So many beaches, so little time. So why spend any more of your precious holiday in transit than necessary? One way to reduce your get-there time is to choose from among the five islands reachable from area airports via direct flight -- meaning less time spent trying to make connections or watching ESPN in the airport lounge. We list them below, along with tips for first-time and repeat visitors.

ISLAND

Antigua

GETTING THERE

Starting Nov. 4, BWIA offers twice-weekly (Thursday and Saturday) non-stop service from Dulles. The plane continues to Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Flight time: Departs 1:30, arrives 6:40 p.m. (5 hours 10 minutes in air)

Fare: $433.45 round trip

REQUIRED SITES FOR FIRST-TIMERS

Duty-free shops at Heritage Quay for rum, jewelry, crystal . . . English Harbor, a restored colonial compound with museums and shops . . . beaches of Fort James, Dickenson Bay and Nonesuch Bay . . . waterfront market at Redcliffe Quay (check out Redcliffe Quay Tavern for Antiguan cuisine) . . . Nelson's Dockyard and Shirley Heights (fortification overlooking dockyard).

FOR REPEAT VISITORS

The beach at Rendezvous Bay (rent a four-wheel drive vehicle) . . . hang with locals on Saturday mornings at St. John's Public Market or head for Miller's by the Sea and Home Restaurant on St. John outskirts . . . Barbuda (via pleasure cruise or airplane) for pink-sand beaches and bird sanctuary.

CONTACTS

BWIA: 1-800-538-2942, www.bwee.com.

Tourism: 1-888-268-4227, www.antigua-barbuda.org.

Barbados

GETTING THERE

Beginning Nov. 3, BWIA will offer nonstop service from Dulles to Barbados, twice weekly (Wednesdays and Sundays). The plane continues to Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Flight time: 1:30-7:15 p.m. (5 hours 45 minutes)

Fare: $414 round trip

REQUIRED SITES FOR FIRST-TIMERS

Bridgetown, the capital, is a shopping paradise: Broad Street is the hub. Try Harrison's and Cave Shepard for deals on jewelry, liquor and souvenirs . . . for history, Barbados Museum . . . submarine rides on Atlantis. South Coast: Tyrol Cot Heritage Village, a living museum of colorful chattel houses where craftspeople create traditional-style art work . . . St. Lawrence Gap for restaurants. East Coast: Andromeda Gardens with great Atlantic view . . . hour-long tram tours at Harrison's Cave . . . Holetown's restaurant scene, with 14 eateries clustered within a 200-yard semicircle . . . the seaside terrace of the Cliff Restaurant for glimpses of flying fish.

FOR REPEAT VISITORS

Polo matches at Barbados Polo Club in St. James (Wednesdays and and Saturdays, October-April) . . . diving with turtles . . . meet locals at the Friday and Saturday night Fish Fry in Oistins . . . theatrical productions of Barbadian playwrights by Green Room Theater and Stage One . . . comedy shows like Laugh It Off and Bajhan Bus Stop . . . Y2K Restaurant for Polynesian cuisine . . . Julie'N Supermarket, outside Bridgetown, for local delicacies (breadfruit, flying fish) . . . secluded beaches of Harris Smith and Bottom Bay.

CONTACTS

BWIA: 1-800-538-2942, www.bwee.com.

Tourism: 1-800-221-9831, www.barbados.org.

Jamaica

GETTING THERE

Air Jamaica offers daily nonstops from BWI to Montego Bay.

Flight time: 8:15-10:35 a.m. (2 hours 20 minutes)

Fare: $343.40 round trip

REQUIRED SITES FOR FIRST-TIMERS

Ocho Rios: Climb the 600-foot Dunn's River Falls . . . tour Prospect Plantation by jitney; you'll see exotic flora and great views of White River Gorge . . . Harmony Hall, a mansion transformed into an art gallery and restaurant . . . Firefly, Noel Coward's home. Montego Bay: Ride the Martha Brae river on a bamboo raft . . . Shaw Park Gardens . . . Rose Hall Great House, a "haunted" plantation and historic mansion.

FOR REPEAT VISITORS

Jeep tour of the North Coast . . . mountain biking in the Blue Mountains . . . Cashoo Ostrich Park near Negril . . . Montego Bay's "hip strip" of restaurants (Gloucester Avenue) and Norma's on the Wharf for splurge dining . . . Wilderness Adventure, a plantation site offering all-terrain-vehicle rentals, horseback riding, fishing (they'll cook your catch) . . . Bob Marley Museum

. . . Port Antonio for deep-sea fishing and swimming in the Blue Lagoon.

CONTACTS

Air Jamaica: 1-800-

523-5585, www.airjamaica.com

Tourism:1-800-526-2422, www.jamaicatravel.com

Puerto Rico

GETTING THERE

American offers one daily nonstop from both Dulles and BWI. United has nonstop service from Dulles on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Flight times: American/BWI: 7:23-11 a.m. (3 hours 37 minutes); American/Dulles: 7:25-11:04 a.m. (3 hours 39 minutes);

United (Dulles): 9:30 a.m.-2:09 p.m. (3 hours 40 minutes)

Fares: American/BWI ($477 round trip); American/Dulles ($477 round trip); United/Dulles ($559 round trip)

REQUIRED SITES FOR FIRST-TIMERS

San Juan: Walking tours of Old San Juan, a seven-block neighborhood of (somewhat) restored 16th-century buildings; highlights include El Morro Fortress, San Jose Church, Fort San Christobal and the Paseo la Princesa promenade . . . a tour of Bacardi rum factory . . . gambling at the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan . . . shopping in Old San Juan for outlet-priced bargains on Ralph Lauren and London Fog . . . dining at classic Old San Juan restaurants such as Amadeus and Parrot Club. Outskirts: Hiking in El Yunque, a 28,000-acre rain forest . . . self-guided tours at Arecibo Observatory, known for astronomy . . .Rio Camuy Cave Park, a 268-acre reserve full of caves . . . the wildlife refuge on the island of Culebra.

FOR REPEAT VISITORS

Ashford Avenue, in Condado, for boutiques (see Puerto Rican designer Nono Maldonado's hip fashion atelier) . . . La Bombonera, in Old San Juan, for mallorcas (pastries) . . . hot San Juan eateries such as Fussion and Ajili Mojili . . . overnight trip to Ponce, the island's second city; highlights include Plaza Las Delicias (anchored by Our Lady of Guadelupe Cathedral) and the red-and-black-striped Parque de Bombas firehouse (across the street is King's Cream, Puerto Rico's best ice cream . . . Farther west is the village o f Boqueron, with street vendors and restaurants selling fresh fish.

CONTACTS

American Airlines: 1-800-433-7300, www.aa.com

United Airlines: 1-800-241-6522, www.ual.com

Tourism: 1-800-223-6530, www.prtourism.com, www.meetpuertorico.com.

U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas)

GETTING THERE

United begins nonstop service Oct. 31 from Dulles to St. Thomas

on Saturdays and Sundays.

Flight time: 9:35 a.m.-2:25 p.m. (3 hours 50 minutes)

Fares: Introductory fares, expiring Oct. 29, are $403.45

REQUIRED SITES FOR FIRST-TIMERS

St. Thomas: Coral World Marine Park, an underwater observatory . . . Magen's Bay, a half-mile crescent of white beach and clear water (stop for "Udder Delight" milkshake on the way) . . . Snuba (snorkeling and scuba diving) . . . Main Street shopping in Charlotte Amalie for duty-free fare . . . Lunch at Glady's, a Carib-American cafe-gallery . . . splurge for dinner at the Ritz-Carlton . . . golf at Devil's Triangle, holes 13-15 at Mahagony Run . . . 45-minute boat ride to St. John. St. John: Annaberg, a historic plantation . . . craft shopping at Wharfside Village and Mongoose Junction, Cruz Bay . . . Pusser's rum punch, also in Cruz . . . Asolare for Pacific Rim fare.

FOR REPEAT VISITORS

45-minute flight-seeing tour of St. Thomas and St. John . . . seaplane trip to St. Croix for gambling at Divi, the island's first casino (opens in December). St. Thomas: Mangrove kayaking expedition . . . Duffy's Love Shack in Red Hook for happy hour. St. John: Snorkel around island (about 5A hours) . . . volunteer at the ecological dig at Cinnamon Bay, where Taino Indians lived before Columbus . . . Skinny Legs in Coral Bay for music and fresh fish sandwiches.

CONTACTS

United Airlines: 1-800-241-6522, www.ual.com.

Tourism: 1-800-372-8784, www.usvi.org/tourism.