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WAY TO GO GUIDE

Getaway or stay away? Greece, Nashville, the Gulf, Mexico

Crews build sand barriers to block spilled oil in Alabama.
Crews build sand barriers to block spilled oil in Alabama. (Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace, via Reuters)

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

It feels as though we've been living a live-action Hollywood blockbuster this year, with torrential rains, floods, a menacing volcanic ash cloud, an evasive oil spill, violent political protests and gruesome drug hits. Where's Superman when you need him? (Probably hiding out in his Fortress of Solitude.) To get a grasp of the situation in some of the hardest-hit destinations, we checked in with security experts from iJet Intelligent Risk Systems, local tourism offices and the U.S. State Department. Here's the latest scoop.

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Greece

Anti-government protests have made this country a security risk, especially in Athens and other larger urban areas. Martin Kleiber, iJet's regional manager for Europe, calls the situation an "abstract threat hovering over the cities" and describes Athens as "a cauldron." Trouble is also brewing in port towns, due to a pending rule allowing international cruise ships to tie up at Greek docks. The law, which could affect the domestic cruise industry, is sparking protests.

Political figures, not tourists, are the main targets, but foreigners could become "incidental victims," says Kleiber. And although the strife may recede over the summer, Kleiber advises travelers to weigh the risks of visiting the flashpoint areas -- or head for the islands, which are peaceful for now.

Info: Greece National Tourism Organization, 212-421-5777, http://www.gnto.gr

Eyjafjallajokull volcano ash

No one knows which way the ash cloud is going to blow. So visiting Europe is a gamble, but one that Kleiber recommends travelers take. "There is no reliable forecasting mechanism in place, and it becomes an ad hoc decision," he said, referring to flight cancellations. "The ash is still over Europe, but that's no reason to cancel a vacation." If you go, he says, cobble together a contingency plan so you won't get stranded. And if you're worried about inhaling volcanic particles, you can breathe easy: "There are no health concerns," Kleiber says.

Mexico

Despite unsavory reports out of Mexico, Samuel Logan, iJet's regional manager for the Americas, says that major tourist areas are safe, including Acapulco, Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula and, yes, even Tijuana. "Since the end of February, the safety in Tijuana has improved a lot," he says, adding that tourists are not on drug cartels' "hit list," though he warns that "collateral damage" can occur.

The State Department bolsters confidence in tourist areas. In a travel warning issued last week, the agency said that Mexico's resort areas and tourist destinations do not witness the kind of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and along major drug trafficking routes.

But skip a July 4 holiday to Mexico. That's when many states are holding elections, and protests could arise. Places to avoid: Baja California, Oaxaca City and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Info: Mexico Tourism Board: 800-446-3942, http://www.visitmexico.com

Rhode Island

Torrential rains left Rhode Island underwater last month, but the big soak affected only a small area. Providence, Bristol, Newport and Block Island suffered only minor damage, and their attractions, accommodations, restaurants and businesses are all open. And state beaches will be ready for sunbathers by Memorial Day weekend.

Info: Rhode Island Tourism Division, 800-250-7384, http://www.visitrhodeisland.com

Gulf Coast Oil Spill

The oil spill drama is far from over, as the world watches the blob defy containment. The disaster is already affecting the seafood industry and scaring off tourists wishing to hit the white sand beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and even Florida. The black gunk hasn't reached the coast yet, but it has washed up on an island off Louisiana. If conditions shift, the shores of Texas and Mexico could also be at risk, says Megan Wolfram, iJet's regional analyst for the Americas. Wolfram suggests that tourists go farther east or west, to the Atlantic or Pacific coasts.

Info: Mississippi Gulf Coast, 888-467-4853, http://www.gulfcoast.org; Louisiana Office of Tourism, 800-444-8626, http://www.louisianatravel.com; Visit Florida, 850-488-5607, http://www.visitflorida.com

Nashville

Music City is resurfacing after the recent floods. The power is back on, and all downtown hotels and attractions have reopened, including the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Nashville Zoo. Performances of the Grand Ole Opry are continuing as scheduled at venues such as the Ryman Auditorium, and the General Jackson Showboat plans to be up and running this week. The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, however, isn't so lucky: It will remain shuttered indefinitely.

Info: Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-657-6910, http://www.visitmusiccity.com/visitors

-- Andrea Sachs and Nancy Trejos


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