Adventures in the summer sun.
Whether you are partial to snorkeling at the white sand beaches of the Bahamas, shopping in colorful markets in the U.S. Virgin Islands, trekking down historic heritage trails in Florida and Illinois or toe-tapping to old and new jams at music festivals in Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham or San Antonio, the opportunities for summertime excitement are infinite.
Travelers, who plan early, can take advantage of value added discount packages to destinations in and outside of the U.S. by way of United Airlines' United Vacations and American Express Travel Service. In addition, many cruise lines also offer combination travel packages, which include air fare, hotel, transfers and taxes, for families who spend a few days at Walt Disney World or in Miami before heading to the Bahamas.
The Caribbean bas long been a favorite vacation spot for many American tourists, especially during summer, the area's off-peak travel period. The Bahamas, which includes more than 700 islands and cays, boasts crystal clear waters, British charm and dawn-to-dusk days filled with water sports, music, shopping and fine dining. Located just 50 miles east off of the Florida coast, the Bahamas is just a few flight hours away from most major cities. Many island hotels and resorts offer all-inclusive family packages which include meals, sports activities and child care.
Further south, bargain hunters rejoice amid the fanciful straw hat shops and other specialty boutiques on the U.S. Virgin Islands. With year-round temperatures of about 80 degrees, the three small islands are the perfect places for enjoying the outdoors. Some hotels are known to slash rates as much as 15 percent, and St. Croix even extends free passes for car rentals, restaurants and island attractions to guests who stay seven days or more.
But you don't have to hop islands to grab great travel bargains. From the Great Lakes states to those surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, areas all around are hosting summer events, activities and vacation packages that are sure to please both you and your budget.
If it's down-home Southern charm you desire, look no further than Alabama. The Heart of Dixie kicks off its 175th anniversary with a myriad of cultural events and summertime attractions. In Birmingham, enjoy an outdoor festival of food, fun and lots of jazz, blues and bluegrass music between June 17 through June 19. Or you may want to plan your visit in August, just in time for the W.C. Handy Music Festival held in Florence between August 7 through August 13.
Ready to experience African-American culture with a bit of southwestern flair? Venture to San Antonio, Texas. Although best known for the historic Alamo, San Antonio also has exquisite Japanese tea gardens, aquariums, museums and other sites amid its warm, rugged surroundings. The Texas Folklife Festival (August 4 through August 7) and the 18th Annual Carver jazz Festival (August 19 through August 21) are just a taste of what this multiethnic city has to offer.
Louisiana is another fine Southern location that offers lots of fun in the sun. Cajun Country offers beautiful Gulf Coast beaches that are just right for a summer swim, plus the best in succulent Cajun and Creole cuisine and jazz, zydeco and blues to spare. Look for several summer attractions in well-traveled New Orleans to include the annual Reggae Riddums International Arts Festival (June 10 through June 12), which features the best in reggae and calypso music, delectable delicacies and African and Caribbean crafts.
If you want to add to your knowledge of Black history this summer, you don't have to delay your vacation to do so. Many states, including Florida, Illinois and parts of Tennessee, have added African-American heritage trails to their roster of "must-see" attractions. These regional trails offer lists of historic homes, sites, events and other cultural points of interest.
Memphis, for instance, known as the cradle of the blues, is also home to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the historic Beale Street, Alex Haley's Home and several other points of interest, which are highlighted in the city's tourism supplement, Down Home Views: African American Visitors Guide. Besides being a hub for Black history, the town is also brimming with activities, such as the annual Memphis in May International Festival. Each year, the month-long celebration honors a different country with lively music, dance, theater and visual arts unique to the respective nation. This summer's festival will focus on Africa's Ivory Coast.
Illinois is another great place to stop for sites and stories from the past. From Springfield to Peoria to Chicago, Blacks have left indelible marks, evidenced by the historic homes, sculptures and museums named in their honor. Many state locations, sites and attractions are listed and routed in the Illinois tourism insert, Illinois Generations: A Traveler's Guide to African-American Heritage. Chicago, the city founded by a Black man, Jean Baptiste Pointe Dusable, is always filled with exciting activities, especially in the summer. This season, the city will host the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony and game on June 17. Other big events include the annual summer Blues Festival (June 3 through June 5), Gospel Festival (June 11 and 12) and famed food fest, Taste of Chicago (July 2 through July 10).
You don't need a particular enticement to Visit the sunny Florida coast. Plush hotels, rich histories, gorgeous beachfronts and engaging amusement parks will naturally beckon you. Enjoy a day of horseback riding along Amelia Island's American Beach, just one of many landmark sites listed along Florida's Black Heritage Trail. Or maybe you'll want to gather family and friends for the annual Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival in Miami in June. Some Miami travelers might want to combine their stay with a cruise to the Bahamas. Special packages, which include roundtrip airfare, lodging, transfers and taxes, are available.
Daring souls may want to take the plunge on exotic water rides at Adventure Island in Tampa or venture across town to discover mild, rare, creatures at Tampa's Busch Gardens Theme Park.
But by far, the Sunshine State's biggest lure is Walt Disney World. Fun and fantasy are realized this summer at the theme park's new attractions, which include Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park haunted house-like Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Magic Kingdom's daily Mickey Mania parade and Epcot Center's new Big Band Salute to Duke Ellington. Disney World is easily accessible by car, train, bus or airlines and special hotel/air packages are available for early planners.
So go ahead, explore the endless possibilities for summertime fun. But before following your pursuits to that exotic hideaway or venturing out on a historical pilgrimage, make sure to check with your travel agent or tour guide for revised date and far schedulings. It could be the first step in turning a good travel idea into a great vacation memory.