5 Memorial Day Alternatives In Troubled Hotspots

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Does it just seem like America hasn't had a break since the shootings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last year, or have we just been swinging from one tragedy to the next for that long?

They've come with very different faces: A multifronted superstorm in Sandy, yet another gunman in Newtown, Conn., outright terrorists in Boston, negligence in Waco, Texas, a Mother's Day shooter in New Orleans and now a rare F-5 tornado in Moore, Okla. When a headline in The Onion sums it up best -- Americans Dredge Up Last Remaining Reserves Of Grief -- it's tempting to just try to run away from it all.

Unfortunately, the last year has many Americans too shellshocked, spent and stunned to move. TripAdvisor ( TRIP), the travel site that tends to keep on the sunny side of life around this time of year, just released a survey that's as dour as the rest of the country now. With Memorial Day weekend coming up, only 30% of folks surveyed by TripAdvisor -- regular travelers, mind you -- have plans to go anywhere during the long weekend.

Are gas prices the problem? Nope. They're actually down 36 cents a gallon since Memorial Day 2011 and only 7% of those surveyed by TripAdvisor say those prices are going to affect their plans. What about the expiration of the payroll tax cut that returned that particular levy to 6.2% from 4.2% last year? Well, the New York Federal reserve says 79% of the folks it surveyed planned to cut spending to make up for the loss anyway, so why not put off that Memorial Day trip?

Because your regular Memorial Day hangouts need you now more than ever. When terrible things happen, the people affected rarely say "give us less money to help us through these trying times, please." Folks who showed up on the Gulf Coast after BP's ( BP) Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 helped clean the beaches and keep waterfront businesses and towns afloat. Leaf peepers who showed up in Vermont in Fall 2011 helped communities rebuild and helped bring back beloved institutions.

This Memorial Day has that kind of potential for stricken spots across the country. Here are just five places that need your help this summer and reasons to go to each:

The Jersey Shore

Seeing the beloved Jet-Star blown off its moorings on Casino Pier in Seaside Heights and into the waters below was just about all New Jerseyans, Jersey expatriates and generations of vacationers needed to see to realize just how badly Superstorm Sandy had battered the Jersey Shore.

Vacation spots such as Belmar, Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights in New Jersey's Monmouth and Ocean Counties hosted generations of families each summer, with Memorial Day serving as the annual kickoff point for prom trips, Senior Days and early seaside excursions. This year, however, even the optimistic view says the shore is going to have a tough Memorial Day.

Trailers have replaced the boardwalk shops and arcades in Belmar, while a steel wall now sits between it and the water. The mini golf course on Point Pleasant's boardwalk still isn't operational and the boardwalks planks have just finished being laid. Many businesses on Seaside Heights' boardwalk won't open at all, while its Casino and FunTown amusement piers are still being rebuilt.

The little communities in between -- with names such as Ortley Beach, Ocean Beach and Lavalette -- are in various states of disrepair, with Ortley Beach unable to even open its beach for the weekend.

Why you should go: Because if there's going to be a Jersey Shore after this, the businesses need visitors' cash as quickly as they can get their hands on it.

Listen, we get it: It's a bit traumatic to see the place where you and your family spent every summer since time immemorial ripped asunder and looking more like the disaster area it is than the dream vacation destination it was and longs to be again. But if all those memories mean that much to you, you're going to have to suck it up and support the shore you love while it's down.

These are the stakes, and if you don't believe us, just read what Seaside Heights boardwalk tattoo shop owner Mitch Green had to say to The Record:

"I don't know what I'm expecting, but I'm hoping it's a regular normal weekend where we make up some revenue that we lost in the past six months. We lost a fortune because we haven't been open, so I'm hoping people come down, celebrate, stay for a long weekend and party and a have a good time."

Coney Island

New York's little seaside honky-tonk has been through a lot in the last couple of years. Astroland closed down, developers started licking their chops and Takeru Kobayashi was kicked out of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Yet it still hadn't seen anything quite like Superstorm Sandy. Nathan's Famous ( NATH) is still boarded up and being repaired. The Parachute Jump relic hasn't been lit since the storm. The New York Aquarium is just reopening later this week, and even then only at limited capacity and at reduced admission prices. The Coney Island U.S.A. Sideshow and Museum are still under repair. The future of the Mermaid Parade, Coney Island's beloved marching tribute to all its lovely weirdness, is still short of its fundraising goal.

Pizza shops such as Grimaldi's and Totono's may be up and running, the Wonder Wheel and the bumper cars may be functional and bars including Peggy O'Neil's may be slinging drinks, but they're all running on fumes. Rebuilding has tapped out just about everybody and, in some cases, business is a day-to-day affair.

Why you should go: Again, because not going basically shuts down Coney Island. Like the Jersey Shore, Coney Island has an extremely subjective beauty. While hardscrabble even on its best days, it has memories and moments attached to it that make all the ride fumes, freaks and fatty foods seem like necessary scenery for a summer fairy tale.

The Warriors fought every comic-book gang in the city just to get back to Coney Island, and that was during some of its worst days. With the Luna Park rides cranking, the hot dogs sizzling and the boardwalk spared the brunt of the damage, Coney Island could definitely use your help.

Boston

It's been little more than a month since the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing chase and manhunt that took three lives, maimed dozens of onlookers and put a city and its surrounding area on lockdown.

With Boylston Street reopened, a suspect in custody and life returning to as close to normal as things can get under the circumstances -- attention has since shifted to attack ads in the Senate race -- Boston doesn't have the feel of a town that's been stunned scared. Instead of running as far from crowds as it could, Boston healed with the masses at Red Sox games and Bruins playoff games. Thousands of people huddled together to watch Vertical Horizon, Cracker and Fastball -- bands that didn't warrant exposing oneself to undue danger even in their '90s heyday -- on the Esplanade along the Charles River last week.

The duck boats are rolling and paddling. The Common is coming to life. The ferries on the harbor and the outdoor seating in the North End and Faneuil Hall awaits the summer hordes eagerly. Will they come?

Why you should go: If Boston isn't afraid, you shouldn't be either. It's a pedantic little town that gets set in its ways more than it likes to admit, but in this instance that's it's finest quality. It's not going to curl up into a ball and surround itself with a ring of steel just because everyone expects it to. It already spent one long night and day on lockdown under the equivalent of martial law: It's not about to let that happen again.

Plus, as with most cities, Memorial Day is one of the best times to enjoy it. City dwellers will be on the Cape, in Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, up on Cape Ann, in Maine, up at the lake house in New Hampshire or Vermont, way out in the Berkshires or any of the countless other places around Boston where they usually burn vacation days. That leaves the streets, parks and everything else largely vacant and largely open to visitors.

Enjoy it. Stroll around, get a sausage sandwich near Fenway, walk the Freedom Trail, soak in the history, stop into the Samuel Adams ( SAM) or Harpoon breweries, walk the harbor or the Charles. Appreciate everything that town is on a warm summer's day and the peace the locals don't take for granted. Just don't hang around too long, OK? Some people have to work on Tuesday and you don't want to be one of their complaints on the T on the way to their first day back.

Egypt

See the pyramids along the Nile? Not amid a full-fledged uprising, thank you.

The revolt that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took place back in 2011, but tourism in Egypt is still recovering as travelers wait to see how the political situation shakes out. Two years of protests, riots and political instability haven't exactly instilled much confidence.

Tourism dropped by a third in the year after the uprising. The industry has been plagued by assaults, kidnappings and accidents, including the deaths of 19 Asian and European tourists in a hot air balloon crash near the ancient city of Luxor back in February.

Though things have quieted down a bit and tourism revenue during the first three months of 2013 is up 16.2% from last year, visits may still fall short of the 14.7 million that came to Egypt in 2010 -- the last full year before the uprising.

Why you should go: Safety is still on the minds of most tourists considering Egypt, and folks realize that Giza and the Temple of Horus are just as likely to be there once this all blows over -- as they have been for the last few thousand years.

Tourism accounted for more than 10% of Egyptian gross domestic product before the uprising, though. Those earnings help Egypt pay for imported food and subsidized fuel. With that on the table, Egyptian authorities have made security and public relations high priorities as the country finds its footing. Egypt's Ministry of Tourism is quick to point out that recent unrest didn't hurt much of the country outside of Cairo. The Red Sea resorts were untouched and both Egypt Air and Turkish Airlines have joined the ministry in wooing tourists and touting the nation's newfound safety.

Cruise ships

Compared with what's happened at the other vacation destinations, cruise ships' recent woes seem like spoiled rich kid problems.

Oh no, we have to spend an extra few days at sea. Oh please, not another bite of the free food or sip of the free drinks you're doling out to placate us while we're stranded. Oh lord, please don't reimburse us for our trips and offer us another cruise for free!

Sure, Carnival ( CCL) had to do this because it kept people on its Triumph cruise liner marooned in the Gulf of Mexico for five days as the engine burned and raw sewage ran down the walls, but people didn't exactly lose their homes or their lives, did they? No? Then shut up and take your perks and class-action decision, Mr. and Mrs. Complete Lack of Perspective on the lido deck.

Why you should go: Because Carnival is making it worth your while.

The company realizes that the phrase "poop cruise" doesn't exactly get folks in the vacationing mood, so last month it started offering motel-rate cruise prices for anyone willing to take a chance and set adrift. Starting at $38 a night, vacationers get a four-day trip to the Bahamas from Port Canaveral, Fla., with stops in Nassau and Half Moon Cay on a ship that includes a comedy club, a piano bar, a casino and a spa. That low price is nonrefundable, but when a four-day cruise costs as much as a night at a truck stop motel, even images of tugboat-aided cruise ships with human waste lining their walls may not be enough to keep folks from gambling on their trip ending in dissimilar fashion.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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