Why we changed from hotels to AirBnBs

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 3.18.12 PMYesterday we were talking to someone about using AirBnB or just vacation rentals instead of hotels and I was telling them why we have pretty much stopped staying in hotels and just stay in vacation rentals now. 

Here’s why we have pretty much switched to AirBnB type rentals:

  • Different rising times. Most of my regular readers know that I get up early (really early—like 3:30 or 4:00 am) and Kathleen likes to sleep in (6:30 or 7:00). When we are in a hotel room, all I can do is lay there and look at the darkness but when we are in an AirBnB there is usually a living room where I can go and sit and read, work on my photos from the vacation we are on or get dressed to go workout. 
  • Check-in is usually a piece of cake. We have done 15 AirBnBs so far and have only met humans twice. Usually they will send you a key code you can use on the front door or on a lock box where the key is.
  • Check out is just as easy. You just leave the key or lock the lock and you are gone. If you are nice person, you can e-mail or text them and let them know you are out so they can send their cleaning crew.
  • You can sometimes get in early. We have had great hosts who will text us when the unit is ready. One guy in Tucson sent me a note around noon telling us that if we wanted to get in, the place was ready. I love that.
  • You can communicate entirely by e-mail or text. No phone calls which is my preference. I think I have only talked on the phone to three of the 15 hosts we have stayed with.
  • You can save some money by eating some meals in the unit because most have kitchens and dining rooms. Even if you just have breakfast (we have done that) it can save you money or be easier. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a coffee maker you have access to.
  • Most AirBnB’s have a washer and dryer which is great if you are traveling on longer trips. That means for a two week trip you only have to pack one week’s worth of clothes. When we did our New England trip last year we had been on the road for ten days before we got to our AirBnB in NYC. After four days in NYC we were going on a cruise. It was great to get on the cruise with clean clothes.
  • They are GREAT for groups. One of the best things about an AirBnB (as opposed to a hotel) is that when you are traveling with other people and you aren’t doing anything, everyone is in the same place. You have a nice living room to sit in and just talk, especially if you are coming from different places and haven’t seen each other in a while. Plus you have a fully-equipped kitchen you can do breakfast or snacks in. It’s a great way to go. We had an AirBnB in Dublin last summer that slept 8 so when my brother, his wife, their daughter, my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband and daughter joined us, we got to have this experience. It was great to have a place to just sit and talk…or play games. 

Some tips for booking an AirBnB

If you haven’t booked one yet, I will tell you some tips that Kathleen’s daughter and son-in-law (who have used it for years) told us when we started booking them and that we have learned from booking ours. These rules may not apply to all rental sites. My daughter has used VRBO, we never have. We use AirBnB pretty exclusively.

  • Always look at the photos of the unit. If there aren’t photos of most (if not all) rooms, move on.
  • Read the reviews. AirBnB will not allow owners to remove bad reviews (owners can respond to them, but not remove them). Pay special attention to mentions of cleanliness. Most people who stay in AirBnBs will write reviews. The owners will also review you when you do and you can’t see each other’s reviews until you both have submitted them. When you go to rent in the future, other owners can look at your reviews and turn you down (maybe you left a place a mess, had a big party, etc.). It’s a good system.
  • If it sleeps a bunch of people, make sure there are enough bathrooms. Some of the older homes have 4 bedrooms and one bath. Yikes. We always look for at least one bath per family. When we did Dublin we had three couples and two of them had a 20 something child with them. So we needed four bedrooms and 3 baths. 
  • Check the number of beds/bedrooms. If you have four couples in our age group, they may not be thrilled with bunk beds.😀
  • Make sure the unit is where you want to be—close to the action. When it comes to location, most will NOT tell you an exact address before you book but they will tell you a general neighborhood and show you a map with a circle that the rental will be in. That can help if you know the neighborhood. We had friends stay here in one who didn’t ask us about the neighborhood and wound up in a part of town I wouldn’t park my car overnight in. You can also look at street views on Google Earth which can give you some idea what you are getting into. If you are coming to Seattle and plan to rent one, just ask us.
  • AirBnBThe nightly rate quoted may not be the entire cost. Keep in mind that you will pay more than the nightly fee which is what they show to start. There is also a separate cleaning fee, service fee (I have no idea what this is for that isn’t cleaning, but they all charge it), Occupancy taxes and fees. Check out this example of the charges on a Seattle AirBnB.
  • The price may be different from one day to the next. One other thing to remember about the price: if you look at rental without putting dates in, you may find that when you do the price changes, sometimes dramatically. For instance, our last stay was in Walla Walla, on our wine tasting tour. We went with our neighbors in August for three days, mid-week and we rented at the last minute. The price for mid-week rentals in the heat of the summer and at the last minute was great! But in the spring or fall (peak months) and on a weekend, the price was literally double. 
  • Set up an account before you look. When you go to the site, click the sign up link and put in your info. This will really help when you want to save particular rentals and come back to them.
  • Refine your search. When you know where you want to go, search for where you want to go,  Then Click Dates, Guests, Type of Place (choose Entire Place) and go. That will show you only what you are looking for. 
  • Save your favorites. Once you have refined your search, look at each one and save it to a favorite list by clicking the heart at the top of the page. When the site asks you which list to save it to, create a new one for the next place you are going. We have lists for all the cities we have stayed in (about 15). 

Out of the 15 or so we have stayed in, we have only had one so-so experience (our first) and no bad ones. Here are photo (from their listings) of the places we have stayed. There are notes in the captions.

 

Two of my favorite things combined: travel and photography—asking for help

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 4.29.53 PMI fully realize that my posts are supposed to be about travel, but this one kind of is. Not my travel but the travels of some good friends of mine, Ellen and John Jarvinen. Their travel plus a HUGE project they are looking for help to make happen for this coming summer.

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Last summer John (who is an accomplished photographer and a retired teacher) and Ellen (who is also a great photographer and one of my favorite yearbook advisers) traveled to the remote Southern Pacific island of Aitutaki. Here’s what Ellen has to say about it on their GoFundMe site:

“During our month on the island, we fell in love with the people and want to do something meaningful for their children. We have the permission of Araura School’s principal to teach a digital photography course July and August 2020 as volunteers, supplying the cameras, computers, software, and peripherals needed to accomplish learning. Now we just need the equipment and to get it and ourselves there!

The photography class will include composition (rule of thirds, angle, line, framing) as well as learning to manipulate the variables (shutter speed, aperture) for effect. Students will also learn professional workflow with Adobe Photoshop to enhance their photos in terms of contrast, color, and sharpness. They will also learn to cut mats for their photos.

We also plan to teach a couple of the teachers at Araura High School so that they can continue to offer the class..”

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After hearing all about this, I really wanted to support Ellen and John in this really great endeavor and I hoped that some of you might as well. If you want to know more about what they are doing and what they want to raise money for and maybe even make a contribution, you can go to their Go Fund Me site by clicking here.

I had promised Ellen I would ask my readers for help and she dropped me a note this week to let me know that they now have 501-3c status which means that donations to their project are now tax deductible. Being a photographer and a traveler, this is my kind of project and I hope some of you will join me in supporting them.

The practice of charity will bind us – will bind all men in one great brotherhood.—Conrad Hilton

My perfect vacation

Sometimes you might wonder where I get my ideas. I am a walker. Each week I try and take at least two walks of more than six miles and while I am walking (takes me about two hours), I am thinking about what I want to write. On my last walk, this came to me. It is dedicated to all my readers who don’t or haven’t taken a cruise and don’t understand why anyone would cruise.

The Perfect Vacation Day

Imagine the following vacation day. It is my idea of a perfect vacation day. It’s not the day we fly in from somewhere, it’s just a typical day in the middle of a vacation. Maybe we are in NYC, Amsterdam or Barcelona.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 I wake up. Kathleen is still sleeping so I dress quietly in the dark and sneak out of our hotel room to go work out at the the fully-equipped gym in the hotel. Lots of bikes, weights, treadmills as well as fitness classes I could take. (I know some of my readers are thinking I am nuts, but I said this was MY perfect vacation day.) After I finish my workout I head back to our hotel room where Kathleen has risen and gotten ready for our day. I quickly do the same and we are off to breakfast.

For breakfast we have a bunch of choices. We can just go and get a latte and a piece of pastry, we can go to the hotel breakfast buffet or we can go to the hotel’s sit down restaurant and be served pretty much whatever we want. They have a fairly extensive menu. The food is good and we probably eat too much.

Then it is off to see the sites. We might walk around the city, we might take a tour—probably a food tour since we love those—or we might decide that we have had enough touring and just go and sit by the hotel pool (OK, not likely for us) or in a nice spot in the lobby area and read or I could write another post or work on processing photos from previous day tours or we could play a game with new friends we made the night before at dinner. Maybe Kathleen would head to the spa for a manicure. You never know.

If we decided to leave the hotel, around lunchtime we might find a quaint little restaurant in the town or city we are in and have lunch. We have done this many times before. We have found an awesome crêpes place in Eze, France, a wonderful Italian trattoria in Sienna, Italy and a brewery with spruce-tip beer and fantastic chili in Skagway, Alaska. But if we decided to stay at the hotel that day, we have the same choices as breakfast—the hotel buffet or a sit down restaurant. Or there is a really great burger place and maybe a few more spots to choose from. All are priced well and we eat for next to nothing.

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After lunch it’s more touring or more relaxing depending on what we decided to do. Around 4:00 pm if we are touring we decide to head back to the hotel and get ready for cocktails and dinner. Since we love to meet people, we change and head out to a hotel bar or maybe one nearby. The hotel has more than 10 different lounges and we are certain we will find something we like in one of them. When we are sipping and nibbling, we meet some folks from another state or another country. We are feeling great because we are all on vacation so we strike up a conversation. We find out about their travels and they find out about ours. We discuss their grandkids and swap photos. We talk about our kids and they tell us about theirs. We never talk politics or religion. Too dangerous.

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An hour or so later we head off to dinner. All those same options are open to us again (hotel buffet, sit down restaurant and lots of other slightly more expensive choices) and we choose the sit down restaurant. Because we have been there the night before (and maybe the night before that) the waiter knows us by name. He knows what we like to drink and it is already at the table.

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The menu is pretty good and we can have a full, three course meal. In fact if we want a four course meal or a five course meal, the waiter says he will be happy to bring us anything else on the menu we like. One night I am decadent and order both the shrimp cocktail and the escargot. We meet other people seated near us and talk and again discuss the same type of topics, sharing our lives. Over the years as we have traveled from hotel to hotel we have met lots of people this way. Many have become life-long friends. When it comes time to order the dessert, I ask the waiter if he can bring us one of every dessert on the menu and let us try everything with our new friends. He says, “Of  course sir,” and is back in a flash with something for everyone to try. He also tells us that if we like one particular dessert, he can bring us an entire one for ourselves.

Then it’s off to a show. We might see a show as good as one we have seen on Broadway, a Cirque de Soleil style performance, a jazz quartet or maybe just a comedian who cracks us up. But no matter what, the hotels lets us see these shows for free.

After the show we wander over to that lounge for a drink and to watch some of our new friends who are ballroom dancing. They finish and join us for a drink and then we all head off to our rooms in the hotel where a full turn-down service has been performed just like in any other five-star hotel. There’s a mint on our pillows and we are beat after our long but rewarding day. We are quickly asleep.

The next morning we wake up and open the drapes out to our hotel balcony and we are shocked (not really) to find that somehow our hotel has magically been transported to another of our favorite cities and we get to do the entire day all over again with new experiences and new places to see. We are a little sad because we had a few more things we wanted to do in the city we were in yesterday so we plan to come back and stay longer.

Here’s my favorite part of all this. If everything is perfect, our total cost for this vacation at this magical hotel is less than $250 day for both of us. Depending on the time of year (if we can travel off-season) it might be less. Remember I said this was my fantasy that I thought of while walking. But see, it really isn’t a fantasy. We have taken this same trip 28 times already and we plan to take it whole bunch more. This is a cruise and our hotel just happens to move most of the nights we are onboard while we are enjoying those shows and then sleeping.

That’s why we cruise. You should try it. If you are reading this, you probably already have but feel free to show this to all your friends who think you are crazy to cruise. Then tell them to join you on your next one.

I learned a long time ago that trying to micromanage the perfect vacation is always a disaster. That leads to terrible times.—Anthony Bourdain

 

On the radio…talking travel…again

IMG_2094This afternoon Kathleen and I headed into downtown Seattle to KOMO radio where we met up with our good friend and KOMO-TV weather guy and KOMO radio travel expert Seth Wayne. A year ago today we were getting off Explorer of the Seas after celebrating his 40th birthday with 61 of his closest friends (which we are proud to be part of) so it was only fitting we meet up with him today to talk travel.

Seth does a weekly travel radio show on KOMO radio that you can listen to by clicking here at 4:00 any Sunday. It is also available via Tune-In by asking Alexa to “play KOMO Radio 1000.” She will grab the show for you from Tune-In.

Seth tapes the show earlier in the week and sometimes tapes more than one to be broadcast when he is traveling. Today was a day like that. We taped two shows, one on apps for travelers and the other on general travel topics (how to pick the right cruise, travel insurance, having a passport) and we had a great time doing it.

Tentatively the apps for travel show will air this Sunday, September 22nd at 4:00 on KOMO radio and the general travel show at the same time on October 12. I would love to have you tune in for either of them. I would also love to tell you that they would both be available as podcasts but that would be wrong since the people who do the podcasts at the station are kind of slow adding the shows…like a year behind. But never fear, if you are doing something else on Sunday (like watching the end of the Seahawks game) I will endeavor to tape it and put it online for you next week.

In the meantime, I promised on the air that I would put the list of apps we talked about as well as the ones we didn’t get to on this site. So if you click here you can go to the page where those apps are listed. Some will have links that you can go right to the app when I can find them. Otherwise, just search the App Store of your favorite phone or tablet.

I like to discover new things, and I’m always testing new apps. –Francois-Henri Pinault

 

100 (and gratuities)

TipJarAccording to WordPress (the platform this website resides on) this is my 100th post. It is kind of fitting then that it has been a while since I last posted, way back on our 20th wedding anniversary in August. Here we are on September 11th so it has been more than two full weeks since I posted. Shame on me! I promise to do better.

First I want to say thank you to all my subscribers and friends and relatives who actually take the time to read (and even better—comment on) my thoughts on travel, cruising and the rest. You people rock and you humble me by reading what I write. It is a labor of love and an outlet for my frustrations, my triumphs and my photography.

That said, I have had a post ready to go all during that time but I just could not get myself to publish it. It was all about the “class system” in cruising. Much of what got me to write  it came from my feelings about our Ovation of the Seas cruise in July. The more I wrote it and reread it, it seemed like I was just whining. This is not to say that I am not good at whining. I just don’t like to do it publicly 😜. So I am going to put that post on hold until I am further away from the Ovation cruise and not so down on the system that led to our problems and move on to writing something else.

One thing I thought I could point you at today is an outstanding discussion that is ongoing on Chris Elliot’s Elliott Advocacy website about cruise ship gratuities. If you have cruised you know about gratuities. For those that don’t, most cruise lines (except the luxury lines that include everything) will charge you gratuities above and beyond your original cruise fare. Depending on your stateroom class, your gratuity charge is something in the neighborhood of $13-$15 per person in the stateroom/per day. If you have four people in the stateroom this can really add up.

But there is a catch. You can choose not to pay gratuities. But to do that you have to wait until you are on the ship, go in person to the Guest Relations desk and tell them you want to not pay gratuities. At which point they may make you feel like you are the biggest cheapskate in the world, but you can do it. The discussion on the Elliott Advocacy site (CLICK HERE) is all about whether this opt-out method of doing gratuities is (as Chris Elliott himself put it) “consumer friendly” or not. If you are interested and you go to the site, you can skip the original problem. The interesting stuff is in the comments. It’s been quite the discussion and I know exactly how I feel about it.

That should do it for today. We haven’t been anywhere in two weeks or so, so I have no new pics for you. Just a giant thank you for sticking with me.

Know how and how much to tip people who expect gratuities, even in the case of poor service. —Marilyn vos Savant

20 Years—we can’t believe it

IMG_2067Can’t believe it. Today Kathleen and I are celebrating 20 years of marriage by taking a two day trip to Vancouver, BC. We have visited here many times in those 20 years as it is one of our favorite cities. We were here last in 2017 with our British buddies Paul and Gail. Before that my brother Steve, his wonderful wife Jamie and our niece Cassie were here in 2015. We used to come here a lot more often before 2006 when we switched out British Columbia focus from Vancouver to Chilliwack because we always had so much more fun with Bob and Judy.

We drove up yesterday (Tuesday) and had a wonderful dinner at Edible Canada on Granville Island and then saw an improv show at Vancouver TheatreSports League (VTSL). We have been going to VTSL for almost as long as we have been married. It’s an awesome improv spot that has in its founding members Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles of Whose Line Is It Anyway? The show was outstanding. We laughed our asses off.

This morning I went out for one of my early morning photo walks. I have done a bunch in Vancouver and it never disappoints. Saw a couple of cruise ships (one Princess and one Holland America’s Volendam) and thousands of teenage girls line up at 5:45 am for a huge warehouse sale. Just crazy.

After breakfast at our hotel (the Wedgewood—where we have never stayed but we LOVE it) we went to see the Vancouver Aquarium. We can’t believe we have come to YVR so many times and never seen it. It is truly amazing. Then it was a nice drive around the Stanley Park, stopped at Prospect Point to take pictures of the Lions Gate Bridge and have lunch at a superb little bar and grille place there.

Back to our room so I could process photos and take a short nap (we are kind of old, you know) and then dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the world, CinCin. We have had so many great dinners there since we first went with some of our Martini Mates back in 2005. Tonight was no exception. Truly wonderful Italian food and wine.

More tomorrow when I plan to walk the sea wall all the way around Stanley Park as my early morning photo walk, but in the meantime, here’s some pics I really like from today’s walk and our visit to the Aquarium.

The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all the time. —Julia Child

A few more words about wine…and Walla Walla

No cruising or complaining today. Just a quick update to finish up our trip to Walla Walla.

When last we spoke (or when last I wrote) we were with our friends Jayesh and Lisa setting out to taste wine all around Walla Walla, Washington. And taste wine we did. We spent the entire day on Thursday trying new wines and eating. Shame on us, but it was so good and so much fun. We started out at Castillo de Feliciana Vineyard and Winery which was actually in Oregon and not Washington (by about 100 yards). What a beautiful place (see my pics below) in its own way. Kathleen and I spent a wonderful hour or so trying their wine while Jayesh and Lisa had their “morning juice.”

Then after grabbing a couple of bottles of a wine that Feliciana had “found” in the cellar (a wonderful 2008 red blend) we headed back to Washington to taste some more. For those who are not wine tasting types, a note about how wine tasting works (I always wanted to know,…maybe you do too) the wineries charge to taste about five or six wines (somewhere between $8 and $15) and they waive the tasting charge if you buy any bottle or if you are a member of their wine club (more about that later). They pour you about an ounce of each of their wines, usually starting with the lightest white through the deepest red. You can split (as we did) a tasting. If you are the designated driver (as I was) you can sip the wine and spit it out (they have buckets for that) or you can pick and choose which wines to actually taste (which is what I did) and sip a tiny mouthful. I want to say that at no time during our three days of wine tasting did I ever feel impaired. The last thing the father-in-law of a WSP sergeant ever wants is a DUI. And many of you know my attitude about DUIs. Tougher laws are needed.

Getting down off my DUI soapbox, we were on to the next place, Dusted Valley Winery where we met a very nice young lady who told us all about the wine. One of the best benefits of doing this on a weekday was having very few other people doing tastings so we got to hear all about the wines, where they were grown, how they were blended. Totally boring if you aren’t into wine and but great if you are. It’s amazing to learn how and where the grapes were grown affects the taste and scent of the wine. As much as we liked the young lady we weren’t that impressed with the wine and moved on to our next place—Tranche Cellars. We had shared an amazing bottle of their wine the night before at dinner and I was really looking forward to trying others.

I was not disappointed and we left with both another two bottles and a membership in their wine club. What this means is that we joined a club at no charge and we will receive two shipments of wine every year until we tell them to stop. There is no charge to join, but we are charged (at a reduced rate from retail) for the wine. Since we loved their wine, we thought why not give the club a try. If we don’t end up liking what we get the first time, we can cancel it. This particular vineyard was just as beautiful as Feliciana in an entirely different way. After our tasting and our buying, we were off to one more before we called it quits for the day.

rocksOur last stop was Saviah Cellars where we got quite the education about a particular growing area called a terroir or AVA (An American Viticultural Area—AVA is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States, providing an official appellation for the mutual benefit of wineries and consumers) known as The Rocks where grapes are literally grown in a pile of the rockiest soil you have ever seen. It produces (as Lisa says) a wine with a kind of a “funk” in the taste. It might be funky but I like it. Some really great Syrahs, (my favorite varietal of wine) so we had to buy two more bottles plus join their club as well. The woman doing the tasting turned out to be the mother of the very nice young lady we had met that morning at Dusted Valley. She was very knowledgable and we enjoyed talking to her and learning all about “The Rocks.”

There was another nearby winery we almost stopped in but we decided that at that point we were tasted out and needed both food and rest so it was back into Walla Walla for a quick bite. Before we had left I had read in an Eater.com post about a really cool restaurant inside a gas station convenience store and I really wanted to stop and try their food. It seemed like a really good place to catch a light (we were only 4 hours away from our dinner reservation) lunch. It’s called Andrae’s and it is really amazing food inside a Cenex station. Seriously! Check out their menu on their website here. We were trying to eat light so we each split a gyro but it came with fries…lots of fries. And really good fries too.

Lunch done, it was back to the AirBnB to rest, relax and download photos. Then dinner at Passtempo Restaurant (which while adequate, I can’t recommend as highly as I did Saffron the night before) and rest for the trip home.

That trip home was preceded by another early morning photo walk where I got some shots I really liked that are below, a great breakfast at the Maple Counter Cafe (known for their GIANT Dutch Baby pancakes) and a short drive to show Kathleen some of the old mansions I had found on my walks.

It’s about a five hour drive back to Redmond. On the way we made a stop in a town called Prosser for…what else? A wine tasting at 14 Hands Vineyards. We were home by 3:30. If you have not been, it’s worth a trip, especially if you love wine, which you now know we do.

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. —M. F. K. Fisher

On the road again…to wine

You know how we hate to sleep in our own beds so with that in mind we grabbed our next door neighbors and good friends Jayesh and Lisa and took off on a quick three day jaunt to the Walla Walla wine country. We left early Wednesday morning for what is usually a 4+ hour drive that due to my choice of route (through Leavenworth, Cashmere and Wenatchee) and typical Washington summer road construction, plus a stop for some great barbecue for lunch turned into a seven-hour trip.

We arrived in Walla Walla around 4:00 and since this is Washington’s  wine country and we like wine, the first stop was the first wine tasting place we saw on the highway. After trying some really great reds and a superb white (we ended up buying the white—I know our friends who drink wine are shocked) we were off…to the winery next door. This one was in a historic school house. I thought their wines were just fine but we didn’t buy any here because nothing screamed...I AM WONDERFUL! BUY ME! 

That was enough tasting to start the trip so we made our way into the downtown core of Walla Walla to the AirBnB we had rented. This may be the nicest AirBnB we have stayed in (Click here to see the listing). Just gorgeous. Tons of rooms for all four of us (actually room for eight). A great kitchen (not that we are cooking) and close to everything. We have never been here before but Jayesh and Lisa come on a regular basis so they know all the good wineries and more importantly, the great restaurants. Last night we started with dinner at a superb Mediterranean restaurant called Saffron. If you come here—go there. Excellent food and great service. Plus when you are with good friends, you always have a good time.

This morning I was up and shooting photos around 5:30 on my five mile walk to try and wear off some of dinner and what turned out to be an amazing breakfast of chilaquiles. No matter where I go, if they have chilaquiles, I have to try them. Today’s were about a 7 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the ones I had in Santa Fe and the ones in Las Vegas being a 9.5.

At any rate, I am writing this while we are killing time waiting for the wineries to open up so I will add some photos from yesterday and my pre-dawn walk and see you tomorrow.

Close friends contribute to our personal growth. They also contribute to our personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder because they are there. —Judith Viorst

All the stuff I loved about Ovation

I had something else I was going to do before this post but it can wait since it is me being a “grumpy git” as my Yorkshire friends would say.

So let’s talk what I loved about our Ovation of the Seas cruise to Alaska with our kids and grandkids. So many of you have commented that every thing seems to have been horrible and now where should they take their kids on a cruise if not Royal. Well I am here to say, go ahead and take them on Royal Caribbean, just have lower expectations and a different mindset of what is important.

As a travel professional it is my job to help my clients have the best travel experience possible and my writing about this cruise is part of that. Hopefully those clients and other readers will learn from my mistakes. So here’s the good stuff.

IMG_2009First, Mason’s viewpoint. On the last night of the cruise, at the dinner table in the main dining room (while he was eating escargot for the fourth time) I asked my 8-year old grandson, “What were the five best things on this cruise?” He was really quick to answer me:

  1. The Flowrider (he had only the day before learned to ride it and he was INCREDIBLY proud of that).
  2. The service in the dining room at dinner. (I pressed him on this because it was kind of an interesting thing for an 8-year old to say but he was adamant.) He loved Res and Putu, who took such good care of all of us.
  3. The food in the dining room at dinner. (I was sure he was going to choose the buffet because of all the choices but he said no, he loved the food in the dining room best. Guess it was the escargot, shrimp and steak.)
  4. The bumper cars. (He’s 8—what did you expect?)
  5. Spending a week with Grandpa and Grandma K. (Of course I wish this had been first but it did place ahead of spending the week with his sister, mom and dad so I was happy!)

I love his list. And he really never mentioned (neither did his sister) anything they didn’t like. Now if you ask me what they really liked, it was having the complete and total attention of their Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma K for an entire week—always trying to keep them entertained.

Now here’s my list of the things I LOVED about our Ovation cruise.

  1. Spending the week with my grandkids and their parents. It was a sheer joy to have my two grandkids knock on our door every day before breakfast and say, “room service,” laughing the entire time. Even standing in line for hours with them was great. We had so many interesting conversations. I have never played so much foosball and loved it. Mason and I have a particular bond (I was lucky enough to get to take care of him when he was really little when his Mom was teaching and his Dad had to work) and we have always just been simpatico. He’s my best buddy and I am his. So spending time with him is a joy for me. And Maylee loves me and adores her Grandma K. All the hassles we had on this cruise from start to finish are overshadowed by the incredible time we had with those two and their parents. It was a vacation we will all remember for a very long time._8106881
  2. Our stateroom. In 28 cruises (barring the one time we had a suite) this was the nicest room we have ever been in. It was the best designed, had the most storage, was the most comfortable as far as just being in it. Sure, the shower could have been a little bigger but at least it was an enclosure and didn’t have a shower curtain. And the bed was one of the worst we have ever slept on (but that didn’t detract from the great stateroom design). We should mention there are entire Cruise Critic threads out there about people bringing air mattresses because the beds are so bad.
  3. _8106906The service team in the dining room. Res and Putu were actually better than pretty much any other serving team we have ever had. After having Richard and his team in Blu (on Reflection in Iceland) I didn’t think it could get any better. But I was wrong. And the fact that I was wrong is what makes RCL the right place to take kids. You see even though the management has scheduling conflicts and the kid’s club people were just ho-hum in their interactions with our kids, the real star of the ship for kids are the adults who “get” how to deal with kids. From our room steward Shetty who talked to the kids every time he saw them to the guy running the Flowrider who took time to work with kids on trying new things (he didn’t have to do that) these people got kids. And above all, these two amazing people who served us each night in the dining room charmed our kids. Especially Res who just knew how to deal with kids so well.
  4. The gym. It was spiffy! That’s the best word I can give it. I went every morning for an hour and as usual it was packed on day one and almost empty on day six. But all the equipment is still like new. Best stationary bike I have ridden that I didn’t own. The place was kept VERY clean.
  5. The ship itself. Ovation is new and beautiful. It has been quite a while since we have been on a ship this new. Everything is still clean and sparkly compared to many other, older ships we have sailed on—even though Ovation is almost three years old. She has been well taken care of and if you are considering a cruise on her you will love the ship itself. I especially loved the artwork in all the stairwells. Of course you have to take the stairs to see it all, but the elevators are so slow, you can take your time on the stairs.

That about does it. Not perfection but not horrible either. And I can say this unequivocally—if I had to do it again, and I could avoid a few of the bigger problems (like having a passport—that we just got back from renewal today) I would. Just avoid the buffet, eat in the dining room and take your grandkids.

Nothing always stays the same. You don’t stay happy forever. You don’t stay sad forever. —Cat Zingano

 

Day 7: Victoria, BC–almost home

The last day full day of this cruise we stopped for a full day in Victoria, BC. This stop is facilitated by what I used to call the Jones Act but my friend Bob keeps informing me that  this Act only applies to cargo and that there is a Passenger something-something act that applies to people. Either way, it you haven’t heard of this before, it’s STUPID, ANTIQUATED, OUT OF DATE (can you tell it ticks me off?) law that was created back in the 1800s to protect the U.S. shipping industry. The law says that a foreign-flagged ship can’t sail from one U.S. port to another without first stopping in a foreign country. And since only one cruise ship in the entire world (NCL’s Pride of America that sails the Hawaiian Islands) is registered in the U.S., every other one has to stop in a foreign country (in this case Canada) before they can go back to the U.S. So every single Alaskan cruise out of Seattle must stop in either Victoria or Vancouver. Most stop in Victoria just for the evening. For instance, the day we were there, Celebrity’s Solstice arrived around 5:00 pm and left again around midnight just to satisfy this law.

To prove how really stupid this law is, we sailed from San Diego to Hawaii and back a in 2012 and we had to stop in Ensenada, Mexico for about 15 minutes at 11:45 pm. No one was allowed to get off. We just stopped there to satisfy this crazy law.

So, because Ovation had come to the Alaskan market a year before they were supposed to, my theory is that they could not get a spot in any other Alaskan port (most go to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan) so they did the two they could get into and then headed for a full day in Victoria. That’s cool. Victoria is a great city and we (Kathleen and I) have been there many times. In fact we went there for our anniversary last August so we really didn’t see a reason to go into town…except my kids and grandkids had never been there so they wanted to go.

So in the morning, we all watched the Masons (M1 and M2) do the Flowrider thing again and then had lunch on board (the buffet was again quiet because so many people were off the ship—but the food was still horrible) and then we took the shuttle bus into town. A quick note about the shuttle bus. On the daily cruise announcement sheet it stated that the shuttle into town (less than 2 miles) was $10 each, either in U.S. funds or Canadian funds. Now that made me laugh because $10 U.S. is $13 Canadian. So the Americans on board were paying a $3 per person premium to ride the Canadian shuttle.

It just so happened that due to our going to Canada as much as we do (when you live this close and your best friends are Canadians, you go a lot) I had about $100 in Canadian money with me. So when we got off (everyone but Kathleen) I paid for the shuttle in Canadian $$$. Then I got a laugh again when the guy taking the money for the shuttle realized I was paying with Canadian funds, thought I was a Canadian. I did nothing to dissuade him because he said, “Oh, Canadian kids are half price,” with a grin. I let him go right on believing we were Canadians and paid half price for the grandkids.

In town we walked around a little, took a horse and carriage ride (35% off due to the exchange rate) and then walked around some more before heading back to the ship for our last dinner on board. It was a nice and easy day. We spent the evening packing our stuff up and putting it out for the attendants to take it off the ship so we could pick it up in the terminal the next morning.

And that’s about it. I have a few more pics to share before I wind this all up tomorrow or Saturday. I don’t have another day to post about but I do want to add some closing comments. You see there are a bunch of people out there who think we had a bad time on this cruise and that nothing was any good. This is just not true and I am so sorry if I have given that impression. The cruise started off really poorly because of problems that RCI and Ovation could have fixed easily but it got better and there were some really standout things I loved about Ovation despite all the problems. So come back next time and find out what they were. I promise, nothing but positives.