New York City open for tourism

TRAVEL SMARTS

September 30, 2001

Even as New York City continues its physical and emotional recovery from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, it wants the world's vacationers to know that it is still ready to welcome them.

The group charged with that job, NYC & Co., the city's official tourism marketing organization, has taken steps to help visitors do what Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has asked them to do: come to New York and spend money.

The organization has set up a toll-free line (888-805-4040) with live operators who can tell prospective visitors what cultural institutions, theaters and other attractions are open. Information about hotel availability and airports is also provided. Updates are posted on the group's Web site, www.nycvisit.com.

You can drive to the city, but train, bus or air travel is recommended. Amtrak (www.amtrak. com; 800-872-7245) and Greyhound (www. greyhound.com; 800-229-9424) offer daily service to New York from Baltimore, and several airlines fly directly from BWI. Contact a travel agent for information about organized tours and trips.

-- From wire reports

A TOUR GUIDE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

Audio tours, taped versions of a travel guide's lectures, are springing up all over the place as an economical and self-guided alternative to signing up with a tour group. The tours usually include maps and optional itineraries, a detailed history and points of interest and are tailored to car or foot travel. Here's a sampling of some of the companies and destinations out there (for more, check your local bookstore or search online):

* Bellew's Tours -- Specializes in "Walk With Me" tours of Italy ($17, www.bellewstours. com, 770-984-2156).

* Travelog -- Offers car tours throughout New York state and plans to add tours throughout the country ($20; www.travelog.com; 800-367-7201).

* Walkabout Audio Tours -- Offers walking tours of the Grand Canyon ($9 for a cassette, $16 for a CD; www. walkaboutaudiotours.com; 877-530-1030).

* CarTours -- Offers self-guided audio driving tours for protected areas such as national parks, World Heritage sites and other historic destinations ($11 cassette, $13 CD; www.cartours.com; 206-382-1904).

-- Tricia Bishop

Halloween extras

Every Friday and Saturday night in October, Virginia's Kings Dominion transforms from a fun park into a fright park as swirling fog, horrible creatures and eerie music descend with the darkness.

Intended for those over 12 years of age, FearFest nights, which run from 7 p.m. to midnight, spook up the traditional rides and even cart in some new ones created (or transformed) just for the October nights. New attractions include the Freezer, a confusing maze made up to look like an asylum guarded by bloody butchers; the Sewer, where you don distortion glasses; and Superstition, an Elvira-led motion-simulator adventure.

FearFest is an after-hours event with a separate admission fee ($25). For information, see www.kingsdominion.com or call 804-876-5000. -- T.B.

Bag holds key role in movie

When Ocean's 11, a film starring Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, opens in December, there will be one role in particular not filled by a major name. In fact, it's filled by a bag -- a Tumi Tech travel bag, inspired by the luxury luggage makers' new urban collection.

Custom designed at director Steven Soderberg's request, the bag (below) acts as a key prop in one scene, but that's all the film folks will say for now -- you'll have to catch the movie to find out more.

Meanwhile, you can travel in Ocean's 11 style with a Tumi bag of your own. Offerings range from functional (carry-on convertible backpacks; $295) to fashionable (cherry-red leather handbags with bows; $225-$275). Call 800-322-8864 for a catalog or go online to www.tumi.com. -- T.B.

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