Friday, October 24, 2014

 Countries that Offer the Best Exchange Rates for Americans

With the ever increasing prices of airfares, budget minded travelers need to get creative in ways they can make their money stretch farther.  One way to do this is to travel to a country that offers a better exchange rate for the dollar.   There are some places such as England where 1 your dollar will only get you about .62 Pounds, not a good exchange rate.  There are much better options than this, here are a few:

ThailandExchange Rate: $1 = 32.4 Thai Baht
Thailand has gotten some negative press lately with its protests and major flooding so they are eager to lure travelers back, showing them not only that they are an amazing destination but also an affordable one.   

Exchange Rate: $1 = 243 Hungarian Forint
Hungry is a beautiful country filled with historic towns, castles and spas.  With this amazing exchange rate it makes this European country a great value.

Exchange Rate: $1 = 8.48 Pesos
Over the past few years the exchange rate has improved in favor of the US dollar which makes Argentina easy on the wallet and its breathtaking views and modern streets make it a hit with travelers.


Exchange Rate: $1 = 121 Krona
While airfares to Iceland can be expensive once you arrive there are many free things to do.  Many of Iceland’s incredible natural sites including waterfalls, lava flows and geysers are all free to see. 

Exchange Rate: $1 = 61 Rupee
The exchange rate has only gotten better over the past few years and in a country where bargains are around every corner that’s great news for American travelers. 

Exchange Rate: $1 = 8018 Lao
Laos is known for its laid back lifestyle.  Nobody here seems to be in a rush.  With this amazing exchange rate visitors can get a massage for a mire $6 or dine at an upscale restaurant for as low as $20.  Add to these bargains stunning landscapes and views and it’s a sure winner.

Looking for destinations that offer better exchange rates can save you a ton of money allowing you to do more once you arrive. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Crazy, Cool, New Ships

Cruise lines are going to new extremes to lure and entertain passengers.  They are constantly trying to outdo each other which is good for passengers for a couple of reasons.
First of all, there is more on board entertainment.  Many people choose which cruise they will take based on the ship and it’s on board activities and options rather than solely on its ports of call.  For some passengers, they just want to get away, relax and enjoy a cruise and aren’t really concerned with the ports so what the ship has to offer is extremely important.
Secondly, with the rush of people trying to get on board these new mega ships, people will be able to find some good deals on the smaller, older ships.  Cruise lines will want to keep these ships filled as well so they will be offering discounts and amenities to attract passengers to them.

This month’s new ship:

Quantum of the Seas

The two-story loftThe Quantum of the Seas from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will offer two story lofts, the Royal Loft Suite and Owners Loft Suite.  These stunning lofts will be larger than the average stateroom and include a living room, dining room and private deck.

Quantum - Owners
Quantum - suite

(Owners Loft Suite)                                                                                                     (Royal Loft Suite)

The North Star
Get a bird’s eye view of your surroundings with this glass capsule that rises 300 feet from a giant arm and rotates 360 degrees.   It actually extends out over the side of the ship so there is nothing to block your view and you feel like you are flying over the sea.
Royal north star

The skydiving simulatorIf you have ever wanted to try sky diving but just can’t bring yourself to jump out of a perfectly good plane, like myself, you will love RipCord.  This wind tunnel sky diving simulator lets passenger try sky diving without ever leaving the ship.  After taking a training course you can take two one-minute flights: one practice and one freestyle.

The SeaPlexThe SeaPlex is a crazy cool activity space where passengers can roller-skate, drive some bumper cars and even checkout the circus school with flying trapeze.

The giant projections

At the Two70degrees you can relax and enjoy the 20 foot tall, 100 foot wide digital-projection screens with changing scenes.  You will be lost in the crystal clear, breath-taking scenes on this one of a kind entertainment system.
This is also where the over the top production of Starwater is hosted complete with dancers, singers, aerialists, and musicians.
r1 r4

DiningThere are 18 dining options including a throwback to the formal attire cruise-ship dining restaurant The Grande, for passengers who like getting dressed up in grand style for dinner.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Delta Installs USB Ports on International Flights

You’ve seen them, people sitting on the floor, crowded around those rare power outlets at the airport.  Everybody trying to charge their devices before they board the plane for that long flight. Perhaps you’ve tried carrying around those big, bulky extended batteries so you could get a little extra battery time.  Now it won’t be a problem.  Delta Airlines has installed USB ports on every seat on every long haul international flight so you can charge your device and stay powered up  right from your seat.  

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