The Outer Banks Crush
CoGo was disturbed to learn recently that cars pouring onto North Carolina's Outer Banks contribute to the country's fifth biggest vacation traffic hassle, according to a report from the American Highway Users Alliance, AAA and the national research group TRIP.
After a little research, CoGo discovered some ways to avoid the rush:
* Check in to your rental property early (if you can) to dodge the usual 4 p.m. check-in deluge. Some companies offer guaranteed early arrival at 1 p.m. for $75 to $100 extra per rental. Other companies encourage guests to start calling at 1 or 2 p.m. to see if their house is ready. Some charge a fee to let you in at this point (one company quoted $50); with others, it's free.
* Arrive a day ahead to beat the Saturday-to-Saturday or Sunday-to-Sunday rental crowd. Motels do a brisk business with guests arriving the night before house-rental check-in, while other renters spend a night in a hotel before leaving OBX. Many motels are booked through Labor Day, however, and there are often two-night minimums.
* Get to the Wright Memorial Bridge by 11 a.m. After that, it's a crapshoot, and the odds don't improve until evening. This is the consensus of OBX travelers on www.obxconnection.com, a Web site with an active message board.
* Take another route. To dodge I-95 to Carmel Church, between Fredericksburg and Richmond, head into Prince George's County and take Highway 5 south to U.S. Highway 301, which goes back across the Potomac to I-95. To bypass the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnels, take U.S. Highway 13 down the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia and use the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel instead.
To get around part or all of the last major bottleneck -- Route 168 to the Wright Bridge -- exit I-64 south of Norfolk at U.S. Highway 17 south (Exit 291-B) and drive through the Great Dismal Swamp.
To check road conditions: www.chart.state.md.us/travinfo/travinfo.asp (Maryland); www.virginiadot.org/comtravel/eoc/eoc-main.asp (Virginia); and http://apps.dot.state.nc.us/tims (North Carolina; select the "Northern Coastal" region). Outer Banks info: 877- 629-4386, www.outerbanks.org.
New Airlines, New Service
Competition on domestic routes in Mexico heated up this month as a new discount carrier, Click Mexicana, began flying among nine Mexican cities. Initial round-trip fares are running less than $200, and Click owners say they intend to stay 15 to 30 percent below the prices of other domestic carriers.
Meanwhile, flying around South America has gotten cheaper, with the rapid expansion of Brazil's no-frills carrier GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes.
And in Costa Rica, NatureAir has started selling passes that allow visitors unlimited domestic air travel. A one-week pass, good through Dec. 1, costs $249 and a two-week pass is $299.
In the convenience category: South African Airways has started direct service from Dulles to Johannesburg. Mexicana, meanwhile, launches nonstop service daily from BWI to Mexico City in December.
Finally, if you're planning a fall or winter trip to Jamaica, Spirit Airlines will begin offering nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Kingston and Montego Bay starting Nov. 10. Connecting flights to either destination from Reagan National will begin at $169 each way, plus tax.
Cleanup continues on the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Dennis blew through. Updates: www.flausa.com . . . Amtrak's Acela Express resumed limited service last week, with more departures starting tomorrow. Info: 800-872-7245, www.amtrak.com . . . Travelers parking at BWI get $2 off at the daily garage with a coupon printed from www.bwiairport.com. The coupon is good through Aug. 31.
BARGAIN OF THE WEEK
Hit the rails with family or friends and save 90 percent on Amtrak fares. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.
Reporting: Cindy Loose, Margaret Roth.
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