Great getaways Beaches, cruises and mountain retreats draw va

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Break out the bathing suits and beach towels -- summer vacation is here. And many Americans are planning trips that take them to Florida beaches, on Caribbean cruises and to the mountains.

Area travel agents have seen an increase in customers seeking inclusive vacation packages -- both near and far -- for their summer travel. And with the Memorial Day holiday marking the unofficial beginning of summer, the travel industry expects even more business.

The Travel Industry Association of America expects a 2 percent increase in pleasure trips this summer, compared to last year. And 25 percent of travelers are expected to take their trips by automobile instead of by air this year. Part of that increase is based on economics, said Dr. Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research for Travel Industry Association.

About 85 percent of vacationers are expected to travel by automobile, truck or RV this summer. People are looking for reasonably priced trips within an easy drive of the Midwest, area travel agencies said.

But where are they heading?

Florida is still the nation's favorite vacation destination, particularly when you consider family trips to the Walt Disney theme parks.

"We book lots of Disney," said Carolyn Kempf, owner of Elite Travel.

More people from this area consider Florida the family vacation spot, said Mark Hill of Destinations Unlimited.

"Beaches are still in demand," he said.

Where people go on vacations depends on their age and lifestyle, he said. Older couples are looking to Alaska for cruises, while younger couples are heading to the Caribbean for some sun.

Cruises are gaining popularity with travelers this year. With new ports opening in Mobile, Ala., New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., many people from Southeast Missouri easily can travel those distances by driving, said Kempf.

"Since September 11, people want to vacation close to home," she said. Cruises offer that option, with boats leaving from the United States for ports in the Caribbean or Mexico.

"This year, people decided not to go to Europe and just go on a cruise instead," Kempf said.

New charter options from St. Louis also allow travelers nonstop flights to locations like Cancun, Jamaica and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, which is listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.

Cruise ships were flexible and are rebooking dates for travelers that had planned vacations in the fall but weren't able to go or didn't want to travel after the terrorist attacks, Hill said.

Other popular vacation locations are Colorado and the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Las Vegas. Hill said that Vegas has long been the No. 1 travel destination by flight for Midwest travelers.

"There is more a family focus, with the pools and great weather and attractions besides casinos," Kempf said.

There is an abundance of choices for vacationers, said Mike Wright, vice president of public affairs for AAA Travel in St. Louis, Mo. But people need to make plans early. "If you wait too long, the hotels are filling up, especially for domestic travel."

Vacations to national parks out west, historic sites and the nation's capital also are popular destinations this year, Wright said.

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