Getting to the sandy beaches of a Caribbean or Bahamian island is getting easier for South Floridians.
More nonstop flights than ever from Miami and Fort Lauderdale will speed vacationers to their island destinations this fall. While some islands still can only be reached with a change in planes, the days when almost every Caribbean-bound flight went through a hub city are gone.
With the economy in a downturn, airlines have sharply reduced service from other United States cities to the Caribbean, but not from South Florida.
''We are not only holding steady with our Caribbean schedule, but we are increasing it,'' said Martha Pantin, director of corporate communications for American Airlines, the largest carrier to the Caribbean. ``We believe the Caribbean continues to be an attractive destination for U.S. travelers, especially in light of the cost of the euro and pound.''
American is adding new flights from Miami to Antigua in September and to Grenada in November, and is increasing service to St. Kitts to daily on Nov. 3. That means the airline will serve 27 of the 29 nonstop flights to the islands from Miami.
In Fort Lauderdale the story is different. The nonstop count is 24, divided among several airlines. The most destinations are served by Spirit with 11, Continental Connection with 10 and Lynx Air with nine.
Service reductions are few. American has quit flying from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan and Nassau, and Spirit has dropped Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. But both Spirit and Caribbean Airlines have added service to Trinidad in the past three months, and Zoom Airlines launched twice-weekly Fort Lauderdale-Bermuda nonstop service in June.
As for cost of air travel to the islands, it is impossible to predict what it will be in the months ahead, though the general trend is that fares everywhere are on the rise because of soaring fuel costs. ''We cannot assume anything regarding fares [to the Caribbean] -- some might be lower, some higher and some stable,'' said American's Pantin.
Here are short updates of some of the island destinations you can reach nonstop from South Florida:
Cricket is the national sport, traffic drives on the left and the literacy rate is the highest in the Caribbean (and higher than the United States). Barbados is the most English of all the Caribbean islands, except that rum, not tea, is the national drink.
Among new features awaiting travelers is the recently reopened Harrison's Cave, the island's most popular attraction; the spruced-up Casuarina Beach Resort, winding up a $30 million expansion; and a renovated Oistins Fish Market, site of a famous weekend fish fry.
Information: Barbados Tourism Authority, 305-442-7471; www.barbados.org.
Via AA from Miami,
Zoom from Fort Lauderdale
Pink-sand beaches, tony boutiques, classy pink hotels -- these are the hallmarks of Bermuda, the upscale British island in the Atlantic that long has been a favorite haunt of well-to-do vacationers from America's Northeast. Now, with nonstop flights from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale, more South Floridians can enjoy the charms of this temperate isle.
For one, they can don Bermuda Shorts, which were invented here. Sample the national drink, a Dark and Stormy, made of dark rum and ginger beer. Take high tea, offered in many hotels. Walk through a moongate -- a limestone arch that is said to grant everlasting happiness to those who pass through it.