Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is it time for "Travelers' Fees"?

A few posts ago we focused on the frustrating 'hotel fees' that had appeared on Expedia when we were booking hotels for our stay in Las Vegas. We paid fees ranging from $5 a day at Suncoast in Summerlin to $15 a day at the Palazzo on The Strip for items ranging from in-room instant coffee and paper cups (at the Suncoast) to fitness center and in-room wi-fi access at the Palazzo (which almost seemed reasonable). The fees were on top of $100+ per night room rates.
What at the time seemed to be a Vegas fluke, is instead, the new world of travel. Hotels have hopped on the airlines' nickel-and-dime-you-to-death bandwagon!
A recent article appearing in the Los Angeles Times business section, warns travelers to be aware of even more hotel fees (restocking fees, baggage holding fees among them) -- many of which may be hidden away until the final bill appears. This eye-opening article should be a must read for all travelers:

The article prompted my fantasy about a travelers' revolt of sorts; should we start charging similar fees? For example: I charge a $5 fee to an airline for sitting in a cramped middle seat that no one else wants? I stay at your hotel vs. your competitor for $5 a night (stay fee). For $5 a night I won't call and complain when something in the room doesn't work, another $5 for bringing my own Starbuck's VIA instant coffee. . . you get the idea. The fees potential is endless. . .and can you imagine the reactions when at checkout or boarding you present your fee list?

Admittedly, the travel industry has taken a hit in the recent economic downturn but fees --hidden or up-front -- are not the way to entice customers nor develop customer loyalty.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

See Seattle on the Cheap - Ride Metro

Rick Steves, the 'Europe-on-the-cheap' travel guru, wrote so convincingly in his Paris guidebook that we were persuaded several years ago to tour the City of Light by public bus. His guidebook promise of cheap and simple rang true. I've been sold on sightseeing by public transport ever since.

Using that same cheap and easy approach I did an article a while back for the Seattle Times that featured local tourist destinations that can easily -- and more importantly, cheaply -- be reached by using our King County Metro bus system.

The underground bus stations in Seattle are so attractive that each is worth a stop just to see the artwork that has been built into the station design. These bright, well-lit, spacious stations are nothing like the dark, narrow tunnels that we've sometimes found ourselves in that lead us to the depths under London or Paris. Click the "Bus Tunnel" link for details of the artwork.

The Westlake Center station in the heart of Seattle is less than six blocks of Pike Place Public Market. Pioneer Square is the stop nearest one of the city's popular tourist destinations - where the city got its start and the International District stop puts a rider at the entry gate to what was once called our Chinatown.

To read about my destinations and tips for using the bus. . .


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Air-Cruise deals - know before you go

As noted in earlier blogs, we do love cruising. Often the only thing that keeps us from taking more cruises -- particularly those in exotic places -- is the difficulty in finding or the cost of air transportation to get us to the port of embarkation or disembarkation. Several summers ago Silversea tempted us with a last-minute deal on a cruise from Venice to Venice via Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. The cost of airfare was prohibitive so we cashed in some airmiles and started our journey: flying Seattle to San Francisco, from there to London Heathrow, then bus to Gatwick, from there a flight to Bologna and from there a train to Venice. We were numb by the time we arrived some 24 hours later.

We've always opted to make our own flight arrangements though as it seemed we had better control of the routing and aircraft we would be flying. After reading the article by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor at Cruise Critic, that examines that very issue, we think we will opt to keep doing so. (Click on this blog's headline to link to her article.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just west of Las Vegas we hit the Jackpot!

Mother Nature provided this win just a few minutes drive and a world away from Las Vegas. Because we had a rental car for the road trip from Santa Barbara, we were able to get away from The Strip and see what else Vegas has to offer. It may have been the first time we visited the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area but it certainly won't be the last. And next time we'll bring our hiking boots!

Visiting the Canyon on an early Saturday morning, we paid the $5 federal entrance fee and then joined a parade of cars winding our way through the canyon on a 13-mile, one-way scenic loop. Shutterbugs like me couldn't resist stopping at each of the overlooks scattered along the route and conveniently each overlook provided ample parking - a plus for Joel, the driver.

There are some 19 hiking trails that lead off into the canyon from the overlook parking areas, ranging from easy walks to more 'strenuous' routes both in terms of distance and elevation changes. Having arrived without food or drink, we skipped the picnic area at Willow Springs about half way through the drive. It's a fabulous setting though for outside dining. And climbers around the world come here to hoist themselves up and down the sheer rock surfaces on more than 2,000 rock climbing routes. Permits are required to climb.

Managed by the Bureau of Land Management the Red Rock National Conservation Area encompasses nearly 200,000 acres. You are reminded of the expansiveness from several points along the scenic route. A new Interpretive Center has just opened and is a good place to start your visit.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Move over EasyJet - our money-saving tip

EasyJet is among the low cost European airlines we've flown in recent years as part of our quest to save euros, and even more importantly, US dollars, whereever and whenever possible without foregoing safety. The airline flies modern Boeing 737's, and offers the pay-as-you-go services from buying a cup of Starbucks Via instant coffee to checking a bag for a heafty fee. For short-haul flights we can do without coffee, and we needed clothes, so paid the bag fee - and still paid far less than using a traditional airline.

Preparing for this year's trip, we were about to book a flight on EasyJet from London's Gatwick Airport to Heraklion, Crete (the same routing we used last year) when we happened upon a website that provides a quick round-up of all budget European airlines called Jumble Fly.

That's when we discovered flythomascook.com another budget airline that not only offered a cheaper fare than EasyJet, but departed Gatwick at the more civilized hour of 8 a.m. (not 6 a.m.). It also offers a miriad of pay-as-you-go services. Not only did we book the flight, but also bought their 'adult extra bundle' for each of us which allows us to check a bag, get a full meal AND sit together for a mere 14L ($21US) per person . . .about $3US less than just checking one bag on EasyJet had cost last year.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the Road to Rhodes. . .maybe?!

The island of Rhodes
opened like a flower
from the watery depths,
Child of Aphrodite,
Goddess of Love,
and then became
the bride of the sun.
With that kind of description on a hotel web site, am I ready to head to Rhodes; land of the Knights of St. John, with a history dating back 2,400 years? Yes!

And maybe - just maybe - we will get there this year. It was on 'the list' last fall as part of our kick-back, go-where-the-winds-blow-us (and ferry schedules allow) vagabonding trip through the Greek islands. But Cretan travel gods cast a spell, captivating us and we found ourselves spending three weeks there -- on Greece's southernmost island -- and not having enough time to get to Rhodes.

As we consider proposed itineraries for future explorations we are continually drawn back to Greece. It's Dodecanese islands, that loop around Turkey's southwestern coastline are calling out for exploration. Will be fight off the temptation to return to Crete and its smokey, dark thyme-flavored honey? Will we pass up favorite stops among the Cyclades islands to pay return visits to the small inns and the many wonderful folks who own them and who made us welcome in previous visits.

Symi, a neighbor island to Rhodes, will be a stop if we reach the Dodecanese. The blogosphere has allowed us to armchair travel there-- we've watched the winter storms raise havoc with ferry landings on the island and in recent weeks have watched the cyclamen and lavender blanket its hillsides. We feel we have a new friend in Adrianne who writes a blog as part of the Symi Visitor web site. We want to meet her and explore her jewel of an island that she has brought to life via the Internet.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Phantastic" deal on Vegas' Phantom

The Las Vegas Venetian has been home to a production of "Phantom of the Opera" for several years. . .so why did it take us until last week to finally go to one of the most spectacular musicals we've ever seen?

Price. It's that simple. When prices -even at the discount shops -are above $100 for a 'good' seat, it lowers our enthusiasm proportionately.

So an ad in a free, pocket-sized 24/7 Magazine (found in taxis and on displays in the Fashion Show Mall) was what finally got us to the musical, by way of the Web. We logged on to http://www.phantomlasvegas.com/ and found at least three discount options available on certain performances while we were in town. We booked seats third row back from the front of the mezzanine, smack dab in the middle of the section (you do want to be high for this show) and got them for $69 plus taxes and fees. Without the discount the same seat was $135 on the web. When we picked up the tickets at will-call we asked if we really had saved money. The clerk reported that our seats would have been $145 each plus taxes and fees had we purchased at the counter. Once again, a little research saved a lot of money.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Early Spring Armchair Travel

The only thing better than lazing away afternoons with a good book is being on a trip and lazing away afternoons with a good book. Our internal GPS systems always take us to the local bookstore or book section of a local gift shop. When we leave home there's always enough room in the bag to tuck in one or two new books. While in Santa Barbara I visited both Barnes & Noble and Borders - even though we have both stores near our home. They each had great local book sections.

[Yes, we know Kindle would simplify the packing and the selection, but it would seriously hamper our ability to browse local stores and we are old fashioned: we love books printed on paper.]

Even when we are home, our books take us on trips to new and old-favorite destinations. We've been updating a list of our 'armchair travel favorites' in the right-hand column. And we recently added a carousel book display because it shows the covers of 10 of our current recommendations. By simply clicking on the book, you will go to the Amazon web site where you can flip through the book, read a few pages, and read reviews of zillions of others, not just us.

[Disclaimer: if you purchased a book using this link, we earn about 40-cents, so it isn't a money-making venture. We just liked the ability to show the book and make looking at it a simple one-click process. We hate finding a title, writing it down and then losing it before getting to the right web site or forgetting to bring the note when we get to a bookstore.]

We've had several books recommended recently by readers of our blog and we will be reading them soon. We also plan -- when we aren't on the road -- to change the books on the carousel every couple of weeks. If you've got a recommendation for armchair travel we encourage you to write a comment about it so other readers can see your recommendations as well.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Getting our Kicks On Route 66

We began our road trip in Santa Barbara following Highway 101, that wonderful stretch of highway that follows the Pacific Coastline. We headed inland and around Los Angeles via Pasedena, looping just south of the San Gabriel Mountain's sparcely snow capped peaks.

We had just entered the desert country when the fancy little gizmo in the rental car alerted us to the fact that we were on the Historic Route 66. We don't use GPS things, preferring the old fashioned map system but this came with the car and it was on so it provided some entertainment. . .and we wouldn't have known we were on Route 66 without it as it wasn't marked by roadsigns. It was a kick so we should have suspected it, right?

Our route (pun intended) took us between Death Valley National Park to the north and the Mojave National Preserve to the south. A long barren stretch of highway - the topography a sharp contrast to the lush tropical beachside we had left.

The dry desert landscape was misleading as we found ourselves climbing - in fact reached 4,730 feet at Halloran Summit - much higher than our Snoqualmie Pass back in Washington State.

We made a brief stop in Barstow and had lunch - couldn't see much reason for staying there any longer (apologies to anyone reading this who lives there. . .but what does one do when one lives in Barstow anyway?)

We arrived in Summerlin, just northeast of downtown Las Vegas seven hours after we had left Santa Barbara. We had traveled 364 miles. Traffic nearing Los Angeles even in the middle of the day had slowed to a crawl and we slowed again as we circled the outskirts of Vegas, (photo taken as we crept past The Strip) but the rest of the trip had been open road and easy driving.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Santa Barbara's Historic Hotels

We love old hotels; those classic old structures from yesteryear that someone or some corporation has had the sense and cents, to keep operating. We had plenty to choose from in Santa Barbara - the tourist association lists six.

They don't always have the latest of gizmos, and they are not necessarily the best travel buy, but they offer a glimpse of both the present day and a bit of history to a trip.

Our first night was spent in the Holiday Inn Expresss/Hotel Virginia, 17 West Haley Street, about a block from State Street (the historic district's main drag) and the second night we moved to the Hotel Santa Barbara, 533 State Street. The first night's price tag was $169 plus tax and the second night (booked on Expedia was $147 including taxes).

Both hotels are from the 1920's so each room is slightly different - not necessarily large or sound-proof but delightfully charming and full of character. The Hotel Santa Barbara (pictured on this post) was actually a bit more upscale and far more spacious in the lobby area. A continental breakfast was included in the room price at each place.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Santa Barbara: The American Riviera

The sun finally came out Thursday morning, a virtual spotlight on this California town that advertises itself as being The American Riviera. With only a day to explore its beach areas and the historic downtown, the pedometer was recording in high gear.

If you have a bit more time, the tourist association has produced a brochure listing "101 Free Things to Do" but I filled a day exploring buildings and businesses that line State Street; the heart of its historic district. Red tile roofs, atop white stucco walls, the trees just leafing out and flowers in bloom made it seem a storybook setting.

Joel, who was on a business trip here, joined me in the afternoon so we headed to Stearns Wharf for a look at the Channel Islands, the beach and harborshops.
When the pedometer hit five miles it was time for a Happy Hour cool one at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company, 501 State Street. Revived and refreshed we headed to Pierre Lafond's Wine Bistro, just across the street and down the block at 516 State Street for wine, flatbread and some of the best mussels we Washingtonians have ever eaten.
(Our first rainy night in town we dined at Olio e Limone Restaurante, 17 W. Victoria, where the husband and wife team Alberto and Elaine Monello's staff prepared some melt-in-your-mouth raviolis for our dining enjoyment).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"It never rains in southern California. . ."

So goes the song from our younger days. . .and those of us who live in the sometimes unbearably wet Pacific Northwest would like to believe that refrain. Okay, so how could it be the sprinkles that began as was approached the Santa Barbara airport became a full-fledged downpour by the time we had retrieved our bags from the open concept baggage claim? Southern California - land of palm trees and beaches and Wednesday afternoon: rain.

Dug out those trusty umbrellas that are a permanent fixture in our luggage and put them to good use. Arrived at the hotel somewhat wet and cold. . .it wasn't a promising start to our 10-day road trip that will take us from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the desert lands of Las Vegas.

Thursday morning and the sun has returned. I am off to explore. . .will share my finds in the next post.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...