GETTING THERE: Airlines offering nonstop service from D.C. to Fort Myers include AirTran and US Airways; round-trip fares start at about $200, with restrictions. I flew USA 3000 out of BWI and paid $139 -- and got meals and movies. From Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Punta Gorda are both about 35 minutes away by car.
DEALS: Because the peak season runs from Valentine's Day to Easter and around major holidays, off-season rates and fall packages are available in Lee and Charlotte counties. Check the info sources below for options.
Lee County includes Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva. On Sanibel, I stayed at the Colony Resort (419 E. Gulf Dr., 800-342-1704, www.colonyonsanibel.com) in a one-bedroom condo with a well-stocked kitchen, screened-in porch and beach access. The two-night special (good through Dec. 12) included a noon check-in and a 2 p.m. checkout; the price, with tax, was $201.
Rates generally run lower in Charlotte County, which includes Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Cape Haze and Englewood. Accommodations range from the Virginia House B&B (233 Harvey St., Punta Gorda, 941-916-1005, www.charlottebiz.com/virginiahs.htm; from $79 a night double) to the Palm Island Resort (7092 Placida Rd., Cape Haze, 800-824-5412, www.palmisland.com; from $330). Many Englewood hotels have fall specials, including Weston's Resort (985 Gulf Blvd., 941-474- 3431, www.westonsresort.com), with two pools and a beach. Its Fall Getaway Package, good through Dec. 5 (excluding Thanksgiving), includes two nights' lodging, a $20 dining certificate and two video rentals; from $225 for two in a studio efficiency (reserve no more than one week in advance).
INFORMATION: Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, 800-237-6444, www.fortmyers-sanibel.com (site includes a "Great Deals" link). Charlotte County Visitors Bureau, 888-478-7352, www.pureflorida.com. Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, 239-472-1080, www.sanibel-captiva.org.
-- John Deiner