The Plays Are the Things on Tour to England

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 18th annual "British Theatre Backstage With Barbara Isenberg," which features seven shows, leaves Los Angeles for London on Dec. 27 and returns Jan. 6. The tour offers backstage visits and meetings with British theater artists and critics.

It includes visits to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the newly renovated British Museum, the Hermitage exhibition at Somerset House and the Imperial War Museum. Besides a theater study session at the Theatre Museum, tour-goers will meet with a London commentator on English current events and take a walking tour of the ancient Inns of Court. A Sunday excursion starts with a morning concert at Wigmore Hall, followed by lunch in 17th century Holland House plus a tour of historic Leighton House Art Gallery. Arts writer and lecturer Barbara Isenberg will lead the tour.

Cost: $5,281 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare from Los Angeles, room at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, full English breakfast daily, all performances and museums, welcome dinner, celebrity tea, New Year's Eve celebration, all excursions and group airport transfers.

Contact: Susan Holden, Gilner International Travels, 437 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211; telephone (310) 273-6161.

Ireland: Theater

The "Dublin International Theatre Festival Tour," Oct. 2 to 10, includes a weekend excursion to the lakes, seacoasts and castles of southern Ireland. Arts journalist Laura Hitchcock and former studio executive Mike Hoffer are hosts.

The tour includes three plays, a welcome reception with a festival guest, a farewell dinner and tours of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Guinness Brewery, Dublin Castle and Trinity College. The weekend excursion to the south visits Waterford and its glass factory; the Killarney lake country; the seascapes of the Dingle Peninsula; and an overnight stay at historic Bunratty Castle.

Cost: $1,398 per person, double occupancy, including hotel, full Irish breakfast each day, tickets to plays, a city tour, motor coach transportation and a farewell dinner. Air fare is not included.

Contact: Protravel International's Thea Tours; tel. (323) 856-3085.

Central Asia: History

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is offering a comprehensive history tour of central Asia. It will cut across valleys, deserts and mountains of former Soviet Union countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgzystan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Tour guests travel on the same roads that Marco Polo, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane traversed. Dotting the landscape are historic palaces, mosques and fortresses. The Golden Road through central Asia winds past Silk Road cities such as Samarkand, Khiva, Shakhrisabz and Bukhara. The itinerary includes visits to open-air markets and bazaars, fashion shows, traditional music and dance performances and stops at history museums. Participants get a chance to dine in private homes and sample foods from the area. The tour runs Oct. 15 to Nov. 7.

Cost: $6,330 per person, double occupancy, including a museum representative, expert local guides, best available hotels, air fare within central Asia, meals and tips, and traveler's insurance. International air fare is extra.

Contact: Christine Robison at the Natural History Museum; tel. (213) 763-3350, Internet http://www.nhm.org.

Mexico: Fall Festival

Join the Santa Ana Bowers Museum and Collectors' Council in collaboration with Folk Tree Tours of Pasadena on a trip to Jalisco and Michoacan for Mexico's celebration of Day of the Dead. The tour, Oct. 22 to Nov. 3, will visit the colonial cities of Guadalajara (known for its Orozco murals) and Morelia with its arts and crafts centers. Home base will be in Patzcuaro, which has colonial architecture, colorful markets and an Indian village atmosphere.

Cost: $2,850 per person, double occupancy, including air fare, lodging, seven breakfasts, nine lunches and three dinners. Not included: $165 for non-museum members.

Contact: Kathleen Barrutia of the Collectors' Council; tel. (949) 640-8309.

Caribbean: Cruise

Explore romantic destinations in the Old South, Bermuda and the Caribbean on the AAA Travel Agency's 2001 President's Cruise.

The 11-day cruise on the Crystal Harmony, hosted by Automobile Club of Southern California President Thomas McKernan, departs from New York on Oct. 10. Travelers will stay overnight in Hamilton, Bermuda, then sail on to Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Nassau, Bahamas; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. An extra highlight is a candlelight tour of the oldest American plantation estate open to the public, Drayton Hall in Charleston.

Cost: from $2,960 per person, double occupancy, including port charges, gratuities and meals on board. Air fare is not included.

Contact: A local Auto Club/AAA Travel Agency office, or call (888) 874-7222.

Malta and Sicily: Culture

CIT Tours is offering 14-day excursions to Malta and Sicily through October. Travelers will visit ancient cities and experience the cultural history of Malta and Sicily. The first stop is Malta's capital, Valletta, to see the Grand Harbor, the Barracca Gardens, St. John's Cathedral and the Grand Master's Palace. In Mdina, sites include the cathedral and the cliffs at Dingli. Guests will also be ferried to Gozo Island to see picturesque villages and shorelines, the subject of many Greek myths.

Stops in Sicily include Catania, Syracuse, Ragusa, Piazza Armerina, Agrigento, Monreale, Palermo, Segesta, Erice, Trapani, Cefalu, Giardini Naxos and Taormina. Sicilian highlights on the itinerary: ancient Roman remains, a Greek temple, Mt. Etna and a performance of the Opera dei Pupi.

Cost: $1,985 per person, double occupancy, including hotels for 12 nights, entrance fees, daily buffet breakfast, three lunches and seven dinners. Air fare is extra.

Contact: CIT Tours, 15 W. 44th St., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10036; tel. (800) CIT-TOUR (248-8687), http://www.cit-tour.com.

Panama: Eco-tour

A 10-day eco-tour to Panama departs July 26. Visitors will see tropical beaches and coral reefs, cloud forests, volcanoes and the Panama Canal.

The tour arrives in Panama City, where participants will explore the forest of Soberania National Park along the Panama Canal. They will visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island, a protected reserve since 1923. A trip to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal is also planned. From here, the tour departs by plane to the mountains of Chiriqui. Guided hikes will allow visitors to search for quetzals and bellbirds in the Chiriqui Cloud Forest and La Amistad National Park. They also may choose to raft the Rio Chiriqui or enjoy a guided tour of Baru Volcano.

After returning to Panama City, the group boards air taxis to the San Blas Islands, home of the Kuna Indians, for a two-day stay. Participants may snorkel coral reefs and shop for the appliqued molas of the Kuna. A final day in Panama City allows guests to visit the Panama Canal Museum, see Old Panama and shop.

Cost: $1,990 per person, double occupancy, including hotels, transportation in Panama, guides and 24 meals. Air fare is extra.

Contact: Tropical Eco-Tours, 1333 Calle Pimiento, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360; tel. (888) 900-1326.

Eastern Baltic: Landscapes

A 14-night tour departs Aug. 11 for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Poland.

Highlights include lakes, forests, fairy-tale castles, medieval towns and villages. Each area has a rich cultural heritage in its recorded history, art, legends and architecture. Many Eastern Baltic cities became important commercial centers during the time of the Hanseatic League.

Cost: $3,690 per person, double occupancy, including accommodations, most meals, airport transfers, entrance fees and guides. Air fare is not included.

Contact: Brigitte Katinszky at Lifelong Learning; tel. (800) 854-4080.

The Times is not responsible for changes in prices, dates or itineraries. These should be confirmed with cruise lines, travel agents or tour operators.

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