EVERY YEAR, four of my dearest friends and I go to Sanibel. We were roommates at the University of Florida 20 years ago (yikes!). We wanted to be away from the high-rises, the hotel chains, the crowds and the spring breakers. Aside from the paradise factor, the great thing about going to the same place every year is that everyone knows what to expect. We know who brings what. We know who gets up early. One of us always overpacks and we razz her every chance we get.

We spend our days on the beach. In the old days we would bask in the glorious sun in our skimpy bikinis. Today we are under umbrellas and hats, slathered with SPF 45, in fashionable one-pieces or modest two-pieces. At dusk, we fill our wine glasses and go watch the sun set. It is always a bit cool and we huddle up and realize how fortunate we are to have each other and this very special place in our lives.

MARILYN BALCOMBE

Germantown, Md.

Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, 941-472-1080, www.sanibel- captiva.org; Lee Island Coast Visitor & Convention Bureau, 1-800-533-4753, www.leeisland coast .com.