Off to Quito

Disappointing Flights

(Hope you don’t mind me posting twice in one day but I wanted to share a bunch of stuff that happened today.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, our buddy Mike took us to Miami Airport at 2:15 am so we could get there by 3:30 which would be the recommended three hours before our 6:30 am international flight on Copa Air. This flight had been hard to come by so we took what we could get even if it meant that we had to get up way before dawn.

If you have never heard of Copa Air, they are the national airline of Panama. Originally we had a non-stop flight on American Airlines but that was cancelled last weekend and the best we could do was a one-stop trip from Miami through Panama City to Quito. The good news was we still got to keep our business class seats on both flights. But that turned out to just be an OK thing as Copa Air’s idea of business class differs widely from what we have experienced in Business or First class before.

When we arrived at the airport we were so early that there was no place open to even grab a cup of coffee. In fact there was no place open at all. To grab anything. And to the best of my knowledge nothing opened before we took off at 6:38. On our flight we got two cups of really bad coffee, a ham and cheese croissant and a very dry granola bar. The seats were much like US domestic air FC seats. Fairly comfortable but certainly no place to lie back and sleep. I need to mention we were flying on a Boeing 737-8. You will see why in a minute.

Our flight from Miami to Panama City was just a little more than two hours. We arrived in Panama City in just enough time to get from our arriving gate to our departing gate. Once we reached our new gate, we boarded within minutes. And once on board we were pleasantly surprised to see full lay down seats in a section that looked like a true business class section. And this was on exactly the same 737-8 plane that we had just gotten off. Sadly, this flight was just about 90 minutes so even though we had the seats to sleep in, there just wasn’t time to sleep.

When we saw the seats we thought maybe we would get something a little better to eat and drink but that was not to be. We were offered a bag of pretzels, a small bag of cookies and a can of Perrier for me and a ginger ale for Kathleen. One thing I am very happy about is that we did not spend our own money to upgrade as Celebrity arranged our air. If you ever get a chance to fly Business class on Copa Air, give it a pass.

Quito!

We did it! We finally arrived in Ecuador and we have much to report if you are planning on cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity post-pandemic…at least for awhile.

When we landed in Quito we made it through customs in no time and with a minimum of questions. There was a temperature check and we had to show our vaccination cards but after they checked those, we headed to passport control. We were very lucky because our flight (which was not full) was the only international flight landing at the time and being in the front of the plane, we got to the health check and passport control very quickly. Our luggage took a little longer so getting through customs inspection (they didn’t inspect anything) took a little longer. Once on the other side of security in a very nice and clean airport we used the facilities and I was about to try and contact Celebrity here in Ecuador when a man walked up to us holding a Celebrity sign. Within minutes we were in the van and on our way to the EB Hotel.

Pre-COVID this was an 11 day trip with two nights and a full day in Quito before the Galapagos segment and then a day after in Quito as well. But due to the COVID conditions Celebrity wanted to keep us out of downtown Quito. So instead of the regular hotel they use (The JW Marriott–Quito) we were at the EB Hotel near the airport.

If you are coming, do not worry about it being near the airport. These three photos show you the area around the hotel.

We have been here for at least five hours and have not heard a single airplane.  By keeping us near the airport we will be able to go right back to the airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Baltra where we embark on Flora.

The hotel itself is modern, new and beautiful and the rooms rock. Here’s a quick tour of ours. It is easier to see the video if you click the headline at the top of the e-mail and read the entire post in a web browser.

As you can see. it is pretty darned impressive. A true suite which we did not expect at all. Kathleen says to tell the ladies that if you are staying here, the products in the bathroom are all very high quality so you don’t have to plan for those. And Celebrity left us some really nice water bottles, a bottle of horchata (a plant-milk based South American beverage) and a health goodie bag with a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

After getting settled into our suite we found lots of info from Celebrity including instructions about the included dinner and breakfast as well as all the hoops we will need to jump through before we can get on the plane to Baltra and the islands in the morning. Here’s our schedule:

Breakfast is 6:30 to 10:00 either in the restaurant or via room service. But either way we have to have our luggage in the hall outside our rooms by 8:00 am when they will collect it for inspection by the Galapagos Agricultural Authorities. They are making sure we have no organic materials coming into the islands that could change the environment there. To be honest, I totally understand their doing this but I hate the idea of them going through my bag because everything BARELY fits in the small carry-on I am taking for this trip. I have to be VERY careful when zipping it up or I will either break the zippers or catch my clothing inside. But we did find out later that we don’t have to put out our carry-ons. That made me happy as I don’t want them messing with my camera or this MacBook Pro.

We are also scheduled (we don’t have our time yet) to be health-screened sometime between 7:00 am and 11:00 am. We will have to go to their health screening room, get our temp checked (mine has been taken twice today already) take an antigen test, provide proof of vaccination and be approved for our flight.

At 11:00 am they will load us into vans and move us back to the airport for the 90 minute charter flight to Baltra. I will give you a full report on that flight tomorrow if the internet connection on the ship is a good one.

Celebrity seems to have this all really well taken care of. We have seen some folk in the lobby area we know are on the ship with us and we met the head of sales and marketing (Susanna) for Celebrity Galapagos who will be sailing with us. But I also know that some poor folks won’t arrive until the last Copa flight in tonight at 11:30 pm and they will have to be up doing the same things we will have do to tomorrow.

If you are sailing on Flora while they are still doing their pre-cruise at the EB hotel, here’s a tip for you. Request a parking lot view. We have a pool view and it faces west. And the afternoon sun beating against the windows (even though it is only 60F something outside) has made our room really warm. I have the thermostat set to 18 C but the AC just can’t keep up with the sun and it’s 23C in the room right now. Love the view from here but wish it was a little cooler and hoping it cools down once the sun sets in the next 15 minutes.

Another note about the hotel; because of the lousy food on the plane we were ready for lunch when we got here and the restaurant in the hotel (Tabla Bella) makes superb food. Kathleen had a wonderful salad and I wanted to try two Ecuadorian appetizers. I got the empanadas (they were OK) and something called an arepa. It’s two pieces of masa stuffed with avocado (they LOVE avocados here), shredded, braised beef and cheese with a side of their wonderful avocado sauce to dip it in. Pics are below to make your mouth water.

Humid but fun Florida

 

Day 1

Our first day of travel started with a pickup by Century Car Service out of Seattle. We have used a variety of car services to get to the airport in the past but our neighbor and best buddy Lisa recommended these guys as people that she had used personally and when making arrangements for her team at Microsoft so we decided to give them a try. We are glad we did. Not only did our driver arrive on time but he called us the night before to verify the pickup time and advise us that our day to fly was going to be VERY busy so maybe we would want to get picked up 15 minutes earlier. That’s service. We said yes and when I went to open the garage door to watch for his 5:30 arrival at 5:15, he was already parked in front of the house.

At SEA in plenty of time, got through TSA pre-check in minutes and were sitting in the Concourse C First Class lounge in no time. Had a nice (if pre-packaged) breakfast before our flight and then off we went on Alaska Air to Fort Lauderdale. A totally full but thoroughly enjoyable flight. Great service, not too bumpy until landing and even then the Captain set her down beautifully.

Got our bags and called for our car service to pick us up. We were using Mike & Cathy Limos out of Wellington, Florida 😜. Seriously, we were picked up by Mike Priesman, one of our oldest friends and his new lady love, Cathy, one of our newest. We headed north with a dinner stop at what is probably my favorite traditional Greek restaurant outside of Greece, Chris’ Taverna. They serve my favorite food in the best way possible—incredibly fresh and it’s incredibly good. A bare minimum of sauce—my octopus was perfect, my trip complete—NOT. But it was really good.

After dinner we headed back to Cathy’s gorgeous house where I slept so darned well you would have thought I was on vacation 😀. If you are looking for a place to stay in South Florida, we highly recommend it. Great bed, super water pressure, lots of hot water, the owner/manager is a sweetheart but you have to watch out for the bellhop. He’s a little strange.

Day 2

After a wonderful nights sleep and a superb breakfast we were picked up by the Cathy & Mike Tour Company who took us to see the Jupiter Lighthouse. It’s a really pretty and very historical lighthouse in Jupiter (former home of Burt Reynolds and current home of Tiger Woods) just north of where we are staying. The still-functioning lighthouse is a great subject for photography and you can climb the 100+ step spiral staircase and step out onto the deck that runs all the way around the outside.

Only problem we ran into was…thunder and lightning. As soon as I got to the top and stepped out onto the platform, I heard the attendant tell the people behind me (Mike and Cathy) that, “Sorry, we have to send everyone back down because of the weather.” Of course I was already outside so I continued around the platform taking photos and that’s what you see above.

While I was shooting I could see the lightening not that far away and when the first huge clap of thunder hit I got myself off that platform in a big hurry. We were down and gone to the Visitor’s Center where they were kind enough to refund our admission even though I told them I had gotten up there for a few minutes. They said I should have been able to stay longer and it was very nice of them insisting on the refund. The lighthouse (on a non-stormy day) is a cool experience and I highly recommend stopping by if you are in the area.

Next up was lunch at Square Grouper, a fun hole-in-the-wall, right-on-the-water spot just across the waterway from the lighthouse. I got to try what I was told by Mike and Cathy is a Florida delicacy—Mahi Mahi sandwich. A big blackened Mahi Mahi fillet sandwich with cheese and grilled onions. It came with some of the best fries have had in years.

This about covered our day so far. Tonight we are going to a free concert in a nearby park and tomorrow doing a scenic boat tour on the Intercoastal Waterway. This tour company is awesome!

Anything for the quick life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse. —Charles Dickens

 

Almost out of here…stay tuned for more

Yesterday I started this post to detail a huge problem we ran into with our flights on Sunday/Monday. But it all got figured out and we are ready to go…to the Galapagos. So let’s concentrate on the positive because we are all packed and ready to go!

To be honest, first we are going to South Florida to visit with our good buddy Mike and to meet his new girlfriend, Cathy. We will spend three nights with them and then Mike (who is an INCREDIBLE friend) will drive us to the airport at horrible-o’clock in the morning so we can catch our new flight to Quito via Panama City, Panama on Copa Air. (I promise to come back and detail the problems we have had with the cruise line about our air in a future post).

I am just doing this post so you can remember to come back here on a regular basis from July 3 through July 11. I will be doing my best to post a report everyday with photos so that those of you who have never been to the Galapagos can follow along with us.

I am also going to try something new—video. So that’s why you can see my face above this post. Not sure if it will work, but I am going to do my best. Kathleen gave me a GoPro for Christmas 2019 when we thought we would be doing this trip last summer and I will be taking it with me for lots of short video clips. I am especially hoping to capture some great underwater stuff while we are snorkeling.

Lastly, if you have friends who can’t travel right now that you might think would be interested, drop them our URL (www.redmondtravel.com) and tell them to sign up so they get notifications when I post. In the meantime, wish us luck!

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.   —Saint Augustine

The best laid plans…are made to be changed

If you may recall from my last installment we found out that we are going to be able to take our July 4 Galapagos Island cruise on Celebrity’s Flora. We had heard about all this on a TA-only Celebrity webinar that we watched three weeks ago tomorrow.

Of course the very first morning after the announcement we wanted to get all our plans set up. We had originally planned on flying from Seattle to Los Angeles on Alaska Air (our hometown airline) about three days before we were flying to Quito, Ecuador. While in the area we would see my brother and sister-in-law and spend a couple of days doing LA fun stuff. Then we would board our flight to Quito on Friday July second, spend a full day on Saturday touring Quito with Celebrity before heading to the Galapagos themselves on Sunday. We were also scheduled to spend an extra day in Quito after we visited the islands.

But Celebrity has wisely decided that even though most people on the islands are vaccinated, the COVID situation in mainland Ecuador is not a good one. So they have shortened our trip from 11 days to nine. That was OK with us as this trip is all about the Galapagos.

But now we had to redo all our flights because we would be leaving out of LA a day later than we thought and coming back a day earlier. So I got on the phone with Celebrity (they had booked our Quito flights as part of our package) to find out when the new times would be so I could change our other arrangements that would get us to and from LAX.

Besides the fact that they told me they couldn’t be sure of anything for a least a week, when they finally sent me the itinerary, it had changed a WHOLE BUNCH! We had originally been scheduled to fly on Copa Air (the national airline of Panama) from LAX leaving at 11:30 AM and arriving in Quito at 9:30 pm our time. We had about a 2 hour layover in Panama City which was OK for us.

The new schedule had us leaving LAX at 2:30 AM!!! And then we had an almost nine hour layover in Panama City, still taking the same Panama to Quito flight we had been on originally that got us in at 11:30 pm. Now I fully realize that some people like flying red-eye flights but we are not two of those people. That would mean missing a night of sleep as we would have to stay up to get on the plane and then even if we were in Business class and had lay-down seats, by the time we got to sleep, we would be landing not to mention the really long layover in an airport we don’t know in a country that still has major COVID problems. At our age (seems like I say that a lot 😜) we would be wiped out for about two days of the cruise. So this flight was out for us.

I jumped online and started looking for flights either from LAX or SEA but no dice. Either we left really early in the morning (like 2:30) or the previous afternoon and would have to spend the night in an airport, there was basically nothing. We were just not sure how this was going to work out so I decided to take my daily walk and see if just getting out would give me an idea. Walking often does that.

Sure enough, I came up with an idea that Kathleen actually liked 😁. My idea was, let’s find a non-stop flight to Quito from someplace in the United States, fly to that city the night before and then fly to Quito the next morning. Now we had to pick a city to fly to that had a non-stop to Quito. The airlines made that easy because you can really only fly to Quito on a non-stop from very few airports. We were kind of limited to Houston, Atlanta or Miami.

When I said Miami we both looked at each other and said, “YES!” We decided right then and there that this was the way we wanted to go. One of our best friends in the world, the god of shore excursions, Mike Preisman lives just north of Fort Lauderdale and we will pretty much take any reason to go and visit him. Plus, since the last time we saw him (March 2020) he has met and fallen head over heels for his new lady friend, Cathy. And even though we have met her on FaceTime we really want to meet her in person…and now we will. So we will spend three days with them and have fun in sunny, hot and humid Florida. Not only that, Mike is such a great guy he volunteered to pick us up in Fort Lauderdale and drop us off three days later at MIA.

Our flight from MIA to Quito is only four hours. I always forget that Quito, Ecuador is just about directly south of Miami, Florida and it’s in our Central time zone. This makes for a nice medium length flight. And because we had been cancelled on this cruise last year and chose to rebook it, we had some bonus dollars to spend which we used to upgrade to Business Class on American Airlines. The other thing we love is that this flight leaves and gets in at a “normal” time. We fly out at 8:30 am and get in at about 12:30 pm. Our sleep cycle should stay intact and we should have an awesome cruise.

One of the things I love about the flight (Kathleen seems kind of unimpressed) is that on our way down we are flying on a Boeing 787. We have never flown on a Dreamliner before and I am really looking forward to the experience. On the way home we just get a 737…boring. But by then we will be so thrilled about the trip to the islands we have just completed (or so exhausted) that we won’t care what plane we fly home on.

Once in Quito, we will be spending the night at the EB Hotel (at least as of now that is Celebrity’s plan) which is near the airport. Then the next morning (Sunday the 4th) while you are prepping your fireworks and barbecues, we will fly from Quito to Baltra (the main air gateway to the Galapagos) via chartered air. We are then on the ship/boat/yacht for seven nights before flying back to Quito, spending the night and then flying back to Miami, spending another night with Mike and Cathy and then home on the 13th.

We are pretty much all set now. We do have to find a place near Mike and Cathy’s to get a COVID test within 96 hours of flying to Quito. Once we have that we will be given another test before we board the ship and another when we get off the ship. The 96 hour one has to be the nose swab but the two on the ship are the spit-in-a-tube type.

The entire crew as well as all passengers are required to provide proof of vaccination. We have also been told that 98% of the people living on the islands (there are only about 25,000 people living there) have been vaccinated as well. Besides, once we get on the ship/boat/yacht we won’t see another human that isn’t part of our cruise until the next to last day when we stop in the only town on the trip. The rest of the time all the stops are just to see flora and fauna.

Speaking of flora, our ship/boat/yacht is named Flora and we have found out that she NEVER docks. We take a zodiac-type tender out to board her and we do the same when leaving or doing any shore excursion. Plus Flora is built to never drop anchor. To not disturb the sea floor she was designed with a system that uses the propulsion system to stay in one place in the water. Pretty cool.

You can be sure that we will be sending you updates and photos from the islands so watch this space for a complete virtual tour of your own. All of that dependent on the quality of their internet connections and the amount of time I have to write and process photos. If you would like to see some amazing shots from a crew member of Flora check out Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She is not only a crew member but an incredible photographer. I plan on asking her lots and lots of questions. I stole the photo of Flora at the top of this post from her.

The only thing I like about air travel is it gives me time to read.

Jane Lindskold

Connections Anxiety

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

This was our fellow cruisers original question:

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

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

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

My response

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

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

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

The REST of the story

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

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

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

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

 

STOP DOING THIS!

AdobeStock_242985570Just a short blurb today about a subject close to my heart.

I think I have mentioned the column written by Chris Elliott before. Chris runs a website and is an advocate for travelers. He and his people help those who have had problems or been scammed while traveling. He has helped people who have need a refund from an airline, had to bail from a bad vacation rental or had any of hundreds of other travel problems.

This morning Chris and his staff take a stand on a subject that is near and dear to my heart (being six foot two)—reclining seats in airplane economy sections. His attitude is EXACTLY the same as mine…STOP DOING THIS! Stop reclining. He makes some incredibly important points about why people should stop reclining (it isn’t because he’s tall or doesn’t like it personally) and I hope you will take a minute to read his article which you can find by clicking here.

You can’t be truly rude until you understand good manners.—Rita Mae Brown

 

Coming soon to a travel blog near you

So our trip is done and we are recovering from 27 hours spent in airports and airplanes to get home. Today is all about laundry and resting up. Not a great trip home due to so many things. Among them were weather (Denver airport closed for a time as we were attempting to land so we got to circle for a while), late flights and construction at airports made this a really long day.

I wasn’t going to add this but I want to see it in print so feel free to skip it. This is what our travel home day was like.

  1. Woke up at 3:15 am onboard Celebrity Reflection (As usual, couldn’t sleep).
  2. Left Reflection at 6:45 am (early).
  3. Arrived at Dublin Airport at 7:35.
  4. Sat in shared business class lounge with Bob and Holly until our flight to London Heathrow left at 10:50 am.
  5. Arrived London Heathrow, Terminal 5 at 12:20 pm.
  6. Transferred to London Heathrow Terminal 3 for flight to Denver. Took the better part of an hour.
  7. Sat in British Terminal 3 Business lounge until 2:40 when we boarded our flight to Denver.
  8. Arrived in Denver at 6:15 pm Denver time after circling due to weather.
  9. Stood in line for almost an hour at Customs in Denver as all inbound flights had been held for weather and then all arrived at the same time. It was a bloody zoo.
  10. Due to the fact that we could not get a Business Class award flight direct to Seattle we flew to Denver (instead of home to Seattle) we had to now check all our luggage back in for a short flight to Seattle (that we paid for…in coach) that was supposed to leave at 7:35 pm.
  11. Due to all the late arrivals, our flight didn’t leave until 9:06 pm.
  12. Arrived in Seattle at 10:55 pm.
  13. After getting our luggage we grabbed a Lyft and wound up getting home at 11:45.

So that was our day. Too long. And all to get award seats from BA via Alaska Miles. Which will bring me to a future post on finding award seats in the near future. I promise.

And now to the reason for this post. The schedule of what is to come this week. My plan is to post Iceland day 1 tomorrow afternoon, Iceland day 2 on Tuesday, Iceland day 3 and 4 on Friday. Hope that keeps you all up to date without overwhelming anyone with too much to read.

Technology doesn’t address everything – for example, air travel still sucks. —Brad Feld