This makes me sad…and mad!

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 11.56.46 AMPlease excuse me if I get up on my soapbox. And yes, this is about travel…you (and others) traveling here. Our city (Seattle) is not doing very well. The article above is a prime example. Not sure if you heard about this on your hometown news but in the last three days there have been three shootings in downtown Seattle. Two of them within a block of each other. This wasn’t in a “bad” part of Seattle, it was right at what many of us consider the center of Seattle. A block from Westlake Park and Westlake Center. That’s the heart of our downtown.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle. One of my many other websites is called “My Seattle.” I created the site about 10 years ago because so many of our cruising friends come here to sail to Alaska and they were always asking me for recommendations. Sadly, my recommendation to them now is…don’t come. You don’t know how much that makes me sad to write. Or come here but stay out of downtown.

I have a PDF flyer I put together for clients and friends about all the reasons I think that when you take an Alaskan cruise, you should sail out of Vancouver. There are lots of reasons I say this; sailing the Canadian Inside Passage, not losing a day due to your “by law” stop in  Victoria and others. Now I have to add this to that flyer: It isn’t safe to stay or tour downtown Seattle. Sorry, it just isn’t.

Its not just these shootings. We have a homeless problem here. It’s bad. (Want to know how bad? Watch this special done by KOMO, one of our local TV stations.) Please don’t get me wrong, I believe that people who are homeless should have opportunities to find a permanent place to live. I believe those people who want help are getting help. But we also have a population of homeless that does not fit that description. They are homeless by choice. Maybe it’s addiction, maybe it’s mental illness but they don’t want to live in a way that conforms to the rest of society. But it’s not just that they are homeless. They are aggressive in their panhandling and demeanor to the point that King County (where Seattle is) had to close two of the main doors into the county courthouse because of the confrontations happening outside those doors every day.

The original historical area of Seattle is Pioneer Square. That’s where we started. If you have been here you may have taken the Underground Seattle Tour, or walked from downtown to a Mariner or Seahawks game, then you were in the Pioneer Square area. The panhandling and confrontations are the worst down there and it’s been a few years since I have felt comfortable going to that part of town except at midday.

But that problem has rapidly moved north into downtown. Walking from downtown to our biggest tourist attraction, Pike Place Market is not something I would do today. You see to get from most of the downtown hotels to the Market, you would probably walk through the intersection where last night seven people were wounded and one died in what was probably (they haven’t officially said yet) a gang shooting. This wasn’t even late at night. It was at the height of rush hour. I would love to say it doesn’t happen that often but as I mentioned, there have been three shootings in the last three days within blocks of each other and more in the last few weeks not to mention knifings and other attacks.

Even if no one is shooting, it can be scary. Kathleen and I have been walking to restaurants or the theater and had vagrants yell and scream at us. Some want money, others are mad at the world. Most that scream at you are mentally ill and there have been so many attacks, you just don’t know what is going to happen. Sadly we have season tickets to a theater that is right in the middle of it. The season start in March and the only reason we are keeping the tickets is that we can park in the theater’s underground parking and not leave the building.

I am not going to go into why I think this is happening. That has been debated over and over again for the last few years. Watch the special on KOMO that I linked and you will get some idea. But I do have a solution. It’s what New York City did to clean up Manhattan about 20 years ago. Travelers didn’t want to go downtown in NYC and the city decided that had to change. Now, I have no problem walking the sidewalks there. I have a lot more problem walking the sidewalks in most of downtown Seattle. What’s the difference? Cops! And lots of them. If you have been in downtown Manhattan in the last few years you may have noticed that almost anyplace you are on a sidewalk, you can stop and look around and probably see at least two police officers. Sometimes more. Seattle needs to do that. NOW! Hire more officers and put two at every intersection in the downtown core. It’s not going to take that many. Downtown isn’t that big. At least the areas that currently need policing. The city says it has been doing “emphasis patrols.” Moving cops driving around. This (IMHO) is not what we need. We need street cops, who can enforce the law with the backing of the city, on foot, at every intersection.

In the meantime, my best advice if you come here is: Stay out of downtown. Especially anywhere in Pioneer Square or in the Pike/Pine corridor from 6th Avenue to Western. Unfortunately if you are sailing out of Seattle on Norwegian Cruise Lines, your ship docks just below that area and if you come here you will want to explore. But if you do, be VERY careful. Please. We now avoid this area like the plague.

What we all want is public safety. We don’t want rhetoric that’s framed through ideology. —Kamala Harris

How we plan our travel

Travelling concept.Two men choosing place of vacation, exploring compromise on map, taking notes in notebookLately I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming trips. We are currently snowed in so that gives me time to catch up on a lot of things. Since I have been doing this I thought I would give you a little insight into how I plan travel.

First we decide where we want to go. Often this is spur of the moment. In the case of booking our next trip, our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we decided to do this trip almost three years ago when we were onboard Celebrity Solstice sailing to Alaska with our Martini Mates. We booked it because we wanted to go to New Orleans (one of the few US cities on our list that we haven’t been to yet) and going during Mardi Gras is a big bonus. So we started planning this that long ago.

When we first book a cruise or decide we are going to go someplace, I make a list of everything I need to do for that trip. I will usually do this in my packing program (Packing Pro)  that has a place for tasks as well as packing lists. This includes booking the cruise and flights to get there. Then I get on my Mac and go the King County Library website and search for all the travel guides they have about that place. I place them on hold and they ship them to my local library.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 4.20.52 PMWhen I tell people I do this, they ask why don’t I just buy the books in paperback or Kindle editions? Because nothing gets out of date like a travel book. That’s why people like Rick Steves and Fodors, Blue Planet, Top Ten and Frommers do a new/update about most places every year. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies all open and close so why should I spend money to buy them when our library does a great job of keeping up. I have about six books on the Galapagos, Portugal, Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the house right now and all of them are 2018 and 2019 editions. If I like one a bunch and want to refer to it again and again, then I will buy it. Usually the Kindle edition because then I can have it on my phone when we are traveling.

About this time is when I do my preliminary research. I am looking for the best part of town to book pre and post cruise hotels (or in the case of a land trip, just hotels) as well as trying to find out if we want to rent a car or rely on public transportation and if we need restaurant reservations to get into the places we would love. I will usually get books from the aforementioned Rick Steves (great for restaurants and tours but he and I never agree about hotels), Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Top Ten and Eyewitness.

I won’t read every page in the books but I will peruse all of them to see what they mention as top destinations, lodging and restaurants. If a few mention the same places as being great, they usually are. At that point if I am going to do hotels, I then check with friends who I know have traveled to that place. My first stop is ALWAYS the website of our good friend Mike Preisman. Mike not only picks great places, he does a great job of giving you his opinion of them and has really great photos of them as well. I know from experience if Mike liked a hotel, I am going to like it and it will be a good value. And I can be sure his photos will show me what a hotel room really looks like.

After checking with friends, it’s time to book hotels or, in some places, AirBnBs. Before I do that, I will have looked at every actual hotel website as well. Then I have my travel agent do the booking 😜 (that would be me).

11 months before we travel (especially true for international travel) I start looking for airfare. We have been very lucky in that up to this point when we travel internationally we have been able to use miles/points to buy all our tickets since our first two trips. Getting those can be a challenge because there is less and less availability than there used to be. More people with more miles competing for the same seats. That means I start as early as I can. We are going to Europe for a river cruise in December and the hunt for air will start in early February. In case you don’t know this, 11 months is usually the earliest you can book a flight.

Another thing we have to decide before we book a flight is where do we want to go before we go where we want to go. I really did mean to type that. Many times we are taking a cruise but we may want to go someplace else first. For instance, last summer we were taking a cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. But it was just an 11 day cruise and Europe is way too far to go and use our valuable miles to just take an 11 or 12 day vacation. Plus since we are semi-retired we can spend more time away from home. So as we planned this trip, we decided that instead of flying directly to Dublin, we would fly to Edinburgh, spend four days and then a train to York and six days with our Leeds buddies before we flew to Dublin for the cruise. We have to decide all that before we book air. Lots of research.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 3.58.18 PMOnce the cruise is booked (if this trip involves a cruise) and the airfare purchased and hotels reserved, I start with the sites we want to see. We do a lot of research on those as well using notes I made from the books (Kathleen and I share notes on our Apple devices about our trips), websites (especially Mike’s)  and other recommendations on what to see. Then I create a Google map. I have done one for every major trip we have taken. I put our lodging on the map first and then all the places we want to see while there. I use a different layer for every city on the same trip. So for instance on our Mardi Gras trip we are going to Sarasota and Boynton Beach pre-cruise and then New Orleans, Costa Maya and Cozumel. So each of those places has its own layer with all the places we want to see. To get an idea of this, you can click here to see this one.

Once we have seen where everything is, we start planning our day…or I do. Kathleen seems to like where I decide to go and she does contribute places she wants to see if I have missed them.

IMG_2284All the way through this process I have been adding these to my TripCase app on my phone. You can find the one by clicking here. It keeps track of everything I book. Some of it automatically. For instance, when I buy my air, I just send the confirmation e-mail to TripCase and the schedule is automatically added. It places everything in one place for that trip and,  when we are traveling, everything is in once place and as long as I have synched it while we have internet access, I don’t need to have access again to get to all my info. One of my favorite Canadian readers told me about it and I can’t thank her enough. It has been awesome.

All this time, if we are going on a cruise, we are posting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise trading info and getting suggestions about things to see and do and having people ask if we want to share tours and day trips.

At this point, we are just about ready to go. The only other thing I sometimes do (if we will be doing any driving) is stop by AAA and grab some actual paper maps (yes, I still use those—it gives me a better overview) of where we will be driving as well as put all the places we want to drive through into our Garmin GPS (yes, I still have one of those because I like it better than my phone).

I welcome your comments or questions on this process. I should add that we have lots of friends and relatives who travel with us who rely on us to plan the trips and we are happy to do so. The fact that I love doing this is one of the reasons I love being a travel agent. And I love planning travel for anyone and everyone.

My father’s plan was, we were going to grow up and travel the world.
—Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Connections Anxiety

Word anxiety composed of anxious worried stressed faces of men and womenThis happened today on our Cruise Critic Roll Call for our February Celebrity Reflection cruise to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It was a question from one of our fellow cruisers about what happens if…

This was our fellow cruisers original question:

“I’m sure some of very well cruised folks here can help with a couple of questions. We fly in the day before the cruise from London and I can’t help but worry that we might have a delayed flight. If we missed the ship (heaven forbid) would Celebrity help us with a flight to New Orleans if we are not booked cruise air?  I don’t mean financially, just practically. The other query is on lost luggage.

Last time we flew into Miami we arrived, bags didn’t. Fortunately we were not cruising and the bags were delivered a few days later to our hotel. So, if history repeats itself and we sail off into the sunset and our bags are still flying the Atlantic, will it be Celebrity or British Air (BA) who have to get the bags to the ship. Ok, so I’m being a drama queen but I do like a plan B in place.”

I was on this like jam on bread. This is my kind of thing. Helping people who travel. So I thought I would share this with everyone even though I know that some of my readers who are on the cruise with us (you know who you are) have already read it. Below is my response. If you cruise or fly and are worried about this kind of thing, pay heed.

My response

Since you didn’t book air with Celebrity (cruisers call Celebrity X—it’s on the side of their ships and dates back to their Greek heritage), you are going to be on your own getting to New Orleans. X won’t book your flight, or assist with transfers. But if you do contact them if you are late, they will assist you with where to go in New Orleans to board the ship and how to do it. As to your bags, if they don’t arrive in time, it is BA’s responsibility to get them to you in New Orleans, not Celebrity’s.

You already did the smart thing by coming in a day early. That said, I do understand about the luggage as BA probably has few flights to MIA so it won’t show up until the next day unlike if you were flying from NYC or Chicago where the airline might have a flight to Miami or FLL every few hours. The best thing you can do to avoid lost luggage is to get to the airport EARLY! Otherwise there is very little you can do other than go carry-on only which I have NEVER understood how anyone can do, especially on a cruise. (One extra pair of shoes for me takes up almost an entire carry-on. 😂 ) One suggestion would be to pack three days of clothing in your carry-ons so if your luggage is delayed, you have some clothing. Also, if you are each bringing one checked bag, don’t forget to cross pack so that if one bag is delayed you both have something to wear. And of course, NEVER pack anything you HAVE-TO-HAVE (prescriptions, etc) in your checked bag.

We will keep our fingers crossed for you. Hope this helps.

The REST of the story

I should add that later they (and others) responded (we had quite the discussion) and it turns out the couple who asked the original question can’t affect their bags by getting to the airport earlier as they are flying into Heathrow (LHR) from a regional airport. It also came to light that they only have one hour and thirty-five minutes to change planes.

If you have ever been to Heathrow you know that is VERY problematic. I won’t change planes at LHR with less than three full hours. If you have never flown through LHR (we have a bunch of times) there are five terminals and domestic and intra-Europe flights usually come in at Terminals 1 through 4 while international flights leave out of Terminal 5. Transiting from one terminal to the other means going out of security, riding a bus and then going back through security. When we flew from Seattle to Edinburgh last May, it took us almost 90 minutes to go from our Terminal 5 arrival gate to our Terminal 3 departure gate for our flight from LHR to Edinburgh. And that was a very smooth transition at a pretty good time of day.

Of course all this comes back around to why you need a good travel agent. A good, well-traveled agent knows these kinds of things. Especially if you are a new traveler or someone who doesn’t travel that much. Plus, this applies to any travel, not just those of us who cruise.

I hate flying, airports and the whole rigmarole – queuing up, security and lost luggage.—Johnny Vegas