A land-only package for North Carolina's Outer Banks that features camping, kayaking, and exploring local attractions, such as the home of infamous pirate Blackbeard.
The Real Deal: Three nights' accommodations, hiking, kayaking, sightseeing, all meals, and gear, from $685 per person—including taxes.
When: Sept. 21-24, Oct. 19-22, 26-29, 2007.
The fine print: The lowest rate of $685 is for REI members; nonmembers pay $730 per person. We recommend joining REI since the low $15 fee is good for life. Lodging taxes; shuttle services; tandem kayaks and equipment; breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner daily; and the services of professional instructors and guides are included. Alcoholic and soft drinks, and a suggested $5-$15 tip for guides, are additional. Group size ranges from four to eight people. Read these before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: REI Adventures, 800/622-2236, rei.com/adventures.
Why it's a deal: The $685 per person rate breaks down to about $228 per day, and it covers all meals, snacks, professional kayaking instruction, equipment, and guided excursions in addition to two nights of camping and a night at a local bed-and-breakfast—plus the convenience of having the details ironed out for you. Similar packages to comparable destinations in North America are priced slightly higher and do not include all meals.
Trip details: North Carolina's Barrier Islands—a 130-mile-long sandy island chain in the Atlantic Ocean—have been attracting visitors since the 16th century. This fall, the Barrier Islands Kayaking package offers a weekend getaway beginning in Swansboro, a once-thriving ship-building port established in 1783, where you'll meet up with the rest of the group at 11 A.M. Your first stop will be the historic town of Beaufort, home of the pirate Blackbeard and about 28 miles from Swansboro. After dinner, you'll be free to check out the local shops and handcrafted sailboats. You'll spend the night at a cozy bed-and-breakfast of REI's choosing.
After breakfast the next morning, you'll set out on a seven-mile paddling adventure along a secluded route from Split Bay to Cods Creek and your nearby campsite on Cape Lookout National Seashore. You'll spend the day hiking along paths and relatively untouched beaches. In the evening, you'll reward yourself with a tasty dinner of fish stew, jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat and wrapped in bacon, homemade bread, potatoes, corn on the cob, and dessert—all freshly prepared for you by your guides.
Another seven-mile paddle the following day will take you to the popular kayaking destination Cape Lookout, from where you can catch a glimpse of the wild horses that run free on the Shackelford Banks. In the evening, your guides will treat you to grilled local grouper, Cajun black beans and rice, vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, and a poppy seed cake for dessert. You'll camp out under the tallest lighthouse on the Outer Banks.
On the final day, you'll paddle five miles to Harker's Island, where your trip will end by noon. Note that this trip calls for about four to six hours of daily physical activity; REI considers the required physical skill level to be "moderate."
For more tips on what to do in the area, visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina Visitors Bureau Web site.
Getting there: Airfare is not included in REI's package. The closest major airports are in New Bern (55 miles), Jacksonville (40 miles), and Raleigh (143 miles). To give you an idea of the cost, here are the lowest round-trip fares to New Bern, departing on Sept. 21 and returning on Sept. 24 we found recently on Sidestep: $234 from Philadelphia (Delta), $277 from Chicago and Los Angeles (US Airways), and $282 from New York (US Airways).
If you're flying into New Bern or Jacksonville, REI may be able to arrange an airport transfer to your meeting point in Swansboro. Just complete the flight information section found in the "Urgent Information" form, and the company will contact you with available group transfer options. However, if you fly into Raleigh, you will need to rent a car. Note: Both New Bern and Jacksonville arrivals might have to rent a car if no space is available on the group transfer. A compact car rental for four days is $95 from Raleigh airport, $98 from New Bern, and $99 from Jacksonville, including taxes and fees (Alamo).