Get Bang for Bucks
Author of Along the Inca Road and Hitchhiking Vietnam
4. Spring-Ski Whistler,
THE DEAL: Crash for five nights in a cushy queen-size bed next to a glowing fireplace at the three-star Pinnacle International Hotel, a chalet-style resort on Whistler's Library Square, just a ten-minute walk from the chairlift. Sleep tight: The slopes get about 30 feet of snow a year, so you'll spend long days carving corn off the more than 200 runs that span Whistler Blackcomb's 7,000 acres and 5,280 feet of vertical drop. Price above includes sample round-trip airfare from Miami to Vancouver ($450) and Ski Canada package, which includes five nights' accommodation and a five-day lift pass. Why wait till spring? Because five days of lift tickets alone would cost you $250 midseason, while those evenings gazing over the scenic ridges of Sproat Mountain from the Pinnacle would total about $790.
THE FINE PRINT: Dates are set for April 18-25, 2004. Package doesn't include meals or transfers (about $100 per person from Vancouver).
CONTACT: Ski Canada, 800-333-5533, www.ski-canada.com
5. Surf Hermosa Beach,
THE DEAL: Hop a morning flight from Miami or Orlando for this seven-day trip and you'll be slicing the glassy tubes of Hermosa Beach that afternoon. When you've had enough barrels for the day, walk 100 paces across the sand to the beachfront Hotel Villa Hermosa. Inside the compound's red-roofed buildings, you can crash in a comfortable but basic air-conditioned room or lounge by the whale-shaped pool, swilling a cold Imperial beer. In the evening, it's about three minutes in your flip-flops to the Backyard Restaurant, where you can dig into blackened mahi-mahi and other seafood dishes. Package price includes round-trip airfare from Miami or Orlando to San José, seven nights' accommodation, and a rental four-wheel drive that can take you to other breaks, like the right and lefts at Dominical, 90 minutes south. Head to Hawaii for the same warm Pacific waves and you'd spend some $750 just for the flight from Los Angeles and a rental car.
THE FINE PRINT: Go in summer or early fall (prices shoot up in November, the beginning of high season). Also, you have to bring a board, or rent one there, and spring for meals.
CONTACT: Surf Express, 888-566-4147, www.surfex.com
6. Sea-Kayak the Everglades,
THE DEAL: Spend four days paddling among the Ten Thousand Islands of Everglades National Park, spying on alligators and dolphins, and sleeping on sandy beaches. Southeast Expeditions ensures good campsites, prepares the food (salmon cakes over couscous, for example), covers park fees, and guides you around the salt- and blackwater narrows to point out birds like white pelicans and roseate spoonbills. Price above includes sample round-trip airfare from Chicago to Miami ($228), boats, paddling and camping gear, meals, and guides. Try doing this trip yourself and you'd typically have to arrive a day early to request campsites (no advance reservations). Boat rental alone would run more than $300 for four days, and that's before you buy the food, pay your park entry and camping fees, rent a car...
THE FINE PRINT: Transfers to Everglades City from Miami will cost an extra $50 per person.
CONTACT: Southeast Expeditions, 800-877-225-2925, www.sekayak.com