Schiphol Airport car rental. Disney Cruise Line's Disney Fantasy. Colombia tour.

This item appears on page 4 of the March 2013 issue.


For a week in the Netherlands, Dec. 20-27, 2012, my wife and I rented a car at Schiphol Airport from BB&L Car Rental (phone +31 20 6557900).

Reserving it over the Internet six to eight weeks in advance, our Category-A car cost €212 (near $283), all inclusive, with an extra driver allowed and unlimited mileage. We had a 3-door Renault Twingo with manual transmission and a GPS — a small car but perfectly suited to two people and the narrow roads of Holland.

Unlike the major car-rental companies, BB&L will meet you in the Schiphol Arrivals lobby. You sign the contract and walk outside to your car. After last-minute instructions and an inspection, you drive off.

Upon returning, you park in front of the terminal you are departing from at the prearranged time. You’re met, the car is checked, you pay and off you go. No parking garages, shuttle buses, lines, endless documents, etc.!

We have used this company twice and can highly recommend them. Their service is excellent — valet service at a cheaper cost than the big guys’.

Nyckle Wijbrandus, East Petersburg, PA


My husband, Steve, and I took our first cruise with Disney Cruise Line (800/338-4962), Dec. 8-15, 2012, and, in a word, it was FANTASTIC! Our eighth cruise, overall, it was to the Western Caribbean aboard the Disney Fantasy.

Including round-trip airfare from Chicago and a night’s hotel in Orlando, Florida, the two of us paid a total of about $3,000. And we purchased the transfer package (about $70 each), so they bused us from Orlando airport to Port Canaveral and back, and we could check our bag from the ship to the airport; they took care of it at Customs in Florida.

Disney takes service to a higher level. There was never a time that there wasn’t a crew member around to take care of any perceived problem. I had trouble getting out of the tub (yes, bathtub!, in a mid priced cabin) and mentioned it to an officer, and a bathmat appeared the same day. (A lower bar on the wall would have been better, but this sufficed nicely.)

The cabins are larger than average (240 square feet for one with an outside verandah) and come with a split bath (toilet and sink in one, tub and sink in the other) — very handy. The bed was fairly comfortable, if a bit soft, for me.

I didn’t think I’d like the assigned-seating, rotational dining. We’d been assigned the second seating (8 p.m.) but had no trouble changing that. As we moved from one dining room to the next each evening (we skipped lunch), our wait staff moved with us. Service was very good, and it was nice that we didn’t have to repeat drink orders (“Are you ready for your wine, ma’am?”). The food was excellent, with many choices, including veal, lamb and venison.

We have no kids (and I don’t particularly like them on a cruise), but the ones on board were (nearly all) nicely behaved and not really noticeable since they preferred their own activity areas. The only times we really noticed the large number of passengers and kids was at the character appearances. There were at least six a day; you hoped you got to the head of the line before the character had to leave.

We’d been to all the ports before, so we would just walk around town or explore the ship when no one was around. The behind-the-scenes tour of the ship was well worth the time. You need tickets, but it’s free.

We had a great buffet lunch on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, where there’s lots to do… or nothing — your choice. The “adults only” area was quiet and serene.

This was the first vacation in a long time where I did NOT want to go home.

Judith Siess, Champaign, IL


I took the 10-night tour “Colombia’s Colonial Jewels & Caribbean Coast,” Dec. 14-24, 2012, with Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/955-1925). The cost was $2,895 plus $450 for airfare from Miami to Bogota. I had single rooms throughout, and OAT charged no single supplement.

Our group stayed in the historic old sections of Bogota and Cartagena. The singles in our boutique hotel in Cartagena were very small but nice, and the double rooms were large and very nice.

We stayed at a nice spa hotel in Santa Marta and then, on the way to Cartagena, stopped in El Totumo volcanic area for mud baths! But I noticed that on 2013’s itinerary OAT has replaced Santa Marta with Medellín, which now, apparently, is safer.

In Bogotá we visited the Botero Museum and the Gold Museum — fantastic.

The real reason I’m writing is to tell you about our excellent tour guide, Alex Rocha. He offered many insights into his country, telling us “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

He even invited our whole group of 16 to have dinner at his home in the black section of Cartagena, a nice neighborhood with kids playing outside in the evening. We all felt very comfortable.

Alex also showed us around the foundation that he has set up to teach English to the poor, from preschool-age children to adults, who cannot afford to pay for lessons. I was very impressed with Alex and what he is doing. He is highly recommended.

Jo Ann Odom, Lakewood, CO