Saturday, August 30, 2014

To Recline or Not to Recline: That is the Question!

You’re on a crowed plane sitting in coach, your already squeezed into a child size seat and then it happens.  The passenger in front of you starts to lean his seat back.   Instinctively you want to brace your feet against the back of their seat to stop them from leaning back and yell “not gonna happen!”   But instead you bite your tongue, keep control over your limps and end up with some stranger’s head in your lap. 

However, it does always go this way.  On a flight from Paris to Los Angeles I watch as a young boy, who was about 7 years old, tried to lean his seat back.  The man sitting behind him shoved it forward and yelled “No” at him.  While I understand not wanting a seat in your face, it would have been more appropriate for him to address the mother and in a more appropriate manner.  She being a protective mother, “calmly” explained to him what she would do to him if he shoved her son, spoke to him or even looked in his direction again.  Needless to say, they had no more problems.

There have been cases of people actually getting into physical altercations over seat reclining where they have been arrested upon arrival or even having flights diverted so they could land and have passengers removed. 

It’s such a fine line.  You want to recline your seat so you can get a little more comfortable yet you don’t want the person in front of you to recline.  Which is completely selfish but let’s face it, it’s true.
 It has gotten so bad that some airlines have fixed their seats so they do longer recline.  Some passengers have resorted to bribery, offering the passenger in front of them some kind of incentive such as an internet pass or to by them drinks if they agree not to recline their seat. 

It would be nice if the airlines offered an incentive for passengers not to recline their seats such as free drinks, internet or food.  I bet a lot of people would take it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. 

When you fly, especially on a long flight, it is highly likely the person in front of you is going to lean their seat back.  There is no point in freaking out over it.  If it’s something you  just can’t or don’t want to deal with you may want to consider the bribery option, either that or bring along with you something that will put you to sleep.  This way you won’t care or even be aware that somebody’s head is in your lap.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: Park View Hotel, London, England

In early May of 2014 my 17 year old son and I took a quick trip to London. This was a last minute trip so our choices of accommodations was limited. Normally when I travel to London I don't like putting out a lot of money for a hotel room because I usually spent very little time in the room. For this trip we stayed at the guest hotel, the Park View Hotel which was located in the Finsbury Park area. The Park View is definitely a budget hotel. Upon arriving at 20-22 Wilberforce Rd, we had to walk across the street and down a couple of doors to check in at the Central Hotel as there was no front desk in our building. It wasn't a big deal it was only a few steps away. The staff at the front desk was friendly and check in was quick. After getting our key we walked back across the street to the building we would be staying in, 22 Wilberforce Rd.
The building is older which is apparent when you walk though the front door. The first thing that hit me was the smell of cleaner, which I suppose is a good thing in a way but it was a little overwhelming. After you go through the front door you are in a short hallway with three rooms on the first floor. we stayed in room number four which was on the second floor. Fortunately we packed light because there is not much room to navigate the narrow stairs with your suitcase (there is no elevator in the building). Our room was very basic. The walls were an off white color, not dark enough to make the room feel warm and not light enough to make it feel bright and cheery. It was just a very bland beige color. The only color in the room were the black curtains on the window. There was no pictures on the walls or any kind of decorations. There was only a white bottom sheet and coverlet on the two twin beds, no blanket or top sheet. The mattresses were slightly lumpy but fairly comfortable. The wood laminated floor gave the room a slightly cheap feeling as well as a little noisy to walk on. There was a armoire, a dressing table and shelf in the room as well as a small TV. The walls had several cracks on them but they didn't really bother me too much. However if I was staying at a more expensive hotel I would have been bothered by them but with a budget hotel in an older building it wasn't that shocking.
I think the best part of the room was the bathroom. It had a large bathroom and nice deep tub. However you did have to watch the shower, since it only had a half door so if you didn't point the shower head towards the wall you would get water all over the floor. The first few days we were each given one towel, no hand towel or wash cloth. About half way through our stay we were each given a hand towel.

The hotel offered a free continental breakfast which consisted of Corn Flakes, oatmeal, bread or toast, jam, ham and cheese, orange or apple juice, and tea. Again very basic but a typical English continental breakfast. Breakfast was served in the Central Hotel. Which was also only place to get internet so we had to walk over and sit in their lobby every time we wanted to get online.

The hotel is located just very close to the Finsbury Tube Station which is about a five minutes walk. There are several places to each right around the corner including a KFC and a Subway. You will also find a nice bakery and a .99 cent store that sells among other things, snacks and cold drinks. Finsbury Park is located at the end of the street about a one minute walk.

All-in-all, I would say our stay at the Park View Hotel was pleasant, the price was right and the location to the Tube station was great. For a budget hotel it was decent. It would not be my first choice of accommodations but it also wouldn't be my last either. It's a good hotel when your on a tight budget but be prepared for a very basic hotel.

Review of Mission Valley Resort, San Diego, California

While traveling, I have stayed at some great accommodations and some not so great ones, but I have to say the Mission Valley Resort at Hotel Circle in San Diego was one of, if not the most, disgusting places I've stayed. The first issue was that they didn't send me an email reservation confirmation. I like to have proof of my reservations in case there are any issues. Upon arriving at the hotel, they also did not give

me a receipt showing what my rate was.
The grounds around the lobby area are very nice looking, so when you first approach the hotel you feel pretty good about the place, but that's about as far as the good feelings go. Once you enter your room, the nightmare begins.
I stayed at the hotel for three nights in June 2014. I was attending a convention in San Diego. Needless to say, hotel rooms were hard to come by because of all the convention goers, and switching hotels was not an option. As I entered the room, I was hit with a muggy smell. Still hopeful, I thought if I opened a window it would probably air out. But hope soon disappeared, after looking around the room I was shocked at how dirty the room was.
Let's start with the walls. The wall next to one of the beds had dirt and black scuff type marks all over it. On two of the walls was some kind of unidentifiable substance, it looked like blood, ketchup or possibly something worse. The carpet had large stains on it and looked like it has never been cleaned.
Now let's talk about the bed. The full size bed had a twin size platform supporting it leaving a portion of the bed hanging beyond the platform. Therefore, every time you sat on the one side of the bed, the mattress would tip, flip up and over onto the floor and land against the dirty wall. During the night if I rolled over to that side of the bed the mattress would tilt and I would go rolling towards the floor. And believe me you do don't want to wake up to find yourself on that carpet. I walked up to the front desk, had to walk up to the front desk because they wouldn't answer the phone, to let them know there was an issue with the bed, they said they would send maintenance around which they never did. The sheets were old looking and all matted up so it was like sleeping on sand paper. There was also hair in the bed; yuk!
On to the bathroom, I have no idea what the maid did when she came in to clean the room, but it sure wasn't to clean the bathroom. She didn't even leave us any towels, I had to once again walk to the front desk and ask for some towels. The light switch in the bathroom was so scary that I couldn't bring myself to actually touch it. It was completely covered with dirt and gunk, it was downright scary. The tile trim around the bathroom wall obviously has not been cleaned in a very long time. It was covered with dust and dirt. Paint was peeling of the ceiling as well as the door. The mirror and tissue cover were both rusted. Even the towel rack was dirty.

If you wanted to watch TV, you would have to stare at a snowy picture. The table and chair in the room was beat up. The lock on the room door was broken and there was gaping hole all around it. It was a terrible experience. I would never stay there again and do not recommend it at all.

Tips For Taking an African Safari

As an animal lover, traveling to Africa for a safari was a dream come true. Seeing those majestic animals roaming freely about in their natural habitat was an very moving experience. There are a few things to keep in mind that will help you get the most out of your safari and make it more enjoyable.

When planning your trip will want to put some serious thought into where you will stay. Are you looking for the "resort" hotel experience or are you looking for something more unique that will enhance your interaction with the animals. For me, I wanted a real bush experience and as much interaction with the animals as possible so I chose to stay in a remote treehouse that was located on a private game reserve. All of the treehouses on the property were spread out so you had the feeling you were alone in the bush which was exciting as well as a little nerve racking. Our treehouse had electricity, a private bathroom, a viewing deck, bed mosquito nets and ceiling fans. However, it did not have internet, a phone in the room, cell phone reception, air conditioning, or heating and the walls were made of bamboo sticks and canvas with a thatched roof. Being on a game reserve the animals were free to roam around the grounds at will so there was the possibility you would come across some kind of animal.

Weigh the pros and cons of where you will stay. I highly recommend a place that is en-suite. Even though it may cost a little more it will be worth the extra money. Some of the treehouses we stayed in were en-suite, some were not. I was so glad we got an en-suite because even though there was a toilet and shower located just a few feet away, I would not have wanted to have to sprint those few feet in the middle of the night when all the more dangerous animals such as hyena's, lions and leopards were out and about. On one night of our stay we had a pack of hyena's roaming around our treehouse so there is no way I could have made a bathroom run so really think about where you are staying and what will happen if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Not being a fan of bugs, I brought a small bottle of bug repellant with me and before going to bed at night I sprayed it on the mosquito nets over the beds. We were in a mosquito free area but it wasn't really the mosquitoes I was afraid of. I just knew as soon as I turned out the light that net was going to be covered with creepy bugs! I am happy to say we never had an issue with bugs.

There are many options for more traditional hotel style rooms that also offer that remote feeling and are located on game reserves. Some have wire fences which keeps the larger animals out while still allowing viewing of passing animals, while others have no fences so the animals are free to roam around as they please. The accommodations you choose can really enhance your experience so choose carefully.

Game Drives 
Some people choose to drive themselves on game drives however there are great perks to going with a tour or having a guide with you. Many of the guides will communicate with each other to let others know where the animals are at. Guides also know the best spots for animal viewing plus they are much more adventurous and will get you into places you would never drive into yourself. They know what to do if they come across an agitated animal or know when a situation is dangerous and when it's not. Their job is to make sure you have an unforgettable experience and they usually deliver.

While on a guided game drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa we saw several compact rental cars filled with tourist wandering around in circles looking for animals. With our guide we saw animals within the first ten minutes of entering the park. On one game drive we came across a herd of elephants. There were several cars pulled to the side of the road to view them. At one point a very large female elephant got tired of us and started chasing the cars and of course out of fear the cars would take off, sometimes having to drive backwards just to get away from her. However our guide told us this was the wrong thing to do because as long as they were running the elephant would chase them and possibly ram their cars. When she charged at us our guide stood his ground and revved the jeeps engine which simulates a roar. The elephant ran at us but veered off at the last minute and she quietly walked away. It was all very exciting and we were all very confident in our guide's ability to handle the situation. I wouldn't have wanted to be in one of those small cars, being chased by a huge elephant and not sure of what to do.

While on game drives its best to wear neutral colored clothing. Stick to colors found in nature, you don't want to be wearing a bright red shirt which will attract the animals. You might as well be wearing a giant red target. Wear closed in shoes. Even though you are on a "drive" there may be times when your guide has you get out of the vehicle to get a better look at something and you will not want to be walking around in flip flops. There are plenty of thorns and bushes that will stick you.

Keep your camera ready, animal encounters can come and go quickly. You won't want to miss something because you are fumbling around for your camera. If you are going a night game drive, don't forget to spray on a little bug repellant.

One of the best purchases I made prior to our leaving home was small pocket size flashlights about 6 inches long. I only paid about $3.00 for them at Walmart. They were easy to carry in my bag or in a pocket. Our walk from the main building at our accommodations to our treehouse was long and dark. Every evening after dinner we had to make the trek and at night it is pitch black out there. Having those little flashlights provided an amazing amount of comfort and security. We also used them on a sunset game drive when a herd of buffalo came right up to our jeep. It was very dark so the buffalo were hard to see but with the flashlights we got a good enough view to take pictures.

Also on one night drive our jeep ran into a giant sink hole and got stuck. Since there were no cell phone signals out there we had no choice but to walk back to our resort. It was so dark you could only see about two feet in front of you, I was never so grateful for those flashlights. Thankfully we made it back without encountering any dangerous animals or at least we didn't "see" any animals, of course that's not to say they didn't see us. May be it was a good thing it was so dark out!

Game Walks 
Many tours include at least one game walk. These walks can be very exciting, and heart pounding. Again, wear closed in shoes, preferably walking or hiking shoes. Long pants are best as you will be hiking through the bushes which can scrape up your legs. You may get mud or dirt along the bottom of your pants so you may want to wear an older pair you don't care if they get stained or wear a darker color that won't show the dirt as much. Do not wander away from the group or be overly loud while walking around. Even though your guide will have a rifle with them, you do not want to attract any animals or scare them. Do exactly as your guide tells you. You will be walking around in an area where wild and possibly dangerous animals are, it is important to follow your guides instructions.

While on a game walk we began to hear lions groaning. At first they were behind us but then we heard them to the side of us. I noticed the two guides we had with us kept stopping to listen to the lions and looking at each other. After a few minutes we were told we needed to leave the area. The lions were stocking us and beginning to circle us. It was getting to be a dangerous situation and we needed to leave. We calming walked back to our jeep and continued our walk in another area. We did hear that another group a few days earlier had encountered a group of lions who blocked them from reaching their jeep. There was a several minute standoff which was pretty intense. We also hear another got chased up a tree by a rhino. The entire group had to climb a tree and stay there until the rhino got bored and left them alone. These game walks can be exciting and at times intense but as long as you listen to your guides it will be an experience to remember.

In review:
·         · * Choose your accommodations carefully
·         · * Bring a small flashlight
·         · * Bring bug repellant
·         · * Wear neutral colored clothing
·         · * Wear walking or hiking shoes
·         · * Listen to your guides

Marc's Treehouse Lodge

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glamping - Luxury Camping

glamp2Camping is one of the great American past times. People love getting back to nature, living among the elements, and becoming one with mother earth. But staying in a pop up tent, bathing in a river (if at all) or doing your "business" in the woods may not be everyone's cup of tea. If you want to go camping without actually having to rough it there is another option, it's called glamping. Luxury camping is a popular option for those who want that camping experience without completely giving up the comforts of a hotel. Glamping refers to camping in the loosest terms, you don't have to cook your own meals over a fire pit or on a camp stove or sleep on the hard grown in a sleeping bag. You will get all the luxuries of a first class hotel including plush beds, bath tubs, fine dining and upscale furnishings, only the room is made of canvas. There are glamping sites all over the world including North America, South America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Keep in mind that just because you are "camping" is a sense, you can expect to pay for first class accommodations. These are not discount or budget type vacations. You will pay for the glammed up camping experience. 
Check out these glamping options:
The Ranch at Rock Creek 
Location: Montana 
Rate: $850 - $6200 per person / per night 
Accommodations are a cross between a tent and a log cabin, part canvas and part wood. They include king size beds, fire place, private bathroom, seating area and a kitchenette with a refrigerator and wine cooler. The two bedroom family tent is 810 sq ft. The dining room offers vivid flavors inspired by Italy, Spain and France. Your rate includes most activities and all your meals.
Fireside Resort 
Location: Wyoming 
Rate: starting at $375.00 per night 
The resort offers both tents and cabins. The beautifully decorated tents include a king size bed and hardwood floors. The luxury bath house has private wash rooms with rain showers, heated floors, and organic spa products.
White Pod 
Location: Switzerland 
Rate: CHF 390 per night 
These pods provide you with a unique experience. Each pod has a full bathroom, wood burning stove, a terrace and large bay windows. You can enjoy fine dining in the upscale restaurant.
Location: Italy 
Rate: 120 Euro per person / per night 
These beautifully decorated tents located in the Italian countryside are beyond romantic. The charming dining room has that old world feel to it and the food will not disappoint. Canonici is only a short distance from Venice.
Gorah Elephant Camp 
Locations: South Africa 
Rate: ZAR 2595 per person / per night 
Each tent has its own deck with panoramic views of the savannah plains. The solar powered tents are en-suite and both indoor and outdoor dining is offered. The outdoor restaurant overlooks a watering hole which makes for some exciting animal viewing while dine on the delicious cuisine. Gorah's also offers game daily drives.
The Ranch at Rock Creek
Gorah Elephant Camp

For more Glamping locations

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hidden Travel Fee's

You book a hotel stay, pre-pay in full only to find at checkout the hotel is demanding more money for additional fee's you racked up during your stay even though you didn't purchase anything additional or charge anything to your room.
You travel to a foreign country and are asked to pay an additional fee when departing the airport even though you already paid fees and taxes with your airline ticket purchase.
Airlines, hotels and airports are all tacking on additional fees that often surprise travelers. Airlines now have to be more upfront about their extra fees beyond the actual ticket price. When do a search for an airline ticket you will often see a lower price in large print and then in small print what the additional fees are. However, hotels and airports are not as open about these extra fees. Some of these fees are fairly substantial and will add possibly hundreds of dollars to your travel expenses.
Samples of Airport Fees
British Airports: Currently the landing fee for Heathrow is $35.11 and at Gatwick $14.13 per person.
Singapore: Changi Airport, terminal 1,2 & 3 - $34.00, transit and transfer passengers - $12.00. Seletar Airport - $18.00.
New Zealand: You will have to pay $12.50 for arriving in the country and another $12.50 when you depart.
Belize: $35.50 departure fee for non-Belizean residents and $35.00 for residents as well as a $0.75 domestic security screening fee.
Thailand: $6.15 for domestic flights and $24.61 for international flights.
Costa Rica: $29.00 Airport departure fee.
Mexico: $65.00 Airport departure fee.
Turkey: $6.80 Airport departure fee.
Samples of Hotel Fees

Phone Charges: Local calls often cost around $1.50. Long distant calls can be extremely expensive. Even if you are calling an 800 including the 800 number you call on calling cards, can come with high fees. Make sure you know the calling fees before placing that call to avoid sticker shock.

Fitness Center: Even if you don't use the fitness center some hotels will still charge you a fee just for having access to it. If you are charged this fee you can let the front desk know you won't be using the fitness center and that you don't want to pay the fee for access to it. You may have to argue with them a bit to get them to drop the fee however, some hotels will not do so.

Daily Newspaper: You may think that daily newspaper delivered to your room each morning is complimentary but that may not be the case. Check with the front desk to see if you are being charged for the paper. If so, tell them you don't want the paper so they will stop delivery.

Energy Fee: Some hotels charge an energy fee though they are very vague as to what exactly that means.

Pool Usage: Some hotels charge you a pool access fee even if you don't use it. Often these fees are mandatory so it will be difficult to have them removed.

Parking: Even though you are a guest at the hotel some will still charge you to park in their parking lot. These fees can be $12.00 or more so make sure you know if the hotel offers free parking or not.

Water: Beware of that bottle of water waiting for you in the room. It may not be complimentary.

General Catchall Fee: This is a general fee to cover all additional expenses. Hotels do this so they don't have to break down all the individual fees, you will just pay one lump sum.

Bottom line is that you need to ask before you book. When you are planning a trip checkout the airports you will be traveling to and see if they charge an arrival or departure fee. When booking a hotel stay ask if there will be any additional fees upon checkout. Make sure you take a little extra cash just in case you run into extra fees you weren't aware of. Be aware that some of these fees will need to be paid in cash.


How to Successfully File a Complaint

At one time or another we have all been victims of bad service or an inferior product. Nothing is more frustrating than handing over your hard earn money and not getting what you expected in return. You want to complain but what good will it do? Well, it all depends on how you go about it. As with most things, there is a right way and wrong way to make a complaint.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you should always stay calm and don't curse. You are more likely to resolve the issue if you are polite and respectful. However, that's not to say you won't have to get firm in some situations. You also want to make sure that you have a legitimate reason to complain. You don't want to be somebody who is looking for a reason to complain or who makes a big deal over nothing. For example, while boarding a ship for a cruise I saw a man standing in the hallway yelling at his cabin steward because he had pre-requested that the twin beds in his cabin be pushed together to make one full size bed and they had not done that. The cabin steward told him they just hadn't gotten around to it yet and assured him it would only take a minute to push the beds together. These stewards only have a couple hours between one group of passengers disembarking and the next group embarking so it can take them a little bit of time to fulfill all the special requests. For this man to stand their screaming at the cabin steward over such a minor thing that could have been easily corrected was out of line and if he made a formal complaint with management they would have just blown him off because it had no merit. So make sure you have a legitimate complaint.

The first step in a complaint is to voice your issue to which ever manager is on scene. In some cases your issue can be resolved simply by bringing it to the attention of the manager. Also be clear about what you hope to accomplish by your complaint. Do you just want to make the manager aware of the situation or do you want some sort of compensation. If you do not accomplish your goal by complaining to the on site manager the next step is to file a formal complaint with the company's customer relations department.

A formal complaint should always be submitted in writing. Make sure it is dated and that you keep a copy of it. Be very specific in your complaint and give as much detail as possible including the date, location, name of any person involved, as well as a short description of what took place. If you have any pictures include them as well. Keep the feel of the letter formal. If you are wanting a certain type of compensation such as a refund of money, then state that in the complaint. Otherwise, leave it open for them to make an offer. Be specific about what you will do if some type of compensation or resolution can't be reached and don't make veiled threats. If they don't come through with any compensation be prepared to carry out the steps you stated.

Here are two examples of complaints filed and the results.
Example One: Nightmare Cruise 
A few years ago my family took a 12-day Hawaiian Cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line. On the second day of the cruise at about 2 o'clock in the morning, I awoke to the sound of running water. My first thought was that my son had gotten up during the night to use the bathroom and didn't turn the sink faucet off all the way. I got up to go shut it off and immediately felt a soggy carpet under my feet. I turned the light on and saw water running out from underneath the bathroom door. There was a slight step up to the bathroom. I opened the bathroom door and to find foam and water bubbling up from the shower drain. We immediately called the front desk who sent a couple of maintenance workers to our cabin. After several minutes they got the water to stop. They threw a bunch of towels on the floor and told us they would be back in the morning to vacuum up the water from the carpet. In the morning they told us that they would have to put a heater in the cabin to dry carpet. Fortunately, it was a port day, so we would be out of the cabin for most of the day. When we returned to our cabin late in the afternoon it was very hot inside and it smelled like wet carpet. Maintenance came back and shampooed the carpet but again we had to stay out of the cabin while a heater dried it. Later that evening management sent us a fruit plate for the inconvenience.

Two days later, it happened all over again. When I went up to the front desk to find out what was going on and ask to be moved, I was told the ship was full and there was no other cabins available. On day ten my son became sick with food poisoning. A lot of the passengers had been complaining about the under cooked food especially the runny eggs. By the end of the cruise I was so violently sick I had to go straight from the ship to the hospital where the doctor confirmed that I had food poisoning. After returning home I sent a written complaint detailing all the problems we had on this cruise and included the hospital's report, to the cruise line's customer relations department via email. A few days later I received an email stating they were sorry for any inconvenience but offered no compensation. In response I sent another letter stating that I felt we deserved some sort of compensation and if no acceptable compensation was offered I planned to file a number of complaints against them with various agencies and I listed the agencies. I also let them know I would actively campaign against their cruise line. I then included a list of connections I had within the travel industry and the names of cruise clubs I belong to. A few days later I received a written letter from them stating they were giving my family $1300 in cruise credit which I was happy with.

Example Two: Where's the meat? 
I had gone to a popular fast food chicken restaurant to get dinner for my family. I ordered three combo plates that included 2 pieces of chicken and 2 sides. In the picture it looked like a good size meal and based on the price I assumed it was a decent size. After getting home and opening up the meals, we were shocked at what we saw. The pieces of meat were so small I swear they were baby chickens and the side dishes consisted of about 2 tablespoons of food. It was ridiculous and I understand that companies take a few liberties with embellishing their photos; however, these meals weren't even close to what the picture showed. I sent an email expressing my frustration through the company's website along with a copy of their picture of the meal and a picture of what I actually received. Their first response was basically too bad. So I filed a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB will contact companies who have had a complaint made against them and request they resolve the issue. If enough people file complaints with the BBB against a company it can affect their rating. After being contacted by the BBB, the company sent me $20.00 in gift certificates, which was fine, but I never went back to eat there. I wasn't looking for free food I wanted them to take more responsibility in fraudulent marketing. I just wanted to get what they promised me and what I paid for.

In Review:
·         Make sure you have a legitimate reason for complaining.
·         Always remain calm and be polite whether you are making your complaint in person or writing.
·         First approach the onsite manager, if there is one, to see if you can resolve the issue.
·         Submit a complaint in writing outlining your issue in detail, what you would like to happen and your intentions if no resolution can be reached.
·         Along with your complaint submit any supporting documentation or pictures.
·         Be prepared to carryout any consequences you stated if no resolution is reached.