Thursday, March 14, 1996
Dream trip from friendly strangers

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

My bags are packed, and I am just waiting around to see who wants to send me on a vacation next. What have I done to deserve this attention? I wish I knew.

First, a notice from Florida Travel Network arrived announcing that I am the ''confirmed recipient of our spectacular eight-day - seven-night fantasy holiday'' to Florida and the Caribbean.

These people want to send me on a really fancy trip beginning in Orlando, home of Mickey and Goofy, then on to a cruise in the Bahamas. Not to mention ''three sensational nights in Ft. Lauderdale.''

And I have never met them before in my life.

You may be thinking this is some sort of come-on, but I could tell it was a legitimately wonderful prize because they were ''delighted to advise me via FIRST CLASS MAIL.'' Would they waste a 32-cent stamp on the likes of me unless there was something very special at stake?

I think not.

Not to brag, but I think they choose people of influence who will tell their wealthy friends about all the fun. In fact, it says this is ''to promote tourism to Florida and the Bahamas.'' Sounds like a good cause, and I'd like to do my part. Besides, maybe I'll get to aerobicize with Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford.

I dialed the convenient 800 number, and Steve answered. ''Are you ready to hear about your exciting trip?'' he asked.

Well, who wouldn't be?

First stop, Orlando. ''Wait a minute. How do I get to Orlando?'' I asked.

Steve explained that, of course, I would be responsible for my own transportation to Florida. Well, of course.

I didn't want to appear greedy, but what about tickets to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World? ''What you do when you get to Orlando is completely up to you,'' Steve said. ''But we do supply brochures. In color.''

He was beginning to sound peeved.

Then on to Fort Lauderdale, where after ''three sensational nights at the beautiful Sunrise Hilton'' comes the cruise.

Geez. I must have been born under a star.

Steve mentioned a $99-per-person ''docking fee.'' It was too confusing for us, so Steve put his supervisor, Bart, on the phone. Bart explained that this is ''something that goes directly to the government and you have to pay it, unless you're a good swimmer. Heh. Heh.''

Poor Steve is probably beginning to suspect that I am not the high-roller he is accustomed to booking on these promotional gigs, and he tells me that there's a daily ''user fee'' of $9 to $11 per person and there may be charges for maid service and phones and pools, etc.

So, anyway, now I'm going to hear about the Bahamas cruise. ''How long is this cruise, Steve?''

''You're on the ship about six to eight hours, each way,'' Steve says. So I guess I'll have to put a racing stripe on my fork if I want to get the most out of the ''Las Vegas-style shows, non-stop casino action and endless meals.''

The ship deposits merrymakers for ''three sunny days and two tranquil nights on this island paradise, enjoying golf, duty-free shopping, deep-sea fishing.'' This is all a la carte, of course.

Of course. But I'm assuming I will be getting those color brochures.

So, no kidding now, Steve, what will all this cost me? ''Only $249 per person.'' I have to decide now because (and I could tell that he felt bad about this) he's only allowed to authorize one phone call per household, and the offer will expire when I hang up. So, unfortunately, I can't check with my husband or any other travel agents before I decide.

''Steve, you know the information I got in the mail makes it sound like this is a free trip.'' He says only ''people who are kind of ignorant think it's free.''

I think maybe this job has soured him a little bit on human nature. For instance, he told me that sometimes when he tells people about the $249, they'll say they don't have the money. He tells them that they can use their Visa or MasterCard.

''And some of them say they don't have one,'' he says disgustedly. ''And we know they're lying. That's how we got their name. You just can't trust everybody.''

Well, Steve, I'm sorry to hear that.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 mHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.