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December 22, 2003 -- Freezing rain and snowstorms always make us think of sandy beaches, warm breezes, palm trees and a cool tall glass of fruity rum punch. For most Americans, the Caribbean is the nearest venue that holds the promise of climbing mercury.

Aruba is host to two packages from Pleasant Holidays. The first promotion offers guests a free fifth night during any stay at the Aruba Marriott Resort throughout 2004. Breakfast is free for everyone, and children under 12 get discounts on all other meals as well. Five-night, land-only packages start at $816 per person, which, they say, is a savings of $390 per couple. Prices are per person, double occupancy, and include lodging and transfers to and from the airport. Hotel amenities include free form pool, waterfall, and swim-up bar, all overlooking the sea.

For immediate post-holiday travel from January 7 through February 6, the company is selling an even better deal -- five nights at the Mill Resort and roundtrip airfare from $884 per person out of Atlanta, Boston, and New York City. Other gateways are available at an additional cost; taxes and other fees total around $140 per person. Contact Pleasant Holidays at 800/448-3333 or at www.pleasantholidays.com.

In Barbados, Almond Resorts is promoting its annual "January Jump Start," where you can save 25% for travel from January 3 to March 25.The package includes four nights of hotel room; roundtrip airfare; airport transfers; all meals, snacks & beverages, including room service; sports and activities including motorized watersports; first child stays free program; all hotel taxes and service charges. Prices start at $1,279 per person, based on departure from Miami. Sample add-ons: New York $40, Boston $80, Chicago $150, Los Angeles $220. Contact the company at www.almondresorts.com or phone 877/256-6631.

Cozumel is considered one of the best scuba diving spots in the world, and so it's good news that Caradonna Caribbean Tours has two packages there this winter. You have to hurry to get their "February Scuba Club Special;" the booking deadline is December 31. The land-only price is from $599 per person, double occupancy, and includes five nights' lodging at the Scuba Club Cozumel, four days of diving, one night dive and three meals daily. Taxes are not included.

Drop the diving and add the airfare to get this second package that puts you in the Villablanca Beach Hotel any time in February or March 2004. On this package, which also starts from $599 per person, you get seven nights of lodging, airfare from Atlanta, roundtrip transfers, hotel taxes and service charges. Prices are based on midweek travel on Continental Airlines. Contact Caradonna at www.caradonna.com or phone 800/330-3322.

Skipping nearly to the end of the alphabet, consider St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, where the Bolongo Bay Club is having its 30th anniversary in 2004. Two kinds of deals are of interest, the semi-inclusive continental plan and the all-inclusive anniversary celebration plan. A sample semi-inclusive price would be $1,515 per room for a five-night stay and $2,000 for a seven-night stay. Rates valid from January 1 through April 11, 2004. Prices go down about $300 or more for the summer. For both programs, you have to book by July 30, 2004 for travel from January 1 through August 31, 2004.

A sample all-inclusive price would be $2,275 per room for a five-night stay, $3,115 for a seven-night stay. Prices valid the same dates as above. As a bonus, guests who stay a minimum of five nights on either plan receive their choice of two free passes for an all-day sail and beach outing to St. John, with lunch and open bar, valued at $100 per person, or a sunset cocktail cruise around the harbor (valued at $45 per person).

Every package includes a $30 resort credit, welcome bottle of champagne with anniversary flutes, use of Waverunner for 30 minutes, his and hers massage, four-course dinner with wine pairing, full daily breakfast, scuba diving lessons, nonmotorized watersports, taxes and service charges. Contact Bolongo Beach at 800/524-4746 or online at www.bolongobay.com.