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I'm dreaming of a Florida Gulf Coast vacation -- sure everyone raves about Miami, but that Atlantic Ocean water is just too cold for me. Give me the warm tranquil waters and white sands of the Gulf Coast any day. Another bonus is that there are comparatively fewer tourists, you can discover intimate remote beaches where it's just you, a few locals and a couple of palm trees. If you need more incentive, try the lower prices and the great deals you can get.

South West Vacations (tel. 800/243-8372; www.swavacations.com) is currently featuring Tampa packages that include round-trip airfare and two nights accommodation. Prices start at $189 per person from Philadelphia and $219 from St Louis staying at the Tampa Holiday Inn Busch Gardens. From Manchester the price is $259 and from San Antionio pay $294 staying at the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort. Seven days advance purchase required and taxes are additional.

American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com) has the following Gulf coast specials. Their 2005 Naples, Marco Island and Sanibel Island summer sale is valid for travel from now until August 31, 2005. Get various discounts and free nights at participating hotels when you fly with American Airlines.

There is also a Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach Sale for travel during the same period as above.

  • In St. Petersburg, stay at the Sirata Beach Resort (www.sirata.com) for the fourth night free, or the TradeWinds Sandpiper Hotel and Suites (www.tradewindsresort.com) for a free suite upgrade.
  • The TradeWinds Island Grand Resort (www.tradewindsresort.com) will give you a Vacationing Gourmet 20% Discount Card valid at numerous restaurants in the St. Petersburg area.

Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) in association with American Airlines has a number of budget options for Gulf Coast getaways in June. For as low as $228 per person, you can fly round-trip from New York to Tampa and get three-nights accommodation at the Days Inn in Clearwater. Or for $262 per person, you can fly to Fort Myers and get three-nights accommodation at the Red Roof and Suites in Naples. Check out their last minute deals to these destinations as well, for great low prices without planning ahead.

Expedia (tel. 800/EXPEDIA; www.expedia.com) also offers some great discount packages that make booking your Gulf Coast getaway easier. For example, seven-nights accommodation at the five-star Registry Resort and Club (www.registryresort.com) in Naples and round-trip airfare from New York on Delta is only $787 per person including taxes. Add $40 from Chicago or 130 from Los Angeles. If you prefer flying into Tampa and hitting the beaches of Clearwater, St. Petersburg or Sarasota, seven-nights at the Fairfield Inn and Suites By Marriott Clearwater Bayside, just eight miles from the beach and get round-trip airfare from New York from $471 per person. Upgrade to beachfront Best Western Beachfront Resort in St. Petersburg for $110 more. Add just $3 from Chicago for the same deal or $106 more from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Prices valid for midweek departures during the month of June.

Jet Blue (tel. 800/538-2538; www.jetblue.com) flies non-stop from New York to Fort Myers with flights starting at a super low $74 each way plus taxes throughout the summer. Check the Jet Blue website SuperFly fares section to get the best price. For more really cheap fares to Fort Myers (Regional Airport or Page Field), visit www.cheapflights.com. This site currently lists return airfares from New York through various airlines and suppliers with prices ranging from $118 on USA3000 Airlines to $194 on Delta. From Boston, flights are as low as $138 and from Los Angeles the prices start at $292.

For information about the Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva Islands area of the southwest, visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.

A great resource website for the Sarasota area, including Venice, Longboat Key, Siesta Key and Lido Key, is Sarasota and Her Islands (www.sarasotafl.org). It has a useful calendar of events, discount coupons you can print out and information and booking facilities for accommodation and restaurants.

Tampa Bay and surrounds visitor information is available at www.visittampabay.com.

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