Archive for July, 2012

Bling, Bling, Ding Ding!

July 27, 2012

I’ve done some dumb things in my lifetime.  Usually out of ignorance.  I’ve also been very lucky that none of them turned out bad, though they clearly could have.  But I’ve learned and am here to share some of my “errors in judgement” so you won’t take the same unnecessary risks.

The first time I went to Africa I was in Zaire.  Yes, it was Zaire when I arrived – it was the Congo when I left.  There was a revolution while I was in country and I was only there a couple of weeks!

In an effort to “travel light” I just wore 1 pair of earrings the entire trip.  That would have made sense if they were the plain gold studs my ears were originally pierced with.  NOT!    I wore my 1 carat per ear diamond studs.  I also wore my actual wedding ring which is obvious in this picture even if it wasn’t the focus of the shot.

It didn’t occur to me that this might not have been a good idea until I was in the jungle with a Pygmy tribe.  In an entirely pantomimed conversations (we shared no other common language) one of the women admired my earrings then showed me the earrings they wove from vines.  I’m pretty sure she had no idea of the value of what she admired and am grateful I left the jungle with both the earrings and my earlobes!

I learned my lesson and invested in a plain gold band for future travel to third world destinations as you can see in this photo from the Amazon.

On my most recent international trip, we were on a luxury cruise line so of course, I didn’t want to go to dinner every night in a plain gold band but I also wasn’t comfortable going ashore in my “real” wedding ring set which certainly qualifies as “bling”.

Fortunately, impressive costume jewelry is widely available at low cost and is a fashion statement.  At the Nordstrom Rack I purchased several costume pieces including the Princess cut ring in the upper left of the photo which I wore as my “wedding ring”.  The other cocktail rings were for my right hand and coordinated with my evening outfits.

Total cost for ALL 5 PIECES…$75.00!!!!

When leaving the ship, I only wore my fake wedding ring.   At a couple of the stops, I didn’t even wear that – why look like a “target” even if what they would get was glass?

If you are traveling, particularly to poor or crime-ridden areas, consider investing in inexpensive jewelry to wear in place of your actual wedding ring or  the family piece you typically wear.  Even if your usual “bling” isn’t part of the Crown Jewels, it probably has sentimental value and it would put a damper on your vacation if it were lost or stolen.  Plus there is a safety issue to consider as well.

Sure, you could just leave all your good jewelry at home but if you are accustomed to wearing something as I am, you feel “naked” and cause yourself a few starts when you periodically notice it’s missing before you remember you intentionally left it behind.   Even my husband trades his ruby and diamond wedding band for a plain gold one when situations warrant.

We all love our bling, but no need to be a “ding ding”!

Push the Reset Button

July 20, 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever checked into a hotel planning to spend 7 nights and then checked out after 1.  Certainly I’ve asked for a different or better room,  some properties I wouldn’t choose to stay at again and several I wouldn’t recommend but I had never been so disappointed as to actually MOVE until now.

We honeymoon every year for our anniversary.  This year we went to Kauai.   With both friends and family in the hospitality business, we get great discounts on what are typically great hotels.  However,  the Sheraton Kauai was a disappointment.  From the lack of landscaping,  the tiny pool, the restaurants, even the elevator and hallway to our room – everything felt like a budget hotel.  Not what we would have chosen for our “honeymoon ” even our 12th!

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However,  this is not a hotel review but rather a “Now what?”  If it were just our room, we would have asked for a different one but the room itself was the best part (okay, except for the tub) – our disappointment was with the property.

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I had done some restaurant research prior to our arrival and a couple of the nicer restaurants were 2 miles down the beach at the Grand Hyatt.  We made a reservation and went there early enough to walk the grounds.  From the waterfall, black swans and other interesting waterfowl out front to the beautiful grounds and extensive pools – including a quiet adult pool – we were envious!

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At dinner I used my smartphone and got room rates.  A deluxe ocean view room was $600/night.  Yikes!  Our current ocean view room with the “friends/family” discount was only $240.

At my husband’s suggestion, I tried some of the highly advertised discount hotel websites.  I’ve never been a fan of the “blind hotel” sites such as Priceline or Hotwire.  I am uncomfortable paying for something before I know exactly what I’m getting even though I have friends who regularly use them.  In this instance,  I’d already had one hotel disappointment – I wasn’t willing to chance a second.

Before resigning ourselves to a lackluster week at our current property,  I tried Hotels.com.  I’ve used them in the past with success.  In fact, they listed the room level we wanted for our dates at $399 – $600 a night for future dates.  The $399 was a non-refundable, prepaid price listed as “limited time offer”. 

I went to the hotel front desk with smartphone in hand and asked if they could match the rate.  The Manager explained that their contract with these other sites gives them an allocation of rooms on dates they historically are not full.   As time gets short (checking in tomorrow versus 2 months from now) they will sell their inventory for whatever they can get – in this case, nearly $200/night less than the hotel itself because it’s the discounter taking the profit hit – not the hotel itself, they already sold the room to Hotels.com at the contract price.

The front desk management said they’d love to have us move over and encouraged me to “grab that deal”, which we did.  Yes, we prepaid on the spot but this time we knew exactly what we were buying.  Yes, it was $150/night more but we are not exclusively a “price customer “.  We’ve paid a lot more per night plenty of times!

Not only is the property lovely, our room has a lovely ocean view and even at our discount rate, they sent champagne to our room, gave us comp desserts and a cabana on the beach for a day in honor of our anniversary.

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The moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid to push the reset button!  When your room has issues but the property is fine – ask for a change.   When the property itself is the problem,  shop others nearby and then use the discount sites for last minute deals.  It’s your vacation – make it a great memory!

“Cinderella” Cruising

July 13, 2012

Perhaps no woman has known the magic of a great pair of shoes more than Cinderella.   Maybe the fairy tale’s repeated recitation is at least partially to blame for the female obsession with shoes.

Whatever the reason,  shoes are almost always the culprit when women travel with an abundance of luggage.

I just returned from a 15 day overseas trip, part cruise, part land which I did with a total of 3 pairs of shoes.  One I wore each way on the flights and the other 2 were tucked away in the single standard size bag I brought.

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You can see by the photo that I brought a tan pair of jeweled sandals with a modest 2″ heel.  These were neutral enough to go with all my dinner outfits, secure enough for walking (and dancing)  on a moving vessel and dressy enough to be evening appropriate.

Then I had 2 pair of rubber soled flats.  Given the amount of walking I anticipated,  I knew my feet would appreciate alternating between 2 comfortable “walking ” shoes.  One was gold/khaki – the other pewter metallic.   Both worked well with the white or khaki waking shorts and the rainbow of colored tops I wore each day while touring.

Please note neither of the casual shoes were “athletic” shoes – the big, clunky white fashionless ones that helped earn us the label of “ugly Americans”  in the rest of the world.

You’ll also notice none are flip-flops.   These are completely unsuitable for touring as you never know when you will encounter gravel or dirt paths, cobblestone or rocky stairs and other situations  where open toes are discouraged and a more stable footing is necessary.

One of the flats works fine to walk laps on board, ride a stationary bike on a sea day or just to wear to the pool.  The slippers most likely provided in your stateroom are great for wearing to the spa.

When traveling the key words are versatility and practicality with a dash of style sprinkled in for good measure!

Because you asked:  Here is a photo of the 2 pairs of shoes my husband took for the same 15 day trip.  His comfy boat shoes with a cushy insole served as his “day shoe” and the Cole Haan linen loafers were his “evening shoes”.  You’ll notice the squeeze bottle of powder in the picture – a squirt in each shoe makes for great all day wearing comfort without socks for both men and women.  If you find the top of your foot gets irritated, after you squirt in the powder, turn the shoe over so some of the powder coats the inside top of the shoe also!

Let’s Drink on It

July 6, 2012

My husband and I just got back from a 12 day cruise.  Cruises have a lot of pluses; you can visit a lot of places and only unpack once, you can eat whatever you want and not have to cook or clean, there are always interesting people to talk to and since you typically booked months in advance, the vacation is already paid for so you can just relax and enjoy.

With rare exceptions, cruise lines do not include a couple of items which can get pricey in a hurry.  

Internet (which I’ll cover in another blog upcoming), shore excursions (also a future blog topic) tips and drinks.

Some cruise lines now include the tips, others allow you to “pre-pay” them.  Tipping can add an average of $500 to the price of your cruise but the real “incidental” you will find is your bar tab which includes not only the price of the drink, but a mandatory 15-18% “tip” as well.  Many cruise lines charge for soft drinks as well!

Very few cruise line include the alcohol and those that do are the most expensive lines such as Silver Seas, Seabourn, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  River cruises typically include wine with meals as does Azamara.

So how can you save some money and not resort to just drinking water, coffee and tea on your cruise vacation?

Soft drinks:  Many cruise lines offer a package that allows unlimited soft drinks for a flat rate.  This can be a real savings if traveling with kids or other heavy soda consumers.

Drink of the Day:  Most cruise lines promote a drink of the day.  The trip we just completed had 3 options each day for $5 each.  They were listed in the newsletter left in our cabin each day and we found this to be a great way to try some new things and save some money.

Happy Hour:  Yes, some boats even have happy hour.  Ours had 2 for 1 drinks.  Check the hours in the newsletter and plan accordingly.  Maybe you can have dinner a little later and drink your cocktails in the lounge with some live musical entertainment rather than having your before dinner drink at the table in the dining room.  Again, both a fun experience and a cost savings.

Tastings:  During the length of a cruise, some ships will offer events such as “Martini tastings” or “Wine tastings”.  My husband did the martini tasting on our cruise for $15 (no tip added because it was an “activity).

Wine:  Buy a bottle.  It’s less expensive than the “by the glass” price and what you don’t drink tonight, they will store for you and bring to your table tomorrow night for you to enjoy the rest.

Before you decide to just buy alcohol at the first port of call to save some money make sure you know your cruise lines rules.  All cruise ships make you go through airport type security as you reboard the ship so they see the bottles you purchased ashore.  MANY will ask your cabin number and then “store it for you” until you get off at your final port.  Others will charge a per bottle “consumption fee”.  Most have a “corkage” fee to open and serve the bottle in one of the dining rooms.

If your ship does allow you to bring outside alcohol on board to “consume in your cabin” for little or no fee and you drink something simple (no blender required) you can save some money by pouring your own drink in the room and then taking it with you around the ship.  No one blinks an eye at someone walking down the hall, into the showroom, casino or dining room with a full glass.   Of course that also means going back to your cabin every time you want another round which I guess is one way to burn a few extra calories as your cruise!

When evaluating cruises for your next vacation, consider your beverage consumption and be sure to factor in the costs before you book.  Check the FAQ section of your cruise website or call their representative for specific information so you can budget – or book – accordingly.


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