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NEWORLEANS - Friday marks the official beginning of the summer vacation season, as the Memorial Day holiday weekend kicks off.

Not long ago, there were fears that soaring gas prices would affect vacation plans across America.

This was supposed to be the summer when gas prices soared to $4, even $5/gallon, and just a couple of months ago, it was getting close.

But things changed, the world's economy slumped, demand for gasoline dropped and fears about Iran eased, so prices have now slipped back, to the delight of holiday travelers.

AAA, the American Automobile Association, reported that the average price for a gallon of regular gas now stands at $3.68, down nearly $0.20 from a month ago.

In Louisiana, the average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.45, a $0.30/gallon drop in a month, and many drivers know of places where the prices are lower.

AAA is predicting nearly 31 million people will hit the road this holiday weekend, which is about half a million more than last year.

Fewer people are planning to travel by air because of price increases in the industry, AAA said.

Even though gas prices are now falling, American vacation plans are still being affected, just not as much, AAA said.

'The overall average distance traveled by Americans during the Memorial Day weekend is expected to be 150 miles less than last year. This indicates that many people are attempting to save money by staying closer to home,' Yolanda Cases, with AAA, said.

If you're trying to stay cool over the long weekend, there are several area swimming pools opening up just in time for Memorial Day:

  • The wave pool at the Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego opens Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The pool will remain open through Monday and then resume regular summer on Thursday.
  • The pool at St. Bernard State Park opens Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. The pool will remain open through Monday and then resume regular summer on Thursday.
  • The Johnny Jacobs Playground pool opens for the summer starting Saturday. The pool will remain open through August 5. For hours of operation and information on swimming lessons, call 349-5000, extension 130.
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