Under the sea and under the ground

Competition is fierce out there in the hotel and cruise business.  Who can provide the most unique experience?  Who offers a product that nobody else has?  With this end in mind hotels and cruise lines are coming up with ideas that some might think are just plain bizarre.  But I guess if you have been everywhere and done everything maybe you do want to explore new horizons under the sea and under the ground.

UNDER THE SEA

Well, over-water bungalows are just old hat.  Now you can have an under water bungalow. The Manta Resort in Zanzibar offers this room category.  It really beats hands down the glass floor or coffee table in the over-water bungalow where you can see the fish below.  Now you can see them swimming around your bed.
Not too sure about this myself – but it will probably be on someone’s bucket list.  I think I would be checking the windows for leaks.  Not to mention being spied upon while you sleep.

Creepy

Not sure how room service works

Want something a little simpler?  How about this underwater cottage in Sweden?

It comes complete with a fully stocked kitchen and seeing as you are not floating over a coral reef the under water view is not nearly as stunning.

Mmm – pass on this one, thanks.

UNDER THE GROUND

Spend the night in an old silver mine in Sweden.  Looks kinda spooky.
Sala Silvergruva, Sala, SwedenI will have to pass on this one too – sorry!

Now this is more like it – Cappadocia in Turkey – very cozy!

Argos in Cappadocia, Turkey

Grand Canyon in Arizona – a room 200 ft below ground – need to bring the warm winter woolies as it is very cool down here.  One comment on the website was that you get a really quiet night’s sleep – mmm – I am sure you would sleep like the dead here so far under the ground.  OK – that’s it.  Rule this one out too.
Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona

So what’s next?  Let me have your thoughts or ideas.  If you were an entrepreneur and wanted to come up with a unique place to sell as a hotel what would you try?  What about an airborne hotel – one that is maybe supported by a giant blimp and gently floats around 100 foot off the ground.  Would that work?

Or how about a zero-gravity hotel – that might be a problem for someone with motion sickness.  But it would be unique.  Might be a bit problematic as far as liability for health problems.  After all not everyone can be a space man.

 

Have you done time?

Have you done any time?

Time-share that is.  You know, it starts out as a good idea and ends up like a prison sentence.  You have that week in Timbuktu (or wherever) that you bought on an impulse and now it hangs over your head like a dark cloud reminding you of how much you hate Timbuktu (or wherever).

You start to wonder why the heck you even went to that stupid time share seminar.  They told you no pressure and then – PRESSURE!   And it seemed like such a good idea at the time.  You could go on vacation every year for Nothing!  So when that time comes around – you have to go and do your time.  Well – you could swap your time share with another time share – after all RCI has over 8000 different properties. Problem is that the good ones at the good times are going to be used by the owners and the crappy ones are ….well, they are crappy.

Now there are a lot of very clever financial people out there who do the math much better than I could showing how having a time share is “A fancy term for flushing money down the toilet” Read the whole article very well put together by Hull Financing.  I just know that there is too much world out there to see for me to pin myself down to one destination every year.  I also don’t want to spend hours researching how I can get some value from the time share investment.  There are a lot of comments out there on Tripadvisor about the difficulties encountered with time share – especially when large resort hotels get taken over by other resort hotels.  Also it seems that the program has changed a lot since the days of my time share in South Africa 20 years ago.  You can now buy points instead of weeks.  I did try to read through the numerous articles on the differences between the two but eventually it got too much.  Wow you would have to be a lawyer to work your way through that.

That’s probably why there are numerous companies offering to buy your time share.  You hear them on the radio, they advertise online and no doubt now that I have googled them I will have them popping up in my feed the whole time.  *sigh*

 

Strange countries and strange food

Are you brave when it comes to trying new foods when you travel?  Personally I am not.  I think it is because of too many years spent at Convent lunches with Sister Michael Joseph standing behind me while I struggled to keep down that bowl of tapioca pudding.  Yuck.

But don’t let me put you off.  If you enjoy watching shows like Anthony Bourdain you will know that there are some out there who will try just about anything and maybe that is all part of the whole “travel the world” experience.  Bourdain believes that when you travel you should never ever refuse a local dish which has been prepared for you.  So what’s out there that’s strange and different?

How about a fried Tarantula in Cambodia?  Apparently they are very popular and taste a bit like crab.

Guinea Pig in Peru?  Yes guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru and you can even order a guinea pig pizza if you feel so inclined.  Growing up we had guinea pigs as pets.  I just can’t figure out eating one which I suppose is a bit hypocritical because I am not a vegetarian and eat beef and I reckon cows are some of the most intelligent creatures out there.

Here’s a dish from Mousehole in Cornwall, England.  Now although I grew up very near to Mousehole I have never heard of this dish so I will have to check with my Cornish friends.

“A pie with fish that stare at the sky: Stargazey originates from the Cornish village of Mousehole in England, and is served on Tom Bawcock’s Eve (23rd December). According to legend, this heroic sixteenth-century sailor rowed out one December evening in high storms and returned with a catch big enough to feed the starving residents.”

If you are in Israel you might like to try some chocolate covered locusts – it’s the only thing to do really when you have plague after plague and apparently the locust is the only insect that is considered kosher.

In Ukraine it is popular to cut the meat off and just eat the fat.  It’s called Salo and the fat is smoked and then left in a cellar for about a year and then eaten with rye bread.   Not sure how healthy this is but I do recall a South African cardiologist telling me once that it would be very healthy – bypasses the esophagus and goes straight for the coronary artery!

Which brings me to Canada – boy you have some pretty strange food here too!  As a Brit the idea of putting gravy on your fries (or chips as I would call them) is really odd – and then to sprinkle them with cheese curds.  I haven’t tried Poutine yet but I promise one day I will, but I definitely am going to pass on the stuffed Moose heart.  Sorry!

 

Short vacation vs long vacation

How much time do you want to spend on your vacation?  Many tell me a week is not enough – especially when you spend two days getting there and getting home.  Some people are happy with a weekend somewhere like Vegas.  Others go for longer sojourns.  Then there are those who go for months and months and months.  So let’s look at these vacations ….

The weekend – in Vegas?  Well on the plus side the flying time to Vegas is quite reasonable at just under three hours and the really nice thing about Vegas is that the airport is pretty much right in the middle of the city.  It seems to be that Sin City is not such an attraction these days for the gambling side of things but more as an entertainment centre where the big names appear and the hotel rooms are abundant.  Not a bad getaway on the whole. Personally I am not a casino fan and a guess I am not alone as new hotels are springing up in Vegas with no casino at all.  So for shopping, great shows and top restaurants Vegas makes sense for a quick break.

A week all inclusive?  Well hey – most working people get two – maybe three – weeks of vacation a year so a week is a convenient chunk of time to commit to a vacation.  The only problem is the time these days it takes to get there and get back.  Getting down to Mexico for example will take anything from 4 and a half to 6 hours.  Add to that the time getting to the airport in Calgary in good time for security, check in etc. and then the travel time from the airport to your hotel at the other end.  Some transfer times can be horrendously long – like 90 minutes in a shuttle bus, sometimes stopping at several hotels along the way.  The ideal is 10 days but this can be problematic depending upon the availability of direct flights and remember that pre-packaged tours for 10 day durations often come at a premium price. Still, in the middle of a Calgary winter a week on the beach can be a very attractive prospect.

A month – in one place? – Now we’re talking.  The popularity of our long stay packages to Spain, Portugal, Malta, Greece, Croatia and Thailand have shown us that people really like the idea of having three to four weeks in one destination.  Time to absorb the local atmosphere, find out which restaurants are your favourites, join the local bike club on their rides, learn the language.  Taking into account that these packages are usually over the “off season” means that not only do they come at a great price (always a good thing) but they also take advantage of less crowds, lower prices at local shops and restaurants and of course escaping Calgary’s winters.

Six months on a cruise?  Now some might shudder at this idea.  They might think that the first few weeks would be fine but then you would get tired of living on a cruise ship and start yearning for your own house.  Ummm – NO.  The clients I have sent on extended cruises like this tell me they love the idea of travelling around the world without having to pack and unpack – also without having to cook, shop for groceries, make the bed, water the plants … yes I could go on and on.  In fact I have heard stories of new friends made and tears and hugs at the end of the cruise, not only with these new friends but with the cruise staff who have looked after them during their six months world cruise.

For those of us not yet retired then time is of the essence and we have to make do with two to three weeks, if we are lucky, or the one week or even the weekend jaunt.  One thing I do know – time is the most precious commodity we have …. the clock is ticking!

What’s the point of points?

You either love them or hate them – they either work for you or they don’t.

I know several people who very successfully and diligently collect points and are able to use them for flights – sometimes even business class.  Gosh, I have even had some limited success in this field and what a joy when you are able to go online and obtain a ticket for nothing!

But let’s face it – there is no such thing as a free lunch.  So who is winning here?

The banks – most credit cards that give points charge very high interest.  So you spend spend spend, accumulate points point points and end up paying for those points with the very high interest charges.

The airlines – so you are a frequent flyer and you are collecting points.  It makes sense to therefore fly on flights where you can add to your points…..even if it means going a little out of your way or adding a connection or two.  The airlines are buying your loyalty with points that you can supposedly use to get “free” flights.  However getting your free flights might not be that easy – but more about that later.

The corporate traveller – yes those road warriors.  No-one envies them.  Another flight, another city, another night in an anonymous hotel far away from friends and family.  It is a lonely life.  So they deserve the points they get on the flights booked by the company don’t they?  Yes of course they do.  But there is a trap here – there is always a trap!

dog-in-cone

You see once you start collecting those points you get hooked, so you travel some more, and then you get your status with that airline upgraded.  Now they really have you!  There is something quite nice about boarding before everyone else.  It’s called elite status (or words to that effect).

You get used to this and then if your travel starts to slow down it creates worry.  How will you keep your Double Titanium status if you don’t do at least 100 flights a year.  The stress becomes unbearable while you plot ways to add a few more miles.  You become quite desperate.  Maybe you should fly to Edmonton or Fort St John for the weekend.  Hey wait, here’s a flight to Grande Prairie.  There is no limit to the list of places you can go to in order to keep that Elite frequent flyer status.
etrade-kid-shocked-face

And then there is the pain and agony of redeeming you points for a flight.  Not so easy as click and point.  Depending upon the destination or the route the allotment of “reward seats” on each flight might be extremely limited and pretty much disappear almost a year prior to travel.  Sometimes you might be required to book a one way because the return date is not yet in the system but if you wait for that the reward flight will be gone.  Once you add stopovers and multiple segments into the mix you definitely need to phone in and be prepared for a lengthy wait.  Don’t be impatient.  Put the phone on speaker and clean out your kitchen cupboards but preferably do this at midnight or 6 am when the call loads are lowest.  Clean kitchen cupboards, business class flight to Sydney for nothing – double whammy!

The Before Picture

So STOP….take a deep breath.  Celebrate the times that you do earn a free ticket or an upgrade using points.  Forget about the points that have expired (oh wait – have they stopped that now?)

And what about the losers you might ask?  Yes those are the ones who fall for the high interest points earning cards and don’t pay off the balance each month before that crippling interest kicks in.  Better off not to earn points and just buy the ticket you want on the airline you want to the destination you really want to go to.

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

 

 

Top ten airlines – do you agree?

Just announced – the world’s top ten airlines – DRUM ROLL PLEASE – here they are

AirlineRatings.com’s top 10 airlines for 2017
1. Air New Zealand
2. Qantas
3. Singapore Airlines
4. Cathay Pacific
5. Virgin Atlantic/Virgin Australia
6. British Airways
7. Etihad Airways
8. All Nippon Airways
9. Eva Air
10. Lufthansa
So do you agree?  Have you had the chance to fly these airlines?  Anni just flew to New Zealand on Air New Zealand and she agrees.  They are the best.  The crew was what made it for her – I think they must have a little bit of Hobbit dust on them.  They just always seem so friendly and happy to help.  And yes they seemed really happy.  Mmm – maybe I need to get some of this Hobbit dust!
Donna flew Qantas from Sydney to Adelaide which is a short-haul flight and guess what – SHE GOT A HOT MEAL!
Wow!  Yes they do deserve to be on the list.
I see British Airways is on the list.  Mmm – they might be a good airline but flying through Heathrow really sucks!  Sorry.  It’s my least favourite airport.
Etihad, All Nippon and Eva – well I can’t comment there.  I haven’t had the chance to fly them but I will add them to my list.  But one thing about Eva Air stands out – they have a Hello Kitty service on their first class and business flights.  Seriously!
EVA_Air_Hello_Kitty03
Here’s more proof!
EVA_Air_Hello_Kitty06
Blanket and pillow in first class – how cute is that?
I was surprised not to see Emirates on the list.  I have flown with them in business class and found the service and comfort excellent.  That’s why I am so surprised – after all the advertising about their amazing first class suites and Jennifer Aniston lounging around the bar – just saying!
But I do wonder how long Lufthansa will stay in this league with the strike now dragging on a few more days.  I am sure they will lose some supporters.  This is the 14th walk-out since 2014.  Apparently (as at the time of writing this) the pilots have rejected the offer but have promised not to extend the strike.  We will see.  We will see.

Would you pay for your carry-on?

So before you answer that let’s take a step back.  At the moment many of the airlines are charging for checked baggage.  So if you are travelling on a budget then what you do is you bring your maximum carry on which is one personal item and one carry on.  Now as you know this has been the subject of previous blogs (well maybe you don’t know if you haven’t been following) of how HUGE (couldn’t resist that one) the bags are that people try to cram into the overhead bin.

Gary Leff (industry expert) reported on the new United baggage policy and how Basic Economy will work  in full – here is an extract –

“United is going to push customers with Basic Economy tickets into boarding group 5. Gate agents are being trained that boarding group 5 does not get a full size carry-on bag. They are limited to a personal item only. And agents will have mobile payment systems so they can process any full size carry-on bags as checked bags. (There will be a ‘handling fee’ – amount not yet announced – for Basic Economy customers who get their bags checked at the gate on top of the normal checked bag fee.)”  Read the full article here

This is the description of a “personal item” from the United Airlines website –

Personal item

The maximum dimensions for your personal item, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm).

So how many passengers will try to push the envelope (or the backpack) to get a bigger personal item?

It is not clear to me whether you would be allowed to put your one personal item in the overhead bin.  I would think that the instruction would be that they must be placed under the seat in front of you.  It also seems that there will be agents checking when you board the flight to ensure that your personal item does not exceed the recommended limits.  Boy – is that going to cause some delays or what.  Can you imagine irate customers who don’t know – or claim they don’t know – about this new rule.

On the one hand I get it – as a frequent flier who travels light (just one small backpack which I put under the seat in front) it is irritating (sometimes amusing) to see what people will try to cram into the overhead bin.  The other not-so-amusing part is getting off the flight when these heavy carry on bags are being pulled out of the overhead bins left right and centre with everyone pushing to get off.  You can get a little riled at that I guess. Some people certainly do.

So back to United’s Basic Economy ticket.  More details are going to be released but it seems that buying one of these tickets will be taking away many of the things you might be used to – such as (from Mr Leff’s article)

  • No seat assignments prior to check-in, and no changes to the seat you’re given
  • No ticket changes at all (instead of a $200 change fee, you’d simply forfeit the entire value of a ticket and have to buy a new one)
  • No elite status credit (no qualifying dollars, segments, or miles) although you’ll still earn redeemable miles on these fares.
  • Bring a personal item onboard only, no carry-on bags (this is waived for elites including Star Alliance Gold members and for co-brand credit card holders)
  • No elite upgrades
  • No economy plus seating for elites (and no buy up to economy plus for anyone). Elites will effectively has to start paying for economy plus, on routes where Basic Economy fares are being offered, in the form of a higher fare.

Well none of this matters if you can fly Emirates First class – see keep buying those lottery tickets and when you win – give me a call!