Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cruise 'extras' can sink your travel budget

By now you have probably figured out that Joel and I love cruising and that in recent years he's found some good cruise deals that allow us to pursue that passion.

Let me be clear, by 'deal' I don't mean booking some crammed inside room with no view, next to an elevator on an old bucket of bolts. What I am talking about is an unobstructed balcony room with a view that we nailed at a price far below the published one on a fabulous ship heading to some exciting destination.

One of the reasons that good 'ticket' price is important is that we've learned it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total cost of a cruise. That payment  pays for that room and for as many meals and snacks as you can shovel in, (oink!) a day - pretty darn nice digs and good eats, to say the least.  (For our upcoming cruise, it also pays for port fees and taxes, but that isn't always the case, so check that out before booking as we are talking a chunk of change if it is added on top of the bargain price.)

Once on board, the real spending begins:  set-amount tips added to your bill at the end of the trip, beverages - (including soft drinks and specialty coffees), specialty restaurant surcharges, ship-sponsored shore excursions, spa visits, cooking classes. . .you name it and you'll probably be able to buy it or sign up for it.

The temptations and dollar-signs that go with them, can and do add up to hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars more, if you aren't keeping track of your on-board spending. And when you take a repositioning cruise like we are this spring -- the kind that that moves a ship from one part of the world to another -- the temptation to spend is hard to resist because during those six blissful days of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, we will be on the ship 24/7, eating, drinking and entertaining ourselves. (Thankfully, on longer cruises like these you usually get a 'mid-cruise' invoice to let you see how high you've stacked the dollar signs.)

Even world events can come tapping on your cruise budget.  Cruise lines clearly state that if a certain cost threshold for barrel oil is hit in the world market it will likely result in them adding an additional per day, per passenger charge for fuel. (On our upcoming cruise is is $10 per person, per day if levied = $260)

Yesterday we received an email from  Cruise Critic featuring an article on ways to curb at least those  tempting discretionary cruise costs. It's worth a read if taking a cruise is on your travel 'to do' list.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dam?! . . . We missed it.

Yes, we sure did miss Hoover Dam when we headed south in Ol' Orange, our trusty rental car.

How could we have completely missed one of America's Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century - the one 'must see' on my list? Well, I'll blame it on the newest construction achievement of the 21st Century:

The Bridge. This sweeping, spectacular dam viewing stand/traffic by-pass opened with great fanfare last fall while we were cruising the Black Sea. How else could we have missed the news?  So on our recent southwestern road trip we zipped Ol' Orange over the span so fast that we barely gave notice to the sign marking the turnoff 'to Hoover Dam'.    (Click the link for a great time lapse video of the construction.)

"Did you see the bridge?" "What was the bridge like?" asked our friends in Arizona.  Well, we sort of missed it as well, . . .I guess we did notice the line of tourists off to the side, safely tucked away from cars by its tall cement walls that created the viewing area overlooking the dam and Lake Mead.

Hoover Dam as seen from The Bridge
j.smith photo, (c) 2011
Last time we'd seen this famous dam, built during the Great Depression in the early 1930's and once-named Boulder, was from inside our car as we crept across its crest on U.S. 93 a decade or so ago.  But that snaking, narrow roadway you see in the photo above was made history when the newest tourist attraction -- the Mike O. Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened Oct. 16, 2010.

If-you-go note:  There are a number of tours from Las Vegas that will get you to the dam in a motor coach.  If you drive, it is an easy 25-minute trip from Vegas on multi-lane freeways.  Before parking we did go through a security checkpoint, but the wait wasn't bad with only a dozen cars or so in front of us on a mid-week morning. But parking at the bridge was already tight.  We followed the walkway to the bridge and when we left less than an hour later, the line of cars at security had grown to nearly 100 and snaked back up the access road, nearly to the freeway. (You might consider a tour instead of renting a car).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ghosts of The Old West

Wickenburg, Arizona continues to bring the Old West to life in its stores, on its street corners, well, . . .pretty much everywhere you look.  The City Fathers (and Mothers) have promoted the history to the point that you can stroll the streets, guided by free walking tour maps (available everywhere it seemed), and 'meet' the folks who walked these same streets more than a century ago.

One of my favorite stops was the Jail Tree, where in the late 1800's -- during the gold rush boom -- there just wasn't the time to take away from mining to build something as practical as a jail.  So, the bad guys simply got chained to what was, and still is, called The Jail Tree.

Wickenburg's Jail Tree
j. smith photo, (c) 2011
The 200-year old Mesquite tree is found in the center of town in the back lot of one of those ubiquitous modern day versions of the corner grocery that seem to be on every other southwestern city corner.  It was at the store, that I learned about the ghosts of Wickenburg.

We'd visited the tree Sunday afternoon and after that Pig Trough feast I stopped in for a bottle of water.  While paying, the clerk asked the usual visitor questions, "So. . . where are you from?  How you like the town? Did you see the Jail Tree?"   

When I said I loved the spiny old tree out back, he offered a bit more history telling me that a jail had finally been built on this same corner. Some of the holding cells metal walls were used in the store's freezer unit.  And then he added:

"And you know. . . we have a ghost.  She comes in about 12:30 a.m. It's a little girl, you can tell from her laughter.  I've been working and the bells that ring when the door opens will start ringing and I look around and there is no one in the store, but then I hear her laugh. I just said 'hello' to her one night and then I heard the bells ring - she had left."

It seemed such a nice story; and one that made me want to come back to the store and the town. It was so easy and relaxed and comfortable.  I mean a welcoming place where even the ghosts are happy and laughing! Maybe I was I caught up in another tall tale from the Old West? I am not sure, but it added to my growing list of reasons, why I love this town.  So on our next visit in addition to stopping by that store again, I am going to go in search of more ghost stories . . .

I will be signing up for Hassayampa Heather's 90-minute stroll through town so that I can hear her stories about legends and ghosts that include:  The Legend of the Phantom Coach and The Ghost of the Vernetta Hotel.  The tours are offered weekdays at dusk (is that beyond too cool?) and on weekends during the day and again at dusk. 

If you are planning a visit and want to sign up, call (928) 232-9691 or check the tour website, Wickenburg Ghosts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Out Wickenburg Way ~ A Most Western Town

We were looking for America's Old West and found it in Wickenburg, Arizona.

"Wickenburg?!"  Long pause. . ."Are you sure?"
Several  friends seemed surprised that we planned to spend a night in Wickenburg, Arizona during our recent Southwest road trip.

"Have you ever been there?" they'd  ask, then add, "It is sort of a ranching area, you know. There's not a lot to it."

Wickenburg Train Station houses Visitor Information now
j.smith, (c) 2011
We assured them that our fueling stop there on our southbound journey, had prompted our desire to further explore this place named for its famous German immigrant gold miner from yesteryear.

We spent the night in a basic, (somewhat pricey for what we got), clean room at the Best Western Rancho Grande, (293 E. Wickenburg Way) but its central location was perfect for setting out on foot to explore this once Wild West hub of a gold mining town.

A shopkeeper told us we were visiting at end of "Snowbird Season" referring to those folks from the north who head south like the birds seeking winter warmth.  Their numbers double the population, he said, taking it into the 10,000 range.

Calling itself "Arizona's most Western community" and located 55 miles north of Phoenix, we found there were so many historical and artistic layers to this little place that we will simply have to return because we didn't have time to see it all.  And here's why:

1.  For years this place was known as, "The Dude Ranch Capital of the World," and there are still several to chose from include the Flying E Guest and Cattle Ranch that has been hosting visitors since 1946.  Rancho de los Caballeros, now in its 63rd year of operation,  offers guests, "spikes, spurs and spa".  (Next time partner, we'll be headin' to a ranch!).

2.  The Desert Caballeros Western Museum (21 N. Frontier Street, 928-684-2272, admission is charged) is a treasure trove of Old West history and art.  If you have no other reason for stopping in this town, this Museum is reason enough.  This two-level treasure will time-travel you back into ranches and early Wickenburg; you'll have a sampler of Southwestern Indian arts and crafts, see minerals, learn about mining and cattle ranching.  (The art gallery wing was installing a new show and was closed - gotta see it next time.)

3. The Historic Vulture Mine, some 14 miles out of town, is where you can take a self-guided tour of the remaining buildings and mining site. For information, call (602)859-2743). (Didn't get out there this time.)

4.  The town sits on the banks of the Hassayampa River, one of the best remaining examples of a rare type of North American forests: the Fremont Cottonwood-Willow riparian forest. The Hassayampa River Preserve is on U.S. Highway 60, about three miles southeast of the town near mile marker 114.  (Coming from the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest it was most interesting to see a riverbed with no water in it.)

5. We don't golf, but for those who do, the 18-hole Los Caballeros Golf Club, built in 1949, is ranked one of the top five in the state of Arizona by editors of Golf Digest and their subscribers have voted the course as a must "Place to Play." Green fees range from $35 - $50. (Sounds pretty good to me.)

6. Oh yes, there's also the 600-seat Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts where entertainers from Jose Feliciano, The Sons of the Pioneers and The Canadian Tenors are among this season's headliners.

7. Eateries.. .oh, my!  A fellow tourist told us we 'had to have the ice cream'.  She was referring, to Tony and Pam Rovida's  Chaparral Homemade Ice Cream (T45 N. Tegner St., 928-684-3252) which has been around some 30 years. Homemade ice cream, hot fudge, chocolate and caramel sauces - not to mention pastries -- are served here.  I am pleased to say we were saving ourselves for a barbecue feast at the newly-opened Pig Trough on Wickenburg Way. (A trough, is what a pig eats out of, for those of you city folk reading this).  Suffice to say, it lived up to its name: we were piggies at dinner.

Perhaps the best part of this place to our way of thinkin' are the 'real' ranchers and cowboys.  Boots, blue jeans and cowboy hats weren't props for some theme-town.  That's the way the folks were dressed as they drove huge pickup trucks through town hauling horse trailers as long as an RV, carrying as many as a half dozen horses. 

This place is America's West - and we struck travel gold when we discovered it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

D2G: A Culinary Journey Road Test

Our "Diet 2 Go" , D2G, in Twitter-talk was 'put to the (road) test' in the Southwest.  Temptations were as prevalent as tumbleweeds.

Our first taste of reality came around noon only a few hours out of Las Vegas en route to Phoenix in a town called Kingman, known for its once strategic location on a section of Historic Route 66, just in case you've never heard of it.  We'd  stopped at a delightful coffee shop in the historic district planning to eat lunch. We ended up with one of the best cups of black coffee ever served, but said adios to the pastry case that offered the only sustenance. On we went to the ubiquitous Arizona convenience store, Circle K,  -- they are on every street corner, I think -- in hopes of finding something healthier.

The wafting scent of deep fry grease as I opened the doors should have told me that the best I would do there was a small carton of low-fat cottage cheese (one of two on the shelf).  Back in Ol' Orange we ate it, split a breakfast bar, and some almonds.

That was one of several times we had to either resist temptation or be creative in food choices as we ate our way through the Southwest.  But we ate a lot, even some of those 'forbidden wheat and sugar-based fruits' -- those, in moderation -- and drank with gusto.  We enjoyed great home-cooked dinners with friends in Phoenix and Tucson and even threw a party at our spacious digs in Scottsdale, and we dined out several times.

Pinnacle Peak General Store breakfast
j. smith photo, (c) 2011
One of the most surprising things we noticed -- now that we are noticing such things -- were the many restaurants offering sides of fruit, sliced tomatoes and cottage cheese for breakfast instead of the traditional hash browns and toast as shown on the photo of my breakfast at the General Store.

I couldn't help but wonder if maybe they have always been offered and we just never noticed.

And for those of you who are following along -- and those who've reported that you've joined this culinary journey:  I am  down 9 pounds and Joel is close behind at 8.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tucson Tasties - More Muy Bueno places

It seems as if we were eating our way through Arizona.  But then it is our favorite way to learn more about places.  And again these eatery 'finds' are thanks to the recommendations of  friends.  Too good to miss, let me tell you about . . .

Pets are welcome at Viv's outdoor tables
j. smith photo, (c) 2011
Viv's Cafe where you will find yourself sitting elbow-to-elbow with locals -- regulars -- who return time after time for the warm welcome and inexpensive, hearty breakfasts and lunches served here.  And if you go back a second time, it is likely that Viv, who runs this diner-like, place will greet you by name or remember from where you're visiting. 

Lucky for us it was walking distance from our hosts' home so we worked up an appetite going there and burned off a few of the delectable calories we'd consumed on our return. Open for breakfast and lunch, this place doesn't have a web site of its own but you can read about it on Yelp.  If you go on a Saturday, check out the Farmer's Market at the far end of the parking lot.
(8987E. Tanque Verde Rd., 85749, 520-760-8622)

We had another great breakfast at a place we likely would never have found on our own:  Tohono Chul Park, where the eatery is just one of its many draws.  In this Southwestern arboretum-like setting, nature and art merge.  And our Huevos Rancheros -- even better than those egg dishes we've eaten in Mexico -- were proof that culinary art is as important here as are the visual arts.  The place is 'wander'-land of art, plants, nature trails, gardens and is the site of a variety of special events.  The gift shop is full of great things for souvenirs.
(7366 N. Pasea del Norte, Tucson, 520-742-6455)

Our Portland friend tipped us off to Cafe Poca Cosa, an upscale Mexican restaurant where chef/owner Suzana Davila, who hails from Guayamas,a town in Sonora, Mexico, serves up so many specialties that the menu changes twice daily.  In fact it is written en espanol and English on chalkboards that waitstaff bring to the tables.  When I searched the Web for its site, I noticed one restaurant view site that rated it 4 out of 5 points based on more than 1,000 reviews.  Definitely on our 'must-go-to-next-time' list.
(110 E. Pennington St., Tucson, 85701, 520-622-6400)

Some of you have asked how the D2G fared with all these restaurants, that report is coming. . .

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scottsdale Eateries - off the beaten path

Don't you love it when people who've visited a place, or those who live there, tip you off to some wonderful eatery that you would never in a million years have found on your own?  We had several recommendations for Southwest 'finds' that were so great I need to pass them on to you, with a big thank you to those who told us about them:

Greasewood Flat dining area
j.smith photo, (c) 2011
Greasewood Flat: If you've not been to this 30-year-old local favorite atop Reata Pass, then you haven't experienced Phoenix/Scottsdale to its fullest.  And one trip will likely not be enough to get a taste (quite literally) of the place.  Greasewood Flat is a massive open air dining field of sorts enclosed by a fence made up of old time farm and ranch equipment.  You'll sit at one of those picnic tables while eating one of the best burgers ever made and washing it down with a tall cool one or two. There's usually a big bonfire going and if you time it right, a band will be playing. Those country gals and guys will be struttin' past doin' the Country Two-Step and it likely won't be long before you are tempted to join 'em. 
(27900 N. Alma School Parkway, Scottsdale, 85262, 480-585-9430)

Reata Pass Steakhouse:  Located just next door to Greasewood Flat in the original 1882 stage coach stop on Reata Pass.  Even if you are stuffed from that burger I suggested, you'll want to go inside and take a look around, then put it on your list for the next visit.
  •  This year we visited the Reata Pass Cavalliere's Farmer's Market, held each Sunday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. The booths are tucked in between the two eateries.  Homemade pickles, salsa and jams were being sold and the smell of the whole pig roasting on a spit made our mouths water. It was also hard to resist the homemade vanilla ice cream being served right out of the mixer.

Breakfast at the Pinnacle Peak General Store
j. smith photo, (c) 2011
Pinnacle Peak General Store:  We would never have stopped at this place had our friends, whose recommendations we value, suggested it.  As you are driving past it on Pima or Pinnacle Peak Roads, it appears to be a service station with a sign reading, "General Store" on the adobe hacienda-style building behind it.  "You have to have breakfast there!" we were told and so we went.  What a find!  The interior still houses a post office (like none you've ever seen) and an eating area amidst a museum of country western memorabilia.  We chose to sit in the sunny courtyard near the fountain with its hacienda-like feel to eat our enormous breakfasts.
(8711 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, 85255, 480-991-1822)

Overeasy Cafe: Was recommended by a friend in Portland, Oregon who used to live in Arizona. We didn't get to this one, but I checked out the menu and with plates called, "The Crying Pig, The Mile High and The Pollo Loco" (that last one is 'crazy chicken' for you non--Spanish readers), we have it at the top of our 'next time' list.
(This place has just expanded and now can be found at  two locations:  The newest is at 4730 E. Indian School Rd. #123, 85260, 602-468-3447 and also at 9375 E. Bell Road, same phone number.)

Tomorrow I will tell you about our finds in Tucson. If you have recommendations for Scottsdale/Phoenix please tell us about them by using the comment box below. 

Note:  Don't be put off leaving a comment because you have to fill in an email address.  It doesn't appear on your comment; it is a security measure to make sure you aren't some robot roaming the blog and spamming. You can chose how you are identified: by name, nickname, or anonymous (but then wouldn't you want us to know who made a great suggestion?)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Arizona and Japan

The view from our friends' Tucson home is spectacular. We've spent many hours since our Friday afternoon arrival sitting outside and soaking in the view of the vast sweeping mountain range in the distance. 

However the serenity that the vista inspires has been shattered by our repeated trips indoors to watch the horror taking place in Japan. We are stunned to see how our friends across the Pacific  are struggling with unimaginable situations.

The blogosphere has made the world smaller and we know a large number of our readers live in Japan. For that reason, our report on the road trip through Arizona will resume later - today it is important to simply remind those in Japan that you are in the thoughts and prayers of millions just like us around the world. 

And to other readers who want to help but don't know how to do so.  Repeatedly we have heard on news reports that donations - money - to the Red Cross or Doctors without Borders are two good ways of being a part of the rescue effort. Simply click the links to access their web sites.

Friday, March 11, 2011

High Plains Drifters in the Sonoran Desert

Saguaro Cactus - Arizona's Sonoran Desert
j. smith photo, (c) 2011
The High Plains Drifters believe we are in the Sonoran Desert. All the travel guides are promoting hotels with views of it, golf courses that blanket it and excursions that could take you further into it.  It's a stark, dry, and somewhat intimidating place because it is so vast -- as are the cities clustered around Phoenix, which continue to spread their roads and homes out over its flat monotone surface.  Coming from the Evergreen State and its towering mountains, this place has required that stretch from the comfort zone that we are seeking when we set out on new adventures.

The Timeshare Trail led us south from Las Vegas, past Hoover Dam (more on that later), over a ribbon of highway that stretched off as far as your eye could see into the distance. It lead us through remnants of the old American West.  We passed places that just sort of appeared, all alone, hugging the highway; places like Rosie's Den offering 47-cent a cup coffee which was just down the road from  the Last Chance where you could eat the best burger.  We drove a section of Route 66 in the town of Kingman, a frontier town founded in 1882.  For those of you watching our soaring gasoline prices, the price there was $3.74 a gallon.

Just beyond Haulupai Mountain Park was the small Wikiup, AZ with a couple cafes and motels and where we noted the first sighting of saguaro cactus, those towering sentenals of the Southwest that live so long, they don't start growing 'arms' for the first 50 - 60 years of life.

We set up 'housekeeping' for the week in Diamond Resort's Scottsdale Links Resort.  We've explored the town in Ol' Orange (still the only car we've seen painted that color); me with two maps spread out on my lap and Joel's head swiveling as he announced crossroads and intersections in hopes I could assure him we were going the right direction for whatever our intended destination.

In the course of the week, thanks to several of you, we've found some new 'finds' and visited some old  favorites, I'll tell you about those places soon.  And while here, we fell in love with Pinnacle Peak, one of our directonal landmarks and a striking bit of scenery. I have more to tell ya about it, but fer now gotta pack up as we are headin' to Tucson today and Ol' Orange is awaitin'.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vegas: ACE and Deuce - A Lucky Pair

I've heard from a couple of you, that you will be heading to Vegas in the next few weeks, so before setting out for Arizona, I need to tell you about doing this town "Rick Steves' style". Steves, a Pacific Northwest travel guru, advises Europe-bound travelers  to use the public bus. 

And that's what we did in Vegas. The  bus system runs two buses along The Strip, appropriately named for this gambling haven, The ACE and The Deuce.   ACE is a sleek new addition to the transportation system, having come on line only a year or so ago.  The Deuce, a double-decked vehicle, has long been a popular way for visitors to get from The Strip to Fremont Street (both are known for casinos, entertainment and dining). 

In addition to running 24/7 and having bus stops every quarter mile or so, they also run to snazzy looking transit centers where you can connect to any of the 51 routes in the town - meaning you don't need to stay in just the casino or shopping areas; you can head out and explore the neighborhoods as well.

And they offer tourists like us, multi hour and multi day passes.We purchased the $7 for 24-hour pass (it is only $3.50 for those 60 and older with proof of age) and then we set off to the far reaches of The Strip. 

We explored Town Square, a shopping center on the southern end of the Strip and could have shopped at the two huge outlet store centers that anchor either end of the route; Premium Outlet Stores to the north or Outlet Stores to the south. We  looped around the city's Convention Center and through its new Arts District as this express bus whizzed us to the Fremont Street Experience.

The bus system here is a definite win for travelers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

High Plains Drifters Ridin' Ol' Orange

Hula Babe and Beach Boy put away their aloha duds and are once again the High Plains Drifters for a southwest road trip which will hopefully take us from winter into spring. We flew to Las Vegas and then set out for Scottsdale -- ultimately Tucson, Arizona, -- and then will head back to Las Vegas for our return flight.

We got our rental car from a lobby kiosk at the Monte Carlo Resort, just a couple of blocks from The Jockey Club.
  • Money-saving tip:   We outwitted those highway robbers, known as cabby's, by rolling our suitcases from the JC to the Bellagio Resort next door and riding the free tram from it to the Monte Carlo. (Eat your heart out cab drivers!)
  • Money-saving tip #2:  We had found the best car rental rate on Hotwire where the price was a couple hundred less for a Dollar Rent-a-Car than the cheapest we had found on our trusty Expedia.  
The car, a compact Dodge something, looks like, well, lets put it this way, think of an enormous orange rolling down the road. You got it; that's us.

Ol' Orange - only one of its kind we've seen so far
Speaking of fruit, have you ever been waited on by someone with the personality of a prune? No pleasantries, limited eye contact, staccato answers. . .that's my definition of "prune personality disorder". For example:

Joel: Can my wife be added as a second driver? (Enterprise had said spouses were added without charge in Hawaii).
Prune: "Sure. $10 a day extra."

Joel: How much grace period do we have on the return? (usually 15 minutes to a half hour).
Prune: "One minute late - one day additional charge."

When we declined their insurance, Prune said he needed to see our insurance papers (we've never been asked for those in the history of our travels)
Prune: "You must sign showing you declined coverage and that you are driving uninsured," pointing to the signature line.    Joel pointed out we weren't uninsured, Prune pointed to the line all the same. Joel signed.

We were sent off to find the car in the parking garage and did so quite easily (it is orange, and the only orange car in sight, probably the only one in all of Arizona). I noticed a significant scratch on the passenger's door but saw nothing noted on the rental form.  (Actually, I think some giant tried to peel it thinking it was an orange.)

I marched back to the lobby to report to Prune my findings and took great delight in watching another couple return their rental:
Prune:  "Did you fill the car with gas?"
Couple: "Yes we did."
Prune:  "I need to see the receipt."

I reminded myself that we are saving a couple hundred dollars, reported the scratch to Prune, and we were off. Next post from The Timeshare Trail.  But if you happen to see us drive up, stop by and say hello.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Teaching an old Travel Dog New Tricks

Little Princess goes to Paris
j smith photo, (c) 2011
This southwest road trip through a part of Nevada and a lot of Arizona a test of the post's title.

For decades my travel attire has included a mandatory camera draped around my neck.  The reason was best expressed by a friend when she once said of travel photography,"taking a photo makes the trip seem real, like it really happened"..

And I'm a reluctant late-comer to the digital world having only a couple years ago I left my SLR and photos behind, when I inherited a then-several-years-old digital camera.  Joel was immediately delighted as it no longer required that huge package of film canisters nor my bulky SLR.  That first digital still looked like my SLR, and I quickly became charmed by the little contraption and named her Ol' Betsy. Sadly, she began showing signs of age while we were in Greece last fall and her impending retirement was confirmed when they quit selling memory cards that she could handle and the repairman used the horrid words, "garbage can". (Betsy is resting comfortably on our kitchen counter right now).

So for months I've searched for a replacement: big bulky DSLRs, smaller point and shoots that look like DSLR's but that fit in the travel bags a bit better. What I vowed I wouldn't ever buy was one of those small things with no eye viewfinder that you can hold in the palm of your hand.

New Tricks

So, here we are am on the road; me with my Little Princess, as I have named the new camera..  She arrived from the afternoon before we left on this trip.  And she's everything I said I'd never buy:  compact, no view finder, and so small there is no neck strap, there's barely a wrist strap. (Joel loved the camera the minute he saw its size, "less to carry" he noted without concern of its capabilities.)

But reviews I have read from the dozens of travelers who love this camera say that this Fuji Fine Pix F300EXR (the name is bigger than the camera) is the perfect travel camera. Many said they've compared their photos from this camera to the DSLRs and they have rated well. I've read the small 'how-to-use' pamphlet, but didn't have time to load the 150-page PDF users manual, let alone read it. I figured out how to charge the battery and install it, along with the memory card.  But I certainly have no idea how to make the bells and whistles it offers sing any sort of photographic melody, let alone result in a digital image (I still prefer the word 'photo')

For now the old travel dog is busy snapping digital images and telling myself that travel - even travel photography - should remove me from my routine comfort zone.  Little Princess has certainly done that.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Jockey Club - a Las Vegas Gem

The Jockey Club
You see that little building dwarfed by the new Cosmopolitan Hotel in the photo above?

Well, that's The Jockey Club, a Las Vegas throwback to the days when names like Sinatra and The Rat Pack were headliners here. 

We hit the jackpot when we picked this place for a week-long stay on The Strip.

We are in a one-bedroom suite with full kitchen and living room, huge closet and a small bathroom (not everything can be big) at the rate of less than $35 a night.  The decor is fitting with a jockey club, deep greens and burgundies and horses - but not for long as the entire place (which looks very good now) is getting a face lift of new furniture and flat screen televisions.  (I need to tell you the beds are as comfortable as Marriott - and here, unlike Marriott, we've had daily maid service as well.)

This gem of a place, a Las Vegas fixture since 1971, is snuggled up against the new Cosmopolitan Hotel. . .psst, a secret: We have access to a hidden away elevator that whisks us up to the Cosmopolitan!  Our picture window opens to a direct view of the Eiffel Tower at Paris and the dancing fountain at Bellagio.

The Vegas stay is the result of a promotion from Interval International, the company that has for years managed Marriott Vacation timeshare exchanges, as well as a host of other properties.


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