Itís the week local realtors and business owners spend the year preparing for:

Itís the week local realtors and business owners spend the year preparing for: Thousands of tourists will be flocking to the region to celebrate the nationís Independence.

"This is the week other weeks are gauged by," said Donna Smith of Seashore Reality in Topsail Island.

According to AAA, nearly one million visitors will call the North Carolina coast home for the week of the Fourth, many of whom will spend their time taking in the regionís surf and the sun. Realtors are seeing few "vacant" signs in front of the rental properties they manage.

"We sold the last place early last week," said Brandon Ward, owner of Ward Realty in Surf City. "Things are looking good for the week."

Ward said this influx of tourists comes after a rough, cold spring and an Easter weekend falling in March when the beach is still out of sight ó and mind ó for most prospective travelers.

Ray Tillery, rental manager at Realty World in Atlantic Beach, experienced the same lull through the winter and spring. Tillery said that the summer, especially the week of the Fourth, is looking much more cheery.

"We are absolutely thrilled," Tillery said. "The Atlantic Beach area will have a lot to offer this week including baseball games and outdoor movies. Itís looking like the weather will even hold up, so thereís nothing keeping the folks from coming here."

Elizabeth Barrow, public relations director with Crystal Coast Tourism, echoed Tilleryís sentiments, saying the week of the Fourth is a time when the various towns along the Crystal Coast band together to provide entertainment for visitors from around the nation.

"The towns really rally together to provide something for people of all ages. The boardwalks will be bustling," Barrow said. "This weekend is very strong for the Crystal Coast."

The strength of the season for the Crystal Coast includes charter boat services like George Aswad, owner of Crystal Coast Lady Cruises in Beaufort.

According to Aswad, who also operates the seafood restaurant Crabby Pattyís in Havelock, the cruises held during the week are nearly sold out, including trips out to see fireworks displays along the Crystal Coast. Aswad said having the Fourth in the middle of the week is a positive for his company.

"It gives us more time for the holiday," Aswad said. "Itís almost like having a double weekend."

Aswad is not alone in his positive attitude toward the mid-week Fourth. Tillery, Smith and Ward all said the further the Fourth is from the weekend, the better.

"Itís great when itís in the middle of the week because people arenít checking in or out the day of," said Smith. "When you compound the festivities with people leaving and coming and also day trippers, it can get crazy."

Fourth of July celebrations, according to AAA, are the day when things get most out of hand for motorists. According to a report from AAA, it is the deadliest driving day of the year with 45 percent of last yearís 22 vehicular deaths coming at the hands of drunk drivers. Angela Daley of AAA Carolina said Fourth of July travel is best when one is best prepared.

"If youíre going to celebrate, plan ahead and make sure you have a designated driver," Daley said.

U.S. 70 is expected to be its busiest in Havelock Wednesday, as many Marines will begin to leave Cherry Point for a long weekend, and Sunday afternoon, when the tourists along the coast all start to head home through Havelockís main corridor.

Havelock police are urging drivers to use extra caution, especially on July 4 near Havelock City Park as many pedestrians will be walking along and crossing East Main Street for the annual Freedom Festival and fireworks display.