It’s 6:30 a.m., and we are sitting in The Club Lounge at SeaTac with our good friend Jocelyn, having a light breakfast before our flight to Montreal. And I am calm now.
Calm as compared to yesterday when Oceania sent us the second of two e-mails making changes to our cruise. First, we got one on Monday letting us know that due to their new ship not being “waste-water certified for one of the ports, they would not be able to get into that port (Saguenay) that we were really looking forward to. They did send us a $500 Future Cruise Credit, but that means you have to buy another cruise from them to use it. And, of course, it comes with lots of restrictions on time and cruise that you can use it on.
I was ticked at this one because Oceania should have known in advance that they needed to be “certified” to get into this port. They should have switched to another port if they couldn’t get “certified” in time. As it is, we will have another sea day or should I say another day cruising in the St. Lawrence seaway. It was not a horrible experience, but it was not what we were hoping for.
Then yesterday, we got another e-mail that “in order to accommodate the vessel’s operation needs,” we would not be boarding at 11:00 am but would now be able to board at 2:00 pm. Ok, you are thinking, that’s not such a big deal. But it is to me, and here’s why.
First, about three weeks ago, I stayed up until midnight to be on their website in order to get an early boarding time…which I did. We love getting on early, and the hotel we are staying in has an 11:00 a.m. checkout time, so this worked perfectly for us. But here’s the rub. Instead of saying, “Those people with 11:00 am times will now board at 1:00, those with noon times at 2:00, etc. they had switched to those with BIG suites will board at noon, the ones with small suites at 1:00 and all the rest of us at 2:00. If you have read this blog for a while you know I HATE the caste system that so many cruise lines are adopting. It harkens back to the early 1900s when every ship sailing had (as the Titanic did) First Class, Second Class and steerage. In this case, we are in steerage. Thankfully, when I got the e-mail about this, I was out walking, so I had a chance to cool down before I got home. If you read in the news about a madman walking around Redmond Ridge screaming and swearing at a cruise line, that was me.
Which brings us to right now. 7:09 a.m., sitting the waiting area of the S gates at SeaTac waiting for a flight we should have been boarding right now. We all got up at 3:30, got picked up at 4:30 (by the wonderful Julian from Century Car Service) and were at the airport by 5:10. Through security and waiting by 5:30. We followed all the rules. And what do we get for following all the rules—a delayed flight until 8:15. I know, I complain too much. But again (like the two cases with Oceania), this is just bad management. They say they are fixing a minor mechanical problem. Well, the plane they are fixing has been sitting here overnight. So why didn’t they fix it then?
The good news out of all of this is that we are again…traveling! So I just hope we get to Montreal, meet our friends and family, and have a wonderful time for the next 17 days. I promise not to complain too much in the days to come (unless it is really bad) and to start posting a ton of photos with the next post.
Picking this up in Montreal. It’s around 8:45 here (5:45 at home). I have been up since 12:30 a.m. our time (couldn’t sleep), and I want to finish this up. The flight was very nice. Really impressed with Air Canada. It has a great entertainment system, outstanding flight attendant, and comfortable seats. The food was OK (a parsley omelet? Really?). Customs in Montreal was outstanding. Quick, easy and right through. All is done by machine with a single check at the end by a human. Really well done. Then we had a mix-up with Uber that I will have to handle with my credit card company. And I could not believe the amount of cigarette smoke at the airport so much so that I got a doozy of a sinus headache. Not inside the airport, you got slammed with it when you stepped outside.
When we finally got to the hotel (which is very nice–more on that tomorrow) and I got some sinus medication, and we found Mike and Cathy, and then we went to dinner…all was well, especially after we stopped at the hotel bar on the way back for drinks. Our hotel is right at the entrance to Montreal’s Asian section. So a special shoutout to Jocelyn (who lived in China for a few years) for finding us an amazing DimSum restaurant for dinner. It was really funny that the one she found was literally about four doors up the street from our hotel. The food was fantastic. We just ordered a ton of steamed and fried DimSum and pretty much ate it all. I am still stuffed two hours later. I mean, check this out.
Lamb with Cilantro
We are back in our room now, exhausted but happy and I need to be up by 5:15 so I can get out and get my pre-dawn photos in and have some very cool sights in Montreal to show you later this week.
We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Originally I was not going to write a review of this trip. This was a family trip with my kids and grandkids, and I usually do not do a lot of writing about that kind of trip. They are more private, and I hardly ever put a recognizable photo of my grandkids on my blog. But our experience may help other grandparents (and we know a lot of them) deal with Disney better than we did. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great experience most of the time, but we are also happy that Walt Disney World is now a sure “Been there, done that, not going back” experience for us.
This trip was our Christmas (and birthday) gifts for our kids and grandkids this year. We have previously taken them to Disneyland in California (about seven years ago) on a cruise (the summer before the pandemic hit), and we had promised them the big Disney experience when they were both old enough to remember it. And it just happened we went on my grandson’s birthday. This brings me to the first thing I would have loved to avoid but couldn’t—crowds.
When we went to Disneyland seven years ago, the grandkids weren’t in school yet, and my daughter wasn’t teaching, so we only had to work around our work schedule and my son-in-law’s. So we could go whenever we wanted. That is the key to all amusement parks—go when others can’t. Sadly, both kids were in school this time, and my daughter is back to teaching, so we had to coordinate with school schedules. I refuse to do summer. The heat is just horrid and would be worse than the crowds. Maybe it’s worse. And it was still pretty darn hot. Not oppressive like it would have been in the summer, but really hot for us Pacific Northwesterners.
I have done a lot of research about the best time to go to WDW (Walt Disney World), and it used to be that the worst week of the year was the week between Christmas and New Year’s. But not anymore. It turns out that it is now worse during President’s Day weekend…which is when we were there. I base this on the report from the folks who write the book, “The Unofficial Guide to WDW,” who reported that this shift in crowds has now occurred. The Unofficial Guide books and their companion Lines app have been my go-to for avoiding crowds for years. Since way back when I took our kids to WDW in the 1990s, they have been amazing in helping me plan. With their book, their website and their app, they help you develop touring plans that can work. But not this time because the crowds just overwhelmed the plans.
This is the MOST frustrating vacation to plan. When I plan our other travel, I can make specific plans for specific tours and set specific times. Once in a while, a problem will occur that throws things off, but with Disney, it’s all a crapshoot. You can’t plan around the crowds. And there is so much to learn about WDW. Like how the Genie+ works (I didn’t figure that out until the last day), how the transportation system works, and just so much…AAAAGGGHHH!
I feel like I am rambling here, so let me get on with it.
What was good
Spending quality time with my wife, my daughter, her husband, my brother, his wife, my niece and my two incredible grandkids.
Having my Star Wars fan grandson celebrate his 12th birthday riding the Millenium Falcon, helping the Rise of the Resistance and taking Star Tours.
Our hotel (Disney’s Contemporary Resort), which was convenient, had decent food, comfortable beds, great bathrooms, helpful people at the front desk and one of the best showerheads I have ever used.
Some of the food was pretty darn good (but expensive) for a theme park/hotel. For instance, the turkey sandwich at the hotel “food court” was so good I had it three times during our stay. Our lunch in Epcot at the Coral Reef and the quick dinner at La Cantina De San Angel, also in Epcot, were all great. But sorry, WDW has some real problems with basic dining. More about that in the what needs changing section below. I also loved that at many restaurants, we could pre-order on our phones, pick a window of time we wanted to eat and then click a button when we arrived, and they would have it ready in minutes.
Disney’s free transportation gets you to all four parks in a hurry even when you are going really, really early. From our hotel we took Disney busses to two of the parks and the monorail to the other two.
The rides we were able to get on were awesome. Disney still does an amazing job with those. The newest Star Wars rides were great, but even I (who is not an Avatar fan) loved the Avatar ride in Animal Kingdom. There was nothing quite like it. I am still kind of awestruck by how amazing it is. You literally believe you are flying on a winged animal.
Magic Bands work great! Disney should hire out the people who make their Magic Bands to help cruise lines that are having problems with their RFID devices. A Magic Band is a device that looks like a wristwatch that you can use for EVERYTHING at Walt Disney World. It’s your room key, you can charge anything to it while on the Disney properties (food, souvenirs, drinks and just about anything else you can buy). You just hold up (like I do my Apple Watch) and tap it. It never failed—it worked every single time. It was so great to walk out of the room every day and not worry if you had your key, your wallet or anything but your sunglasses and sunscreen as long as you had your Magic Band on your wrist. And you can customize them as well. Mason had a Star Wars band; mine was Goofy, so I could walk around saying “Gorsh” all day. BTW: You could also use your phone to do anything that the band would do.
What REALLY needs improvement
The problem with Disney dining is NOT the food itself; it is the selection of places to eat it, especially at breakfast. About 90% of the in-park food venues do NOT open until 11:00 am. When you get up at 5:30 am to be in the park by 7:30 am so you can get at least two rides in before the non-Disney hotel guests are allowed in at 8:00, then there should be more than one place open to catch a quick breakfast. In three of the four parks we visited (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Epcot), the only place we could find to get food or coffee before 11:00 am was Starbucks. Seriously. And don’t tell me it’s because no one eats breakfast at WDW because those places were PACKED! SWAMPED!And I know that the Touring Plans folks say you should get breakfast stuff to eat in your room. Well, that is all well and good, but if you fly in and take a shuttle to your hotel and have no car, how are you supposed to get to a grocery store to buy those breakfast items? Pack them in your luggage?
Genie+ sucks! This is what Disney replaced a great program they used to have called Fast Pass. You could reserve a spot on a ride and come back at a later time to take it. It was FREE. Now they have this thing called Genie+. You get to do the same thing, but it costs you big $$$. So you have paid $100 plus for a ticket, and if you want to be able to get on rides without waiting in line for hours, you can pay an additional $15-$20 per person/per day to be able to make an appointment to come back in two hours to ride a ride. This way, you could be standing in two lines simultaneously…kind of. But it just does not work well. It’s kind of like TSA Pre-Check at the airport. So many people have it now; it’s almost faster just to do the regular security line. And Genie+ is a huge ripoff. We were offered it free for an afternoon to make up for something (more about that later), and when you use it, you can book a ride time for a future hour. But until you do that ride, you can’t book anything else. For instance, at 2:00 pm, we booked a ride at the first available time for something my granddaughter wanted to do. The soonest we could get the reservation was 5:00 pm (I will admit that Grandpa messed up our first reservation). So that meant we could not book any other Genie+ reservations until three hours later. When we got off that ride and attempted to book another reservation, nothing was available until 8:30 or later. Being exhausted and having to catch a 5:30 am bus to the airport, we bailed. Worthless. And a huge ripoff.
What was just stupid
The crowds. And a lot of the people who make them up. There were:
Adults who had kids with them that were all under five years old. Who are you there for? Your kids won’t remember this. Mason was five when we took our grandkids to Disneyland seven years ago. He remembers much of what we did; Maylee was two and remembers nothing about the trip. What a huge waste of money for a few pics of your child with Mickey. And you are making it so much more crowded (because you take up a ton of space with your damn strollers) for those who can’t come at another time.
Adults with no kids in their party. Why are you there during one of the BUSIEST weeks of the year? Did you really want to honeymoon with half of the USA? A week before we were there, the crowd levels were at fours and fives (on a scale of 10). When we were there, every park was between eight and ten. If you had come one week earlier, you could have had a better time yourself and lightened the load on the parks. Idiots.
The usual rude people who run you over with their motorized carts, wheelchairs, strollers and sometimes just their bodies. I can’t count the number of times someone in our party was run into.
The abomination that is the big, fat tubs of lard who rent scooters because they are too lazy to walk. We actually saw one family where the son, dad and granddad were all in scooters. All of them were able to get out and walk (I saw them do it a number of times as we followed them around Animal Kingdom). They had no problem riding the rides. Sadly, their kids whined because they didn’t want to walk either. We also saw a couple with two kids who had a motorized scooter rental and kept taking turns riding it. The mom would ride it onto the monorail, and the dad would ride it off. What are the chances they were both disabled but yet could walk behind the other on the scooter? I fully realize that some people have handicaps you can’t see, but this kind of stuff goes too far. My mom spent much of her last years on a scooter because she could not walk after a stroke. These people are taking up the space of those who need it. Shame on them and the example they set for their children.
The worst parts for us
This one is easy—illness. We arrived on a Thursday night. We spent Friday day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, standing in one line after the other. By the end of the day, my granddaughter was exhausted, dehydrated and feeling queasy. Queasy became a full-blown illness, and she and my daughter were flat on their backs in bed with a stomach ailment for the next two days. They missed two complete parks, and even on our last day (Monday), even though they could come to Magic Kingdom for a while before they got really tired out, they never got to do much of the fun stuff. And my son-in-law missed that Monday as he got whatever they had, so he was down for all of that day.
I will say that Disney came through on fixing this as much as they could. The manager at the hotel made sure that for every day they missed, they were credited with another day in the park (more than a $150 value) sometime in the next ten years. I hope they can go back and use them sometime in that time frame.
I should also say I feel terrible that my brother, sister-in-law and niece came with us because they could have gone at any time and avoided all the lines. But they wanted to see WDW with the kids (it is an entirely different place with kids) and us, so they came along.
Alaska Air did us wrong!
There was one non-Disney thing that happened on this trip that TOTALLY TICKED ME OFF! I purchased our Alaska Air airline tickets in July of 2021. I bought them with our annual companion fares we get for being Alaska Air VISA cardholders. I got six seats in one row (row 18) so that we could all sit together. About two weeks before our flight to Orlando, I checked our reservation to make sure everything was good, and it was. Then the day before the flight, when I went online to check in, I found that the kids and grandkids were still in row 18 but that Kathleen and I had been moved to the back of the plane to row 29. WTF?? Since we had done nothing to precipitate this, I got very upset and called Alaska. We were told there was nothing they could do about it and that we should ask at the gate to see if those people could change seats with us. Really—would you trade two aisle seats for an aisle and a middle seat? I wouldn’t. But how dare Alaska Air change us on a whim or let a computer change us? Kathleen tells me that one of the two people who got our seats was a 20-something with long shaggy hair that was sick most of the flight (maybe that’s how our kids got sick), and the other was a businessman who spent the entire flight on his computer. My guess is that he was a high-mileage Alaska Air flyer.
Whenever I hear someone complain about their seat assignments, I always want to say, “you should have booked and chosen your seats earlier.” Which is exactly what I did, and then they moved us. I still don’t understand how (or why) they did that. But I was told it says they can in the fine print.
When you first decide to go to Walt Disney World, get the book, “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” Then download their app called Lines. Do their touring plans and stick with them until the crowds overwhelm your plans. You have to do your homework before you take this vacation.
Don’t go during a school holiday, the summer or any other time of the year not recommended by the Unofficial Guide unless you have no choice. And realize that things change from year to year. President’s Day Weekend had NEVER been that crowded prior to this year.
Stay in a Disney hotel. Not only will you be closer to the parks, but you will get to get into the parks anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes earlier than the general public. That was the reason we got on the Avatar ride in Animal Kingdom in less than 30 minutes. When we got off, the wait was close to 2.5 hours. The same with some of the Star Wars rides.
Get up early! Be in the park when it opens. On two days, we were literally the first or second people in a particular park.
Download the Disney Parks app from Disney. Great maps and suggestions as well as making it possible for you to unlock your room with your phone if you don’t get Magic Bands.
Train for the experience. In our party, Mason (my grandson) and I were easily the ones who did the most walking since we never got sick. We walked a total of more than 40 miles in four days. Ask my Apple Watch. That’s in the neighborhood of 20K steps a day. Start walking a few weeks before your trip.
That’s about it. I might add some more later, or I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. We all had a great time when some of us weren’t sick, and I wouldn’t trade my memories for any of it. But I am also glad it is over.
I am hoping my brother will add via comment (below) anything that I forgot.
Our motley crew on the morning of Day 1. No one was sick, and no one was tired.
Oops, I almost forgot one thing I wanted to throw in here. After we got home, my niece Cassie sent us a DisneyWorld Bingo. I thought it was hilarious and wanted to share it here. If you go, you will understand all of this…100%.
As I write this we are packing to leave Amsterdam, brave the craziness of Schipol Aiport and fly south to Athens. We have loved staying two nights at our favorite hotel in the world, the Banks Mansion.
We had a fairly uneventful flight to AMS. We were flying in Business Class on Delta—this is what the airline calls Delta One and we were not incredibly impressed. Everything was just “fine” and if you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that “fine” means that everything was OK but nothing that really stands out. We did have decent, lie-flat seats but they were tight with not enough leg room for me. The padding was a little better than we had on British Air on our last foray to Europe in 2019. And they did feed us pretty well as you can see. Not the best airline meal we have ever had (that was on Cathay Pacific) but good and filling.
My appetizers. Small salad, chicken soup and a roll.
My entrée.Pasta with bolognese made with Impossible Meat that was so good you could not tell.
Breakfast: Spinach omelete.
We touched down in Amsterdam a little early and thought how great that was as we taxied towards the terminal but then our pilot came on and said that because we were early, they had no place left for us to park the plane s we would just have to sit there and wait until the plane that was at our gate left. Then we were told that the plane at our gate had a mechanical problem and would not be moving so we had to wait to be assigned to another gate which might be an hour. How fun. In the meantime, I was getting texts from my brother that their experience at the airport (they had arrived about three hours before we came from LAX) had not been a good one. Lots of lines and lots of waiting for luggage. So we expected the worst.
It was not to be. In minutes after getting his text, the plane found a gate, we were off, got to passport control and where we were the ONLY ones in line, got to baggage claim and (after walking by rows and rows of unclaimed bags that did not meet their connections) our bags appeared on the belt within minutes. We grabbed them and were off to the hotel. Where this had taken my brother and sister-in-law (from this point on referred to as Steve and Jamie 😁) almost 2 hours to do, we landed, exited the airport and were at the hotel in less time than that. I certainly hope our trip today is as uneventful. But we have been warned to be at the airport EARLY. So we are about to go eat breakfast and head to the airport at 8:00 am for a 12:20 flight. I will pause now and be back to you soon.
And now we are sitting in the Aspire Airport Lounge at Schiphol airport. Getting into the airport and through security was nowhere near as bad as we expected. Our cab came for us at 8:15 and we had an almost uneventful ride to the airport (our driver got pulled over for not wearing his seat belt—which he was—the police just didn’t see it). It was easy to get in and check our bags and then about a 35-minute security line and now we have found a lounge that accepts the Priority Pass that we get free with our Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa cards and are relaxing for a couple of hours before we head to Athens.
A couple of quick notes about our travels so far. Kathleen had recently found us some new, LIGHTER luggage. Our two big, checkable bags had gotten really old and were falling apart. It was time and she found us some wonderful and very LIGHT bags from TravelPro. They come with wheels front and back and are really, really light. But they are plain and boring looking and don’t come in a lot of colors. Basically blue (hers) and black (mine). The problem is, that they blend in with every other bag on a luggage carousel. We used to rely on some orange handle wraps but now everyone has those. And then Kathleen found us some really cool luggage covers and I love them. When we got to Schiphol I can guarantee you there was nothing like them on the carousel. They are made of a lycra-like material with a zipper at the bottom and on the sides and you just pull them over your suitcase and zip them up. For less than $20 they were an awesome find.
Our stop in Amsterdam
Now that you have heard about the trip, here’s what we did in Amsterdam.
Checked into The Banks Mansion located almost in the center of Amsterdam. Steps away from every place. Museums in one direction, the port and downtown in the other. We stayed there before in 2016 and loved it. We literally think it is the best hotel we have ever stayed in. The beds, bedding and pillows are the most comfortable hotel beds ever, the included breakfast is fantastic and very filling and the view of the canal from our (upgraded room) windows was amazing. You can see one of Amsterdam’s largest canals and the street the hotel is on. You can see Kathleen, Steve and Jamie in the window of Kathleen and my suite here. Forgot to mention that the Banks is all-inclusive. No extra charges for everything including the bar in the “Living Room.” And the service is amazing. Ask for anything and it just appears. Like a taxi or a boarding pass printout.
Went to dinner at Moeder’s, a traditional Dutch restaurant. Moeders in Dutch translate to Mother’s and the restaurant is completely COVERED in photos of people’s mothers. They are still accepting them so we could have left one of our Mom’s pics if we had a print with us. The food was good, and the service was excellent.
The next morning after sleeping off our jet lag Steve and I went off on a pre-dawn Photowalk. Got some great pics of downtown and near the port as a glorious sunrise made our early morning walk worth getting up for. Photos from that walk are below. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
Early morning on the main street to the port.
I love neon…I really love neon.
Looking towards the main train terminal.
The Oden Kirk, one of the oldest churches in Amsterdam, sits in the middle of the Red Light District.
A beautiful old building.
Same building, different light.
Sunrise over the port
The main train terminal (not very busy as there was a rail strike)
A ferry crossing the harbor.
Note the lean in thse buildings.
Sunlight on a canal-side residence.
And a beautiful view of a canal.
Then it was back to the Banks where after having a wonderful breakfast, we were picked up by Hans from Tours By Locals who took us on a tour outside (mostly north) of Amsterdam. Since we had seen most of the city during the 2016 visit, we wanted to see the outlying areas. Hans did a great job of showing us the countryside including a visit to a still-working windmill (one of the few). See the photos for more info about that tour.
It’s time to head to the gate for our flight so I will have to show you our windmill pics in the next post. See you in Athens.
It’s almost time to start our big journey. Just before 2:00 pm on Monday, our good friend Marjorie is going to pick us up and take us to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where we will check in with Delta and wait about three hours until we are scheduled to take off on flight 144, a non-stop to Amsterdam at 5:20 pm (just about 24 hours from when I am writing this). We did a COVID test this morning and we are good to go. Our meals on the plane are ordered and after we eat dinner, I will get our boarding passes printed out.
We are supposed to get into Amsterdam at 12:20 on Tuesday afternoon (that’s our route above). Hopefully, we will be on time and picked up at the airport and transported to what we believe is the greatest hotel on planet Earth, The Banks Mansion. By the time we walk into the “Living Room” at The Banks, my brother and sister-in-law should be sitting there having a drink (free bar!!!) and waiting for us to join them.
We are then headed to a traditional Dutch dinner at Moeder’s. Probably going to have stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish. According to Wikipedia, it’s Dutch comfort food. We had it the last time we were in Amsterdam and it was wonderful.
We will spend the next day (Wednesday) touring Amsterdam, going to the Van Gogh museum and having dinner at Restaurant ZaZa which we loved on our last visit to Amsterdam. Then early next morning we will all head to the busiest airport in Europe, Schipol, where we will catch our 12:20 pm flight to Athens, Greece. Hopefully, we will arrive pretty close to when we are supposed to, meet our other traveling companions (my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband) and hopefully head to dinner at a traditional Greek restaurant I have reservations for.
The next day we will tour Athens with Alexios from Tours By Locals (a tour company we have used before and I love). Then another dinner in the Plaka district. The other thing we have to do on Friday is to take a COVID test. Here’s a strange situation. Greece requires a COVID test to LEAVE their country. I get it when someplace wants to keep COVID out of their country by testing those coming in. But to require a test only for people leaving their country makes no sense.
Then next Saturday, we will board the Viking Sky for our 21-day cruise. Viking calls it the Mediterranean & Adriatic Sojurn. Here’s where we are going.
For Kathleen and I this will be a chance to revisit many places we have been. For the rest of our group, this will be their first time in this part of the world. Although we have been to most every place after we leave Sicily, we have never been to most of the stops in the Adriatic Sea. We have spent time in Venice and it has always been one of our favorite cities. It was really the first place we ever went to in Europe. Luckily for us, we have almost three full days in Venice. Our good buddies (and always neighbors, Jayesh and Lisa) were there last month and did some scouting for us, finding us some amazing restaurants to try. We can’t wait to try.
So I want to invite you to virtually follow us on this journey. I will do my best to post here on a very regular basis but with not a single sea day on this trip, I might run a little late. And of course, it also depends on the quality of the WiFi on the ship. So make sure you have subscribed so you can keep up with the ports. You know how much I love to share our travels. See you soon, right here.
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
We were on our group text with my brother and his bride yesterday when I mentioned my frustration with our current situation. We are leaving for our almost month-long Mediterranean trip next Monday and to be honest, we are in what I call the holding pattern part of travel. That part of every trip comes around twice. We are in the middle of the first holding pattern.
This holding pattern is the one where you have pretty much everything you can do to prepare all done but you really can’t start packing yet. You can do things like take out the garbage, turn off the water to your washer, put the trickle charger on the car, and set your light timers. We really can’t even pack yet because we need to wear some of the clothes we are taking between now and then.
Sure we can make lists of things we need to do but in the meantime, we really can’t do any of it until Saturday, Sunday or early Monday.
Early Monday brings me to the second part of the holding pattern. Normally we get to skip this part of the trip because when we fly domestically we almost always fly early in the morning. Sometimes at a god-awful O-dark-30. But when we fly to Europe, it’s another story. Most of the flights from Seattle to Europe don’t leave until late afternoon or early evening. That means that on Monday, we will be all packed and ready to go by 10:00 am or so and then we will just sit around until it’s time to head to the airport around 2:00 pm.
Our flight doesn’t leave until 5:20 pm. But we do prefer it that way when we are flying across that many time zones. When we go at that time it really helps us to fight the jet lag. We board (if the flight is on-time…yesterday it was two hours late) at 4:45, get settled in, and probably have a glass of champagne in our hands by 5:00. Then take off by 5:30. If that all works they serve us dinner (yes, we are in business class) around 6:30 we will have dinner. After that, maybe watch a movie and then try and get some sleep for 4-6 hours. Then we are awakened for breakfast and land in Amsterdam around noon. That to me is a perfect schedule. But it does involve that holding pattern.
So today I am taking up some of our current holding pattern by doing this post. And then I am going to an afternoon Mariner game with my son. Watch this space either tomorrow or Friday for the full itinerary of the trip.
Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting. —Joyce Meyer
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