Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesday: More Money Saving Tips

Saving Money tips from you:

VegasAppleCup2013 028I promised I’d share reader responses to our 'hitting the travel jackpot' post about getting  more travel and spending less money on our recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona  by going via Las Vegas, Nevada:

Mark in Florida sent a tip about ways to save on rental cars:

“We find it is almost always cheaper to rent cars a couple miles from the airport . . . especially if your hotel has a free shuttle and Enterprise (car rental) picks you up.”

Paula in Washington State sent a tip for finding luxury and saving money on the Oregon Coast:

“We were visiting our daughter down in Coos Bay (on the Oregon coast) last month and stayed at the Mill Casino Hotel. I fell in love with the hotel with it's ‘. . . stunning waterfront views of Coos Bay in . . . Northwest-inspired décor. . .’ It's actually right on the Bay and you can step outside to find all kinds of wildlife.  We found an internet special of $89 a night for a 4-star room.”

KOandSeattle 041Credit Card Benefits Are No Joke!
In that same jackpot post I told you we’d applied for two additional Alaska Airlines credit cards at the encouragement of the ‘sign up man’ working the waiting area in the Las Vegas airport. 

Our new cards arrived last week, the signing bonus 25,000 air miles (good for a domestic round-trip) has been deposited to each of our mileage accounts and we each have a $99 companion ticket in our account – just waiting to be used sometime in the next 12 months. When added to our existing cards, we'll have four 'cheap' trips a year.

Alaska Air, once a regional airline now flies to destinations throughout the entire U.S from the East Coast to Hawaii. Alaska credit cards are available to U.S. and Canadian residents.

Other good news for Alaska Airlines frequent fliers is that the airline just announced they are allowing miles flown on an increasing number of their partner airlines to count toward Alaska elite flyer status. 

Pacific Northwest Deals:
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Canada: The Wickaninnish Inn, that high-end place on Vancouver Island’s West Coast (they offered us rooms for $420 or $460 per night last September when we stopped and didn’t stay), has a spring get-away special:  book a minimum three-night getaway at the Inn from January 24th through April 30th, 2013, and save $100/night from their regular room rates.   Available for new reservations on select dates and room types. Call 1-800-333-4604 or email info@wickinn.com.

Seattle: Mayflower Park Hotel

Summer2013 031 The historic Mayflower Park Hotel, built in 1927, and located in the heart of the city, next to Westlake Center has a Holiday Traditions Package with weekday prices (Sun, – Thurs.) starting at $139 for a Classic guestroom; $159 Deluxe and $199 Suites. Weekend rates (Friday and Saturday) start at $179 for a Classic, $199 Deluxe and $239 Suites. Good through December 30, 2013. Reservations: 206-382-6990, 800-426-5100 or e-mail at mayflowerpark@mayflowerpark.com.  Keep in mind: rates are based on a space available basis and do not include tax.

That’s it for now. . .stop by on Thursday for our weekly photo tour link up!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sydney, Australia: A taste of Watsons Bay

One of our favorite things to do each of the six days we stayed at Sydney’s Circular Quay was to hop one of those fantastic ferries headquartered there and head out to explore other small hamlets that dotted the coastline.
Sydney, Australia's Circular Quay

Watsons Bay, a suburb of Sydney, just 11 miles away, was our Sunday lunch destination because a few months ago we’d read a murder mystery novel, The Bat, by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo. One of its scenes was set in Doyles, a restaurant operated since 1885 on Watsons Bay beach. It sounded worth a visit if we had the opportunity during our stay.

[Travel Tip: We have visited some interesting places in our travels and many of them we’ve learned about by reading novels set in those destinations. We follow up with a bit of research before the trip and then figure out how to include them in the itinerary. We don’t rely solely on travel guides.]


Our decision to go there, however, on that Sunday was rather spur of the moment. After arriving at the restaurant, we realized that we were lucky to get in to this in this beachfront, family-owned and operated (for five generations) eatery even though it has expansive indoor and outdoor seating areas.  

Doyles was one happening spot on Sunday

It seemed most of the passengers on the ferry were headed to the same place that we were – Doyles is ‘the place’ to go on a Sunday, not just for tourists like ourselves but for Sydney-ites as well. Those in the know were able to go straight to the ‘with reservations’ line whle we joined a short line of others in the ‘without’ line.

We each ordered a bowl of their seafood chowder and we knew we were in for a treat when the waiter came and set up the tools for each of us to use when consuming it. “We put seafood in our chowder. You will need to eat it,” he explained.


Soon after, he brought the bottled water we’d ordered as well as a finger bowl with lemon-scented water in which to rinse our fingers as we ate our chowder and another large bowl for the emptied shells. These were bowls – not dainty dishes.


The bowl of chowder at $18.50AUD,(then about the same in US$$) was not inexpensive, although it was one of the least expensive items on the menu. But, was indeed full of seafood including mussels, lobster, scallops, shrimp and crab.


The small loaf of sour dough bread (pictured below) that came as a side, and cost an additional $7.50AUD.


It was a delicious and filling lunch in a beautiful setting ( from some areas of the restaurant you could see the Sydney skyline off in the distance – tables in those areas had been reserved, by the way).

So we agreed that while paying $44.50 was more than we would normally pay for an alcohol-free lunch, it had been worth it.  You can image our surprise when the bill arrived at the table and we found that an additional $5 per person had been added as the ‘adult weekend surcharge’ bringing our bill to $54.50. 

Hmmm. . .that ‘ding’ left just a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Have you ever paid a restaurant 'weekend surcharge?

If You Go:

Ferries regularly depart Sydney’s Circular Quay for Watsons Bay. It is also accessible by water taxi or bus.

Map picture
Doyles Restaurant is located at:
11 Marine Parade, Watsons Bay, Sydney
phone: (02) 9337 2007 Web: http://www.doyles.com.au  
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, closed Christmas Day.

The restaurant’s website offers a link to Alice Doyles’ recipes; recipes like:

 Do Drop in Salmon Spread
Fry sliced onions gently in a little butter until soft, mix in sugar.
Drain salmon, reserving liquid in case needed. Mash salmon, add onions and all other ingredients together. Make the spread very moist -if it seems too dry, add some of the juice from the salmon.
Serve with potato crisps or savoury biscuits. Makes about 2 1/2 cups
  • 2 large brown onions, fine sliced
  • butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large can red salmon
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • pinch basil
  • few drops Tabasco
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
We’ll be adding this post to the Foodie Tuesday linkup over at Inside Journeys, so head that direction then and be sure to come back here for Travel Tip Tuesday when we have more money saving updates for you!.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bora Bora: There’s nothing to see ‘that way’. . .or is there?

The inspiration for this post came from a fellow cruise passenger who, as he approached us during our stop at the island of Bora Bora, called out,

“I walked a ways that way and there’s nothing to see.

He didn’t know that we’d just returned from ‘that way’. In fact, we’d been walking ‘that way’ for a couple of hours. . .because we had found so much ‘to see’.

We’d headed ‘that way’ from the local bank, a lattice-trimmed wood-frame building – much more inviting than those concrete boxes that house banks at home. The Scout used the cash machine and then showed me the wondrous currency that looked more like art than money.

PicMonkey Collage

In the open field next to the bank, we encountered the two munchkins who were featured in an earlier post, The Boys of Bora Bora. (click the link if you missed their tale).


A bit further ‘that way’ we watched a dog either guarding the boat or having canine South Pacific daydreams, perhaps?


Heading ‘that way’ we passed some of the most amazing fences: woven lattice-work and black lava rock were so much more interesting than the wooden panels we use in the Pacific Northwest.

PicMonkey Collage
DSCF1200 When we saw the sign for the  Bora Bora VHF 69 Yacht Club, we decided to go explore it and found ourselves  in a setting that was so South- Pacific-perfect that it could have been a movie-set.

It was one of our highlights heading ‘that way’. . .


Every so often we stopped just to admire our ship, the Celebrity Solstice, anchored out in the harbor – again, a scene so stunning it could have been a scene from a movie.


We treated ourselves to a morning cappuccino at a restaurant we happened upon ‘that way,’ and were treated to an impromptu floor show when the fishermen arrived with the daily catch.


And then past an enterprising resident’s produce stand; the colors so vibrant I had to take a photo.


DSCF0396We walked until the sun had burned us to a crisp and forced us to finally head back.

(Note: even with hats, sunglasses and sun screen the South Pacific sun is relentless). 

This is how this sunbaked twosome looked at the end of that day. . .sometimes sunburns are the price we pay when we set off ‘that way’ to see what there really is to see.

That’s it for this week’s TravelnWrite’s Tale from the South Pacific. Now check out Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and the photo essays on Travel World Online for more armchair travels.  We have more to tell you about our dozen days at sea as well our enchanted evening and a tender tale. . .
Come back soon – and bring some friends with you.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tasting a Vegas “Cosmopolitan”

We left the wide open spaces of Arizona and headed north to Sin City – Las Vegas – two weekends ago on a route that lead us through picturesque Wickenburg and Kingman, Arizona and past Hoover dam.

PhxtoVegas2013 051
On the road near Kingman, Arizona

Following our north-bound journey, we returned the rental car, hopped a cab and headed out for a new adventure on the famous Vegas Strip; we'd booked ourselves at the Cosmopolitan Resort, a Marriott managed property, between The Bellagio and City Center.

We’d watched its construction progress slowly in recent years and after its opening had visited its over-the-top glitzy casino and common areas, but its price tag for rooms had kept us from staying there - until The Scout found us a deal on Expedia.

PhxtoVegas2013 080
Las Vegas Cosmopolitan from The Bellagio

Following a groundbreaking in 2005, the hotel finally opened its doors in December 2010. The original plan for a condo-hotel mixed use property was dashed by financial difficulties during the construction process and the focus became solely hotel – but there was no doubt the room we were in was intended to be a condo. 

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[Travel Tip: I can’t emphasize often enough, how valuable are the brand loyalty programs. Our Marriott loyalty got us upgraded to a one-bedroom suite and a room with a balcony. But sometimes even an upgraded room just doesn’t make a property any more appealing to one’s personal tastes.]

The south-facing balcony (pictured above) got both morning and afternoon sun but the unit itself was very dark; decorated in browns, slate gray and muted blue colors. It was the camera’s flash that lightened its appearance in the photos below.

PicMonkey Collage

There was no doubt this room had been intended to be a condo, as evidenced by a kitchenette complete with full-sized microwave, built-in dishwasher, small refrigerator and tons of cupboard space.

PhxtoVegas2013 072

The cupboards were empty – not a plate or spoon to be found. The refrigerator was pre-stocked with snacks, the kind that if you move them you are charged for them. (That empty part in the photo, is a freezer we quickly learned when those bottles of water in the above photo froze within an hour of being placed there.)

A selling point was the thought of coffee made in the room (sipping it while in your jammies in bed = perfection!) but there wasn't a coffee or hot water pot and cups to be found. Nor were there any to be had in the hotel. Coffee, we were told, had to be ordered from room service.

PicMonkey Collage

The room décor was  also very modern and artsy. . .two features that don’t appeal to our more traditional tastes in hotel décor. These are two of the wall coverings: the left one blasts you from the closet and the right is a portion of the bathroom wall covering – take a close look at the one on the right, see the women? 

Housekeeping wasn't at the standard to which we've become accustomed to at a Marriott facility (and those details were noted on the follow up evaluation of our stay).

On the bright side: At least our two-night stay satiated our curiosity about the nearly 3,000 rooms that tower above that glitzy chandelier-draped common area.

PhxtoVegas2013 079But the reality was, we just didn't like the place.

Its vibe and our tastes just didn't mesh.

In fairness I have to tell you that we may be in the minority. I just read that the 2.5 million on-line users and travelers of Gogobot.com named The Cosmopolitan the “Best Hotel in the World” 2013.

On the bright side - one more time: We’d signed up for a Marriott promotion, forgotten about it, and just learned that our two night stay here earned us a free night’s stay – which will be used at another Marriott property!

So there you go!  Have you ever stayed at a highly rated place to find that you didn’t like it? If so, tell us about it in the comment section below or shoot us an email and I’ll include your comments in a future post (if you give me permission to do so).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Scottsdale: Hiking through Old West History

Just a mile and a half north of Pinnacle Peak and the Four Seasons Resort we found ourselves at the end of the road, looking out over a vast expanse of undeveloped land; land, a sign told us, that was once part of Mexico.

ScottsdaleNov2013 017

The road we had driven to get here – past numerous housing developments that make up this area in north Scottsdale --  had once been the route of cattle drives.

PicMonkey Collage

We were at Brown’s Ranch Trailhead, the newest section of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  A grand opening celebration took place only weeks before our arrival although the trails that loop through this area have been open since June.

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Once home to a sprawling cattle ranch, this newest recreational facility in the area has a large information center (pictured above),water (for humans and their furry friends), restrooms, an equestrian staging area, 200-car parking lot with plenty of handicapped spaces and parking for two-dozen horse trailers.

ScottsdaleNov2013 012

The Trailhead offers some 60 miles of non-motorized, multi-use – hike, bike and equestrian – trails; from beginner to intermediate.  There is even a wheelchair-accessible Jane Rau Trail loop that leaves the main trail near the entrance and provides a scenic loop over the acreage. So many trails to choose from that  it could take days or weeks to try them all out!

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Many lead to, over and around gently rolling hills, Brown’s Mountain, Granite Mountain, Cone Mountain, Cholla Mountain and Balanced Rock.

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We set out to hike up Brown’s Mountain, (the one on the right in the photo above), on a Thursday morning.  You can tell from this empty parking lot that we nearly had the place to ourselves. In fact, we saw six people during the two hours we were on the site of the former ranch.

ScottsdaleNov2013 013A series of switchbacks led up the eastside
                            of the mountain, one of two dormant
 volcanic sites in Scottsdale.

We wore tennis shoes as we’d left our hiking boots home and did just fine until we almost reached the top.

A sign posted at the last portion of the trail -- a steep, narrow trail -- coupled with watching three others with hiking poles slip-sliding their way down, caused us to pass on the last 0.2 miles.

ScottsdaleNov2013 014

So we paused near the top for photos (to prove ‘60-somethings’ can still climb mountains) and then it was down the other side to explore more of the land that made up the ranch established by E.O. Brown in 1916 and run by his sons until the 1960’s.

PicMonkey Collage

We found just rusted remains of the ranch in the area we walked. . .

PicMonkey Collage

. . .which fueled our imaginations about life in the real “old West” – not the one we grew up watching on black and white televisions – and sparked plans to return on our next visit to explore a bit further!

ScottsdaleNov2013 027

If You Go:
 Brown’s Ranch Trailhead’s address is: 30301 North Alma School Parkway, Scottsdale, Arizona. To get there, take Scottsdale Road or Pima Road north to Dynamite Blvd. Head east on Dynamite. At Alma School Road turn left, and head north.

The loop route we followed was about seven miles in length.  We found this hike to be far less congested than the popular Pinnacle Peak trail and far less difficult than the Tom’s Thumb Trail, also just down the road.

ScottsdaleNov2013 036That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday at TravelnWrite, so saddle up and head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travels.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesday: How to Hit a Travel Jackpot. . .

. . .or here are some of our latest tips for saving travel dollars.

Our destination earlier this month was Scottsdale, Arizona. So, why then, did we fly to Las Vegas --some 300 miles and a near five-hour drive away – to get there? 

Easy answer: travel deals!

Here is the why and what we did to save some money while extending the trip a few days as well:

KOandSeattle 041Airfare: 

Altered the routing without sacrificing the trip.

The airfare was already significantly less to fly to Las Vegas than to Phoenix when an Alaska Airlines internet promotion offered double airline miles on the Seattle-Vegas route; miles that counted toward frequent-flyer elite status.

Result:  Saved money and earned airline miles by altering our routing.  The mileage assures us that we will be MVP’s in 2014 (which means seat selection advantages, early boarding and best of all, no baggage fees for up to four bags between us!)

PhxtoVegas2013 052Car rental: 

Got more and paid less.

Finding a reasonably priced rental car these days – no matter what the destination – is difficult, especially at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. By flying into Vegas, we also got a much better car rental price than anything we’d found in Arizona. 

The Las Vegas  Fox Rent-a-Car also allowed the addition of a second driver for no additional fee; meaning I could also drive without paying between $140 – $210 extra to do so. Our like-new Toyota Corolla cost $281 for two-weeks. (Upon the return because a computer snafu caused a huge line and much confusion, they refunded $100 of that price as well!)

VegasAppleCup2013 029Result:  We had a round-trip scenic drive that took us past Hoover Dam just outside Vegas and then through the picturesque towns of Kingman and Wickenberg, Arizona.

In addition to loving the wide open spaces through which the route took us, we also had an option of spending a couple of nights in Vegas after returning the car. . .a double win, in our book.

The Unexpected Bonus

So, how many credit cards are too many?

MilanBolgTusc2012 006We fly Alaska Airlines almost exclusively and the frequent flier miles earned from this carrier has taken us round-trip to Europe several times on its partner airlines. (Our miles took us round-trip to Amsterdam in Business Class on this KLM flight to the left).

While awaiting our flight back to Seattle last week, we were approached by the “Alaska Airlines credit card man” offering us a signing bonus,you might say, of 25,000 miles, for applying  for the card.

Brushing off his offer, we told him we each already had an Alaska Airlines credit card.  To our surprise, he replied, “That doesn’t matter. . .get another one.  We have people who’ve gotten the maximum – five cards so they can use the companion tickets.”

One of the ways we earn Alaska miles is using their credit card: one mile= $1 in spending.  The other plus of their card is the $99 companion ticket offered each year in exchange for the card’s fee of $75. Those companion tickets come in real handy at times, for example:

KoOlina2013 023The ticket prices to Honolulu, Hawaii in January are enough to topple a palm tree.

The ticket cost for our upcoming trip came up at $882 for the first ticket, $41.56 for taxes and fees; total $924

The companion ticket: $99 plus taxes and fees of $39.29 for a total of $138.29. (And for you skeptics out there, even if I add in the $75 credit card fee, the price barely tops $200 – a considerable savings indeed.)

Result:  We both applied for credit cards. We each will receive 25,000 miles (which gets us that much closer to a European flight) and also will have two more companion tickets to use each year.

It has been awhile since I put out a call for tips on travel deals from you.  Have any new tips to share? Add them in the comment section on www.travelnwrite.com or shoot us an email and I will add them in.  And then come back on Thursday when we'll take a hike through the real ‘Old West' !

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pacific Northwest: Luxury for Less

When the Pacific Northwest winter weather is frightful you can find some luxury getaways with rates that are quite delightful!

No joke.

I’ve found a dozen good deals to be had for a fraction of the cost of  high season rates – all at high end places within a few hours drive of Seattle.  Today I tell you all about them in an article I wrote for the Seattle Times Travel Section.

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Some resorts provide rain gear - be sure to ask when making a reservation!
You recall we visited Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast in September and paid just under $300 a night at the Best Western. . .the deal I found for The Times at the luxury resort just down the road (a perfect place to do some winter storm watching) is amazing in comparison.

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We spent a few hours gazing at Saratoga Passage from our deck on The Scout's birthday trip

You may also recall me telling you about the road trip we took for The Scout’s February birthday last year when we ended up at a luxury resort on Whidbey Island, an hour’s drive/ferry ride north of Seattle.  Well, they’ve got the same great deals this year for mid-week stays.

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The Inner Harbour - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
I didn’t overlook those fabulous city getaways or ways to find other deals there – I’ve included deals in resorts from Victoria, B.C. to Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma as well.

Carnival to San Jose 009
View from Benson Vineyards -late winter, Chelan, Washington Wine Country
There are also deals to be had at luxury spa resorts and wine country getaways. 

Now that I’ve sparked the travel bug in you, head over to the Seattle Times to see which resorts and hotels are featured.  (And please note: there are plenty more deals to be had out there, but there was a limit to the number of words in print.)  Click this link to get to my article and happy winter wonderland travels to you!
We have some more money-saving travel tips for you on Travel Tuesday so see you back here then!


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