Travel Weekly's Florida E-Letter: February 20, 2002

BETTOR TRY AGAIN: Casino gambling, defeated at the polls three times, is a possibility once more in Florida. A Fort Lauderdale-area legislator introduced a bill that would place a referendum proposal on the November ballot, where counties with more than 1 million residents would be eligible to have Las Vegas-type casinos at hotels with 500 or more rooms. The county and city governments affected would have to approve all casino proposals. Among qualifying areas are Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Palm Beach, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate.

THE FONTAINEBLEAU II is to break ground in Miami Beach in late spring as a 36-story, 462-unit condo hotel. Tabbed to rise next to the Fontainebleau Hilton, Miami Beach, it will open during 2004. It is expected to have 250 to 300 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments available in a rental pool that will become part of the Fontainebleau Hilton's inventory for regular guests. Hilton will run the condo hotel, which is a joint venture of The Muss Organization, owner of the Fontainebleau Hilton, and Turnberry Associates, Aventura, Fla.

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA International Airport, Fort Myers, received final government approval to break ground on a two-story, 28-gate terminal and to make additional airport improvements. The terminal is to be completed during 2005. The Lee County Port Authority agreed to preserve some 7,000 offsite acres of environmentally sensitive land as part of the approval process.

• Marriott's Bay Point Resort, Panama City Beach, introduced a two-night Family Splash package valid Memorial Day to Labor Day. For $289, a family of four gets a room and tickets to one of the following attractions: Gulf World, Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise, Shipwreck Island Water Park or the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Agents earn 10% on the entire package. For information, call (800) 874-7105.
• Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale, extends a Got Beach special rate from $199 per night (vs. the usual $259) for stays between Feb. 24 and March 19. For information, call (800) 222-6543.

AN 8.3% DECLINE in passengers was recorded by Orlando International Airport in 2001, its first annual loss in more than 20 years. Some 28.3 million passengers were handled last year vs. 30.8 million in 2000. Nonetheless, airport officials were satisfied with the headcount as it was better than expected, considering the reluctance of the public to fly after the events of Sept. 11.

THE PICADILLY South Florida Spring Antique and Collectibles Extravaganza, an annual event produced by St. Petersburg-based Picadilly Promotions Inc., is set for March 1 to 3 at the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach. More than 700 exhibitors from 45 states, Canada and abroad will be on hand. General admission is $6; for seniors, $5. For information, call (727) 345-4431 weekdays.

LEE COUNTY (Fort Myers-Sanibel Island area) enacted legislation prohibiting beachcombers from walking off with shells containing live creatures. The law was designed to protect all species for future generations. Eco-tourists and shell-collectors are welcome to keep empty shells and those with dead inhabitants. Previously there had been a limit on taking shells with living things inside.

WELL, BLOW ME DOWN: The Conch Shell Blowing Contest, a highlight of Key West's Old Island Days events, is set for March 23 at 1:30 p.m. at Sunset Pier. Entrants attempt to make music with conch shell instruments. For information, call (305) 294-9501.

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