Sunday, February 28, 2010
Ridin' the Rail to Seatac Airport
One-way adult fares are $2.50 and youth ages 6 -18 are $2. (Keep your ticket handy to show to a Fare Inspector on board). Tickets can be purchased from vending machines at the station that work much like automated bank teller or parking ticket machines.
Passengers need only walk from the airport staion along a covered, lighted, level walkway on the mezzanine level to the terminal. At Westlake Center's transit hub connections can be made to buses. Or most hotels are within a few blocks of the station.
After arriving home from Hawaii, we took a taxi home, slightly over 20 miles from the airport and the fare with tip was $61. Next time using Light Rail and connecting to the Metro bus, the cost per person will be $4.50 or $9 for the trip.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Madeira Memories: Ribeira Brava
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Hidden fees. . .does the buck stop here?
As we read further we learned they do award points . . .for a price. Persons renting cars in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico are subject to a frequent flyer surcharge of 75-cents a day up to $5.25 per rental in order to be awarded those points. Now admittedly the amount it isn't astronomical. . .but let's see, don't they call those programs 'award' or 'loyalty' programs? Maybe they should be called Pay-for-Points programs?
With auto reserved (likely without those points), the research turned to accommodations. We are considering a stay near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area some 20 minutes outside Las Vegas. So, using our favorite site, Expedia, we found several possibilities including what seemed to be a good deal at the high-end Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa. Rooms rates were listed at $130 a night; admittedly, that's for a view toward The Strip, not of those nearby striking red rocks, but still, an okay price for this glitzy hotel. Reading through the rules we found it's $130 plus hotel fees of $24.99 a night, bringing the real price to $155 a night. Had they just said so, we may have booked it. Their additional 'fee' killed the deal.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Funchal, Madeira - 'a Ghost Town'
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Hula Babe and Beach Boy Moonwalk
Our favorite spots were just north of the J.W. Marriott property and south from Lagoon Four on Ko Olina's site, near the entry to the Marina. You explore at your own risk, the signs are posted. . .but then isn't that what you do with any travel experience?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Dealing with Pickpockets
We consider ourselves seasoned travelers who are alert to such attacks, but today's sophisticated pickpockets still outwitted us. Our initial disbelief turned quickly to frustration which only intensified as we worked our way through the process of canceling various plastics and a race to the cash machine to obtain enough Euro's to carry us through the rest of the trip without those plastics.
We had taken many of the precautions I've listed below; but we hadn't quite been diligent enough. Hindsight is 20-20 and this is what we we will be doing in the future and offer as suggestions to others:
Before leaving home:
1. Register your foreign destinations with your bank's credit card fraud department. All it takes is a phone call.
2. Determine how the bank will contact you about suspicious card activity if you will not be available by phone during your travels. Have either the fraud department or customer service department, explain how they will contact you if they put a hold on your card while you are traveling. Then call them back, talk with a different person, and make sure that your record clearly states how they will reach you.
- During one of our trips, we were assured by a woman in the fraud department where we had registered our travel that we would be contacted by email -- she read the email address back to me for accuracy -- before putting a hold on an account. They didn't. But when we arrived home we found three automated messages on our answering machine telling us a hold had been placed on the account and advising us to call immediately. We didn't get that message in Paris.
- I did call the fraud department immediately and talked with a representative who told me the fraud department would never email; only customer service can generate emails and apologized for the inconvenience. (Luckily we still had enough cash to get us to the airport).
3. Record your card numbers, security codes and expiration dates and then keep those with bank phone numbers in a separate but secure place as you travel.
4. Double check those customer service phone numbers printed on the back of your card BEFORE you leave home. The replacement card sent to us after our return last fall still has imprinted on it the numbers that are no longer working. Because we had a computer - and in room web access - we could look up the bank's web site and got correct numbers; all of which took valuable time at a time when 'time was of the essence'.
1. Pickpockets come in every shape and size. Well-behaved looking children to dressed-for-success-adults are as likely to swipe your belongings as is the person who may look like a vagrant in search of money.
2. Travel defensively - that doesn't mean be rude, it means don't always be polite. If someone repeatedly prevents you from moving out of congested doorwells of Metro trains, buses, or waiting areas to less congested areas, force your way past them if need be.
3. Be aware of your surroundings: keep an eye on those around you. Does someone seem to be watching you? Are they repeatedly looking at your bags? Did you feel a brush against a leg or bag? Do they seem to be doing a visual scan of your body? Are they speaking into cell phones? It could be they are talking to 'teammates' planning their strike and getaway. [Don't be paranoid about it, as not everyone who looks at you or who speaks into a cell phone is a pickpocket - just be aware of those around you.]
4. Use a money belt or other means of securing your money and passport and credit cards to you in a manner that it would be impossible to reach even with the most sophisticated wires and hooks.
5. Split your cash and credit cards, don't carry all in one place.
6. Wear shoulder bags to the inside when walking on crowded sidewalks and streets. This will keep theives on bikes and motorcycles from coming up behind you and making off with your bag.
7. Don't look and act like a tourist. . .if you are trying to read your guide book or your camera is hanging from your neck. . .you look like a tourist. Suitcases, shoulder bags or backpacks are red flags - keep them in front of you, with your arms around them when squished into jam-packed public transportation. It is a snap to slash the bottom of a backpack and make away with your belongings before you even realize you were targeted.
8. Read up on your destinations. Most travel books and web sites include information about safety and safeguards you can take.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Ko Olina: Our '401V'
It is a logical solution for this travel-minded couple who have always fantasized about owning a home on a tropical island but who see a vacation home as only doubling the roots and responsibilities; a conflict of interest for we vagabonds. We no longer want to be committed to one destination.
Our purchase is deeded property (some other timeshares are sold using a points/use system); a two-bedroom 'lock-off' unit, meaning we can stay for two-weeks. One week is in a studio unit and the other is in a larger one-bedroom full-size condo type unit. A smart selling point on the part of the Marriott group.
This year we treated it as our second home. We didn't participate in any of the resort's planned activities (think cruise ship sized list of things to keep one occupied). Instead we pretty much lived as we do in Kirkland: prepared meals at home, used the exercise facility, took out garbage and made the beds. Free in-room computer access (another good selling point) and our cell phone allowed us to telecommute as needed.
The 80-degree weather allowed for barbecues in January and the communal, cleaned-daily banks of gas barbecues provided another avenue for social time as we visited with other guests making the most of the outdoor cooking stations.
Grocery shopping -- a task I find most dreary in Kirkland -- was made fun at Don Quijote, just down the road in Waipahu town. This DQ was jam-packed with the same grocery items as found on the mainland but had huge selections of Asian and Hawaiian foods as well. Various types of kim chee, the spicey Korean food became a staple. And even enjoyed our trips to the recently opened Costco in Kapolei town where you can purchase any thing from surfboards,to packaged lau-lau and Aloha shirts.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Whale Tales: A sunset hula
We were among the guests who flocked to the lagoons and gardens to watch close-up the spectacular big waves that plummetted our Western coast all day yesterday. The four man-made lagoons that dot the property remained protected with only a stronger than usual pull and push of the water from the external wave action. A recent jellyfish warning issued for several of O'ahu's beaches didn't discourage any of us from enjoying that gentle lagoon while the sun took temperatures to 82-degrees. The waves were so spectacular that the books we planned to read on the beach were tucked away for later and attention was focused on the Pacific waters.
I've written about seeing whales from our deck. That means that we have seen passing numbers of whales spouting in the waters in front of the development. However, last night a crowd-stopping show took place between the Vacation Club and the J.W. Marriott when two whales began a sunset hula, leaping out of the water and slapping tails -- torsos up, tail up, swing, sway and disappear. Travel often affords us moments of magic - yesterday, it seemed, was one magical moment from start to finish.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Kung Hee Fat Choy! Happy New Year!
Among suggestions offered for celebrating the New Year are: wear something red (Chinese legend says that color scares away evil spirits); watch a Lion's Dance; buy some trinkets and give to friends - gift giving is a big part of the celebration; find a fireworks display - also big in the celebration.
This year with Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year celebrations falling on the same day, O'ahu has so many restaurant specials, getaway specials and celebrations that it would be hard to choose just one - unfortunately, we timed our return to Kirkland not following the Chinese calendar and will miss the weekend's festivities.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Top's Down, Surf's Up: On the Road in O'ahu
Monday, February 8, 2010
O'ahu is more than Honolulu
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Ko Olina Resort and Marina, O'ahu
Friday, February 5, 2010
Hula Babe and Beach Boy
I checked my watch and realized I had been wearing it for sometime upside down; the 6 where the 12 should be. . .you get the idea. Then as I was chopping garlic I had a second realization that I was preparing dinner in my swimsuit; but after a while on an island it seems quite normal for both culinary swim wear and upside down watches.
A few weeks ago my cousin directed me to a blog site of a woman who calls herself Pioneer Woman. I decided that we too could have different, more appropriate names for ourselves while writing from the tropics. So for the week that remains -- we will be Hula Babe and Beach Boy.
Hula Babe quit putting on eyeliner the second day in Honolulu, the mascara was left somewhat far behind a week or so ago and lipstick, ha, lipsticks in various shades haven't come out of the cosmetics bags. Sun screen and lip gloss are beauty products of choice. Beach Boy simply strips off the shirt and puts on the shades anytime he nears sand which is most of the time during the waking day.
We moved today to the larger one-bedroom unit, a snap of a move that now has us facing the ocean -a perfect place to watch for whales. Yesterday they frolicked for hours in the water in front of the lagoon, we are hoping for their return today. With that the upside down watch says it is beach time. . .aloha!
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Now 'best' can be defined a number of different ways: one is buying direct from one of the famous 90-minute sales pitches that at least in our case earned us a bizzillion Marriott points back three years ago and as I mentioned earlier, entry into 'the Marriott family" or ohana, as we call ourselves around Ko Olina. For others 'best' means a good deal or low price.
Many folks we've met own many weeks at various resorts and are sold on the timeshare concept (disclaimer: it isn't for everyone) and we've learned that many have purchased their weeks on the resale market at considerably less than they could on the primary market. Now in the midst of our third stay here we are also considering purchasing another week somewhere and have had a number of web sites recommended to us. Among those recommended sites are: SellMyTimeshareNow.com and Timeshare Users Group If anyone out there has other suggestions, let us know. . .we will share them with others in the hot tub or sipping a beverage.
Hawaii Timeshare Tales
We went to the 90-minute sales presentation with the intent of getting the Marriott bonus points they offered as an attendance reward. We ended up with the points - and a week of ownership here.
This trip is our second as full-fledged owners - and we have yet to find it boring. We've found timeshare life to be like having a second home only we don't have to worry about those pesky maintenance tasks of homeownership. We pay the annual maintenance fee and then enjoy the maid 'tidy' service mid week and watch the gardeners grooming 'our' acreas of landscaped grounds and maintenance taking care of pools and hot tubs.
It is somewhat like playing house because you can cook and wash dishes and make your beds, but the serious cleaning is done by others leaving the day free for reading books, exploring, exercising, lazing at the pool or beach or soaking in the hot tub.
We spent a good deal of two afternoons just beyond the resort, an easy one mile walk that leads to a small crescent sandy beach and dozens of tidal pools in the lava rock that borders the beach. site. Watching any number of varieties of tropical fish in this pond while mongeese played chase on the nearby rocks and a large green sea turtle swam with snorkelers just off shore is far more fun than doing housework anyday.