Free Trips Offered To The Coast

Hotels, restaurants and attractions along the Gulf Coast are making themselves available to New Yorkers and others who have spent the past month combing the rubble of the World Trade Center. South Coast USA, an alliance of Gulf Coast tourism bureaus, is organizing a variety of complimentary getaways for emergency workers and others in New York who have helped in the relief effort.

The offerings include hotel rooms in New Orleans' French Quarter, rounds of golf on several championship courses in Mississippi and Alabama, and canoe trips on crystal-clear streams in the Florida panhandle. To get the workers and their families down South, Amtrak and AirTran Airways have donated roundtrip tickets. AirTran has given at least 100 tickets to the cause; Amtrak's specific donation wasn't available Tuesday. ``I thought this would be a way for people who have worked so hard at ground zero to experience total relaxation,'' said Jack Sanborn, the owner of Adventures Unlimited, which arranges canoe outings on Coldwater Creek in Milton, Fla. Sanborn typically charges $32 for a two-person trip, canoe included. He said he'll accommodate any number of New Yorkers who want to make the trek at no charge. ``Canoeing is such an American thing,'' he said. ``It's a great way to reconnect.''

Casino resorts and bed-and-breakfast inns, museums and amusement parks also have contributed to the packages. South Coast USA is composed of 11 tourism bureaus in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. A delegation will travel to New York later this month to present the gifts to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the NYC & Company Tourism office. Jolie Spiers, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, a South Coast USA member, said the free tickets, rooms and meals will be offered individually and as packages so workers and their families ``can choose what makes sense for them.'' Spiers said distribution details were not complete Tuesday.

The Gulf Coast is not alone in offering some R&R to deserving New Yorkers. Ten days after the attacks, Bermuda's government offered 100 free vacations to rescue workers. The British island's tourism minister, David Allen, said he sent a letter to Giuliani saying the free trips were a gesture of thanks for firefighters and police who helped several Bermudians escape the twin towers on Sept. 11. Bermuda's offer was made a day after the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis said it would offer free or discounted one-week vacations to thousands of rescue workers.

Mike McArthur, director of the Gulf Shores Golf Association in Alabama, said the nine courses that make up his organization have donated more than 200 rounds of golf. He's requested that each course call his office directly when one of the passes is used. ``I'd love to meet some of these guys,'' McArthur said. ``If they want to play more than a round, I'll take care of that.''