Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hotel Review - Maswik Lodge, Grand Canyon Arizona

If you travel overnight to the Grand Canyon it is well worth staying on property for the convenience and the opportunity to experience sunrise and sunset in this magnificent setting. We stayed at the Maswick Lodge in Grand Canyon for one night and weren't terribly disappointed, despite some reviews we've read aout the property.

If you are even thinking about staying at the Canyon and would like one of the more upscale hotels, El Tovar or Bright Angel Lodge, which are on the rim of the canyon, you must make reservations at least a year in advance because these hotels do sell out.  We were too late for those but were able to get a reservation at the Maswik Lodge.  When some of our travel agent friends heard we were staying there, we got an "Eh" statement from them and while it wasn't luxurious, it was clean, affordable and we got the Canyon experience we looked for.

Check in was a breeze with extremely friendly employees. We were asked if a second floor room was acceptable but because there are no elevators and we had heavy luggage which I couldn't carry up steps, I asked if there was perhaps a last minute cancellation  at any of the other lodges. The girl at the front desk said "Let me speak to my supervisor" and upgraded us to a North side room from a south side on the first floor.  The South rooms do not have air conditioning, so it is well worth paying extra to go into the North rooms, which are closer to the Canyon.  Service was efficient and friendly.

Our room was in the Rosebud building and had two double beds. There was a refrigerator in the room, t.v. (not flat screen) and the decor was dated but it was clean.  It was a five minute walk to the Canyon edge.

The bathroom was extremely large and offered a shower chair in the bathroom for use for those who may be physically challenged. There were also many grab bars to get in and out of the tub as well as  grab bars next to the toilet.  There was a sink in the bathroom was well as a large vanity and sink outside the bathroom. The air conditioning was a little bit loud as was the refrigerator when we turned it on. Don't turn it on to a very high setting - our water bottle froze in it.

This resort has cafeteria style dining so don't expect a gourmet meal.  You will have plenty of choices. If finer dining is on your agenda, go to Bright Angel Lodge and eat there - there is a quaint restaurant on premises with decent food at a good price. There is also a large gift shop in the main building next to the tour desk and cafeteria.

We enjoyed the ease of walking five minutes to get the shuttle buses to go to different viewing areas of the Canyon and felt  the Maswik Lodge was a decent choice as long as you know what to expect.  Make reservations a year in advance if you'd like to stay at one of the more upscale hotels.

Sheraton WIld Horse Pass Hotel Review

For the golf lover or spa aficionado, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort in Chandler, Arizona is an excellent choice. Approximately 20 minutes from the  Phoenix airport, the picturesque setting and beautiful rooms are sure to please.

You'll be quickly whisked from your car upon arrival into the southwest style lobby for check in. Once you check in and turn around you'll love the view from the floor to ceiling windows of the pools, golf course and majestic mountains.

Our stay was in the Pima Section for Starwood Preferred Guests. The room was very spacious, with two queen sized beds, a huge bathroom with deep soaking tub as well as a nicely appointed separate shower. Bathroom amenities include shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash and lotion as well as a hair dryer. There is a makeup mirror as well at the sink.

There was a large closet, dresser with eight drawers, large flat screen t.v., desk and chair, and a chair and ottoman. Also in the room was a small balcony. Depending on your view, you can hear the waterfalls throughout the property on quiet days.

There are three pools and a water slide on property besides the beautiful golf course and Aji Spa. There is also a walking trail that runs 2 miles in some pretty desert surroundings (but beware of rattlesnakes and scorpions).

The resort offers three restaurants - Hanyo Grill, located by the pool has a small menu and drinks during the afternoon, Ko'Sin offers breakfast, lunch and dinner indoor or out, and Kai is a AAA five  star restaurant.  Food is rather pricey, with breakfast averaging $15 per person, a hamburger starting at $14 and dinner entrees at Kai starting at $42.   We learned to take the shuttle to the nearby casino for meals that were a fraction of the cost of eating at the resort (but of course not anywhere near the experience).  There is a Starbucks that was open from 10 AM to 2 PM. We wished it were open all day, as we really missed our afternoon cup of coffee. Room service was the only way we could get coffee after 2 PM.

The resort offers a shuttle service that goes to the Golf Course,Rawhide Old West Town,  the Casino and shopping outlets. They say the shuttle arrives every 20 minutes but we didn't find that to be the case - twice we waited 45 minutes or longer to be picked up and one day from the casino, after waiting 45 minutes, the Casino Operator offered to bring us back to the hotel at no charge.

There is a nearby Equestrian Center for those who ride.  When you make an appointment to ride, the Center will send someone to pick you up.

The pools were beautiful however on our stay in early November, we couldn't use them because they are not heated and the water was extremely cold. There was a small hot tub that we saw some people in.

There also is a small boat that picks up every half hour Wednesday - Sunday from 2 PM to 10 PM and goes to Rawhide. (There are signs that say it goes to the Casino but apparently the original casino was on the river very close to the Sheraton but was demolished when the new Casino was built more inland). You can get on the boat simply to take the boat up and down the river. The boat shuttle is free.

This resort is an excellent choice for a conference. While we were there two other conferences were being held and the space is so huge that there was plenty of room for all three. The staff also does an outstanding job when an outdoor venue is needed for either a wedding or conference events. Service and food were very good.

The resort has a $29 per day resort fee that give you free wi-fi as well as the shuttle service and pool use.

There is a Hertz desk on property but until the last day of our stay when we were picking up a car, it was unmanned. We saw a commotion at the front desk with a woman who had ordered a car pick up on Sunday and the car was not delivered and another couple we were with dropped their car off on Thursday there and found they were charged an extra $100 per day on their bill because there was no one there to check it in. The hotel advised us that the desk was manned up until January  when the clerk there quit and has been unmanned since.  When we picked up our car on a Monday, the Hertz rep. told us they are only at the resort on days that they know a car is being dropped or picked up but they are considering hiring a rep. to be there full time.

Service at the resort was good, but we did notice a few things that should be addressed. We arrived on a Thursday for our conference and we noticed that there were bits of Styrofoam littering the carpet outside the Pima elevators on the ground floor. We spent the rest of the weekend walking past that foam until I called the front desk on Sunday to tell them that it was there and that it should be vacuumed. It was promptly vacuumed after that but that meant that carpeting isn't maintained daily.

We also had a small issue with service at our $38 breakfast. We waited quite a while to get a cup of coffee and we weren't given any utensils to stir the coffee with.  We had to wait until our breakfast was served about 10 minutes later to ask for utensils. When we arrived home and opened our online bill we discovered we were charged an additional $22 by the restaurant for food that we never had. Unfortunately, you can't call and get someone in the billing area - I had to leave a message requesting to see a copy of the signed bill and was contacted back about five hours later to be told it would be credited back on our bill and that the signature on the form was not mine.

We also were given incorrect information by one of the bellboys when we asked about the shuttle going to the Casino and he told us it didn't stop at the Casino, which we later discovered was incorrect. Minor issues but we felt that a four star resort shouldn't have issues as such.

We did not experienced the Spa but it is located in a pretty  area and had many choices of treatments at the going rate of other spas. There is also another small outdoor pool behind the spa.

We did see some children here and there is a kid's club but in our opinion there is just not enough for kids to do here and the food costs would be prohibitive to most families with kids.

As an adult haven, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass is a great choice for a relaxing vacation.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Amazing Beauty of Antelope Canyon in Arizona

Get your Go Pro and visit one of the  the most amazingly beautiful places you will ever see  that is a few hours from the Grand Canyon and a little known blip on the radar screen

This is Antelope Canyon and the colors in the picture above  do not do justice to what this underground canyon really looks like.

Antelope Canyon is one of the most-photographed of northern Arizona's sandstone slot canyons. Orange and purple are the major colors you'll see in this wind and water carved canyon. In fact, one of Microsoft's screen savers was actually photographed inside the canyon we visited.

Photographs don't do Antelope Canyon justice.  If you are a photographer, you will absolutely love the photos you can take here and if you aren't, you might actually gasp once you enter the canyon at the stunning beauty in front of you.

There are two canyons - the Upper and the Lower. The Upper Canyon is an easy walk on level ground. The Lower is challenging. You must enter through a ladder or very narrow ladder type steps and there is much climbing involved, up and down and through some very narrow passage ways. You must book a tour to visit these as the canyons are located on an Indian Reservation and guides are required to take you in.  For the Lower Canyon,  Ken's Tours are the only authorized guides and you will drive directly to the Canyon where your guide will walk you right in. Our guide was terrific, teaching us about the history of the canyon and also showing us ways to take pictures of the canyon to maximize the views.

These incredible canyon has been created over many thousands of years by water and wind which have carved the sandstone into unique formations.  Lower Antelope Canyon is rigorous as there are ladders that have to be climbed and narrow passage ways and low rocks. It is also 4,000 feet in elevation so you can get winded and have shortness of breath.

If that might concern you, then a tour of the Upper Canyon is much preferred. You will need to choose one of several tour companies who will transport you to the Upper Canyon on a tour bus or truck and then guide you into the Canyon. This canyon is entered at ground level and is an easy walk over mostly flat surfaces.

If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon, take a few hours out of your day and travel to one of these slot canyons. You won't be sorry. Call us for more information - 516-608-0568.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hotel Review - The View - Monument Valley, Utah

Hotel Review - The View, Monument Valley Arizona

Imagine the most amazing sunrise you will ever see - a purple sky with a yellow streak and shadows of three amazing buttes right from your room balcony.  The silence, the stars dotting the sky and the sky changing from purple to dark blue to yellow as the sun comes up within 20 minutes.

That is what you will see if you stay at The View in Monument Valley from any room on the property.  It is a very long drive to get there, but you'll be happy you made the trip because it was an experience like no other. Staying overnight at the Grand Canyon, we experienced sunrise there the night before and I remarked that I will never see another sunrise like that again, but I was wrong because the next day when we opened the curtains at daybreak, my breathe was truly taken away at the views from this hotel.

The hotel itself is located adjacent to the Monument Valley Visitor Center and is not much to look at from the front - you'll see a squat adobe style hotel when you pull up. However it is placed perfectly as a perfect angle so that every room has a view of West Mittens, East Mittens and        buttes.  At check in, you'll be in a lobby that is distinctly Native American with a round fireplace in the center and much Native American decor. 

We had requested a second floor room which ran us about $200. We were given room 216 in the center of the hotel. Thankfully this hotel has an elevator so we went to our room as soon as we got in and threw open the curtains to see the magnificent view of red rock everywhere, huge buttes as far as the eye could see.   Our room had two beds, a decent bathroom, refrigerator, desk, t.v. and balcony made for watching sunrise and sunset.


The room was very clean and the beds comfortable. We opted not to drive into the park until the next day but did explore the hotel to see the different views. We got a cup of coffee at the restaurant and then sat outside to enjoy the view. The hotel has one restaurant which is sit down but the food is still cafeteria food, with a very basic soup and salad bar and small menu choice. You are in the middle of nowhere so that is your only option unless you want to drive to Gouldings for McDonalds or Burger King. We made due for dinner and breakfast was a bit better with a buffet.  At check in we were given coupons for $5off the breakfast buffet and it cost us $17 for both of us.  The buffet was the usual scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes and french toast which ran out and took awhile before it was refilled.  There was also oatmeal, cereal and some fruit.

We debated about taking a tour the next day or driving ourselves and we opted to drive ourselves and were glad we did. The tours that are available (starting at $55 per person) were on open Jeeps going very fast over bumpy road. Not only do you need to worry about getting filthy from the dust the Jeep kicks up but also of your back and neck as you bounce over the bumps. One advantage of the tours though is that they Native Americans can go off the main path into an area that is not permitted unless you are on  a tour.

We spent about two hours after checking out exploring the park. The many buttes have different names and you can look and see different figures in the rock formation - Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, Mittens, etc.  The colors change as the sun travels so it was a very interesting place. We also saw wild horses , it was a beautiful way to spend a day.

If you have the opportunity to stay here and explore Monument Valley, take advantage of it to see the most photographed canyon in the world. Look for the images you've seen in the many movies that were filmed here. Sit in the spot that was said to be John Wayne's favorite when he filmed in the Canyon. You'll love "The View".

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cruise Review - Norwegian Breakaway - NYC to Bermuda

Before you read this review, you need to know two things:
-I really like Norwegian Cruise Lines
- I see things, as a travel professional, you might never notice. I have to so our clients don't find any surprises if they travel to the same resort, hotel or sail on the same ship.

I recently sailed on the newest ship sailing permanently from New York City, the Norwegian Breakaway. Norwegian has been kind to New York by offering year round sailings, going to Florida and the Bahamas and Bermuda on one of their two newest ships.

The Breakaway can carry 3,969 passengers and with the exception of the pool area, never seems crowded. There are 29 different dining experiences, Broadway shows - Rock of Ages, Burn The Floor, and Cirque Dreams Dinner Theater.  There is never a lack of things to do on this ship and none of the issues we found would prevent us from sailing on the Breakaway again.  We use a grading system for each category.

Embarkation- C.  We arrived at 11:15 at the pier and embarkation is by deck number. Directed to the middle bank of check in desks where three agents were checking people in,  there were only seven people/cabins in front of us and it took 45 minutes to get checked in. I asked the agent if a lot of  people called in sick since there were so few people for check in. His response? "We take a lot of long breaks". Our friend are platinum members who have priority check in and they arrived 20 minutes after we did and their check in took almost an hour. When their room passes were being printed, the agent  had to walk so far to the printer for their cards it took added five  minutes to their check in time.

Cabins- C.  We had cabin 11247, an interior cabin forward on deck 11 just past the studio lounge. Our room was in an alcove with other interior cabins and we thought it would be quiet and cozy but we were wrong, except for the "cozy" part.

Entering the cabin there was a desk to the left, bathroom to the right, closet with safe and shelves and shelves hidden throughout the cabin for small items. There was a footstool which doubled as a seat for the desk and a hairdryer under the desk. The stool top flipped up which gave a bit more storage. This stool proved to be pain in the neck. Every time  we tried to put it as far under the deck possible, an extra piece on the hairdryer fell off.

All the storage space was in the closet, no drawers to put clothing. There were four shelves, one  deep one, the rest very narrow with one holding the safe. There was also a shelf on top of the closet. There were lots of hangers. We stored our luggage under the bed but if you want to put more than two people in an interior cabin, forget it -the storage is woefully inadequate.

The noise in the cabins was terrible in the ship area we were in. The doors are extremely heavy and open out, and if people don't hold the door when entering or exiting, it slams shut loudly. We were constantly awakened by the people next to us in the middle of the night and then at 6 AM when they came and went from their room and slammed the cabin door. To top it, we constantly heard noise above our cabin up until 1 or 2 AM that sounded like carts being dragged. On day three, after being awakened the first two nights from noise, I finally went to see what was above us. It was an area open only to staff that they must have been moving carts around and putting metal away. One call to Guest Services resolved the issue once we knew what caused it.

We did visit a balcony cabin and there was sufficient room in that cabin, including a sofa. Other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity put a small chair or couch inside their interior cabins which makes a huge difference so you have a place to sit in the cabin.

The Haven is the exception to the rule on NCL ships. This area is where upscale cabins that rival the best on any other cruise line, even having one and two bedroom suites. All cabins in the Haven have their own courtyard area and pool that other guests cannot use, as well as their own restaurant. The cabins here are gorgeous and service is outstanding.

Norwegian also has Studio Cabins that are meant for solo travelers.  People sailing on their own usually pay 100% of the cruise priced for two people.  These Studio Cabins eliminate the surcharge for sailing alone. These cabins also have their own "living room", a public area only open to Studio guests where they can meet and mingle with other solo travelers. There are sign up boards for people to meet for dinner, activities and excursions so they don't have to experience these things alone.

Room Steward/Cleaning - C. Our room steward's name was Joel and he didn't speak English very well. As soon as I got into the room, I noticed that the rugs were dirty on each side of the bed, where the two twin beds were pushed together.  I called Joel and asked him to vacuum the rugs after all the luggage was distributed.  We also asked to have the refrigerator mini-bar cleaned out so we weren't tempted by the expensive snacks and we had room for our own beverages.  Joel told us to call "00" to get the contents removed.

We came back from sailaway at 8:50 PM and the rug wasn't vacuumed nor was the mini bar cleaned out. I called Joel again and it was clear he had no idea idea what I was asking so I went down to Guest Services to make the request.  The gal at Guest Services said that Joel called her because he didn't understand what I wanted. She told me the room would be vacuumed tomorrow. I also told her the mini-bar still wasn't taken care of either.  When no one appeared by 10:00, we just went to bed and lo and behold at 10:45 there was a knock on the door and we were awakened to have the contents taken out of the refrigerator, put in a bag and stored in the closet. I could have done that myself.

The room was vacuumed the next day and we even had a gift in the bathroom. NCL needs to make more of an effort to insure that staff that is on contact with passengers has a better grasp of English than Joel did. He was very nice but not understanding that the carpet needed to be vacuumed was a poor reflection of his duties.

Sailaway: A.NY is always magnificent and a view I never tire of sailing from here. I've sailed when the Twin Towers were present, sailed after 9/11 when the pile could be seen and you could hear a pin drop as the ship went past as passengers were silent as a tribute, and now with the new Tower built. I still get chills going past the Statue of Liberty and of course were in Spice H2O for the count down going under the Verrazano Narrow Bridge.

Food - B+  I don't sail  for gourmet food but I do like a decent meal and there were plenty of choices on this ship. The food in the main dining rooms was good. I had delicious steaks, good pasta, nice vegetable dishes, good sushi and found the variety in the buffet to be good. One particular plus is the fact that you can get ice cream at the buffet almost all the time and not just soft serve cones, there was an ice cream station with five or six different flavors that were scooped and changed daily. I also discovered pretzel rolls! I am not a bread eater but those rolls were delicious and I ate them as much as I could.

There is a Sabrett hot dog cart on the main pool deck where you can get hots dogs at certain times of the day and a grill on Deck 16 above the buffet where you could get hamburgers and sausage.
We didn't eat at any specialty restaurants except the Sushi bar because we were unable to make reservations before we left. We were attending a seminar on the ship and because we weren't sure what nights we would be free, we couldn't make plans in advance. By the time we knew what days we'd have open, there were no reservations available, so do yourself a favor and make sure you make reservations if you want to try one of them.

One restaurant we didn't care for  was O'Sheehans. The restaurant is the 24 hour restaurant and I heard many people complimenting the breakfast. We had lunch and dinner there and were not impressed. I ordered a corned beef sandwich which was probably the worst corned beef I ever had. Another party with us ordered a hamburger and said it was awful. They changed their dinner menu daily and one night was all you could eat ribs but after my first two attempts, I decided I wouldn't eat there again.

There is a Carlos Bakery which was over priced.  On the Epic, in the Atrium was a coffee bar that had free cakes and pastry. On this ship, Carlos' Bakery has taken over and there are no more free snacks.  There is also a Gelato Bar on the outside of deck 6 where you can purchase gelato.

One area that is different on this ship is Ocean 678. You can eat outside at most of the specialty restaurants on this ship on these decks. There are also some bars here and it is a great place to sit that is quiet to enjoy a drink.

Entertainment - A  Norwegian and Royal Caribbean hands down have the best entertainment at sea on our opinion.  This ship is no exception.  From the Broadway quality production of Rock of Ages (this show is NOT for the kiddies!) to the outstanding dancing in Burn the Floor, to Second City Comedy, you won't be bored on this ship.  Fat Cats is a blue club with great jazz and blues at night. We sat in on Second City a few nights, and had some fun watching parents and kids getting slimed  by the pool at a show and enjoyed Nickelodeon characters such as Sponge Bob, Patrick, and Dora the Explorer with the kids.

There were health seminars in the gym, plenty of trivia contests, Bingo and of course the Casino where one of our friends even walked away from BlackJack a winner.

Pools -  While this ship had several pools, they were the smallest pools I have ever seen on a ship. The pools are all in the center of deck 14, they are inadequate for the number of people on board. The adults only pool is by the Waves bar in front of the stage. It deceivingly looks large, but the pool is not swimmable - the deep area is in the center and there are two large areas on either side that are ankle deep for sitting in and possibly hanging your legs into the big pool.

The kids water park is a great area for the little ones and in between that area is another pool for families but again, not swimmable. We saw people standing shoulder to shoulder in both pools.  I believe that the cruise lines purposely do this so that people don't spend much time in the pools, they dunk themselves and get out and order more drinks. We missed the H2O zone that the Norwegian Epic had. The H2O zone is strictly for adults most of the day and on the Epic, there was a pool under the movie screen. It was a quiet area for adults to sun and swim and they took it off the Breakaway and moved the pool to the center of the ship. All that is still in the H2O zone are hot tubs and chairs.

The water park had Nickelodeon characters and a spray park for the kids and very shallow water for toddlers. Thankfully the kids were in school when we sailed because I can't imagine how the pool area fares when the ship has 1,000 kids on it during school breaks.

One area that was a lot of fun are the water slides.  There are two regular water slides plus two water slides with straight drops.  There were lots of screams as people stood in the tube and the floor was dropped from under them!

Activities - A Besides pools, the Breakaway has a rope course and a "plank" to walk. There is mini-golf, basketball, a climbing wall, jogging track, and teen lounge and video arcade. There is a library and bowling alley inside the ship as well as Kids Clubs for the little ones. Wine tastings, martini tastings, enrichment classes, all held throughout the day.

Another thing you might want to try is the Svedka Ice Bar. For $20 you get a half hour in the ice bar and two drink coupons, good for either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. You'll be given a cape and gloves and should wear long pants and closed toed shoes, but it still is awfully cold in there. I was out with my second drink after 10 minutes, it was just too cold for me. I didn't see anyone who lasted a half hour.

Staffing - B One thing we clearly tell our clients is that if you want five star service, you won't find it on NCL.  That isn't to say that the staff doesn't try - they just don't have the inclination to rush to get anything done.  For instance, in the buffet restaurant, many times there were tables weren't cleared promptly,  which was an issue during prime times.  Several times the coffee machines were empty at breakfast, especially the one on the outside deck. This requires a long walk inside to one of the other coffee stations. We had to request cream twice because the creamers were empty as well.

Sometimes there was someone manning the ice cream bar, sometimes there wasn't. We had no spoons one day at breakfast for cereal, the spoon holders were empty.  One or two nights service in the main dining rooms was very slow or the drinks were forgotten about. One night the waiter never even asked if anyone wanted a drink from the bar. The supervisors for dining need to really step up to the plate and watch what is going on. It was extremely annoying to be asked every five minutes on the pool deck is we wanted a drink too. 

As I stated about the noise above our cabin, that was a staff area where the staff wasn't considerate of what was going on under neath them when they are moving carts, dropping metal objects, etc. Others might have suffered through the noise, we knew to complain and it was fixed once we complained. 

These things do add up so if you know what to expect, this shouldn't ruin your cruise, but be aware that you won't get excellent service on any NCL ship.

The Ship hallways - D - Getting around the hallways on this ship was quite inconvenient and anyone that is handicapped and using a walker or a wheelchair will be highly inconvenienced during the day when the cleaning carts are in the hallways.  The handicapped accessible cabins aren't  near the entrance ways in the hallway - many are down corridors that a wheelchair or walker can't get past with carts, which are out from early morning until the afternoon and then again at night.One person can barely fit in the hallway between the cart and the wall.  The hallways need to be wider and whoever designed these ships should know to put the handicapped accessible cabins near the hallway doors and elevators.  Andy Stewart - please get this fixed on the new ship being built!

Theater seating - D - Another area we said "who on earth designed this?" There is a metal bar on the bottom rear of the seat  that is not upholstered BUT - you have to sit on it anyway. These seats are the most painful seats I have ever sat on.  One night when we were early to the theater we watched a couple get up and down 16 times to try to find a comfortable seat before they finally realized all the seats had this metal at the back and were uncomfortable.  Everyone we sat near we heard saying something about the seats.  The whole theater really needs to be re-upholstered.  Otherwise, the theater is purposely built so there are no columns interrupting your view. Bring a pillow or something soft to stuff on the back of the seat so you don't have the bar up your butt.

Disembarkation - B+ - The only reason I didn't give this an A is because of the lack of Immigration agents when we left the ship. And the fact that luggage wasn't always placed with the proper ticket color.

Norwegian allows you to choose the time you want to disembark, which I love. Since we were taking the train home and didn't have to make a flight, when we got off didn't matter. (Hint - if I did it again, I'd take the earliest disembarkation time. With that, you can get off any time after that tag color is called rather than having to wait to have your color called. There was quite a while in between colors being called to disembark.  Once we got to the luggage claim area, it was chaos. We found one bag but the other bag was in a totally different color tag area. 

We were directed to the right hand line by the staff in the terminal. Big mistake to listen  when the agent said 'It doesn't matter which line you take'. Well, the right hand line only had two agents (and one had to take the Elite Latitude members off a separate line first). and the left hand side had six. And then a center line was made for those who were smart enough to ask for a porter to take their bags out and they were zipped out first.  We waited on line for an hour to get to a Immigration agent and get out of the building while the other line sped through in about 15 minutes.
Hint: Observe and see how many agents there are before getting on a Customs line.

All in all, none of the issues we had were enough to not sail Norwegian again. We have a future cruise credit we will be using for another cruise. If you set your expectations properly. you shouldn't be disappointed with  a Norwegian cruise.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Avoiding Illness When Flying

With the current Ebola crisis in Africa, people are beginning to panic about flying and the possibility of being infected with this virus on a plane. In reality, it is far easier to become infected with a cold or the flu from the person next to you hacking without covering their mouth. What can you do to try to avoid being contaminated with "something" when flying?

Hand washing is the number one way to try to stay "illness proof" whether traveling or in every day situations. When using the rest room, sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself while soaping and washing your hands. They say washing at least 30 seconds will a healthy dose of soap help kill  bacteria.

When leaving the rest room after washing your hands, use a paper towel to touch the door handle. If you are in one of these new washrooms that only have air blowers for drying, throw a package of tissues in your bag or pocket and use those to touch the door handle.  Nothing is worse than taking the time to wash your hands only to become infected from the slob before you that didn't wash their hands at all and touched the door handle. We recently sailed on the Norwegian Breakaway and  every public rest room had a paper towel dispenser and garbage can right by the door, along with a sign that asked guests to use a paper towel when touching the door.

Baby wipes come in travel sizes - buy them and use them liberally.  When you get into your seat on a plane, take them out and wipe off your seat belt closures, the seat pocket and your tray table and arm rests, particularly where the controls for the t.v. or headphone are.

When using the bathroom, bring your wipes and wipe down the seat, the basin and door lock/handle before touching them.  Wash your hands and use the paper towel to open the door after you exit.

If you have a cold or illness where you are coughing, please be considerate of others around you and cough into the crook of your elbow. Coughing into your hand and touching the seat trays or arm rests can contaminate others sharing your space.  I no longer look at people who wear those paper masks as crazy anymore - it might be my newest fashion accessory when flying.

Travel with a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel and use it, especially after using handrails. I am not embarrassed to hold a baby wipe and slide it down the railing when I am getting on or off a plane or using stairs either.

Using common sense and a few travel tools will help cut your chances of coming home with an illness you didn't leave with!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A River Cruise To China

River cruising is the fastest growing travel trend and a river cruise in China can open a world of wonder for the adventurous traveler. Sailing on the Yangtze River is one of the best ways to see what China has to offer with it's rich history. Since most people will visit China once in their lifetime, the best way to see China is with a river cruise plus an add on of several days to see the Great Wall, Guilin, Shanghai and the Terracotta Warriors. Most river cruise lines offer itineraries of  11- 15 days that combine the amazing views from the Yangtze River with inland wonders mentioned above.

The optimal times for a river cruise in China are April - May and September to October. Weather is warm and mild and flights prices are relatively stable during these months. June - August will be hotter but pricing will be lower.

The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world. Most river cruise lines visit the Three Gorges, a 100-mile area  between Nanjin Pass in the east and White King City in the west. The Three Gorges Project, started in 1971 and finished in 2009 and was designed to alleviate annual flooding and to save lives.  It created the world’s largest reservoir, and raised the level of the Yangtze River by about 570ft. It also  submerged towns and villages. The dam supplies 15 per cent of China’s hydroelectricity power.

A sample itinerary would begin in Beijing, where you'll visit  Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China and a rickshaw tour. Then you'll move on to Xian, one of the most culturally rich cities in China. Tour the mausoleum where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was laid to rest over 2,000 years ago.You'll see thousands of life-sized Terra Cotta Warriors, archers and infantrymen that were buried with him.

You’ll then be taken to Chongqing where you’ll board your ship for  your trip down the Yangtze River. Visit Shibaozhai Temple, a 12-story pavilion built in 1650 along the Yangtze. Then it’s time to enter the Three Gorges.  This series of limestone ridges has towering cliffs on both sides of your boat.  There are amazing sites to see, such as the hanging coffins of the Ba people.  You’ll also pass through 5 locks in the evening.
On the following day, it’s time to disembark to view the Three Gorges Dam and learn about this marvel of engineering. At the end of your cruise, you’ll fly to Shanghai for several days of cruising before returning home.

Your China River Cruise will be an amazing trip that you’ll never forget. Call us to book or learn more