Traveling the world together and helping others to travel too!
Author: Jim Bellomo
Welcome to JKTraveRedmond.com. We (my bride Kathleen, the K in JKTravel and I) have been actively traveling and cruising since we got together in 1998. As of the beginnng of 2022 we have visited 41 countries, 30 US states, six Canadian provinces and 22 world capitals. In 2019 we were on the road for more than three months. We love sharing our travel expertise and experiences with others.
I hate that I haven’t finished the story of our cruise. I just wanted you to know that I will finish it as soon as possible. We are still in the midst of our move, Kathleen’s broken arm needs surgery and by the end of the day, when I usually write, I am beyond tired. Saturday morning is my no-workout, so I have a few minutes to leave this note.
I still have a lot to say about the cruise…A LOT. I promise to come back and say it. I have been writing notes; I just need to put them all together.
I kept a diary right after I was born. Day 1: Tired from the move. Day 2: Everyone thinks I’m an idiot. —Steven Wright
First, Kathleen is doing better. The arm doesn’t hurt as much as it is a giant plaster albatross attached to her arm. We are in Seattle as I write this with two more days to go on the cruise. On Friday we disembark in Vancouver and drive home. Our plan for today is to take a Lyft to Bellevue to sign our escrow papers.
As promised, here’s our report on Catalina. We had booked a tour with Catalina Tours called Bison Expeditions. There are approximately 150 wild bison on Catalina Island if you didn’t know. They were brought over years ago when Hollywood used the island to film many Westerns. They were left behind, and the herd grew. They thinned the pack a few years back and now have 150. But, like a whale watching tour, you aren’t given a 100% guarantee that you will see any bison…and we didn’t. But that was OK because our original intent was just to see the island’s interior and that we got to do in spades.
We got lucky when our jeep (see photo at right) pulled up, and our guide Halvorsen introduced himself. He turned out to be the highlight of the trip. And the tour turned into much more than we had expected. It became a combination of a wild ride (that would match anything at any Disney park), a historical lesson about Catalina, a nature talk about the flora and fauna and a floor show full of impressions of presidents. All that for a very low price; we would recommend this company very highly.
I did take some photos I liked, so they are in the gallery below. Remember, if you click on the first one, it becomes a slide show that you can scroll through.
I just loved these rental boats all lined up in the harbor.
Our fearless guide, Halvorsen. He rocked!
The cacti were blooming on the island.
This dance troop was practicing for Cinco de Mayo on the boardwalk.
Our ship at anchor just off the harbor.
The Avalon Casino (that is not really a casino but does have a HUGE dance floor.
26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be. —1960’s Los Angeles television advertising jingle used to attract folks to Catalina Island.
So if you follow my posts, you know I just did one about our day in Santa Barbara, and I promised the next one would be about Catalina Island. We had a great time, but I need to update you on something that happened yesterday in San Francisco that will change what I can write about and take photos of.
We were on a food tour in the North Beach/Little Italy section of San Francisco. I will report on it later because it was superb until about three-quarters of the way through. That’s when my wonderful bride Kathleen caught her foot on a metal piece in the old sidewalk, took a fall and wound up with a broken arm. After six+ hours in the hospital ER, we made it back to the ship around 10:00 pm. Not the most fun day of vacation we have ever had. But we are very happy it happened on a day when the ship was staying in port overnight, or we would have been in a hotel last night and flying home to Seattle today.
We will tough it out until at least Wednesday when we get to Seattle. If she is in a lot of pain or wants to get off, we will take an Uber/Lyft home.
I just wanted to keep you updated. Today, we planned to head to Sausalito on the ferry, but that isn’t going to happen. She is just not up for it. And I have been having painful problems with my back and legs, so it isn’t all her. We are just two old people getting older.
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. —Mark Twain
This has been a really fun cruise when we aren’t on board the ship. So let’s be positive to start with and tell you all about the great food tour we took in Santa Barbara.
We had booked all but one of our shore excursions with private companies. And strangely enough, we are doing Food Tours in four of the seven stops. Santa Barbara was the first where I found a fabulous food tour company called Eat This/Shoot That. The idea wasn’t that you had to kill your own dinner but that you would shoot pics and post them to Instagram or Facebook of all the amazing food you were eating on their tour. Of course, you were supposed to eat them after you shot them and in two cases I completely forgot to shoot first and by the time I remembered, there were just the remains.
I found this tour company in an online search. (When in doubt, Google) and they normally did not due tours on weekdays except in the summer. But I persuaded the manager (Kayla–who was awesome) to do a tour if I could find enough people off our Cruise Critic Roll Call. Since they only take eight people on their tours, I thought that would be easy and it was. In fact, so many people were interested they ended up booking another tour after hours off the ship as well.
Santa Barbara is a tender port and that means waiting for the tender (in this case a little more than an hour) and then a 15-minute lifeboat/tender ride in and then we walked to where we were meeting the tour.
Our tour guides Christine and Bella were fantastic. I could list all the restaurants for you but I think I will just caption the photos. So see the great food we got below.
Suffice it to say, I would do that food tour again in a second. My brother and his wife were so impressed with one of the places, they are already making plans to drive up to Santa Barbara. The other places were equally as good. Here’s the list of places we went. You can see their pics below (don’t forget that you can click on the first one and it will open and then use your arrow keys or swipe to see the rest):
SB Bier Garten
The Valley Project
Figueroa Mountain Brewery
Cutler’s Artisan Distillery
McConnell’s Ice Cream
Our first stop was at Santo Mezcal where we sampled two ceviches and some incredible charred serrano salsa
The halibut ceviche with mangos seemed to be the biggest hit.
The octopus ceviche was fine but the octopus was sliced a little too thin. The veggies were excellent.
On to the SB Bier Garten where we feasted on pork schnitzel poutine. A little heavy but very tasty. We also got to sample some excellent beer.
Our guide Christine showed up a beautiful mural depicting Santa Barbara’s history in a modern motif.
Next up was The Valley Project, home to Kunin wines. Their manager told us all about the Santa Barbara wine country
The Kunin wines were delicious.
They had an amazing mural on the wall of the entire Santa Barbara wine region.
Next was Mony’s Taqueria where we tried out some chicken street tacos.
They were so good I forgot to shoot the picture until this was all that was left.
I actually missed taking pics of two other establishments, The Lucky Penny where we had pizza and Figueroa Mountain Brewery where we sampled beer. Got a phone call about our mortgage and lost track of it.
Next to last was Cutler’s Artisan Distillery where we sampled a number of liquors
Finally McConnell’s Ice Cream which has been a Santa Barbara instituion for many years.
Back on the ship, sad things continued…
First, I need to do a bit of a retraction. In my post on Wednesday, I mentioned that I thought that Celebrity had created a third (basic) level of the internet that they were giving away for free. After some discussion with one of their tech support people it turns out that is wrong. They have always had two internet offers: Surf and Stream. Surf got you e-mail, websites, texting, etc. Stream got you just that. You could stream movies, do FaceTime, etc. The tech support guy tells me that they just renamed Surf to Basic and Stream is now called something else but darned if I can remember what. Either way, they still have the same programs they had before.
So having been on my other Celebrity cruises with the “Surf” internet package, I can remember that it was NEVER this slow. His answer to me was that Celebrity began giving away their FREE basic package to everyone but what they did not do was increase their bandwidth. So now we have almost 1500 people with internet on all day long. And if someone opens a web page on their device that has ads (let’s say) and they leave it on that page and walk away (like in their stateroom) then that continues to take up bandwidth as ads are refreshed on that page.
So the real story here is not that they created a newer, slower level of the internet but that they gave everyone internet and didn’t increase what they were giving away. Not only that, when I told the tech support guy that I couldn’t do Docusign documents (because the connection would time out) he suggested I upgrade to Stream (or whatever they are calling it now—the fastest one). So I did. Here’s what I got:
If you look back at my last post you will see that my speed with the basic program was .04 for downloading a page and .02 for uploading (like I do with this blog). For comparison, today we are in San Francisco and I am using my T-Mobile iPhone as a personal hotspot and here is what I am getting right now:
Seriously, my cell phone brings down data at more than 30 Mbps and the best Celebrity can do with their top internet offer is 1.05? We know of a lot of people on board who are flying back to the USA from Vancouver. Many of them purchased an e-Med kit because there is a required COVID test before you can reenter the USA. Those are monitored tests that are performed in a video chat online. These people are expecting to use Celebrity WiFi to do that test. GOOD LUCK! Thank goodness we are driving home.
Let’s talk food. We are eating breakfasts and dinners in one of their restaurants called Blu. It is for people (like us) in Aqua class staterooms. We eat breakfast and dinner there pretty much every day. And while the food has been fine and the service excellent, we are supposed to be on what is called anytime dining. Yet when we got on the ship we were told that could we please plan on coming to Blu between 5:30 and 6:00. Others were asked to come after 7:00. So without knowing in advance, we were back in early/late seating.
The food in the other venues we have eaten in is just sad. Especially the buffet. Cold pizza, sad salads with strange dressings (the Italian dressing is bright orange???). One sad thing is that Thursday was Cinco de Mayo. Now, I know it’s not a real holiday in Mexico but I would have expected something in the buffet for lunch. There were: chips with cheese on them. And some fajitas. But don’t ask for salsa—they don’t have any. It was just sad.
And I have been a little under the weather so I skipped Blu on Thursday and went up to the buffet to get a salad and a couple of pieces of pizza. Again, salad was weird and the pizza was cold. And I was hoping one of the servers would come around and asked if I wanted a cocktail or a beer or some wine. But no, I was there for 40 minutes or so and not one person approached me. Before everyone had a drinks package you had to swat those people away like flies. You were constantly being asked if you wanted a drink. Now since everyone has “free” drinks, no one asks anymore. This was truly aggravating when I could see about six or seven of the staff standing in a corner talking. As I told someone yesterday afternoon, “This is not the Celebrity I remember.”
Lastly, some of my readers will remember the good old T-Pool. For those who don’t know, this is an indoor pool on the Millennium-class ships that is in the shape of a cross. It is not for swimming. It has two big benches you sit on and jets push water up from underneath them. It is total relaxation and we have always loved using these pools.
Well, no longer. No more bubbles and the water was hotter than hell. Hotter than the two hot tubs that sit alongside it. The temps used to be just above body temp so it was really wonderful to spend some time relaxing in the pool. Now that is not the case. Most people we saw could not stand the heat and, like us, were out in about 5 minutes. They also have big faucets that pour water down into the pool that our buddy Bob (hi Bob) used to love to stand under. I think if he did that today, he would be boiled in minutes. We asked a pool attendant about it and were told that he had no clue there were jets under the benches or that the pool could be at a different temperature. Again, it’s just sad.
The next day on the cruise we had a stop on Catalina Island and I will do my best to get that up soon.
There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
–George Bernard Shaw
Well, we are onboard Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium and it is just as sad as I was afraid it would be. And I am just as mad as I was afraid I would be. Let me explain.
We have been sailing on Celebrity since 2004 when we did our first Panama Canal crossing. This will be (I would have to check to be sure) our 22nd Celebrity Cruise. And on any of their ships other than Flora in Galapagos, we are done with them. And today’s first few hours on the ship explain exactly why we are done with them.
Example #1–I can’t see forward
About 10 minutes ago (it’s 3:25 on May 3) I left our stateroom to go up on deck and take some photos of the San Diego skyline. Having been on this particular class of ship before (like 11 times) I knew (or at least I thought I knew) where everything is. But this ship is one of four in her class and she has been “Edgesized,” That means that they took the ship into dry dock and made a bunch of changes. Many people have raved about those changes. Having sailed on her sister ships and now having been aboard for a whole 5 hours, I can say that while the surface stuff is nice (better linens, better beds, etc.) the big stuff sucks.
I went up to the top deck to take photos. On this class of ships I have taken photos from the top deck of so many places. Our Panama Canal crossings (twice), Vancouver, BC, Alaskan glaciers and so much more. But now when I tried going to the front of the ship to take in the San Diego skyline, no luck. Every deck forward of a certain point at the front of the ship says, “Stop, Retreat Guests Only.” Which basically means rich people only. And the other place that we photo nuts knew about was in front of the gym. You could walk out on a large deck from the front side of the gym. Well, that is gone now as well. They closed it in to add more exercise machines. To me, that’s just saying to anyone besides the suite guests, “Ha Ha Ha, you should have bought a suite.”
I have no problem with anyone spending their money to get a suite or a larger stateroom. We ourselves like to sail in X’s Aqua class which gets us dinner in a different dining room with s0-called healthier food and a little nicer ambiance. And there are a lot of others things I don’t mind them doing to give those who spend more a little more. But when they cut off everyone but those rich folks from any place that they can go to the front of the ship to see the view or take a photo, they have gone too damn far.
Example #2–Don’t give me CRAP for “free”
One of the new “innovations” on Celebrity is the Always Included program. Now some things you would normally pay extra for are…Always Included. Things like a Classic Beverage package, included gratuities and free WiFi. Well, Celebrity—why bother giving me free WiFi when it is so horrid that I either can’t use it or if I really need to be able to get online, I will be forced to go and buy your faster package. The illustration shows what I got when I launched a speed test website today. Our download speed is 0.4 MPS (megabytes per second). At home, we get almost 250 MPS. So this isn’t just 4 MPS or .4 MPS, It’s .04 MPS. That means for a single web page to download and just show what’s on it it can often take more than 15 minutes just to bring my e-mails down. And there are fairly simple web pages that won’t download anything other than text. They call this “Basic” internet service and it’s what you get for free.
I am going to guess what you are thinking, “Hey Jim, it’s free. What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that in the past you could buy these items for (most of the time) less than what they increased the cruise fare by, to pay for them. And when you did buy them, you got a lot faster internet speeds than this. It’s just sad. And yes, I could go and upgrade my web speed and I have no problem doing that but don’t tell me I get internet service and then make it so bad that if I need to use it, it is worthless. Lastly, some of you are going to ask why I need internet on this trip—we are on vacation. Yes, we are, but we are also closing an escrow on a bridge loan to buy a new house when we get back and that means we need to be able to Docusign a bunch of stuff and doing it with this slow speed is a pain in the proverbial donkey. I also need to be able to get e-mail from my travel clients. Just this afternoon I had to cancel a cruise for two clients who came down with COVID.
Example #3–I am not a fan of beige.
Some cruise ships are downright gaudy. Circus-like almost. Celebrity never looked like that. They were nice, muted colors. Shades of blues, golds and other subtle colors. Well when they redid Millennium to “Edgeisize” her they just decided that they wanted the opposite of gaudy, they wanted blah.
I am sitting in a stateroom typing this where every single surface and linen are some shade of beige. The ship’s interior furnishings with a few notable exceptions were converted to beige. This is now the most blah ship I have ever been on and if they are going to do this to all the Celebrity ships, I am glad we won’t be back on any of their standard ships (we still plan on going to the Galapagos one more time on the amazing Flora).
OK, enough griping. Let me check in tomorrow about our day in Santa Barbara today.
I bet you thought I died…or worse. But we are still here. And tomorrow, we leave on a two-week vacation that will find me posting a whole bunch. First, we are headed to Southern California to spend the night with my brother and his family in San Juan Capistrano. Then Tuesday, we head further south to San Diego, where we board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium for a cruise back up the coast to Vancouver, BC.
On the way, we have stops in Santa Barbara, on Catalina Island, two days in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon, Seattle, Victoria and finally Vancouver. And of course, I will be writing all about it and posting photos, so watch for my daily posts. I am happy this cruise has a couple of sea days, so I will do some posting and photo processing on those days. Hope you enjoy coming along.
But the real reason I haven’t posted in more than a month is that we are moving. And so we have been doing all the things you do to get your house ready to sell and dealing with all the fun of buying a new one. So I hope you will excuse my absence, but now it’s time to travel again. See you soon.
Editor’s note: After I mistakenly pushed Publish on my last post before I had added photos, I am going to no longer have the entire post go out in an e-mail. You will get the headline and the first paragraph followed by a link to click to see the entire post online. Thanks for looking at it that way.
Winding up our discussion of flying classes/categories, let’s finish with the Premium Economy, international Economy and Economy. But first, let’s talk about domestic economy class because we all know that hell hole that we have all flown a lot of the time. We still fly it when we travel along the West Coast but we do our best to make the situation better with plane and airport choices. Here are some of the things we recommend for those flying domestic economy.
If you fly domestic economy and want to have as good an experience as possible here are some things we do to make it better.
Choose a better airplane if you can. When we book a flight I will often look (if multiple flights are going to that city) for a particular airplane to fly on. We have grown to love flying on Embraer jets. If you have never flown one, they are smaller planes (not too small—you can still stand up in them) and if you pick the correct economy row (the first one behind First Class) you have more legroom than those in FC. Also, the seat configuration is 2-2 so there is no chance you will ever get a middle seat. One drawback to these planes is that you can’t take a standard carry-on onboard the plane. There is just no room in the overhead compartments so I usually gate-check my carry-on bag.
Choose a better airport if you can. We have been blessed for the last few years that Alaska Air has started flying to most destinations on the West Coast from Paine Field in Everett (PAE). For us, it is about the same distance from our house to Everett as it is to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA). PAE is much smaller (like about 5% the size of SEA) and the smaller the airport, the smaller the planes (Alaska only flies Embraer jets out of Everett). Small airports also mean that you don’t wait in security, boarding, or food lines at concessions for as long. The airport is one of the most stressful parts of flying and small airports make it better. When we fly from SEA, from the time we walk into the airport until we check our luggage, get through security, and take about 30-45 minutes to our gate. At PAE we can do all that in less than five minutes.
Choose the right seat. NEVER fly in a middle seat. Even when flying together in a jet with 3-3 seats we sit across the aisle from each other. I have never been a fan of window seats. I hate being closed in and having to get across two people to use the restroom. And the older I get the more that happens 😜. On a wide-body jet, you have another choice to make but that depends on the seating configuration. If you have never been there, allow me to introduce you to Seat Guru. You don’t need to check it for every flight but you do need to go there before you fly on a wide-body jet. That will show you the configuration of the seats. For instance, in this seating chart from a British Air 777, you can see that the top section (that starts with the green seats) is Premium Economy with 2-3-2 seating. The bottom section (they call it World Traveler) is their economy and it is 3-3-3. The best seats on this plane (outside of Business class) are the green bulkhead seats on either side of the plane. The 2 seats in the 2-3-2 configuration.
Another Seat Guru note is that as you can see, some seats are red, some green and some yellow. When you’re on the Seat Guru website and mouse over those, you get a pop-up that tells you that the reds are seats to stay away from and why the yellows are cautionary. The greens are considered very good for some reason. When you mouse over them, it tells you why or why not you should pick them. I do this with every flight we take unless I know the airplane well. All you will need to look up your plane is your airline, date of flight and flight number.
Choose your seats as early as you can. People who wind up in middle seats usually buy their tickets at the last minute. I can tell you that the last time I flew in a middle seat was when my Dad was sick and I bought a ticket using miles to get down to help my brother deal with a bad situation.
The differences between international and domestic economy
When you fly international for the first time you will find that it is decidedly not like flying economy domestically. To start there is about a 90% chance you will get a meal. Especially on foreign carriers. And on the foreign carriers, it will be a warm meal. You also have some kind of entertainment system. There may be some other little perks you can get but this will vary by airline. Some include seat assignments for free, some include one checked bag. Pay attention when booking. Watch for anything that says, “info” and click it. The more you know about your flight the better. I am going to do another post (I just decided this one is too long) on how I book our airfare.
What do you get with Premium Economy and is it worth it?
When you decide to pay the additional $$$ and move up to Premium Economy (PE) you get a few nice extras. One is the seat. Your PE seat will look much like the ones you walk by in First Class of a domestic flight. A little wider and a little more legroom. Unlike most domestic First Class, the seat may recline a little further and you may have a leg rest that pops out when you do. Kind of like your La-Z-Boy recliner at home. So it should be easier to fall asleep.
If you are flying with a partner or a spouse, do your best to get one of those two seats on the side of the plane in a 2-3-2 configuration that I mentioned above. That way if you have the window seat, the only person you need to bother when you need a restroom break is your partner.
Flying in PE may also get you expedited check-in, earlier boarding, a better meal, a free checked bag or an amenity kit. The area of the cabin you are sitting in will be smaller than the economy section. Usually a LOT smaller. And there will be one or two dedicated flight attendants for this section so you should get better service. It should also make the flight a little quieter. Since PE costs more than Economy, many families with kids won’t be flying in that section which will further help you get some sleep on the flight.
Is it worth the extra dollars?
The price difference between economy and premium economy will depend on the flight you are taking. For instance, here’s the price on our next flight to Europe, a non-stop going from Seattle to Amsterdam on Delta.
Business Class (Delta One) $2,680 per person
Premium Economy (Premium Select) $1842 per person
Economy (International Main Cabin) $1,135 per person
We are flying Business Class using a voucher we had from a canceled flight in December. If we were going to fly this flight and we weren’t going to be in Business, it would be worth it to us to pay the additional $707 to move up. Especially if I could snag one of those two seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. It would be worth it to me to get rid of the middle seat. Especially during COVID. I should add that some airlines (including Delta) now charge more for “Comfort Seats” with a little extra legroom. That might just be an exit row or a fully dedicated section. All of that will depend on the route and plane you will be flying. Again, check Seat Guru…and hope they don’t change your plane the day of the flight.
Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo. – Al Gore
Now let’s get back to our original question (in the previous post); is it worth it to spend the extra money to fly Business Class when going overseas?
The biggest difference between flying coach and Business Class (BC) is this: if you are the kind of person who can sleep on an airplane and you are in BC on a plane with lie-down seats then it is truly worth it. You can arrive awake and already on the way to beating jet lag because you have kept to your current sleep schedule.
We live in a perfect place for that. Most of the flights to Europe from Seattle leave in the late afternoon or early evening. That means we have the entire day to get ready to go, we head to the airport before rush hour, spend a couple of hours in the Business Class lounge and then as soon as we are in the air, they serve dinner, it gets dark and we watch a movie and go to sleep. The flight attendants wake us up six hours later, serve us breakfast and we land in London or Amsterdam around lunch. It’s almost perfect.
For us that works most of the time. The older we get the less it works. Unlike the seats on our First Class flight mentioned yesterday, even though most BC seats lay flat, they are thin. Not a lot of padding. The older we get, the more padding we need but we still appreciate all the amenities you get when flying BC. Some people base their vacations by how much they spend per day. Flying in coach (at least for us on an international flight) means we lose either a half or whole day recovering from our flight. Sometimes the jet lag can slow us down for a few more days. So for us, the extra $$$ we pay for business are worth it.
There are some caveats to flying Business Class. First, DO NOT BE FOOLED—all business class flights and seats are not alike. For instance, on most European and Asian carriers and many US carriers, international business class always has lie down seats. But some (like Icelandic Air) only have seats that are equivalent to US domestic first class seats. Those would be Premium Economy on an international flight with most airlines.
Also, when booking with points or miles, beware of “Mixed Class” itineraries. For instance if I fly from Seattle to Athens and it says mixed class on the flight. That probably means that I will be flying at least one leg of the flight in coach. Usually the longest and most expensive leg. This happens a lot when you are paying with points or miles. Be careful of this when you book the flight.
If you have been in Business before but have not flown it within Europe, business class on flights between European cities is not what you expect. We flew “Business Class” from SEA to Edinburgh on British Air. The SEA/LHR part of the flight was in real (lie down seats, better meals, upstairs on a 747) business class and the LHR/Edinburgh flight was was listed as business as well. But business class once inside Europe usually means that you have a coach seat with the middle seat blocked off. No extra leg room, no better seat, no amenities and maybe a little better food (if you get food at all). On our last trips to Europe we have avoided this situation by flying nonstop to a city in Europe, staying a couple of days and then flying coach to where we are actually going on a much shorter flight. This saves money as you are only paying Business class rates on a shorter flight.
When people are considering flying in Business for the first time I get a lot of questions. They want to know what you get for the extra $$$. Here’s what you get extra when you fly International Business Class on a “good” airline :
A business class lounge where you get free food, free drinks (including specialty coffees and alcoholic beverages). Some of the lounges in Europe have showers and sleeping pods. As one person on Facebook said, “The vacation starts when you hit the Business Class Lounge!” We agree.
A much better seat. Usually a lot more leg room, it will be wider, the seat will lie flat, it will have a really nice built-in entertainment system and room/storage to spread out.
Great food. Most of the time you will have a choice of menu items, wine, beer, cocktails and more. Almost always three separate courses. It’s the equivalent of a very nice restaurant. It’s served with real utensils, real plates, placemats and the works. And you have a tray table big enough to hold it off. On some flight there will be an open snack bar where you can grab crackers, nuts, yogurt, soft drinks whenever you want.
An amenities kit. Nothing incredible but you will have a toothbrush, tooth paste, a eye mask so you can sleep, ear plugs, comb, hand lotion and more. Sometimes you get slippers so you can walk to the bathroom in the middle of the flight.
Less people. Since Business classes are smaller that coach there will be dedicated restrooms for BC and that means you will not have to wait as long to use them and they will be cleaner when you do. In many cases there will be a galley between business and economy so it is almost impossible for those in Economy to come to the front of the plane. There will usually be two or three flight attendants for less than 30 Business class seats.
Early boarding and early disembarking. You will get on first and get off first, sometimes by a separate door than coach (depends on the plane).
A separate check in line when you first arrive at the airport. You wait in a much shorter line. On some foreign airlines you are greeted by name from time you check in until you get off. We have actually had check-in personnel see us approach, come around from behind the counter and take our luggage to be checked. In some airport there may also be a First and Business class security line. It is usually faster than even TSA Pre-check because there are a lot less people in it.
Expedited luggage. On many airlines, your luggage will be the first off the plane (it is specially tagged) and that means it will the first on the carousel.
One last thing about Business class I just want to warn you about one last thing. Once you have flown Business class you will NOT want to go back to coach/economy. For us that happened the first time we flew in Business internationally to Auckland, NZ. For us it means that the vacation starts when we get to the airport. We know people who hate to fly. Not because they are afraid to fly but because airports and airplanes are a hassle. Business class (First Class domestically) take a lot of that hassle away. Enjoy Business class at your peril 😜.
In my next post I will conclude this treatise (WOW! I’m writing a treatise!) on air class by looking at Premium Economy and Economy classes and comparing some typical pricing.
What’s important is that a customer should get off the airplane feeling, ‘I didn’t just get from A to B. I had one of the most pleasant experiences I ever had, and I’ll be back for that reason.
– Herb Kelleher, founder Southwest Airlines
Editor’s note: I started this post off as a quick and short note on Business Class but as I usually do, I wandered out to other stuff. So let’s do all the classes—First class to Economy over a couple of posts. Today, just a vanishing breed—actual First Class.
Recently I saw a question on a Facebook group that was asking if booking Business Class (BC) airfare to Europe from the USA was a good idea. It was quite a discussion with lots of differing opinions. Of course I chimed in on that discussion so I thought this would make a decent post. I know that some of you fly Business or First Class (FC), although many airlines are eliminating FC entirely.
Speaking of First Class, let’s discuss the difference between domestic and international FC. For instance, when we fly Alaska Airlines FC to the East Coast that’s a great example of domestic FC. The seats are like a La-Z-Boy recliner that doesn’t go all the way back or have a footrest. You do get better meals (pre-pandemic it was hot on almost all airlines—some switched to cold during the pandemic) as well as pre-boarding but that is about it. You might get access to a pre-boarding or layover lounge but maybe not—depends on the airline and the airport. That’s about it.
When you fly FC on an international carrier like British, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, etc. you get more…a lot more. You usually get a “suite.” For instance, when we flew First Class on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong a few years back we were sitting in seats that Kathleen was able to stretch out her arms in both direction and not touch another seat. If you scroll through the slide show you will also see the most luxurious First Class suites in the world—Emirate Airlines.
Seriously, that seat my wonderful bride is sitting in, is just one seat. And not only that, it lays down flat. And in FC they actually come and make up a bed after you have a very nice dinner and drinks. I mean the menu is excellent. Lots of choices. Some airlines even have a snack bar area where you can grab between meal snacks. High end wines and high end liquor. First class restrooms also are huge! On the plane Kathleen is on in that photo, they were so big they had their own window. But check out the bathroom on the Emirates plane. Seriously? They also give you toiletries and more in a little amenity kit. It is something special. And the Emirates suites just blow me away. Price to fly in that suite from Seattle to Dubai is only $21,000. Don’t think we will be flying those any time soon.
I should mention that we paid for that First Class we took completely with miles/points. And it cost a bunch of them. And I kept checking the price we would have had to pay for that flight. When we finally flew, those seats were selling for more than $12,000 each. We always save up those points by not flying FC within the USA. We will fly FC if we are going all the way to Florida. Pretty much anything more than six hours but then it’s just Alaska-style FC.
In the next post I will take a deep dive in Business Class, what we fly internationally.
When you fly, you should fly Business or First Class…or your kids will. —unknown poster on the Viking Cruises Facebook Group
We have just about covered everything I wanted to from our 10 night cruise on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam to the Southern Caribbean, so this will be my last post on this trip. Just want to sum it up and give you some final thoughts on the best and the worst parts of the cruise.
Before I get deeper into the overall review it is VERY important to note that this cruise was deeply affected by COVID. In all I think it came down to two things, one good and one bad, that affected us and everyone else on the ship.
First, COVID gave us the dreaded masks. We had never sailed fully masked before. Even though we took a cruise in July 2021, it was on a very small ship (Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos) where everyone on board was fully vaccinated and we would be getting off on only one inhabited island (where we did wear masks). So for that cruise, no one masked up onboard except the crew. I should also say it was pre-Omicron. Wearing a mask everywhere on the ship meant that we probably spent more time in our stateroom than we have ever done before simply because we could be there without our masks on.
The good part of COVID was that there were less than 925 guest on board a ship that has a full capacity of more than 3,500 passengers. That meant no waiting anywhere, from embarkation to shore excursions. You could find a seat in any show. And with almost 900 crew members on board (a full complement), service was amazing.
So many things to name. We pretty much loved it all but these are some of the stand outs. I lifted some of these directly from the evaluation I sent to Holland America (HAL).
Pre-cruise: HAL was VERY specific about exactly what we needed to do to board the ship whether it was about check in times (they mean it), COVID protocols (they mean those too) and COVID testing.
Embarkation: Being in a Neptune Suite we were given “Priority Check-in” which means that we got to arrive at noon, the earliest check in. In our case I dropped off the rest of our foursome (my bride and my brother and his bride) and I took the car back to the airport rental car center. Then I grabbed a taxi back to the port (total time from drop-off to return was less than 20 minutes) and we walked in the door. From there we saw a very nice lady to show her our vax card, negative COVID test and signed our health questionnaire. We were then given a tiny receipt and had to show that to get on the ship. Start to finish 20 minutes. Our room keys were on our door.
Stateroom availability: Our suite was available as soon as we were on board. So we dropped and unpacked our carry-ons and headed to lunch at the Dive-In. No lines anyplace and lots of service. I think we were asked by at least four servers what we wanted to drink. While we were at lunch I went down to the stateroom to grab something and found…our luggage, already in our stateroom on the bed. Amazing.
Stateroom: You can read all about it by clicking here. And since I did that page with photos, I processed a video tour you can see by clicking here.
Muster Drill: YEAH! This is all virtual now. Well almost. As soon as you turn on the TV in your stateroom, the muster talk comes on. You watch it and then sometime after 1:30 you head to your lifeboat station (ours was the Main Dining Room) and check-in and get your key card scanned. That’s it! This is another benefit of COVID. Hopefully masks will go away soon and the NEW muster drill will stay. Actually I kind of like being served at the buffet too.
Food: I did an entire post on food. You can see it by clicking here. A quick summary is this: It was AWESOME! DELICIOUS! FANTASTIC!
Ports: We missed one (Half Moon Cay, HAL’s private island) due to weather. The sea and wind were too rough to tender in–this turned into a sea day. Then we visited Grand Turk, Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba. Loved Grand Turk and Bonaire. Thought Puerta Plata and Curacao were “fine” and sad that Aruba has turned into just another commercialized cruise port. Links are to my posts about each of these ports.
Shore excursions: We did Holland America Shore excursions in all ports except Aruba (Kathleen stayed on the ship, I walked around for a short time) where my brother and his bride did one. All the excursions we went on were all “fine.” In the case of two of the shore excursions, when they were a late or had to deviate from what we had been told they would be, they refunded our money even though we had still been able to go. Classy.We got two of them for free with the Have It All program.
Entertainment: In the evenings you could usually find us at BB Kings Blues Club or one of the other venues on the Music Walk. Sometimes we would go for the music and sometime for the comedians. There were three on board whose names I cannot remember but I do know they were HILARIOUS! We did not go to any of the “big shows.” One of the reasons was because they were so few people on board there was only one show a night and they alway seem to coincide with dinner (7:30 most nights). Also we aren’t much into these shows as we have seen so many of them so many times. We do want to add that the one show that is not to be missed in the big theater is the BBC Planet Earth presentation with live music by the Lincoln Center quartet. The video parts of the presentation are on the big circular screen and just amazing.
Sail With Seth: As you may remember, we were “Sailing with Seth” who is Holland America’s Brand Ambassador and an old friend. Here’s what we told HAL on the evaluation we sent:”We were part of the Sail With Seth group. I can’t tell you how incredibly awesome your Brand Ambassador Seth Wayne is. He has kept cruising alive for these last two horrible years. We felt like we were taking a virtual cruise each and every time he posted or was live on Facebook or Instagram. What an amazing person to have as the spokesperson for your company. On this cruise he was the epitome of what a host should be taking great care of us and just being Seth. He is the ONLY reason we decided to take this cruise. We are long-time Celebrity cruisers and had planned to restart after the pandemic with another Celebrity cruise, but Seth has kept us going for two years so when we heard he was taking a group on Nieuw Statendam, we jumped on it. When we sail with HAL again, we will always try to be part of a Sail with Seth group. You are so lucky to have him.” If you ever get a chance to Sail With Seth, do it!
Disembarkation: Was about as smooth as it gets. It was a little late while the ship was cleared by the port. But once we were cleared, I was able to walk off with my carry-ons, take a taxi to the airport, pick up a rental car and get back to pick up Kathleen, Steve and Jamie. We always end up having to get a car when returning to Fort Lauderdale because the nonstop Alaska Air flight we take home doesn’t leave until 6:05 pm. It works well for us because two of our favorite people live about an hour north of FLL so we drive up and see them, have lunch and head back. Great way to spend the day.
This one is easy. Of all the things we had going on during this cruise, just about all of it was perfect. About as good as a cruise in the Caribbean can be. But one part of the trip just sucked—the internet. We got HAL’s middle cost Internet/WiFi package as part of the Have It All program. Their basic program is pretty much e-mail and texting. Their middle program is those two things and some additional websites like FaceBook, Instagram and Cruise Critic. I was able to do this blog as well. The speed on this plan was INCREDIBLY SLOW! And of course every time I signed on I would get an advert from HAL to “Move Up” to their top tier of internet. Finally I got totally fed up with the speed so I sucked it up and bought the top plan. Then came the shock.
Nothing got faster. If anything it got slower. And this was with the ship at one third capacity. I can imagine how slow it would have been with a full ship. So after trying for a couple of days and not seeing a single improvement from the $10 per day I had upgraded to, I went to ask the Neptune Suite concierge who I could talk to about it. She said for the suites, she was the person to talk to.
I explained my problem and she said that the top tier internet is NOT faster, it just gives you access to other websites. I am not sure what sites you would get besides what you already had but I know what you can’t do with the speed you have. You can’t watch any kind of video. I did find that I could download a video to watch later. I like to watch videos on my iPad when I ride a stationary bike in the gym so I wanted to download a couple of more episodes of a show I was rewatching. It took 3.5 hours to download a single 43 minute episode. And that didn’t count the number of times it just stopped and I had to start all over again. I finally got the episode to download by doing it overnight when no one else was using the internet. I was also told by the concierge that I could use Skype or FaceTime but with that speed, there is no way. BTW: I wanted to check the speed of my connection with a speed test but she told me that those sites were blocked 🙄.
If you have ever been on a Royal Caribbean ship you know what really fast internet at sea is all about. Their Voom product is as fast as I have here at home if you buy the streaming package. On RCL we were able to watch Netflix, FaceTime with the grandkids and I could upload this blog in seconds instead of the 30 minutes it took to upload my photos.
The bottom line is this: I would NEVER pay for internet on this ship. I don’t remember it being this bad when we were on Westerdam a few years ago so maybe this as an aberration. We can hope so. It was the only thing that drove us nuts during the entire 10 days. I know, first world problems 😜.
The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic. —Oscar Wilde