Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cash Vacations

My husband and I don't have any credit cards. There is a reason for this and we're quickly finding that it's harder to plan and take vacations without one. We enjoy having very little debit and we realize that we tend to spend money when we don't really have it to spend. So we don't own any credit cards.

Once we have our next vacation spot picked out, the saving begins. We eat out a lot less and make lists of must haves vs wants. The wants usually end up waiting until after our vacation and some times some of the must haves also wait.
We get a potential quote of how much a trip would cost by using one of the many Travel Booking sites with Orbitz being my favorite. This has worked well in the past and only works if you know up front all of the potential costs that will be involved.  Why pay cash? It's paid for up front. I have to say, it didn't work that well for our recent trip, an Alaska Cruise.

Back in November of 2013, we decided that we wanted to try a cruise and we wanted to see Alaska. We had always heard that an Alaska Cruise was the best way to see Alaska. After reviewing a number of options on Orbitz, I had an idea of what we wanted to do. We picked Holland America Lines and we figured that we could save up enough to get a veranda room with an estimated cost of $3200.00 for the two of us. We also invited my parents to come with us. We started saving what we could and put all of our 2013 Tax return towards the trip. We planned on going in September of 2014 and I wanted to go through a Travel Agent to make sure that we got everything we wanted, a room next to my parents, shore excursions and what ever else we needed/wanted.

On April 2 I got a email from my Dad telling me that they've booked the cruise directly with Holland America after talking to some of their friends. At this time we were short around $1000 from what I had planned on paying. After viewing the booking, the cost was going to be $3600, this also included insurance, and this is before any additional costs of the shore excursions and airplane flights. Honestly, I thought that we had to pay for everything at once and was panicked on how we were going to get our trip booked. If we had to pay the full amount, we were going have to down grade our room to one with just a window. I ended up crying and had to tell myself that there would be places that we could sit on a deck and watch the world go by or we could sit on my parent's veranda. Once it came to "check out" there was an option to make payments.
We had enough to pay the minimum payment. A Happy Dance ensued and we upgraded our room to the veranda. Made a payment with the money we had and made plans to make payments for the rest that was due. The full amount had to be paid by July 1.

Then, unforeseen car repair costs and vet bills interfered with our planned payments. We ended up tapping into gift cards that we were saving for the trip and juggling bills but we were able to pay off the cruise before the July 1 deadline. 

Next on the list was to get a airline tickets and to decide when we wanted to fly out. Did we want to fly out the day before to ensure that we were in Seattle for the cruise or did we want to fly out on the day of the cruise? We decided that it would be best if we flew out the day before and stay at a hotel. We got a good deal on our flight via Orbitz with Alaska Airlines. The following week I then started looking for a hotel. I contacted Holland America to see how much a room would be via them and have it include transfers from Airport to hotel to pier. They had three options and all of the hotels were 4-5 Star Hotels and well out of the price range I wanted to stay in and said no thanks. 

Remembering that we stayed at the Quality Inn Sea-Tac hotel a few years ago and knowing that it was a great location and nice place to stay, I checked to see if they had a shuttle that could pick us up and also take us to the pier. I called them and was told yes they did! Great! I quickly booked a room with them for Sept 13. (See what happened with that by reading my review here.) Finally, everything was paid for, we could use the next month to save spending money and I could relax.

Here is where those unforeseen costs come into play. Three weeks before our trip, we get a email from Holland America advising that we need to check in and provide them with our passport information and other documentation they needed. So, I go in and start checking in. Then towards the end they advised that $430 some dollars per person will be held on our card on September 14 when we board the ship. This would be our spending money on board. I flipped out! Now, I had to figure out how much we had to save to make sure that our monthly bills didn't bounce while we were on the trip. We weren't planning on having that much spending money as we don't get much on our trips. The food was already paid for as it was part of the cruise and WHY would I want to buy anything on the ship as I was sure that they would be way overpriced! (This view changed once I was on board with the End of season sales!) I could understand them holding around $400 as we had the same thing happen when we went to Hawaii. The hotel held some money because it was a debit card we reserved the room on and they wanted to make sure there was money to pay for any incidentals.

After reading more on Holland America's site about it, they said that it was because they can't charge credit/debit cards while they're at sea and our room key acts like a credit card. Alcoholic and Soda drinks aren't included with the meals. There is also a casino on board that you can use the money at. And finally, the tip for the staff comes out of that money. Depending on which room you stay in determined how much they were going to charge. We were charged $12 per person per night. 70% went to our porters and the remaining 30% went to those that worked behind the scenes. I wasn't very happy with the tipping but it did take that question of how much to tip off of my mind. We weren't planning on gambling and we weren't big on drinking. If they were going to hold the money that we were going to use it to book the shore excursions, we would just wait until we were on board to book them.  

A few days later we found out that my parents had booked an excursion. Thanks to my in-laws, they sent us money to make sure that we had a wonderful time and had emergency money. I went to book the same excursion as my parents just to find out that we were on a waiting list. It worked out in the end and we were able to go at the same time as my parents and Holland America took the payment from the money they held.

I have to say, as stressful as it was planning for this trip, the cruise itself was wonderful! Everyone was so nice and Holland America delivered. The additional charges are most likely disclosed in the fine print when you book the cruise but who reads that? Not me! Lessons learned. As a traveler that pays for trips with basically cash, it's best to go through a Travel Agent for trips of this size. They know the ins and outs of cruises and knows all of the costs. Now, if you have credit cards, then by all means, feel free to set everything up on your own. Simon and I are planning taking another cruise, we're looking at doing Hawaii. It won't be for a few years but it's on the list. We will have a travel agent help with that. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Not so Quality Inn.

Certain names of businesses can set you up for failure.  Speedy Cash looses the effect of its name if it takes forever to get your money. Tasty Cakes are not so tasty if you get a bad batch. 

We can add to that list Quality Inn Sea-Tac Airport, since the one we just stayed at was anything but "Quality".

A better name would be "Holding out until the building falls apart Inn." A little wordy, but a better fit for what your expectations should be.

We had been a guest of this Quality Inn apparently an owner or three ago, so when fate and vacation had us needing to spend the night in the area again, we were eager to spend our money where we had before as we were expecting another quality stay.

The problems started a month prior when we had called asking a few questions. Now the first problem was getting the call to complete. We are in Denver and only have cell phones, so likely at the time cursed phones and carried on. Once we did get on the phone, we asked if the hotel offered airport shuttle service. "Yes we do. Just give us a call from the shuttle pickup area as soon as you arrive." "Sounds good. Do you also offer a shuttle service to Pier 91, as we are taking a cruise." "Yes, we do offer shuttle service to the piers." "Great, thanks!"

The day before we left, we called to see if we needed to let them know when we were arriving so they can pick us up. We were told that all we have to do is go to the Courtesy Shuttle and call them to let them know we were there to be picked up.

When we arrived on 9/13/14, we were eager to get to the hotel room. We hurry down to the busy and loud waiting area and start calling the hotel to let them know we are there for pickup, as instructed. The phone rings and rings and eventually hangs up. It must be those blasted cell phones again, right? We tried countless times, both trying on our own devices likely longer then we should have wondering what was going on. Meanwhile watching a fleet of other shuttles going by, stopping and picking up other guests for other hotels.

We decided to call customer service for Quality Inn, Choice Hotels, and realized it was not our phones as we got right through. "Rob" answered the phone and I expressed I was having trouble reaching one of their establishments as the phone number was just ringing and there was no answering. And Rob's day saving solution? Read me off the phone number from the hotels website. Thanks, Rob. For a second there I almost forgot I called to report there was a problem with the phone number working... I explained that we were left stranded at the airport and asked if they could try to contact the location to see if they can help us. Maybe they had a special number or line? Surely the organization that has their name on the building can offer some help. But I had given them too much hope. They came back to let me know the number was indeed not working for them either. I explained one of the reasons we chose their hotel was because of the shuttle service and asked what we should do. They replied I should just keep trying to call them. I stated I was already left hanging for some time, and asked if I could receive some sort of compensation as a paying customer. I was informed since I booked the room through Orbitz, that there was nothing they could do for me and I'd have to take it up with the hotel.

So hoping still there was some kind of problem with our phones that was causing the problem, I ventured over to the courtesy phone at the airport and tried calling them, to still be greeted by the endless ring. We admitted defeat at that point and hired a taxi to drive us to the location. Once we arrived we were greeted with a lobby fairly full of other customers I would not describe as happy.

Quotes I remember are "I reserved a room that was handicap accessible." Followed by a "where on here does it say that?" Another guest was fuming that the hotel had lost their reservation. We make it up to the front to check in and ask them if they know their phone system is down, which they respond they do, "tee hee." I explained we could not call them to have a shuttle pick us up, and had to pay for a taxi and they said "Oh, sorry about that." And it was back to business. No apology that they couldn't provide one of their advertised services at their guests expense and offer to discount the room or anything past a "wish I wasn't here" sorry. I explained we never even saw them come by and they replied they were by every half hour. Now as we waited an hour, that allows at least once for a shuttle to pass, and that didn't happen. Also so nice we couldn't speak to them since their phone system was down and they knew it, I guess we would have needed to dash in front of traffic to get the drivers attention or maybe throw a milkshake at his window to get him to stop.

So I ask  if they can compensate us at all for having to pay for our own way to their hotel and was still never given an answer. The conversation shifted to "the cleaning staff hasn't gotten to your room yet, so it's going to be a wait." We reply "Seriously?" And we get a matter of fact shoot back "check in is at 3". Now for a moment I figure hey, maybe the schedule is off due to the time zone difference between Denver and this one is on us, and it was ten tell three, But then I notice the room key holder has printed right on it, "check in is after 2" not "Check in After 3".(Also on Orbitz, it states that check in is at 2.)

As we make the march to the room, which was on the 3rd floor and given no direction so we had to wander around the halls for a while, we noticed that the floor boards seemed weak, and bounce with every step. The issue continues to the room itself, which took us a while to notice, not because all of the other amenities dazzled us, but because it took 3-4 swipes of our keycard to get in. At that point we just started to notice all of the wear and tear of the place, and we get the feeling this place had some water damage or just is finally starting to break down, and they don't even seem to care if anyone noticed.

We head down to at least arrange for the shuttle to pick us up and take us to the Pier so at least we can be done with this place come morning. At that point they ask for my credit card. I ask why and they let me know it's 12.00 per person. I let them know I had called to ask about the service earlier and no one mentioned there was a fee. The response I got was a glance around the room as if too say once again "I wish I was anywhere but here right now". And I said "we asked if there was a shuttle to the pier and you said yes." And they "well we do, so the answer is yes" "I get that, but it was never mentioned there was a fee for it." I suppose this was my fault, as a traveler passing through one night, I should have known the trip to the pier was not covered with the other shuttle service we asked about at the same time. No empathy, not even sympathy, just a "sucks, huh?" Attitude and an eagerness to run my card. "Well it sucks mostly because of you." "I know, right?"
(After doing more research when we got home. It states at the bottom of their page that there is free one-way shuttle to Piers 91 and 66. 
Good thing that the girls that were working the front desk were idiots and even messed up that charge. They entered it in as the $100 hold for additional charges and we weren't charged the $24.)

The next morning we find out that our card has two $100 pending charges. We were baffled as we had already paid for everything through Orbitz. All that should be on there is the $24 charge for the shuttle to the pier. We go down to see if there was another person finally working at the front desk. The front desk manager Crystal was there. I explain to her what happened the previous day. She apologized and gives us back our money for the cab fare. She also apologized for the two $100 pending charges and said that they should fall off in the next couple of days. We appreciate her attempt to make things better but we will not be staying here again.  This Quality Inn is the worst that we have ever stayed in.

Aloha Hawaii

Simon and I went to Hawaii back in October 2012 and I am now just finishing it. I'm not to sure why it took me so long to write this up. Maybe it was that I didn't want to share it with anyone. Maybe it was that my Grandfather had died a few months before we went. Or maybe it was the unseen and unfortunate circumstances that happened after we returned. With everything that happened before and after, it was a wonderful, magical trip that I will never forget. I find Hawaii singing to me telling me to go back.

So when it came time to determine where in Hawaii we were going and where we were going to stay, we felt that it's our first trip to paradise so we went all out. We picked Oahu and stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikki Beach. We stayed for 7 days. This is one place that you have to book direct and can't go through a travel site. To save a little money we went ahead and got the breakfast package with the room.  This was a great idea and I would do it again. We asked for a room with an ocean view. We weren't sure just how much of a view this would be until we got there. The nice woman at the check in counter told us that they had overbooked the rooms that we would have been in. Because of this, we got a free upgrade to the Rainbow Tower. Not a problem here as those are usually the more expensive rooms.
This was our view when we opened the curtains to the patio.
  The view took our breath away. Right below was the pool area and you could see Diamond Head.
The pool below us.

Diamond Head


I was so happy that we stayed at the Hilton. The village had everything that we needed. We could have just hung out on the beach and do our shopping there without ever going out to see the island and city. However we wanted to get out of the resort and see the Island. 

The second day we were there we got a 7 day pass to the Waikki Trolly. This was worth it! The first ride we took was to the mall. Holy cow! That was a zoo as it's a huge tourist site. The best part of it was the food court. Different restaurants from around the world. It was so packed I grabbed a table while Simon went to find us a meal. He found a Japanese place and got us Cold Soba Noodles and tempera shrimp and sweet potatoes. It was so hot that the cold noodles and Iced Green Tea was perfect to cool us off. Unfortunately we didn't get any pictures.

Before heading back we stopped in the ABC Store (They are ALL OVER THE PLACE!) and a local market that was in the mall that sold Beard Papa.  Because it was so packed with people and parts of the mall was outside, we couldn't wait to get out of there.

The next day we hoped back onto the Trolly and took the Green Line. It loops around Waikiki and goes into Diamond Head. At any point if we wanted, we could get off and walk around. What was also really nice is that the Trollies had a stop in front of the Hilton.

A stop just outside of the entrance to Diamond Head.

The route was fun. It took us through the "Beverly Hills" area. Basically multimillion dollar homes. The film studio where Hawaii Five O is filmed and other movies that have been there and in to Diamond Head. I have to say, the inside of Diamond Head looks like  Colorado.   

The next day we took the Red Line. It took us around downtown Honolulu and by China Town. The drivers on both routes were full of knowledge of the history of the city and the sites.

We ended up buying most of our meals or snacks at the ABC Store that was in the Village. These stores are everywhere. The best way to describe them is that they are like 7/11s or Walgreens. We got some beach toys, some of our souvenirs and a pair of swim shoes. I usually got mix fresh fruit to eat. I swear on my life, the pineapple is to die for. I couldn't get enough of it! My one regret that we didn't do is mail some home. Simon usually got Spam Musubi. I did try it but I really like my spam cooked over an open camp fire. 
The stores also had music, lotions and clothing. By going to the ABC Stores, we actually saved a lot of money instead of eating all our meals at the hotel restaurants.

Now, I'm not saying that we didn't eat at some of the restaurants that were in the Hilton Village, we did. Just don't be surprised at the prices. The food was good and the drinks were better. 

The last two days that we were there we booked two tours through the hotel. One took us around the Island and the other to Pearl Harbor/ USS Missouri.  

The first one we did was the trip around the Island. We had a wonderful guide. The first stop was the Dole Plantation. She suggested that the first thing we do is get in line to get a scoop of Pineapple Ice-cream. Simon went one better and got us Pineapple Ice-cream Smoothy. It was sooo good! We also picked up some Christmas gifts for family while we were here. Then we got our most expensive purchase. When you go, DO NOT take a key for a treasure chest. I repeat DO NOT TAKE IT! We ended up buying a pearl gold necklace. The Sales Lady was very nice but very good at her job. She could sell ice to the Eskimos. What we thought would be a couple hundred dollars ended up being $600. We failed to ask how much the chain was. Sticker shock hit us hard and we were still in shock at the next stop on the tour that we didn't even walk over to the beach. We spent the time looking over funds. Because we had been careful with spending we were fine but it was still a shock.
Simon taking a drink after going over our funds.

 The drive along the north shore was gorgeous. The next big stop was a Macadamia Nut Farm. This was fun. We shared fresh coconut milk from the coconut. It was so refreshing and cooled me off nicely. Our Guide recommended a lotion that helps with sore backs. I would have gotten some but the necklace was still weighing heavily on my mind.
  On the same farm, they have part of their land for film and TV sets, like Lost, First 50 Dates, and others. It was a lot of fun to see these sets and the mountains that appear in Jurassic Park.


The next stops were at the Battle of Nu'uanu and Eternity Beach . The views were was spectacular! 

The Battle of Nu'uanu
The over look from the Battle of Nu'uanu.
Eternity Beach

The last day we went to Pearl Harbor. Before my grandfather died, I promised him that we would go to Pearl Harbor. He was in the Navy and he disabled sea mines. He was stationed on a number of ships and subs but the one that I remember was that he was on the USS Missouri. We did the tour of Pearl Harbor and went over to the Arizona. It was a very humbling experience. We liked how it was neutral in explaining the whys, giving voice to both sides. They have a museum and a time line of the events. Then, before you get on a boat that takes you to the Arizona Memorial , you watch a documentary on Pearl Harbor.

Those that died on the USS Arizona.

The survivors that have died and are now buried with their brothers at arms.

After visiting the USS Arizona, we went to tour the USS Missouri. This was my favorite part of Pearl Harbor. I think it was because I got to see where my Grandfather had walked and worked at some point in his Navy career. 
Standing at the entrance to the USS Missouri.

After Pearl Harbor, we headed back to the hotel to wait for our ride to the airport. People say not to visit Pearl Harbor on your last day as it is very sobering. I honestly don't know when it would be a good time to visit but I encourage everyone to go at some point. 

Hawaii was a wonderful experience that we won't forget. We plan on going back. Not sure when but we want to go to one of the other islands. Even now, two years later, I still think of swimming in the ocean with golden rain falling and Simon singing to me "White Sandy Beach of Hawai'i" by Israel Kamakwiwo'ole.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Loving San Diego

We're home from San Diego and I have to say, I am still in love with it and can see why my Grandfather loved San Diego and it's calling us back.
We had perfect weather, okay, some may not say 60's and 70's with a high humidity isn't good, but after the summer Colorado has had, hot and dry, we found the weather to be perfect.  We flew out on Frontier Airlines and arrived on time. I have to say, coming in for the landing flying past the buildings was pretty cool. While we were in San Diego, we found out that the airport is the only US International Airport that has one runway. 

We rented a car from Budget Rental. It was easy to catch the bus to the lot from the airport and check in went quickly. It wasn't far from the airport and to the hotel. The car was nice a clean. We were a little worried with it being a compact but it turned out well.

We stayed at the Best Western Island Palms on Shelter Island and I have to say, we'll be staying there again. The lobby was beautiful with a nice water fountain and greenery. The staff was very nice and it was easy to check in. Our room was next to the pool and had a view of the marina. It was a king size bed and was very clean. They are a very family friendly hotel. The Sunday that we were there, they had a movie night in the pool area, showing "Horton Hears a Who." It was fun floating in the pool watching the movie. 

We had breakfast and two dinners at the hotel's restaurant, the Blue Wave Bar & Grill. The food was delicious and the staff was very friendly. They have patio seating that over looks the pool area and a wonderful view of the marina. We even got to see the fireworks from Sea World as we had late night drinks and desert. The price range is typical of what you would expect from a hotel restaurant.

The first night that we were in San Diego we ended up walking down to the Bay Club Bar & Grill. It's part of another hotel so the again, the prices is what one expect for a hotel restaurant. The food was really good and the service wonderful. 
For an appetizer we had the Five-Spice Seared Ahi with seaweed salad. The Ahi, was cooked perfectly. Simon enjoyed the seaweed salad and I did try it. (Remember, it's green and green isn't my thing.) 
 For dinner I had a New York Strip with two Crab cakes. I have to say, the stake was good but the Crab cakes were the best that I've ever had. Made mostly of crab meat and it toasted in butter, just melted in my mouth. I tried crab cakes else where while I was in San Diego and they have these were the best ones! 
Simon had the Filet of Oscar. It's Filet Mignon topped with Snow Crab, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce. It was very tasty and the Filet was cooked perfectly to his liking and the crab meat was delicious. 

After dinner we had a wonderful walk along the beach and watched the sun set. The beach has fire pits to allow anyone to cook and anyone can set up camp with their camper in the parking lot.

While we were in San Diego, we also ate at Dick's Last Resort, The Spaghetti Factory, The Greek Islands Cafe and Pizza Nova

The main reason we went to San Diego was for Comic Con. Unfortunately, we were unable to get tickets as they sold out within 45 minutes and I ended up 8000+ in line when it sold out. We only wanted tickets for Sunday to get in the vender area. I had heard of horror stories of how long the lines are for panels and I wasn't interested in spending most of my time waiting in line.
 Anyway, while we ate breakfast on Saturday, our waiter had asked if we were ready to go. We explained what happened and that we were just planning on hanging out outside of the convention. About 5 minutes later a very nice man who will remain nameless gave us his Con Bag and the Con Program. He stated that he didn't want our weekend to be a total waste. We were floored at the kindness of this man. We later ran into him on the free shuttle bus that the Con had set up at the various hotels.
We met up with Simon's family and we went to various locations that were free off site from the convention.
The following morning we ran into our new friend again and this time, he gave us his con badge. Simon was able to get into the convention and get some goodies for us. While he was inside, I was outside spending time with the in-laws and people watching.

Monday, Simon and I spent the afternoon at Seaport Village. We did some shopping and then hoped on  the San Diego SEAL Tour. I have to admit, Monday was my favorite day in San Diego. While on the tour we got to see a family of Dolphins playing in the wake of a large ship and by us. There was something that was just peaceful and relaxing about the trip. It was something that I was needing. I recommend everyone to take the tour at least once while you're in San Diego. 

Since we've been home, we've had the feeling that San Diego is calling us back. We seen a number of shows that were in San Diego, like Triple D and House Hunters. Believe me, the heat is still here and I wish that I was back at The Island Palms, lounging by the pool, enjoying the cooler weather. San Diego, we'll be back again.

Bay Club Bar & Grill-Bay Club Hotel & Marina on Urbanspoon Blue Wave Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 25, 2012

Running from the Heat

I’ve been living in a heat wave and I can’t get away fast enough. We’ve just had our 4th day of 100+ degree temps and I‘m melting. I love weather in the 60-70 degree temps.  In 16 days, we fly out of this horrible heat to San Diego, CA. My husband and I have been following the temperatures in San Diego and we’re hoping they last through our trip on July 13th.

So, what is taking us to San Diego, besides loving it the first time I was there? We tried getting tickets to the San Diego Comic Con. Unfortunately, the way tickets were sold, I was 8000+ in line when the Sunday tickets sold out. 
We had already purchased the airline tickets from Frontier and reserved our room at Best Western Plus Island Palms Hotel & Marina. Even without getting the tickets to Comic Con, we are still planning a nice trip. 

We want to go back to Seaport Village and I want to explore Downtown San Diego and see the Gaslamp Quarter. We’ll hang around outside of the convention center and people watch and maybe see some Stars that are attending. 

I’m looking forward to staying at the Best Western Island Palms Hotel. No matter what room we get, we’ll have a view of either the bay or the marina. (Personally, I’m hoping for a view of bay!) To just have a cool breeze will feel better than the dry hot wind that seems to be blowing through Colorado lately.

We were excited to find that Frontier Airlines flies direct from Denver to San Diego now. We always try to fly Frontier as they were a Colorado company, even if they aren’t anymore, Colorado is still in their hearts!

San Diego, watch out, we’re on our way!!

Our first trip to San Diego in 2009.
 Any suggestions on good places to eat?