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Hot Stuff From My Travel Notebook
June 1, 1996 -- What's new in the travel world? Glad you asked. These items have been burning a hole (metaphorically, of course) in my notebook.

WATCH YOUR WALLET
The tax man has found two more ways to increase your travel costs. In San Francisco, voters recently agreed to expand the city's convention center and decided that you should pay for it. Effective July 1, you'll pay a 14 percent tax on hotel rooms, up from the current 12 percent. And in Atlanta, city fathers are building a new basketball arena for Ted Turner, the media and sports mogul. You'll be paying for that, too, via a special 3 percent tax on car rentals.

FLYING INTO AFRICA
South African Airways' de facto monopoly on service to South Africa is scheduled to end on June 23 when World Airways (800-967-5350) launches three weekly flights between Newark and Johannesburg. The flights will make an intermediate fueling stop in Dakar, Senegal.

ROYALS? WHAT ROYALS?
Are the Brits finally embarrassed by the Royal Family? Why else would their new guide, Britain: Your Vacation Planner, have so few mentions of the nation's numerous royal tourist attractions? Thankfully, everything else we love about Britain is covered, including a useful report on visiting historic homes and gardens. The booklet is free from the British Tourist Authority (800-462-2748).

TATTY TO NATTY IN NASSAU Several long overdue, big-buck renovations have revived Nassau just in time for the summer. The most miraculous makeover: a $250 million facelift that turned Merv Griffin's flea-bitten old Paradise Island complex into Atlantis (800-321-3000). The glitzy theme resort meanders along four miles of beachfront and is designed around a huge water park with five swimming pools, waterfalls, a man-made river, a water ride and an aquarium. Just for good measure, there are also a dozen restaurants, a golf course and a casino. Nightly rates start at $140 during July and August. Just be sure to leave Atlantis long enough to eat at the Poop Deck (809-322-8175), where tables on the outdoor terrace overlook the yacht harbor. The conch fritters, a local specialty, are the best in the Bahamas.

AIRPORTS FROM HELL
Some airports really are worse than others. According to IATA, the airline trade group, four international airports are noteworthy in their ability to make us miserable. Athens, where rotten passenger facilities and awful baggage handling are the norm, rates as the world's worst airport. Almost as bad: Orly in Paris, Narita in Tokyo and New York's Kennedy Airport. Where are the good airports? Two relatively new facilities--Manchester, in northern England, and Singapore--get the nod. Orlando was rated the best U.S. airport.

RIDING THE RAILS
Travelers over 60 can knock 15 percent off the cost of first-class rail travel in Britain when they buy one of two new passes from BritRail. The BritRail Senior Flexipass permits four, eight or 15 days of travel over a one-month period. It is priced at $245, $339 and $490 respectively. The BritRail Senior Classic Pass allows travel for eight consecutive days for $275; 15 days for $445; 22 days for $565; and one month for $650. For more details, call (800-677-8585).

FIELD OF DREAMS
Did you always dream of stealing home? Or maybe just getting a couple of swings during spring training? Live out your fantasies July 5-9 during the All-Star FanFest at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center. Held in conjunction with the 1996 All Star Game, FanFest will offer 25 interactive attractions and baseball exhibits. Tickets ($6-$13) can be purchased from Ticketmaster (215-336-2000) or at the door.

GOIN' SOUTH
This can't be what they had in mind when they passed the NAFTA free trade agreement. More than 1,300 cars a month are disappearing off the streets of San Diego and car-rental firms and police agree the vehicles almost certainly wind up south of the border in Mexico. If you plan to rent a car or drive your own auto near San Diego, make sure your theft coverage is in order.

THE RIGHTS STUFF
Want to know exactly how little the airlines must pay if they lose your luggage? Or how they can cancel your reservation without notice? It's all in Fly-Rights, a government guide that explains hundreds of ways the airlines can legally screw up your travels. ($1.75 from R. Woods, Consumer Information Center, PO Box 100, Pueblo, CO 81002)

HIGH ON HONOLULU
Don't let the snobs talk you out of a long stop on Oahu when you're planning your summer trek to Hawaii. Maui's pretty and the Big Island has a volcano, but only Oahu has the tropical sophistication of Honolulu and the infectious giddiness of Waikiki, the world's safest and friendliest urban beach resort. Oahu's best-kept secret: the elaborately restored I'olani Palace (808-538-1471), the only royal palace on U.S. soil. Oahu's most rewarding freebie: the awe-inspiring views of the Pacific from the top of Diamond Head, accessible by an easy hiking trail. Our favorite place: the alfresco House Without a Key at the beachfront Halekulani Hotel (808-923-2311). Drop by about six for a cool drink and a plate of icy tuna sashimi, listen to the soothing Hawaiian band and watch the sunset. What more do you need from life?

DREAM ON
Two of three Americans say they've never taken their "dream" vacations. What keeps us from living out our fantasies? Here are the reasons cited by a Hilton Hotels survey of more than a thousand adults: not enough money (71 percent); not enough time (25 percent); too much work (16 percent); and family commitments (10 percent).

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

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