Booking rooms by contacting hotels directly is likely to result in cheaper rates than booking through travel Web sites, according to Consumer Reports' July issue. The magazine contacted 100...

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Magazine says calling hotels for rates may beat online

Booking rooms by contacting hotels directly is likely to result in cheaper rates than booking through travel Web sites, according to Consumer Reports’ July issue.

The magazine contacted 100 hotels to find the best deal on a room for a three-night weekend getaway in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. Three out of four hotels gave a better deal when contacted directly than when booked through travel Web sites like, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, with an $83-a-night average savings, Consumer Reports said.

The magazine also rated hotels using reviews from 35,000 readers. The Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons won in the luxury category ($90-$500 nightly); Walt Disney Resorts, Embassy Suites and Harrah’s won upscale ($80-$150); SpringHill Suites by Marriott and Homewood Suites by Hilton won moderate ($60-$100); and Sleep Inn, Extended Stay America and Microtel Inn/Suites won budget ($40-$70).


Democratic convention will alter travel in Boston

If you’re traveling to New England during the last week of July, beware of road closures and changes in train service related to the Democratic National Convention.

Amtrak is suspending service on the Downeaster, which runs between Boston and Portland, Maine, July 26-29.

North Station will be closed July 23-30.

Local roadway changes, July 26-29, 4 p.m. to midnight daily, include the following:

The Mass Pike
eastbound, from Allston to East Boston, will have lane restrictions.

Interstate 93
will be closed from Exit 32 in Medford, just north of Boston, to Exit 20, which connects to the Massachusetts Turnpike just south of downtown.

For details on related disruptions, visit

Best beaches

Hawaii beach named best in the U.S., says “Dr. Beach”

Hanauma Bay, a volcanic crater flooded with gem-blue Pacific waters and hundreds of species of tropical fish, has been named the best U.S. beach on the list of annual rankings by Stephen Leatherman, a Florida environmental scientist known as “Dr. Beach.”

Four Florida beaches made the top 10 rankings — Fort De Soto Park, Caladesi Island State Park and Crescent Beach along the central Gulf coast, and Cape Florida State Park near Miami.

Hanauma Bay, a stretch of white sand along Oahu’s eastern shore with spectacular views and superb snorkeling, has appeared on Leatherman’s list before.

“It’s a perfect little jewel,” said Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

Also honored were Ocracoke Island in North Carolina; Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y.; Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass.; Coronado Beach in California; and Hanalei Bay in Kauai, Hawaii.

Las Vegas

This train is running late — really, really late

Las Vegas visitors can see and hear a gleaming monorail gliding overhead, plying its four-mile route between the MGM Grand and the Sahara near the Strip.

They just can’t ride it.

It’s still undergoing tests more than four months after it was scheduled to begin service.

Like so many transit schemes in this city of illusions, the Las Vegas monorail remains tantalizingly out of reach.

“We are confident the system will be able to open this summer,” said Todd Walker, spokesman for Transit Systems Management, which administers contracts for the nonprofit Las Vegas Monorail Co. But because the trains are being tested, he said he couldn’t predict a date.

Walker said earlier problems had been solved: A drive shaft fell off a train in early January (“an isolated incident,” he said), and there were software glitches in the automated, driverless system.

Meanwhile, the system’s two contractors are paying $85,000 a day in “liquidated damages” — more than $7 million for the $650-million project as of late May — to compensate for fare revenue lost to delays. The system was supposed to open Jan. 20.

One-way fares will be $3, compared with $2 for city buses that serve the Strip; existing pedestrian bridges and trams are free.

Lake Michigan

Fast ferry may boost tourism on “Michigan’s West Coast”

A new high-speed, high-tech ferry began plying Lake Michigan on June 1, covering the 76 nautical miles between Milwaukee and Muskegon in about 2-1/2 hours and bringing with it hopes of a regional travel boom.

Officials from the new Lake Express car-passenger ferry say thousands of tickets were pre-sold. The vessel is expected to boost tourism and economic development in Muskegon and the state’s southwestern region by making it easier for residents of Wisconsin and neighboring states to explore “Michigan’s West Coast.”

The Lake Express has a capacity of 250 passengers and 46 vehicles. The 192-foot-long ferry is owned by Lubar & Co., a family-run Milwaukee investment firm.

It’s the first high-speed ferry to operate on the Great Lakes, but not by much. An Australian-built Lake Ontario ferry, The Spirit of Ontario, is scheduled to begin service between Toronto and Rochester, N.Y., Friday.

Seattle Times wire services