Budget Travel Upgrade

November 16, 2006
Flynn Larsen
Using our powers for the good of the people

California native Olivia Neri met her future husband, Jan van den Broek, six years ago while backpacking in Asia. Jan, who is Dutch, was working in Singapore at the time. The couple's relationship was long-distance until September, when they were married near Los Angeles. Olivia planned to move to the Netherlands after their honeymoon on the Dutch-flavored Caribbean island of Aruba. "It seemed an appropriate place to start our life together," she says. She had booked a room at the Renaissance Aruba, which we got upgraded to anocean-view suite. "We were blown away," says Olivia. "The room was beautiful, and we could watch yachts coming and going in the marina." The Renaissance also arranged for massages and cocktails on the resort's private island. "It was Jan's first massage. I told him not to get used to it!" The final surprise: a four-course dinner on their balcony. "We had champagne and caviar by candlelight," says Olivia. "It was really special." Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino,888/236-2427, marriott.com, from $350.

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True Stories

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 E-mail TrueStories@BudgetTravelOnline.com or True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 Seventh Ave., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10018. Sorry, we can't return photos. Read the full guidelines. Winners! 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! Pharmacist Humor 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. Dude Needs a Ziploc 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