Travel News

Splash around Panama City Beach with new direct flights, learn why you should pack your bags early to beat the Christmas rush, and score free tickets to the Big Apple with this week’s top travel news.

By: Eliot Stein

Southwest Airlines has announced new nonstop service from Baltimore to Northwest Florida International Beaches Airport, which serves Panama City Beach. Ranked by Frommer’s Travel Guides as the number-two destination for 2010, the beach boasts 27 miles of cerulean seas, golf courses, spas, hotels, and restaurants. Daily flights begin May 23. Seats are already available for booking and start at $49 one way.

This week Fodor’s Travel Guides named DC as one of its top ten family destinations for 2010. The guidebook company judged locations based on affordability and appeal to children; it also said that the arrival of the First Family in Washington was “extra exciting to kids,” and noted that the capital is “chock-full of museums that interest school-aged children.”

Those looking to celebrate the holidays out of town might want to hit the Beltway early this year. According to AAA, travel during the Christmas and New Year’s weekends will increase by 3.8 percent from last year—the first time in three years that nationwide travel has increased during that period. An estimated 28 percent of Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this year. While the number of air, bus, and train travelers is projected to increase, the highest growth is in automobile travelers.

Starting this month, Megabus—the double-decker, wifi-equipped coach company—is giving away 40,000 free seats for passengers traveling to New York City between January 6 and March 20. To search for seats on routes leaving from Washington or Baltimore, use the promotion code GETAWAY when booking a ticket on Megabus’s Web site. The site will then display a timetable to show when free seats are available. A 50-cent booking fee applies. We’re told passengers are more likely to find a free ticket if they travel during the week or leave later in the day.

Thrill-seekers should look no further than Kings Dominion this spring, when the amusement park unveils the $25-million Intimidator 305 roller coaster. Inspired by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, the Intimidator is only the second Giga coaster—a complete-circuit coaster with a height between 300 and 400 feet—in North America. With track speeds of 90 miles an hour and a 300-foot drop, it’ll be the fastest and tallest coaster on the East Coast. To purchase tickets to the park, which reopens for the season on April 2, and learn more about the ride, click here.

Continental Airlines announced this week that it plans to outfit its fleet of 21 Boeing 757-300s with wifi capabilities—becoming the last domestic legacy airline to do so. The company, which operates flights from Ronald Reagan and Dulles airports, expects in-flight wifi service to start this spring at $4.95 for full broadband capabilities on short flights and up to $12.95 for 24-hour access on longer flights.