THE HOLIDAYS are only a vague memory, and spring seems an eternity away. It's time, in this season of strife, to break away from the CNN special reports and latest storm warnings for an escape to entertainment and excitement.

Hotels in the Washington area have a wide variety of weekend packages. Here's a sampling of what's available:

THE CARLTON

at 16th and K streets NW, for example, has several new specials. The best are the Two on the Town package (room, champagne, fruit and cheese in the room, free parking and breakfast) for $160 for two, and the Suite Romance (luxury suite, champagne, fruit and cheese, breakfast for two and tickets to a concert or play) for $260 for two. The packages are available on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Call 202/638-2626 or 800/325-3535.

THE RITZ-CARLTONS, elegant hotels in downtown Washington and in Pentagon City have a broad selection of weekend escapes. The hotel at 1300 South Hayes St. in Arlington next to the Fashion Centre Mall offers a Shoppers Weekend with a deluxe room, gifts from Fashion Centre merchants, breakfast, parking and use of the fitness center and pool for $135 per night for two.

Other Ritz-Carlton packages are limited only by your imagination and pocketbook. The Ultimate Special Occasion package includes a deluxe room, dinner for two and a nighttime limousine tour of the monuments for $350 a night while the Once in a Lifetime Weekend offers a limousine for sightseeing, a suite, roses, box seats at a Kennedy Center performance, dinner for two, a helicopter or balloon ride to the country for a picnic and more. The cost, of course, is also a Once in a Lifetime Tab: $3,000 a night. Call 703/415-5000 or 800/241-3333.

The Ritz-Carlton at 2101 Massachusetts Ave. NW has more modest packages, including an Enchanted Evening with champagne, flowers, parking and one night's lodging for two people ($215) and a City Safari that includes a picnic lunch and wine for two, a city sightseeing map, parking and a suite ($370). Call 202/293-2100.

HYATT HOTELS in the Washington area offer a host of Valentine's or Lovers Weekend packages. The packages usually include champagne, breakfast for two, free parking and use of a health club, if available, and other goodies. The rates start as low as $79 per night. At the area's newest and perhaps finest Hyatt -- the Hyatt Regency Reston -- there is a $99-per-night Winter Wonderland Package that includes lodging, breakfast, free use of the hotel's large health club and pool, and free ice skate rentals and skating on the adjacent outdoor rink. Call 800/233-1234 for the Hyatt of your choice.

THE FOUR SEASONS HOTEL

at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW offers a Suite Your Heart Out package Feb. 14 to 17. The emphasis is on chocolate: chocolate roses, chocolate-covered popcorn, double chocolate brownies, all washed down with a bottle of champagne. After adding a few pounds, guests can work it off in the hotel's spa and fitness club. Other parts of the package include a spacious suite, dinner in the hotel, breakfast and parking. The cost is $650 per night. Call 202/342-0444.

THE LOEWS

hotels in Washington and Annapolis have more modestly priced getaway packages. The Loews Annapolis at 126 West St. near the city's historic district offers an Annapolitan Valentine Special Friday, Saturday and Feb. 14, 15 and 16 that includes a luxury room for a night, dinner for two, chocolates and a personalized valentine for $130. A Chesapeake Adventure Weekend includes a luxury room, a 45-minute boat tour on the bay, champagne and other delights for $114 per night. Call 301/263-7777.

The Loews L'Enfant Plaza at 480 L'Enfant Plaza offers a Valentine's package Feb. 14 to 16 that includes a special dinner in the Cafe Pierre, a luxurious room and Godiva chocolates for $150 a night.

Other Loews L'Enfant packages are for the entire family. The Cabinet Class Holiday package offers a double room, breakfast, use of the pool and fitness center, a gift for children and in-room movies for $125 per night. The Capital Attraction is a two-night package for up to two adults and two children and includes a $100 credit for use in the hotel dining rooms, parking, gifts for the kids, free movies and use of the pool and fitness center. It's $299 for both nights. Call 202/484-1000.

THE JEFFERSON HOTEL

at 16th and M streets NW offers a Jazz Weekend package with a double room and Sunday brunch with music by the Mark Barasch Trio for $225 per night. For couples as well as small groups, the hotel has a Jefferson Experience Weekend, with guests invited to choose special guided tours of museums with private lectures by art experts or tours of Washington area gardens and historic homes. These weekends start at $145 per night, plus the cost of the special tours. Call 202/347-2200.

THE HENLEY PARK HOTEL

at 926 Massachusetts Ave. NW has two Jazz Weekend packages with admission to Marley's Lounge where the Pam Bricker/Rick Harris Quartet perform. The prices range from $105 per couple (lodging, breakfast or brunch, entertainment and parking) to $165 per couple (lodging, dinner, breakfast or brunch, entertainment and parking). Call 202/638-5200 or 800/222-8474.

THE WASHINGTON HILTON AND TOWERS

at Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road NW has a Hilton Romance Package throughout the year that includes champagne on arrival, breakfast and use of the hotel's tennis courts, pool and other athletic facilities. The rates range from $170 to $240, depending on the type of accommodations selected. Call 202/483-3000.

THE HOMESTEAD

, a five-star resort in Hot Springs, Va., has the Archduke Chamber Music Weekend this Friday to Sunday with three performances by the Garth Newel Chamber Music Players; the Valentine/President's Holiday Weekend Feb. 15 to 18 with dinner dances and other entertainment; the Virginia Wine and Food Weekend March 7 to 10 with a feast and festival built around the bounty of the state; the Easter Weekend March 29 to 31, with an egg hunt, petting zoo and other games and activities; and the annual Spring Wine and Food Festival April 25 to 28, a weekend of wine tastings, seminars, receptions and feasts. Rates for these two- and three-night weekends begin at $290 per person, and include lodging, breakfast and dinner, and recreation activities. Call 800/336-5771; in Virginia, 800/542-2734.

THE GREENBRIER

in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., brings in the teaching chefs from France's famed La Varenne school to conduct five-day classes in food preparation, wine selection, menu planning and other culinary arts. The courses start Feb. 24, March 3, 10, 17 and 22, April 7, 13, 21 and 28. The cost is $1,300 per person and includes five nights' lodging, breakfast and dinner.

If the holidays have been unkind to your waistline, the Greenbrier offers five-day Weight Loss and Spa packages. The focus is on diet, nutrition, fitness and pampering. Rates for these packages start at $1,800 per person and include lodging and two meals. And finally, if worrying about the recession, the Persian Gulf and your waistline is causing stress, the Greenbrier has a Stress Management Week, too. It's Feb. 17 to 22 and March 3 to 8. Take it and the only worry you may have is how to pay the $1,990 for the program lodging and meals.

For those with less time and money, The Greenbrier also has a Big Band Weekend Feb. 15 to 18 and April 12 to 14. It includes nightly cabarets or dinner dances. Rates begin at $152 per person for lodging and the two meals daily.

For any of the Greenbrier packages, call 800/624-6070.

HOTEL HERSHEY

creates chocolate treats for the weekend. The hotel offers a Chocolate Lovers Weekend Feb. 15 to 18, with an emphasis on creating the best chocolate desserts possible and activities built around the delicacy. The cost is $108 per person per night, and includes lodging, breakfast and dinner.

Other theme weekends at the majestic Mediterranean-style hotel include a Romantic Interlude Friday to Sunday with violin music, intimate dinners and other surprises; a Murder Mystery Weekend March 1 to 3 and April 19 to 21; a Back to the '50s and '60s Weekend March 8 to 10 with dancing (in bobby sox and saddle shoes, of course) in the hotel's lounge; a Big Band Weekend with dancing to the music of Herm Miller's Orchestra March 22 to 24, and a Family Easter Weekend March 29 to 31. Rates for these weekends begin at $99 per person per night, with breakfast and dinner daily. Call 800/HERSHEY.