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Winter cruising

Alaska is a popular destination for summer travelers and cruise ships. But what about a visit to Fairbanks in the season the state is known for?

The city is a hotbed of cold-weather activity, from ice-sculpting to viewing the Northern Lights. Nearby you'll find dogsledding a la Balto, downhill and cross-country skiing, ice fishing, ice skating and snowshoeing. If you live in a warm place and are worried about dressing appropriately, local suppliers can actually rent you a set of winter clothes to make your visit more comfortable. But bring your bathing suit, too, for a soak in outdoor hot springs at Chena, Tolovana, Melozi and Manley. Or use Fairbanks as a launching pad for a visit to the Arctic Circle.

For a free copy of the 2005-2005 guide to visiting Fairbanks in winter, call (800) 327-5774 or visit

Hawaii weddings

The number of mainland visitors getting married in Hawaii has more than doubled in the past 10 years, as "destination weddings" gain popularity.

The state issued 7,200 marriage licenses to mainland couples in 1994. That grew to 16,168 last year, nearly twice as many issued to Hawaii residents, according to marriage license data from the state Department of Health reported in The Honolulu Advertiser.

Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said destination weddings are a "growing phenomenon."

"It used to be getting married was very conventional, you get married in your hometown and your home church and you invite family and friends from around there," Haas said. "I think society's changed to the point where it's more accepting of different ways of getting married and one of them is the destination wedding, where you bring the bridal party and friends to the destination for the ceremony."

Lake Express

After an early end to its inaugural season, the Lake Express high-speed ferry that made its Lake Michigan crossings in 2 1/2 hours is getting a rave review from Michigan tourism officials.

"We all had visions of what we thought might happen and in the end, the first season was a banner year for all involved," said Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce. "But the best news is that now that we understand the potential, we can really move forward for a fantastic season next summer."

The $18 million ferry began making the 76-mile run between Milwaukee and Muskegon on June 1. It has a capacity of 250 passengers and 46 vehicles.

The West Michigan tourism industry has been promoting revival of cross-lake ferry service for decades and had been planning for Lake Express for months. From the community image and summer tourism season perspectives, the efforts were all worth it, they say.

The final run of the year was Oct. 31. Officials say that in 2005 they hope to operate through the end of the year. Service is to resume April 30.

Santa Claus, Ind.

You don't have to go to the North Pole or even a department store to see Santa Claus. Just head to Santa Claus, Ind., where the postmaster began answering letters from children to old St. Nick in 1914.

Volunteers are still answering the letters -- up to 10,000 each year. A statue of Santa was erected in 1935 on Highway 245.

The town also hosts an annual holiday festival, scheduled this year for Dec. 11-12, which includes a craft show, parade, musical performances and a 14-mile driving tour.

Nearby towns in Spencer County like Rockport and Lincoln City -- named for Abe Lincoln, who spent 14 years of his childhood in the area -- also have holiday events.

For more information about Christmas in Santa Claus and other Spencer County towns, call (888) 444-9252 or visit

Associated Press