Spring vacations for northerners often conjure up images of tropical cocktails in a palm-studded piece of paradise, but the reality can be more sobering. What should be a respite from gruesome winter weather and the daily grind can turn into a frightfully expensive week of fighting traffic, unsatisfying visits to packed beaches -- or marching a few steps an hour to the audio equivalent of Chinese water torture: 'It's a small world after all... it's a small world after all....' So take this piece of advice and give Gulf Shores, Alabama, a look. The reasonable costs and laid-back atmosphere have earned the region the nickname of 'The Redneck Riviera' (and that just a little discouragement to keep this unassuming, reasonably economical gem a little less visible to those who don't know about it yet. Miles of easily accessible, sugar-sand beaches and beachfront accommodations stretch from Gulf Shores to Orange Beach. Fresh seafood and regional specialties are served in a more-than-ample selection of restaurants at all price levels, some of which are outstanding. The locals are friendly, the services are convenient and the surroundings are well-maintained. Admittedly, the Gulf Shores area has seen significant development since the days of beach houses on stilts made up the 'skyline' instead of today's high-rises, but it's still a great place for an ocean beach break. For more information, contact the Gulf Shores Chamber of Commerce (205-968-7511). There are some excellent publications they make available to help you plan your visit.