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December 30, 1990|JERRY HULSE

Amtrak is teaming up with United Airlines for a new air-rail package. Fly one way, take the train the other. Dozens of combinations. Flexible round-trip itineraries with stopovers included. The air/rail plan can be used as a transportation-only package or in combination with Amtrak's 1991 Great American Vacations Program. Reservations will be accepted starting Wednesday. The air/rail plan will be used in conjunction with coach-class trips on Amtrak to any Amtrak/UAL destination in the continental United States. Lodging/sightseeing tours can be requested. Transcontinental fares start at $419 ($499 in the high season). Regional programs begin at $299. On the train portion of the journey, passengers will be permitted three stopovers. Early bookings suggested as seats will be limited.

Check with your travel agency or call Amtrak at (800) 872-7245.

Meanwhile, Amtrak is offering year-round discounts to disabled passengers. Details from Amtrak. Deaf persons using teletypewriters are advised to make contact at (800) 523-6590.

A Small Hotel: One of my favorite little hotels in San Francisco, the Raphael, is out to snag guests with a special winter package. Singles/doubles available for $75 (now to March 1). Discounted shopping/dining certificates are part of the deal. The 152-room Raphael is a block off Union Square (behind the world-renowned St. Francis Hotel). Only a short stroll to Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks, I. Magnin. Half a block to the Powell Street cable car that runs to Fisherman's Wharf. Guests dine in the Raphael's own restaurant and fill up on pasta across the street at New Joe's.

My favorite watering hole in San Francisco is the Iron Horse on Maiden Lane. Only a five-minute stroll across Union Square. Popular with locals. Ask for directions at the Raphael.

Raphael Hotel, 386 Geary St., San Francisco 94102. Call (415) 986-2000. Ask about Lincoln Town Car rentals ($39.99 a day, unlimited mileage). Parking available next door to the hotel.

Germany: The German National Tourist Office is recommending that Americans traveling to the former East sector join tours offered by American tour operators. The GNTO has been busy checking out hotels, weeding out those that are undesirable (and many are). Trips take in the five new states of the unified Germany. Another option: base in towns close to the old border (Berlin, Lubeck, Fulda, Kassel, Hanover (the latter will be celebrating its 750th anniversary in '91).

If you decide to try it on your own, watch for signs reading zimmer frei in front of B&Bs. Travelers are often happier in private homes rather than hotels operated previously under the Communist banner. Rates as low as $15 per room, including breakfast. Inquire also about Germany's reasonable campsites. Another idea worth considering is Germany's popular WunderHotel plan that allows you to buy hotel vouchers before you leave the United States ($54 per person, double occupancy, including breakfast). A choice of nearly 100 hotels.

German National Tourist Office, 444 S. Flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071, (213) 688-7332.

Nettie's World: Nettie Symonette has introduced wedding/honeymoon packages at her popular Casuarinas Hotel in the Bahamas. Island-born Nettie lays on the flowers, the cake, the music. She'll even gather someone to tie the knot. The Casuarinas is popular with vacationers looking for tranquillity. None of the Vegas-style action of Nassau. The hotel (91 units) is five miles outside Nassau, five miles from the airport. On the beach. Gardens, a couple of restaurants (the Round House and Albion's). A laid-back place with friendly, smiling Nettie mothering her guests. One guest told us: "Nettie and her family made us feel welcome in a special way."

Casuarinas Hotel, P.O. Box N4016, Nassau, Bahamas. Call (800) 327-0787 or (809) 327-8153. Rates: $85 double/$180 for a two-bedroom apartment that sleeps four. After April 20: $65/$135.

Channel Islands Sail: Ten cruises to the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara have been scheduled by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. First up: whale-watching trips to Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands--Jan. 13, Feb. 10. These are one-day excursions, leaving Santa Barbara's SEA Landing at 8 a.m., returning at 5 p.m. Lunch aboard the 88-foot Condor is included in the $65 price. All cruises carry a lecturer. Underwater photos are relayed to passengers by divers equipped with video cameras. Other tours: May 18, June 9, July 7, Aug. 18, Sept. 21, Oct. 20, Nov. 7, Dec. 7. Subjects will range from visits to a kelp forest to eavesdropping on a shipwreck off Santa Cruz Island.

Details from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, 735 State St., Santa Barbara 93101, (805) 966-7107. To book reservations, dial SEA Landing at (805) 963-3564.

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