The announcement last week from AAA that 34.5 million Americans are expected to travel over Labor Day weekend has a downside.

The number is higher than last year, when 34.2 million traveled 50 miles or more from home during the holiday. But the 0.9 percent increase is projected to be the smallest for any holiday period since Christmas 2002, when travel declined compared with the previous year, the Heathrow-based travel group said.

The small boost this Labor Day is partly because rising gas prices may cause some people to curtail their driving, AAA executive Robert Darbelnet said in a written statement. Another factor: the growing number of school districts that now start classes before Labor Day.

AAA estimates that 28.8 million Americans will use a car for their Labor Day travel, up slightly from 28.7 million during the 2004 holiday. About 4 million people are expected to take trips by airplane, up 2.6 percent from 3.9 million in 2004. An estimated 1.7 million will travel by train, bus, or other means, up from about 1.6 million a year ago.

In 2004, Labor Day weekend travel was up an estimated 2.4 percent over the same period in 2003, AAA said. Since Memorial Day 2003, year-over-year estimated increases in travel for major holidays have ranged from 1.7 percent to 4.8 percent, AAA data shows.

Exploring Everest

Scientists from Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom and Conservation International are exploring the mountains of southwest China as part of a monthlong expedition to one of Earth's richest and most biologically diverse regions.

"Expedition Everest: Mission Himalayas" is a scientific and cultural journey that combines researchers, conservationists, Imagineers from Disney, and filmmakers from Discovery Networks. They are joining biologists, botanists and other technical experts from Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program as they search for new plant and animal species.

Among the scientists is Anne Savage, a Disney conservation biologist. She and Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, are experts on primates and will study the golden monkey, a threatened species in China.

Information from the expedition also will help authenticate the experience of Animal Kingdom's newest attraction, Expedition Everest, scheduled to open next year.

Radio talker hosts reunion

Fans of radio talker Tom Joyner can join him and a host of musicians, comedians and gospel acts for the Tom Joyner Family Reunion, Thursday through Sunday at Walt Disney World. Packages for the entire reunion are available, as are tickets for a party Saturday at Disney-MGM Studios. The party, which will begin at 9 p.m. after regular park operating hours, will include such entertainers as Ashanti and the hot Scream Tour IV cast of Bow Wow, Omarion, Marques Houston, Bobby Valentino and B5. Tickets cost $60 plus tax and, where applicable, service charges. Information: 407-934-7639 or tickemaster.com.

It's a scream

Universal Orlando is extending its casting call for Halloween Horror Nights 15. Instead of wrapping up next month, auditions will continue every Tuesday through Oct. 4. Universal is looking for 1,000 performers. Auditions begin at 6 p.m. at Universal's Human Resources building, 1000 Universal Studios Plaza. Information also is available at universalauditions.com/orlando

Information from Bloomberg News was used in this report.