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Named by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the Virgin Islands are filled with beautiful beaches skirting along sapphire seas. Even though St. Thomas and St. Croix are busier than the rest, you can still sense a timeless ease across the Virgin Islands, a sense of relaxation and repose. (Why do you think pirates liked it so much? -- The perfect place for a little R&R after all that pillaging and plundering.) The Virgin Islands draw a host of people looking to do absolutely nothing but cop a few rays, take a little swim and drink a few rum punches.

Liberty Travel (tel. 888/271-1584; www.libertytravel.com) has reduced the price on some of its packages to the VI. On the high end, a five-night air and hotel combo to St. John starts from $1,089 before taxes and fees from the New York, Philadelphia, Boston, D.C. and Atlanta areas if you book by Friday, August 26. At this base-fare, you'll stay in the four-star Westin St. John Resort sitting on the Great Cruz Beach and the deal includes round-trip transportation to and from the airport in St. John and all hotel and service charges. This offer is valid for travel through December 16, 2005.

St. John is the smallest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands. Only seven miles long by three miles wide with a population of 4,000, it prides itself on being pristine and safe. Providing great views and the chance to spy some of the St. John flora and fauna, the Caneel Hill Trail is one of the most scenic hikes in the entire island system. (Nearly two-thirds of the island is part of the Virgin Islands National Park System.) Expect a host of wildlife activities and nature-oriented excursions. For a complete listing of things to do when traveling there, check out www.gotostjohn.com) -- written and maintained by St. John residents for tourists, so you know the recommendations are valid.

Liberty Travel also has deals to St. Thomas starting from $775 for five-night stays with air. Normally $1,079, the St. Thomas trip includes accommodations at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Beach Resort. Set on a cliff and characterized by oversized rooms, a host of fine-dining choices and great water sports, the Marriott Frenchman's Reef offers savings of up to $610 if you select this trip. You must book this deal by Friday as well; it's valid for travel through December 16.

St. Thomas is a different beast. It's bigger than St. John at 13 miles long by four miles wide with a population of approximately 50,000. Not surprisingly, it's more hectic with one of the largest duty-free shopping zones in the world. The colonial history of the island is steeped in pirate lore, Danish colonial history and large sugar plantations. It's harbor and main town, Charlotte Amalie, has been known for taverns, bars and great entertainment since the 17th Century. You can get more information at www.visitstthomas.com).

If you fly into St. Thomas, you can take island hopping planes or ferry boats to the rest of the US and British islands and cays as easy as catching a commuter train or bus in a big city. Expedia (tel. 866/397-2677; www.expedia.com) has a special on airfare to St. Thomas starting at $378 round-trip out of New York or $395 out of Boston. If you want to stick with the package tours, Expedia offers a four-night air/land deal to St. Croix with accommodations at the Carambola Beach Resort, which hosts an 18-hole championship golf resort designed by Robert Trent Jones. The four-night special out of New York starts at $563 for travel good through October 31, 2005.

As with all the above deals, prices are per person with rates based on double occupancy. Security fees and taxes are not included in the price of the package and will vary upon departure and arrival points.

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