About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Boardwalk Villa's Review

I should start this post with a caution.  My views of this resort are clouded by the overcrowding in our unit, which is not the fault of the resort.

I thought the unit was nice, tastefully decorated and well set up for a family with a maximum of 4 people.

The kitchen:
I thought the kitchen was small compared to other time share units I have been in.  It did have all the necessities, but the counter space was limited.  I don't think this was a good space to do serious cooking in, just lighter meals.  The kitchen table was crowded since it was so close to the living room.  Basically, if you're looking to have breakfast and snacks here, it's just fine.  If you're looking to save money by cooking then this kitchen will be cramped.

The living room:
I thought the couch, chair, TV and tables all worked well in the room and were appropriate for a unit like this.  But, the fold out couch was not comfortable to sleep on.  For that reason, I would not suggest this unit for a group of 4 adults. 

Washer and Dryer: 
Small, but handy especially in this day of bag fees on airlines.

Balcony: 
A nice size, but it didn't feel clean.  There were a lot of birds around and it was obvious that the floor, chairs, tables and ledge were not cleaned regularly.  I wondered if it had been cleaned before we arrived.

Bedroom: 
A nice size bedroom, the bed looked more comfortable then the fold out couch.  There was a TV and a chair in there too.

Bathroom:
This was the highlight of the unit.  The bathroom had 2 parts - one had the shower, toilet and a sink, outside of that and part of the bedroom was another sink and a whirlpool bath.  It was spacious and suitable for the larger group since there was the additional sink that could be used while others were showering. 

Closets:
Closet space was ample, one of the closets was big enough to hold a pack and play.  Though it's kinda mean to stick your kid in a closet. 

Pool: 
I wasn't overly impressed by the pool area.  It was a basic Disney pool with a big slide.  It looked like it needed fresh paint too.  And the clown slide reminded me of the movie It, so I wouldn't say it was a friendly pool.  But there was a hot tub and it was a fun ride down the slide.

Boardwalk area:
I thought the Boardwalk area was nice with the shops and restaurants, though it is quiet during the day (that whole park thing), but it seemed lively in the evenings.  The streetmospheres were very good, my nephew loved them.  But again this area seemed a little washed out and looks like it needed fresh paint. 

Location:
Very good if you like EPCOT, not as good if you like the Magic Kingdom. It was a short walk or boat ride to EPCOT, but the bus to the Magic Kingdom felt quite long and had a couple stops on it.  There was also boat service to the Hollywood Studios, not as short of a ride as to EPCOT, but it was very easy to use and the boats were great if you had a stroller since you didn't have to fold them up.  The Swan and Dolphin and the Beach and Yaht Club were equally convenient to all the same parks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Contiki's Pre-Departure Meeting

Every Contiki tour starts with a pre-departure meeting.  The meeting is typically the night before the tour starts.  It's a bit of an introduction to the tour, and a chance for the tour manager (TM) to collect some information about those on the tour before the tour starts.  In London the pre-depature meeting takes place in the Contiki basement, but the location doesn't matter that much, the meetings are all pretty similar.  It goes something like this:

You arrive about 15 minutes early, that will get you a good seat and a chance to check out the people on the tour as they come in.  Initially, everyone is sitting apart, but as people arrive they fill in the seats.  There are a lot of single women scattered in the room, there is little conversation going on.  Then some couples arrive, they stick close together.  Friends arrive, maybe just 2 people, or maybe a group of 4 people.  They seem to bring a little life to the room, they are actually talking to each other as though oblivious to the excited, nervous, tension in the room.  As the group grows you start to wonder, how many people are in here?  This looks like more then 50, maybe there are 2 tours?  But what is the other tour, and who is on my tour and who is on the other tour.  Wait, there are 3 staff memebers here, but I know the one girl works here, so which of the other 2 staff members is going to be my TM?  Of course there are the people that you look at and make the snap judgment about and pray they're not on your tour - they just look weird! 

Then the meeting starts, a few minutes late since people were still trickling in.  One of the TM's starts, introduces herself and which tour she will be running and introduces the other TM, who will be running the other tour.  They both look cool and friendly, but yours looks like the better TM.  Or maybe you're disappointed that the cute TM isn't your TM.  They tell you what time to arrive the following morning, and suggest getting something tonight to eat for breakfast the following morning, breakfast on the first day is not included in the tour.  The TM's break up the groups, the cute TM takes the other tour to the other side of the Contiki basement, and they take that weird looking person with them. 

Your group moves in a bit, taking up the empty seats that opened up when the other group left, you notice a lot of girls in the group and a lot of the guys seem to be in couples.  It doesn't look like you're finding the love of your life on this tour.  Your TM gives a little introduction of themselves, they've been with Contiki 4 years - good, that means they know what they're doing.  He/she gives some information on what the first day or two will be like.  You look around at the people, some have their contiki documents in the documents folders, others have them separate.  Are they saving space or trying to be cool?  Then the TM starts collecting paperwork.  Those in front quickly jump on line while many of the others hang back and start to introduce themselves.  Who's from Australia?  You're from New York?  I love New York!  Someone annnounces that a bunch of people are going to dinner and drinks at The Pub after the meeting.  After a while you realize that you might have gotten rid of the initially weird looking person, but realize that you do have an annoying person on the tour, the one who knows everything and talks a lot.  Mental note to steer clear of them.  Eventually you turn in your paperwork and then make your way to The Pub.  There's only a dozen people from tour there, but you start talking to people, find the guy who is the one who thinks everyone would be happier if they were drinking and hope they don't try to push alcohol on you the whole tour.  After a while you decide it's time to leave, who wants to start a tour hung over and tired, you have 2 weeks to get to know everyone and besides, that guy does keep trying to push drinks on you. 

Note:  This is a fictional account of a pre-departure meeting, made from a cluster of memories of various pre-departure meetings and embelished for your entertainment.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Edinburgh Dungeon - Don't do it!!!!!

I visited the Edinburgh Dungeon and it was terrible!  Do not be confused by the photo where I actually looked scared! 

I do think Edinburgh Dungeon would have been a little better if I was with a group of people, but even that wouldn't save this cheesy attraction.  It was expensive too - 15.50 pound, I believe it was the most expensive attraction I did the whole trip. 

You go through a series of dark rooms and "learn" in a very cheesy way about some of the history of crime and punishment.  But often it was just cheesy over the top scenes.  There was a boat ride, but I suspect it didn't go very far and I'm not sure what was supposed to actually happen on it because it didn't seem to actually go anywhere or do anything other then be "spooky." 

At the end there was a ride where you go up, see a little video where you're sentences to death and get "hanged."  This was the only good part of the whole thing, and my picture came out so good that I had to buy one. 

Otherwise I just rolled my eyes the whole time and wondered when it would be over.  I almost asked one of the staff members how I could get out because it was so stupid.  

After going I did find a coupon for 5 pound off admission, which added to the annoyance.  However, I didn't necessarily think the price was high for what was offered.  There was a large staff and you interacted with a lot of them, so in terms of labor vs price I didn't think that 15 pounds was that high, if you like this sort of thing. 

But if you don't like cheesy, fake, scary stuff, DO NOT go to any Dungeons, not the London, Edinburgh, Hamburg, York or Amsterdam Dungeons.  It wasn't scary, it wasn't educational, it was just dumb.   

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Costs in England

I often get asked about how much to budget for a trip.  The answer is very personal.  Some people drink a lot, others barely drink.  Some like to shop, some like cheap cheesy souvenirs, others like to make a big purchase.  Then there is eating, some like to grab food at the grocery store and picnic, others want to have a nice sit down meal.  Depending on the answers to these questions, your budget will be either higher or lower then my standard answer of $100 a day.  One thing about tours though is that you'll often have full days in cities, and then spend the days inbetween as bus days.  Bus days tend to be cheap, usually you're just paying for a meal or two, snacks and maybe a random souvenirs.  Days in cities can be much more expensive - food is more expensive, attractions, more souvenir options (and more expensive ones).

Often when I get home I will go through my receipts and get a sampling of costs.  For this trip I was really good with some stuff, and not so good with other stuff.  But here goes: (all prices are in pounds)

Holyrood House 10.25
City Cruise (London Eye to Tower) 5.36
Day Pass for Tube (off-peak) 5.60
Edinburgh Dungeon 15.50
Camera Obscura 9.25
St. Pauls 11.50
Edinburgh Castle 11.90
Hadrian's Wall 4.80
Celtic Necklace 10.00
Rugby Shirt 15.00-30.00
Dinner with a drink at Giraffe 13.70
Scarves 10.00 to start
Postcards 35-50 pence
T-Shirts 10.00 to start
Stuffed Animals 5.00-15.00
Glenlevitt Whiskey 28.00 to start
Tea 1.00-4.00
Soda 2.00-4.00

I didn't actually price beer and alcohol.  I do remember some places being pretty cheap - 2 pounds or so for a drink, while other places might be 4 or 5 pounds.  

Food was pretty expensive.  Meals for lunch at a cafe usually ran 5-10 pounds.  Dinners often started at 10 pounds.  Tea with a scone usually cost around 7 pounds. 

I spent a little under 900 pounds for the whole trip, which included my hotel in Edinburgh for 2 nights after the trip.  2 full days in Edinburgh and London before and after the tour (no meals provided).  Taking out the hotel, my costs were about $100 a day.  While I'm not a big shopper, and not a big drinker, I did do some shopping and I do drink more on tour then I do at home.  I also like to have good meals.  Also, I did find attractions in London and Edinburgh were expensive.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thoughts on London

For my first two days of my trip I was on London, and I really like London.  It's a nice clean, pretty city with a good vibe.  I think the preparation for the 2012 Olympics helped making it a tourist friendly city too.

The Tube is a lot nicer then the NYC Subway - it was clean, good announcements, good signs and I didn't feel dirty and icky when I got off.

There were a lot of conservatively dressed Muslims.  I had heard this before, but it was even more evident then I imagined.  It was more noticable then when I was in Cairo (in the touristy areas).  I thought NYC was diverse, London was blowing NYC away.  But aside from the Muslims there were different languages being spoken all over the place, more then I've noticed in NYC.

There was a lot of good signage.  When you came out of the tube stations or were walking around the city there were signs showing how to get to the different tourist attractions, very handy. 

It's expensive.  Not as expensive as the last time I was there, but when every attraction is 10-15 pounds sightseeing is expensive.  Food isn't much better and clothes were even worse.

The food isn't very good.  While I did have some good food, I found the menues didn't have appealing food listed on them.  My best meal was Italian food.

Heathrow is a BIG airport.  Terminal 5 is massive and has lots of shopping.  I think it was a mile walk from the plane to border control.  And I had to take a bus to my plane coming home.

There was a good mix of tourists and locals walking around.

There were a lot of cops without guns.

There were EMT's on motorcycles, how do they transport people?

They have annoying people trying to get you to donate to their charity, but can be easily confused by statements meant to be confusing - it makes them go away.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Iphone App Review: Snapfish

Not too long ago I downloaded the Snapfish App for the Iphone and I love it!  If you use Snapfish this is a FANTASTIC way to access your photos. The App gives easy access to all of your photos, and your friends photos on Snapfish. You know those times when you're talking about a trip and wish you had the picture of the really nasty bathroom you saw in Russia, well you can access it on your iphone.

Once you're signed in it's easy to use.  You have the option of viewing "Your Albums" or "Friends Albums."  Then it lists your albums from the most recent to the oldest - as they are listed in your snapfish account.

After that you are given thumbnails so you can choose to look as specific photos or create a slideshow from the folder. 

The app also has a function to take pictures and also to upload them to a new or existing album on snapfish.

My biggest complaint would be that it can be slow at loading up the list of folders in the albums.  Otherwise, it's a handy way to view your photos at snapfish when you're away from  the computer.  I highly recommend it to those who are using snapfish.

Friday, October 8, 2010

British Airways Business Class - In Flight

Boarding for Club World had it's own line, so it was quick boarding.  I was in seat number 19A, a rear facing window seat.  My first problem was that there is no under the seat storage, all that seat, but no storage.  Actually there is a little drawer under my neighbors seat for me, I was able to fit a few things in there.  But it took me a few minutes to figure out what I wanted and needed for the flight - like my camera ;).  Then to get all my complaints out of the way, I realized I was facing my neighbor.  By the window there are 2 seats next to each other, one facing forward, one facing backwards.  The leg area is more narrow then the seat area and you end up facing the person you're sitting next to, it's a little weird.  Once the flight takes off though you can raise a little window and get your privacy.  



Once boarded I settled in and the FA brought me a glass of water - yes, I did mean a glass.  The glasses were collected before departing.  The pilot did come on the PA to announce we were having a delayed departure due to a sick passenger, but that we would make up the time in the air.  Hello, I want sleep, take your time!  After take off I set myself up for sleeping.  I put down my foot stool and put my seat in the  lay flat position.  I will say it's not terribly comfortable - the foot stool doesn't line up quite right, and the seat does have a stiff seat feel - it was not soft like a bed would be.  I suspect the difference between first and business class is the width and length of the seat and the comfort of the seat/bed.  Ahhh, I guess I was complaining again.  I don't mean to because the lay flat seat was FANTASTIC, but I don't want anyone thinking that the seat is comfortable like a bed.  But shortly after laying down I was out cold.  I slept a solid 4 hours, I did sleep through dinner though to do that.  

I woke up around the time that breakfast was served, which was good, but not great.  A smoothie, fruit and a gross bacon roll.  And of course tea, after all it is British Airways.  

After landing I got delayed by having to repack the few items I had taken out of my bag and the passengers in "steerage" got off the plane ahead of me.  I was appropriately disgusted as someone who was never in a class above economy and isn't counting on every being in a class above economy again.  But I was able to go to an express line that's for First and Business class passengers so it didn't take too long to get into England.

After the flight I certainly saw the value in upgrading to business and first class, I did sleep very well.  Is it worth the money and the points for it?  At the time I thought, maybe.  Then I heard the horror stories of the other people on my tour who flew in Economy and I really think I need a better job so I can afford to pay and guarantee flying in the better classes!  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

British Airways Business Class - The Concorde Lounge

Through a bit of luck I was able to get myself into British Airways Business Class on my flight over to London.  I was hoping to get into First (who isn't), but Business Class it was.  I actually started this post while sitting in the Terrace Lounge on the BA wifi, life is good.  I'll be finishing it once I get home.

I was a little thrown off by this lounge thing.  I didn't get to wander around the airport and spend money on magazines and stuff, I was here extra early too.  So, I had a drink, went on the internet to work on my blog.  Then I did one of the things I love to do, I scheduled a message!  But there was a wait so I went and had dinner.  One of the frustrating things about flying to London is that you fly overnight, but since the flight is only 7 hours you can barely get a good nights sleep, let alone eat on the flight too.  Having dinner in the lounge before was a great advantage.  And the food was good too.  You could get a salad, bread, chicken, beef tenderloins, fish, and dessert.  It was good food and it didn't cost an arm and a leg.

After dinner I got myself a 15 minute scalp and neck message.  It was in a really cool chair that messaged most of my body.  I need one of those chairs!  I think I need a job that pays more.  It was a nice way to relax while at the airport stressed out about flying.  The spa is an Elemis Spa and my therapist did try to sell me some products, but it was stuff that I actually had a home already.

After that I only had a few minutes to go to the bathroom and make sure everything was together before boarding my flight.





Once I adjusted to lounge life I really liked it.  The environment is quite relaxed, a good opportunity to relax instead of wandering around the airport finding a way to kill time.  And dinner and a message just topped off the experience!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Unroad Warrior - A blog review

The Unroad Warrior is a blog I've been reading on and off for a few a few years.  Only recently though did I start reading it regularly.  I really like the blog - it has a nitch, is written simply and is informative.

The Unroad Warrior writes about airline stuff - the UNroad.  Maybe it's a plane, or a new policy by an airline.  But I have really enjoyed the posts about all that complicated airline stuff that I only kind of understand - interline agreements, codesharing, and alliances.  The posts are written in an easy to read and understand style, the kind of writting where when you read it you go, "oh, that's how that works." 

I recommend the blog to those of you who are interested in how all this airline stuff works.  I think you'll slowly learn a lot of tricks of the trade and be able to make better choices for yourself.