment rates, but they take little to no conversion fees.” (Before you depart, check to see what your bank charges for ATM withdrawals abroad. Many tack on an extra 3 percent to your total.) Download Oanda’s Currency Converter App(free; iPhone, iPad); it will keep you posted on more than 190 rates. Lastly, don’t forget the power of plastic: Capital One(800/955-7070) and our parent company’s American Express Platinum and Centurion cards (800/528-4800; waive all foreign-transaction fees.

Q: Which tour company would you recommend for a trip to the Galápagos Islands? — Kate Procyshyn, Boston, Mass.

A: Thanks to the archipelago’s recent removal from the Unesco World Heritage endangered list, more visitors than ever are visiting Darwin territory. On the new Grand Ecuador tour by Ker & Downey(nine days from $6,830 per person, double) you’ll explore the Galápagos from a 16-passenger yacht that docks in sheltered, crystalline lagoons. Austin-Lehman Adventures(eight days from $3,016 per person, double) has a mostly land-based excursion—think hiking to 20-foot lava tunnels and tromping along the Sierra Negro volcano—as well as kayaking with sea lions. Coming this January, the Española cruise by Sanctuary Retreats(seven nights from $5,150 per person, double) offers access to the ultimate trifecta of Galápagos encounters: 800-pound tortoises, courting albatross, and nesting blue-footed boobies.

Q: What do I need to know about going to the London Olympic Games? — Debbie Tufts, Portland, Ore.

A: Save up—rooms are projected to jump to 10 times their normal rates next summer. And with some 5.5 million visitors arriving, navigating traffic will be key. The London 2012 Spectator Journey Planner plots routes to game venues on public transportation and predicts the journey time from anywhere in Great Britain (Games ticket holders get a complimentary Travelcard, a pass for the city’s extensive rail and bus services). Have downtime between events? Don’t miss the London 2012 Festival(June 21–September 9), with events ranging from a Tino Sehgal commission at the Tate Modern to the world’s largest dance party.