Two new prizes: Eurail passes & all-inclusive Mexico!
The best response before December 29 wins two First Class Eurail Flexipasses, courtesy of Railpass.com. The pass is good for 15 days of travel within a two-month period in the 18 European countries served by the Eurail network. The prize also includes free or discounted travel on high-speed trains, river steamers, and ferries. Valid March 1, 2007, to April 30, 2008. For more info on Railpass.com: 877/724-5727, railpass.com.
If yours is the best response between December 30, 2006, and January 31, 2007, you'll win a seven-night stay for two at the brand-new all-inclusive Riu Vallarta resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, courtesy of Riu Hotels & Resorts. Valid April 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008. Blackout dates apply. Airfare not included. For more info on Riu Hotels & Resorts: 888/666-8816, riu.com.
Both prizes are subject to availability, nontransferable, and nonnegotiable, and they can't be redeemed for cash value.
How to enter
The winner of September's contest is Garrett Erkenbeck of East Syracuse, N.Y. His prize is a five-night trip in Ireland, courtesy of the folks at Dooley Vacations.
Instead of a typical spring break in Miami or Cancun, I chose an International Expeditions cruise in Chilean Patagonia. I was 21 and the next youngest person was 52, so I quickly became the talk of the trip. At first I was hesitant, but I soon found myself having the time of my life--not just because of the dramatic scenery while rounding Cape Horn, but also because I made many older friends from whom I learned a great deal. Plus, I got lots of free desserts since so many passengers had diabetes and couldn't eat theirs! Upon returning home, my friends told me about their long nights partying and dancing, and eventually inquired about my trip. "I did the same," I replied, jokingly, "but with a completely different crowd."
The winner of the October contest is Danette Oien of Shoreview, Minn. Her prize: a vacation rental courtesy of Rentalo.com.
I had to go San Francisco for business, so I decided to fly in a few days early to see the sights. As I was leaving my hotel, I noticed a crowd of people gathering for a parade, so I stayed to watch--and saw way more than I'd bargained for!
While sightseeing in Paris, my uncle got a terrible sore throat. He went to a pharmacy, but the pharmacist didn't speak English, so my uncle made guesses: "Aspirina? Aspirino? Aspirini?" At which point the pharmacist exclaimed, "Aha!" and handed him a package of white tablets. Soon after, my uncle crammed himself into the elevator that led to the Eiffel Tower observation deck. As the doors closed, he pulled out the quarter-sized "aspirini" and popped one into his mouth. He began coughing and gagging. The other people in the elevator turned and shrieked. Then, when he started foaming at the mouth, they took cover. At the top, my uncle spat out the "aspirini," inspected it, and realized it was an Alka-Seltzer. Eric C. Williams, Reston, Va.
After a long day of exploring Granada, Nicaragua, my friend and I stopped in a liquor store for beer. When the clerk asked me something, I smiled and said, "No." He opened my beer and poured it into a plastic bag. I finally figured out that I had declined to put down a deposit on the bottle. Carron Hampton, Savannah, Ga.
Favorite Setting: Category 5
Last year I was at a beachfront resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, when I was relocated to a shelter because of Hurricane Wilma. Everyone was gathered around, clutching blankets, pillows, and flashlights. You can imagine my surprise when I spotted one woman's items on a table in full view--including a rather large phallic-shaped massager. I never saw her again during the next three days, but I imagine she had a much more relaxing time riding out the storm than the rest of us did. Shi Ann Ingalls, Harrah, Okla.
"Right, But How Do I Look?"
Ten years ago I was 25 years old, recently single, and in the best shape of my life. I was spending a week at a beautiful resort in Sonora Bay, Mexico, so I put on my hottest swimsuit, along with my cute matching scrunchy, and headed out to the beach. After six months of daily workouts I was looking good and I knew it. The beach, fairly deserted, wasn't meeting my desire for attention, so I grabbed a Boogie Board and swam into a lagoon that was closer to a populated area of the resort. Doing my best to look sexy and irresistible, I was slowly drifting into the center of the lagoon when I noticed several guys waving their arms at me. I began to swim over for a little flirting, but I realized that they were yelling at me to get out of the water. Disappointed that they weren't into me, I finally figured out what they'd been yelling: "You're swimming in the hotel cesspool!" Deborah Baranovics, Glendora, Calif.
You can find more True Stories in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Budget Travel magazine.
Disney Makes More Magic
The folks at Disney recently hosted a razzle-dazzle press event at New York's Palace Theater to launch their Year of a Million Dreams, actually a 15-month bonanza of new attractions and giveaways. Actors took the stage hoisting giant puppets from Finding Nemo--the Musical, premiering in Orlando this January. Puppeteer Michael Curry (The Lion King) and Tony Award-winning composer Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) are among the show's all-star team. Nemo fans will also be able to climb aboard "clamobiles" for Epcot's ride The Seas With Nemo and Friends. It creates the sensation of traveling through a coral reef that is home to the animated characters Dory and Marlin as well as actual fish. Not to be outdone, the Magic Kingdom has come up with a live show, Dream Along With Mickey, as well as the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club. The movie's one-eyed hero will do stand-up comedy and incorporate the best jokes text-messaged in by audience members. A good part of the dream fulfillment will come from Disney's giveaway, running through December 31, 2007. Enter to win a Disney Vacation Club membership, tickets to after-hours park events, a set of mouse ears, or even a trip around the world as grand marshall in Disney parades (disneyparks.com/rules). The catch is that one of the niftiest prizes can't be won through the giveaway: nearly every day, a lucky visitor at Walt Disney World will be tapped by staffers to spend that night at Cinderella's Castle. Its Royal Suite, overlooking the Magic Kingdom, has two canopied queen beds and a wood-paneled parlor with stained-glass windows. A group of up to five people will dine at Cinderella's Royal Table, pose for photos with Cinderella, and get a VIP viewing of either SpectroMagic or the Wishes fireworks show. Similarly, at California's Disneyland, visitors will be chosen at random to spend the night in the new Mickey Mouse Penthouse. The park is putting the finishing touches on an underwater ride, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and has whipped up a rock and roll soundtrack for its California Screamin' attraction. For 16 weeks this spring, the classic Space Mountain rides at both parks will be rockin', too. Related Stories: Two Disney Dweebs Spill Their Juiciest Secrets Real Deals: Bahamian Cruise & Disney Visit, $799
Table of Contents: December 2006/January 2007
Beach Bum Central Ambergris Cay in Belize has some of the Caribbean's top diving--then again, the scruffy island is also one of the world's best spots for doing nothing at all Slide show: Ambergris Cay Renting an Apartment in Venice There's little in this world more romantic than a couple of days in Venice--except an entire week, especially if it's in the privacy of your own apartment 25 Reasons We Love San Antonio Everything is bigger in Texas: In Alamo City, that means the world's largest cowboy boots, margaritas sold by the liter, and more Movie Quest! The 10 films of 2006 that most inspired us to travel--and how to recreate the best scenes Celebrity Star Maps Movie Trivia Quiz Road Trip: Florida Keys The most dramatic drive on the East Coast, from party-hearty Key West up to the Everglades 40 Best Vacations Where the real deals are in Namibia, Northern Argentina, Hawaii, and 37 other tempting destinations
Catch a Star: Celebrity Maps
Loads of famous folks live--and eat, drink, shop, and play--in New York City and Los Angeles, which makes celebrity-spotting an easy travel bonus. You just need to know where to look. New York City Barneys New York 660 Madison Ave. 212/826-8900, barneys.com Whether browsing the trendy togs or snacking at in-store Fred's cafe (Mark's Madison Salad, $23), Halle Berry, Katie Holmes, Chloë Sevigny, and other fashion-forward bold-facers flock to Barneys's Madison Ave. flagship store. Central Park Fifth Ave. and 90th St. 212/360-3444, centralpark.com Buy a pretzel ($2) from a cart, grab a bench near Engineer's Gate, and watch as runners descend from the reservoir loop, a favorite route of Nicole Kidman, Madonna, and other stars with carbs to burn. The City Bakery 3 W. 18th St. 212/366-1414, thecitybakery.com What Benjamin Bratt, Harrison Ford, and Susan Sarandon order at The City Bakery remains a mystery, but the odds are that admitted chocoholic Jimmy Fallon is after the hot chocolate served with a homemade marshmallow ($4.50). Jeffrey New York 449 W. 14th St. 212/206-1272, jeffreynewyork.com Jeffrey, a compact department store of cutting-edge styles, anchors the downtown shopping circuit of deep-pocketed fashionistas such as Hilary Duff, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Jennifer Lopez. Even the lipsticks are spendy (Nars, from $23). Madison Square Garden Seventh Ave. between W. 31st St. and W. 33rd St. 212/307-1000, thegarden.com Score cheap b-ball seats (from $10) and train your binoculars courtside. Tyra Banks and Rosie O'Donnell are fans of the WNBA's Liberty, while Beyoncé Knowles, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the ever-present Spike Lee follow the NBA's Knicks. Pop Burger 58-60 Ninth Ave. 212/414-8686, popburger.com Style setters such as Gisele Bündchen and the Williams sisters crowd this Meatpacking District café-lounge, which is open until 5 A.M. on weekends, for the perfect late-night nibble: mini-burgers ($5 for two) and fries ($3.25). Sant Ambroeus 259 W. Fourth St. 212/604-9254, santambroeus.com Folks both famous (Drew Barrymore, Sarah Jessica Parker) and fashionable (Helena Christensen, Michael Kors) who live in the 'hood rely on this West Village café for Italian treats (biscotti assortment, $7) and coffee (cappuccino, $4.50). The Spotted Pig 314 W. 11th St. 212/620-0393, thespottedpig.com The concept? Pub (Brooklyn Lager, $7) with good grub (Roquefort burger and frites, $15) and a hefty side of stars: Russell Crowe, Billy Crudup, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay-Z, Julianne Moore, Edward Norton, and Natalie Portman, to name a few. Starbucks 13-25 Astor Pl. 212/982-3563, starbucks.com The East Village outpost of the omnipresent coffee chain is where Ashley Olsen sometimes fuels up before class at nearby New York University, as does her dropout twin sister, Mary-Kate. Matt Damon is also a regular. Venti sugar-free vanilla nonfat latte ($4.40). Tenjune 26 Little W. 12th St. 646/624-2410, tenjunenyc.com Lounge of the nanosecond, Tenjune is tucked below STK steakhouse and packed with booths in which Penélope Cruz, P. Diddy, Janet Jackson, Nick Lachey, and Kanye West have snuggled (though not all together). Tenjune Toast vodka-and-champagne cocktail ($14). Los Angeles Chateau Marmont 8221 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood 23/656-1010, chateaumarmont.com A list of who hasn't graced the Chateau would be shorter. Lunch on the patio (wild salmon with sautéed veggies, $25) and keep your peeps peeled for Colin, Leo, Keanu, Jude, and Justin--and the ghosts of John Belushi, James Dean, and Jim Morrison. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf 7915 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 323/851-8392, coffeebean.com Ground zero of online celebrity gossip, this java joint is the "office" of blogger Perez Hilton. Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, Lindsay Lohan, and Parker Posey have all popped up in Hilton's workspace, and later in his column. Ice Blended Mocha ($3.60). Dan Tana's 9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood 310/275-9444, dantanasrestaurant.com The Italian dishes (spaghetti with meat sauce, $22) are old-school delicious, but it's the dim lights and private booths that keep Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, and Jerry Seinfeld coming back. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie even ended their feud here. Fred Segal 8100 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood 323/655-3734 Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, and other designers hang on the racks, while everyone from Cameron Diaz to Arnold Schwarzenegger browses the expensive and irresistible offerings at this amalgam of chic boutiques. Cosabella lingerie from $16. Hyde Lounge 8029 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood 323/656-4933 Scenesters like Lance Bass, Jared Leto, and Lindsay Lohan put this lounge on the map--and in the tabloids, thanks to Paris Hilton and Shanna Moakler's well-publicized brawl. Dress sexy, arrive early, and be prepared to wait; Hyde only fits 100. Drinks from $11. Kitson 115 S. Robertson Blvd. 310/859-2652, shopkitson.com Glamour gals Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez love the trendy clothes here. Harajuku coin purse, $12.95. Laurel Canyon Dog Park 8260 Mulholland Dr., Studio City 818/769-4415, laparks.org You might not recognize Buckley, Obie, or Sidi, but you know their respective owners: Justin Timberlake, Annette Bening, and Orlando Bloom, all of whom have let the dogs out at this popular pooch playground. Paradise Cove Beach Café, Malibu 28128 W. Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu 310/457-2503, paradisecovemalibu.com Gain entree to the tony Malibu shoreline with breakfast at Paradise Cove Beach Café (huevos con tortillas, $8.95). Then stroll along the Pacific surf, a favorite outing for Brad and Angelina (and Maddox), as well as the often-shirtless Matthew McConaughey. Petit Trésor 634 1/2 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles 310/659-3970, petittresor.com Featuring teeny togs and pimped-out cribs, Petit Trésor is the unofficial outfitter of Hollywood's baby boomlet. Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Tori Spelling shop here for their own and others' offspring. Kaloo newborn-size teddy bear booties ($24). Saks Fifth Avenue 9600 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills 310/275-4211, saks.com Site of Winona Ryder's shoplifting bust, the Beverly Hills Saks also attracts starlets willing to pay, including Courteney Cox Arquette, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Hilary Swank. Ryder pinched Donna Karan socks ($80). Whole Foods Market 11737 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood 310/826-4433, wholefoodsmarket.com Paparazzi stalk the Brentwood Whole Foods parking lot to snap Marcia Cross, Jeremy Piven, Nick Lachey, and Reese Witherspoon loading up on groceries. Be sure to pick up this season's hottest handbag: a green store-logo tote made of recycled plastic ($1.99).
A New Airfare Discounter Enters the Fray
An ambitious new membership-based travel site is taking on airlines, online travel agencies, and travel auctions. CFares (cfares.com) claims to find the lowest prices by searching multiple sources: databases of major airlines, wholesalers, travel aggregators such as Kayak, and booking engines such as Orbitz. Register for free and you can search for flights on cFares, which will redirect you to the seller's own website to complete the transaction. However, you can get an additional discount if you become a "platinum" member for $50/year. Additionally, platinum members can name their own ticket price through a tool called cAgent, which allows you to see the airline and itinerary before you book your flight, unlike opaque bookings through sites such as Priceline. (If you're not already a platinum member, you can be upgraded at the time of purchase, and the $50 membership fee will be added to your auction purchase price.) So how does cFares stack up against its competitors? We compared membership rates versus booking directly with a major airline or online travel agency. We requested price quotes for the same dates and itineraries to make sure we were comparing apples to apples. All prices include taxes and fees, unless otherwise noted. Itinerary 1: A holiday cross-country flight We searched for flights from New York City to Seattle during the December holidays. A platinum round-trip rate of $463 per person flying nonstop on Delta and returning nonstop on Continental was $126 less than the same itinerary booked through OneTravel.com, an online travel agency. A search of JetBlue's website turned up a round-trip price of $598 per person for the same dates and a slightly different itinerary. Itinerary 2: A quick weekend getaway We searched for weekend flights from Baltimore to Miami in January 2007. A platinum round-trip rate of $100 per person flying nonstop on American was $12 less than the same itinerary booked as a gold member through CheapTickets.com. Booking directly through American's website turned up a round-trip price of $109 per person for the same dates. Itinerary 3: An international vacation We searched for flights from Denver to London Gatwick in March 2007. A platinum round-trip rate of $297 plus tax per person flying on American with one stop each way was $34 less than the exact same itinerary booked directly through American's website. The bottom line? We like cFares' wide selection and transparent pricing. Although cFares doesn't search discount airline Southwest, cFares found lower prices in every instance. There are no special restrictions on airfares, and in most cases you still rack up your frequent-flier miles if you book flights through cFares. The only "gotcha" is that while you can book fares for friends and family members, everyone must be a platinum member to receive the deepest discount. For frequent fliers, the $50 yearly membership fee will easily pay for itself in a few flights. Even if you never buy a platinum membership, you can't lose by checking cFares' prices before booking a flight on another website. Related links: Which Reward Programs Deserve Your Loyalty? Smaller Airports, Smaller Airfares How to Navigate Online Travel Auctions Simplified Airfares That Aren't