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A new, better Boca . . .

. . . travel deals in Israel for the intrepid

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Hazard Play
Though street violence and a State Department travel advisory have deterred most Americans from visiting Israel this winter, an undaunted few are still trickling over. Many are Orthodox Jews on solidarity missions, according to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, plus Christians on turn-of-the-real-millennium pilgrimages, but some are just fearless secular travelers looking for a bargain. El Al (212-768-9200) is offering round-trip flights to Tel Aviv on a buy-one-get-one-half-off basis until March 22, and, as most of the country's hotels are vacant, room rates are largely negotiable. Dale Schoenberg -- one of nine travelers who took a tour last month that was originally scheduled for 300 people -- went because her children were being bar mitzvahed. "The only danger I feared while we were there was falling off the mountains we were climbing," she says.
T.M.

The Sunshine Plate
South Florida's culinary reputation as a bleak collection of fish houses and early-bird specials changed dramatically with the birth of Latin fusion, and now it's shifting seismically again as Boca Raton unexpectedly morphs into a restaurant mecca. The freshly refurbished Boca Raton Resort & Club (561-395-3000) just became home to Drew Nieporent's brand-new, David Rockwell-designed Tuscan restaurant, Lucca, and a high-end American spot called 27 Ocean Blue. Add these to the year-old, critically acclaimed Zemi (561-391-7177), GiGi's (561-368-4488), Max's Grill (561-368-0080), and Mark Militello's Mark's at Mizner Park (561-395-0770), and you have the kind of destination from which foodies' fantasies are made.
BETH LANDMAN KEIL

Rio Grande
With all things Brazilian -- from caipirinhas and bikini waxes to supermodels and the samba -- sexy again, Rio has re-emerged at the top of every hot-spot list. If you're considering a visit to coincide with next month's Carnaval, try the brand-new Marina All Suites, where the minimum four-night stay will run you $1,998 during Carnaval (55-21-540-4990). The Marina is located at Leblon Beach, not far from R-9 (55-21-540-9999), the hot new nightclub owned by soccer star Ronaldinho. For dinner, the place to fill up on more than a dozen types of all-you-can-eat meat is Marius in Ipanema, or its new spin-off, also called Marius, in Leme (55-21-521-0500). Finally, forget spreading your towel on Copacabana Beach: It's been superseded by Barra da Tijuca's model-studded sands. Feeling brave? Stop at a Blue Man shop (55-21-541-6712) on the way there for one of those dental-floss Brazilian bikinis.
T.M.

etc.
SHIPPING NEWS Canyon Ranch, the famous health spa with branches in Arizona and Massachusetts, is about to start construction on two cruise ships that will offer the same services and facilities as the landlocked resorts. The 320 guests aboard each vessel will enjoy outside suites with private verandas, 35 treatment rooms, 56 pieces of exercise equipment, and carefully rationed health food. But don't call for reservations yet: Neither ship sails before 2003. BODY & SEOUL Slowing the pace in frenzied Seoul, South Korea, the gigantic Marquis Spa and Fitness Club has opened at the JW Marriott Hotel. The 150,000-square-foot center uses solar bulbs, oxygen tanks, and thermal mineral water to create a healthy environment, and visitors have access to an indoor jogging track, golf range, twelve-meter climbing wall, and scuba pool, as well as a varied selection of massages, facials, and beauty services (822-62-82-6570). STUDY ABROAD Next month, look for Zagat's first Survey of Top International Hotels, Resorts & Spas ($12.95). The opinionated guide rates 800 properties in 77 countries on rooms, service, dining, and public spaces.
T.M.


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