Travelers gear up for holiday weekend


Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2003 at 12:48 a.m.
Gas prices shouldn't put too much of a dent in consumers' wallets this weekend, as millions of travelers prepare to hit the road for the Fourth of July holiday.
The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $1.48 on Monday, unchanged from a month ago, according to AAA. Florida's average on Monday was $1.47, up only 1 cent from a month ago, and regular unleaded gas in Gainesville averaged $1.52 on Monday, an increase of 3 cents from last month.
Prices at the pump typically rise in the days leading up to a holiday weekend, based on the increased demand for gasoline. But after hitting highs in mid-March, gas prices have steadily declined and haven't wavered by more than a few cents for several weeks.
"We expect prices to rise by maybe a couple of cents per gallon this weekend," said Gregg Laskoski, managing director of public and government relations for Tampa-based AAA Auto Club South. "We don't have any hard evidence that will happen, but past history indicates we'll see a small rise. Prices went up a few cents on Memorial Day weekend, and then they went right back down when the weekend was over."
AAA said it expects 37.4 million people to travel this weekend, the highest amount for July Fourth in nine years. Of that group, 32.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more by car, AAA said.
In Florida, 2.1 million people are expected to take trips this weekend, with the majority - 1.9 million - traveling by car. While international trips and air travel are still down, there should be plenty of activity within Florida's borders and on cruise lines in the Caribbean this weekend, said Mary Ratterman, a travel agent at Bon Voyage Travel Inc., an agency based in Gainesville.
"We're booking a lot of four-day trips to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando this weekend," Ratterman said. "We're also seeing a lot of people taking four-night cruises for the holiday."
Locally, there will probably be more people leaving the Gainesville area than staying here this weekend, said Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau. However, High Springs and other parts of North Central Florida will be busy as travelers visit the region's springs and rivers for nature-based getaways, he said.
All 19 rooms at the High Springs Country Inn, for example, were booked well in advance for this weekend, said manager Stephanie Burns. Most guests at the inn are from other locations in Florida, but they've also had several repeat visitors from outside the state during the summer months, Burns said.
"Most people are either going cave diving at Ginnie Springs or tubing down the Ichetucknee River," she said. "We usually fill up during most weekends in the summer."
Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or coombsj@gvillesun.com.

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