Thursday, November 11, 2010

More about Rental Cars

Why are rental cars so expensive? The price doesn't sound too bad when you rent it, but after airport facility fees and six or seven types of taxes are added, the prices for a compact car without power windows and door locks is horrendous! We have decided to drive our own car on our next vacation within the US - even paying two or three nights in a hotel room is much cheaper than renting a car at an airport. And we are not bound by airline reservations, so if we want to come home early, we can do so without paying the airlines a change fee. And the best reasons to drive yet -- no damaged luggage and no weight restrictions.

St. Maarten

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Close Encounter with Hurricane Tomas

On Saturday, October 30, as we were preparing to go ashore at Martinique on our southern Caribbean cruise on the Sea Princess, our captain came over the intercom in the cabins. We knew it was serious as the cabin intercoms were never used unless there was an emergency or something vital that the passengers needed to know. He told us that the stop at Martinique had been canceled because a hurricane had developed and was already threatening the eastern side of the island. The captain explained that he did not want the ship to be stationery during a threat of a hurricane. Instead, he headed the ship north as fast as it would go to escape potential high winds, heavy rains, and rough seas. The photo on the left shows the wake left as the ship headed north and we could see by the water that the ship was really traveling fast.

From our balcony on the back of the ship (we were upgraded to a suite two days before we left home) we could see the threatening skies and rain clouds behind us. The captain indicated that we might be able to stop at the island of Dominica, north of Martinique, but the port was closed. He continued north past the island of Guadeloupe where it was safe. The water had been quite rough near Martinique and Dominica but got smoother as the ship sailed north. Bill and I sat on our balcony and watched the water and the clouds.

That night the captain again spoke to us through our room intercoms. He told us about the damage in St. Lucia and let us know that we would not make our scheduled stop there on Sunday, October 31st. Instead, he would try to make a stop at Dominica and even had the shore excursion office schedule tours for Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, as the ship approached Dominica, there was such a swell that the port was not letting the pilot boats guide the Sea Princess into the port. The harbormaster said that the ship could try to dock without a pilot boat at the northern pier, but the captain decided that with the swells, he did not want to take a chance of damaging either the ship or the pier. He had even asked about going ahead to Barbados and getting there early so we could spent an afternoon there, but both the Princess home office and the Barbados authorities didn't think that was a good idea, so we spent another day at sea.

Saturday morning , I had removed my seasickness patch because the heat and the sweat had irritated the skin. Unfortunately on Saturday night, I had a horrible case of seasickness and ended up going to the ship's store to get Dramamine. I decided that I would rather have irritated skin than seasickness. At one point Saturday evening, the water was so rough that the flowers fell off the table in the living room of the suite. Fortunately they landed right side up.

We spent most of Sunday circling from the north to the south of the sea near Dominica. We were not even sure at that point that we would be able to sail to Barbados where we would leave the ship and fly back to Miami. Finally around 1:00 p.m., we started south and were able to continue and docked at Barbados early on Monday, November 1st.

Upon arriving at the Barbados airport, we discovered that, because of the storm, the American Airlines computers were down. They finally came back up, but we stood in line for almost two hours before we could get checked in. Unfortunately, the ticket counters in the Barbados airport are not in an air-conditioned area but rather in a big, open-air, shed-type facility, and it was extremely hot. We did make our flight to Miami, but I'm not sure that all of the people in the very long line got checked in in time to make the flight. The van driver who took us to the airport said that there was roof damage and power outages in Barbados, but St. Lucia got the worst of the damage.

When we booked this cruise over a year ago, we did not even think about hurricanes happening the last week of October. Of course this has been a very crazy weather year. We do appreciate the captain's watching out for the safety of his passengers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nickels and Dimes

It seems as if the common carriers (airlines and cruise ships) want to nickel, dime, and dollar you to death. Take, for example, our last cruise. We thought it was all paid for. However, when we got our final bill, it was a shock. Sure, I like shopping on the ship, but $10.50 a night per person to tip all of the people who supposedly helped you? To me, this is just a way for the ship company to make extra money to pay the salaries of the crew. When we first went on cruises, we had envelopes given to us so we could give the cabin attendant and dining room staff tips. Now we can't even get good service in the dining room because the staff already knows they will be tipped, no matter how good or bad the service is. We always gave our cabin attendant extra because every one that we have had on the many cruises that we have taken has done a superior job. No wonder cruise ship jobs are so lucrative to people who are not US natives!

Shore excursions are another very expensive added expense. Why do you have to have a gourmet meal during a shore excursion? The restaurants on the shore excursions try to make the meal as ethnic as possible - then passengers get ill and are confined to their cabins for stomach problems caused by eating unfamiliar food. No wonder nobody would eat the chicken feet in China! And why do we get taken to very expensive shopping venues to purchase items that must be shipped home instead of going into the local marketplaces?

Up to now, we have not paid for luggage to fly either domestically or internationally. Now we are told by our airline that for our October trip overseas, we must pay $50.00 for a second checked bag. That defeats my purpose of taking the 22-inch carry-on onboard, putting a backpack in my large suitcase, checking the carry-on full of items we have purchased on the way home, and using the backpack as my carry-on. I just hope we can really squash Hard Rock bears in the one suitcase along with clothes, shoes, everything else we've bought, etc. Or we'll just have to shop less.

And you would think that you would get a gourmet meal on the plane for the price you have to pay for a turkey sandwich and can of Pringles. Think again!

We just need to remember that there are a lot of hidden costs in travel. And although we do pay a fee and a higher exchange rate, it is still good to get foreign money in the US - beats standing in line at airports to exchange money at even higher exchange rates than you originally paid in the US. You'll have your train or taxi fare in hand when you need it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Very Thankful

I am thankful that the delegation from my church who were supposed to spend 9 days in Honduras are safely back in the US. It must have been a harrowing experience to be in a country where the government was overtaken, knowing that you had to find your way home the easiest and fastest way possible. According to the emails and Facebook messages that I have received, the group left their location in the southwestern part of Honduras and rode in an old school bus traveling very fast over very mountainous roads. They were stopped at eight checkpoints and arrived at the Tegucigalpa airport only 10 minutes before the plane to Houston took off. One of the members said it was really scary for a soldier with an assault rifle to board the bus and demand to see your passport in a language you didn't understand.

Bill and I went on a mission trip to Honduras two years ago. Although we stayed in the capital and worked at a medical clinic, we were told to not even walk down the street unless we were in a large group. For a couple who walks in cities all over the world independently, this was quite a change. One night we decided to go to a fast-food restaurant across the street from our 5-star Marriott and quickly changed our minds. I am not used to being in a place where all businesses have an armed guard and the majority of buildings have razor wire on them.

The best part of the trip was seeing the people of Honduras and helping them. These people are so thankful for our help. One lady was so happy with the used eyeglasses that she got that she gave all of the ladies in the group a gift. Mine was a crocheted doorknob hanger in the shape of a dress and it now occupies a prominent place in my china cabinet. The children are precious. You can see my video for Honduras at The video is also on YouTube under my name Read2gro for those people who cannot access .wmv files. We taught them Bible lessons at the clinic and they were so excited to go home with a Jesus puppet made out of a paper bag. We went to the hospital with stuffed animals for the children who were patients and the parents swarmed around us to get them. This makes me very appreciative of what I have in the United States.

I hope that in the future, this military action in Honduras does not prevent Americans from going down there to help the people and to teach them about God. It is a very rewarding experience to be able to help others.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


We have taken cruises to many different parts of the world. While cruising is not the ideal way to see the interiors of countries, it does have some advantages. One is that you are in the same room each night and don't have to drag luggage from hotel to hotel. Another is that you can get food on board the ship so you don't have to worry about local cuisine and its problems. Many times you don't even have to change money into local currencies because the ports will take American dollars.

However, there are disadvantages of cruising besides the fact that it is hard to see the interiors of countries. Although food is available at all times, you do get tired of it, especially if you are on a long cruise. I am not a fan of ethnic eating and on the last cruise, it seemed as if you had very little choices, even in the buffet, besides the food of the country that the ship was featuring that night. I am one of the only people who loses weight on a cruise because I find the desserts, although very plentiful, too rich for me.

Shore excursions are very expensive. It is no fun to sit on a crowded bus where the air conditioning doesn't work properly to see cities four hours away from the ship. It is also interesting to note that you are usually taken to very expensive souvenir shops on the tour where someone profits instead of being allowed to shop the local markets. On one tour in Marrakech, we were taken to one of those expensive shops where few people purchased items; yet were rushed through the souks where we would have enjoyed bargaining with the local merchants. Also the tours guides that are on the shore excursions may be great guides or may be mediocre - it's just the bus you are assigned to that determines who your guide may be. See my post on tour guides a while back.

Lunch on shore excursions can be an interesting experience. The tour companies try to make the food served indicative of the native cuisine. That is fine in Israel, where we were served regular meats and vegetables raised on a kibbutz, but in China, it is a different story. I always like to know what I am eating and how it is seasoned. A sample menu should be provided along with excursion information.

Embarking and disembarking can be the best or worst part of the cruise depending on port regulations. I loathe being forced out of my room on disembarkation day only to sit in a public area for three hours waiting for my color to be called. Most of the time embarkation is not a problem but once someone in line let an entire busload of people get ahead of us and another time we had to wait outside in the hot sun for over a hour.

We have chosen anytime dining on our past two cruises. This means that we supposedly eat when we want and with whom we want to eat. However, to get a table for two means making a reservation first thing in the morning. Otherwise you will get stuck with someone who takes the entire time to go through one course. And the waiters won't start the next course until everyone has finished the present course. I am just not in the habit of taking two hours to finish a meal. After a 9-hour tour, it is a lot easier to eat in the buffet, where you get the same food as in the formal dining room, just not the presentation. Fine with me.

Balcony cabins are great. You can take pictures as you come into port, sit outside in privacy, and have a great window to view the ocean. But you can look out over someone else's balcony or they can look down over yours, depending on the architecture of the ship. And 90% of the time, your balcony is near that of a person who smokes the smelliest cigar ever known to man.

You think you got a deal on your cruise? You will think again when you see your shipboard account at the end of the cruise. In addition to your expensive short excursions, bargains from the gift shop that you couldn't do without, and the cost of soft drinks and bottled water (if you forget to purchase it in port on the previous stop), the cruise line tacks on a daily resort fee that is usually $10.50 to $11.00 per person per day. It can get expensive on a longer cruise. Some people have shipboard bills higher than what they actually paid for the cruise, especially if they spend a lot of time in the lounges (which we don't).

I do enjoy cruises. I like someone else making the bed, cleaning the bathroom, and cooking my free food. I like looking out at the ocean. I like going to bed at night feeling the rocking of the ship (if it isn't too much). But the points above are points to consider when booking your next sea vacation.