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Drought means mixed outlook for rafting on Western rivers

Despite a dismal snowpack in the Sierra (about 5% of normal as of April 1), several California rivers that are fed by dam-controlled reservoirs should have solid rafting seasons this summer, outfitters report.

Those include the Middle and South Forks of the American River, Cherry Creek and the Tuolumne and Klamath rivers.   But others such as the Kern River will have a greatly diminished season because of low flows.

Inflatable kayak trips are now being run on the Kern, and some limited rafting will be offered starting in May and lasting into June,  a spokeswoman for Sierra South said.  

Angels Camp, Calif.-based O.A.R.S., will not offer trips on the Merced River because of lack of water, said Steve Markle, a spokesman. Zephyr Whitewater Rafting will offer a few trips on the Kaweah into early May, but other rivers such as the Kings, the North Fork of the Stanislaus and the North Fork of the American -- all dependent on snowpack runoff -- will not have seasons.  

Elsewhere in the Western...

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Los Altos hotel strives to bring a bit of Paris to the Silicon Valley

The Enchante Boutique Hotel in Los Altos, Calif., loves all things French -- and dogs. The hotel with 19 rooms opened in mid-April, bringing a European-style building to the small Silicon Valley town.

Outside, the three-story hotel has a mansard roof (just like classic buildings in Paris), iron grillwork on balconies, and recessed windows.

Inside, each room features antiques and fabrics that reinforce the French theme. In the hotel's library, guests can lounge on sofas and overstuffed chairs around a fireplace.

You'll find some Napoleonic touches too, like a light in the shape of the French leader's hat.

Travelers with pets will appreciate the dog-friendly vibe and "custom-made dog beds." Fleur de Lis is the on-site dog; most dogs are welcome, but size does matter. (Email concierge@enchantehotel to make arrangements for your pet.)

Rooms cost $250 to $375, with the grand suite at $675. The price includes breakfast and an afternoon wine and cheese event. The hotel also hosts a restaurant,...

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Norwegian to include unlimited free drinks on Bahama cruises next year

Passengers on the Norwegian Sky sailing will receive all-you-can-drink beverages — including beer, wine and cocktails — at no extra charge starting next year.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced last week it would take an "all-inclusive" approach and provide an open bar for three- and four-day sailings from Miami to the Bahamas. The incentive begins next January aboard the Norwegian Sky only.

Unlimited wine by the glass, beer and mixed drinks will be included in the cost of the cruise, a Norwegian statement says. For kids, it means unlimited sodas and juices.

The free beverage package also applies to daylong visits to Great Stirrup Cay, the cruise line's private island where passengers can swim, kayak and snorkel.

Andy Stuart, president and COO of Norwegian, told the Florida Sun Sentinel that shorter cruises represent a market in which "we introduce a lot of new people to cruising, and we're excited about the prospects of going all-inclusive."

Stuart also told the paper the all-inclusive Bahama...

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MSC Cruises drops Egypt and Ukraine as port stops this year

MSC Cruises announced last week that its ships will skip port calls in Ukraine and Egypt for the rest of the year and next winter over concerns for safety.

"These itinerary changes attest to MSC Cruises' permanent focus on the safety of guests and crew ...," the statement says.

In March, 12 MSC Splendida passengers were killed and 13 injured during a terrorist attack at a museum in Tunis, Tunisia. In all, 23 tourists died in an act for which the extremist group Islamic State took credit.

MSC pulled the Tunisian capital as a port of call for the rest of the year.

Now the company will replace stops in Ukraine and Egypt with destinations like the Greek islands Rhodes and Heraklion, Crete, as well as Limassol, Cyprus, and Eilat, Israel.

The changes affect sailings of the line's Sinfonia, Opera, Fantasia and Musica ships.

One other change: The MSC Divina won't return to the Mediterranean next season but to Miami instead. The ship will sail to the Caribbean year-round starting in November.


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Learn about Yellowstone with a summer program for families

If you want your family to connect with nature on a grand scale, the nonprofit Yellowstone Assn. Institute has a summer plan for you.

The organization, the park’s official educational partner, offers multiple options for families to learn more about Yellowstone National Park’s geology, wildlife, plant life and history.

Plans range in price and duration. Among them is Yellowstone for Families, a five-night, naturalist-guided program for families with children ages 8 to 12 that “Good Morning America” called “the best summer camp in America.” It includes wildlife viewing, painting, photography and hiking.

Dates: Sessions are Mondays-Fridays and Fridays-Tuesdays, June 1 to Aug. 9.

Price: Rates for the Yellowstone for Families program are $3,740 for two adults and two children. Included are four nights' lodging, breakfast and box lunches each day, in-park transportation, instruction and optional evening programs.

Info: A complete summer 2015 catalog is available at

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Gemstone buyers abroad should avoid deals too good to be true

Question: My sister and I were in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in March, and our tour guide took us to some temples in Angkor. After the tour, he took us to a jewelry store in Siem Reap. I bought a 14 1/2-carat ruby and a 12-carat blue sapphire for $2,500. I was surprised at how inexpensive they were, but knowing my tour guide was from a reputable tour company, I thought he would never take us to a fraudulent jeweler. When I got back to my hotel, I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking something was wrong with the rings. Before I flew back to L.A., I asked my tour guide in Phnom Penh to take me to a reputable jeweler to have my rings checked. They were fake. The tour guide in Siem Reap returned the rings to the jeweler; they refunded my money. I also called my credit card company, explained what happened, and was given credit. Please warn people about jewels in Cambodia.

Mercy Kiner

Santa Clarita

Answer: There's a cautionary tale here, but it is not specific to Cambodia. It's along the lines of what...

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