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Turn your home into a vacation oasis

TAMPA — With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, a lot of would-be travelers are hanging close to home this summer. In Florida, land of sunshine, beaches (and hot weather), staying put isn't such a big deal.

In fact, a day at the beach or a Saturday night get-together on the deck or patio might even seem like a pretty fair trade for that foregone vacation.

"With rising gas prices and airline costs, we know that many families are going to skip traditional summer vacations to celebrate 'stay-cations' at home in their communities," says Shannon Frederick, senior communications manager for Wal-Mart.

Unlike redecorating a living room — an expensive process you have to live with for years — investing in a few chic and fun summer accessories for patio or beach won't break the bank.

And it's okay if you decide you want something new next summer.

Beach towels, sand carts, caddies, plastic dinnerware, portable bars, even home versions of those frozen margarita machines are just the thing this season for the tropical homebody.

"Obviously the summer evokes memories of our youth — being out of school and spending summer vacation with family or friends," says Westchase's Aric Dawson, a district customer service manager for Bed Bath & Beyond. "Even if people aren't traveling as much as they used to, they're making the most of it."

The best thing about summer accessories, Dawson says, is that you can "be tacky and whimsical" and embrace that pink flamingo pattern you might never use inside the house.

This season, Tampa Bay area Bed Bath & Beyond stores are stocking everything from pastel beach towels to wireless outdoor speakers and the Margaritaville Bahamas Frozen Concoction Maker (add crushed ice and drink mix into separate compartments and, voila, your favorite frozen cocktail).

Starting at $199, it's a splurge, but its magic isn't limited to margaritas, either, Dawson says: "You can make pina coladas, daiquiris, anything you want."

The stores are also carrying On Ice! products ($19.99 to $34.99) that include acrylic salad bowls, lazy Susans and drink pitchers with built-in ice compartments to keep food and beverages chilled on a searing day.

If you're a fan of color, head to the Lillian Vernon Web site for some inspiring summer accessories for pool, deck or beach. There's a bright citrus yellow cotton terry cloth tote and chaise longue cover ($29.98) with a pocket for a water bottle or sunscreen.

Marcus Swieca, creative director at Lillian Vernon in Colorado Springs, Colo., calls it "awesome." He's also a fan of the reversible cotton-quilted mat ($19.98) for lounging by the pool or gulf. That, too, comes in punchy tropical colors, including pink and yellow and blue-green.

He likes the "Sandgrabber" umbrella stand ($19.98) that keeps a beach umbrella from blowing away like a parasail.

For those who want to set their picnic blanket stylishly but without blowing big bucks, the company's offering a line of break-resistant, frosted acrylic tableware ($14.98-$29.96) — bowls, plates and tumblers in festive pink, orange, yellow, blue and green.

For the littlest stay-at-home summer vacationers, he recommends a personalized beach towel with monogram and pattern chosen by the child ($19.98 with up to a 12-letter name).

"Kids like to have their own things, and it's fun for them to pick the pattern and design they like," Swieca says. "They can take it to the beach and it's theirs."

Wal-Mart's offering a selection of outdoor water toys (many under $30) that can turn your back yard into a water park. A bigger splurge allows you to turn your back yard into your own movie theater under the stars with a deluxe, inflatable outdoor movie screen for $200.

You can play "movies, games and slide shows," store spokesman Frederick says, and no doubt entertain everyone in the family as well as the neighbors.

If you're really planning to make a summer out of staying home, a $400, four-piece wicker seating set by Better Homes and Gardens Sunbridge includes a love seat, chairs and coffee table with a smoked-glass top.

The best part?

The set comes fully assembled "so you can turn your back yard into a sanctuary," Frederick says.

Inexpensive outdoor furniture that doesn't require hours of squinting, reading directions and hunting down tools — now that's a vacation. Even if it's just a few steps away.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.

Turn your home into a vacation oasis 07/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 1:54pm]
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