Journeys Near and FarTake a cruise to Alaska or Mexico

If you need a few days of relaxation more than you need more Mardi Gras beads, February is a great time to take a trip. Even a short getaway refreshes both body and mind, and the variety of vacation spots available means there is something for every schedule and budget.

If you long for sunshine, what could be better than Hawaii? Bob Wall of Vacations At Sea (482-1572) suggests flying to Honolulu, spending several days there, then taking a seven-day cruise to see the islands. For those with time constraints, cruises to Cozumel, Mexico, are a good choice. One Carnival cruise, for example, leaves New Orleans late Thursday afternoon and returns at 8 a.m. Monday morning. “It’s a quick, easy getaway,” Wall says, and at less than $100 a day, very affordable.

Journeys Near and FarSki in Colorado, Utah or Montana

February is also a good month to book an Alaskan cruise. These cruises are most popular in May through September, but you must book ahead to get your choice of trips. Alaskan cruises have gained popularity because people see them as exotic but safe, and they are ideal for families because there’s plenty to do for both young and old.

If cold weather is more your thing, aim for the ski slopes. Colorado and Utah are great this time of year, says Lucienne Gore of Town & Country Travel (838-8702). Later in the spring, Montana becomes a good option. You can ski into June, she says—however, you might meet up with a bear.

Gore recommends Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge, Colo., for family ski trips. They are easy to get to and have budget-friendly rates for kids when parents ski. Aspen and Snowmass offer more luxurious accommodations for those with deeper pockets. If you want to ski during Mardi Gras, book early, Gore says; prices climb the closer it gets to Carnival.

Journeys Near and FarSt. Francisville is a nearby place to vacation

Closer to Home
Good times are available a lot closer to home as well. One of Louisiana’s prettiest towns, St. Francisville, is just a two-hour drive away. For years New Orleanians looking to escape the Mardi Gras madness have come to St. Francisville, which boasts seven plantation homes, 12 bed-and-breakfasts and lots of good restaurants. “It’s a great way to unwind from the stress of the city,” says Kitty Martin, executive director of the West Feliciana Parish Tourist Commission (225/635-2885; 800/789-4221). If you like to hunt for antiques, take the ferry to New Roads.

Journeys Near and FarLocated in the Beaches of South Walton

Florida is another easy drive. If you crave luxurious pampering, check out the accommodations at WaterColor Inn and Resort (850/534-5000) in the Beaches of South Walton, about five hours away. February’s cool temperatures make it an ideal time to walk the beach, says resort spokesman Wade Berry. WaterColor offers signature spa services, such as a lavender rubdown, along with activities for children and teens. At its fine-dining restaurant, Fish Out of Water (850/534-5050), you can enjoy Sunday brunch with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Right next door to WaterColor is Seaside (888/732-7433), with its many boutiques, and the Silver Sands Factory Stores are nearby.

Journeys Near and FarGearing Up
A successful trip begins with the right gear, and the first step should be to acquire the proper luggage. Today’s soft-sided luggage is better than ever, says Toby Jones, manager of Rapp’s (885-6536) in Metairie. Many pieces are made of what she calls “ballistic nylon,” which is water repellent and lightweight. The weight is important because airlines permit travelers to check only two pieces of luggage weighing 50 pounds each. Martin expects that weight limit to shrink to 44 pounds eventually. “The days of taking 14 pairs of shoes are over,” she says. One of Martin’s favorite lines is Briggs & Reily, which comes with a lifetime warranty, rubber wheels and a great handle system.

If you’re visiting the islands, you’ll want a super swimsuit to put in that luggage. Spring trends include skirted bottoms—in lengths that flatter all age groups—nautical prints, and sophisticated colors (black, brown and white), says Bonnie Foster, an owner of Bora Bora (985/951-8454) in Mandeville. Tunics are replacing sarongs as the cover-up of choice. Another big seller this year is a halter-top suit with a charm that slides up and down. Pull the charm up towards the neck, and the fabric opens up, giving fuller coverage. Pull the charm down and the bathing suit’s cups grow smaller.

People who like a bit of a workout with their vacation often choose cycling trips. Long or short, your trip will be a lot more enjoyable if you start out with the right bicycle, says Charles White of GNO Cyclery (861-0023). Biking vacation destinations include California, Colorado and even Alaska, as well as Europe, he says. Some trips require touring bikes that can carry a rider’s sleeping gear. Other riders need a lighter bike to go from point to point while a van carries their gear. Bicycle prices range from under $400 to $2,000 -$4,000, and White says it’s important to get advice from an experienced salesperson before making your purchase. A bike that’s a bad fit can mean lots of unpleasant hours in the saddle.