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Travel Agents Chanting ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’

January 16, 1996

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The last straw for Anne-Marie Stack came on the streets of New York City, when she had to wade through 6 inches of icy water to cross the street and register for music classes.

``My shoes literally filled with ice water,″ she said.

On Tuesday, she smiled as she dipped her gold-and-white tennis shoes in the warm surf along Miami Beach _ one of many snow fugitives giving Florida what may prove to be one of its best tourist seasons ever.

``It’s great to get away,″ Mrs. Stack said. She and her husband, Brian, who live in Rye, N.Y., didn’t care about the blustery Atlantic winds, temperatures in the 70s and the overcast sky. ``This is fine for us.″

The snowbirds are flying this year. And across Florida, people in the tourism industry are exulting over the weather in the Northeast, which has been hit by snowstorm after snowstorm, including a blizzard last week.

``Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow _ that’s what the reservations agents are chanting,″ said Carl Zablotny, spokesman for Certified Vacations of Fort Lauderdale. ``Rooms booked for January are nearly double. I attribute it to the snow and the last-minute bookings. ... The only ice down here is in blenders and drinks.″

Kevin Garceau and Mark Gabuzda, two snow fugitives from Boston, unrolled blankets and stretched their pasty white bodies along the sand near the Eden Roc Hotel on Miami Beach.

Garceau, a 32-year-old computer specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the last-minute Florida getaway was just in time.

``I want to move down here,″ he said, though he was searching the sky desperately for a ray of sunshine. ``This winter was the worst I’ve seen. And there’s no end in sight.″

Many of the getaways this year are to the Caribbean islands, Mexico and cruise ships departing from Florida.

``A couple of good snowstorms early in January can really help the season,″ said Tim Gallagher of Carnival Cruise Lines, which has seen bookings grow steadily the last two weeks.

``It’s been an excellent winter for people trying to get out of town and get warm, anyplace south,″ said Cathy Pelaez, vice president of sales for Liberty Travel in Ramsey, N.J. ``People who normally plan well in advance are planning quick little getaways. We like that.″

She said direct flights to Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Aruba have been very popular.

``The year is only 16 days old,″ she said, ``But it’s certainly been the most impressive start of a year that we’ve seen. Bookings are between 25 and 30 percent higher.″

Visitors to Florida haven’t all been delighted with the cool weather in the 60s and 70s in recent weeks.

Bartender George Kohler at Jimmy Johnson’s Three Rings Bar and Grill at the Eden Roc said Northern tourists ``would like to see some more sun. But they prefer this to New York.″

In Fort Lauderdale, inquiries are running at three times the usual rate. Bookings are up in the Orlando area, where Walt Disney World expects the weather to boost an already strong winter.

Florida earned about $33 billion from tourism in 1995 and is off to a great start for 1996, said Jim McClellan, a spokesman for the state

The state struggled in 1994 after a number of tourists were murdered. But that’s history these days. Florida has launched an ad campaign early this year to capitalize on the misery caused by the Blizzard of ’96.

``We know there’s a whole lot of people up north with their knees in the snow and their minds on a Florida vacation,″ McClellan said. ``From a Florida perspective, this could be a great winter.″

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