Amazing Deal!

Here is a deal so amazing, I almost can’t believe it:

$12 per person per night all inclusive in the Dominican Republic at the Lifestyle Tropical Beach Resort in Puerto Plata with VIP upgrades!  The place gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but it would have to be pretty awful to rethink this deal.

This is a deal so good that it makes me wonder how bad the place would have to be before I’d pass up a deal like this.   Hypothetically, I think there’d have to be bugs, mold, revolution or a live volcano spewing lava into the pool.

Or, maybe the dates just won’t work for me.

Christmas Gift List for the Traveler in Your Life

Every travel blogger has a post suggesting gifts for the traveler.  These are the items that I have actually added to my own Amazon gift list.

1)  External Cell Phone Battery Pack.  $26.99 from PowerGen.  It occurred to me that one of my major life problems is that when I need my cell phone the most, it is often not powered up.  This is especially problematic when I’m traveling, since travel requires extensive connectivity (at least the way I do it).

2)  Compact Camera Bag.  $70 from Crumpler (4 Million Dollar Home).  I like to walk light once I’m at my destination.  My normal camera bag is a good one.  It’s a backpack, which I find extremely useful for travel and for photography expeditions. However, most of the time, I just need my camera, an extra lens, and a few filters.  And a backpack is just too heavy to carry around all day long.

3)  Sleep Phones.  $39.99 from AcousticSheep.   I hate earbuds.  They hurt your ears, and they fall out too easily.   These look soft and I like the concept for air travel, where you don’t have a lot of room to store the giant noise cancelling head phones.  Sometimes, I have problems sleeping during travel, and I like to use a hypnosis program to help me sleep.  It’s hard to get super relaxed when your earphones keep falling out.

4)  Book Light.  $14.99 from Mighty Bright (PocketFlex LED).  Most hotels have reasonable bedside lighting, but have you ever had to read a map or directions in a dark car?  Interior car lights are just not bright enough!   I also find that when you are traveling with someone else, they appreciate it when you can minimize the amount of ambient  light you need while they are sleeping.

5)  Hair Towel.  $20 from Aquis.  I travel without a hair dryer, and although I don’t mind using the hotel hair dryers, they are seriously under powered.  A few years ago, Tom and I took an overnight train trip to Glacier Park, and it would have been really nice to have one of these guys around just for freshening up.

Suing an Airline Over Hearing Loss

A passenger on a Delta flight between Minneapolis and Oregon states that he suffered permanent partial hearing loss as a result of an unusually loud noise occurring throughout the flight.   The passenger’s lawsuit alleges that he brought the noise to the attention of the flight attendants, but that they declined to reseat him.  He also asked that the plane be diverted to an airport based upon his discomfort, but that request was also denied.

The elevated noise caused him to lose hearing in one ear temporarily, but he suffers permanent hearing loss in both ears now, and suffers from debilitating painful tinnitus.   As someone who has suffered temporary hearing loss after flights, I can certainly see how this could happen.

However, the reporting of this lawsuit contributes to the myth of the litigious society.  The headline on USA Today reads, “Man sues Delta for $2 million, says loud flight hurt hearing.”   This is irresponsible reporting.

First, although people often ask for ridiculous sums of money in their complaint, the legal system is designed to pare the ultimate award down to a reasonable number that more closely approximates real damages.  This lawsuit is venued in Oregon, but had it been filed in Minnesota, the odds of our conservative juries awarding that kind of money are extremely small.   Most jurisdictions permit you to sue someone for “an amount that exceeds” whatever the jurisdictional limit is, without specifying your exact damages.  The only reason for listing a ridiculous sum of money in a complaint is to attract media attention.

Second, while it might be an interesting fact that this man is suing for $2,000,000, what is truly relevant is how much the man is awarded, if anything.   And that is the portion of litigation that you often don’t hear about.  If he settles, he may sign a non-disclosure agreement.   Or, it might just not make the news.  The vast majority of them don’t.

If he loses, we’ll hear about it, but it will just feed the myth of the litigious society.  “Of course he lost!  He shouldn’t have been allowed to try!”  Never mind that the papers almost never report the reason the guy lost.   And sometimes, the loss has nothing to do with the validity of the guy’s overall complaint.

Third, how much is a man’s hearing worth?  Maybe it isn’t worth $2,000,000, although I think crippling tinnitus plus permanent hearing loss might be worth a significant amount.  If the guy makes his living as an audiologist or a musician, he may be permanently prevented from earning his living, requiring retraining.   That’s why we experts and juries and trials.

Finally, the reporting minimizes the potential cause of the man’s hearing  loss.  Let’s face it, all planes are loud.  I usually have a hard time hearing after I land.  The type of “loud” that would cause permanent hearing loss is in another class.  If the man’s complaint is true (and I make no judgment about that), the noise presented a serious risk of injury, he informed the flight attendant of the noise, and they did nothing about it (they didn’t even offer him earplugs), causing him injury.  That’s the definition of negligence.

I’m going to wait until we find out what happens to the suit in the legal system to comment on the merits of the suit.   I wish USA Today would do so, as well.

More information about this suit is at


New York City Hotels, Revisited

I got this offer in my email box for a Times Square Hotel for $139 a night.  Call me a goof, but I’m a sucker for a place that calls itself The Sanctuary Hotel.  My last deal was a $99 a night deal, but this place has better reviews and a better location.  The hotel comes with complimentary continental breakfast and free wifi.  I can’t tell you if it is truly spa like, but rooms do feature rain shower-heads.

But don’t drive there.  Parking costs $40 a night, a rate that made me say, “Holy cow!”

Do you think that I’d like the Super 8 chain better if they called themselves Sanctuary Suites?

Holiday Travels

A few years ago, I had a nightmare holiday season consisting of constantly cooking amazing meals for people who showed up late or not at all.  There was family infighting and drama which eclipsed the Thanksgiving we ate out of a convenience store as the worst holiday ever.  I’m a Scandinavian Minnesotan.  When faced with drama, we turn our cheek, and cross it off our list.  This was a traumatic thing for me, because I recall the holidays as being an amazing time.  I loved spending time with my cousins and my grand parents.  We may have replaced the groaning Scandinavian smorgasbord with family style passing, but at Christmas there were always three or four proteins (butter fried chicken, swedish meatballs, swedish sausage, and lutefisk), several side dishes, condiments like pickled herring, lefse, and a cookie plate that had to have contained a dozen varieties).  Thanksgiving was my Mother’s specialty.  Somehow, she managed to make turkey gravy taste good, and her pumpkin pie (from the Festal can recipe) was to die for.

I recall these holidays with no small amount of sadness, because I simply do not have the ability to recreate that for my family that I inherited from my husband.  Their values traditions were so well entrenched when I met them. There’s nothing wrong with the way they celebrate.  It’s just that I mourn the passing of my family.  Better that I go with the flow than recreate my childhood for a generation that doesn’t quite get it.

So, I crossed the holidays off my list.  Still, it would be mean (in the small-minded sense) to experience the holidays without any family.  Tom and I have reached a compromise that has worked for the last several years.  I agree to go along with whatever holiday plans his family makes graciously, and he will graciously agree to travel over one of the two major holidays.

This year, we are going to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving.  This will be my eighth (ninth?) trip there, so my travel choices will be dictated less by guidebook “must-do’s”, and more by my current passions and interests.   I’ve been trying out a few new planning resources for this trip, and I hope to tell you how they worked.

We do have a trip to Disney World planned for December, but we’ll be home for Christmas.   Our real problem here will be finding a time to put the tree up.  I’m aiming for December 3rd, but I know Tom has plans for that day.  Hmmm….

Personalized Guidebooks

Frommer’s is now offering personalized guidebooks.  You give them your itinerary, they give you a guidebook that is tailored to that itinerary, with maps and coupons, along with the travel information you would normally expect of a guidebook.

It’s a nice idea.  If you are visiting three cities in three different states, you won’t need three or more guidebooks.  And the coupons are a unique touch, although I wasn’t too impressed with the selections.  Over time, the coupon selections will probably get better.

The retail price of the guidebooks is $19.99, which I think might be too high, but the introductory price is $9.99, which is quite affordable.   I do use some of Frommer’s guidebooks for trip planning, although in recent years, I have found much better information with a combination of Trip Advisor, locally produced tourist publications and websites and Google.

The best thing about the Guidebook is its ability to sync your itinerary with TripIt, my favorite travel utility.  TripIt allows you to forward your reservations by email, and it automatically generates an itinerary for your trips, complete with airline, hotel, car rental and dinner reservations, as well as shows and events.  Once inputted into your account, you can modify your itinerary with possible activities.   What’s really amazing is that the program syncs to your smartphone or tablet, so you no longer have to carry paper.  Finally, TripIt integrates with your social networks, which may be a feature that lots of people would enjoy, especially for group trips.  I haven’t had reason to use the social networking tools, but I definitely see how I could use it.



Hawaii, Day 7: Cold Comfort

I woke up sick.  My throat was sore, my body was sore, and my head would not stop throbbing.   Once I got the head under control, my nose wouldn’t stop running.  What do you do when you’re sick on vacation?

My answer:  Sleep late, and t hen go have fun, even if it kills you!  Tom approves.

Our plan for the day is somewhat laid back anyway.  I want to catch the last part of the road around the island that we’d missed on previous days.  I want to check out Hawi and the rest of the Kohala coast.  Then, I want to take a hike on the Petroglyph Trail at Puako Petroglyph Archaological Preserve.

I slept on the way up the coast, in between blowing my nose.  We drove past Hawi, and up to the other side of the Waipi’o Valley that we’d visited a few days’ earlier.  At a crowded scenic point, we stopped the car and got out of the car to watch the surf crash against a black sand beach that was barely visible below. Tom was interested in a hike down to the beach, but I vetoed it.  It was certainly doable.  The walk down was maybe 10 minutes, and the walk up a steep half hour trek.  Had I not been so miserable, I would have complete done it.  As it was, I was content to simply look at the view from up top for awhile.

When we had had our fill of the view, we drove back along the coast to Hawi for lunch, stopping for a sandwich at the Lighthouse Delicatessen.  I had a Cuban sandwich, which was really good, considering that my taste buds were really wasted from my cold.  I thought I would only eat half a sandwich, but I ate the whole thing… including potato chips!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we left Hawi.  We drove down the coast, and I noted several places to visit on future trips.  We made our way to the Petroglyph Park and parked in a lot next to the ocean.  I was still feeling somewhat poorly, so it doesn’t surprise me that I found the path somewhat difficult.  It was mid-afternoon, and it was warmer than it had been at Kailua-Kona earlier in the day.  After about a half mile’s walk through some pretty wicked forest trails, I came upon the Petroglyph reserve.   A quarter mile further, and we were into the brambles of this forest that had been killed by volcanic action.  The ancient Hawaiians had expended a lot of effort to say something about themselves.  The rock is hard, and the tools for etching the images into the stone would have been other rocks.

In the final clearing we saw dozens of petroglyphs, some much more easy to decipher than others.   The path wound further into the petrified forest, but it was an uncertain path….  My natural tendency to always find the end of any trail was tempered by the day’s heat and my cold.

When we returned to the car, the most amazing thing happened.  One by one, cats came up to us to say hello.  I counted thirteen in their colony, but who knows how many there were behind the trees?  What surprised me was not so much that the cats existed, but that they were willing to come out to meet us.  Tom is known as the cat whisperer in our house, so I gave him the camera.  We did not want to scare the cats away.

A couple people came up to us and said that the cats were encouraged to live in the park by the neighboring resort, but that they asked visitors not to feed them.

Tom and I could see the logic in that, and we didn’t have any cat kibble with us anyway. We did mark that there was an astonishing absence of songbirds in the area.

As we drove back to Kailua-Kona, we realized we were on our last full day in Hawaii.  Both of us were a little melancholy about that.  But we wanted to go home to our own cats, not to mention our family.

That evening, we decided to have a low key dinner in the hotel dining room.  It was a nice time.   The next day, we had a late flight, so we decided we’d go see a movie to kill the afternoon.  Never estimate the power of a vacation matinee.

We drove to the airport, where we waited for our 5:00 flight.  A group of VIP’s were coming in from the mainland, so there was a traditional Hawaiian music ban and a group of young hula dancers.  Customer service agents were there to great the group with Hawaiian leis, just like I recall the Brady’s receiving when they went to Hawaii.   That was the episode where Peter found the tiki idol and took it from Hawaiian sacred ground?  He comes to believe he was cursed by his decision, when bad things begin to happen to the rest of the family.  Okay, so one shouldn’t get one’s knowledge about the world from the Brady Bunch.  You’ll expect a lei in lieu of a bill, and you’ll offend the indigenous people by making up stories about the religion that their ancestors followed.

This is my penultimate post about my Hawaii trip.  My last post will not be part of a trip report, per se, but will be about a customer service problem we encountered on our way home.

This Week’s Deal….

There were actually too many deals to choose from. And that’s because you will get a great deal now if you can travel between December 3rd and the 10th or so. All the major cruise lines are offering Caribbean cruises from under $300 a (actually under $250 for an inside cabin, and you can get a balcony cabin for the lowest I’ve ever seen). Check out Orbitz for some of the more astonishing deals! All-inclusive vacations to Mexico and the Caribbean are also really inexpensive right now. One place to look for these deals is Cheap Caribbean.

If you can’t go this year, put your vacation request in next year. Historically, early December offers some of the best travel deals to warm climates of the year.

Hawaii, Day 6

I was up most of the night worrying about work.  Remember that crisis I mentioned on Day 4?  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  Finally, about 5 a.m., I double checked something, figured out the problem, and was able to fix the work problem.

Suffice it to say that I wasn’t too keen to do much today.  I was tired!  So, we had some breakfast, and slept in for a bit.

Around 11, we wandered over to the Hulihe’e Palace (which was a short walk from the hotel) for a tour.  We attended a concert at the Palace on our second day of vacation, and we’d walked by it many times, but we’d never walked in.

When you think “Palace”, you think Versailles or Hampton Courts.  However, the primary definition of “palace” is “the official residence of a sovereign.”  Until 1893, Hawaii was ruled under a monarchy.  The monarchy was relatively short-lived, the Islands having been united by King Kamehameha I in 1810.

The Hulihe’e Palace was built in 1838 and remained a vacation home for Hawaii’s sovereigns until 1916.  The house itself is built in the Colonial Style, with a grand entry and two side parlours on the first floor, and a family sitting room on the second floor with two bedrooms off to the side on the second floor.  It did not have indoor plumbing; nor did it have a kitchen.   The rooms are extremely spacious, but as you walk through, you never get the feeling that this was a royal residence.  Don’t get me wrong, the house is well appointed, and many of the items were original to the home.  It’s just that these were not pretentious people–at least not on vacation.  The house is presently used to house Hawaiian artifacts, as well as to teach about Hawaiian culture.

Later that day, we scheduled a sunset dinner cruise to Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook’s monument through Body Glove Cruises.  As we went to the dock to meet the cruise, there were hundreds of people in a single file line waiting to go back to a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.   While we waited for our boat to begin embarkation, we watched the big cruise passengers get ferried back to their mega cruise ship via three tenders.   It was a very slow process, and reminded me why I avoid cruise tenders.  I think you’d get “museum feet” waiting in line that long, especially after a long day of sightseeing.

Finally, our little boat was ready for us.  We took a seat up top, mainly because I love the way you feel when you are on top of a boat…. the wind and the surf just makes me feel so alive.   Crew members came to take our drink orders, and we found our sea legs (something that can be difficult–tip: take your shoes off).

Like most of our evenings in Kailua-Kona, it was raining lightly.   It wasn’t that bad, and I figured that it would clear up in an hour or two.  I was wrong.

We were just about to cast off, when a rowdy group of ten came aboard, led (at least in spirit) by the well-beloved rogue “Captain Dan”.  Captain Dan and his wife were locals.   Their party was a group of extended family who were from the mainland.  It was Captain Dan’s birthday, and if I had to guess, he’d started celebrating a couple hours before the cruise.  Captain Dan was a bald headed squinty eyed pirate, who took tourists on whale watching and snorkel trips.  He knew all the crew members, and appeared to be friends with our Captain, who was, thankfully, sober.

As we cast off, the crew set up the hors-d’oevres, and the historical narration began.  Our guide did a fabulous job.  I learned a lot about island history. When we arrived at Kealakekua Bay, the skies darkened significantly, and it was clear that we were going to be in for a rocky ride back.   The crew put dinner out, and we all made a beeline for the traditional Hawaiian buffet.  The poke was really good (have I mentioned how much I like poke?)

By the time we got dinner, the light drizzle had turned into a bona fide downpour.  We were all a little cold, but some of the passengers were toasted.  Captain Dan was chatting up the newlyweds, and telling them they should come out to his boat the next day.  He was especially interested in the bride, who was clearly uncomfortable with the attention.  Captain Dan’s wife was bringing everyone drinks, sometimes before they’d finished their last one.

Mind you, this was not an open bar.   As you boarded, each person got two drink tickets.   I had two stiff mai tais.  I don’t know how anyone could have tolerated more with the motion of the ocean, the wind and the cold.  Something about being on the water exaggerates the effects of alcohol.  Nevertheless, the party atmosphere made the ride back to shore tolerable in the midst of a complete downpour.

We were huddled together in the cabin portion of the ship, holding on for dear life.  Walking became dangerous.  The evening’s entertainment was an amazing singer/guitarist.  I think he could have been professional.  He also was extremely good at keeping us busy singing while the boat was slogging through the storm.  (He was also really cute!)

At some point, Captain Dan ended up next to me.  His wife was lunging back and forth from the bar.  Her balance was amazingly good, considering how much she’d drunk….  Our guitarist ended up playing one of my favorite dance songs… and I decided to risk dancing a little.   Yes… I was the only one daring to dance…. and I got big props from the crew and Captain Dan for it.

It was hilarious!  And cold and miserable….  The following are some of the pictures I took.  I would have fixed some of the darker shots, but I really wanted you to see exactly how dark it was….

This Week’s Deal

I noticed that friends have been traveling in New York City, so this week’s deal is in honor of their safe travels.

$99 Midtown Manhattan Hotel, from January 2- February 29.  The hotel is the Hotel Thirty-Thirty.  Midtown isn’t a bad neighborhood to hang your hat on a trip to New York.  It’s fairly centrally located, and there’s a lot going on.  This hotel is about a mile from Times Square (despite the website saying it’s only “blocks” away).  On the other hand, it’s spitting distance to the Empire State Building.

Okay, so it’s centrally located, but is it any good?  Well, that depends on what you want out of a New York hotel.  It’s an older property, and the rooms are going to be very small (probably under 200 square feet).  The hotel has been newly renovated.  Trip Advisor reviews are all over the place, but the more recent reviews (post-renovation) are fairly positive.  I’d stay here, although Tom would probably prefer a hotel somewhere in the Village (his old stomping grounds).

Is it a good deal?  In a word, yes.  You can get a better deal in New York, but it’s not easy.  Often, less expensive hotels in New York have near hostel-like accommodations.  On our last trip to New York City, I couldn’t find a hotel less than $149 a night, and ended up with accommodations in New Jersey.  That was fine, but it was a bit of a jaunt into the City.