If Florida or the Caribbean are part of your upcoming travel plans, here's what you need to know:
* In Florida, the state tourism bureau has set up a toll-free hotline to advise would-be travelers on when their specific destinations will be ready to visit. The line -- 800-287-8598 -- is answered by a live human who can connect you with local tourism bureaus.
* Cruise lines generally claim the right to change ports of call, departure cities and even departure dates. However, lines sometimes make exceptions for hurricanes and allow cancellations or changes if departure points or dates change. (Changes of port stops are common, so that won't count for an exception to the contract agreement.) Example: With Hurricane Frances closing Port Canaveral, Royal Caribbean is giving the option of sailing out of Miami, or a refund.
* Airlines generally give passengers some slack, even on nonrefundable tickets. All airlines waived penalty fees for changing flights to Florida in the wake of Frances. Some required rebooking within a week, others gave months. As Ivan headed toward Florida, for example, US Airways allowed travelers to postpone trips to southern Florida until Sept. 30, without penalty.
* Travelers to the Caribbean should contact their travel providers or island tourism bureaus.
Labor Day once signaled the end of beach weekends in these parts, but if you venture toward the coast in the next month or so, you'll be rewarded with warm water, lower rates and special events. Among the extended-summer options:
* Southern New Jersey coast: Ocean temperatures are higher in September (mid- to high 70s) than during the peak summer season (low 70s). For air temps, expect mid-80s to 77. Businesses along the Ocean City and Wildwood boardwalks are open weekends until mid-October. Special events include Sea Isle City's Fall Family Festival (Sept. 17-19), with fireworks and a sand-sculpting contest; North Wildwood's Irish Fall Festival (Sept. 23-26); Cape May's Food and Wine Festival (Sept. 18-23); and Victorian Week (Oct. 8-17). Info: 800-227-2297, www.thejerseycape.net.
* Delaware: Water temps are an average 71, and 67 for air. Special events are hosted every weekend till Thanksgiving, including Polkamotion by the Ocean (Sept. 13-19) in Rehoboth Beach; the Elvis Festival (Sept. 24-25) on Dewey Beach; and the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival (Nov. 10-14). 800-441-1329, www.beach-fun.com.
* Virginia Beach: Average September water temps are 72 degrees, air 80 -- perfect for fall golf packages. Special events include the Neptune Festival (Sept. 24-26) and a film fest (Oct. 1-3). 800-VA-BEACH, www.vbfun.com.
* Outer Banks, N.C.: Average September air temps are 82, water 74, and the fish are biting. The Getaway Card offers discounts on lodging, shopping, etc., from Sept. 15 to May 15. Special events include the Kite Boarding and Surf Kayaking Competition (Sept. 24-26), art shows and fishing tournaments. Info: 877- OBX-4FUN, www.outerbanks.org.
UPRIGHT AND LOCKED
New Service Fees
Following the recent lead of Northwest Airlines, four other major airlines last week decided to charge customers a $5 service fee for tickets bought by telephone, and $10 for tickets bought at the counter. Those who'd joined the bandwagon as of press time: American, Continental, US Airways and United. The original trend setters: JetBlue, which charges $6 round trip for tickets bought anywhere but its Web site, and Independence Air, which charges $10 round trip if the Web site isn't used.
BARGAIN OF THE WEEK
To Eire Is Human
Fly to Ireland for $340 round trip including taxes. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.
Reporting: Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs.
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