Amsterdam and northward…then on to Greece

This time I am writing from Athens, Greece. But first I wanted to post the last pics from our day north of Amsterdam with our outstanding guide, Hans. I found Hans (as well as our guides in Athens and Barcelona) through Tours by Locals. We have used this company before and they are all over the world. The reviews on the site are usually right on and can be trusted. We have found you get some great local insights you would not get from a ship tour because these are the people who live right there. You learn so much.

Hans met us right on time at our hotel and we were off. Since we had already toured Amsterdam on a prior visit, we were looking to see the outskirts of the city as well as some of the countryside. Hans did a great job of doing just that. See the photo captions for some of what we saw. 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…

On to Athens

We had dinner the night of our northern Netherlands tour at a place Kathleen and I had eaten at on our last trip that Jamie and Steve wanted to try—Restaurant Zaza. It’s a short cab ride from the Banks Mansion. It was just as good as it had been in 2016, it both service and food. Had a great time.

The next day we had a flight to Athens at 12:20 pm. The hotel as well as every post we had seen online suggested we get to the Schipol Airport no later than four hours before we flew. So off we went at 8:00 am and check my previous post for how we did at the airport. The flight itself was “fine” (you know what that means) and they gave us an actual sandwich…not really, it was just two pieces of VERY stale bread with a single slice of the worst cheese in The Netherlands between it 😜. But they got us (AND OUR LUGGAGE) there almost on time and as soon as we got to baggage claim a rep from Viking Cruises met us and whisked us and our luggage away to a waiting coach for our almost hour-long trip to our hotel, the Athens Marriott. You should know that this hotel was not our choice, but Viking’s as we are now in their care on our pre-cruise extension. I will say that it is a very nice Marriott, it has the best water pressure EVER (I took too many long showers) but it is located in a very non-photographic part of town. The first night I tried taking a photo walk and you will see what I came up with below. Then in my next post I will show you shots of the Athens you were expecting.

Watch the next post for my report on a very HOT but rewarding day in Athens.

I like the look of a windmill. —Jeff Duncan

We Made It! And Amsterdam is (was) Wonderful!

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.

Us in our seats. A shot to send the grandkids

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.

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…
  • 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.

Air travel dehydrates people.  —Michael J. Knowles

And We’re Off!

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.
—St. Augustine

In A Holding Pattern

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

Going again

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.

Economy…Plus…Plus

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. 

Typical Domestic Economy Class

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

Typical International Economy cabin on an international flight. Note the 2-4-2 configuration.

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?

Delta’s Premium Economy Seat

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

 

Airplane classes: Today let’s look at Business

This is the Delta One Business Class seat I just booked for Kathleen and I to Amsterdam in August.

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

First, Business, Premium Economy or Economy—How will you fly?

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.

Alaska Air First Class

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 are trying to travel again…

Just a quick note tonight. We are at the start of what we hope will be a really great 14 night vacation that we booked to make up for losing our European trip in December. When that trip got cancelled we immediately looked for someplace else to go. We didn’t want Europe because at that point things were going south there pretty quick and we have a big Mediterranean cruise planned for next autumn.

So one of the first people we asked for advice was our good friend Seth Wayne. Long time readers of these posts may remember that Seth used to be a meteorologist in Seattle and we met him on Twitter because of our mutual love of cruising. He also had a travel show on KOMO radio and I was often one of his guests to talk travel. Two years ago, Seth left his job at KOMO-TV as the morning weather guy and became the Director of Communications and Brand Ambassador for Holland America (HAL) cruise line. Since then (minus the pandemic) he has been on a HAL ship. From time to time he does a special Sail with Seth cruise where he is on the ship with a group of folks and there are all kinds of additional activities that he runs for the group. So I called to ask him when the next one was…and he said, “Hey, come with me to the Southern Caribbean on January 23rd!”

So even though I am NOT a fan of the Caribbean, because it was Seth and because we hadn’t been anyplace since our July trip to the Galapagos (which is forever for us) we jumped on it. And then came Omicron. So for the last two weeks we have been following all the news to see what was going on with the virus and cruising.

Yes, we have heard all the CDC stuff about cruising but I still totally believe that being on a cruise ship is by far the safest way to travel. Sure you can drive, but eventually you have to stop and eat or sleep. You could fly but when you do, you have no idea if the person next to or in front of or behind you is vaccinated or willing to keep their mask on correctly for your entire flight. But when you cruise, you know that every person on board has been fully vaccinated and wears a mask except when eating or drinking. Not only that but you can’t board without a negative COVID test whether you are vaccinated or not.

So last Saturday we went and got ourselves a Kaiser PCR test to be sure we were safe to fly south. We passed with a NEGATIVE result (which is kind of weird…to say that it’s a bad thing to be POSITIVE) and then we quarantined at home (no market trips, no restaurants, etc.) until this morning when we were picked up by Century Car Service and whisked off to SEA-TAC airport for our flight to Fort Lauderdale. I would love to say that everything went perfectly and it almost did except for the one hour delay to replace a knob in the cockpit But we finally got here and we even had time for a quick dinner at the hotel before I ran back to the airport to pick my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Jamie who are back traveling with us again. (They haven’t gotten to go anyplace since we came home from Ireland in June 2019) And now I am sitting in bed at the Le Meridien Hotel in Dania Point, FL writing this post.

Our cruise does not sail until Sunday and between now and then we are going down to Key West tomorrow, then back up to Wellington to have dinner with our buddies Mike and Cathy and then an AirBnB back here in Fort Lauderdale so we can do another COVID test before we sail on Sunday.

The big message here is to get ready for some more photos and posts as we spend the next two weeks out and about in Florida and the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean the temperature never changes, the sun just goes down.      —Kris Marshall

 

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.