Plenty of choices for summer travel spots

06/13/2011 6:30 AM

06/13/2011 6:30 AM

Just an hour north of Palm Beach, Fla., by car, the Navy SEALs Museum at Ft. Pierce, once largely unknown, is now awash with visitors. Before embarking on such feats of derring-do as taking out Osama bin Laden, the Navy SEALs were known as Underwater Demolition Teams, and played a key role on D-Day in 1944. The museum tells their story in fascinating detail.

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People who procrastinate about making vacation plans should know that summer is high season in Hawaii — too late to obtain most hotel deals or airfare discounts. It's best to wait for September, when traffic to the islands eases considerably.

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The winter of 2011-12 may be the last high season for visiting Maho Bay Camps on the tiny island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The famed ecological resort of tented bungalows overlooking a breathtaking Caribbean beach scene is about to lose its lease and probably will shut down in June 2012. If you've ever thought about going, go now.

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It's becoming more and more apparent that occupying a spare room in an apartment whose owners remain in residence is one of the most effective ways to cut your costs of lodgings on overseas trips. A website called iStopover.com has joined the popular Airbnb.com as a new major source of such digs, priced at not much more than you'd pay for a hostel.

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Based on the success of CruiseCompete.com (you name the ship and date you wish, and scores of travel agents bid for your business by naming the price they're able to get for you), a new website called VacationCompete.com does the same for hotel accommodations. You name the hotel and dates you wish, and your requirements are transmitted to hundreds of travel agents, who respond with the special deal they're able to get for you.

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At what may arguably be the best hotel in Las Vegas, the luxurious Vdara (1,500 suites, right on the Strip), prices plummet to as low as $119 per suite per night in July and August. Check out the booking calendars at Vdara.com, and you may conclude that there's no reason to stay anywhere else.

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In a recent brochure listing what isn't tolerated, the government of Dubai has named swearing, kissing or holding hands as among prohibited activities. Do you really want to go there?

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Although it's probably too late to book a seven-night cruise of the Mediterranean for $399 per person in June (inside cabins for that month probably are all gone), several ships of Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises will be charging as little as $499 per person for inside cabins in July (see www.vacationstogo.com). Those bargain rates may serve to offset the high cost of flying to the Mediterranean to board the ship.

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With scarcely any advertising or publicity for its U.S.-originating flights, a French airline called XLAirways (xlairways.com) has commenced six-times-a-week service between New York and Paris, and twice-a-week service between Las Vegas and Paris, at rates at least $300 below what most standard carriers charge for those round-trip trans-Atlantic flights. The reason for such a timid launch? XL's owners apparently have concluded that they can fill the flights almost entirely with French-originating passengers, but they'll be happy to accept bookings made through U.S. travel agents for U.S.-originating passengers. Several travel-savvy friends of mine already have booked.

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Two specialty cruise lines have been saved from oblivion: The trendy, sophisticated Windstar Cruises (operating three giant sailing ships that mainly rely on their motors rather than their immense sails) has been acquired by billionaire Philip Anschutz and is operating without interruption; and that large, 400-passenger Mississippi riverboat, the American Queen, also has been purchased out of bankruptcy by new owners. It will resume sailing in 2012. Having myself been a very satisfied passenger aboard the American Queen (which usually embarks from New Orleans), I'm happy to report the news of its rebirth.

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