Plan a Fire Island getaway on the cheap

A view of the sunset at the Appalachian

A view of the sunset at the Appalachian Mountain Club Fire Island Cabin. (Aug. 2, 2013) (Credit: Barbara Alper)

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Budget travelers expect to see hostels in foreign locales such as Italy and Brazil.

But they might be surprised to learn there's hostel-style living on Fire Island.

In Atlantique, one of the barrier beach's 17 communities, a dormitory-style cabin hosts 24 people in two bedrooms flanking a communal kitchen. Three bunk beds line one wall of each dorm, guests sleeping head-to-toe. Luckier arrivals grab the other three more-isolated bunks, one against each remaining wall next to windows.

When nature calls, guests scramble from the bunks, head through screen doors to the dark and starry outdoors, and use the shared bathroom building.

That's the price people pay to pay this price: $45 a weeknight in July and August, $160 for a Friday to Sunday weekend that includes a Hearty Happy Hour with food, wine and beer on Friday, two breakfasts and a full Saturday dinner.

Jo Butorovich, a 63-year-old retired banker from Baldwin, laughs in recounting her ferry ride to Atlantique on a recent Friday, when an acquaintance posed this question to a member of her group: "Are you staying at that commune?"

SURPRISING OWNER

The cabin, surprisingly, is owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The venerable hiking organization owns a number of dormlike facilities on the East Coast, primarily in the mountains along the Appalachian Trail. The club's presence on Fire Island began in 1928, says Anita Barberis of Manhattan, who chairs the Fire Island Committee of the AMC's New York-North Jersey Chapter, which runs the house.

Guests say the price isn't the only lure. "It's the whole vibe," says Anne DiLorenzo, 67, of Bayside, who's been coming out for 19 years. The club's focus on recreation, conservation and education draws like-minded people.

Weekends and midweeks offer themed activities such as chess lessons, a quilting workshop, sailing classes and bird-watching. Then there are the amenities -- numerous beach chairs and umbrellas, 11 kayaks and six canoes, seven sunfish sailboats and three sloops.

A separate Educational Center in an airy, wood gazebo offers shelves of paperbacks and games such as Scrabble. When it rains, no worries: Guests play games and socialize, says Thomas Demakakos, 16, of Astoria, who did so at an indoor table in a recent soaking during a midweek chess program.

People who want to use the house's facilities for the day can pay a $15 fee by cash or check without registering in advance, even if they aren't club members, Barberis says. But nonmembers can't use the boats or stay the weekend unless accompanied by a club member, she says. Membership ranges from $25 to $60 for the first year.

Overnight accommodations at hotels in nearby Ocean Beach, for instance, range from $100 a night on weekdays on the low end to more than $400 a night on weekends on the high end, without the perks.

"This is a hidden treasure," says Rebecca Turetzky, 65, of Manhattan, a house manager who on a recent weekend planned the happy hour menu, which included dumplings she purchased in Chinatown and noodles with spicy peanut sauce.

'LIKE A RETREAT'

Most of the people on a recent canoeing and kayaking Paddle Weekend were in their 50s and 60s; a few were in their 40s. The house guests usually skew more heavily female, Barberis says.

Some guests speculate that the cabin often draws a more mature crowd because of its rules: No alcohol except wine and beer at evening meals; lights out at 11 p.m. "It's not for a partying crowd," DiLorenzo says. "It's supposed to be more like a retreat."

Perhaps the most horrifying restriction for the iGeneration: no using cellphones or laptops. To make a call or check email, guests must walk off the property.

The all-volunteer cabin requires each overnight guest to sign up for a daily chore, such as cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the cabin or weeding the compound's garden, as well as a mealtime task. Volunteers also serve as the house managers, and this year volunteers also pitched in to help repair cabin damage from superstorm Sandy. The club had to replace its dishwasher, stove, washer, dryer and other equipment, Barberis says.

The biggest drawback of an overnight at the cabin?

It's unanimous: the snoring.

"None of my friends will stay over," DiLorenzo says. "They want to sleep in their own beds. They want their privacy."

DiLorenzo says she understands the hesitation but doesn't share it. "Nobody likes the dorms," she says. "But to have the rest of it? It's worth it."

WHAT IT COSTS

LODGING COSTS Rates vary by month and day of the week: Weeknights in May and October are $25 a person; June and September are $40 a night, July and August are $45 a night. Weekends are $160 for Friday through Sunday except for sailing weekends, which are $175, and holiday weekends, which include a third night and cost $300. Nonmember guest pay an additional $25 a weekend. All guests must supply their own top and bottom sheet and pillowcase or rent them for $15 a stay. The cabin has blankets and pillows. The house is a 10-minute walk on sand from the Atlantique ferry dock, so rolling luggage is not recommended.

DAY GUESTS Whether members or not, they can use the house facilities for a fee of $15 a person, paid by check or cash. Nonmember day guests can't use the boats without a club member onboard.

MEMBERSHIP COSTS Annual membership in the Appalachian Mountain Club is $40 for an individual, $60 for a family and $25 for people younger than 30 or older than 70 for the first year when joining through the New York-North Jersey Chapter. Price increases $10 for subsequent years.

CONTACT INFO 631-583-5366; amc-ny.org; reservations at ficres@earthlink.net

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